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REH: Savages Vs. Barbarians


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#1 Ironhand

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Posted 27 April 2003 - 03:12 AM

This is prompted by the "Growing up in Cimmeria" thread. I almost just introduced it there, but this is, in fact, a question I have asked on various boards, and never got a stable, satisfactory answer to.

What is the difference between savages and barbarians, and how does it apply to Conan?

REH almost always referred to Conan as a barbarian. But the woodscraft (learned in a childhood and youth growing up as part of his tribe) and closeness to nature sound, to me, more like what I always thought of as being associated with savages.

My own take on this question is that savages are close to nature, usually live a hunter/gatherer lifestyle, maybe with some herding or agriculture, and have a primitive level of technology. [Brief aside: "primitive" doesn't necessarily equate to "simple" or "crude". A savage tribe depends for its survival on a vast array of technology, some of it quite complex, some of it requiring years of study in order to achieve proficiency.] Their culture is quite rigid, depending on tradition and unwilling to consider new things.

Barbarians are more advanced technologically, having mastered, for instance, metal-working. They have better-organized social structures, enabling them to control large numbers of people, many more than a single tribe. Their culture is more flexible, perhaps as a result of contact with civilization(s).

My take is that one of the most telling differences between savages and barbarians is that savage cultures tend to be destroyed by contact with civilization (culture shock), while barbarian cultures tend to thrive, adapting what they will to their own needs. Sometimes they can become so powerful that they can defeat a civilized culture.

My quandry is that REH, in his description of Conan, sometimes seems to be ascribing savage characteristics to him, ie, the woodscraft and closeness to nature. Perhaps Conan is a barbarian from a savage origin?

What do y'all think?
"Did you deem yourself strong, because you were able to twist the heads off civilized folk, poor weaklings with muscles like rotten string? Hell! Break the neck of a wild Cimmerian bull before you call yourself strong. I did that, before I was a full-grown man...!" - Conan, in "Shadows in Zamboula", by Robert E. Howard
"... you speak of Venarium familiarly. Perhaps you were there?"
"I was," grunted [Conan]. "I was one of the horde that swarmed over the hills. I hadn't yet seen fifteen snows, but already my name was repeated about the council fires." - "Beyond the Black River", by Robert E. Howard

Read my Conan screenplays at The Scrolls of Ironhand (in particular my transcription of THE FROST GIANT'S DAUGHTER in Act II of "The Snow Devil") at
http://www.scrollsof...d.us/index.html or at
http://www.delicious...ic=ConanProject

#2 Ironhand

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Posted 27 April 2003 - 03:32 AM

To further confuse the issue, here is evidence from history to show that barbarianism (barbaricity?) can be in the eye of the beholder.

Once upon a time, back in the 9th century A.D., there was a town, or village, called Novgorod, inhabited by Slavs, in what would later become known as "Russia". These Slavs of Novgorod lived a lot like the "Cimmerians" depicted in CTB.

Every year, Vikings from the mysterious West would visit them in their longships, to trade wondrous items of jewels and precious metals, and gorgeous fabrics and clothing (the less said about where they obtained these treasures, the better) for the furs that the Novgorodians had gathered and cured over the previous year. Evidently the Novgorodians were too poor, and/or primitive, and/or skilled at fighting, to be worth raiding, so the Vikings traded with them instead. Well, the Novgorodians were so impressed by the beautiful trinkets and clothing that the Vikings traded to them, that they invited the Vikings to settle among them and teach them how to be civilized, like the Vikings!!!

So a Viking chieftain settled among them with his followers, and became their prince, and Novgorod became the first capitol of what later became known as Russia (named after the Rus, the Viking tribe).

Were the Novgorodians savages or barbarians? Were the Vikings barbarous or civilized? Confusing isn't it?
"Did you deem yourself strong, because you were able to twist the heads off civilized folk, poor weaklings with muscles like rotten string? Hell! Break the neck of a wild Cimmerian bull before you call yourself strong. I did that, before I was a full-grown man...!" - Conan, in "Shadows in Zamboula", by Robert E. Howard
"... you speak of Venarium familiarly. Perhaps you were there?"
"I was," grunted [Conan]. "I was one of the horde that swarmed over the hills. I hadn't yet seen fifteen snows, but already my name was repeated about the council fires." - "Beyond the Black River", by Robert E. Howard

Read my Conan screenplays at The Scrolls of Ironhand (in particular my transcription of THE FROST GIANT'S DAUGHTER in Act II of "The Snow Devil") at
http://www.scrollsof...d.us/index.html or at
http://www.delicious...ic=ConanProject

#3 DeathAdder

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Posted 27 April 2003 - 03:49 AM

The english language is probably so confusing to most because it has so many synonyms. I'm not going to debate the difference between two words that mean relatively the same thing. Again, check www.dictionary.com, barbarian and savage are essentially the same.

Heck, let's debate the difference between 'good' and 'great' and 'grand' next. Wait, what's the difference, if any between, 'next' and 'after'? What's the difference between 'between' and 'seperating'?

You get the idea... :ph34r: :D :P

#4 Crom's Warrior

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Posted 27 April 2003 - 05:06 AM

Hyborian World wise!

"The Picts where most deffinitly savages",and most of the Black Kingdoms where as well!
"That which does not kill us makes us stronger."

"Suffer No Guilt Yee Who Weild This In The Name Of Crom."

#5 DeathAdder

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Posted 27 April 2003 - 02:04 PM

Okay, seriously, I didn't mean to sound critical in my last post but the way I see it being a savage and being barbaric are basically the same thing. If anything I would see the savage as being more caveman-like.

Yes indeed, the Picts and Black Kingdoms were totally savages even if they did not recognize that they were. I believe that no group or civilization would fully consider themselves to be barbarians. Rather, the term is just used to describe other groups that have strange methods that seem cruel or backwards, or lacking humanity.

#6 Crom's Warrior

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Posted 27 April 2003 - 03:01 PM

Well I think the real problem is that some people are trying to hard to classify Barbarians as a specific group of peolpe,like they come from a land called "Barbaria" or something like that! "Which of course is total nonesence"!
"That which does not kill us makes us stronger."

"Suffer No Guilt Yee Who Weild This In The Name Of Crom."

#7 Ironhand

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Posted 27 April 2003 - 06:40 PM

The term was originally invented by the Greeks to describe people who didn't speak Greek (like Persians, for instance) because their speech sounded, to descriminating Greeks, like "babababa..."
"Did you deem yourself strong, because you were able to twist the heads off civilized folk, poor weaklings with muscles like rotten string? Hell! Break the neck of a wild Cimmerian bull before you call yourself strong. I did that, before I was a full-grown man...!" - Conan, in "Shadows in Zamboula", by Robert E. Howard
"... you speak of Venarium familiarly. Perhaps you were there?"
"I was," grunted [Conan]. "I was one of the horde that swarmed over the hills. I hadn't yet seen fifteen snows, but already my name was repeated about the council fires." - "Beyond the Black River", by Robert E. Howard

Read my Conan screenplays at The Scrolls of Ironhand (in particular my transcription of THE FROST GIANT'S DAUGHTER in Act II of "The Snow Devil") at
http://www.scrollsof...d.us/index.html or at
http://www.delicious...ic=ConanProject

#8 blackjack

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Posted 27 April 2003 - 10:25 PM

The term was originally invented by the Greeks to describe people who didn't speak Greek (like Persians, for instance) because their speech sounded, to descriminating Greeks, like "babababa..."

Yup. "Barbarian" falls into the family of words used to generally describe the "not us" group. Originally it meant non-Greek-speakers, then the Romans used it to describe those outside the Empire, and Christians expanded it to mean non-Christians.

Similar words include the Hebrew <i>goyim</i>, meaning literally, "the nations"; "pagan", which originally meant "country dweller"; "heathen", which originally meant "dweller on the heath"; and, yes, "savage", which meant "forest dweller".

#9 Kane

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Posted 28 April 2003 - 09:39 AM

What is the difference between savages and barbarians, and how does it apply to Conan?

REH almost always referred to Conan as a barbarian.  But the woodscraft (learned in a childhood and youth growing up as part of his tribe) and closeness to nature sound, to me, more like what  I always thought of as being associated with savages.

Since your question goes along with some of the ideas that I have been pondering, I thought I would give you my take on the Cimmerian postion of barbarianism.

First I want to give some quotes from REH on the history of the Cimmerians. We all know that they came from the Atlanteans of the Thurian Age and that they were nearly destroyed by the first Great Cataclysm. The following comes from Howard's Hyborian Age.

"A thousand years after the lesser catalysm, the western world is seen to be a wild country of jungles and lakes and torrential rivers. Among the forest-covered hills of the northwest exist wandering bands of ape-men, without human speech, or the knowledge of fire or the use of implements. They are descendants of the Atlanteans, sunk back into the squalling chaos of jungle-bestiaility from which ages ago their ancestors so laboriously crawled."

"Look at the world five hundred years later."
"To the west the apish Atlanteans are beginning the long climb upward. They have completed the cycle of existence; they have long forgotten their former existence as men; unaware of any other former state, they are starting the climb unhelped and unhindered by human memories."

"To the northwest, the descendants of the Atlanteans, climbing unaided from apedom into primitive savagery, have not met the conquerors."

"...are the Cimmerians, ferocious savages, untamed by the invaders, but advancing rapidly because of contact with them..."

While the Cimmerians were called barbarians in the stories. the above quotes shows quite clearly that the Cimmerians were much closer to Ironhand's defination of savages. And, if we take REH's essay as a true histroy of the Hyborian Age, the Cimmerians were among the last humans to fully evolve!
Because of the position of Conan's tribe in the northwestern part of Cimmeria, it is possible that only 500 years before his birth his people were eating their meat raw and still using the most advanced of stone tools. While in the southern part of the lands those tribes had enough contact with other nations that they were starting to use the first metals ever forged in Cimmeria.

Conan's woodscraft and closeness to nature was due not to his being a barbarian but, instead it was due to the fact that his people were still closer to nature and the beasts of the wild then they were to other humans.
If Conan's grandfather was not the first man to bring metal working to his tribe, then he was most likely one of the first to bring iron/steel working to the tribe.

We've been thinking of Conan as a member of a proto-celtic race, an early fantasy based Irish or Scots. Instead I think we need to think of him as a second or third generation human. One who had the ability to learn quickly and survive danger because only a few generations earlier his forefathers were killing saber-tooths and cave-bears with flint spears and stone hand axes.
"I vanquished Law once, I'll conquer yet again--
And force upon Mankind the Freedom he fears--
And dead gods I will again defy?"

#10 DeathAdder

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Posted 28 April 2003 - 06:24 PM

Well although the Greeks and Romans, etcetera used it to describe outsiders, words do indeed evolve over time.

For example, the word 'idiot' came from Ancient Greek describing someone who is ignorant towards politics. Now the word simply describes someone who is stupid or incompetent.

I don't think taking Robert E Howard's wording back to the stone age origins is truly appropriate. To the contrary, Howard wrote in the 20th century using the same words and definitions we use today. What is the problem with accepting what a barbarian is defined as by modern standards? :ph34r:

I find it peculiar that a lot of you guys are attempting to glorify the term Barbarian in order to condemn John Milius' film. If there is an Ultimate Robert E Howard dictionary for the Howardian version of modern English please tell me. Is Wandering Star re-releasing an edition as well??? Keep me posted!! :P

#11 Orkin

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Posted 28 April 2003 - 06:32 PM

Conan's real father is Tarzan, everybody knows that. ;)

It's easy to see REH reading ERB and saying "Well shoot, I could write that!"

And Tarzan's father is Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "The Noble Savage". Yes, Conan is based on Victorian-era (and earlier) fantasies about "primitive" people. It is there that we should look for a definition, as it were, of barbarian.
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#12 DeathAdder

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Posted 28 April 2003 - 08:35 PM

Since arguably most of Howard's known creations are about barbarians I seriously doubt his whole career was a rip-off of good ol' Tarzan.

The characters seem similar on the surface but are incredibly different and you'd have to have a temporary lapse in judgement to confuse them.

Heck, all barbarians walk around without shirts on and having long hair on their heads, right? They must all be rip-offs of each other going back to the first guy to walk around with no shirt who also happened to let his hair grow out. Gotta hand that one to ya bud, valid point! :P

#13 Crom's Warrior

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Posted 28 April 2003 - 09:51 PM

"Comparing Conan to tarzan is rediculous to say the least,they have noting in common other then their skin color"!

I think "if you want to compare Conan to somebody then by all means compare him to the Classical legendary Hercules" to whom he does share a number of traits and predicaments(No I'am not talking about that campy crap TV show with Kevin Sorbo, but the true Greek Tragedy version)

But like John Milius always said, CONAN has his own identity!
"That which does not kill us makes us stronger."

"Suffer No Guilt Yee Who Weild This In The Name Of Crom."

#14 Derek Pullem

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Posted 29 April 2003 - 09:36 AM

What is the difference between savages and barbarians, and how does it apply to Conan?

REH almost always referred to Conan as a barbarian.? But the woodscraft (learned in a childhood and youth growing up as part of his tribe) and closeness to nature sound, to me, more like what? I always thought of as being associated with savages.

Since your question goes along with some of the ideas that I have been pondering, I thought I would give you my take on the Cimmerian postion of barbarianism.

First I want to give some quotes from REH on the history of the Cimmerians.

*snip*

Please!

Are we really going to argue semantics based on Conan stories. Just enjoy them for what they are!

I mean "...Cimmerian position on barbarianism..." - what the hell is that? In the UK we have a satirical magazine called "Private Eye" which has a page called "Pseud's Corner" glorifying incomprehensible articstic gobbledegook. I'm telling you that this post is a sure fire winner :D

The Conan stories are a product of their time - 1930's pulp fiction. I enjoy them in the same way as I enjoy reruns of Flash Gordon or the novels of EE Doc Smith. But lets not start deconstructing the novels - they just didn't have that much in them to deconstruct in the first place ;)

#15 Kane

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Posted 29 April 2003 - 10:28 AM

I hate to say Derek but, your right. I did go a wee bit overboard on that last post.

I also need to say thanks. For the last couple of weeks I have been reading the stories looking for nitpicks to either throw at people or, use to defend my position on topics. I need to go back and read them just for the fun of it.

Still think I made a good point though. :rolleyes:
"I vanquished Law once, I'll conquer yet again--
And force upon Mankind the Freedom he fears--
And dead gods I will again defy?"

#16 alex

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Posted 29 April 2003 - 12:38 PM

Don't know what's going on here. An interesting topic at first. Now transformed into auto defensive movie quibblings. And brought out by just one party's agenda. Seems like the other was just trying to bring up an intelligent conversation piece.
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#17 DeathAdder

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Posted 29 April 2003 - 06:21 PM

Some politcally incorrect guy - "Hey there barbarian!"

Howard's Conan - "I'm not a barbarian, I'm a Cimmerian Barbarian!!!!! I have to kill you now!! Argh!"


Bah! Rediculous... :lol:

#18 blackjack

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Posted 29 April 2003 - 11:06 PM

What is the problem with accepting what a barbarian is defined as by modern standards?

The problem with doing that is the fact that there is no fixed, objective, precise definition for these words. "Barbarian" and "savage" are not scientific designations. If you want to examine the level of development Cimmerians, you might want to do so in the terms of modern archeology and anthropology. These terms are hardly exact or truly objective, but they are much better than vagueries like "savage".

#19 Ironhand

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Posted 29 April 2003 - 11:31 PM

As far as I'm concerned, I have enough answers to consider the question answered: it doesn't matter! But you needn't consider the question sealed if you're having a good time shootin' the bull, or breakin' the bull's neck, or whatever.
"Did you deem yourself strong, because you were able to twist the heads off civilized folk, poor weaklings with muscles like rotten string? Hell! Break the neck of a wild Cimmerian bull before you call yourself strong. I did that, before I was a full-grown man...!" - Conan, in "Shadows in Zamboula", by Robert E. Howard
"... you speak of Venarium familiarly. Perhaps you were there?"
"I was," grunted [Conan]. "I was one of the horde that swarmed over the hills. I hadn't yet seen fifteen snows, but already my name was repeated about the council fires." - "Beyond the Black River", by Robert E. Howard

Read my Conan screenplays at The Scrolls of Ironhand (in particular my transcription of THE FROST GIANT'S DAUGHTER in Act II of "The Snow Devil") at
http://www.scrollsof...d.us/index.html or at
http://www.delicious...ic=ConanProject

#20 Crom's Warrior

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Posted 30 April 2003 - 01:29 AM

"but just make sure your fur speedo doesnt fall off in the process"!lol

blackjack! thats a matter of opinion,barbarian and Savage are clearly defined even though they may have different meanings and terms of use!
"That which does not kill us makes us stronger."

"Suffer No Guilt Yee Who Weild This In The Name Of Crom."