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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
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
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
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.
The 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 to destruction.
Hávamál or "Sayings of
- 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
Skirnismál or "Sayings of Skirnir"
- Frey falls in love with Gerd so he has his servant Skirnir go woo her for
- Rick McGregor's Skmrnismal
as Ritual Drama: A Summary of Scholarship this Century, is very
Hárbarzljóđ or "Lay of Hárbarth"
- Thor and Hárbarth (Odin) have a contest regarding who has more
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
Ţrymskviđa or "Lay
- 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.
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
- 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 the Vala"
- A shorter version of the history and future of the universe.
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
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
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.