Holger Danske

Oct. 14 - We're moving on December 1st. I'm sure I'll have plenty to write about that in the weeks ahead, but one of the things I'm most excited about is the name of our new street. It has three virtues:

First, it doesn't have an "" in it, meaning I can type my address it without having to access [ALT+0248] or a Word macro.

Second, I can actually pronounce it. That means I'll be able to take cabs home without having to draw crude maps. It also means that when people ask me where I live I'll be able to answer them once, instead of several times.

Lastly, it's just a damn cool name: Holger Danskevej, or "Holger the Dane's Way." It's Holger's way or the highway, baby. (Actually, that's not true: it's his way or any number of parallel ways, most of which are broader and faster.)

My non-Danish readers are probably wondering who Holger the Dane is. If not, they soon will be, because I'm about to tell you all about him in my own uniquely unreliable way.

We first encounter Holger Danske in The Song of Roland, which you may remember forgetting to read (or sing) in college. Holger appears as one of Charlemagne's warriors in this medieval French song, which consists of 161 verses of 8-10 lines each—one of several reasons it never made the Billboard Top Ten.

The medieval French were no better than me at Danish, so Holger Danske is referred to as Duke Oger (and sometimes Ogier) of Denmark. As far as I can tell he only makes two brief appearances, showing up in the 12th and 58th verses, but that was apparently enough to perpetuate his memory through the middle ages.

His legend is simple. He was the son of a Danish King. His own son was killed by Charlemagne's son, Charlot. He therefore hunted Charlot down and killed him, and damn near killed Charlemagne himself. He repulsed Charlemagne's incursions into southern Denmark (i.e., northern Germany) for years, but eventually joined forces with him to fight the Islamofascists. By the time he finally returned home to Kronborg Castle he was so exhausted he fell asleep—forever.

Or maybe he was a mercenary at Charlemagne's court who got homesick one day and walked all the way from Charlemagne's headquarters in southern France up to Kronborg castle in Denmark—at which point he was so exhausted he fell asleep—forever.

You're not going to learn any more about old Holger from H.C. Andersen's tale about him, except for the fact that our slumbering warrior sees everything that's happening in Denmark in his dreams and receives annual visits from an angel.

So tired...

Like most legends, Holger's story is pretty thin, and a little frayed around the edges. Pull too hard on any of those loose threads and the whole thing comes undone. The important thing to keep in mind is that even the most deluded Danes understand that the artificial-stone statue in the catacombs of Kronborg Castle (which most of us know as Hamlet's Elsinore) is an artificial-stone statue, not the petrified remains of some sleeping medieval mercenary.

But should the sovereignty of Denmark ever be threatened, even sober Danes will tell you, this statue will come to life, raise his sword, and rise to Denmark's defense.

Not bloody likely, I know. But legends work on metaphorical levels: most of the major Danish resistance movements during the Nazi occupation called themselves "Holger Danske." (This shows more imagination than that exhibited by the allied forces that defeated the Nazis, who called themselves "the allied forces.")

* * *

Speaking of Nazis, it was sixty years ago today that Field Marshal Rommel of Germany was visited by two of Hitler's personal staff. They informed him that he was suspected of involvement in the July 20th plot to assassinate the Fuhrer and that he would therefore be required either to (a) stand trial and die, or (b) just die. They brought some poison along to facilitate his decision.

It was 57 years ago today that American pilot Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in a rocket-powered airplane. Yeager insisted it was already broken and consequently refused to repair it despite repeated admonitions by his mother. It remains broken to this day.

(The sound barrier should not be confused with the Long Island Sound barrier, sometimes referred to as the Throg's Neck Bridge.)

On October 14, 1651, Massachusetts passed laws prohibiting the poor from dressing excessively. It was felt that persons of limited means should save their money and learn to get by with simple vinaigrettes.

The German spy Mata Hari, a Dutchwoman named Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, was executed by the French on October 14, 1917. There wasn't much actual evidence of espionage, but she had been seen naked with German officers and the French considered this distasteful enough to kill her.

Today's birthday celebrants include Harry Anderson (1952), Ralph Lauren (1939), Roger Moore (1927), Lillian Gish (1896), e.e. cummings (1894), Dwight Eisenhower (1890), and William Penn (1644).

My friend Lisa turns... older... today. She's just moved across North America to an undisclosed location to get out of a scary domestic situation, so her blog is much more interesting than mine, and even less regular.

Also, she's still older than me.

It's Flag Day in Madagascar and Republic Day in Yemen.

Happy Thursday!

2004, The Moron's Almanac™

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