Being hung like a Norse was key to social hierarchy and being considered a real man in 10th-century Icelandic society, according to a new paper, Size Matters: Penile Problems in Sagas of Icelanders, presented to the International Medieval Congress in Leeds, England, this week.
The comprehensive cultural history of the penis in medieval Iceland was researched by Carl Phelpstead from Cardiff University, Wales, who analyzed contemporaneous accounts of otherwise brave Viking warriors being ridiculed by women and girls for their dainty manhood and sexual timidity.
"For Viking men who suffered impotence or erectile problems, it was not merely a medical problem or an unfortunate constraint on their sex lives, it profoundly affected their identity," Phelpstead said.
Society in medieval Iceland operated under a one-gender system in which people were categorized not as male or female but as physically adequate or inadequate, Phelpstead believes.
"The result is a distinction between men on the one hand and everyone else, including most women, children, slaves and otherwise disenfranchised men on the other," he said.
In the ancient stories, penis size determined a man's status in a society that distinguished able-bodied, virile men from all other people. In rare cases, some women were able to gain this position of social status. Phelpstead points to repeated imagery and metaphors in the stories that referred to a penis as a "borer" and "drill of the hill of the leg."
"These descriptions suggest that the penis not only marked social position but could be used to establish or reassert social standing through phallic aggression," he said. "A penile problem such as erectile dysfunction compromised the ability of a man to assert or maintain this dominant position."
Phelpstead found evidence for his argument across all genres of Old Norse-Icelandic literature, as well as a cult of the phallus in pre-Christian Scandinavia, including ithyphallic rock carvings from Stone Age Norway and Bronze Age Sweden. He also identified castration anxiety among Viking men caused, he believes, by laws in force until 1260 allowing it as a kind of contraception and social engineering.
According to Phelpstead, having a penis was of less significance than whether its possessor had sufficient virility to produce an erection.
"Erectile dysfunction was both a symptom and a sign of men's move from one side of the social binary to the other," said Phelpstead. "If they were no longer vigorous men, they lost their gendered identity altogether."
To complicate matters further, Phelpstead found evidence in the stories that it was as unmanly to have an outsized penis as an undersized one. In the 13th-century Njal's Saga, the warrior Hrutr Herjolfsson is cursed by a jealous queen with an erection too big for intercourse with his bride.
SOUTH CHINA SEA SPAT: The image bolsters a Philippine Coast Guard assertion that Chinese inflatable boats deployed floating barriers at the shoal’s entrance last week Satellite images of the hotly disputed Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island, 黃岩島) in the South China Sea show a new floating barrier across its entrance, near where Philippine ships and Chinese coast guard vessels have had frequent run-ins. One of the images taken by Maxar Technologies on Thursday last week and viewed by Reuters showed the barrier blocking the mouth of the shoal, where the Chinese coast guard last week claimed to have driven off a Philippine vessel “illegally intruding” into Beijing’s waters. Manila, which last week deployed a Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessel to patrol the shoal and
Satoshi Kirishima spent almost half a century evading arrest, until mortality intervened. As deathbed confessions go, his was astonishing: Having lived a double life as a construction worker, the 70-year-old was admitted last month to a hospital near Tokyo where he told staff he was one of Japan’s most-wanted fugitives. In a more recent image provided to Japanese media by an acquaintance, it is just possible to discern a resemblance with the black-and-white photograph that has adorned Japanese police boxes for decades showing a bespectacled, smiling university student with shoulder-length hair. While he shared details of his family and his organization that only
CHINA LINKS: A report said that there were concerns about the loyalty of Qiu Xiangguo and Cheng Keding due to their direct contact with entities linked to China Two scientists at Canada’s top infectious disease laboratory lost their jobs after reviews found that they failed to protect sensitive assets and information, and failed to acknowledge collaborations with China, newly released records showed. The scientists, Qiu Xiangguo (邱香果) and her husband, Cheng Keding (成克定), were stripped of their security clearances in 2019 at Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory over questions about their loyalty to Canada, and the potential for coercion or exploitation by a foreign entity, the documents say. More than 600 pages were made public on Wednesday following a special all-party review of the records. The records show that the Canadian Security
‘RUSSIA CANNOT WIN’: The French president declined to say which nations were considering sending troops, saying he prefers to maintain some ‘strategic ambiguity’ French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday said that sending Western troops on the ground in Ukraine is not “ruled out” after the issue was debated at a gathering of European leaders in Paris, as Russia’s full-scale invasion grinds into a third year. The French leader said that “we will do everything needed so Russia cannot win the war” after the meeting of more than 20 European heads of state and government, and other Western officials. “There’s no consensus today to send in an official, endorsed manner troops on the ground, but in terms of dynamics, nothing can be ruled out,” Macron said