Mile End

Medieval Icelandic Literature

The Saga of Arrow-Odd

13th century, Old Norse.

One morning a stone boat approaches the cliff. In it sits a giant.

Arrow-Odd, fated to live for three-hundred years, pursues an adventurous life, pitting his skills in battle against a number of notable Viking warriors and winning ships and wealth and a great deal of notoriety. But one day, whilst crossing a forest, he comes to a ravine that brings his journey to an abrupt halt. Perhaps this is a metaphor, a necessary pause in his extended life – for he has been fated to live for three hundred years – but now his journey is blocked and he finds himself confronting a barrier that seems impossible to overcome. To try to cross it will mean his death, it seems. Suddenly a vulture appears from out of nowhere, takes him in its claws and carries him far away to its nest, which lies high on a cliff above a forbidding sea on a desolate and windswept crag.

Living for many days on the food brought by this vulture for its chicks, Arrow-Odd can see no way of getting down.

One morning a stone boat approaches the cliff. In it sits a giant who is rowing towards the vulture’s nest in search of some food that the vulture has stolen from him. Odd kills the chicks, gathers the stolen food into a pile and calls out to the giant. The giant climbs into the nest and puts the food into his stone boat. Odd hurriedly hides.

Where’s that little infant I saw here just now? says the giant.

Story fragment recounted from: Pálsson, Hermann, and Edwards, Paul, 1985, reprinted 2005. Seven Viking Romances. Translated from Medieval Icelandic with an introduction. Penguin Books Limited. Arrow-Odd, 18. In Giantland, pp 74–79.


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