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David T. Cole

Athelstan: The Monk Among The Heathens

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Athelstan is being to break.  His vision of the stigmata could well be his feelings of guilt for betraying his Faith but at times he seemed confused when he saw the bootie from the Roman Empire. 

He seemed enthralled by the collection of paper and statues at first.  When the King explained  that he would be the one to protect and care and translate the material though, it looked like he realized he would be a prisoner for the rest of his life.  Be careful what you wish for.  He loved the work at the beginning of the episode but his face showed the fear when he realized it would be no choice in the future.

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Hmm.  I don't think Athelstan's ever really had any choices.  He was a monk who would be at the behest of the Church, and then a slave, then pretty much had to go along to get along in the Viking clan.  I think the idea of personal choices about your future is a fairly modern concept.  I took his reaction to be from King Ecbert saying if he ever told anyone about the Roman artifacts, he would crucify him.  Again!

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Prior to "The Choice," Athelstan carried a great deal of strategic value because of his language skills and familiarity with both sides. But seeing both Ecbert and Ragnar interacting with him, it's apparent that he is desired by both - as a friend, confidant, co-visionary, etc.  I wonder if he's going to become the Golden Snitch of the show.

(if there are any anime fans in the house, Athelstan = C-ko, Ragnar = A-ko, Ecbert = B-ko, Alle = Mari-chan)

Edited by Zalyn

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I just hope he doesn't become the Sacrificial Lamb. Floki hates him with every fibre of his being and I think there's going to be a real clash there before much longer. 

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Prior to "The Choice," Athelstan carried a great deal of strategic value because of his language skills and familiarity with both sides. But seeing both Ecbert and Ragnar interacting with him, it's apparent that he is desired by both - as a friend, confidant, co-visionary, etc.  I wonder if he's going to become the Golden Snitch of the show.

(if there are any anime fans in the house, Athelstan = C-ko, Ragnar = A-ko, Ecbert = B-ko, Alle = Mari-chan)

 

I think so far King Ecbert was using Athelstan only to know about the Pagan culture and self-serving intentions, no matter how much he said he trusted Athlestan, he didn't care for him and would dispose of him in the blink of an eye (His threatening tone "Whatever happens, I will not be defeated"). Yes Ragnar also used Athelstan for his personal agenda, but he and Athlestan have actually grown to become friends and respect each other to an extend. He kept asking for him even back in Kattegat while resolving the conflict with Borg. And Ragnar giving him his bracelet and genuinely saying he hoped their Gods would become friends one day only sealed the deal on how much he cared about him and not just for practical reasons. Athlestan also was a free man in Kattegat whereas he would have remained a prisoner disguised as a priest for Ecbert. To me his decision to go back where he felt free and "belonged" made sense.

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Beyond any “attraction” to Athelstan I think he represents something more than both Eckbert and Ragnar are looking for….this is pre-Renaissance, Enlightenment, Shakespeare what have you. 

Eckbert has talked about the court of Charlemagne but is stuck with a son who is kind of an empty crown and King Aelle who thinks reading is for Monks.  Ragnar may have less of an idea of what he is striving for but he is fighting the shortsightedness of both Earl Haraldson and King Horik.

Both Ragnar and Eckbert represent the type of people who pushed and pulled society toward better and they both see Athelstan as a key to that.

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I think so far King Ecbert was using Athelstan only to know about the Pagan culture and self-serving intentions, no matter how much he said he trusted Athlestan, he didn't care for him and would dispose of him in the blink of an eye (His threatening tone "Whatever happens, I will not be defeated"). 

 

I can't agree with that interpretation. I think Ecbert did grow to care for Athelstan, and for much the same reason Ragnar did: the blessed relief of a relationship without rigid limitations or pretense, based on intellect, questioning - an entire mindset extremely dangerous and 'other' in that time and place. He refused to endanger Athelstan until his hand was forced by his own son in the hot tub strategy session, and his promise that he wouldn't be defeated wasn't a threat to Athelstan, but a statement of intent regarding Ragnar. He certainly seemed to feel the loss keenly when he was touching the things he most associated with Athelstan after he'd made the choice to return to Ragnar - his illuminated manuscripts and his crucifix.

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I think Ecbert did grow to care for Athelstan, and for much the same reason Ragnar did: the blessed relief of a relationship without rigid limitations or pretense, based on intellect, questioning - an entire mindset extremely dangerous and 'other' in that time and place.

I tend to agree, though with the caveat that both King Ecbert and Ragnar are extremely ambitious men, and I would not entirely trust either of them if I was in the way of their goals.  Ragnar was going to sacrifice Athelstan that one time, and while perhaps he hoped Athelstan would be rejected due to his Christianity, he certainly was willing to take the chance.  King Ecbert made clear that if Athelstan talked about the Roman antiquities hidden in the, er, basement, he would be executed. However, Athelstan is invaluable to men with their ambitions, and they both know it.

Eckbert has talked about the court of Charlemagne but is stuck with a son who is kind of an empty crown and King Aelle who thinks reading is for Monks.

Indeed, they are very much of the reading is for "wise men with weak arms," pass the mead, mentality.  ;)  So is King Horik, frankly, who really failed to see the true worth of Athelstan. 

 

Nevertheless, I also think it's exactly like you say -- the relief and stimulation that being able to talk about the world, it's history, and it's peoples freely with someone who knows something about it and who is an intellectual must be incredible.  I would lose my mind in their world without something like that.  I think the more time King Ecbert spent talking with Athelstan, the more his companionship began to mean to him.  Same with Ragnar, in a way, but with more threesome offers.

Edited by lawless
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I can't agree with that interpretation. I think Ecbert did grow to care for Athelstan, and for much the same reason Ragnar did: the blessed relief of a relationship without rigid limitations or pretense, based on intellect, questioning - an entire mindset extremely dangerous and 'other' in that time and place. He refused to endanger Athelstan until his hand was forced by his own son in the hot tub strategy session, and his promise that he wouldn't be defeated wasn't a threat to Athelstan, but a statement of intent regarding Ragnar. He certainly seemed to feel the loss keenly when he was touching the things he most associated with Athelstan after he'd made the choice to return to Ragnar - his illuminated manuscripts and his crucifix.

It was about over a good year since time has passed (when one counts Aslaug last pregnancy and so forth) and so far, Athelstan was nothing but an asset for King Ecbert, he was all about his curiosity of Pagan culture, and that's about where he and Ragnar are very similar, they look beyond borders and are intelligent. However Athelstan was never seen interacting with King Ecbert other than being a priest at his service. Him sending a threat to Ragnar was also a threat to Athelstan since he came from their world and had embraced their culture, wearing a priest outfit didn't wash it away even after a year. Ecbert is no fool, plenty of times he interacted with Athelstan he was testing him, and one could see how Athelstan was carefully choosing his words before giving an answer. Athelstan was dear to King Ecbert because he was the key to other cultures and such, but he never really was free, he was rather held captive into King Ecbert's dungeon, add to that struggling with his inner faith demons. Athelstan was dear to Ragnar even more so as a friend (albeit in season one, the circumstances of their encounter is rather messed up to me, like what the heck?) and he was walking around Kattegat as a free man like one of theirs, apart from Floki who can't accept him (for understandable reasons). So Athelstan leaving King Ecbert to go back to Kattegat made sense. Ecbert felt the loss a trophy servant who could read him bedtime stories about Rome, religion and other Gods more than a friend.

 

And his son would have never forced him, it's bloody King Ecbert LOL... I mean he ultimately knew that Athelstan was the only person left who could approach the Vikings to negociate after that battle, he was more worried to lose a key asset than anything else. But he had to do so since Athelstan was the only option left for a truce negociation, anybody else sent over would have been killed before they passed the Vikings camp gates.

 

We shall agree to disagree :-)

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Stockholm Syndrome?

Gothenberg Syndrome?  They're in the Kattegat, after all. 

 

Aethelstan means noble stone, so I wonder if he's part of a family that we haven't seen yet, or the script writers just thought it was a cool name. 

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I was under the impression Ecbert was not able to read the manuscripts and needed Athelstan to read them and translate. Is this correct?  I figured Ecbert would not jeopardize Athelstan since he needed him.

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Yes, that's what they implied - Athelstan would open up the pages  to him because he knew the language. I sometimes thought it was a ploy so he could be close to hm.  Thought there was a insinuation of gay feelings for Athelstan.

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Yes, that's what they implied - Athelstan would open up the pages  to him because he knew the language. I sometimes thought it was a ploy so he could be close to hm.  Thought there was a insinuation of gay feelings for Athelstan.

 

I imagine Athelstan smells like Snickerdoodles....no one can resist him.

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I miss him and Ragnar together.  I still think they secretly got married in that scene where they were praying together.  : )

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I still think they secretly got married in that scene where they were praying together.  : )

 

 

Aw. That's a sweet thought.  Maybe that thought will carry me till Season 3.  *Sigh*

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Just watched the season one ep with the pilgrimage to Upsalla, and I couldn't remember the significance of the dude who volunteered to sacrifice himself (how very Katniss of him, and I have to say that Katniss sounds like a Viking name) in Athelstan's place. He had hair similar to Ragnar and the family seemed a bit verklempt that he was being sacrificed.

And why were only young strong men sacrificed? Seems they would be useful as warriors (and breeding stock). Is that supposed to make it more of a sacrifice, or were women not considered sacrifice material?

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I just started watching and mainlined the show through series one.  Is it so very wrong of me to have a crush on Athelstan?  He is a beautiful, beautiful man.

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Nov 15 2014. 2:16 pm

 

I just started watching and mainlined the show through series one.  Is it so very wrong of me to have a crush on Athelstan?  He is a beautiful, beautiful man.

 

 

If it's wrong; I don't wanna be right.   *Sigh*  I have a mad crush on him too.   He has that look of a beautiful renaissance painting.

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Personally, I think they are trying to make him look like a Western Jesus Christ from all the children's bedtime storybooks.  But, I do not care.  I care not.  Not at all do I care.

 

The man is beautiful.

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Obviously coming way too late to this series and these discussions, but as I just finished binge-watching the show and reading some discussion threads,  I needed to write down my thoughts about the Athelstan faith-arc. Sorry for the terribly long post:

 

In S1 - he is still fully Christian first horrified / then curious - cautiously exploring.  We see a switch around the episode "Sacrifice" where we see him trying to fit in, happy about Ragnar taking him with him (even though he doesn't realize that he's supposed to be the sacrificial lamb). But there, he still wears his cross, now hidden on his wrist and he denies being a Christian when asked. I think when he realises that not only is he not acceptable as a sacrifice (about which he is relieved) someone else has to be sacrificed in his place (much like Jesus was) - and Leif going obviously so willingly and with such a pure heart must touch a very raw nerve.

 

Then I think his final push towards the Norse gods is Gyda's death, where I imagine he must have prayed for her recovery and other than Ragnar, she is the person he feels the closest to (I think there was a missed opportunity in the S1 finale to flesh this out better). After having lost his birth family to an epidemic which he explained to Gyda), it must be devastating to lose a substitute little sister / child to plague. He must lose faith around this time.

 

He is the most Viking during the raid in Wessex, and he is furthest away from Christian when they raid the church (and when Floki questions his faith, he says with all conviction that he is not a Christian anymore) and he kills the monk protecting holy scripture (essentially his young self). You can see that at that point he is confronted with the pillaging / killing part of being Viking, and that it is something he will never be able to fully reconcile with himself. So then he slowly starts going back towards Christianity, with the mercy killing of the bishop, trying to read scripture in his tent while Horik's people are raping the nun.

During his cruxifiction he is praying in Latin (rather than to Odin), and though it is not linear (e.g. the mass where he spits out the Host) he goes back to praying again to Jesus. After that he never becomes fully Viking again. He goes back with Ragnar in Choice (as others said upthread, probably because Ragnar offers him something he has come to value more than anything Ecbert gives him - free choice), but Ragnar says in Lord's Prayer that he sees him again praying as a Christian (and they pray together).  Unless I'm wrong after this point, we don't really see him denying being a Christian, while admittedly he still professes not being able to let go the Viking gods.

 

The affair with Judith stands out like a sore thumb in this arc. I see Athelstan foremost sincere and respectful - he is sincere about his convictions, then his doubts, but he is never disresprectful or glib about someone else's faith, whether Viking or Christian.  I think he stops seeing himself as a monk when he decides to raid with Ragnar, and kills - there is no way he would have gone along with the phoney confession scene or Judith adoring his "stigmata" (there is no way he would see his own cruxifiction as anything other than a punishment for apostasizing) or willingly wreck a Christian marriage.

Then there is the obvious lack of chemistry between the actors which makes it so difficult to believe that he tried to resist temptation, but it was swept over by lust / love. It seemed more like a pity sex, with the unconvincing "sure, I love you too". Which then makes the whole "holy birth of Alfred" narrative ridiculous. So I will disregard this stupid romance and go back to the faith arc.

Once Athelstan gets his golden cross back from Ecbert, we see him wearing it, even when he goes back to the Vikings - accepting his fate to be torn between two faiths, but clearly not being happy with it.

From then to arrive to having a religious experience and his relief to "have a sign" is not such a stretch. Accepting the inevitable martyrdom (which he was afraid of during/after the Lindisferne raid) brings him to a full circle. Still, his death is a bit of a cop-out, as maybe a more interesting test of faith would have been to have him stay alive and having to choose whether he goes to Paris and what he does when he gets there. Would it still be possible for him to side with Ragnar like in Wessex? Would he stay behind? 

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Excellent post, MetaM.

And a belated welcome to your belated arrival, heh.  Look forward to your posts once the new season begins in three weeks on the 29th.

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