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Famous Norse Dragons

history | > famous dragons

English | French | Greek/Roman | > Nordic | Swiss

Death of Beowulf

Death of Beowulf - illustration by George T. Tobin [colourised by B. Slade]

- The Firedrake is the dragon that Beowulf fought his final battle with as the aging hero died of his wounds. The dragon is described as being winged and having fire-breathing abilities. Beowulf, written in Old English sometime before the tenth century A.D., describes the adventures of a great Scandinavian warrior of the sixth century. It is one of the oldest surviving epics. A slave stumbles into the dragon's hoard and steals a cup, and this infuriates the dragon so much that it sets fire to the local district. Beowulf, having enjoyed 50 years of his reign as king, sets out with his young warriors in pursuit and challenges the dragon to a combat that proves to be fatal for both of them.

- Nidhogg or Nidhoggr [also known as the "Dread Biter"] was one of the most feared of the early Nordic dragons. He lived at the foot of the world ash tree, Yggdrasil. The tree had three great roots, one of which reached over the freezing mist and darkness of Niflheim where Hel reigned as Queen of the Norse Underworld. Nidhogg could also be found at Hvergelmir [the bubbling cauldron], the spring in Niflheim which is the source of all the rivers of the world. Nidhogg was a dragon that devoured the corpses of evil-doers, and he would gnaw at the roots of Yggdrasil when he got tired of the taste of dead flesh. Since the world tree supported all life and Nidhogg attempted to destroy it, Nidhoggr was personified as evil itself.
Both Yggdrasil and Nidhogg were destined to survive the final catastrophe of Ragnarok, the doom of the gods and ultimately, the end of the world. Fires and floods would not deter the dragon from its incessant feasting on the boundless supply of the dead.

Jormungand, Ragnarok

Thor wresting with Jormungand at Ragnarok, by James Alexander, 1995

- Jormungand or Jormungandr [the Migard/World Serpent] is the world serpent that lies in the seas with its tail in its mouth, encircling the land and creating the oceans. In Norse mythology it was the serpent son of Loki, god of fire, and brother of Fenrir and Hel.

Midgard serpent
[full size] Midgard serpent devouring itself

Odin arranged for these monstrous children to be kidnapped and brought to Asgard. He threw Jormungand into the icy ocean, where he grew to such a monstrous size that he encircled Midgard [the world of men], eventually bitings its own tale and hence becoming known as the Midgard Serpent. This links Jormungand to Ouroboros, the Egyptian cyclic serpent. At Ragnarok he would meet and be slain by his arch-rival, Thor. Thor would also die - by Jormungand's venom.

- Fafnir was the son of the magician Hreidman, who had been corrupted by a cursed ring called Andvarinaut. He lusted after his father's rings, and with the help of his brother, Regin, they killed him. Fafnir's greed grew to be so great, that it not only made him monstrous in nature, but also monstrous in form. He was turned into a terrible dragon. Over a period of time, he managed to collect a massive number of treasures and vigilantly guarded this hoard. This drew many a valiant hero to his lair in search of both wealth and fame.

Most of them however, met their untimely deaths by the dragon's fiery breath. There was one hero though, who did manage to outwit the dragon. That hero was Sigurd*, who was guided by Regin and armed only with his father's sword. However despite his heroic deed which won him fame and fortune, his life from then on was said to be ruined by the curse that came with the ill-fated treasures.

* Sigurd, better known as Siegfried [German], was one of the great heroes depicted in the early European Teutonic and Old Norse literature. Whether he was a historical figure or merely a legendary one is unknown. Some scholars believe that behind the legends there was a real person who lived sometime during the Merovingian Dynasty (481-750), which is now France. In most stories he appears as the leading character, a triumphant, dragon-slaying hero of courage and strength.

References:

Books -

1. Ultimate Encyclopedia of Mythology by Arthur Cotterell & Rachel Storm

2. Dragons: A Natural History by Dr. Karl Shuker

Websites -

> Beowulf; 6.The Fire-Drake

and many more cross-referenced for accuracy

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