Scandinavian Mythology

Iceland: The Poetic Edda

13th century, Old Norse, Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies, Reykjavik.

A snake lies along the sword's edge and on the boss a serpent chases its tail.

The Poem of Helgi Hiorvardsson in the 13th century Icelandic Poetic Edda tells how King Hiorvard invades a land to seize a woman to be his fourth wife. She bears him a son. The child does not speak, has no name and sadly, if not enigmatically, sits upon a burial mound. From this vantage point the infant sees nine valkyries riding by.

One of the valkyries calls him by the name Helgi.

‘What naming-gift will you give me?’ replies the child. ‘And I won’t take it unless I can possess you as well!’

‘There are forty-six swords on an island, and one of them is finer than all the others,' she replies:

There’s a ring on the hilt, there’s courage in the middle,
‘and terror in its point, for him who manages to own it;
‘a blood-dyed snake lies along the edge
‘and on the boss a serpent chases its tail.

Story fragment recounted from: Larrington, Carolyne, 1996. The Poetic Edda: a new translation by Carolyne Larrington. Oxford University Press. The Poem of Helgi Hiorvardsson, pp 123–31. The figure on the right shows a styalized depiction of snakes chasing each other's tails found on a scabbard from an Iron Age grave in Deal, Kent, England, dating to the La Tène I period, third or fourth century BC.

Iron Age scabbard design

See for yourself

Poetic Edda (Elder Edda) – Wikipedia

Elder Edda and Younger Edda – Project Gutenberg; free out-of-copyright editions, ebooks

The Eddas – translated into English :

The Lay of Helgi Hiörvard´s son – translated by Benjamin Thorpe, transcribed by Ari Odhinnsen, with thanks to William Reaves : : see verse 9.

Snakes and dragons

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styalised snake's head from Iron Age Celtic metalwork design
Artistic impression of an Iron Age scabbard design

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