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.