The Poetic Edda is a collection of Old Norse poems primarily preserved in the Icelandic mediaeval manuscript Codex Regius. Along with Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda the Poetic Edda is the most important extant source on Odinism, Norse mythology, and Scandinavian heroic legends.

Codex Regius was probably written in the 13th century but nothing is known of its whereabouts until 1643 when it came into the possession of Brynjólfur Sveinsson, a Christian bishop

Brynjólfur attributed the manuscript to Sæmundr the Learned, a larger-than-life 12th century Icelandic priest. While this attribution is rejected by modern scholars, the name Sæmundar 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.

Style[edit | edit source]

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. While kennings are often employed they do not rise to the frequency or complexity found in skaldic poetry.

Authorship[edit | edit source]

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.

Time of composition[edit | edit source]

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 skáldaspillir, 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 chronology 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.

In some cases old poems can have been interpolated with younger verses or merged with other poems. For example stanzas 9-16 of Völuspá, the "Dvergatal" or "Catalogue of Dwarfs", is considered to be an interpolation.

Editions[edit | edit source]

Some poems similar to those found in Codex Regius are normally also included in 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 Lindow's Norse Mythology and in Orchard's Cassell's Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend.

Poems included by various editors[edit | edit source]

Mythological Poems[edit | edit source]

In Codex Regius[edit | edit source]

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 | edit source]

Baldrs draumar Baldr's Dreams
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 is included as an interpolation in Hyndluljóð.
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 Óðins Odins's Raven Song, Odin's Raven Chant. (A late work not included in most editions).

Heroic lays[edit | edit source]

In Codex Regius[edit | edit source]

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

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
Note: Helgi Hjörvarðsson 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 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. (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

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[edit | edit source]

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.

Hlöðskviða 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.

Sólarljóð[edit | edit source]

Sólarljóð 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 ljóðaháttr and uses some heathen imagery.

Allusions and quotations[edit | edit source]

  • As noted above, the Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson makes much use of the Poetic Edda.
  • 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 four stanzas found on those pages are still extant, all of which are quoted in the Volsungasaga.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  • 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 | edit source]

  • 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.)
    • 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 Regions with diplomatic text. Codex Regions leaves 1–39 of this edition are available at Dr. Samuel Sinner: Edda Mythic Poems - Codex Regius Facsimiles
    • 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 (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 0-19-811497-4. (Atlakviða, Atlamál in Grœnlenzko, Guðrúnarhvöt, Hamðismál.)
    • ————— (1997). The Poetic Edda, vol. II, Mythological Poems. Oxford: Clarendeon. 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. The Poetic Edda, Translated by Lee M. Hollander]]
  • 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.

External links[edit | edit source]

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.