European Surgery

, Volume 48, Issue 5, pp 304–310 | Cite as

Violent death and trauma in Norse mythology: a systematic reading of the Prose Edda

  • Antonis A. Kousoulis
  • Konstantinos S. MylonasEmail author
  • Konstantinos P. Economopoulos
Original Article



This paper attempts to assess surgical knowledge presented in Norse mythology. The Prose Edda constitutes the most comprehensive source of Norse mythology. Literature and myth offer unique educational insights into life practices of previous eras, provided approached with a cautious and unbiased perspective.


English translations of Gylfaginning and Skáldskaparmál, texts from the Prose Edda, were systematically reviewed. International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, 10th edition (ICD-10) definitions for trauma and violent death were utilized. A basic tabulation was followed for the recording of extracted data, including the chapter, characters involved and the text extract. Recorded cases were categorized by applying three distinct classifications and assessed by body part affected, cause of morbidity/mortality and character involved.


A total of 52 cases of trauma were identified (19 cases in Gylfaginning and 33 in Skaldskaparsmal). In 27 cases of injury the afflicted body region was unspecified, but in the majority of specified cases it concerned a craniofacial trauma. 37 events were an outcome of personal assault, whereas 11 occurred during warfare. Moreover, three cases were suicides and one an accident. Critical assessment of the texts indicates that the predominant theme of Gylfaginning is the struggles of Norse Gods, whilst Skáldskaparmál tales revolve mostly around humans. Notably, a lack of allusion to medical knowledge and surgical practice is observed.


The systematic reading of the Prose Edda highlights the common theme of violence in Norse Mythology and distinguishes beheading in battle. The absence of documentation on medical practice is in accordance with the fact that Scandinavian mythological texts rarely elaborate on disease.


Trauma Death Prose Edda Medical history Medical education & training 



Not applicable.

Conflict of interest

A.A. Kousoulis, K. S. Mylonas and K. P. Economopoulos declare that they have no competing interests.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Wien 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Antonis A. Kousoulis
    • 1
    • 2
  • Konstantinos S. Mylonas
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  • Konstantinos P. Economopoulos
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.Society of Junior DoctorsAthensGreece
  2. 2.Faculty of Epidemiology and Population HealthLondon School of Hygiene and Tropical MedicineLondonUK
  3. 3.Medical School, Faculty of Health SciencesAristotle University of ThessalonikiThessalonikiGreece
  4. 4.Department of SurgeryMassachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA

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