Mini-Feature: Getting Swol and Viking Wisdom

Tips and readings from the editors, sans wokescolding

What is your lifestyle tip for readers this week?

Men: trim your eyebrow, nose, and ear hair. Trust me. Women: accept nothing less. 

-James Poulos, executive editor of The American Mind

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Someone went viral on Twitter the other day (I am trying to refrain from linking to the birdsite unless absolutely necessary, but you can find this tweet if you really want to I'm sure) with the claim that "Each large muscle of a bodybuilder represents a language he didn't learn, a poem he didn't read, a fun fact he never memorised."

In what was perhaps a supremely obnoxious move, I did feel it necessary to point out that I both lift obsessively and can read ... more languages than most. But only by way of establishing my authority to say: the weird neo-Gnosticism which divorces physical from mental training in the manner of this tweet is one of the most damaging misapprehensions of our era. 

When Thales of Miletus advocated keeping "a sound mind in a sound body," he was doing more than merely celebrating two kinds of excellence that both happen to be very nice to have. He was expressing a felt sense of the human person's essential integrity, a deep and powerful intuition that shaped much of Greek antiquity: beauty of the body and of the mind have more than accidental symmetry with one another. 

Plato was clearly citing conventional Greek wisdom when he proposed "gymnastics [meaning a whole range of physical activity from dance to boxing] for the body, and music [meaning all the literary and mathematical arts] for the soul" as the two basic elements of any real education. Personally, I like to read the Hebrew Bible between sets. But whatever you do, don't imagine your physical health as some sort of extracurricular thing. It's the manifestation in one sphere of the same thing you pursue in another when you work at honing your mental faculties. 

They will feed one another—the hard truths of exercise will root the lofty abstractions of which your mind is capable, and those abstractions will in turn guide your form and aspirations in exercising. The mind is not "over" matter—matter is suffused with mind, and mind dithers into nonsense unless it is working with the realities of matter. Learn this, and get swol.

-Spencer Klavan, associate editor of The American Mind

Consider the following thousand year old Viking Wisdom on alcohol and the dating scene:


Stanzas 11-14 of “Hávamál” (The Sayings of Hár), Hollander translation:

Better burden bearest thou nowise

than shrewd head on thy shoulders;

but with worser food farest thou never

than an overmuch of mead.

For good is not, though good it is thought,

mead for the sons of men;

the deeper he drinks the dimmer grows

the mind of many a man.

The heron of heedlessness hovers o'er the feast;

and stealeth the minds of men.

With that fowl's feathers fettered I was

when I was Gunnloth's guest.

Drunk I became, dead drunk, forsooth,

when I was with wise Fjalar;

That bout is best from which back fetches

each man his mind full clear.

Dating Scene

Stanzas 90-93 of “Hávamál” (The Sayings of Hár), Auden & Taylor translation:

To love a woman whose ways are false

Is like sledding over slippery ice

With unshod horses out of control,

Badly trained two-year-olds,

Or drifting rudderless on a rough sea,

Or catching a reindeer with a crippled hand

On a thawing hillside: think not to do it.

Naked I may speak now for I know both:

Men are treacherous too

Fairest we speak when falsest we think:

many a maid is deceived.

Gallantly shall he speak and gifts bring

Who wishes for woman's love:

praise the features of the fair girl,

Who courts well will conquer.

Never reproach another for his love:

It happens often enough

That beauty ensnares with desire the wise

While the foolish remain unmoved.

-Matthew Peterson, founding editor of The American Mind