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8.-10. klasse English kings in the MIddle Ages Canute on the beach
 English kings in the Middle Ages deco

Canute the Great

King Canute on the beach

Øyvind Olsholt/Clipart.com
Filosofiske spørsmål:
Øyvind Olsholt
Sist oppdatert: 20. januar 2004

It is difficult to be a king, especially a medieval king. Not only because you have to fight all the time, but also because you have to cope with a court of men who do all they can to praise you and say stupid things about you to impress you. Here King Canute is on the beach with a group of his followers. They keep praising him so much that he gets irritated. Then he decides to teach all of them a lesson...

A hundred years or more after the time of Alfred the Great there was a king of England named Canute [English name for "Knut"]. King Canute was a Dane; but the Danes were not so fierce and cruel then as they had been when they were at war with King Alfred.

The great men and officers who were around King Canute were always praising him. "You are the greatest man that ever lived," one would say. Then another would say, "O king! there can never be another man so mighty as you." And another would say, "Great Canute, there is nothing in the world that dares to disobey you." The king was a man of sense, and he grew very tired of hearing such foolish speeches.

One day he was by the seashore, and his officers were with him. They were praising him, as they were in the habit of doing. He thought that now he would teach them a lesson, and so he bade them set his chair on the beach close by the edge of the water.

"Am I the greatest man in the world?" he asked.
"O king!" they cried, "there is no one so mighty as you."
"Do all things obey me?" he asked.
"There is nothing that dares to disobey you, O king!" they said. "The world bows before you, and gives you honour."
"Will the sea obey me?" he asked; and he looked down at the little waves which were lapping the sand at his feet.
The foolish officers were puzzled, but they did not dare to say "No."
"Command it, O king! and it will obey," said one.
"Sea," cried Canute, "I command you to come no farther! Waves, stop your rolling, and do not dare to touch my feet!"

But the tide came in, just as it always did. The water rose higher and higher. It came up around the king's chair, and wet not only his feet, but also his robe. His officers stood about him, alarmed, and wondering whether he was not mad. Then Canute took off his crown, and threw it down upon the sand.

"I shall never wear it again," he said. "And do you, my men, learn a lesson from what you have seen. There is only one King who is all-powerful; and it is he who rules the sea, and holds the ocean in the hollow of his hand. It is he whom you ought to praise and serve above all others."

Suggested topics for philosophical discussion

  1. King Canute's officers praised him all the time. Why do you think they did this? To make the king glad? To show that they loved and respected him? To hide that they feared him? To make him think well of them and like them? Do you admire someone? Why?

    Do you like being admired? Do praise and admiration make you glad? Is it important to be admired by certain persons or does it not matter who admires you? How do you think and feel about those who admire you? Is it possible to admire someone who already admires you? Is it better to admire oneself than to admire others?
  2. Canute runs a demonstration for his followers: he commands the waves to stop rolling. And since the waves don't stop rolling upon his command, he proves his point: not everything obeys him.

    What he does is this: he proves a claim (everything obeys him) to be false by giving a counter-example [moteksempel], i.e. by showing that the opposite is possible (the waves do not obey him).

    How could you most effectively prove the following claims about you to be false:

    • Everybody loves you!
    • You can ride any bicycle!
    • You are the prettiest girl in the school!
    • You are the stupidest person in existence!
    • Nobody loves you!
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Alfred the Great
  About Alfred the Great
  Alfred and the cakes
  Alfred and the beggar
Canute the Great
  About Canute the Great
Du er her Canute on the seashore
William the Conqueror
  The sons of William the Conqueror
  William and the wise men
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