Well last night I was at home to get a haircut for my job interview and my mom was kind enough to DVR the opening ceremony for me. I must say, it was probably the most impressive one I can remember (certainly of the Winter ones) and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Russia has such a long, storied, complex, and frankly awkward national history and I think that the Sochi committee did a brilliant job at covering all that in such a concise manner. Being a Nonwestern History Major and having took a Russian Lit class last semester really made it possible for me to appreciate what I was seeing; as having context always does. During the Cyrillic acrostic segment I was familiar with every item listed, though I would like to know poor Tolstoy was forced to share T with television (every other letter only got one item). The Thousand Years of History in Three Minutes short was also very good, starting with the Varangians and ending with right now (but the writers of this short didn’t seem to think anything notable happened in the last century). My personal favorite scene in the whole ceremony was when Czar Peter the Great sailed to what would later become St. Petersburg. I could recognize everything that was being shown, so I really didn’t like the fact the announcers had to explain every damn thing that was shown. I know The Bronze Horseman when I see it. I did a face palm during the ball dance, because it brought me back to the dreary experience of braving through Anna Karenina, so I laughed heartily when the train appeared later. Over all I would say that the opening ceremony was everything it should be, save for some egregious omissions. It was certainly better than the London 2012 one, which was very, well, British. The only thing missing from the Sochi ceremony was Putin wrestling an almasty.
The peoples we refer to as the “Vikings” are the Germanic cultures known as the Norwegians, Swedes, and Danes, collectively called the Norse. Most today know them only as pirates, which is what the word “Viking” roughly translates into, and many were pirates, but the Norse were also farmers, fisherman, merchants, and many other occupations. However it was piracy that they first became notable for as they raided monasteries and villages in Scotland, Ireland, and England (and master pieces like the Book of Kells narrowly survived their pillaging). They made their merciless raids from their highly mobile ships, which brings us to their first art form we’ll look at. Not only were their long ships well designed from a functional standpoint, many of them were also floating art exhibits. One of the first long ships to be evacuated intact is the Oseberg Ship. The book notes it’s beautiful interlaced beast designs that frame the margin of the ship. Such designs will ring a bell with anyone who looked at the Kells page earlier in the chapter, as well as the jewelry from other Germanic tribes in earlier chapters. One striking detail not discussed is the gorgeous metal dragonhead, decorated with a similar aesthetic, but appearing far more abstract. The Oseberg ship has some enigmatic features as well, such as a bucket with a figure who looks suspiciously similar to Buddha. Here there are below:
Such images made it possible for the Norse to travel all over their known world, evidently diversifying their art while they were at it. At first they were content with raiding and trading, but soon they tried their hand at conquest and colonization. The Danes nearly conquered all England, fictionalized Bernard Cornwell’s excellent Saxon Series, and colonized the Faroe Islands. The Swedes set up a successful colony known as the Rus, which would eventually evolve into Russia. Most successful were the Norwegians who conquered Normandy, founded Dublin and Iceland, and set up ill fated colonies in Greenland and Newfoundland. Wherever they went, they took their fine art with them. Despite our image of them as brutal killers, they seemed driven to beautify the items around them.
The Norse made such a profound impact so it is little wonder today they are more myths than men. The sagas and poems they left behind actually seem to reinforce that. Both their actions and their art have served as inspiration for artists ever since.