Yet the person who suggested this was no less an authority than Claus Grube, the Danish ambassador in London. He told the paper that sarcasm, irony and understatement are part of the “common heritage” between Denmark and Britain. In support of his theory he noted that the later Old Norse sagas had examples of laconic humor.
As one who has fallen a bit behind on his Old Norse reading list, I must take the ambassador’s word on the subject, but humorous Vikings using understatement and sarcasm like a sword is a challenging concept. The mind struggles to form a mental picture:
It is a typical summer’s day off the coast of early Britain — rain, sleet, gale-force winds. Sven says to Olaf: “Perfect weather for pillaging, eh Olaf?”
“Yes,” Olaf, says, “time to give the Britons a little spot of bother.”
And they both have an ironic laugh that would rattle the horns on their helmets if they had any.
I am not buying it. The chronicles of the period speak of the invaders’ crimes but say nothing about cutting remarks that hurt the locals’ feelings. Next it will be suggested that the Vikings gave each other supportive group hugs.
To be fair to the ambassador, he did say that the “extreme popularity” of Monty Python in Denmark is evidence of this shared bond of humor today. But then one doesn’t have to be descended from pillaging or pillaged ancestors to like Monty Python. A fondness for funny walks or dead parrots is enough.
Of course, it could have been much worse. What if the Vikings had employed slapstick on their raids, assaulting villagers’ faces with cream pies? Today, you might go to Britain and people would be acting like the Three Stooges, saying “nyuck, nyuck, nyuck” in English accents and poking each other in the eye with umbrellas.