By André Bastos Gurgel, OAB
In the modern age we often hear about deeds performed by our ancestors which we, as rational human beings, attribute to legend. Americans must have heard about the deeds of the pilgrim Daniel Boone who, legend says, was able to cut down trees with his bare hands. On the other hand, what happens when we see one of those myths becomereality before our own eyes?
The Myth: Orm Storolfson
Strength competitions were very common in the ancient world. Apart from the well-known Olympic Games, such competitions were popular among the Vikings and the Celtic peoples, for example. That’s why we still have competitions such as the Strongman in Iceland and the Highlander Games in Scotland.
Ormur Stórólfsson (nicknamed Hinn Sterki, “The Strong”) was a renowned Viking warrior from Rangárvallasýsla in Iceland in the 10th century. He is the protagonist of his own saga and also appears in Bárðar Snæfellsás’s saga, the Njál Saga, the Saga of Egil Skallagrimson, Grim’s saga Loðinkinna and the Saga of Grettir. Legend says that he was the strongest man in the world and was able to carry a Viking ship’s mast weighing 1,430 lbs (650 kg) and 33 ft (10 m) in length. It took fifty “mere mortals” to put the mast on his shoulders, then he walked three steps before breaking his back.
Reality: Hafþór Björnsson
Old Norse enthusiasts believe such narratives were invented for many reasons, such as praising a contemporary hero by attributing supernatural powers to him. That’s why the feat of Orm Storolfson was regarded as a legend. They’re right to be skeptical, but what happens when we see someone perform the same deed in the modern age?
Who would believe that a human being would be able to perform such a task? Nevertheless, the one-thousand-year-old record was broken in 2015 by the Game of Thrones actor and strongman Hafþór Björnsson who carried a 1,433-lb. log on his back for five steps.
Perhaps we should become less skeptical regarding the sagas? It’s worth mentioning that there are plenty of narratives describing how the Vikings were the first to reach the American continent, but they are mostly regarded as fantasy. Therefore, should classical enthusiasts and scholars be more open-minded towards the sagas? I certainly think so!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
André Bastos Gurgel, OAB (Order of Attorneys of Brazil), Academic Advisor for the Carmenta Online Latin School, is a life-long student of both modern and ancient languages. Mr. Gurgel is fluent in English, Portuguese, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Latin (the last of which he learned with Carmenta) and has a working knowledge of Danish, Hebrew, Ancient Greek, and Sanskrit. Mr. Gurgel is currently studying Old English through Carmenta as well.
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