Part of a new series Legends from the Ancient North, The Elder Edda is one of the classic books that influenced JRR Tolkien s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings I was in the East, battling giants,wicked hearted women, who wandered the fells great would be the giant race, if they all lived mankind would be nothing under, middle earthWhat did you do meantime, Grey beard JRR Tolkien spent much of his life studying, translating and teaching the great epic stories of northern Europe, filled with heroes, dragons, trolls, dwarves and magic He was hugely influential for his advocacy of Beowulf as a great work of literature and, even if he had never written The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, would be recognised today as a significant figure in the rediscovery of these extraordinary talesLegends from the Ancient North brings together from Penguin Classics five of the key works behind Tolkien s fictionThey are startling, brutal, strange pieces of writing, with an elemental power brilliantly preserved in these translationsThey plunge the reader into a world of treachery, quests, chivalry, trials of strengthThey are the most ancient narratives that exist from northern Europe and bring us as near as we will ever get to the origins of the magical landscape of Middle earth Midgard which Tolkien remade in the th century


10 thoughts on “The Elder Edda

  1. Wood Wroth Wood Wroth says:

    PLEASE NOTE Due to poor organization of translations on this website, I must note that this is a review of Andy Orchard s translation of the Poetic Edda , which he has titled The Elder Edda A Book of Viking Lore Being familiar with Andy Orchard s handbook on Norse mythology Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend , 1997 and finding it to be a nice middle ground between Rudolf Simek s deeply flawed handbook and the limited scope of John Lindow s own, it was with high hopes that I waited for PLEASE NOTE Due to poor organization of translations on this website, I must note that this is a review of Andy Orchard s translation of the Poetic Edda , which he has titled The Elder Edda A Book of Viking Lore Being familiar with Andy Orchard s handbook on Norse mythology Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend , 1997 and finding it to be a nice middle ground between Rudolf Simek s deeply flawed handbook and the limited scope of John Lindow s own, it was with high hopes that I waited for Andy Orchard s 2011 English translation of the Poetic Edda, or, alternately, as Orchard has chosen to go with here, the Elder Edda Specifically I had hoped that Orchard s 2011 Penguin Classics translation would be a superior alternative to Carolyne Larrington s commonly available Oxford World s Classics translation titled The Poetic Edda and first published in 1996 Unfortunately, Orchard s translation not only continues most of the problems found in Larrington s translation, but also introduces a variety of new issues.Let s begin with the title This translation of the Poetic Edda is titled The Elder Edda A Book of Viking Lore , and the material contained within is frequently referred to as viking lore throughout Referring to these poems as viking lore may have been a marketing decision intended to move units, but it is unfortunately misleading the lore in question primarily dates from the Viking Age, sure, but elements of the compositions date at least as far back as the Migration Period the 5th to 9th century CE and other elements are from a few hundred years after the Viking Age ended the Poetic Edda was compiled in the 13th century and the Viking Age is held to have ended in the 11th century Further, famous as the vikings are, they made up a small fraction of Scandinavian society at their greatest Daily life among the vast majority of the North Germanic peoples was focused squarely on matters pastoral and agricultural and had little to do with this specific class of Norsemen Anyway, a minor gripe, but it needs to be pointed out.The introduction essay is considerablyhairy The first major issue here is Orchard s handling of weekday names Orchard makes it seem as if the English days of the week are of Old Norse origin p xvii and, consequently, that modern English Friday is named after the goddess Freyja In actuality, these weekday names were put in place by way of a process known as interpretatio germanica This occurred in nearly all recorded Germanic languages and well before the Viking Age As a result, the English weekday names are not a product of Old Norse influence but arose natively, and so bear the names of native Anglo Saxon deities As a result, English Friday in fact translates to Frige s Day Old English Frige is linguistically cognate to the name of the Old Norse goddess Frigg , and not that of the Old Norse goddess Freyja Why Orchard offers this muddled commentary rather than simply pointing out how closely related the English and the Norse were I do not know It would have likely have whetted the interest of the reader to point out that, as is the case with all Germanic languages and mythologies, the Anglo Saxons and the Norse were fellow siblings of a Proto Germanic mother.Later in his introduction, Orchard offers up some curious personal commentary as simple fact The first incident of this occurs when Orchard discusses women in the mythological poems contained within the Poetic Edda According to Orchard, in the mythical world of the Codex Regius the most important Poetic Edda manuscript , women are largely scheming and suspect, when they are not simply victims or the objects of unwanted sexual attention xx From Freyja s ferocious refusal to be downtrodden in rymskvi a p 98 , to Odin s reminder that men can be just as untrustworthy as women in H vam l p 27 , to Odin s dependence upon the wisdom of an ancient, dead female v lva in V lusp pp 1 14 , this is a particularly dubious interpretation of the role of the numerous goddesses, valkyries, and other strong willed, strong minded female beings depicted in these poems True, the female aspect of Germanic mythology is far under represented in these poems, but so are most things that don t relate to the god Odin or royalty, likely due to the source of their recording skalds of particular royal courts Orchard might have pointed out the strong female component found in our records of Germanic paganism and its mythology Beginning with veneration of Nerthus as recorded by Tacitus in 1 CE Germania on to repeated references to a strong tradition of powerful, intelligent seeressess wielding power throughout the records of the heathen Germanic peoples such as Veleda, Albruna, Waluburg, Ganna, and Gambara , and reaching all the way up to our records of Norse mythology, it is clear that women were no lesser beings to the pre Christian Germanic peoples.In the same section is Orchard s commentary on what he calls the twin fatal flaws of Norse pagan belief p xxxv Orchard says these two flaws were that Norse pagan beliefs were fragmented and also had an uncertain future Regarding his first point, Orchard claims that since Germanic or specifically Norse paganism appears to have been fragmented and non unified, it was destined to be replaced by Christianity However, what he neglects to mention is that while few surviving sources on continental Germanic paganism exist, these sources frequently seem to closely parallel the Old Norse material i.e the Merseburg Incantations, NerthusNj r r, etc , which points tounity than Orchard is willing to give credit for here, despite the vast distances in time and place between these attestations.Orchard s second point revolves around Norse afterlife beliefs, which he describes as a simple Valhalla Ragnar k model on an apparently linear timescale Orchard briefly compares this to Christianity s afterlife narrative, which he evidently deems to have offeredto believers and thus insinuates that it was thereforeattractive This is problematic for multiple reasons, but the primary reason is that the Germanic afterlife beliefs were clearly nowhere near as simple as Orchard here says which the Poetic Edda alone makes perfectly clear From references to reincarnation and reduplication of mythical elements and so to the potential of cyclic time , to several distinctly different methods of burial on the archaeological record, to references in the Poetic Edda to ill defined afterlife locations such as Freyja s afterlife field F lkvangr notably, Orchard ignores that Odin is in fact attested as having to cede half of his harvest of the dead to the goddess, even though he takes the time to problematically render F lkvangr as groan Battle Field p 52 , this is a gross simplification on the part of Orchard that is entirely misleading and does not help his audience in understanding the material he presents.Yet what is perhaps most striking about Orchard s claim of twin fatal flaws is that he for some reason neglects to mention the primary reason for this shift in religion the systemic, bloody, and much resisted process of the Christianization of Germanic Europe From Charlemagne s crusade against the pagan Saxons, waged with extermination orders for those that refused Christianization in hand see Charlemagne s infamous Capitulatio de partibus Saxoniae and the Massacre of Verden , to archaeological finds of mass employment of emblematic replicas of Thor s hammer all over Scandinavia as a defiant responses to enclosing Christian crosses, and references to death or conversion throughout the Old Norse record, it is inappropriate for Orchard to fob off these events with a poorly supported theory of supposed flaws.It is further crucial to mention that, despite the Christianization process, elements of these beliefs continued to live on in folklore and folk practice, where deity names are recorded as in use until as late as the 19th century in Germanic language speaking areas, sometimes exactly in the context of Old Norse attestations These beliefs have also been the source in modern times for modern reconstructionist Germanic pagan groups In fact, as Orchard mentions his fondess for taking trips to Iceland in his translation, he should well be aware that a modern Norse heathen movement now makes up the second largest religious group in the country the ever growing satr arf lagi And they are hardly alone Groups inspired by Germanic paganism now exist in every country in Europe, throughout the United States, South America, and as far away as Australia Why does this sizable cultural shift get no mention here While Orchard does mention that the Poetic Edda has had much literary influence through the years, it is by no means an overstatement to say that the Poetic Edda has been influential well beyond those dusty circles, and that the work remains a potent cultural force.Moving on to the A Note on Spelling, Pronunciation, and Translation section, Orchard details some of his translation choices Unfortunately, Orchard has decided to arbitrarily and inconsistently translate some of the proper names in the text to whatever he has most preferred Mind bogglingly, Orchard admits that this practice is frankly indefensible p xliv but goes ahead and does it anyway What exactly does this mean for the reader Well, for example, the proper name Gullveig is rendered as Gold draught p 8 , despite the fact that it is just as likely that Gullveig could be rendered as something like Gold strength or even by way of semantic value The Bright One Additionally, since these are proper names that may have been archaic in their time, this practice is a lot like referring to your 20th century pal Alfred as Elf Counsel , yet with faretymological certainty than is available in most of the etymological troublesome proper nouns Orchard handles in his translation Restricting this sort of tomfoolery to the Index of Names section in the back of the book would have avoided any confusion nicely, and Orchard s earlier handbook contains plenty of etymologies to draw from.Adding to this unfortunate decision is Orchard s choice to continue the practice of inappropriate and unhelpful glossing found in some other translations For example, the glosses giant and ogre both derived from Greco Roman mythology are slapped on top of various words for a variety of beings specific to the mythology, such as thurs , j tunn , risi , and troll , rendering exactly what is being referred to unclear and the semantic context totally indiscernible Even the place name J tunheimr is rendered as Giants Domain Besides, the source text is entirely unclear how giant any of these beings were considered at any given time This poor practice should have been discontinued long ago, even if, yes, a minor note about what the scary, scary word may mean would be required I mean, do we gloss valkyrie as fury or Odin as Jupiter Fortunately not, and these culturally specific concepts should be treated with the same level of respect.Considering the whole package, there does not really seem to be a lot of reason for this translation to exist it offers essentially nothing of particular value that its precursor Larrington s translation does not, and it frequently reads much like it Additionally, it is an entirely bare boned affair, free of any special media or aesthetic treatment, and the Old Norse is not included a low priced dual edition translation remains unavailable for all current English translations It further does not offer, say, translations of rarely published poems associated with the Poetic Edda such as the wonderful Hrafnagaldr ins , unfortunately restricted to some early translations The inclusion of any of these elements would have set it apart from all other modern English translations On the up side, it is useful for its footnotes which, with the issues outlined above as examples, one would do well to eye with caution and is also mildly useful as yet another translation to compare prior Poetic Edda translations to Perhaps Penguin simply needed a translation similar to Oxford s Larrington translation and Orchard was up to the task Whatever the case, the wait for a definitive English Poetic Edda translation continues.I am not advising the reader to avoid this translation In fact, short of Ursula Dronke s unavailable translation s , a superior alternative does not come to mind However, if one does decide to get this translation, he or she will benefit from searching online for Benjamin Thorpe s 19th century translation along with Henry Adam Bellows s early 20th century translation for comparison Both translations are in the public domain Due to his avoidance of glossing, Thorpe s translation in particular retains its value, and will counteract some of the confusion to be found here Lee M Hollander s mid 20th century translation is still widely available and is also useful for comparison Otherwise, tread with care


  2. João Fernandes João Fernandes says:

    What I love the most about Norse literature and mythology is that the gods are all incredibly for the lack of a better word, human They suffer, they lust, they love, and they even seem to be quite mortal as far as gods go.The Elder or Poetic Edda is a collection of poems found in an ancient manuscript in Iceland, the Codex Regius.The Elder Edda has a mythological section, with poems about the gods and the start and end of the world the famous Ragnarok , and a heroic section.I was surpri What I love the most about Norse literature and mythology is that the gods are all incredibly for the lack of a better word, human They suffer, they lust, they love, and they even seem to be quite mortal as far as gods go.The Elder or Poetic Edda is a collection of poems found in an ancient manuscript in Iceland, the Codex Regius.The Elder Edda has a mythological section, with poems about the gods and the start and end of the world the famous Ragnarok , and a heroic section.I was surprised to find that the heroic second section of the Edda overlaps a lot with The Saga of the Volsungs again, it mostly narrates the stories of the last men of the Volsung dynasty.It also contains what to me will always be one of the funniest, albeit tragic, pieces of dialogue ever Sinfj tli dying due to poisoning and his father Sigmund, too drunk to realise the actual danger, simply tells him tofilter it through your moustache, sonI know it s a tragic death but that line gets me everytime.Like the Volsunga saga, it narrates Sigurd the Dragon Slayer s story, and it offers a different perspective on what is probably the oldest love square story Sigurd, Brynhild, Gunnar and Gudr n the Norse Medea.I find their story incredibly compelling, a true Greek tragedy and what was clearly a good cautionary tale at a time when whole families died because they kept avenging each other.If you re a fan of Norse myths, then this is the book for you My favourite mythological lays were the H vam l the Lay of the High One , a list of advice coming directly from the God of autoerotic asphyxiation, Odin and Lokasenna Loki in a yelling match with all the other gods, proving he s not a god of destruction but the God of ridiculous and hilarious comebacks


  3. sologdin sologdin says:

    famous for being one of the earliest plagiarisms of professor Tolkien s LotR.


  4. Markus Markus says:

    Wits are needful for someone who travels widely,anything will do at home he becomes a laughing stock, the man who knows nothingand sits among the wiseH vam lArguably the greatest mythological masterpiece human civilisation has achieved, in my mind But I m biased for a variety of reasons from being from the north, from researching its history and culture every day as a profession and from this being the main inspiration for my favourite literary author J R R Tolkien.I ll do apropeWits are needful for someone who travels widely,anything will do at home he becomes a laughing stock, the man who knows nothingand sits among the wiseH vam lArguably the greatest mythological masterpiece human civilisation has achieved, in my mind But I m biased for a variety of reasons from being from the north, from researching its history and culture every day as a profession and from this being the main inspiration for my favourite literary author J R R Tolkien.I ll do aproper review of this when I gather somethoughtsThe corpses of doomed men fall,the gods dwellings are reddened with crimson blood sunshine becomes black the next summer,all weather is vicious do you understand yet, or what Volusp


  5. Cinda Cinda says:

    Based on my limited knowledge, Dr Crawford seems to have done an excellent job with the material An important read for anyone interested in primary sources on Norse mythology The stories themselves are long on plot, short on character development.


  6. Mike Mike says:

    The introduction states that the Edda is a repository, in poetic form of mythology and heroic lore bodying forth both the ethical views and the cultural life of the North during the late heathen and early Christian times It is also, for the most part, boring as fuck It may be an interesting read if you are a fan of English before it got corrupted by all those French and Latin borrowings, or don t mind stopping several times a page to find out the meaning of an obscure or terribly archaic w The introduction states that the Edda is a repository, in poetic form of mythology and heroic lore bodying forth both the ethical views and the cultural life of the North during the late heathen and early Christian times It is also, for the most part, boring as fuck It may be an interesting read if you are a fan of English before it got corrupted by all those French and Latin borrowings, or don t mind stopping several times a page to find out the meaning of an obscure or terribly archaic word or name.Not to depreciate the skill of the translator I m sure great skill and care went into the rendition of the original into the current text but reading these poems rife with unfamiliar accents and names impossible to pronounce undermined for this reader the translator s preservation of the meter of the original I had hoped to use these poems to peer into a lost era Instead I muddled through murky events half seen, a foreign fog poorly illuminated by brief flashes of clarity like a movie viewed while distracted and drunk.There is a catalog of dwarfs at the end, in case you are into that sort of thing


  7. Roman Clodia Roman Clodia says:

    Then Brynhild laughed all the hall resounded just one time with all her heart Well may you enjoy the lands and followers now you ve brought the brave prince to his death Collected in the 13th century in the Codex Regius, the body of poetry here straddles Old Norse myth and heroic poetry from probably around the 10th century, a time when the pagan North was becoming Christianised The heroic verse is primarily from the complicated tales of Helgi, Sigurd, Gunnar and the valkyrie SigrdThen Brynhild laughed all the hall resounded just one time with all her heart Well may you enjoy the lands and followers now you ve brought the brave prince to his death Collected in the 13th century in the Codex Regius, the body of poetry here straddles Old Norse myth and heroic poetry from probably around the 10th century, a time when the pagan North was becoming Christianised The heroic verse is primarily from the complicated tales of Helgi, Sigurd, Gunnar and the valkyrie Sigrdrifa usually better known via the Germanic The Nibelungenlied Other poems have been added to this canon and Larrington includes quest and other poetry.Unlike Snorri s The Prose Edda, the poetry here is not systematic nor connected in any easy way what we have instead are fragments and tales that might contradict or undermine or supplement each other in a nicely allusive and intertextual way Different versions of the heroic sagas emerge and diverge so while this might be comparable to other great mythic collections like Ovid s Metamorphoses or Hesiod s Theogony, this is farunstable in an interesting way Source material for The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, this is a fascinating window into Old Norse heroic culture


  8. John Snow John Snow says:

    The Poetic Edda is not a book you read from beginning to end like a novel The Poetic Edda contains 35 poems, some of which are very complicated I usually read and study one or a few poems at a time, put the book aside, and then get back to it later But thetimes I read the poems, theI appreciate their poetic qualities and the glimpses they give into the deep mysteries and wisdom of Norse mythology.Together with The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson, The Poetic Edda is the best medieva The Poetic Edda is not a book you read from beginning to end like a novel The Poetic Edda contains 35 poems, some of which are very complicated I usually read and study one or a few poems at a time, put the book aside, and then get back to it later But thetimes I read the poems, theI appreciate their poetic qualities and the glimpses they give into the deep mysteries and wisdom of Norse mythology.Together with The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson, The Poetic Edda is the best medieval source for the study of Old Norse mythology and cosmology The poems are about the creation of the world, of sir and vanir the two kind of gods , of giants, dwarves, elves, volvas, valkyries and all kinds of creatures, including the norns who decide our faith, and Yggdrasil, the World Tree The poems tell how Thor fights the giants, of Freya s seductive powers, of Siv s beauty, and of Loki s treachery But first of all the poems are about Odin s obsessive quest for knowledge and the truth about his own death in Ragnarok, the Doom of Goods The Poetic Edda also tells the stories of Helgi Hundingsbane and his valkyrie bride and the tragic love between Sigurd the Dragonslayer and Brynhild.It may seem out of place to recommend the reading of another book before you read the one which is up for review, but for the first time reader who knows little about Norse mythology, Snorri s Edda is actually a better starting point In his book Snorri explains the old poems and the myths, and the mythological stories are retold in plain prose With this background it is easier to understand the poems in The Poetic Edda But it definitely helps that the Oxford edition of the poems is equipped with an index, explanatory notes, genealogies, and an introduction.Being accustomed to the rhythm and non Latinate wordings of Norwegian translations, I find it a bit strange to read English versions of the old poems, but I am in no position to compare Carolyne Larrington s translation with other English translations It is nevertheless very refreshing to get a new perspective on the poems given by another language And, as I said in the beginning of the review, theI read the Edda poems, theimpressed I get


  9. Jackballoon Jackballoon says:

    I wish I hadn t read all the gory details


  10. Briynne Briynne says:

    It turns out that I have a real thing for Scandinavian literature Reading this and the sagas has made me a little obsessed with the idea of visiting Iceland It s hard for me to separate my thoughts on the eddas from my thoughts on the sagas and the most recent Sigrid Undset novel I m reading, but I m going to try to keep everything to it s proper review space Alright The Elder Edda or Poetic Edda is the written version of the oral tradition base material from which the later Younger Prose It turns out that I have a real thing for Scandinavian literature Reading this and the sagas has made me a little obsessed with the idea of visiting Iceland It s hard for me to separate my thoughts on the eddas from my thoughts on the sagas and the most recent Sigrid Undset novel I m reading, but I m going to try to keep everything to it s proper review space Alright The Elder Edda or Poetic Edda is the written version of the oral tradition base material from which the later Younger Prose Edda was constructed As I understand it, these two eddas are the two most important primary sources for what is known about Norse Mythology If I can step onto my soapbox for a moment, I think it s a shame to read those clinical synopsis type mythologies i.e encyclopedia like entries for each deity and concept when the source material is so much better Sure, it can be slightly incomprehensible at times, but you get so muchlocal color, as it were.The opening poem, the V lusp , is a knock out Really, go find it on the internet and read it In the poem, a seer woman spins the future out for Odin and delivers the dark, dismal fate of the gods and the world in a hauntingly ethereal, lyrical style What I loved about this collection is that the next poem Saying of the High One does a complete 180 in tone and delivers a sometimes amusing string of advice that could have been taken from the Viking version of the Poor Richard s Almanac The comedy roles on with the Lay of Thrym note according to the OED a lay is a short lyric or narrative poem intended to be sung I had no idea, so I thought I d share In this poem, Thor and Loki disguise themselves, badly, as ladies in order to fool a giant The king of the giants demands the goddess Freyja as his wife in return for giving Thor back his stupid hammer, but since she won t have anything to do with it, the guys go in her place It was funny in an absurd way I kept thinking that the folks in medieval Iceland probably would have really enjoyed Harold and Kumar The Lay of Harbard also operated on this sort of sophomoric level Basically, Thor and this guy Harbard stand on opposite banks of a river yelling insults at each other Thor tries to prove his masculinity or whatever by bragging about various feats of battle, to which Harbard responds by enumerating his various, shall we say, romantic conquests I honestly kept waiting for him to respond with yo momma Things turned back again in style with The Lay of Alvis, which I really liked It reminded me of Tolkein, who may not have been as creative as I had originally thought, but he certainly had a good eye for inspiration The whole poem is dedicated to Alvis listing the names for different things in the various worlds of the Vanir, sir, elves, dwarves, and humans it doesn t sound interesting, but I found it to be one of the most lovely and poetic of the lays For instance, when Thor asks Alvis what the sun is called in the different worlds, he repliesMen call it Sol, and gods the Sun, The dwarfs say Dvalin s Delight The giants Ever Glowing, the elves Fair Wheel, The sir Shadowless ShiningThe entire second half of the Edda is devoted to poems of the Volsung saga I m still not in love with this story, although I felt like I got to know the story and characters better in this edda, and I ve warmed up a little The drama centers around the Sigurd Gudrun Gunnar Brynhild love square, only not really since Gudrun and Gunnar are siblings It s a horrible mess and neither the heroic Sigurd nor the high maintenance valkyrie Brynhild make it out alive They both get on my nerves, though, so it s alright Gunnar is a loser, and Brynhild was probably right to be so scornful of him But Gudrun I like She is Sigurd s wife, and there is a really touching lay describing her silent grief after he is killed I changed from pitying her to just plain being scared of her pretty quickly, though The Lay of Atli is like a horror movie In the poem, Gudrun is married against her will to a barbarian king whom she cannot stand after the death of her beloved Sigurd, at the insistence of her brothers After a few miserable years together, the king kills Gunnar and the rest of her brothers in some dispute and she just snaps She murders the two young sons they had together and feeds her husband their blood and hearts in disguise as some sort of delicacy at a feast before killing him and everyone else she could find Not joking So, she s completely crazy, but she provides a great punctuation mark to the sometimes tedious Volsung themed poems As a whole, these poems were utterly fascinating They were strange and beautiful in fairly equal measure, and I m very glad I tracked this particular translation down through ILL Seriously, there are some horrific translations out there I don t know anything about their technical merits, obviously, but from a readability stand point this was the best one I could find I wouldn t recommend reading this book before you have a little background from either the Prose Edda or one of those anthologies I bashed earlier, because I don t think it would make a lot of sense without some outside context