Thursday 1 August 2013

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir

I was beating myself up recently for almost ignoring the XX half of the population on The Blob.  In fairness to myself, if I'm going to be blogging about Science Matters, most of the moving and shaking (for reasons every civilised person will deplore) has been done in science by men.  I'll try to redress the balance without getting preciously correct or obviously affirmative action.

On this day in 1980 Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was elected President of Iceland, the first democratically elected female Head of State anywhere.  It took Ireland ten years to catch up and elect Mary Robinson to our highest office.  Iceland is a cultural holdout in many interesting ways.
They still speak, almost unchanged, the language of the Eddas written 1000 years ago. It's as if we anglophones were still going on like this:
bord and bradswurd;       beot he gelæste
þa he ætforan his frean   feohtan sceolde.
ða þær Byrhtnoð ongan     beornas trymian,
rad and rædde,            rincum tæhte
hu hi sceoldon standan    and þone stede healdan, 

(okay, it's hard - so here's a translation: shield and broad sword: the vow he would carry out // that he had made before his lord saying he would fight. // Then Byrhtnoth marshalled his soldiers, // riding and instructing, directing his warriors // how they should stand and the positions they should keep)  See rædde = instruction;  there's an Anglo-Saxon king of England every schoolboy knows as Ethelred the Unready (Æthelred Unræd) but should really by Ethelred of the Bad Counsel.

Iceland is also the last culture on Europe that hasn't adopted surnames, the President's father being Finnbogi Þorvaldsson and her mother Sigríður Eiríksdóttir and if she had a brother he would be XY Finnbogason.  I have an Icelandic pal whose family (self, wife, daughter, son) caused mild consternation in hotels when every passport had a different last name.

I'll have more on Iceland later but right now Vigdís Finnbogadóttir has a message to young women: "get educated - never accept a shorter education that your brothers.  Vel sagt Frú Forseti !!

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