September 2008

Viking society – or rather Old Norse and Old Danish culture, since the ‘Vikings’ were merely the subset of that culture which went raiding – is well known for being extremely macho. A great deal of emphasis was placed on independence, toughness, and the kind of bloody-minded aggression that seems almost pathological to us in our gentler modern society. Would we, for example, praise a son who raked the equivalent of a dozen stiletto blades down his father’s back because he was tired of doing a job he thought was for milksops? Probably not. But in Grettir’s saga, this is seen as an early example of Grettir’s indomitable spirit, very suitable for a hero.

A man’s reputation was worth more to him than his life. I’m trying to remember the name of the saga, but hopefully better informed readers can tell me the one I’m thinking of; the hero has been captured and held as a servant by a strong household. Eventually, he contrives to escape without anyone in the household knowing about it. He’s on the brink of getting entirely away when he thinks to himself ‘what am I doing, sneaking out like a slave or a woman?!’ Horrified at the thought that everyone will know he behaved like a coward, he turns back, kills everyone, and then escapes, happy that this time he has dealt with the matter like a man.

This was a culture which valued men for their hardness, and where reputation was all. As a result, there could be no worse thing that your enemies could do to you than to publically insult you and call you soft. In fact, the Vikings were extremely touchy about the whole subject of insults.

To quote from Gunnora Hallakarva, whose essay is the best treatment I’ve seen on the subject:

The Old Norse word used in the law code and literature for an insult was níð , which may be defined as “libel, insult, scorn, lawlessness, cowardice, sexual perversion, homosexuality” (Markey 75). From níð are derived such words as níðvisur (“insulting verses”), níðskald (“insult-poet”), níðingr (“coward, outlaw”), griðníðingr (“truce-breaker”), níðstöng (“scorn-pole”) (Markey 75, 79 & 80; Sørenson 29), also níða (“to perform níð poetry”), tunguníð (“verbal níð”), tréníð (“timber níð”, carved or sculpted representations of men involved in a homosexual act, related to niíðstöng, above) (Sørenson 28-29). Níð was part of a family of concepts which all have connotations of passive male homosexuality, such as: ergi or regi (nouns) and argr or ragr (the adjective form of ergi) (“willing or inclined to play or interested in playing the female part in sexual relations with another man, unmanly, effeminate, cowardly”); ergjask (“to become argr”); rassragr (“arse-ragr”); stroðinn and sorðinn (“sexually used by a man”) and sansorðinn (“demonstrably sexually used by another man”) (Sørenson 17-18, 80). A man who is a seiðmaðr (one who practices women’s magic) who is argr is called seiðskratti (Sørenson 63).

Calling a man by any term which suggested he played the ‘passive’ or ‘feminine’ part in homosexual sex was considered an insult so severe that the person who had been insulted had the right to avenge it in combat. Just the insult itself might be enough to get a man outlawed.

There is no apparent equivalent derogatory term for a man who played the ‘active’ part in homosexual sex. Indeed in ‘Guðmundar saga dýra’ Guðmundar plans to rape a male captive in order to break his spirit. This reflects badly on the slave, but not on the rapist, who is merely demonstrating his manliness.

Both castration and rape of defeated foes was seen as a good way of making them more effeminate, and therefore easier to control.

In this context – where the penetrator is regarded as perfectly normal and admirable, but to be the one being penetrated is to be shamed, broken, treated as a slave and ridiculed thenceforth as unmanly – it’s hard to imagine many m/m relationships existing as between equals.

There certainly seem to have been the Viking equivalent of call-boys, but they were cheap and low status, and regarded as essentially slaves. In this the Vikings were very similar to the Romans – it didn’t matter who you fucked, but if you were to be regarded as a real man it mattered very much that nobody fucked you.

Despite this attitude, some ‘passive’ homosexual men may have gained a certain amount of power by practicing seiðr magic. This was a traditional form of women’s magic that seems to have involved ritual sex. No doubt the seiðmaðr were ridiculed as other ‘soft’ men were, but this may have been counterbalanced by a fear of their uncanny powers.

Aside from being ridiculed, insulted and regarded as being on a par with slaves, I’m not aware that ‘argr’ men were punished for it before the introduction of Christianity. Toleration with contempt seems to have been the order of the day.

To sum up, it’s a perfect society for a master/slave, BSDM sort of relationship, but there are big psychological and cultural problems for any couple who want to think of themselves as equals.

For a much fuller treatment of the subject, I highly recommend

Gunnora Hallakarva:
The Vikings and Homosexuality:


Hello again! I hope you enjoyed our Aussie week last week, this week we look at homosexuality and attitudes to it from two very differing viewpoints. I think – at least, I for one am looking forward to both these posts.

On Tuesday, Alex Beecroft will be discussing the Viking attitude to homosexuality and will probably point out what’s VERY wrong with my pictures here. What a shame Kirk Douglas didn’t pin Tony Curtis to a wheel and started chucking axes at him, hmm?

And on Thursday, Charlie Cochrane will be exploring E M Forster so there will be a lack of axes, I’m afraid.

Do drop by and don’t be afraid to add a comment!

In line with Margaret Leigh’s post on her native country, we thought we’d keep the theme running with a post on Australian cinema.

Never self-indulgent, always fascinating and sometimes as harsh as the climate of its country, Australian cinema has clawed its way to the notice of the film world, taking its place -rightly, imo – alongside any nation on earth.

Here are a few of my favourites. I’d love to know about yours.

Muriel’s Wedding

A comedy which deals with suicide, theft, cancer? Surely not? But yet, it deals with all these and more. A wonderful warped coming out film with a great score and magnificent performances from all.

Strictly Ballroom

Tongue firmly in cheek and camper than a line of tents, this is a “must watch” for me whenever it comes on the TV. I love the storyline, (even if the cliche of the “ugly girl” becomes lovely just by taking her glasses off is a little over-done) the dancing, the over-the-top characters, the histrionics, the the music. Oh and the section where Paul Mecurio is dancing in his vest? And the Pasa Double? Hubba hubba. *fans self*

Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Not the campest of our offerings, surprisingly. A travelogue tail of female impersonators travelling from Sydney to Alice Springs (don’t ask) and the adventures and misadventures they encounter along the way. Far fetched? Yes. Over the top? Absolutely. Brilliant? Not a doubt about it. If you’ve never see it, it’s worth it just for Guy Pearce, perched on top of Priscilla miming to opera while trailing silver lame across the Australian scenery.


Back when Mel Gibson was good, and beautiful and not a loon. The film makes you love the characters and then breaks your heart into little bitty pieces. There’s a lovely slashy subtext if you have slash goggles, which I’m sure you do.

The Proposition

What? you are saying, “Never heard of it.” I caught this on a criminally short run and felt happy to have seen it. It’s what the Aussies do best, gritty, dark morally ambigious drama. The blurb goes :”A lawman apprehends a notorious outlaw and gives him 9 days to kill his older brother, or else they’ll execute his younger brother.” So you know you aren’t in for a Hollywood edition of an Australian Western. Screenplay by Nick Cave, which might give you a bit of a clue, too. If you like Kurosawa or Eastwood-style westerns then get the DVD of this – hard to watch in parts but so worth it.

The Piano

Called at times, “a fairy tale for adults” this was filmed in New Zealand with an international cast but is essentially Australian made. Scenery, score, performances to die for together with angst and turmoil by the bucketload this film is just about the perfect viewing for my money.


Another “can’t miss” for me when it comes on the TV. A real “journey” film that will grab you right from the beginning and you crying, laughing, cringing and simply wallowing in the wonderfulness of it. Wonderful wonderful score (hmmm – i’m seeing a pattern here)

I’ve included a clip of Geoffrey Rush (deservedly won a Oscar for his performance as the mentally ill David Helfgott) playing Flight of the Bumblebee. Rush did all his own hand workfor the film, which, as someone who can barely tinkle the ivories amazes me almost as much as the man’s performance. If you watch an interview with the real Helfgott it’s uncanny how accurate Rush’s performance is. It’s the most heartwarming film I know, and even this one clip makes me tear up.

The Shearers’ strike of 1891 is a pivotal event in Australian history which was responsible for the inception of the Australian Labor party and is also commemorated in Queensland by Labor Day which falls in May.

Why it happened

There is a widely held, but erroneous view that the Shearers’ strike of 1891 started when, in response to falling wool prices, agriculturalists attempted to lower the shearers’ wage, which was already low enough at one pound per hundred shorn.

The average shearer today can shear between 200-250 sheep in a day, but he is working with the advantage of electric or ‘machine’ shears.

In 1891, shearers used hand operated shears. Imagine trying to shear 100 sheep using these:

Old Style Hand Shears

Hand Shearing

How it Started

On the 5th of January, 1891, Charles Fairbairn, the manager of Logan Downs Station near Clermont attempted to get shearers to sign a Pastoralists Association contract of free labor in an attempt to reduce the influence of the shearers’ union. None of the shearers would sign, and they all declined to work under any agreement other than the verbal agreement of their union which included “continuance of the existing rates of pay, protection of their rights and privileges under just and equitable agreements, and a “closed shop” to exclude scabs or Chinese labor.”[1]

The Worker A prominent republican paper of the time, issued by the famous William Lane, carried the following rallying line in one article: “you can take all social injustices and industrial inequalities and vested interests and strangle them one by one with your million muscled hands.” which reflected the radical republicanism of the times, especially in the city of Brisbane.

In February 1891, the center of the strike moved to Barcaldine, an advantageous place to mount a strike because it was the terminus of the railway line from Rockhampton and at the center of the Mitchell district, the richest pastoral area of the colony which held some thirty farms, including Beaconsfield Station, one of the largest sheep farms in Australia.

Within a very short time, the Shearers’ camps at Logan Creek and Blue Bush Swamp swelled to between 400-500 men.

By March of 1891 the battle lines were firmly drawn when the Pastoralists Association brought in ‘free laborers’. These free laborers were referred to as ‘scabs’* by the shearers’ and faced booing and jeers from the striking men, with many of them being persuaded to join the strike.

This was not to be tolerated, and the colonial authorities ordered troopers to protect the free laborers. Troopers rode from woolshed to woolshed, driving off the strikers. When striking unionists were arrested, woolsheds and crops were burned in retaliation.

Unionists marched at Clermont and Barcaldine under the proud Southern Cross flag of the Eureka Stockade Diggers and when the military mounted parades of their own in response, the situation grew so tense that shots were close to being fired.

The Eureka Flag

The End of the Strike

In June of 1891 troopers rode to the camp at Capella to arrest unionists involved in the jostling of George Fairbairn at Clermont Railway station. The Union office at Barcaldine was surrounded by 120 mounted infantry who arrested the strike committee.

The committee members were charged with sedition and conspiracy. They each received three year gaol terms, and the further punishment upon release of two hundred pound, twelve month good behaviour bonds.

It was a crushing blow to the movement, and by the end of June, the strike had collapsed.

The end of the strike, however, was not the end of the argument, so to speak. Calls for a political party to protect the interests of the Australian Worker became more insistent as time wore on, leading to the creation of The Australian Labor Party which still exists today and is currently the party holding majority in Australia with the election in late 2007 of Labor Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd.

Whether the Labor party as we know it today would pass muster with the proud and indomitable shearers of 1891, is a matter for conjecture and not within the scope of this article.

The actions of the shearers in 1891, though, are worthy of commemoration. May 6th marks the anniversary of this turbulent and pivotal time in Australian History remembering the men who fought to see all workers in Australia get a fair go.

Meg Leigh (C) 2008

Suggested Reading:




*Scab is a derogative term still used in Australia today, to refer to anyone who agrees to come in and work on a site that is affected by a strike.

Waltzin’ Matilda, Waltzing Matilda…

G’day possums – this week we shall be mainly celebrating things of an Antipodean flavour. Nom!

On Tuesday, Margaret Leigh will be discussing the Australian Shearer’s Strike of 1891. Bonza!

And on Thursday we’ll be sharing some of our favourite Aussie films!

See you during the week!

Yes – we all do the research, it’s not all about hot men in costumes. It’s about the story, and the history and the politics and the socio….

Oh who am I kidding? Sometimes, you know? It’s just all about the men in hot, historical costumes.

Here are a few of our favourites, (in no particular order) men who look good (and know it) in a weskit and breeches – damp or otherwise. Some actors seem to specialise more than others in the historical film genre, and frankly – who can blame ’em? Pictures under the cut to save people’s dial-up from collapsing. You’ll need to click on the thumbnails to see the bigger pictures too. (more…)

Romance is a strange genre.  It has a conservative center, radical margins and a huge meta-culture constantly angsting about the state and future of the genre.  One of the main preoccupations of the romance aficionado is what trend is about to end, and what will be the next big thing.  This speculation is propelled less by the admittedly enormous and insatiable readership, than the also considerable ranks of prospective authors–most of them desperate to be writing a book that is hot and happening, not last month’s fad.

The figure below is based on a recent survey of erotic romance writers hosted at the ERECblog.  The question was: What erotic romance sub-genre do you think might be the next big thing?

The answers here (read clockwise from the top) can be read as roughly: fantasy (4%), Historical (22%), GLBT (18%), older woman and femdom (7%), various types of threesome (11%)… and of course the conglomeration of the realistic (who can predict anything?) and romantic (I will write what I like no matter what!) who would not hazard a guess.

What erotic romance sub-genre do you think might be the next big thing?

What erotic romance sub-genre do you think might be the next big thing?

But regardless of how accurate anyone’s guess might be, it is nice to see gay fiction and historicals are currently on peoples minds.

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