24 Comments

  1. I think it’s just supposed to reference the idea that Vikings don’t bathe very often.

    (Not actually historically accurate, except to the extent that there’s a limited amount you can do if you’re on the open ocean in a longship for extended periods of time. But, in fact, there is a famous piece of writing from an Anglo-Saxon monk complaining about how kids these days are emulating those Vikings and doing un-Godly things like “bathing” and “listening to music which you can dance to.”)

  2. Obviously, when I read about the fact that an Eighth century Angelcynn Christian preacher was talking about how music and dancing was sinful, I naturally had to reply with a verse:

    mōtaþ beon pohhedes / fōt pohhedes
    onscæcen éower Sunnandæġe sċōs

    (“It is necessary to become slackened. Foot slackened. To remove-by-shaking your Sunday shoes.”)

  3. Yes to Downpuppy’s account of what the action is, and which prompts the dialog. And then the “why it’s funny” involves them all regarding a mere week as a rather short interval to be requiring a bath.

  4. Ahhh yes. I think Downpuppy has got it too. However, I think the humour is the trope that first-time parents think every ‘first’ event in their baby’s life, no matter how trivial, is a big deal and they’ll drop everything to be a part of it…in this case, a huge battle.

  5. Ian, have you ever run across The Secret History of the English Language by M.J. Harper? I’m dipping into it currently. Very eccentric and nonstandard viewpoint, probably quite wrong, but the snappily ironic presentation is quite fun to read. I heard about it from John McWhorter podcast (or maybe Arnold Zwicky blog?) with that same kind of “Of course he’s wrong but it is fun” recco.

  6. Here’s my take, FWIW: Red Shirt and Horned Hat are gossiping in the middle of a battle. The ‘joke’ is more apparent if you’ve ever seen a baby being born. There’s a reason why the nurse will wash the baby almost immediately.

  7. I found CaroZ comment strange. If the joke is the baby is feisty is the joke to explain the melee then the arrows is just punctuation and certainly is explained as much as any other aspect of the babies are feisty joke.

    But seeing downpuppy’s explanation that seems to make more sense. But it wasn’t clear. Perhaps blue shirt Ivan should be more in focus and made more clear he is dropping his sword and running away. As it is I barely even noticed him. Also in the second panel the enemy going “arggh” was distracting. It drew attention to the battle making it seem that battle was the point of the joke as I had first assumed.

    Also new parents thinking a baby is a wonderful thing every time it burps is not such a universal comic theme to be recognized. If they had somehow said something like “There goes Ivan. His wive gave birth to the their first child.” or “So, I let him leave the battle last week” or “That was last week; why’s he leaving now” it’d have been clearer.

  8. I vote for Downpuppy’s explanation.

    The difficulty with this whole battle being about giving a baby a bath is that then Hagar came to participate in a battle without even knowing what it was about.

  9. I don’t know if we’ll ever come up with a clear explanation of this, but note Hagar’s inward pointing eyebrows (putting aside the fact that his helmet should cover them). They seem to indicate that he’s either angry or dumbfounded by the other guy’s comment. Could he be thinking “Here we are being manly men in the middle of battle and this guy is talking about a baby’s first bath!”?

  10. CaroZ: Well, the blue-shirt doesn’t really stand out like a gorilla anyway. While I think Downpuppy has it, the blue-shirt doesn’t look that different from someone just running for some battle-related reason. (Where’s his sword, you ask? He dropped it in the heat of battle.)

  11. I don’t think its the invisible gorilla as we weren’t led to focus on something else. If anything the cartoonist wanted us to see the blue shirt guy and assumed that because he was focussed on him we would be too. But we (well, I) wasn’t.

    Oh, I guess this is like the invisible gorilla but it’s the cartoonist who fell for it rather than me. This kind of the “There’s Waldo… what? were you looking and anything else” effect.

  12. Scandinavian babies are feisty. According to the program notes at a performance of Grieg’s “Sigurd Jorsalfar,” when Sigurd was just a little tiny baby he kicked all the slats out of his cradle.

  13. Reenactor has to comment to bathing – even if long before “our period – the 18th century” the same ideas and problems apply.

    People (in the 18th century at least) would “bathe” regularly, but they did so using a sponge and a pitcher/bowl of water. They did not take immersion baths often.

    Think of the logic – there is no running water (not including Roman and its aqueducts) and no hot water unless it is heated over a fire. Someone (almost makes one understand the need for slaves in earlier times) has to schlep the water and then heat it – less to schelp and less to heat if one is not filing a large enough vessel to stand or sit in and immerse one’s self. Also one needs the means to buy a large enough vessel to immerse one’s self in.

    Now, add in heating only by fireplaces – would you want to immerse yourself in water heated over the fire (which will be cooling off while you are in it) and hope you do not a get a chill from the relatively cold air in the house in the winter?

    I have learned that when starts to think as a person from a past time period suddenly things start to make sense. Wearing a wig (in the 18th century) with your head shaved to do so (men and women) removes the problem of having to wash one’s hair under the same circumstances as taking a bath plus having to walk around with wet hair (especially in winter) after washing it. When your wig needs washing or setting – off the peruke (wig) maker for them to do it for you. Plus one shows that one can afford to have a wig (or wigs) – though of course some wigs cost more than others by what type of hair it is, the color and the style – and style varies by who you are.

    So perhaps the baby’s first bathe is big deal – or it just shows that Hagar the Horrible is not so horrible as he has a domestic side and wants to be there for his baby’s first bath.

  14. Sorry forgot it was Ivan’s baby not Hagar’s – still Ivan who is also a viking is domestic enough to want to be there for this momentous occasions.

  15. Well reasoned, but can the same logic be applied to babies? I assume that even given all the obstacles you mentioned, it would be easy enough to plop a one-week-old baby into a bowl of warm water. I haven’t done any thorough research, but I would guess that even throughout the ages, it would be a more convenient way to wash an infant then sponging it off on the counter using the very receptacle it would easily fit into.

    In fact, a quick search reveals that the expression ‘Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water’ can be cited back to the 1500s. If the expression came into being at least that far back, I would think one could assume the babies and bathwater were probably around before this too.

    As for getting a chill, I imagine the baby would be even colder if you left it naked on the counter the whole time you hosed it down. Wash the baby in the bowl, all nice and warm, the scoop it out quickly and swaddle it up. Bjorn’s your uncle!

  16. Has anyone else wondered why a Muscovite named “Ivan” is with the Vikings? Maybe it was originally meant to be “Ivar”? The Old Norse cognate of the name Ivan is “Johannes.” John, Juan, Ivan … they all come from Hebrew Yohannan. In fact, if Hagar is pagan (as it is sometimes hinted) it would be weird for his shipmate to have a Biblical name like John/Ivan.

  17. Meryl A: Andy Capp sometimes is seen taking a bath in a metal tub in front of the fireplace, with Flo coming in from time to time with a kettle of boiling water to add to it. Houses in some parts of big cities were slow to convert to modern plumbing and heating. As late as the 1970’s I saw a “cold water flat” in Boston’s North End. No central heating; cold running water only. The residents used the oven as a heat source in winter.

  18. Mark in Boston – I know that same existed in NYC as a fellow who worked at my clients in the 1970s did not have a bathtub with running water in his small apartment – the tub was the support for the kitchen tabletop and had to have water put in it to be used,not sure how it was drained out.

    When my family used to take a “bungalow” in Rockway for the summer in the 1950s to early 1960s the shower was outside next to the side door of the bungalow and I remember the showers being cold (idea was that one took a shower after coming from the beach and did not get the sand inside the bungalow. There was also tub inside with hot and cold running water.

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