|Books Prologue, Gylfaginning, Skáldskaparmál, Háttatal|
Poetic Edda is the modern attribution for an unnamed collection of Old Norse anonymous poems, which is different from the Edda, written by Snorri Sturluson. Several versions exist, all consisting primarily of text from the Icelandic mediaeval manuscript known as the Codex Regius. The Codex Regius is arguably the most important extant source on Norse mythology and Germanic heroic legends, and from the early 19th century onwards, it has had a powerful influence on later Scandinavian literatures, not merely by the stories it contains but also by the visionary force and dramatic quality of many of the poems. It has also become an inspiring model for many later innovations in poetic meter, particularly in Nordic languages, offering many varied examples of terse, stress-based metrical schemes working without any final rhyme by instead using alliterative devices and strongly-concentrated imagery. Poets who have acknowledged their debt to the Codex Regius include Vilhelm Ekelund, August Strindberg, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ezra Pound, Jorge Luis Borges, and Karin Boye.
- Legends summarized the poetic edda
- Editions and inclusions
- In Codex Regius
- Not in Codex Regius
- Heroic lays
- Allusions and quotations
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 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, but modern scholarly research has shown that Edda was likely written first and 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. That attribution is rejected by modern scholars, 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, which gave the name. For centuries, it was stored in the Royal Library in Copenhagen but in 1971, it was returned to Iceland.
Legends summarized the poetic edda
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, passing 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. Scholars sometimes speculate on hypothetical authors, but firm and accepted conclusions have never been reached.
The dating of the poems has been a source of lively scholarly argument for a long time, and firm conclusions are hard to reach. Lines from the Eddic poems sometimes appear in poems by known poets, but such evidence is difficult to evaluate. For example, Eyvindr skáldaspillir composed in the latter half of the 10th century, and he uses a couple of lines in his Hákonarmál which 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 finding out where they were composed. Iceland was not settled until about 870, so anything composed before that time would necessarily have been elsewhere, most likely in Scandinavia. Any young 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 inclusions
Some poems similar to those found in Codex Regius are also included in some editions of the Poetic Edda. Important manuscripts include AM 748 I 4to, Hauksbók and Flateyjarbók. Many of the poems are 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 in Codex Regius are sometimes called Eddica minora from their appearance in an edition with that title edited by Andreas Heusler and Wilhelm Ranisch in 1903.
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 translations 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 Regius
Not in Codex Regius
After the mythological poems, Codex Regius continues with heroic lays about mortal heroes. The heroic lays are to be seen as a whole in the Edda, but they consist of three layers: the story of Helgi Hundingsbani, the story of the Nibelungs, and the story of Jörmunrekkr, king of the Goths. These are, respectively, Scandinavian, German, and Gothic in origin. As far as historicity can be ascertained, Attila, Jörmunrekkr, and Brynhildr actually existed, taking Brynhildr to be partly based on Brunhilda of Austrasia, but the chronology has been reversed in the poems.
In Codex Regius
Not in Codex Regius
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.