Thursday, 18 February 2016

The W.A.R. Armoury, Part 6: Drinking Horn

The W.A.R. Armoury, Part 6

Item: Hugin's Horn

Oh, the irony - no sooner committing to type that the Blog would be back to a more regular posting frequency, there has immediately been a long delay between posts.  Inevitable, perhaps, given that Nazgul's actual day job has been getting ridiculously busy, let alone the fact that the Nazgul junior is on half-term from pre-school so is roaming the Castle demanding to be entertained.  All very enlivening, of course, but absolutely no use in getting anything done regarding Honour and Darkness.

So - we have a bit of a fill-in post (again), but one that you may find of interest...

Rummaging through the enormous box of armoured apparel that was purchased from Hugin some while ago has provided for some interesting finds, captured for your delight in this ongoing 'The W.A.R. Armoury' series.  Mostly we've seen fairly predictable items - swords, chainmail, helms, etc. which have been photographed and spotted on many a publicity photograph.  Not so today's item, which - it has to be said - is fairly odd.  I'm not even sure it's actually been used in any pictures directly, though there's the occasional picture of Hugin in full-on warrior mode that hints at the possibility that this item could be around his waist, hanging off a belt.

See, for example, this one, of Hugin in a splendid fiery sunset: there's definitely something hanging off his belt (to the right, as we look at the picture) and it's conceivable that it is this particular item ... though to be fair it could be pretty much anything else from medieval mobile phone to a goatskin full of mead.  So the jury is still out on whether the horn in question has been featured in any actual publicity or album photographs, but its provenance is unassailable as it came directly from W.A.R. and so is being treated with due reverence!

Just what is lurking at Hugin's left hip....?
Now horns - in the musical sense - are commonplace within the literature surrounding warriors and battle.  Gjallarhorn, for example, is well known as the 'sounding horn' of the god Heimdall, used to announce Ragnarok.  Similarly, Boromir, son of the Steward of Gondor, carried the Horn Of Gondor: the horn was made by Vorondil the Hunter in the Third Age. Vorondil hunted oxen all the way to the Sea of Rhûn and fashioned the horn out of one of the oxen's horns. Boromir claimed that if the horn was heard anywhere within its borders, Gondor would come to the owner's aid. When Boromir was slain early in The Two Towers, the Horn of Gondor was cut in two by Orcs. The horn later washed up upon the banks of the Anduin, where it was discovered by his brother, Faramir. 

And, whilst waxing lyrical about horns, let us not forget the Horn of Valere, a fictional horn in Robert Jordan's fantasy series The Wheel of Time, which calls heroes back from the grave.

The inescapable thought thus generated remains simply this: has this item been converted from some distant time from an old musical horn, and what would happen if we give Hugin's horn a quick toot?  Well, the end of that sentence could have been better phrased for sure, but you know what I mean.  Will the dead come back to live and stalk the corridors of Castle Nazgul (a worrying prospect, given the number of corpses buried in the grounds)?  Will the ensuing blast bring on the apocalypse, or at the very least cause a wave of headaches and misery across the land?  Or would it be a pale and insignificant little parp...

Or is that theory completely nuts and has it always been - for want of a better expression - a horny receptacle, used for the storage of ... well, whatever you like really.  One can just imagine chainmail-clad warriors rushing into melees with a dried flower arrangement at their side, much like modern day VW Beetle drivers haunt the highways with their atrocious driving whilst sporting a large flower in their dashboard vases.

But of course, it's none of the above: it's a drinking horn, of course!  Silver-tipped, around ten inches long, leather thong to tie it to your armour and guaranteed to hold around half a pint of best bitter for when it's needed the most.

A little research on the subject has unearthed a man called Grimfrost who makes authentic drinking horns to order. Not that this particular horn came from him, you understand, but I mention him merely for context and as an excuse to add the photograph below to this post: how about that for holding your wine, mead or beer, all 5L (that's 10 pints, or 160oz) of it! Yours for only US$285.60 (a strangely specific price) plus shipping - and an authentic note of caution that your horn is not dishwasher friendly!
Blimey, next round's on you then.....
Grimfrost goes on to inform us that the Vikings used many different drinking vessels, ranging from primitive cones made of rolled birch bark, to silver cups. Horns were used during important gatherings, festivities and rituals. They were carefully polished, with some of the simpler examples being unadorned, whilst the more exclusive variants bore elaborate decorations.

Much history is attached to these objects, ancient and modern.  In more recent times, lavishly decorated drinking horns in the Baroque style, some imitating cornucopias, some made from ivory, including gold, silver and enamel decorations continued to be produced as luxury items in 19th to early 20th century imperial Austria and Germany.  Drinking horns were the ceremonial drinking vessel for those of high status all through the medieval period (and will get you some grudging respect nowadays too, if you pop into your local and ask the barman to top up your horn with a pint of Old Finklestein's Bowel Burster).

This would seem the perfect conclusion to end this post with, and all those with drinking horns may now raise them in salutation to Mr Wieser of Linz, Austria, whilst singing appropriately raucous songs about lusty maidens and cowardly orcs (or, indeed, the reverse scenario, if that's your thing). 

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