The title page of Olive Bray's English translation of Codex Regius entitled Poetic Edda depicting the tree Yggdrasil and a number of its inhabitants (1908) by W. G. Collingwood.
Codex Regius was written during the 13th century, but nothing was known of its whereabouts until 1643, when it came into the possession of Brynjólfur Sveinsson, then Bishop of Skálholt. At the time, versions of the Edda were known in Iceland, but scholars speculated that there once was another Edda, an Elder Edda, which contained the pagan poems that Snorri quotes in his Edda. When Codex Regius was discovered, it seemed that the speculation had proved correct, but modern scholarly research has shown that the Edda was likely written first and that the two were, at most, connected by a common source.
Brynjólfur attributed the manuscript to Sæmundr the Learned, a larger-than-life 12th century Icelandic priest. Modern scholars reject that attribution, but the name Sæmundar Edda is still sometimes associated with both the "Codex Regius" and versions of "Poetic Edda" using it as a source.
Bishop Brynjólfur sent Codex Regius as a present to the Danish king - hence the name given to the codex: Latin: codex regius, lit. 'royal book'. For centuries it was stored in the Royal Library in Copenhagen, but in 1971 it was returned to Iceland. Because air travel at the time was not entirely trustworthy with such precious cargo, it was transported by ship, accompanied by a naval escort.
The Eddic poems are composed in alliterative verse. Most are in fornyrðislag, while málaháttr is a common variation. The rest, about a quarter, are composed in ljóðaháttr. The language of the poems is usually clear and relatively unadorned. Kennings are often employed, though they do not arise as frequently, nor are they as complex, as those found in skaldic poetry.
Like most early poetry, the Eddic poems were minstrel poems, passed orally from singer to singer and from poet to poet for centuries. None of the poems are attributed to a particular author, though many of them show strong individual characteristics and are likely to have been the work of individual poets. While scholars have speculated on hypothetical authors, firm and accepted conclusions have never been reached.
Accurate dating of the poems has long been a source of scholarly debate. Firm conclusions are difficult to reach; lines from the Eddic poems sometimes appear in poems by known poets. For example, Eyvindr skáldaspillir composed in the latter half of the 10th century, and he uses a couple of lines in his Hákonarmál that are also found in Hávamál. It is possible that he was quoting a known poem, but it is also possible that Hávamál, or at least the strophe in question, is the younger derivative work.
The few demonstrably historical characters mentioned in the poems, such as Attila, provide a terminus post quem of sorts. The dating of the manuscripts themselves provides a more useful terminus ante quem.
Individual poems have individual clues to their age. For example, Atlamál hin groenlenzku is claimed by its title to have been composed in Greenland, and seems so by some internal evidence. If so, it can be no earlier than about 985, since there were no Scandinavians in Greenland until that time.
In some cases, old poems may have been interpolated with younger verses or merged with other poems. For example, stanzas 9–16 of Völuspá, the "Dvergatal" or "Roster of Dwarfs", is considered by some scholars to be an interpolation.
The problem of dating the poems is linked with the problem of determining where they were composed. Iceland was not settled until approximately 870, so anything composed before that time would necessarily have been elsewhere, most likely in Scandinavia. More recent poems, on the other hand, are likely Icelandic in origin.
Scholars have attempted to localize individual poems by studying the geography, flora, and fauna to which they refer. This approach usually does not yield firm results. For example, there are no wolves in Iceland, but we can be sure that Icelandic poets were familiar with the species. Similarly, the apocalyptic descriptions of Völuspá have been taken as evidence that the poet who composed it had seen a volcanic eruption in Iceland – but this is hardly certain.
Editions and inclusionsEdit
The cover of Lee M. Hollander's Poetic Edda.
Poems similar to those found in Codex Regius are also included in many editions of the Poetic Edda. Important manuscripts containing these other poems include AM 748 I 4to, Hauksbók, and Flateyjarbók. Many of the poems are also quoted in Snorri's Edda, but usually only in bits and pieces. What poems are included in an edition of the Poetic Edda depends on the editor. Those not found in the Codex Regius are sometimes called the "eddic appendix." Other Eddic-like poems not usually published in the Poetic Edda are sometimes called Eddica minora, and were compiled by Andreas Heusler and Wilhelm Ranisch in their 1903 book titled Eddica minora: Dichtungen eddischer Art aus den Fornaldarsögur und anderen Prosawerken.
English translators are not consistent on the translations of the names of the Eddic poems or on how the Old Norse forms should be rendered in English. Up to three translated titles are given below, taken from the translations of Bellows, Hollander, and Larrington with proper names in the normalized English forms found in John Lindow's Norse Mythology and in Andy Orchard's Cassell's Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend.
In Codex RegiusEdit
Völuspá (Wise-woman's prophecy, The Prophecy of the Seeress, The Seeress's Prophecy)
Hávamál (The Ballad of the High One, The Sayings of Hár, Sayings of the High One)
Vafþrúðnismál (The Ballad of Vafthrúdnir, The Lay of Vafthrúdnir, Vafthrúdnir's Sayings)
Grímnismál (The Ballad of Grímnir, The Lay of Grímnir, Grímnir's Sayings)
Skírnismál (The Ballad of Skírnir, The Lay of Skírnir, Skírnir's Journey)
Hárbarðsljóð (The Poem of Hárbard, The Lay of Hárbard, Hárbard's Song)
Rígsþula (The Song of Ríg, The Lay of Ríg, The List of Ríg)
Hyndluljóð (The Poem of Hyndla, The Lay of Hyndla, The Song of Hyndla)
Völuspá in skamma (The short Völuspá, The Short Seeress' Prophecy, Short Prophecy of the Seeress) - This poem, sometimes presented separately, is often included as an interpolation within Hyndluljóð.
Svipdagsmál (The Ballad of Svipdag, The Lay of Svipdag) – This title, originally suggested by Bugge, actually covers two separate poems. These poems are late works and not included in most editions after 1950:
Oddrúnargrátr (The Lament of Oddrún, The Plaint of Oddrún, Oddrún's Lament)
Atlakviða (The Lay of Atli). The full manuscript title is Atlakviða hin grœnlenzka, that is, The Greenland Lay of Atli, but editors and translators generally omit the Greenland reference as a probable error from confusion with the following poem.
Guðrúnarhvöt (Gudrún's Inciting, Gudrún's Lament, The Whetting of Gudrún.)
Hamðismál (The Ballad of Hamdir, The Lay of Hamdir)
Not in Codex RegiusEdit
Several of the legendary sagas contain poetry in the Eddic style. Its age and importance is often difficult to evaluate but the Hervarar saga, in particular, contains interesting poetic interpolations.
Hlöðskviða (Lay of Hlöd, also known in English as The Battle of the Goths and the Huns), extracted from Hervarar saga.
The Elder or Poetic Edda has been translated numerous times, the earliest printed edition being that by Cottle 1797, though some short sections had been translated as early as the 1670s. Some early translators relied on a Latin translation of the Edda, including Cottle.
Opinions differ on the best way to translate the text, on the use or rejection of archaic language, and the rendering of terms lacking a clear English analogue. However Cottle's 1797 translation is considered very inaccurate.
A comparison of the second and third verses (lines 5–12) of the Voluspa is given below :
Ek man jǫtna
ár of borna,
þás forðum mik
fœdda hǫfðu ;
níu mank hęima,
fyr mold neðan.
Ár vas alda
þars Ymir byggði,
vasa sandr né sær,
né svalar unnir ;
jǫrð fansk æva
né upphiminn ;
gap vas ginnunga,
ęn gras hvęrgi.
(Finnur 1932) harv error: no target: CITEREFFinnur1932 (help) (unchanged orthography)
The Jötuns I remember
those who me of old
I nine worlds remember,
the great central tree,
beneath the earth.
There was in times of old,
where Ymir dwelt,
nor sand nor sea,
nor gelid waves ;
earth existed not,
nor heaven above,
'twas a chaotic chasm,
and grass nowhere,
† The prose translation lacks line breaks, inserted here to match those in the Norse verse given in the same work.
Allusions and quotationsEdit
As noted above, the Edda of Snorri Sturluson makes much use of the works included in the Poetic Edda, though he may well have had access to other compilations that contained the poems and there is no evidence that he used the Poetic Edda or even knew of it.
The Volsungasaga is a prose version of much of the Niflung cycle of poems. Due to several missing pages (see Great Lacuna) in the Codex Regius, the Volsungasaga is the oldest source for the Norse version of much of the story of Sigurð. Only 22 stanzas of the Sigurðarkviða survive in the Codex Regius, plus four stanzas from the missing section which are quoted in the Volsungasaga.
J. R. R. Tolkien, a philologist and de facto Professor of Old Norse familiar with the Eddas, utilized concepts in his 1937 fantasy novel The Hobbit, and in other works:
^John Lindow (2002). Norse Mythology: A Guide to Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs. Oxford University Press. pp. 11–. ISBN 978-0-19-983969-8.
^Acker, Paul; Larrington, Carolyne (2002), The Poetic Edda: Essays on Old Norse Mythology
^Dodds, Jeramy (2014). The Poetic Edda. p. 12. ISBN 978-1770563858.
^Harris, Joseph (2005). "Eddic Poetry". Old Norse-Icelandic Literature: A Critical Guide (second ed.). Toronto: University of Toronto Press in association with the Medieval Academy of America. p. 68. ISBN 978-0-8020-3823-4.
^ abLarrington, Carolyne (2007), Clark, David; Phelpstead, Carl (eds.), "Translating the Poetic Edda into English" (PDF), Old Norse Made New, Viking Society for Northern Research, pp. 21–42
^Shippey, Tom (2003), The Road to Middle-earth, Houghton Mifflin, Ch. 3 pp. 70–71, ISBN 0-618-25760-8
^Ratecliff, John D. (2007), "Return to Bag-End", The History of The Hobbit, HarperCollins, vol. 2, Appendix III, ISBN 978-0-00-725066-0
Anderson, Rasmus B. (1876), Norse Mythology: Myths of the Eddas, Chicago: S.C. Griggs and company; London: Trubner & Co., Honolulu: University Press of the Pacific, ISBN 1-4102-0528-2 , Reprinted 2003
Björnsson, Árni, ed. (1975), Snorra-Edda, Reykjavík. Iðunn
Magnússson, Ásgeir Blöndal (1989), Íslensk orðsifjabók, Reykjavík
Lindow, John (2001), Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs, Oxford: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-515382-0
Orchard, Andy (1997), Cassell's Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend, London: Cassell, ISBN 0-304-36385-5
Wimmer, E.A.; Jónsson, Finnur (1891), Håndskriftet Nr 2365 4to gl. kgl. samling på det store Kgl. bibliothek i København (Codex regius af den ældre Edda) i fototypisk og diplomatisk gengievelse., Copenhagen: Samfund til udgivelse at gammel nordisk litteratur , lithographic edition
Crawford, Jackson, ed. (2015), The Poetic Edda: Stories of the Norse Gods and Heroes, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., ISBN 978-1624663567
Dodds, Jeramy, ed. (2014), The Poetic Edda, Toronto: Coach House Books, ISBN 978-1552452967
Orchard, Andy, ed. (2011), The Elder Edda: A Book of Viking Lore, London: Penguin Group, ISBN 978-0140435856
Larrington, Carolyne, ed. (1996), The Poetic Edda, Oxford World's Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0192823833
Larrington, Carolyne, ed. (2014), The Poetic Edda (2nd ed.), Oxford World's Classics, ISBN 978-0199675340 , altered translation
Terry, Patricia, ed. (1969), Poems of the Vikings: The Elder Edda, Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, ISBN 0672603322
Revised as : Terry, Patricia, ed. (1990), Poems of the Elder Edda, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, ISBN 0812282353
Auden, W.H.; Taylor, Paul B., eds. (1969), The Elder Edda: A Selection, London: Faber., ISBN 0571090664
Revised and expanded as Auden, W.H.; Taylor, Paul B., eds. (1981), Norse Poems, London: Athlone, ISBN 0485112264
Hollander, Lee M., ed. (1962), The Poetic Edda: Translated with an Introduction and Explanatory Notes (2nd ed., rev. ed.), Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, ISBN 0292764995
Bellows, Henry Adams, ed. (1923), "The Poetic Edda: Translated from the Icelandic with an Introduction and Notes", Scandinavian Classics, New York: American-Scandinavian Foundation, vol. XXI & XXII
Thorpe, Benjamin, ed. (1866), Edda Sæmundar Hinns Froða: The Edda Of Sæmund The Learned, London: Trübner & Co. , (2 vols.)
Part I, 1866 , e-text
Part II, 1866 , e-text
Reprinted in : Anderson, Rasmus B.; Buel, J.W.; Thorpe, Benjamin; Blackwell, I.A., eds. (1906), The Elder Eddas of Saemund Sigfusson [… and the] Younger Eddas of Snorre Sturleson, Norrœna
Cottle, A.S., ed. (1797), Icelandic Poetry, or The Edda of Saemund, Bristol: N.Biggs, Oldest English translation of a substantial portion of the Poetic Edda
La Farge, Beatrice; Tucker, John, eds. (1992), Glossary to the Poetic Edda Based on Hans Kuhn's Kurzes Wörterbuch, Heidelberg , Update and expansions of the glossary of the Neckel-Kuhn edition
Glendinning, Robert J.; Bessason, Haraldur (1983), Edda: A Collection of Essays, Winnipeg, MB: University of Manitoba
Kommentar zu den Liedern der Edda, ed. by Klaus von See, 7 vols (Heidelberg: Winter, 1997–2012). An edition, German translation, and comprehensive commentary on the Poetic Edda (vol. 1: Vafþrþúðnismál, Grímnismál, Vǫluspá, Hávamál, ISBN 978-3825369637; vol. 2. Skírnismál, Hárbarðslióð, Hymiskviða, Lokasenna, ISBN 3825305341; vol. 3. Völundarkviða, Alvíssmál, Baldrs draumar, Rígsþula, Hyndlolióð, Grottasöngr, ISBN 3825311368; vol. 4. Helgakviða Hundingsbana I, Helgakviða Hiörvarðssonar, Helgakviða Hundingsbana II, ISBN 382535007X; vol. 5. Frá dauða Sinfiotla, Grípisspá, Reginsmál, Fáfnismál, Sigrdrífumál, ISBN 3825351807; vol. 6. Brot af Sigurðarkviðo, Guðrúnarkviða I, Sigurðarkviða in skamma, Helreið Brynhildar, Dráp Niflunga, Guðrúnarkviða II, Guðrúnarkviða III, Oddrúnargrátr, Strophenbruchstücke aus der Volsunga sagaISBN 978-3825355647; vol. 7. Atlakvið in groenlenzka, Atlamál in groenlenzko, Frá Guðrúno, Guðrúnarhvot, Hamðismál, ISBN 978-3825359973).
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Poetic Edda.
Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Eddukvæði Poetic Edda in Old Norse from heimskringla.no
"Eddic to English", www.mimisbrunnr.info , review of all English translations to 2018
The Elder Eddas of Saemund Sigfusson; and the Younger Eddas of Snorre Sturleson at Project Gutenberg (plain text, HTML and other)
The Elder Edda public domain audiobook at LibriVox