Ingvar Kamprad, who died a few days ago, was often held up as the model of Swedish entrepreneurism. Kamprad founded Ikea in 1943, when he was only 17, and grew Ikea into the largest furniture manufacturer in the world, making himself a multibillionaire in the process.

What's not as well-known in his rags-to-obscene-riches story is that Kamprad's family, according to the  Washington Post, were vocal Nazi sympathizers and Kamprad himself actively supported at least one anti-Semitic politician.

The Nazis, of course, believed that people from Nordic countries were genetically superior to darker people. Even today, there's a strain in modern Nazism, called Odinism, which stresses Norse mythology as a pagan religion that supports the belief in white supremacy.

Which brings me to Thor.

While Marvel certainly never intentionally played into the Alt-Right stereotype, the comic-book Thor, currently depicted on film by Chris Hemsworth, is precisely the blond-haired, blue-eye uber-mench that Hitler and his followers (past and present) idolize.

Of course, Thor is a fictional character and thus can be depicted however an artist or writer likes, but to be strictly accurate, the "real" Thor would have to the Thor who appears for the first time in written literature. Everything after that is an unhistorical revision.

As it happens, the first literary reference to Thor is in the Prose Edda, written or compiled by the Icelandic scholar Snorri Stulsuson in the early 13th century.

In the Prose Edda, Thor is described not as the son of Odin but of Memnon, one of the heroes of the Trojan War. In the Greek story of the Trojan War, with which Stulsuson was clearly familiar, Memnon is the greatest warrior on the Trojan side, and is only defeated--after a literally epic battle--by the greatest warrior on the Greek side, Achilles.

Since Achilles was invulnerable (which is kinda cheating), Homer wrote Memnon to be the most truly kick-butt character in the age of heroes. 

And who was Memnon?

As it happens, Memnon was the king of Ethiopia. In ancient art and ancient literature Memnon is always depicted as an African black. The reason was simple. 

In ancient times, the Ethiopians were considered to be almost superhuman--taller, stronger, healthier and more righteous than the Greeks or anyone else for that matter. Ethiopians were considered generally more civilized, too, especially during the heyday of the Axum, a rich and powerful empire that was still very much a major world power when Stulsuson was writing.

No doubt you see the irony.

While Kamprad and his ilk consider Aryans to be the master race, in ancient times the Aryans (and everyone else for that matter) considered Ethiopians to be the master race (although, strictly speaking, back then nobody thought in terms of race, only geography).

So it made perfect sense, when writing about the gods, for the creator of Thor to make him black.

Published on: Feb 1, 2018
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.