In Norse mythology, Níðhöggr (Malice Striker, in Old Norse traditionally also spelled Níðhǫggr [ˈniːðˌhɔɡːz̠], often anglicized Nidhogg[1]) is a dragon who gnaws at a root of the world tree, Yggdrasil. In historical Viking society, níð was a term for a social stigma, implying the loss of honor and the status of a villain. Thus, its name might refer to its role as a horrific monster in its action of chewing the corpses of the inhabitants of Náströnd: those guilty of murder, adultery, and oath-breaking.

Níðhǫggr gnaws the roots of Yggdrasill in this illustration from a 17th-century Icelandic manuscript.

OrthographyEdit

In the standardized Old Norse orthography, the name is spelled Níðhǫggr, but the letter ǫ is frequently replaced with the Modern Icelandic ö for reasons of familiarity or technical expediency.

The name can be represented in English texts with i for í; th, d or (rarely) dh for ð; o for ǫ and optionally without r as in Modern Scandinavian reflexes. The Modern Icelandic form Níðhöggur is also sometimes seen, with special characters or similarly anglicized. The Danish forms Nidhug and Nidhøg can also be encountered; or Norwegian Nidhogg and Swedish Nidhögg.

Prose EddaEdit

According to the Gylfaginning part of Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda, Níðhǫggr is a being which gnaws one of the three roots of Yggdrasill. It is sometimes believed that the roots are trapping the beast from the world. This root is placed over Niflheimr and Níðhǫggr gnaws it from beneath. The same source also says that "[t]he squirrel called Ratatoskr runs up and down the length of the Ash, bearing envious words between the eagle and Nídhǫggr [the snake]."[2]

In the Skáldskaparmál section of the Prose Edda Snorri specifies Níðhǫggr as a serpent in a list of names of such creatures:

These are names for serpents: dragon, Fafnir, Jormungand, adder, Nidhogg, snake, viper, Goin, Moin, Grafvitnir, Grabak, Ofnir, Svafnir, masked one.[3]

Snorri's knowledge of Níðhǫggr seems to come from two of the Eddic poems: Grímnismál and Völuspá.

Later in Skáldskaparmál, Snorri includes Níðhǫggr in a list of various terms and names for swords.[4]

Poetic EddaEdit

The poem Grímnismál identifies a number of beings which live in Yggdrasill. The tree suffers great hardship from all the creatures which live on it. The poem identifies Níðhǫggr as tearing at the tree from beneath and also mentions Ratatoskr as carrying messages between Níðhǫggr and the eagle who lives at the top of the tree. Snorri Sturluson often quotes Grímnismál and clearly used it as his source for this information.

The poem Völuspá mentions Níðhöggr/Níðhǫggr twice. The first instance is in its description of Náströnd.

Eysteinn Björnsson's edition Bellows' translation Dronke's translation
Sal sá hon standa
sólu fjarri
Náströndu á,
norðr horfa dyrr.
Fellu eitrdropar
inn um ljóra,
sá er undinn salr
orma hryggjum.
Sá hon þar vaða
þunga strauma
menn meinsvara
ok morðvarga
ok þanns annars glepr
eyrarúnu.
Þar saug Niðhöggr
nái framgengna,
sleit vargr vera—
vituð ér enn, eða hvat ?
A hall I saw,
far from the sun,
On Nastrond it stands,
and the doors face north,
Venom drops
through the smoke-vent down,
For around the walls
do serpents wind.
I there saw wading
through rivers wild
treacherous men
and murderers too,
And workers of ill
with the wives of men;
There Nithhogg sucked
the blood of the slain,
And the wolf tore men;
would you know yet more?
A hall she saw standing
remote from the sun
on Dead Body Shore.
Its door looks north.
There fell drops of venom
in through the roof vent.
That hall is woven
of serpents' spines.
She saw there wading
onerous streams
men perjured
and wolfish murderers
and the one who seduces
another's close-trusted wife.
There Malice Striker sucked
corpses of the dead,
the wolf tore men.
Do you still seek to know? And what?

Níðhöggr/Níðhǫggr is also mentioned at the end of Völuspá, where he is identified as a dragon and a serpent.

Eysteinn Björnsson's edition Bellows' translation Dronke's translation
Þar kømr inn dimmi
dreki fljúgandi,
naðr fránn, neðan
frá Niðafjöllum.
Berr sér í fjöðrum
—flýgr völl yfir—
Níðhöggr nái—
nú mun hon søkkvask.
From below the dragon
dark comes forth,
Nithhogg flying
from Nithafjoll;
The bodies of men
on his wings he bears,
The serpent bright:
but now must I sink.
There comes the shadowy
dragon flying,
glittering serpent, up
from Dark of the Moon Hills.
He carries in his pinions
—he flies over the field—
Malice Striker, corpses.
Now will she sink.

The context and meaning of this stanza are disputed. The most prevalent opinion is that the arrival of Níðhǫggr heralds Ragnarök and thus that the poem ends on a tone of ominous warning. It could be, however, as the prevalent themes of Norse mythology are those of change and renewal, that this could be a 'redemption' of the serpent, 'shedding' the corpses and beginning life anew, much like a macabre Phoenix, or perhaps, lifting the bodies of the righteous rulers mentioned two stanzas before (the stanza immediately before is considered spurious by translator Henry Adam Bellows), so that they can dwell in Gimle, and then either Níðhǫggr sinks, or the völva sinks, depending on the translation, and the poem ends.

Níðhǫggr is not mentioned elsewhere in any ancient source.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ While the suffix of the name, -höggr, clearly means "striker" the prefix is not as clear. In particular, the length of the first vowel is not determined in the original sources. Some scholars prefer the reading Niðhöggr (Striker in the Dark).
  2. ^ Gylfaginning XVI, Brodeur's translation.
  3. ^ Faulkes translation, p.137
  4. ^ Faulkes translation, p.159

BibliographyEdit

  • Ásgeir Blöndal Magnússon (1989). Íslensk orðsifjabók. Reykjavík: Orðabók Háskólans.
  • Bellows, Henry Adams (trans.) (1923) The Poetic Edda. New York: The American-Scandinavian Foundation. Available online in www.voluspa (org).
  • Brodeur, Arthur Gilchrist (trans.) (1916). The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson. New York: The American-Scandinavian Foundation. Available at Google Books.
  • Dronke, Ursula (1997). The Poetic Edda : Volume II : Mythological Poems. Oxford: Clarendon Press. In particular p. 18 and pp. 124–25.
  • Eysteinn Björnsson (ed.). Snorra-Edda: Formáli & Gylfaginning : Textar fjögurra meginhandrita. 2005. Available online.
  • Eysteinn Björnsson (ed.). Völuspá. Available online.
  • Faulkes, Anthony (transl. and ed.) (1987). Edda (Snorri Sturluson). Everyman. ISBN 0-460-87616-3.
  • Finnur Jónsson (1913). Goðafræði Norðmanna og Íslendinga eftir heimildum. Reykjavík: Hið íslenska bókmentafjelag.
  • Finnur Jónsson (1931). Lexicon Poeticum. København: S. L. Møllers Bogtrykkeri.
  • Lindow, John (2001). Handbook of Norse mythology. Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio. ISBN 1-57607-217-7.
  • Thorpe, Benjamin (tr.) (1866). Edda Sæmundar Hinns Froða: The Edda Of Sæmund The Learned. (2 vols.) London: Trübner & Co. Available online in the Norroena Society edition at Google Books.