From Lindow’s intro (Norse Mythology 2001):  

‘gods and giants’? aesir and jötnar, tribal division more than cosmic hierarchy


Key chronology (to compare with Grk and NE)


ca. 2000 BC  Boat-ax culture (with decorative axes modeled on copper of S.Europe)

ca. 1000 BC  Scandinavian Bronze-Age (about 1000 years after s. Europe)

ca. 500 BC  Scand. Iron Age (largely through trade)

ca. CE rise of Germanic peoples, runic inscriptions

early 1st millennium—    encounter with Roman empire

ca. 500 CE  Migration period (e.g.  Burgundians [in France] from Bornholm; Goths from Gotland? Anglo-Saxons to England

~ ‘Germanic Iron Age’ (local ironworks)

ca. 800 CE  ‘Viking Age’ (term of unknown origin)


9th c. a time of crisis and ferment: Alfred in England accepts Danelaw and Guthrum baptized (broad area of Scandinavian law in East England, largely oral, transmitted by lawsayers). Hakon, son of Harald Fairhair fostered by Aethelstan in England[1]. Harald aggressively united Norway and in the process set off migrations to British isles, Iceland and beyond


Iceland fully settled by end of 9th c. ruled by chieftains= go∂ar  ... meeting= thing and Althing(i)


10th to 11th cc. rise of Christianity in Scandinavia. time of convert kings buried in pagan mounds.

Crucial figure in the forcible conversion is Olaf Tryggvason, king of Norway who intervened in Iceland; christianity chosen by arbiter, pagan lawsayer; but under threat of Olaf’s wrath  (not the same by the way as St. Olaf = Olaf II of Norway.


Christianity brought wider literacy (and more manageable media of codex). Runes carved linear for inscribing with the grain in wood, earliest on stone from around CE


Edda and eddic poetry, traditional mythology, in evocative verse (not usually a self-contained telling of the story, so I am inclined to link it to ode/ aoidê   not edo as L) ex. from ‘Song of the Seeress’ Voluspa[2]


skalds  and skaldic poetry, more highly embellished verse, esp. marked by elaborate ‘kennings’ such as  ‘Otter’s ransom’... complex structure,  ‘showy ornate oral poetry’  by named poet

this poetic elite probably influential in preserving tradition after Christianity.


also instrumental was Snorri Sturluson  (active early 1200s murdered 1241), himself a go∂i and lawspeaker; his brother a bishop and himself a christian nonetheless endeavored to systematize and preserve pagan tradition –in many ways he is the ‘Homer’ and the ‘Leqe-sin-uninni’ of Norse myth.   His collection called ‘Prose Edda’; esp  Gylfaginning..


Snorri’s prologue, euhemeristic derivation from Troy, aesir < Asia. Gylfi the Swedish king who supposedly welcomed them, only to be deceived (in his own attempt at deception). Snorri’s euhemerism probably to be understood as attempt to reconcile pagan tradition with Christianity—these were, after all, not gods but human heroes.



[1] In 878, Alfred defeated the Danes. The Danes made peace and Guthrum, the Danish king, was baptised with Alfred as his godfather. By 886, King Alfred had freed London from Danish occupation; he and 'all English councillors' made a treaty with King Guthrum and the East Anglians. England was divided, with the east (between the Rivers Thames and Tees) declared to be Danish territory - later known as the 'Danelaw' (where English and Danes were equal in law).



Of old was the age | when Ymir lived;

Sea nor cool waves | nor sand there were;

Earth had not been, | nor heaven above,

But a yawning gap, | and grass nowhere.


4. Then Bur's sons lifted | the level land,

Mithgarth the mighty | there they made;

The sun from the south | warmed the stones of earth,

And green was the ground | with growing leeks.


5. The sun, the sister | of the moon, from the south

Her right hand cast | over heaven's rim;

No knowledge she had | where her home should be,

The moon knew not | what might was his,

The stars knew not | where their stations were.


6. Then sought the gods | their assembly-seats,

The holy ones, | and council held;

Names then gave they | to noon and twilight,

Morning they named, | and the waning moon,

Night and evening, | the years to number.

7. At Ithavoll met | the mighty gods,

Shrines and temples | they timbered high;

Forges they set, and | they smithied ore,

Tongs they wrought, | and tools they fashioned.


8. In their dwellings at peace | they played at tables,

Of gold no lack | did the gods then know,--

Till thither came | up giant-maids three,

Huge of might, | out of Jotunheim. [ =the world of the giants.]


9. Then sought the gods | their assembly-seats,

The holy ones, | and council held,

To find who should raise | the race of dwarfs

Out of Brimir's blood | and the legs of Blain.


10. There was Motsognir | the mightiest made

Of all the dwarfs, | and Durin next;

Many a likeness | of men they made,

The dwarfs in the earth, | as Durin said.