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III. RAGNAROK

1. The Enemies of the Gods Assemble. In the last periods of the world came first the frightful Fimbulvetr, 'great winter,' which is repeated three times. When the deciding moment draws near, the world-tree trembles although it still remains standing; all in Hel's kingdom take fright, the dwarfs, groan in the mountains, and there is a crashing in Jotunheim, while the gods hold their last assembly and Heimdall sends the calling tones of the Gjallarhorn out over the world. Fenrir bursts his chains, and the Mithgarth serpent writhes in giant wrath and lashes the sea into towering waves. From the east comes Hrym with the ship Naglfar, built of dead men's nails; from the north sail Hel's sons over the sea, with Loki in command; and Surt rides on from the south, with flaming sword, at the head of Muspell's sons. Then the bridge of the Aesir falls under the horses' hoofs and heaven is on fire. Fenrir goes forth with yawning mouth; his upper jaw touches heaven while his lower jaw drags along the earth. Fire spurts out from the monster's eyes and nostrils when Odin meets him in battle only to be swallowed up by the terrible abyss. Heimdall fights with Loki; Frey and Surt become each other's destroyers.


2. Thor Fights with the Mithgarth Serpent. The last incident in the conflict is Thor's victory over the Mithgarth serpent. The mighty god of heaven and earth crushes with his hammer the head of his deadly foe; but only nine steps does he totter on, before he sinks dead to the earth, choked by the serpent's poison.

VSP. 55
Then comes the great son of Hlothyn;
there yawns across the air the Girdle of the earth 1
fire it spurts, poison it spews2
Odin's son goes to meet the worm.

56
Strikes with wrath Mithgarth's defender;
all men will forsake their home.
Nine feet goes Fjorgyn's son
bowed, from the snake, who fears no shame.

Now the sun grows dark, the earth sinks into the sea, the clear stars fall from heaven, and everything goes up in fire and flame. This is Ragna-rok, the gods' crisis, the last destiny by which the gods of Valhalla are overtaken.



Fig. 18 Vithar.

3. Snorri's Version. Snorri renarrates the Ragnarok myths with detailed descriptions of all the incidents. The battle was fought on the plain Vigrith, which is a hundred rasts on every side. Tyr fights with the Hel hound Garm, sun and moon are swallowed by the wolves, and it is Surt who hurls fire over the earth. But within the time, Vithar, Odin's silent son, has avenged the death of the Father of the Gods; he steps with his heavy shoe on the wolf's under jaw, grasps with his hands the upper jaw, and afterwards tears the monster's mouth asunder (Fig. 18).3


4. Regeneration. But the downfall is only temporary and not everlasting. The Volva's Prophecy continues with its charming description of the new heaven and earth where justice and peace shall prevail. The earth rises once more, green and glorious, from the sea. The regenerated gods meet again on Ida-plain, recall the Mithgarth serpent, the old life of the gods, and the last terrible summons of fate. Then they find in the grass the wonderful golden tablets which they themselves owned in the morning of time. Then dawn a new golden age and a calm period of happiness, which is to be everlasting:


VSP. 62
Unsown will acres grow.
all evil will be cured, Baldur will come;
Hoth and Baldur dwell in Hropt's battle-home,4
abode of war-gods. Do ye yet know? or how?

64
A hall I know is standing fairer than the sun,
thatched with gold, at Gimli;
there shall the faithful hosts abide
and for lasting time delights enjoy.

65
There comes the mighty one, to the sublime tribunal,
strong from above, who governs all things.

5. The New Generation. Nor does Snorri know how to inform us who the great ruler is. On the contrary he tells, in harmony with another Eddic lay, about the rise of the new race of men. In Hoddmimir's grove two persons, Lif and Lifthrasir, were Biding during the burning of the world; they received morning dew for nourishment, and from them descend all the future races of men. Through an old song we learn, moreover, that Alf-rotholl, 'elf-glance,' i.e. the sun, before the wolf swallows her, bears a daughter. The maiden is to drive in her mother's course when the gods are dead.


_______________________________

1 Mithgarth Serpent.

2 Not in Sijmon's text.

3 From an English stone cross; cf. Fig. 17.

4 Valhalla.


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