Sunday, June 3, 2007

Poor Old Aethelred


Maybe by now you might be wondering who this Athelred guy in this site's address is... or, maybe it never crossed your mind. In either case, I've decided to write a short piece about the dangers of bad history, and I'm going to use poor old Aethelred as an example.

Aethelred was the king of England from about 978-1016. During his reign he had to deal with treacherous advisors, troublesome nobles, and hordes of angry Vikings. To be honest, I'm surprised that a man whom history has described as incompetent managed to last for so long. Obviously he did something right, although he certainly made some pretty dumb decisions as well.

Aethelred earned the sobriquet 'Unread' or 'Readless' either at the end of his reign, or shortly after his death. This is what I'd like to highlight in terms of bad history. Amateur historians who didn't do their research, real historians who didn't speak Old English, and common people who didn't know any better have all claimed that Aethelred's nickname means something like 'unready.' Now, I get the feeling that many of them must have been either pretty lazy, or pretty ignorant, because putting a 'y' on the end of an Old English word does not make it into a Modern English word. Nor does it adequately translate the word from Old to Modern English. Unfortunately, not many people seemed to care all that much about the word's real meaning, and so the incorrect translation has wreaked havoc on this section of English history. Allowing his nickname to colour their work, many historians have portrayed Aethelred as an incompetent king who was not prepared for the responsibility of his position, and subsequently lost the nation to the Danes...

Maybe you see where I'm going with this. 'unread' does not actually translate as 'unready.' It really means 'ill-counseled,' or in my translation; 'guy who takes bad advice.' The truth of the matter is that Aethelred was very well prepared to rule England, he just managed to allow his advisors to influence his decisions a little too often. This, more than any imagined unpreparedness, is why he was so soundly defeated by the Danes.

So what does this all have to do with anything? Well, the point I'm trying to make is that history is all too often misinterpreted, either by amateurs with no training in proper research and critical thinking, or by pros with an agenda. It is precisely these idiots whose opinions tend to influence the ideas of the general public, which confuses me, since their claims are always the hardest to believe. Sure, our perception of Aethelred may not actually have any serious repercussions, but this kind of thing is far from rare. Sadly, especially for me, it is the Middle Ages that suffer most at the hands of untrained or misguided 'historians'...but that is an issue I'll take up another time.

So, the lesson for today is that much of what we think we know about our past is actually wrong. Good historians will tell you what is as close to 'accurate' as possible, but no one seems to want to listen to them. This is why I picked Athelred as my site's address. Maybe I can set a few misconceptions right, and if not, at least I can get people to start thinking more about what they hear and read.

Until next time, remember Aethelred's plight, and try not to be so hard on him; he wasn't unready, he just had bad advice. Ciao.

2 comments:

Rodrigo said...

Oi, achei teu blog pelo google tá bem interessante gostei desse post. Quando der dá uma passada pelo meu blog, é sobre camisetas personalizadas, mostra passo a passo como criar uma camiseta personalizada bem maneira. Até mais.

Rodrigo said...

Oi, achei teu blog pelo google tá bem interessante gostei desse post. Quando der dá uma passada pelo meu blog, é sobre camisetas personalizadas, mostra passo a passo como criar uma camiseta personalizada bem maneira. Até mais.