Sexual Customs of the Icelanders

Blefkenius (a 16th century explorer) reported that young Icelandic women (“very beautiful but poorly dressed”) offered travelers sexual hospitality much like the Babylonian temple prostitution reported by Herodotus. Marco Polo reports the same custom in two places he visited —  a city in what is now Xinjiang, and a place which he calls Tibet. (Blefkarius’s report was stoutly denied by Arngrimus Jonas, a coadjutor to the bishop of Iceland who, Bayle informs us, married a young woman when he was in his late 80s and lived well into his 90s.)

In The Fate of Shechem Pitt Rivers discusses customs of this type, especially the sexual hospitality offered to the Pharoah and Abimelech by Abraham and Isaac, which was also discussed by Bayle).  However, he emphasizes the nomadism of the early Hebrews, which was not a factor in the other cases.

Blefkenius also reported that it is forbidden to leave the table during Icelandic drinking bouts, so that young girls would bring chamber pots and hold them under the tables so that the celebrants could relieve themselves. Marco Polo reported a similar custom among the Rus, who during the 13th century were not as different from Scandinavians as the Russians are today. And Kepler reported that Tycho Brahe’s death was the result of “courtesy”:  “even though he felt the tension in his bladder increasing ….he put politeness before his health”. (However, others have suggested that it was a contest, and that Brahe died because his fierce competitiveness).

What are we to make of this? Did Blefkarius plagiarize Polo? (If he did, Bayle didn’t catch it; perhaps he hadn’t read Polo, a non-classical author). The first story resembles the timeless joke about the traveling salesman and the farmer’s daughter. It may be that a certain kind of person (represented by Blefkarius, Polo, Herodotus, and Abimelech) makes sure to find this custom wherever he goes, whether it was already there or not.

We should also note that during this era blonde people were not necessarily “white”. Ibn Fadlan, Ibn Battuta, and Marco Polo all describe both the pale northern peoples and the black Africans as lewd, filthy, superhumanly strong barbarians.

Dumb Swedes.

Judge William Cant declares Finns to be white (1908).

Bjork on ancient Icelandic customs

Sources: Marco Polo, Moule tr., pp. 269-270, 476; Tycho (per Kepler), Koestler’s Sleepwalkers, p. 311; Blefkarius, Bayle’s Historical and Critical Dictionary, pp. 104-106.

Published in: on November 15, 2013 at 7:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

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