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 Poetic Edda can be divided into two sections, a mythical
one and a heroic one. There are fifteen mythical poems:
"Prophecy of the Vala"
- A volva chants about the cosmos, from creation to
Hávamál or "Sayings
- Wisdom sayings. Also, the story of how Odin learned the
"Sayings of Vafţrúđnir"
- Odin matches wits with a wise giant.
"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
"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.
- Loki crashes a party of the gods at Aegir's hall and
A version is available from Loki's
- 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 feast.
"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.
- 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 noble.
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
- A shorter version of the history and future of the
Svipdagsmál: Grógaldr, Fjölsvinnsmál or
"Sayings of Svipdag: Spell of Gróa, Sayings of
- Svipdag is pushed by his stepmother into finding the love
of his life and winning her.
There are 23 heroic lays, 17 of which are available on-line.
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 meters.
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.
On-line versions of the Eddas
Besides those listed above:
© 1996, Nicole Cherry
Norse Religious Traditionalism