The Idea of North (Topographics) by Peter Davidson
By Peter Davidson
Arctic certain, Davidson takes the reader on a trip from the guts of society to the main far-flung outposts of human geography, packing in our rucksacks a treasure trove of reports and artistic endeavors, from the Icelandic Sagas to Nabokov’s snowy nation of Zembla, from Hans Christian Andersen’s forbidding Snow Queen to the works of artists similar to Eric Ravilious, Ian Hamilton Finlay, and Andy Goldsworthy. He celebrates different methods our artists and writers have illuminated our courting with the earth’s most deadly and austere terrain. via Davidson’s astounding yet inviting erudition, we eventually come to work out north as an enduring aim, frozen endlessly on a horizon we by no means appear to particularly reach.
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Additional info for The Idea of North (Topographics)
They went north for treasure. It emerges strongly from the accounts of early explorers and traders that, for all practical purposes, the north was not a place, it was a series of trade routes. Apart from the chimeric searches for the north-east and north-west passages to India and the Far East that claimed so many lives, there were invisible, established roads – the amber road, the fur road – some of them highly local, others stretching for thousands of kilometres. Amber was one of the earliest of the organic treasures and marvels of the north to be assigned a value, and, indeed, one of the 51 Bacchus with a Satyr and a Panther, ad 70–250 , Roman amber carving oldest of all trade goods.
The north Norwegian captain Ottar who visited Alfred the Great’s court in ninth-century England was already taking marten, reindeer, bear and otter pelts in tribute from Sami hunters further north, and selling them on to southern Norway, Denmark and England. 81 As time went on, the remaining stocks of the principal fur animals were confined to ever more inaccessible areas. By the seventeenth century the profit from fur constituted 10 per cent of the state revenue of Russia, but sables were only to be found in Siberia.
The imaginative context of these incursions had changed. The English, watching their churches burn, could not but wonder if the Vikings were the armies of Gog and Magog forecast in one of the supreme pieces of imaginative literature of the early Middle Ages, Adso’s On Antichrist, written in Germany in the eighth century and read all over Europe. In the year 1000, the Archbishop of York promulgated a sermon that was a sort of open letter to the entire English people. It began: ‘My beloved people.