For more than twenty years, one annual event has made television more lurid, more gruesome, and increasingly frenzied for ratings. I refer, of course, to Shark Week.
Last year, any given Shark Week program was watched by four million people. I can’t recall ever having seen a single minute of Shark Week—but it occurred to me that some of those four million pairs of eyeballs are mounted in the skulls of indiscriminate Googlers with a passion for bloodthirsty monsters of the deep.
And so, good lords and gentle ladies, I bid ye welcome to
“Hey, Jeff,” I hear yon straw man cry, “what’s Medieval Shark Week all about?”
Medieval Shark Week is about food!
Eat shark like the Vikings did! Here’s a recipe for hákarl, the famous rotten-shark delicacy of the Icelanders. All you need is a shark, a gravel hole near the seashore, and someplace to hang a cadaver for four months. “Don’t try this at home,” the recipe advises, “unless you know what the end product is supposed to taste like.”
Medieval Shark Week is about fun!
If you’re a gamer, you’ll want to play TIMESHARK II: Medieval Shark Strike Force, in which you become a time-traveling shark transported back to medieval Germany to feast on clones of Adolf Hitler.
Download the game for Mac or PC here. You’ll find instructions on the second page of this thread, where the game’s author reveals that TIMESHARK is an acronym for “Time-travelling Intimidation and Mastication Expert: Sharks Have Ample Reason to Kill.”
Medieval Shark Week is about scholarship!
The New York Times reports that the International Shark Attack File “holds approximately 3,200 reports of shark attacks, from medieval times to the present,” but that “[o]nly qualified researchers are allowed access to the documents themselves.” Huzzah! A dissertation topic for anyone who can’t bear to read another word about monastic reform.
The “fossils” entry in Medieval Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Myths, Legends, Tales, Beliefs, and Customs has this to say:
Fossil shark teeth, taken for petrified serpents’ tongues, were named glossopetrae (tongue stones) or St. Paul’s tongues and were worn as amulets to neutralize poisons. Beginning in the fifteenth century it was fashionable to suspend an array of sharks’ teeth on a gilded and bejeweled tree-shaped rack, called a languier or Natternzungenbaum, on one’s dining table ready for dipping into wine. Languiers were also hung over baby’s cots for protection.
I hope you’re all taking notes, because there’s going to be a short quiz next period.
Medieval Shark Week is about irony!
A suit of armor was once found inside a shark’s stomach—but were it not for medieval chainmail, we might never have learned how to protect ourselves from shark bites.
The Tudor Shoppe, “purveyors of fine wares for 16th-century enthusiasts,” sells a shark hand puppet.
Why not buy a medieval shark dagger?
A manticore was often said to possess shark-like teeth.
Medieval Shark Week is about running out of material on the first day!
So maybe we could make it Shark and Manticore Week? Because really, who doesn’t love a lion with a human face? Hey, wait—where’s everybody going? Uh, guys, wait up! Guys?