National Geographic : 1974 Feb
reserved the right to purchase any cargo at the declared value, so if a captain put too low a price on his goods, he often sailed away on the short end of a bargain." Poet's Fancy Made Amleth Hamlet To most foreigners Helsing0r's fame rests not on a king but on a Prince of Denmark, Shakespeare's Hamlet. The royal castle of Kronborg, which Shakespeare chose to call Elsinore in his play, stands just north of the town (pages 272-3). With the poet's license to alter history as well, Shakespeare made his epic hero a man who never set foot on the battlements of Kronborg. The real Hamlet-or Amleth, in Danish-was a Viking who, according to Nordic tradition, lived several centuries be fore Kronborg's construction, 1574 to 1585. A more appropriate monument to Amleth and his kind stands at Roskilde in the middle of Zealand. Here, under the direction of Ole Crumlin-Pedersen, a leading authority on Viking ships, a new museum memorializes the turbulent age that launched the Danes and their fellow Norsemen on incredible voyages of conquest and discovery from the end of the 8th to the middle of the 11th century.* Such was the fear and admiration evoked by the Vikings throughout the civilized world that an 11th-century Irish writer re ferred to them in awe as "those valiant, wrathful, purely pagan people." "It was an accurate description," Mr. Crumlin-Pedersen observed as he guided me among the museum's superb restorations of Viking ships. "The astonishing thing is that the Norsemen, superb seamen as they proved to be, were relative newcomers to sail. Before they began the great voyages, the only form of propulsion they knew was the oar. "As for courage," he added, "few people in history can match the Vikings. Part of the ex planation may be that some of them actually took drugs to guarantee their bravery in * "The Vikings," by Howard La Fay, appeared in the April 1970 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC. Mr. La Fay also wrote a 200-page, richly illustrated book on the same subject; it is available for $4.25, plus postage and han dling, from the National Geographic Society, Dept. G100, Washington, D. C . 20036.