poem poems prose poetic odin collection song icelandic name
EDDA, the original signification of which is " great-grandmother," is the title given to two very remarkable collections of old Icelandic literature. Of these only one bears that title from antiquity ; the other is named Edda by a comparatively modern misnomer. The only work known by this name. to the ancients was the imiscellaneous group of writings attributed to Snorri Sturluson (1178 - 1241), a scholar of Jon Ltiftsson, and the greatest name in old Scandinavian literature. It is believed that the Edda, as he left it, was completed about 1222. -Whether he gave this name to the work is doubtful ; the title first occurs in the Upsala Codex, transcribed about fifty years after h;s death. The collection of Snorri is now known as the Prose or Younger Edda, the title of the Elder Edda being given to a book of ancient mythological poems, discovered by the Icelandic bishop of Skalaholt, Brynjulf Sveinsson, in 1643, and erroneously named by him the Edda of Stemma The three oldest MSS. of the prose Edda all belong to the be-ginning of the 14th century. The Wurm MS. was sent to Ole Wurm in 1628; the Codex Regius was discovered by the inde-fatigable bishop Ilrynjulf Sveinsson in 1640. The most impor-tant, however, of these MSS, is the Upsala Codex, an octavo volume written probably about the year 1300. There have been several good editions of the _Edda Snorra, Slurbisonar, of which perhaps the best is that published by the Arne-Magnman Society in Copenhagen in 1848, in two vols., edited by a group of scholars under the direction of Jon Sigurdsson.
Stemund Sigfusson, who was thus credited with the collection of these poems, was a scion of the royal house of Norway-, and lived from about 1055 to 1132 in Ice-land. The poems themselves date in all probability from the 8th or Oth centuries, and are many of them only frag-ments of longer heroic chants now otherwise entirely lost. They treat of mythical and religious legends of an early Scandinavian civilization, and are composed in the simplest and most archaic forms of Icelandic verse. The. author of no one of them is mentioned. It is evident that they- wero collected from oral tradition ; and the fact that the same story is occasionally repeated, in varied form, and that some of the poems themselves boar internal evidence of being more ancient than others, proves that the present collection is only a gathering made early in the Middle Ages, long after the composition of the pieces, and in no critical spirit. Sophus Bugge, indeed, one of the greatest living authorities, absolutely rejects the name of Stemund, and is of opinion that the poetic Edda, as we at present hold it, dates from about 1240. There is no doubt that it was collected in Iceland, and by an Icelander.
The most remarkable and the most ancient of the poems in this priceless collection is that with which it commences, the Vauspd, or Prophecy of the Viilva or Sibyl. In this chant we listen to an inspired prophetess, "seated on her high seat, and addressing Odin, while the gods listen to lier words." She sings of the world before the gods were made, of the coming and the meeting of the YEsir, of the origin of the giants, dwarfs, and men, of the happy beginning of all things, and the sad ending that shall be in the chaos of Ragnarbk. The latter part of the poem is understood to be a kind of necromancy, - according to Vigfusson, " the raising of a dead vfilva; " but the mystical language of the whole, its abrupt transitions and terse condensations, and above all the extinct and my-sterions cosmology, an acquaintance with which. it presupposes, make the exact interpretation of the Fauspa extremely difficult. The charm and solemn beauty of the style, however, are irresist-ible, and we are constrained to listen and revere as if we were the auditors of some fugual music devised in honour of a primal and long-buried deity. The melodies of this earliestIcelandie versa, elaborate in their extreme and severe simplicity, are wholly rhythmical and alliterative, and return upon themselves like a solemn incantation. lIcivanicil, the Sayings of the Higlt One, or Odin, follows next ; this contains proverbs and wise saws, and a series of stories, some of them comical, told by Odin against himself. The VafthrtiOnismdl, or sayings of VafthrOnir, is written in the same mystical vein as Vol-uspci ; in it the giant who gives his name to the poem is visited by Odin in disguise, and is questioned by him about the cosmogony and chronology of the Norse religion. Grimnismdl, or the Sayingsof Grimnir, which is partly in prose, is a story of Odin's imprisonment and torture by king Geirriid. For Skirnis, or the Journey of Skirnir, lIarbarO'sli66, or the Lay of IlarbatA Ilymis-kvi6a, or the Song of Hymir, and (Egisdrekka, or the Brew-ing of CE'gir, are poems, frequently composed as dialogue. containing legends of the gods, some of which are so ludicrous that it has been suggested that they were intentionally burlesque. Thrymskuga, or the Song of Thrym, possesses far more poetic interest ; it recounts in language of singular force and directness how Thor lost his hammer, stolen by Thrym the giant, how the latter refused to give it up unless the goddess Freyia was given him in marriage, and how Thor, dressed in women's rahnent, personated. Freyia, and, slaying Thry-m, recovered his hammer. AlMssmcil, or the Sayings of Alvis, is actually a philological exercise under the semblance of a dialogue between Thor and Alvis the dwarf. In Iefitanakvaa, or the Song of Vegtam, Odin questions a volva with regard to the meaning of the sinister dreams of Balder. Rigsnall, or more properly Rigsthula, records how the god Heimdall, disguised as a man called Rig, wandered by the sea-shore, where he met the original dwarf pair, Ai and Edda, 'so whom he gave the power of child-bearing, and thence sprung the whole race of thralls ; then he went on and met with Ail and Amma, and made them the parents of the race of churls ; then he proceeded until he came to FAir and Mo6ir, to whom he gave Jarl, the first of free men, whom he himself brought up, teaching him to shoot and snare, and to use the sword and runes. It is much to be lamented that of this most characteristic and pictur-esque poem we possess only a fragment. In Hynd124166, the Lay of Hyndla, the goddess Freyia rides to question the villva Hyndla with regard to the ancestry of her young paramour Ottar ; a very fine quarrel ensues between the prophetess and her visitor. With this poem, the first or wholly mythological portion of the collection closes. What follows is heroic and pseudo-historic. The Volundarkviff a, or Song of Vijlundr, is engaged with the sufferings and adventures of Voluudr, the smith-king, during his stay with Nidud, king of Sweden. Volundr, identical with the Anglo-Saxon Weland and the German Welant, is sometimes confounded with Odin, the master-smith. This poem contains the beautiful figure of Svanhvit, the swan-maiden, who stays seven winters with Volundr, and then, yearning for her fatherland, flies away home through the dark forest. Ilelgakviaa Illjrvaras Sonar, the Song of Helgi, the Son of Iliorvar'6, which is largely in prose, celebrates the wooing by Helgi of Svava, who, like Atalanta, ends by loving the man with whom she has fought in battle. Two Songs of Helgi the Hunding's Bane, Iielgakvid'a Hundingsbana, open the long and very important series of lays relating to the two heroic families of the Volsungs and the Niblungs. Including the poems just mentioned, there are about twenty distinct pieces in the poetic Edda which deal more or less directly with this chain of stories. It is hardly necessary to give the titles of these poems here in detail, especially as they are, in their present form, mani-festly only fragments of a great poetic saga, possibly the earliest coherent form of the story so universal among the Teutonic peoples. irlre happily possess a somewhat later prose version of this lost poem in the Volsungasaga, where the story is completely worked out. In many places the prose of the Volsungasaga follows the verse of the Eddaic fragments with the greatest precision, often making use of the very same expressions. At the same time there are poems in the Edda which the author of the saga does not seem to have seen. But if we compare the central portions of the myth, namely Sigurd's conversation with Fafnir, the death of Begin, the speech of the birds and the meeting with the Valkyrje, WO are struck with the ex-treme fidelity of the prose romancer to his poetic precursors in the Sigurd'arkviaa Fafaisbana ; in passing on to the death of Sigurd, we perceive that the v3rsion in the l'asungasaga must be based upon a poem now entirely lost. Of the further extension of the myth and its corrup-tion into the romantic epic of Der Nibelunge Not, this is not the place for discussion. Suffice to say that in no modernized or Germanized form does the legend attain such an exquisite colouring of heroic poetry as in these earliest fragments of Icelandic song. A very curious poem, in some MSS. attributed directly to Smund, is the Lay of the Sun, SOlarli66, which forms a. kind of appendix to the poetic Edda. In this the spirit of a, dead father addresses his living son, and exhorts him, with maxims that resemble those of .1Eivamal, to righteousness of life. The tone of the poem is strangely confused between Christianity and Paganism, and it has been assumed to be the composition of a writer in the act of transition between the old creed and the new. It may, however, not impossibly, be altogether spurious as a poem of great antiquity, and may merely be the prodnction of some Icelandic monk, anxious to inntate the Eddaic form and spirit. Finally- Forspjalls//66, or the Preamble, formerly known as the Song of Odin's Raven, is an extremely obscure fragment, of which little is understood, although infinite scholarship has been expended on it. I'Vith this the poetic Edda closes.
The principal MS. of this Edda is the Codex Regius in the Royal Library at Copenhagen, written continuously, without regard to prose or verse, oil 45 leaves. This is that found 'by Bishop Brynjulf. Another valuable fragment exists in the Arne-Ivlagnwan collection in the University of Copenhagen, consisting of six leaves. These are the only 11ISS. older than the 17th century which con-tain a collection of the ancient mythico-heroie lays, but fragments occur in various other works, and especially in the Edda of Snorri. The poetic Edda was translated into English verse by Amos Cottle in 1797 ; the poet Gray produced a version of the Veytainskvida ; but the first good translation of the whole was that published by Benjamin Thorpe in 1866. An excellent edition of the Icelandic text has been prepared by Th. Mobius, but the standard of the original orthography will be found in the admirable edition of Sophus Bugge, Norrcen Fornkvan, published at Christiania in 1867. (E. W. G.)