Poetry Guide: Edda
The Edda are collections of poetically narrated folk-tales relating to Norse Mythology or Norse heroes. These are fragmentary parts of a (presumably) much larger scaldic tradition of oral narration which has been written down by scholars prior to the tales being lost absolutely.
There are a number of theories concerning the origins of the word edda. One theory holds that it is identical to the word that seems to mean "great-grandmother". Another theory holds that edda means "poetics ". A third is that it means "the book of Oddi", Oddi being the place where Snorri Sturluson was educated.
The Poetic Edda
The Poetic Edda, also known as Sæmundar Edda or the Elder Edda, is a collection of Old Norse poems from the Icelandic mediaeval manuscript Codex Regius. Along with Snorri's Edda the Poetic Edda is the most important source we have on Norse mythology and Germanic heroic legends.
Codex Regius was written in the 13th century but nothing is known of its whereabouts until 1643 when it came into the possession of Brynjólfur Sveinsson, then Bishop of Skálholt. At that time versions of Snorri's Edda were well known in Iceland but scholars speculated that there once was another Edda - an Elder Edda - which contained the pagan poems Snorri quotes in his book. When Codex Regius was discovered it seemed that this speculation had proven correct. Brynjólfur attributed the manuscript to Sæmundr the Learned, a larger-than-life 12th century Icelandic priest. While this attribution is rejected by modern scholars the name Sæmundar Edda is still sometimes encountered.
Bishop Brynjólfur sent Codex Regius as a present to the Danish king, hence the name. For centuries it was stored in the Royal Library in Copenhagen but in 1971 it was returned to Iceland.
The Younger Edda
The Younger Edda, known also as the Prose Edda or Snorri's Edda is an Icelandic manual of poetics which also contains many mythological stories. Its purpose was to enable Icelandic poets and readers to understand the subtleties of alliterative verse, and to grasp the meaning behind the many kennings that were used in skaldic poetry.
It was written by the Icelandic scholar and historian Snorri Sturluson around 1220. It survives in seven main manuscripts, written from about 1300 to about 1600.
The Prose Edda consists of three distinct sections: the Gylfaginning (c 20 000 words), the Skáldskaparmál (c 50 000 words) and the Háttatal (c 20 000 words).
- The Elder Eddas and Younger Eddas, Eng. trans. by I. A. Blackwell, 1906 (a searchable facsimile at the University of Georgia Libraries; DjVu & layered PDF format)
- Prose Edda in Old Norse
- Prose Edda in English
- Poetic Edda in Old Norse
- Poetic Edda in English