The Eddas

The term Edda (Old Norse Edda, plural Eddur) applies to the Old Norse Poetic Edda and Prose Edda, both of which were written down in Iceland during the 13th century. They are our main sources of medieval Norse mythology and skaldic tradition in Iceland. Some of the older poems included may predate the date of their recording by several centuries, establishing continuity with the Viking Age.

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 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 the Prose Edda were well known in Iceland but scholars speculated that there once was another Edda—an Elder Edda—which contained the pagan poems which Snorri quotes in his Prose Edda. When Codex Regius was discovered, it seemed that this speculation had proven correct. 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.

Völuspá (Prophecy of the Völva) is the first and best known poem of the Poetic Edda. It tells the story of the creation of the world and its coming end related by a völva addressing Odin. It is one of the most important primary sources for the study of Norse mythology.

The poem is preserved whole in the Codex Regius and Hauksbók manuscripts while parts of it are quoted in the Prose Edda. It consists of approximately 60 fornyrðislag stanzas.



Translated from the Original Old Norse Text into English



Translated from the Original Old Norse Text into English

The Eddas

Benjamin Thorpe (1782-1870) was an English scholar of Germanic philology who notably studied under the Danish revolutionary historical linguist Rasmus Rask (1787-1832) and published widely on the topic of ancient Germanic studies. The appearance of Benjamin Thorpe's translation of the Poetic Edda marked the publication of one of the most 'complete' translations of the Poetic Edda as we know it today, and many translators no doubt owe a significant debt to Thorpe's approach.

Additionally, although first published in 1866, Thorpe's translation holds up to scrutiny better than its age would imply and remains an important translation for comparison purposes (as an example, Thorpe includes very rare translations of the non-Codex Regius poems Sólarljóð, Svipdagsmál, and Hrafnagaldr Óðins).

The poetic Edda

Translated from the Icelandic with an introduction and notes
Henry Adams Bellows
Princeton University Press: Princeton
American Scandinavian Foundation

The Poetic Edda - Bellows Edda.pdf

Bellows's tome features a similarly pseudo-archaic style that some other translators of the Poetic Edda have also produced (see, for example, the refrain "I rede thee, Loddfafnir!", p. 53-59). Generally speaking, this style occurs when translators attempt to render Old Norse into English by using as many English cognates as possible, words with shared origins (the two languages are quite closely related), or by featuring obscure Old Norse loan words found in the English language. To do this, translators often reach into the Middle English lexicon. While dependence on cognates may yield a more concise translation and there's certainly no harm in learning new words, translations such as these alienate readers who lack a background in, say, historical linguistics.

Regardless of his rendering choices, Bellows's footnotes remain highly useful for obscure topics, as nary a stanza in the entire translation goes without some sort of commentary. Bellows's extensive footnotes are particularly notable in light of a tendency among recent translators to feature no notes at all.

"THERE is scarcely any literary work of great importance which has been less readily available for the general reader, or even for the serious student of literature, than the Poetic Edda. Translations have been far from numerous, and only in Germany has the complete work of translation been done in the full light of recent scholarship. In English the only versions were long the conspicuously inadequate one made by Thorpe, and published about half a century ago, and the unsatisfactory prose translations in Vigfusson and Powell's Corpus Poeticum Boreale, reprinted in the Norrœna collection. An excellent translation of the poems dealing with the gods, in verse and with critical and explanatory notes, made by Olive Bray, was, however, published by the Viking Club of London in 1908."

In the corpus of English translations of the Poetic Edda, Olive Bray's edition is something of an enigma. Not only is Bray's translation extensively and lushly illustrated by W. G. Collingwood (no other English edition is comparatively illuminated) but Bray chose to produce a dual edition.

The Elder or Poetic Edda.

Commonly known as


Edited and Translated with Introduction and Notes

Illustrated by


BRAY's Edda.pdf