Two collections of Old Norse writings are known by the title of Edda. Together they form the most authoritative source for ancient Nordic mythology. The so-called "Elder Edda" or "Saemunder Edda", is more correctly referred to as the "Poetic Edda". It is a collection of 34 Icelandic poems, interspersed with prose. These anonymous poems use alliteration and a simple strophic form as their only formal devices. Most of them deal with Norse mythology and legend. The Poetic Edda can be divided into two sections, a mythical one and a heroic one.
John Lindow, in Handbook of Norse Mythology says:
It has been more than a century since anyone has taken seriously the idea that Saemund had anything to do with the composition of this work, or that it preceded Snorri, but we still call it "Edda": the Poetic Edda. ..."Poetic Edda", which is now preserved in Iceland, was written down toward the end of the 13th century, probably in the years around 1280. ...it seems that some of the poems may have been written down as early as the beginning of the 13th century. These are not, however, the mythological poems.
The manuscript containing this material was discovered in the 17th century by Brynjólfur Sveinsson who mistook it for the work of Saemund the Learned. Between the 13th and the 17th centuries, Snorri Sturlusson's "Prose Edda" was the only Edda. It was Snorri who coined the term "Edda". While some of the poems predate Snorri, the compilation itself and the commentaries written as introductions to the poetry, are much later than Snorri.
The so-called "Younger",
or "Prose Edda"
(c. 1220) is the work of the Icelandic
poet and historian Snorri Sturlusson. It is presumed to have been
intended as a handbook for novice poets who wished to become skalds,
creators of the sophisticated poetry recited in court. The Prose Edda
contains a preface on the creation of the world; mythological
stories; sayings attributed to the Norse god of poetry, Bragi; rules
governing poetic style; and an analysis of ancient poets. Continue to
the next page for more information about the
1. Voluspa or "Prophecy of the Wisewoman": Odin brings back to life a volva, who chants about the cosmos. The Voluspa gives a striking picture of paganism by describing events from the history of the world, past, present, and future. Auden & Taylor translation. Hollander translation.
2. Hávamál or "Sayings of Hár": "The Ballad of the High One" - Odin as Hár, "the High One", gives advice on proper behavior, talks about women, how he obtained the mead of poetry, and gives a list of charms. It contains the Runatal, the story of how Odin obtained the runes. Click here to see the Bray translation of the Hávamál. See also the lost Eddic poem, Hrafnagaldur Odins.
3. Vafrúdnismál or "Sayings of Vafrúdnir": No sooner has Odin obtained a drink from Mirmir's well than he goes to Jotunheim (as Gagnrath) to battle wits with Vafthrudnir, the most learned of the giants. He almost loses.
4. Grimnismál or "Sayings of Grimnir": Agnar and Geirrod are brother princes and foster sons of Frigg and Odin. Geirrod the younger tricked his brother so he could be King. Frigg gets Odin to visit his favorite, Geirrod, accusing Geirrod of inhospitality, a most heinous crime. However, she also appears to Geirrod, and warns him to beware of a visitor. Odin arrives at Geirrod's in disguise, saying his name is Grimnir. Geirrod binds Grimnir between two fires for eight days. Odin avenges himself by prophesying that the king will perish by his own sword. Geirrod draws his sword, but startled when Odin suddenly transforms himself into his godly form, falls on his own sword and dies, thus fulfilling the prophecy.
5. Skirnismal or "Sayings of Skirnir": Frey falls in love with Gerd so he has his servant Skirnir go woo her for him. As anticipated, Gerd plays hard to get.
6. Hárbarthljód or "Lay of Hárbarth": Thor, on one side of the river and Odin (as Hárbarth the ferryman) at the other "play the dozens", a contest of verbal abuse and bragging of their accomplishments.
7. Hymiskvida or "Lay of Hymir": Thor and Tyr go to the giant Hymir's in search of a kettle large enough for Aegir to brew ale in for the gods' feast. While with the giant, they go fishing for their breakfast. Hymir catches two whales and Thor hooks the Midgard Serpent. Hymir, fearing that the boat would sink and he would become its breakfast, cuts the line and lets it drop back into the sea. Another online version.
8. Lokasenna or "Loki's Mocking": Loki crashes a party of the gods at Aegir's hall and insults and slanders all.
9. Thrymskvida or "Lay of Thrim": The giant Thrym steals Thor's hammer and says he would give it back only if he can marry Freya. Freya will have no part in the bargain so Thor dresses in drag, pretending to be Freya going to her wedding feast, with Loki as his handmaiden. As soon as he gets his hands on the hammer, Thor uses it on the assembled giants.
10. Alvíssmál or "Ballad of Alvís": The dwarf Alvís wants to marry Thor's daughter, Thrud. He ends up in a contest of knowledge and is outwitted by Thor, who keeps the dwarf up until the sun comes up, thereby turning Alvís into stone.
11. Baldrs Draumar or "Balder's Dream": Balder has nightmares so Odin rides to the underworld to talk to a volva to find out what Balder's dreams mean. The volva says they portend the fall of the gods, beginning with the death of Balder.
12. Rigsthula or "Rig's Song": Heimdall (Rig) journeys about middle-earth fathering the ancestors of the three social classes of man: slave, freeman, and noble.
13. Hyndluljód or "Lay of Hyndla": Freya rides her lover Ottar (in boar form) to Hyndla's and gets the wise woman to state Ottar's ancestry.
14. Vöuspá hin skamma or "The Short Prophecy of the Vala": A shorter version of the history and future of the universe.
15. Svipdagsmál: Combination of the poems "Grougaldr" (Spell of Gróa) and "Fjolsvinnsmol" (Sayings of Fjölsvith), the love story of Svipdag and Mengloth. Svipdag is pushed by his stepmother into finding the love of his life and winning her.
There are 23 heroic lays. The subject matter of the heroic lays is Volsung Saga, the hero of which is Sigurdr. The Volsung Saga is classic Norse literature. Other Germanic peoples have also preserved literary or pictorial accounts, and some of them are based on historical characters, Ermanaric (Jormunrekr), the 4th century King of the East Goths and Attila (Atli), King of the Huns (of the 5th century). The Niebelungenleid was written in Germany around 1200 CE. The Icelandic version, was believed to have been written about 70 years later. Even the Prose Edda by Snorri Sturlusson contains a short summary of the Sigurdr cycle.
Northvegr's (formally Midhnott Sol) website site carries the Thorp and Bellows translations of the Poetic Edda, now in the public domain. Woden's Harrow website also has a comprehensive collection.
The Codex Regius is the oldest collection of the Eddic poems and the most famous of all Icelandic books. It was almost certainly written in the last part of the 13th century from older manuscripts which are no longer extant.
The earlier history of the book is not known; but in 1643 it came into the hands of the then bishop of Skálholt, who presented it to the King of Denmark in 1662. It was kept in the Royal Library in Copenhagen, until its return to Iceland in 1971
It is now kept in the Árni Magnússon Institute, which is part of the University of Iceland. The Institute has custody of the Icelandic manuscripts, both medieval and modern, which were returned to Iceland from the Arnamagnæan Institute and the Royal Library in Copenhagen in accordance with the 1961 act passed in the Danish Parliament. The last of the documents was returned in 1996. With the return of all the relevant manuscripts from Denmark, there are around 1750 manuscripts and parts of manuscripts in the collection. Both the Royal Library and the Arni Magnússon Institute have photographed the many pages of the documents, and are in the process of digitalizing them, to make them available in facsimile to scholars. Eventually they will be available on the Internet.
Poetic Edda - Bellows translation
Poetic Edda - Thorpe translation