10 January 2007

The Poetic Edda

My friends all stuff their fingers in their ears and hum loudly whenever I mention the subject, but I guess I can ramble as much as I like here :)

The Poetic Edda, or Elder Edda, is a collection of Old Norse poems. It's difficult to say how old they are, because they were originally passed orally from person to person, before they were finally written down in Iceland, sometime in the 13th or 14th century.
This manuscript, containing 29 poems, was found in 1643 by the Icelandic bishop Brynjólfur Sveinsson. He gave it to king Frederik 3. of Denmark, and for this reason the manuscript is called Codex Regius. Today it is kept in the Árni Magnússon Institute in Reykjavik. In April I'm going on a school trip to Iceland, and I'm pretty sure the trip includes a visit to this institute. If not I'm going anyway ;)

We studied Old Norse language and literature at school last autumn, and though it wasn't a very thorough study (most people in my class freak out when they hear the word 'study', especially when it's used in the same context as literature), it was nonetheless interesting. We read a few of the poems from the Edda and various other texts, including the saga of Gunnlaug, and also learned something about the various types of verses. It's perhaps the most interesting thing I've learned this school year. Since then I've read the entire Poetic Edda, which I was lucky enough to find on dad's bookshelf (though it was in Dutch *cringe*). I'm saving money right now to buy it in Old Norse. This time I'll try one without glossaries, haha.

My favourite poem is definitely Völuspá, the wise woman's prophecy, with Þrymskviða, the lay of Thrym, as a close second.

In Völuspá a völva (wise woman, prophetess) tells about the creation of the world and its coming end, Ragnarok. She tells of the creation of the world, the gods, the first humans, the death of Baldr... The poem is perhaps the best known of all the Edda poems. What I love most about it is the incredible use of alliteration (typical of Old Norse poems) and the spine-chilling descriptions of Ragnarok. Especially stanza 45...
skeggjöld, skálmöld,
skildir 'ru klofnir,
vindöld, vargöld,
áðr veröld steypisk;
Also, JRR Tolkien gave the dwarves from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings names from Völuspá.

Þrymskviða is of a whole different sort, much less 'epic' and much more humorous than Völuspá. Thor, the god of thunder, wakes up to find that his hammer, Mjölnir, is missing. He finds out that it has been stolen by the giant Þrym, who refuses to give it back unless he gets to marry Freya. She refuses, of course, and in the end it's Thor who has to dress up as a woman and pretend to be Freya. While Völuspá can be a bit hard to understand in some places, Þrymskviða is easy to read and to understand. I practically know it by heart (the Norwegian version at least), both because I've read it so often and because I got a small role (that of Heimdall) when my class dramatised it last week.

And, because I'm bored, here's a totally unrelated picture I took last spring

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