The Poetic Edda Essays On Old Norse Mythology

This companion to Acker and Larrington’s volume on the mythological poems of the Poetic Edda (Routledge, 2002) comprises twelve articles and a series of introductory segments conceived as aids specifically to readers of the PE (abbreviations hereafter based on Neckel-Kuhn). Four of the chapters are reprints; all chapters show high-quality work. The organization of the book with bibliographies following not only the chapters but also every segment should be helpful to students; the endnotes are also less inconvenient than usual (have publishers forgotten the art of the footnote?) because they are grouped after each article and segment. The last four chapters, which appropriately lack introductory segments, move beyond the PE itself to its reception and later analogues. The chapters follow in manuscript order, the extra-Eddic Grottasöngr and reception studies coming at the end. These chapters, however, are thematically governed articles; this makes them engaging to read but in need of introductions that are free to proceed poem by poem in an explanatory manner. The combination of specialized articles with an introductory function entails a good deal of paraphrase and rehearsal of basic facts, but the result should be interesting and useful to a variety of readers. [End Page 117]

The first article seems to set the keynote of the volume in its attention to gender/ violence, society/family: David Clark’s “Heroic Homosociality and Homophobia in the Helgi Poems” (pp. 11–27) successfully imports some concepts and structural elements from Eve Sedgwick. The flytings are certainly homophobic, and the idea that abjection of the homosexual is the price of successful homosociality rings true; but I am uncertain what “desire” adds to our understanding of the homosocial in this specific context (discussed pp. 12, 23–24). I encountered a number of blemishes beyond the copious ordinary typos: omission of “and Sigrún” in “Helgi and Sváva were reincarnated as Helgi Hundingsbani” (p. 23); omission of vina and a comma in quotation (p. 13) and of sleit in quotation (p. 14); translation mistakes in Old English (d.o. of gewyrcean is the þæt clause; gode is instr.; on fæder bearme, not “from” [p. 13]); textual and translation mistakes in Old Norse (p. 15: the d.o. of Segðu is þat … at …; at omitted; translation wrong); p. 16: skæða agrees with valkyria [nom., not gen. pl.]; p. 16: skass is voc. [thus not “you were the destructive witch, of the valkyries” but “you were, witch, the destructive valkyrie”]; p. 16: at Alföður, not “of the Allfather”; p. 17: látt is 2nd pers. sg. rather than 3rd [thus “you were the stepson of Siggeir, you lay under the grain stacks at home”]); mistypings in Old Norse (p. 17: mólaðir for mólcaðir; Imðrs for Imðar); p. 18: hringom ráð for hringom ráða). On p. 13, blóðrekin should read blóðrekinn (the ms, agreeing with hilmir) or be emended to blóðrekna to agree with hodd, as Clark translates. On p. 19, st. 20 from HHv is printed as if it were (very bad) fornyrðislag/málaháttr, but the poem is in ljóðaháttr; Clark prints hreina rödd (so the manuscript, but this is a reindeer! Neckel-Kuhn has the traditional emendation reina), but Clark correctly uses reini ‘stallion’ further down the page.

Other problems concern content, among them: In flytings the “insults all pertain to a man’s masculinity and putative deviations from the sexual norm” (p. 15), but this “all” crumbles immediately as insults having to do with nonsexual forms of deviation or simple social status are mentioned. In the HH flyting, “Helgi follows this up in the next strophe” (p. 16), but the speaker was still Sinfjötli. “Sinfjötli and Atli both enable their companions to attain their valkyrie brides” (pp. 20, 24); but both valkyries had picked out (and picked up) their man before the...

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 medieval 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.

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.[1]

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.


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[edit]

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.

Mythological poems[edit]

In Codex Regius[edit]

  • 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)

Not in Codex Regius[edit]

  • Baldrs draumar (Baldr's Dreams)
  • Gróttasöngr (The Mill's Song, The Song of Grotti)
  • 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:
  • Hrafnagaldr Óðins (Odins's Raven Song, Odin's Raven Chant). (A late work not included in most editions after 1900).
  • Gullkársljóð (The Poem of Gullkár). (A late work not included in most editions after 1900).

Heroic lays[edit]

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[edit]

The Helgi Lays
  • 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)
The Niflung Cycle
  • 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 fornaThe 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). 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.
  • Atlamál hin groenlenzku (The Greenland Ballad of Atli, The Greenlandish Lay of Atli, The Greenlandic Poem of Atli)
The Jörmunrekkr Lays
  • Guðrúnarhvöt (Gudrún's Inciting, Gudrún's Lament, The Whetting of Gudrún.)
  • Hamðismál (The Ballad of Hamdir, The Lay of Hamdir)

Not in Codex Regius[edit]

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.

Allusions and quotations[edit]

  • 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 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 Sigurðarkviðu 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:

See also[edit]


  • Anderson, Rasmus B. (1876). Norse Mythology: Myths of the Eddas. Chicago: S. C. Griggs and company; London: Trubner & co. Reprinted 2003, Honolulu: University Press of the Pacific. ISBN 1-4102-0528-2
  • Árni Björnsson (Ed.). (1975). Snorra-Edda. Reykjavík. Iðunn.
  • Ásgeir Blöndal Magnússson (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.
  • Ólafur Briem (Ed.). (1985). Eddukvæði. Reykjavík: Skálholt.
  • Tolkien, J. R. R.The Return of the Shadow, page 240. Ed. Christopher Tolkien. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1988.

Bibliography in reverse chronological order[edit]

Original text[edit]

  • Neckel, Gustav (Ed.). (1983). Edda: Die Lieder des Codex Regius nebst verwandten Denkmälern I: Text. (Rev. Hans Kuhn, 5th edition). Heidelberg: Winter. (A web text of the Poetic Edda based on this edition has been prepared by David Stifter and Sigurdur H. Palsson (1994), Vienna, corrections by Fabrizio Ducci (2001), Titus version by Jost Gippert, available at Titus: Text Collection: Edda.)
  • Jón Helgason (Ed.). (1955). Eddadigte (3 vols.). Copenhagen: Munksgaard. (Codex Regius poems up to Sigrdrífumál.) (Reissue of the following entry.)
    • ————— (Ed.) (1951–1952). Eddadigte. Nordisk filologi A: 4 and 7–8. Copenhagen: Munksgaard.
  • Finnur Jónsson (Ed.). (1932). De gamle Eddadigte. Copenhagen: Gads. (Available in pdf format at
  • Boer, R. C. (Ed.). (1922). Die Edda mit historisch-kritischem Commentar I: Einleitung und Text. (2 vols.) Haarlem: Willink & Zoon. (Text and German translation.)
  • Heusler, Andreas & Ranisch, Wilhelm (Eds.) (1903). Eddica Minora. Dortmund.
  • Wimmer, E. A. & Finnur Jónsson (Eds.) (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. (4 vols.) Copenhagen: Samfund til udgivelse at gammel nordisk litteratur. (A lithographic edition of the Codex Regius with diplomatic text.)
  • Bugge, Sophus (Ed.). (1867). Sæmundar Edda. Christiania: P. T. Malling. (Available at Old Norse: etexts.)
  • Munch, P.A. (Ed.). (1847). Den ældre Edda: Samling af norrøne oldkvad. Christiania [Oslo]: P.T. Malling. (Available in image format at
  • Sagnanet: Eddic poetry[permanent dead link] (Portal to graphic images of Eddic poems from manuscripts and old printed texts).

Original text with English translation[edit]

  • Dronke, Ursula (Ed. & trans.) (1969). The Poetic Edda, vol. I, Heroic Poems. Oxford: Clarendon. ISBN 0-19-811497-4. (Atlakviða, Atlamál in Grœnlenzko, Guðrúnarhvöt, Hamðismál.)
  • ————— (1997). The Poetic Edda, vol. II, Mythological Poems. Oxford: Clarendon. ISBN 0-19-811181-9. (Völuspá, Rígsthula, Völundarkvida, Lokasenna, Skírnismál, Baldrs draumar.)
  • Bray, Olive. (Ed. & trans.) (1908). The Elder or Poetic Edda: Commonly known as Saemund's Edda, Part 1, The Mythological Poems. Viking Club Translation Series vol. 2. London: Printed for the Viking Club. Reprinted 1982 New York: AMS Press. ISBN 0-404-60012-3
  • Gudbrand Vigfússon & Powell, F. York (Ed. & trans.) (1883). Corpus Poeticum Boreale: The Poetry of the Old Northern Tongue. (2 vols.) Oxford: Oxford University Press. Reprinted 1965, New York: Russell & Russell. Reprinted 1965, Oxford: Clarendon. Translations from Volume 1 issued in Lawrence S. Thompson (Ed.). (1974). Norse mythology: the Elder Edda in prose translation.. Hamden, CN: Archon Books. ISBN 0-208-01394-6

English translation only[edit]

  • Crawford, Jackson. (Trans.). (2015). The Poetic Edda: Stories of the Norse Gods and Heroes. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. ISBN 1-62-466356-7
  • Dodds, Jeramy. (Trans.). (2014). The Poetic Edda. Toronto: Coach House Books. ISBN 1-55-245296-4
  • Orchard, Andy. (Trans.). (2011). The Elder Edda: A Book of Viking Lore. London: Penguin Group. ISBN 0-14-043585-9
  • Larrington, Carolyne. (Trans.). (1996). The Poetic Edda. Oxford World's Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-282383-3
  • Terry, Patricia. (Trans.) (1990). Poems of the Elder Edda. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0-8122-8235-3 hardcover, ISBN 0-8122-8220-5 paperback. (A revision of Terry's Poems of the Vikings of 1969, listed below.)
  • Auden, W. H. & Taylor, Paul B. (Trans.). (1981). Norse Poems. London: Athlone. ISBN 0-485-11226-4. Also issued 1983, London: Faber ISBN 0-571-13028-3. (Revised and expanded edition of Auden and Taylor's The Elder Edda: A Selection of 1969, listed below.)
  • Terry, Patricia. (Trans.) (1969). Poems of the Vikings: The Elder Edda. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill. ISBN 0-672-60332-2
  • Auden, W. H. & Taylor, Paul B. (Trans.). (1969). The Elder Edda: A Selection. London: Faber. ISBN 0-571-09066-4. Issued in 1970, New York: Random House. ISBN 0-394-70601-3. Also issued 1975, Bridgeport, CN: Associated Booksellers. ISBN 0-571-10319-7
  • Hollander, Lee M. (Trans.) (1962). The Poetic Edda: Translated with an Introduction and Explanatory Notes. (2nd ed., rev.). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-76499-5. (Some of the translations appear at Wodensharrow: Texts).
  • Bellows, Henry Adams. (Trans.). (1923). The Poetic Edda: Translated from the Icelandic with an Introduction and Notes. New York: American-Scandinavian Foundation. Reprinted Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellon Press. ISBN 0-88946-783-8. (Available at Sacred Texts: Sagas and Legends: The Poetic Edda.)
  • Thorpe, Benjamin. (Trans.). (1866). Edda Sæmundar Hinns Froða: The Edda Of Sæmund The Learned. (2 vols.) London: Trübner & Co. 1866. Reprinted 1906 as "The Elder Eddas of Saemund" in Rasmus B. Anderson & J. W. Buel (Eds.) The Elder Eddas of Saemund Sigfusson. Tr. from the original Old Norse text into English by Benjamin Thorpe, and The Younger Eddas of Snorre Sturleson Tr. from the original Old Norse text into English by I. A. Blackwell (pp. 1–255). Norrœna, the history and romance of northern Europe. London, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Berlin, New York: Norrœna Society. (A searchable graphic image version of this text requiring DjVu plugin is available at University of Georgia Libraries: Facsimile Books and Periodicals: The Elder Eddas and the Younger Eddas.)
  • Cottle, A. S. (Trans.). (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.

External links[edit]

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.
The cover of Lee M. Hollander's Poetic Edda.
  1. ^The Poetic Edda: Essays on Old Norse Mythology By Paul Acker, Carolyne Larrington. 2002
  2. ^Tom Shippey (2003), The Road to Middle-earth, Houghton Mifflin, ch. 3 p. 70-71, ISBN 0-618-25760-8.
  3. ^John D. Rateliff (2007), The History of The Hobbit, volume 2 Return to Bag-End, HarperCollins, Appendix III; ISBN 0-00-725066-5.

0 thoughts on “The Poetic Edda Essays On Old Norse Mythology”


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *