I’m working my way through the animated series Vinland Saga, the anime Viking-period 15-part series based on the manga of the same name. It follows the late 10th-century adventures of Thorfinn and his journey towards revenge against Askeladd for killing his father Thors.
In episode 10, Ragnarok, we get a theme that interests me: the perception of the past.
Above Bath, amidst Roman ruins, Askeladd and Thorfinn exchange words over their mutual dependence and feud: Askeladd concedes he is getting older and time is on Thorfinn’s side: he will lose to him some day, it’s ‘only natural’. He uses the Roman ruins as an analogy of their situation:
‘Even the strongest dies someday. Look around you, Thorfinn. These stones weren’t made by the people who live in England now, the Saxons. They were made by the people who lived here before the Saxons. I heard they were a strong people. But they were destroyed by the Saxons 500 years ago. They were the Romans. The name of their country was Britannia. They had an advanced civilization [he tosses a Roman coin to Thorfinn]. More advanced than what we have now.
He goes on…
The Saxons destroyed the Romans and we’re going to destroy the Saxons next. The glory of the Roman Empire is a thing of the distant past. Anyway, according to what the Christians say, the Last Judgement is coming in only 20 years. On that day, God will kill everyone and our world will be completely destroyed.
Whatever its simplicity, this does afford a sense of a world winding down: a fatalistic acceptance of the end of days rapidly coming their way. The Roman ruins forebode Ragnarok/Judgement Day, and Askeladd accepts his doom at the hands of Thorfinn in the near future. This is straight out of the Anglo-Saxon poem known as The Ruin: and Bath is long guessed as its inspiration.