What does "Edda" mean?
There are many theories concerning the meaning of
the word edda. One theory holds that it means "great-grandmother".
Another theory holds that edda means "poetics". A third belief is that
it means "the book of Oddi". Oddi is the name of a place Snorri
Sturluson was educated. Whatever the meaning of the word, students of Norse
mythology would be lost without the Eddas.
The Poetic Edda
The Poetic Edda is the older of the two Eddas
and therefore sometimes called the Elder Edda. It is also sometimes referred to
as Saemund's Edda after a famous Icelander. It consists of many different tales
which were put together by an anonymous person probably around 1250 CE. The date
of origin of the various poems has long been under discussion. Birger Nerman, in
The Poetic Edda in the Light of Archaeology, puts forward the opinion
that the majority of the stories must have been written before the Viking age.
This book is quite dated though (1930) and it would be interesting to see a more
recent essay on this subject.
The Eddas are two collections of Old
Icelandic writings, and together they form the most important source of
Scandinavian mythology. The Poetic Edda is a collection of 34 Icelandic poems,
interspersed with prose, dating from the 9th to the 12th century. The poems were
composed by anonymous poets and deal mostly with mythological themes. Among the
most important of these are the poems Völuspá (The vision of the Seeress) and
Hávamál (The Speech of the High One). To give some taste of the nature of this
poetry, here is a famous quote from Hávamál, where Odin ('The High One')
speaks of how he acquired the art of casting runes by being sacrificed on a
branch of the World Tree:
I know I hung
The Younger, or Prose, Edda (circa 1220) is the
work of the Snorri Sturluson. It was probably intended as a handbook for novice
poets who wished to become skalds, or court poets, in a time when the old pagan
tradition was already beginning to fade from men's minds but was still
appreciated. Snorri was a brilliant stylist, writing in his native Icelandic;
his Edda is no dry antiquarian treatise, but a witty, imaginative and lively
account of the old tales of the gods. Despite his being a Christian, there is
little doubt that Snorri has given us a faithful picture of Heathen mythology as
it was known in his day; there are few attempts at rationalizing or pointing
towards some Christian moral teaching. It is difficult to know to how far
removed Snorri's stories are from the living faith of the pagan era, but despite
its limitations, the Prose Edda is the best introduction to the world of
Scandinavian mythology in existence.
on the wind swept Tree
through nine days and nights
I was struck with a spear
and given to Odin,
myself given to myself
They helped me neither
by meat nor drink
I peered downward,
I took up the runes,
screaming, I took them -
then I fell back.
Poetic Edda can be divided into two sections, a mythical one and a heroic one.
There are fifteen mythical poems:
There are 23 heroic lays, 17 of which are available on-line.
Völuspá or "Prophecy of the Vala"
- A volva chants about the cosmos, from creation
or "Sayings of Hár"
- Wisdom sayings. Also, the story of how Odin
learned the runes.
Vafţrúđnismál or "Sayings of Vafţrúđnir"
- Odin matches wits with a wise giant.
Grimnismál or "Sayings of Grimnir"
- Agnar and Geirrod are brother princes and
foster sons of Frigg and Odin. Geirrod the younger does away with his
brother so he can be King. Frigg gets Odin to visit his favorite Geirrod,
but first she implants evil notions in the King's head so he will treat Odin
poorly. Odin arrives at Geirrod's saying his name is Grimnir, gets tossed
into a fire, and avenges himself by killing Geirrod.
Skirnismál or "Sayings of Skirnir"
- Frey falls in love with Gerd so he has his
servant Skirnir go woo her for him.
- Rick McGregor's Skmrnismal as Ritual Drama:
A Summary of Scholarship this Century, is very informative.
Hárbarzljóđ or "Lay of Hárbarth"
- Thor and Hárbarth (Odin) have a contest
regarding who has more accomplishments.
Hýmiskviđa 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 and Thor hooks the Midgard Serpent.
Lokasenna or "Loki's Mocking"
- Loki crashes a party of the gods at Aegir's
hall and slanders all.
A version is available from Loki's Cult page.
Ţrymskviđa or "Lay of Thrym"
- Thrym steals Thor's hammer. Thrym states he
will give it back 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
Alvíssmál or "Sayings of Alvís"
- The dwarf Alvis 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 Alvis into Stone.
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 portend.
Rigsţula or "Rig's Song"
- Rig, another name for Heimdall, journeys about
middle-earth siring the three social classes of man: slave, freeman, and
Hyndluljóđ or "Lay of Hyndla"
- Freya rides her lover Ottar (in boar form) to
Hyndla's and gets the wise woman to state Ottar's ancestory.
Vöuspá hin skamma or "The Short
Prophecy of the Vala"
- A shorter version of the history and future of
Svipdagsmál: Grógaldr, Fjölsvinnsmál or
"Sayings of Svipdag: Spell of Gróa, Sayings of Fjölsvith"
- Svipdag is pushed by his stepmother into
finding the love of his life and winning her.
The Prose Edda
The Prose Edda or Younger Edda, was written
by Snorri Sturluson around 1220 CE. It consists of three sections. The first
part is "The Deluding of Gylfi", or Gylfaginning. It
consists of a story in which Gylfi asks three chieftains -- High One,
Just-as-high, and Third -- questions about Norse mythology. The second section, Skáldskaparmál
('Poetic Diction'), gives various kennings and the stories behind them. Háttatal
is the final part of the Prose Edda and it is about King Hakon and different