The myth of Hercules and the hydra got me thinking, what other myths contains evidence of early biological and chemical warfare? What other civilization used poison arrows and other biological or chemical weapons?
The Prose Edda speaks of Baldr’s death as the result of a poisoned arrow or spear depending on which translation you read. Baldr and his mother had dreams of him his impending death which would lead to destruction of the gods according to the Völuspá (Poetic Edda). His mother Frigg, made all the objects in the world promise never to hurt Baldr except mistletoe which she thought was unimportant and nonlethal. When Loki, heard that the mistletoe was the only thing that had promised no to hurt Baldr, he fashioned a spear (later versions say arrow) and gave it to Hodr, Baldr’s blind brother. Hodr threw the spear at Baldr thinking it would just bounce off but it killed Baldr. Although mistletoe isn’t known for its deadly properties like the venom of the Hydra was, it was the only that could kill Baldr and thus becoming a biological weapon seen in Norse Mythology.
Figure 1: Balder’s Death from being stabbed by Mistletoe:
Another story in the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, is the story of Loki’s imprisonment. the Gods had found out that Loki was the one who made spear out of the mistletoe which killed fair Baldr. So they took him and bound him with the entrails of his son Narfi in a cave. To punish him further they hung a poisonous serpent above him so the venom would drip onto his forehead and cause him great pain. His wife, Sigyn, held a bowl to catch the droplets of venom so Loki wouldn’t suffer but whenever the bowl became full she had to turn away to dispose of it and the venom of the snake dropped on Loki which made him “writhe[s] against it with such force that all the earth trembles: ye call that ‘earthquakes (Gylfaninnig)” Although Loki did not die from the snake’s venom, it caused him great pain.
Anonymous. “Völuspá.” Anonymous. The Poetic Edda. Trans. Lee M. Hollander. Texas: University of Texas Press, 1962. 1-13. Print.
Lindow, John. “The Tears of the Gods: A Note on the Death of Baldr in Scandinavian Mythology.” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 101.2 (2002): 155-169. Web. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/27712205>.
Mabie, H. W. “Norse Stories From the Eddas: How Loke Was Punished.” 2007. Heritage-History.com. Web. April 2012. <http://www.heritage-history.com/www/heritage-books.php?Dir=books&author=mabie&book=norse&story=loke>.
Mayor, Adrienne. Greek Fire, Poison Arrows and Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World. New York: The Overlook Press, 2003.
North, Richard. Heathen Gods in Old English Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Print.
Schnurbein, Stefanie von. “The Function of Loki in Snorri Sturluson’s Edda.” History of Religions 40.2 (2000): 109-124. Web. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3176617>.
Sturluson, Snorri. “Gylfaginning.” Sturluson, Snorri. The Prose Edda. Trans. Jesse L. Byock. London: Penguin Books, 1220; 2005. 9-79. Print.
Wikipedia. Baldr. n.d. Web. April 2012.