In Norse mythology, Níðhöggr is a Norse dragon who eats the roots of the World Tree, Yggdrasill; threatening to destroy it. The serpent is always bickering with the eagle that houses in the top of the tree.
In the standardized Old Norse orthography the name is spelled Níðhǫggr or Niðhǫggr 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 as Nidhogg, Nidhoggr, Nithhogg, Nidhögg, Nidhöggr, Nithhöggr, Nídhöggr, Nithhoggr, Nidhhogg, Níðhögg, Niðhoggr, Níðhoggr, Nídhögg, Hidhaegg, or Nidhhoggr. The Modern Icelandic forms Níðhöggur and Niðhöggur are also sometimes seen and sometimes Anglicized as Nidhoggur. The Danish form Nidhug or "Nidhøg" can also be encountered.
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).
Living by the root of Yggdrasill, , Nidhogg feeds on the bodies of the dead at Hvergelmirin, a spring which is the source of the rivers of the world, located in the region of Niflheim or Hela.
When not feeding upon the dead Nidhogg gnaws at the root of Yggdrasill and sends taunting messages to the eagle perched in its high branches via the squirrel Ratatosk. Ratatosk in turn brings the eagles taunts back to Nidhogg.
In the act of gnawing the root, Nidhogg joins the four stags Dainn, Dvalinn, Duneyr and Durathor who graze the leaves and bark of Yggdrasill higher up.
Nidhogg rises at Ragnarok, bringing up the corpses of the dead to join battle. The dragon however survives to continue its existence in the new order that follows. Sources have suggested that Nidhogg's continued presence in the new world is to provide an evil balance to the new good.
Other Serpents of the Ash Tree include:
According to the Gylfaginning part of Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda, Níðhöggr is a being which gnaws one of the three roots of Yggdrasill. This root is placed over Niflheimr and Níðhöggr gnaws it from beneath. The same source also says that "[t]he squirrel called Ratatöskr runs up and down the length of the Ash, bearing envious words between the eagle and Nídhöggr" (Gylfaginning XVI, Brodeur's translation.).
In the Skáldskaparmál section of the Prose Edda Snorri specifies Níðhöggr as a serpent in a list of names of such creatures:
- "These are names for serpents: dragon, Fafnir, Iormungand, adder, Nidhogg, snake, viper, Goin, Moin, Grafvitnir, Grabak, Ofnir, Svafnir, masked one." (Faulkes translation, p.137)
Later in Skáldskaparmál Snorri includes Níðhöggr in a list of various terms and names for swords.
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 Níðhöggr as tearing at the tree from beneath and also mentions Ratatoskr as carrying messages between Níðhöggr 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 twice. The first instance is in its description of Náströnd.
|Eysteinn Björnsson's edition||Thorpe's translation||Dronke's translation|
Níðhöggr 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|
The context and meaning of this stanza is disputed. The most prevalent opinion is that the arrival of Níðhöggr heralds Ragnarök and thus that the poem ends on a tone of ominous warning.
Níðhöggr is not mentioned elsewhere in any ancient source.
- Ásgeir Blöndal Magnússon (1989). Íslensk orðsifjabók. Reykjavík: Orðabók Háskólans.
- Bellows, Henry Adams. Translation of the Poetic Edda. Available at .
- Brodeur, Arthur Gilchrist (transl.) (1916). The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson. New York: The American-Scandinavian Foundation. Available online at http://www.northvegr.org/lore/prose/index.php.
- Dronke, Ursula (1997). The Poetic Edda : Volume II : Mythological Poems. Oxford: Clarendon Press. In particular p. 18 and pp. 124-5.
- Eysteinn Björnsson (ed.). Snorra-Edda: Formáli & Gylfaginning : Textar fjögurra meginhandrita. 2005. http://www.hi.is/~eybjorn/gg/
- Eysteinn Björnsson (ed.). Völuspá. http://www.hi.is/~eybjorn/ugm/vsp3.html
- 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 1576072177.
- Benjamin Thorpe (tr.) (1866). Edda Sæmundar Hinns Froða : The Edda Of Sæmund The Learned. (2 vols.) London: Trübner & Co. Available online at http://www.northvegr.org/lore/poetic2/000.php