Poetic Edda

From Academic Kids

The Poetic Edda is a collection of Old Norse poems from the Icelandic mediaeval manuscript Codex Regius. In a wider sense the Poetic Edda includes a number of similar poems from other manuscripts. 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 Sćmundr the Learned, a larger-than-life 12th century Icelandic priest. While this attribution is rejected by modern scholars the name Sćmundar 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 Eddic poems are composed in alliterative verse. Their bread and butter meter is fornyrđislag, while málaháttr is a common variation. The rest, about a quarter, are composed in ljóđaháttr.

The language of the poems is usually clear and relatively unadorned. While kennings are often employed they do not rise to the frequency or complexity 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.

Time of composition

The dating of the poems has been a lively source of scholarly argument for a long time. Firm conclusions are hard to reach. While lines from the Eddic poems sometimes appear in poems by known poets such evidence is difficult to evaluate. For example Eyvindr Skaldaspillir, composing in the latter half of the 10th century, uses in his Hákonarmál a couple of lines 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, like 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, and seems by some internal evidence, to have been composed in Greenland. If so, it can be no earlier than about 985 since there were no Scandinavians in Greenland until that time.

Location of composition

The problem of dating the poems is linked with the problem of finding out where they were composed. Since Iceland wasn't settled until about 870 anything composed before that time would necessarily have been elsewhere, most likely in Norway. Any young poems, on the other hand, are likely Icelandic in origin.

Scholars have attempted to localize individual poems by studying the geography, flaura and fauna which they refer to. This approach usually doesn't yield firm results. While there are, for example, no wolves in Iceland 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.

In later years scholars have tended to avoid this debate, seeing it as largely fruitless and often based on chauvinistic ideas.


Some poems similar to those found in Codex Regius are normally also included in editions of the Poetic Edda. Important manuscripts include AM 748 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 Lindow's Norse Mythology and in Orchard's Cassell's Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend.

Poems included by various editors

Mythological Poems

In Codex Regius

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
Vafţrúđnismál 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
Hárbarđsljóđ The Poem of Hárbard, The Lay of Hárbard, Hárbard's Song
Hymiskviđa The Lay of Hymir, Hymir's Poem
Lokasenna Loki's Wrangling, The Flyting of Loki, Loki's Quarrel
Ţrymskviđa The Lay of Thrym, Thrym's Poem
Alvíssmál The Ballad of Alvís, The Lay of Alvís, All-Wise's Sayings
Völundarkviđa The Lay of Völund

Not in Codex Regius

Baldrs draumar Baldr's Dreams
Rígsţula The Song of Ríg, The Lay of Ríg, The List of Ríg
Hyndluljóđ 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 is included as an interpolation in Hyndluljóđ.
Svipdagsmál The Ballad of Svipdag, The Lay of Svipdag - This title, originally suggested by Bugge, actually covers two separate poems:
Grógaldr Gróa's Spell, The Spell of Gróa
Fjölsvinnsmál Ballad of Fjölsvid, The Lay of Fjölsvid
Gróttasöngr The Mill's Song, The Song of Grotti (Not included in many editions.)
Hrafnagaldur Óđins Odins's Raven Song, Odin's Raven Chant. (A late work not included in most editions).

Heroic lays

In Codex Regius

After the mythological poems Codex Regius continues with heroic lays about mortal heroes.

The Helgi Lays
Helgakviđa Hjörvarđssonar The Lay of Helgi the Son of Hjörvard, The Lay of Helgi Hjörvardsson, The Poem of Helgi Hjörvardsson
Helgakviđa Hundingsbana I or Völsungakviđa The First Lay of Helgi Hundingsbane, The First Lay of Helgi the Hunding-Slayer, The First Poem of Helgi Hundingsbani
Helgakviđa Hundingsbana II or Völsungakviđa in forna The Second Lay of Helgi Hundingsbane, The Second Lay of Helgi the Hunding-Slayer, A Second Poem of Helgi Hundingsbani
Note: Helgi Hjörvarđsson and Helgi Hundingsbani are two different characters, though the connecting prose of the Poetic Edda states that the second is the first reborn.
The Niflung Cycle
Frá dauđa 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 Sigurđarkviđu Fragment of a Sigurd Lay, Fragment of a Poem about Sigurd
Guđrúnarkviđa I The First Lay of Gudrún
Sigurđarkviđa hin skamma The Short Lay of Sigurd, A Short Poem about Sigurd
Helreiđ 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
Guđrúnarkviđa II The Second Lay of Gudrún or Guđrúnarkviđa hin forna The Old Lay of Gudrún
Guđrúnarkviđa III The Third Lay of Gudrún
Oddrúnargrátr The Lament of Oddrún, The Plaint of Oddrún, Oddrún's Lament
Atlakviđa The Lay of Atli. (The full manuscript title is Atlaviđa 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
Guđrúnarhvöt Gudrún's Inciting, Gudrún's Lament, The Whetting of Gudrún.
Hamđismál The Ballad of Hamdir, The Lay of Hamdir

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. It is interesting to note, that 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.

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 Hervarar saga, in particular, contains interesting poetic interpolations.

Hlöđskviđa Lay of Hlöd, also known in English as The Battle of the Goths and the Huns. Extracted from Hervarar saga.
The Waking of Angantýr Extracted from Hervarar saga.


Sólarljóđ Poems of the sun.

This poem, also not in Codex Regius, is sometimes included in editions of the Poetic Edda even though it is Christian and belongs, properly speaking, to the visionary literature of the Middle Ages. It is, however, written in fornyrđislag and uses some heathen imagery.

See also



  • 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 1410205282
  • Árni Björnsson (Ed.). (1975). Snorra-Edda. Reykjavík. Iđunn.
  • Ásgeir Blöndal Magnússson (1989). Íslensk orđsifjabók, Reykjavík.
  • Lindow, John (2001). Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195153820.
  • Orchard, Andy (1997). Cassell's Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend. London: Cassell. ISBN 0304363855.
  • Ólafur Briem (Ed.). (1985). Eddukvćđi. Reykjavík: Skálholt.

Bibliography in reverse chronological order (with some web links)

  • Original text
    • 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 (http://titus.uni-frankfurt.de/texte/etcs/germ/anord/edda/edda.htm).)
    • 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.
    • Boer, R. C. (Ed.). (1922). Die Edda mit historisch-kritischem Commentar I: Einleitung und Text. (2 vols.) Haarlem: Willink & Zoon. (Text and German translation.)
    • Wimmer, E. A. & Finnur Jónsson (Eds.) (1891). Hĺndskriftet Nr 2365 4to gl. kgl. samling pĺ det store Kgl. bibliothek i Křbenhavn (Codex regius af den ćldre Edda) i fototypisk og diplomatisk gengievelse. (4 vols.) Copenhagen: Samfund til udgivelse at gammel nordisk litteratur. (A lithographic edition of the Codex Regions with diplomatic text. Codex Regions leaves 1–39 of this edition are available at Dr. Samuel Sinner: Edda Mythic Poems - Codex Regius Facsimiles (http://www.angelfire.com/moon/drsinner/regius.html)
    • Heusler, Andreas & Ranisch, Wilhelm (Eds.) (1903). Eddica Minora. Dortmund.
    • Bugge, Sophus (Ed.). (1867). Sćmundar Edda. Christiania: P. T. Malling. (Available at Old Norse: etexts (http://etext.old.no).)
    • Sagnanet: Eddic poetry (http://sagnanet.is/yaz/SagaZ3950_Eng.php?ordaleit=Eddukv%E6%F0i&B1=Search) (Portal to graphic images of Eddic poems from manuscripts and old printed texts).
  • Original text with English translation
    • Dronke, Ursula (Ed. & trans.) (1969). The Poetic Edda, vol. I, Heroic Poems. Oxford: Clarendon. ISBN 0198114974. (Atlakvida, Atlamál in Grœnlenzko, Gudrúnarhvöt, Handismál.)
    • ————— (1997). The Poetic Edda, vol. II, Mythological Poems. Oxford: Clarendeon. ISBN 0198111819. (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 0404600123
    • 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 0208013946
  • English translation only.
    • Larrington, Carolyne. (Trans.). (1996). The Poetic Edda. Oxford World's Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0192823833
    • Terry, Patricia. (Trans.) (1990). Poems of the Elder Edda. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0812282353 hardcover, ISBN 0812282205 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 0485112264. Also issued 1983, London: Faber ISBN 571130283. (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 0672603322
    • Auden, W. H. & Taylor, Paul B. (Trans.). (1969). The Elder Edda: A Selection. London: Faber. ISBN 571090664. Issued in 1970, New York: Random House. ISBN 0394706013. Also issued 1975, Bridgeport, CN: Associated Booksellers. ISBN 0571103197
    • 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 0292764995. (Some of the translations appear at Wodensharrow: Texts (http://www.angelfire.com/on/Wodensharrow/texts.html)).
    • 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 0889467838. (Available at Sacred Texts: Sagas and Legends: The Poetic Edda (http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/index.htm). An HTML version transcribed with new annotations by Ari Odhinnsen is available at Northvegr: Lore: Poetic Edda - Bellows Trans. (http://www.northvegr.org/lore/poetic/index.php).)
    • Thorpe, Benjamin. (Trans.). (1866). Edda Sćmundar Hinns Froða: The Edda Of Sćmund The Learned. (2 vols.) London: Trübner & Co. 1866. (HTML version transcribed by Ari Odhinnsen available at Northvegr: Lore: Poetic Edda - Thorpe Trans. (http://www.northvegr.org/lore/poetic2/000.php)) 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 (http://fax.libs.uga.edu/PT7234xE211/#).)
    • Cottle, A. S. (Trans.). (1797). Icelandic Poetry or the Edda of Saemund. Bristol: N. Biggs. (http://www.northvegr.org/lore/poetic3/index.php) (Oldest English translation of a substantial portion of the Poetic Edda.)
  • Commentary
    • 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.da:Ćldre Edda

eo:Poezia Eddo pl:Edda starsza no:Edda ru:Старшая Эдда sv:Poetiska Eddan


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