apocryphal stories

Posted by Ellen

It was a thousand and one years ago yesterday that the Viking Cnut (aka Knut, Knud, or Canute) was crowned King of All England. 

Cnut was a wise and good king, or so they say, but he is best remembered for something he didn't do. Briefly: it was told of him that he had his throne placed in the surf at the seaside, where he held court in his robes and crown with full royal regalia. He ordered the tide to go back out, but the tide didn't obey. "See that?" said Cnut, more or less. "I'm not the one who really runs things around here."

It never happened; the story is a bit like the legend of George Washington chopping down that cherry tree, in that it first appeared long after Cnut's death in the moralistic writings of a clergyman.

But what's the moral of the non-event? The usual interpretation, even to this day, is that Cnut was an idiot with delusions of grandeur, who badly needed a reality check with respect to the powers that be.

But the intended lesson, according to Henry, Archdeacon of Huntingdon, who first wrote the apocryphal story as a poem in the twelfth century, was that King Cnut knew from the start that no edict of his could turn back the tide. He was a wise and good king. His courtiers, on the other hand, were brown-nosing fools who expected way too much from him–in other words, they were getting on his nerves. He staged a little demonstration to remind them that even the King of All England was a mere mortal who had his limits.

Which brings us to tomorrow, January 8, when a pack of hounds from the realm of Georgia will attempt to turn back the Crimson Tide of Alabama in a sporting contest established to determine the collegiate football champion of all America.

Cnut couldn't do it. Can the Dawgs of Georgia? We'll find out, won't we. Roll Tide.