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Poetic Edda, the

Category: Books sutras and myths

The Poetic Edda is a collection of Old Norse poems. Along with Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda, the Poetic Edda is regarded as the most important extant source on Norse mythology and Germanic heroic legends that exists.  The Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson makes much use of the Poetic Edda.

Both describe shamanic activities and adventures, as well as creation myths.  Rather amusingly we find that “Scholars have attempted to localize individual poems by studying the geography, flora and fauna which they refer to. This approach usually does not yield firm results”.  Which of course it wouldn’t, because the descriptions are of the spiritual world and shamanic journeys.  The very words ‘seer’ and prophecy should have given them a clue.  There are also lays [poems] about heroes.

It has no single author.  Like most early poetry the Eddic poems were minstrel poems, passing orally from singer to singer and from poet to poet for centuries. For this reason, the dating of the poems is impossible.  Individual poems superficially have clues to their age. For example Atlamál hin groenlenzku seems to have been composed in Greenland. But with out of body flight, we cannot assume that this actually dates the poem.  If we assume that Greenland was not discovered until  985 and there were no Scandinavians in Greenland until that time this dates the poem.  But as those who have been out of body can attest, you don’t have to physically go to a place to visit it. Thus the poems could be much earlier in origin.

The poems are now preserved in the Icelandic mediaeval manuscript Codex RegiusCodex Regius was written in 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.

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.

It has had a powerful influence on Scandinavian literature, not merely through the stories it contains, but through the visionary force and dramatic quality of many of the poems. Poets who have acknowledged their debt to the Poetic Edda include Vilhelm Ekelund, August Strindberg, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ezra Pound and Karin Boye.

   

Thomas Keightley The World Guide to Gnomes, Fairies, Elves and other Little People
The ancient religion of Scandinavia and probably of the whole Gotho-German race, consisted like all other systems devised by man, in personifications of the various powers of nature and faculties of the mind.  Of this system in its fullness and perfection, we possess no record.  It is only from the poems of the elder or poetic Edda from the narratives of the later or prose Edda and various Sagas or histories written in the Icelandic language that we can obtain any knowledge of it.
The poetic or Saemund’s Edda was, as is generally believed collected about the end of the 11th or beginning of the 12th century by an Icelander named Saemund and styled Hinns Froda or The Wise.  It consists of a number of mythological and historical songs, the production of the ancient Scalds or poets, all, or the greater part, composed before the introduction of Christianity in the North.  The measure of these venerable songs is alliterative rime and they present not infrequently poetic beauties of a high and striking character …
The prose Edda is supposed to have been compiled in the 13th century … it is a history of the gods and their actions formed from the songs of the poetic Edda and from other ancient poems, several stanzas of which are incorporated in it.
Though both the Eddas were compiled by Christians, there appears to be very little reason for suspecting the compilers of having falsified or interpolating the mythology of their forefathers.

References

Without being too pedantic about what is in and what is out of Edda, the following are all candidates for inclusion 

  • 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)
  • Hymiskviða (The Lay of Hymir, Hymir's Poem)
  • Lokasenna (Loki's Wrangling, The Flyting of Loki, Loki's Quarrel)
  • Þrymskviða (The Lay of Thrym, Thrym's Poem)
  • Völundarkviða (The Lay of Völund)
  • Alvíssmál (The Ballad of Alvís, The Lay of Alvís, All-Wise's Sayings)
  • Helgakviða Hundingsbana I or Völsungakviða (The First Lay of Helgi Hundingsbane, The First Lay of Helgi the Hunding-Slayer, The First Poem of Helgi Hundingsbani)
  • Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar (The Lay of Helgi the Son of Hjörvard, The Lay of Helgi Hjörvardsson, The Poem of Helgi Hjörvardsson)
  • Helgakviða Hundingsbana II or Völsungakviða in forna (The Second Lay of Helgi Hundingsbane, The Second Lay of Helgi the Hunding-Slayer, A Second Poem of Helgi Hundingsbani)
  • Frá dauða Sinfjötla(Of Sinfjötli's Death, Sinfjötli's Death, The Death of Sinfjötli) (A short prose text.)
  • Grípisspá (Grípir's Prophecy, The Prophecy of Grípir)
  • Reginsmál (The Ballad of Regin, The Lay of Regin)
  • Fáfnismál (The Ballad of Fáfnir, The Lay of Fáfnir)
  • Sigrdrífumál (The Ballad of The Victory-Bringer, The Lay of Sigrdrífa)
  • Brot af Sigurðarkviðu (Fragment of a Sigurd Lay, Fragment of a Poem about Sigurd)
  • Guðrúnarkviða I (The First Lay of Gudrún)
  • Sigurðarkviða hin skamma  (The Short Lay of Sigurd, A Short Poem about Sigurd)
  • Helreið Brynhildar (Brynhild's Hell-Ride, Brynhild's Ride to Hel, Brynhild's Ride to Hell)
  • Dráp Niflunga (The Slaying of The Niflungs, The Fall of the Niflungs, The Death of the Niflungs)
  • Guðrúnarkviða II (The Second Lay of Gudrún or Guðrúnarkviða hin forna The Old Lay of Gudrún)
  • Guðrúnarkviða III (The Third Lay of Gudrún)
  • Oddrúnargrátr  (The Lament of Oddrún, The Plaint of Oddrún, Oddrún's Lament)
  • Atlakviða  (The Lay of Atli)..
  • Atlamál hin groenlenzku (The Greenland Ballad of Atli, The Greenlandish Lay of Atli, The Greenlandic Poem of Atli)
  • Guðrúnarhvöt (Gudrún's Inciting, Gudrún's Lament, The Whetting of Gudrún.)
  • Hamðismál (The Ballad of Hamdir, The Lay of Hamdir)

Observations

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