By Adam Goodman
Of the Post-Dispatch

Oct. 10, 1999
Edited by Virginia Baldwin Hick

Everyman's hero: Beowulf, that Anglo-Saxon tale of danger and bravery, looks like it's heading toward epic status. Christians and pagans alike are clamoring to hear the story of heroic Beowulf and his battle against the evil monster Grendel. And who says no one appreciates poetry anymore?

Millennium madness: Remember that scary and incredibly bright star that streaked across the heavens and fascinated us in 989? Well Ralph Glaber, a monk in Burgundy, says that was an apocalyptic warning of a dire future at Y1K. "What appears established with the greatest degree of certainty is that this phenomenon in the sky never appears to men without being the sure sign of some mysterious and terrible event," he writes. Yikes! Just hope my sundial keeps working.

Northern exposure: Word from the North is that Eirik the Red's eldest son, Leif, and his crew have discovered another new land to the far west. They're calling this one Vinland. Reports coming back to Greenland and Iceland from the ocean travelers say the distant land appears warmer and welcoming and ready for further exploration. Rack up another successful Viking mission for recent Christian-convert King Olaf Trygvesson, a man who's never found a friend or fjord he couldn't cross . . .

Speaking of good King Olaf, our own King Ethelred is still smarting from the loss of his noblest white-haired warrior Byrhtnoth to the double-crossing Vikings at Maldon several years back. We've got the remedy: "The Battle of Maldon," a new song making the rounds. The song should ensure that generations to come will learn about the gentlemanly Byrhtnoth and fair play. For those of you still stuck in the Dark Ages and unfamiliar with this story, Byrhtnoth honourably agreed to let the trapped Vikings cross a causeway unharmed to the Maldon mainland for a proper fight. Then the Vikings brutally killed him.

Burgher bits: One local merchant just back from Pavia, the Italian trading capital for all goods exotic, says the hottest item there after Chinese gunpowder from the Song Dynasty is an Eastern spice called "pepper." He also got a taste of a new sweet called "sugar," but doesn't expect it to catch on here. This colyumnist and his sweet tooth will stick with honey thankuverymuch ...

Speaking of the bazaar, Moorish merchants continue to flood the market with their pottery. Kilns are popping up all over Iberia to make new wares, including plates, which they insist are popular. Personally, you couldn't get me to give up my wooden plates for all the gold in Ghana . . .

I'm still waiting for my invite, but I understand the lords around town are planning a dinner Frig's-day evening to celebrate this year's harvest. They may have more oxen and land, but don't forget these nobles have to eat just like the rest of us -- with a knife and spoon.

Serf and turf: It's still supposed to be a secret, but insiders tell me Otto III is the winner of the "Man of the Millennium" award. Best known as the "dreamer," Otto III took control of the Holy Roman Empire as a mere 16-year-old just a few years ago. He is being recognized for his push to reunite Eastern and Western Christendom. Frankly, my own nod would go to Otto's trusted adviser -- Sylvester II, the pope formerly known as Gerbert of Aurillac. Jumping into the spotlight 20 years ago in his famous debate with Otric over categories of natural philosophy, the much-misunderstood Gerbert is a brilliant intellectual. He is student of the skies and philosophy, and a master of Arabic numerals and the Chinese abacus.

Notes on my tunic: First, word gets out that monasteries are forcing their monks to take an incredible five baths a year. Now we hear that some Danes actually take baths and comb their hair once a week . . .

While we're on the subject of hygiene and monks, these guys apparently take their you-know-what seriously. A source tells me that plans for the new town monastery call for placing the building's necessarium over running water and downstream from the building's drinking-water access. And to think, the rest of us just use moss.

Rockin' and Roland: Visiting Muslim leaders are hosting a community march Thor's-day to protest what they describe as revisionist history being promoted by some Christians. Roland of Breton, who led King Charlemagne's rear guard, was killed in 778 when the Franc army was ambushed and slaughtered by Basques. The Muslim leaders say storytellers are altering the truth in an attempt to breed prejudice. They fear such propaganda could lead to Christian crusades in the years ahead.

Location, location, location: It seems like those Bread Co. bakeries are sprouting up next to every watermill in the region these days. Taking advantage of their proximity to the community grain grinders, the bakers are selling every kind of bread imaginable: barley, rye and even wheat. Say goodbye to week-old bread!

It's a boyby: It's a new heir named Macbeth for one Scottish royal clan. He follows in the tiny footsteps of his young cousin Duncan. Family members say they expect incredibly ambitious things from both youngsters in the years ahead, though the two apparently are already having some trouble getting along.

Mea culpa: An item in Moon-day's finest should have said that the "Love a Leper" benefit is on Woden's-day afternoon, not Tiw's-day. The benefit will raise money for a new leper hospital. Let's help these suffering folks and keep that contagious nuisance away from town.

This will be my last colyumn for a bit so I can take some much deserved R&R. I hope to play a little chess, backgammon and noughts-and-crosses. See you next millennium.


"Western Civilizations: Their History and Their Culture," Edward McNall Burns, Robert E. Lerner and Standish Meacham, W.W. Norton & Co., 1980.

"The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium/An Englishman's World," Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger, Little Brown & Co., 1999.

"The Last Apocalypse: Europe at the Year 1000 A.D.," James Reston Jr., Doubleday, 1998.