Edda, a title applied to two different collections of old Norse literature, the poetical or “Elder Edda” and the prose or “Younger Edda”. Properly speaking the title belongs only to the latter work, having been given to the former through a misnomer.
I. “The Younger Edda”, the work of the Icelandic historian and statesman Snorri Sturluson (1178-1241), is a treatise on poetics for the guidance of the skalds or Icelandic poets. The title “Edda” is given to this work in the most important manuscript which we possess of it, the “Upsala Codex“, dating from about 1300. The meaning of the word Edda is not certain. The older explanation of “great-grandmother” is now generally discarded, the most commonly accepted rendering being “poetics” (from óthr, “spirit”, “reason”). Some scholars derive the word from Oddi, the name of a place in southern Iceland, where Snorri received his earliest training. The work itself was intended to supply to the skald all the necessary information concerning mythology, poetic diction, and versification. Besides a formàli (preface) of later origin it contains three parts. (I) “Gylfaginning” (Gylfi’s Deception), an abstract of old Scandinavian mythology in the form of a dialogue between King Gylfi and three gods. Appended to this are the “Bragaroedhur” (Bragi’s Sayings), stories about Odhin and Thor, related by Bragi, the god of poetry, to the sea-god Aegir. (2) “Skaldskaparmàl” (Diction of Poetry) is a collection of poetic paraphrases (kenningar) and synonyms (ókend heiti), interspersed with mythological and legendary stories. (3) “Hàttatal”, a panegyric on the Norwegian King Hàkon Hàkonarson and Jarl Skúli, containing one hundred and two strophes, each of which is composed in a different meter. This is followed by a prose commentary written, however, after Snorri’s death by an unknown author. The work was unfinished when Snorri died and was subsequently revised and amplified by other writers. The best edition of the Snorra Edda is that published in three volumes by the Arna-Magnaean Society (Copenhagen, 1848-1887). Selections were edited by E. Wilken (Paderborn, 1877; glossary to this edition, Paderborn, 1883). Parts were translated into German by Gering (Leipzig, 1892), into English by Dasent (1842), by Blackwell in Mallet’s “Northern Antiquities” (London, 1770), and R. B. Anderson (Chicago, 1880).
II. “The Elder Edda”, a collection of mythological and heroic songs in the ancient Icelandic language. Altogether there are thirty-three such songs, twenty-nine of which are contained in the famous “Codex Regius”, the most important of the Eddie manuscripts. This codex was found in Iceland in 1643 by Bishop Brynjólf Sveinsson. It had no title, and, since it contained poems, portions of which are cited in the Snorra Edda, the bishop concluded that this was Snorri’s source and so he called the collection “Edda”. He furthermore assumed that the priest Saemund (1056-1133), whose reputation for learning had become proverbial, was the author, or at least the collector of these songs, and he therefore wrote on a copy which he caused to be made the title “Edda Saemundi multiscii” (Edda of Saemund the wise), and the title “Edda” has since then remained in general use to designate the kind of poems found in the “Codex Regius”. Such poems differ both in content and form from the so-called skaldic poems. There is no doubt that these songs were collected and written down in Iceland from oral tradition; but nothing certain is known concerning their age, original home, and authorship. All this has to be inferred from internal evidence, and hence opinions differ widely. It is agreed, however, that these poems are not common Scandinavian, but purely Norwegian; they were composed either in Norway or in Norwegian settlements like Iceland and Greenland. As to their age, it is conceded that none dates earlier than the middle of the ninth, and that some were written as late as the thirteenth century. The subject-matter of the songs is taken either from mythology or heroic saga. Among the mythological poems the most famous is the “Völuspà” (the prophecy of the volva or sibyl), the most important source for our knowledge of Norse cosmogony. Important also in this respect are the “Vafthrúdhnismàl” and “Grímnismàl”, where Odhin’s superior wisdom is set forth.
Of the songs dealing with Thor the best known is the “Thrymskvidha” (the song of Thrym), relating Thor’s quest of his hammer. The sententious wisdom of the Northmen is represented by the “Hàvamàl” (sayings of the High One, i.e., Odhin). Among the heroic poems the chief interest attaches to the lays of Sigurd and the Niflungs. Unfortunately this cycle of poems is incomplete, owing to a great gap of about eight leaves in the “Codex Regius”; but an idea of the contents of the lost poems may be gained from the prose version of the “Volsungasaga”, the author of which still had before him the complete collection. The first complete edition of the “Elder Edda”, with Latin translation, was issued by the Arna-Magnaean Society (Copenhagen, 1787-1828). The first critical edition, on which all subsequent ones were based, was given by Sophus Bugge (Christiania, 1867). A lithographic facsimile edition of the “Codex Regius”, with a diplomatic text, was given by Wimmer and Jónsson (Copenhagen, 1891). Other editions are those of Sijmons and Gering (Halle, Vol. I, text, 1888-1901; Vol. II, glossary, 1903); F. Jónsson (Halle, 1888-90, 2 vols.); Hildebrand-Gering (Paderborn, 1904v; F. better and R. Heinzel (Leipzig, 1903, 2 vols.). The poems of this kind not found in the “Codex Regius” were edited by Heusler and Ranisch, “Eddica Minora” (Dortmund, 1903). The best translation into German is the metrical version of Hugo Gering (Leipzig, 1892). The first English version (of the mythological songs only) was made by A. S. Cottle (Bristol, 1797). A complete English version is that of Benj. Thorpe (London, 1865-66). The songs are also translated in Vigfusson and Powell’s “Corpus poeticum boreale” (Oxford, 1883), and some songs are also rendered in Magnusson and Morris’s “Translation of the Volsungasaga” (London, 1870). A new translation by W. H. Carpenter is in preparation (1908).
ARTHUR F. J. REMY