Iceland: The Poetic Edda
13th century, Old Norse, Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies, Reykjavik.
The Midgard Serpent was a huge snake that encircled the Earth, biting its own tail beneath an ocean that separated the world of men from the land of the giants.
'The pagan Scandinavians believed in an underworld,' said Miranda. 'Brunhild's Ride to Hel, in the Poetic Edda, describes how Brynhild is cremated beside the pyre of Sigurd. She was, it says:
laid in a wagon draped with costly woven tapestries. It is said that Brynhild drove the wagon along the road to hel...
'Hel is just the Otherworld,' said Quintin. 'Like the Otherworld in the Irish stories – a wonderful land, a Land of Youth, reached through the water of a lake or through a burial mound or across the sea in a boat at the instigation of a woman holding an apple bough, as in the story of Bran. A land which people like Oisin and Caoilte could return from. Or like the Elysian Fields that Aeneas visited when he went to see his dead father, in Virgil’s epic poem of the first century BC. A huge snake had emerged from his father's tomb, and when Aeneas visited the underworld, guided by a Sibyl carrying a bough, all the souls were waiting there, having a good rest before being called again to cross the forgetful waters of the river Lethe and to be reborn again in the upper world once more.
'A sky god, of course, would try to destroy all this. Hymir's Poem in the thirteenth century Poetic Edda describes how Thor, the thunderer, went to giantland and rowed out in a boat with the giant Hymir, armed with a fishing rod and a bull’s head for bait. He cast his line and the Midgard Serpent bit. The Midgard Serpent was a huge snake that encircled the Earth beneath the waters of Ocean and separated the human-inhabited world from the land of the giants; a huge serpent biting its own tail. In the Poetic Edda, Thor tries to destroy this beast.
With his hammer he struck the head violently, from above...