Medieval Icelandic Sagas
Sagas of Arrow-Odd and Egil and Asmund
13th century, Old Norse.
again and againGiantsagain and again
Here then, we have the same double meaning; the Otherworld is both a land of animals and a land where the newly-arrived take on a diminutive stature, like infants.
'The Scandinavian romance of Arrow-Odd, composed around the middle of the thirteenth century, is a mythical story in which the eponymous hero is fated to live for three hundred years,' read Quintin. 'But his life does not follow the normal course of events. On one occasion, as a fully-grown man, he is grabbed by a vulture and taken over many lands and seas until he is rescued by a giant. 'I'm sure I saw a little infant here; where is he?' asks the giant, as he peers into the vulture’s nest. Arrow-Odd reveals his presence in the nest and the giant takes him and rows across the sea to Giantland, where his giant daughter cares for Arrow-Odd like a mother. The succession to kingship in this land, however, seems to hinge upon the outcome of a dog fight.
'The images are pregnant with meaning. To be grabbed by a vulture, a carrion feeder, implies that one is dead. To be taken by unusual means over water can also carry this meaning, as we have seen. And having been carried across the water, Arrow-Odd is brought up in a land where kingship is determined by the fighting of dogs; in other words, a world of dogs. But his encounter is also, at another level, with a human being who makes him appear as an infant again. A symbolic death has resulted in his being regarded again as an infant.'
'In a land of giants,' said Miranda.
'Well exactly! And another Scandinavian romance,' continued Quintin, 'written in about AD 1300 and preserved in three vellum manuscripts of the fifteenth century, is the tale of Egil and Asmund. In part rather crudely written, the story tells of a king's daughter who is taken away by a vulture. We have seen how Arrow-Odd was seized by a vulture and we may therefore be ready for what comes next. In a forest far to the east, where the Scandinavian Otherworld is always located, the two stern Vikings Egil and Asmund search for the missing girl. Here they come across two grotesque female creatures, mother and daughter, whose names suggest that they have the form of birds. Eagle-Beak is the daughter of a giant, and it is one of her giant brothers who has snatched the king’s daughter away. Here then, we have the same double meaning; the Otherworld can be both a land of animals and a land where the newly-arrived take on a diminutive stature, like infants.'