Course Syllabus

Nordic Mythology:

From Myth to Marvel

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Semester & Location:

Summer 2023, Session 1 - DIS Copenhagen

Type & Credits:

Elective Course - 3 credits

Major Disciplines:

History, Literature, Religious Studies



Faculty Member:

Bettina Sejbjerg Sommer, (current students please use the Canvas Inbox)


Monday through Friday, 9:30-13:00



Course Overview

A study of the myths, cults, and traditions of the pre-Christian Nordic peoples, emphasizing the Viking period, as expressed in contemporary literature, eyewitness reports, archaeological finds, and art. Also an introduction to the view of vikings in popular culture and the afterlife of the Nordic myths in modern fantasy using examples from Tolkien and other contemporary writers. All readings are in modern English translations.

Instructor: Bettina Sejbjerg Sommer

Bettina Sommer is Mag. Art. in the History of Religion, University of Copenhagen 2006. She is a specialist in Nordic Religion and Scandinavian Folklore and has published articles on Nordic Religion in academic journals. Teaches European Storytelling and Nordic Mythology at DIS. Teaches Nordic Mythology at the University of Copenhagen. With DIS since 2006.

Office Hours

By appointment. Please call between 10 AM and 10 PM.

Class Format

Lectures, questions and answers, and class discussion. Field studies, presentations, quizzes, and research papers.


This course, taught at the upper-division level, is an introduction to the religion and mythology of the pre-Christian Norsemen, especially from the Viking Age, through the study of literary and mythological texts (the Prose and Poetic Eddas, sagas, and contemporary eyewitness accounts), runes, legal texts as well as archaeological findings.

At the end of the course, students should be able to:

  • read and identify primary sources of Nordic Mythology
  • read and classify the varieties of Icelandic Saga-literature
  • name and identify the characteristics of the main Nordic deities as they are reflected in the sources
  • obtain an understanding of how the view of vikings is continually re-invented and employed in modern popular culture
  • achieve an understanding of the influence of Nordic mythology on the genre of Fantasy and how the mythology is re-interpreted in modern works of literature
  • demonstrate an understanding of the world-view and culture of the Scandinavian Viking Age
  • distinguish and critically analyze the main problem-fields of Nordic mythology
  • demonstrate a knowledge of the main theoretical approaches to mythology
  • compose a research paper which will demonstrate ability to analyze a problem and to apply the appropriate theoretical approaches to the proper sources

Course Content

The course will begin with a brief introduction to the origins of the Vikings and to the realm of Nordic mythology.

We will begin a detailed study of the pre-Christian Norse myths with Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda, comparing Snorri’s version of the myths as found in Eddic poetry. We will evaluate Snorri’s attitude to his mythological material and discuss possible Christian influences.

Next we will consider and evaluate our sources of viking age people, their cults and religion, in light of recent archeological discoveries which have dramatically altered our perception of this religion.

We will read the Saga of Hrolf Kraki and examine its fairy-tale elements as well as its connection to the Beowulf epic, and we will visit the actual site where these epics supposedly have taken place.

Lastly we will explore how the view of vikings in popular movie representations has changed over time, and how Nordic mythology has inspired J.R.R. Tolkien and other writers.

Field trips to museums and archaeological sites will help us reconstruct Viking spiritual life. No previous courses in mythology are necessary.

Course Evaluation



15-minute quiz


Short essay 


Final paper (5-6 pages)


Class attendance and participation   



PLEASE NOTE: All written assignments, quizzes and exams must be completed to pass course.

Reading Assignments

The reading for each class meeting is indicated in the Canvas course calendar. It is assumed that students are prepared and will be active participants in class discussion.

Please always bring the assigned readings to class as well as this syllabus.

Written Assignments

  • 1 two page essay on topics selected by the instructor. The topics will be announced later.
  • A 15 minute quiz will be held in class.
  • The Final Paper (5-6 pages).

The final research paper is on a topic selected by the student together with the instructor. The purpose of this paper is to allow the student to work in-depth on a specific topic of special interest.

For due dates and times, please see the calendar.

It is important that you read the document: Nordic Myth summer research paper (to be found under Files) as it gives essential information on the expectations and grading criteria for the paper.

Field Studies

All-day field study trip to the Ladby viking ship burial and the Viking fortress in Trelleborg. Duration: approx. between 9 am and 5.30 pm, subject to change.

All-day field study trip to the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, including sailing replica viking ships. Also the Beowulf/Hrolf Kraki location at Gl. Lejre and Lejre, Land of Legends. Duration: approx. between 9 am and 5.30 pm, subject to change.

Please note that participation in all field trips is an integral part of the course and as such mandatory without exception.


In the interest of concentration and participation, the use of laptops will not be permitted in this class. Note-taking will have to be on paper. I expect your understanding and cooperation in this.

Cell phones and other electronic devices should be turned off and stored away.

If for some reason you feel that you require a laptop for note-taking, please talk to me, and an arrangement can possibly be made, provided that you sit in the front row.

Required Readings

We will read selections of the following books.

Please note: The poems listed as readings in your syllabus, i.e., the poems from the Poetic Edda, are not compulsary reading before each class. They are difficult to understand, and we will go over them in class, but you are welcome to read them before class if you want. All other listed readings are required reading before each class.

Davidson, H.R. Ellis: Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1964.

Sturluson, Snorri: The Prose Edda. Trans. Jean I. Young. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1971.

The Poetic Edda. Trans. Carolyne Larrington. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996

The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki. Trans. Jesse L. Byock. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1998.

Tolkien, J.R.R: The Hobbit. London: HarperCollins, 2006. Chapters 1-5 and 12.


Text Collection:

  1. Excerpt from Peter Madsen et al, “Valhalla 1. Ulven er løs”. Bagsværd, 1979, 3-10. Transl. Bettina Sommer.
  2. Excerpts from Snorri Sturluson, "The Ynglinga Saga" (in Snorri's Heimskringla, 1220's). Net edn., Berkeley Digital Library SunSITE. "1. Of the Situation of Countries"; b. "2. Of the People of Asia", "3. Of Odin's Brothers"; c. "4. Of Odin's War with the People of Vanaland"; d. "5. Odin Divides his Kingdom: also concerning Gefion"; e. "6. Of Odin's Accomplishments", "7. Of Odin's Feats", "8. Odin's Lawgiving"; f. "9. Of Njord's Marriage"; g. "10. Of Odin's death".
  3. Neil Price et al. Wiking Warrior Women? 2019.
  4. Clover, Carol. Regardless of Sex: Men, Women, and Power in Early Northern Europe, 1993.
  5. “The Funeral of the Rus-Chief”. Excerpt from Ibn Fadlan: Risala. Translated by Tina Sass. Full text in German translation in Togan, Ahmed Zeki Validi, Ibn Fadlân's Reisebericht, Abhandlungen für die Kunde des Morgenlandes 23,4, Leipzig 1939.
  6. Thietmar of Merseburg's Chronicle (ca. 1018), I, 9, on the cult at Lejre. Transl. L. Hemmingsen.
  7. Adam of Bremen, Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum (ca. 1070), IV,26-27. Transl. Morten Warmind.
  8. Excerpt from Snorri Sturluson, "The Saga of Hákon the Good" Part 1. (in Snorri's Heimskringla, 1220's). Translated by L.M. Hollander, Austin, Texas, 1995.
  9. Ewing, Thor: Temples, Priests and Festivals. In: Gods and Worshippers in the Viking and Germanic World. The History Press 2008.
  10. “The tale of Völsi” (Völsa tháttr).
  11. Excerpt from Snorri Sturluson, "The Saga of Hákon the Good" Part 2. (in Snorri's Heimskringla, 1220's). Translated by L.M. Hollander, Austin, Texas, 1995.
  12. Shippey, Tom: Tolkien and the Appeal of the Pagan. In: Jane Chance: Tolkien and the Invention of Myth, University Press of Kentucky 2004.
  13. Burns, Marjorie: Norse and Christian Gods. In: Jane Chance: Tolkien and the Invention of Myth, University Press of Kentucky 2004.


Reference reading:

Andrén, Anders et al (eds.): The Pre-Christian Religions of the North. Brepols Publishers, 2020.

Price, Neil: The Children of Ash and Elm. A history of the vikings. Penguin Books, 2022.

Brink, Stefan et al: The Viking World. Routledge, 2011.

Jarman, Cat: River Kings: A New History of the Vikings from Scandinavia to the Silk Roads. Pegasus, 2021.

Ewing, Thor: Gods and Worshippers in the Viking and Germanic World. History Press, 2008.

Lindow, John: Old Norse Mythology. OUP, 2021.

Simek, Rudolph: A Dictionary of Northern Mythology. D.S. Brewer, 1996.

Foote, Peter & David M. Wilson: The Viking Achievement. Sidgwick and Jackson, 1970.

Turville-Petre, E.O.G.: Myth and Religion of the North. The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1975.

Academic Regulations  

Please make sure to read the Academic Regulations on the DIS website. There you will find regulations on: 


DIS - Study Abroad in Scandinavia -

Course Summary:

Date Details Due