One of the three most important manuscripts of Snorri's Edda the Uppsala Codex (a parchment from about 1320) is prefaced by this statement: `This book is called Edda; Snorri Sturluson wrote it in the same order in which it is set out here. The first part is about the Æsir and Ymir, then comes the Skáldskaparmál (`Poetic Diction') and the names given to various things, last the Háttatal (`Account of Metres') which Snorri composed about King Hákon and Duke Skúli.'
The whole of the first part `about the Æsir and Ymir' - that is Gylfaginning (`The Deluding of Gylfi')and the Prologue - is included in the present translation. The second part consists in the main of a catalogue of kennings (figurative expressions of various kinds) whose use in ancient poetry is illustrated by numerous examples. In the original this section is about the same length as the first, but only the longer mythological and heroic stories with which it is interspersed have been translated here. The third part consists of the poem Snorri composed about King Hákon and Earl (later Duke) Skuli Bararson, between 1221 and 1223. This comprises 102, stanzas and the text is accompanied by a commentary, in prose, on the variations of metre and style exemplified by each verse. The whole of this section has been omitted, since it would be impossible to translate a composition of this kind into any other language.
Other early sources, besides the Uppsala Codex, establish beyond dispute that only this work of Snorri Sturluson's has the right to the name of Edda. It is merely owing to a seventeenth century misunderstanding that the poems, which it has since been the custom to call Eddic, were labeled The Elder Edda or Sæmund's Edda.
What does Edda mean? Opinions differ greatly. The most usual one is that the word is related to óðr ('poem, poetry') and may be translated 'Poetics', the book constituting a sort of ars poetica. Be this as it may, the second and third sections of the book undoubtedly form a guide to the use of early skaldic diction (skaldic verse was the usual medium of the Viking poets) and to the great diversity of metre and style exhibited by poetry in genera]. How then did the first part of the book take the form of a survey of ancient northern mythology, and what is the connection between it and the subsequent sections
It is a matter of common knowledge that the richest and purest source extant for the ideas and attitude to life of the early Germanic peoples is the literature of Iceland during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. This ancient inheritance is usually regarded as having been slowly destroyed by the impact of Christianity and other foreign influences during the period between the conversion of Iceland (in 1000) and about 1400. This is true enough as far as its beginning and end are concerned, but is far from being the whole story of Old Icelandic literature. Attack and resistance alternate. The literature of thirteenth-century Iceland is much more Icelandic than that of the twelfth, and when Snorri Sturluson's work is considered - and he played the greatest part in this change - it becomes clear that it is not only a question of defense but also of counter-attack.
This is most evident from Snorri's historical works.* Neither of the first Icelandic historians, the learned chieftains Sæmund Sigfússon (who died in 1133) and the more important Ári Thorgilsson (who died in 1148- he founded a school that used the vernacular), wrote sagas. The writers of this school record dry, accurate information concerning the settlement, history of the commonwealth, ecclesiastical history, chronology, and so forth. Their writings are to the sagas what the earliest Greek annalists are to Herodotus. When the Icelanders began, after 1170, to write sagas about the events of bygone days (as well as about contemporary affairs, as, for example, in Sverrir's Saga), it was the monks who led the way and their heroes are the missionary kings of Norway, Ólaf Tryggvason and Saint Ólaf. When the sagas of these two kings, written and rewritten by various authors between 1180 and 1220, are compared with those Snorri wrote about them, we are apt to think only of a literary development, as Snorri's sagas are both more realistic and more entertaining. Snorri's ruthless handling of these earlier sagas, his sources, is, however, not due solely to his greater critical acumen and stricter regard for truth. Rationalistic layman and chieftain as he was, he was repelled by the ecclesiastical spirit pervading the sagas in question - all the way from the legendary tales, sermons of edification, pious remarks and unctuous style, to the very delineation of character and interpretation of events themselves. In fact, behind all this is the political struggle between the old families of the aristocracy, who from the period of the conversion of Iceland had exercised complete authority over the church, and the bishops of the twelfth century and later, who were endeavoring to make the church as independent and powerful as it was in the rest of Europe - a state within the state.
* Saint Ólafís Saga and Heimskringla ('Orb of the World'). Snorri also wrote Egiís
Saga. He is thus the author of four of the most famous books in Icelandic.
If we bear in mind that Snorri's historical work shows this tendency we shall, I think, get closer to understanding the place in the literature and culture of Iceland occupied by his Edda. It is something different from, and more than, a 'text-book of poetics', a collection of rules which poets of earlier days had learned by word of mouth from their predecessors and passed on from one generation to another. This seems quite clear from the conclusion of the first chapter of Poetic Diction where Snorri is speaking in his own person: 'Now to young poets who want to study poetic diction and enrich their style with ancient designations or who wish to understand the hidden meaning of poetry, I would say, let them peruse this book to their profit and pleasure. Neglect and distrust these stories as we may, we should not go so far as to remove from poetry ancient kennings which the great poets of old permitted themselves to enjoy. Christians, however, must not believe in pagan gods or that these tales are true in any other way than is indicated at the beginning of this book.' It is evident that these words refer to a dispute and it is easy to recognize the fanatics against whom they are directed.
During Snorri's lifetime (1179-1241) the ancient art of Icelandic poetry was threatened on two sides. In the first place a narrow-minded clergy, in their desire to obliterate every trace of heathenish, had gone so far as to banish the names of the old gods from those of the days of the week (in Icelandic, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are called Third Day, Mid-week-day, Fifth Day and Fast Day respectively). It was no wonder that they considered it sinful for poetry to incorporate all the ancient mythological kennings which were incomprehensible without some knowledge of the myths of the Æsir. At the same time, during the twelfth century a new fashion in poetry had been introduced into Iceland which had become very popular with the common people - the dance. This was an Improvisation of four lines whose everyday words were set to a loose rhythm in which even the most elementary of the old metrical rules were disregarded. Snorri, in his account of the kennings in Poetic Diction, carefully specifies, amongst other things, the way in which all the ancient gods are to be designated and, in his Account of Metres and the explanations of these given in that work, he begins with the difficult Court Metre (dróttkvátt) which he regards as the most refined of them all and lays down the most meticulous rules for the correct use of alliteration. In this way lie tells his 'young poets' all that he considers it most important for them to learn and pass on. They are not to be so narrow-minded or timid as to avoid the kennings found in mythology or they will cease to understand anything of the older poetry. Neither are they to practice their art in so commonplace and complacent a manner as to deprive themselves of all the magnificent and cunningly wrought diversity of poetic style and metre to be found in the work of the great poets of old.
Why did Snorri, not content with writing the last two sections of the Edda, add to these the Deluding of Gylfi and its Prologue which are only remotely connected with a system of poetics The answer is given in the words quoted above: 'Christians, however, must not believe in pagan gods or that these tales are true in any other way than is indicated at the beginning of this book.' It was a customary belief in the Middle Ages, evident from the legendary sagas of the kings of Norway previously mentioned, that the ancient gods, particularly Thór and Óðin, did really exist: that they were devils and evil spirits that might appear in many shapes to tempt men and do them various injuries. By denouncing these superstitions Snorri, at one and the same time, administered a rebuke to the clergy, whilst safeguarding himself from any attack on the grounds that he was preaching heathernism to young poets. Consider the Prologue and stories that form the framework for the Deluding of Gyifi. In the first chapter of the Prologue, which apparently consists of Snorri's own reflections, since no model or source for them has been found, either foreign or Icelandic, he tries to show that there is a natural and common basis for all forms of religion and to explain how they have branched out from this stock. He then turns to the widely held euhemeristic theory that the Æsir had been kings and chieftains who, by men of a later period, had come to be looked on as gods. Even this does not satisfy him, however. By making the 'Men of Asia' themselves work magic for Gylfi and relate to him the stories of the gods in order to tempt him to believe in them (see the last chapter of the Deluding of Gylfi) Snorri has finally ensured himself complete liberty to say all he wants. He can now tell the 'Saga' of the world and the gods all the way from Ymir to Ragnarök, interspersing it with his own reflections (concerning, for example, the origin of life) and setting it forth in all its splendor and power, its comic and its tragic aspects. And while the scholar and poet in him are relating this instructive and entertaining tale, it is as if he were glancing over his shoulder at the clergy and asking, 'What reason can there be for hating and despising a faith which, after all, served our forefathers as a guide to a life of courage and achievement?'
We know now that in some respects Snorri's mythology is not in full agreement with the ancient mythological poems which to a great extent constitute his sources, and that neither it, nor they, give us an idea of Scandinavian heathenism as it really was. Much of the mythology and many of the stories about the gods are simply the product of the poetic imagination and derive from speculation current during the decline of paganism, occasionally mingled with ideas and motifs that are Christian and southern in origin.
No one now reads the Deluding if Gylfi as a text-book on mythology but, whereas under the impact of fresh research all more recent text-books have become and will continue to become antiquated, not one of them can make the Deluding of Gylfi out of date. This is so partly because in it Snorri relates various stories found nowhere else, but first and foremost because it is a work of art and its stories will never be told better.
It must be admitted that Snorri's Edda makes an appeal to the modem reader mainly because the author, in relating the Deluding of Gylfi, forgot the chief purpose of his book and, in his account of their doings and destiny, brought the gods to life again entirely for their own sakes. It is, nevertheless, natural to ask what, in view of this purpose, was the influence of the book on contemporary and later times?
In our own time it is a matter of general experience and, perhaps, of still more general belief that it is not only difficult but futile to resist 'progress' and try to put the clock back. We know, however, that the preservation of old values is an indispensable counterpart to the creation of new. The influence exerted by Snorri Sturluson is a good example of the way in which these two things may go hand in hand.
Snorri himself preserved in his writings almost all the best ninth- and skaldic poetry, both Norwegian and Icelandic, still extant. There is also good reason to believe that it is owing to his Edda that the poems we now know as The Elder Edda were collected and set down in writing. The impulse he gave kindled a new attitude to and fresh understanding of pagan culture and philosophy of life, which is reflected in those sagas of past times that were written after his day. It is largely owing to him that, as W. P. Ker says, 'the heroic age of the ancient Germans may be said to culminate, and end, in Iceland in the thirteenth century'.
What about the art of poetry itself There is no doubt that the tripping lyrical dances went on being made up after Snorri's time, but they were held in such low esteem compared with 'refined' poetry that, it may be said, unfortunately, hardly any survive. On the other hand, the old form of poetic composition enjoyed a sort of renaissance in the poems of Snorri's two nephews who clearly followed his lead. These were Ólaf Thóroðarson hvításkáld (White Poet, died 12ð9) and Sturla Thóroðarson (died 1282). Moreover, although round about 1300 Icelanders ceased to be employed as court poets by foreign rulers, Court Metre containing fewer kennings but exhibiting otherwise traditional rhythms and style went on being used for religious verse and, in this form, reached its high point in Lilja ('The Lily') in the middle of the fourteenth century. The ancient art won its greatest victory, however, when the Icelanders created - from grafting the heroic ballad (the form of poetry most typical of thirteenth- to fifteenth-century Scandinavia) with certain characteristics of the older kind of verse - a new branch of poetry, the rímur ('rhyming lays'). In the rímur not only are all the rules governing alliterative verse strictly kept, as is still the case in all Icelandic poetry, but they themselves are composed in exact conformity with Snorri's demands: that is, they exhibit great diversity of splendid metres and use of kennings, in particular heathen kennings. It is noteworthy, too, that their authors constantly employ expressions like 'Eddic rule, Eddic art'. Rinur began to be composed in Iceland soon after 1350 and have enjoyed a remarkable popularity in that they were still being composed in a similar style down to our own time. Further, metrically and stylistically they have exerted a strong direct and indirect influence on the rest of Icelandic poetry. Although the rímur poets, like the poets before the days of Snorri, could have learned their art from their predecessors and from older poems, it has long been the custom for them to study the Edda both in order 'to enrich their style' and to understand the hidden meaning of poetry'. When trends in modern poetry are discussed in Iceland today, even if traditionalists do not quote Snorri in quite the same way as the younger poets quote T. S. Eliot and Paul Eluard, he looms up, nevertheless, behind certain of their ideas. And whatever we may think of the poetical value of the rimur and other verse in the old tradition, there is no question of the important consequences of the general devotion to this kind of poetry - the most obvious of these, perhaps, being the preservation of the classical language of the thirteenth century as the living Icelandic of today.
by SIGURDUR NORDAL
Snorri Sturluson (1179~1241) was a man of many talents. Astute at business and a diplomat, highly educated and traveled, he early acquired great wealth and power, twice occupying the highest office in Iceland and being singled out for special honour by a foreign potentate. Yet, able as he was in practical affairs, his chief interest in life was in literature. Iceland's most famous man of letters, he wrote four major works of very different character. Two were biographies - St. Olafís Saga and Egil's Saga, the one about the great eleventh century king who became Norway's patron saint, the other about the famous Icelandic Viking poet who once fought as a mercenary in this country during the wars of the tenth century. Heimskringla records the lives of the kings of Norway from the early sixth to the late twelfth century. The Prose Edda, with which this translation is concerned, was intended as a handbook for poets who, in Snorri's day, were forgetting how to compose in the 'high style' of their predecessors, the skalds or court poets of the Viking Age. The titles of the second and third sections of this work, Skáldskaparmál and Háttatal (Poetic Diction and Account of Metres), indicate their content. The first section, however, Gylfaginning (The Deluding of Gylfi), couched in the form of a conversation between a prehistoric Swedish King Gylfi and three knowledgeable beings known as High, Just-as-High, and Third, is in reality a sophisticated guide to Northern mythology based on poems, some of which are looked on as older than any skaldic verse. By virtue of its author's sympathy and humour, irony and detachment, The Deluding of Gylfi is one of the great story-books of the Middle Ages.
The last translation into English of The Prose Edda, that of the American scholar, A. G. Brodeur, was made almost forty years ago. It was published in 1916 and has been reprinted three times since. The time, therefore, seems ripe for a new translation which will make available in more modern idiom Snorri's inimitable stories about the gods and heroes of the Northern peoples. In undertaking this translation I have had in mind two kinds of persons - the university student and the general reader. To meet the needs of the student I have aimed at a faithful rendering of my author's meaning, although I hope that I have also achieved an interpretation that will not strike the general reader as pedantic. I had this reader in mind when selecting my material. People remember The Heroes of Asgard with affection, and the fact that Myths of the Norseman has been reprinted many times between 1908 and 1948 indicates that there is a public outside university circles that is perennially interested in Northern story-telling. The present translation, therefore, consists of narrative portions of The Prose Edda: it includes the whole of The Deluding of Gylfi and all the longer heroic tales incorporated in Poetic Diction. What the rest of Snorri's Edda is about, why he wrote it and its fundamental importance for Icelandic literature will be gathered from the Introduction by Sigurður Nordal, the scholar, to whom more than to anyone else the student of Snorri is indebted today.
The Icelandic text used for this translation is that of the Norwegian, Anne Holtsmark, and the Icelander, Jón Helgason, professors of Northern Languages and Literature in the Universities of Oslo and Copenhagen respectively. Published in Copenhagen in 1950, it was the most recent available when this translation was made. I have also consulted the complete edition of The Prose Edda by Finnur Jónsson, revised in 1926, and the Arnamagnean edition of 1848-87.
The spellings of Icelandic names in a translation of this presents certain difficulties many of these names exhibit initial and final combinations of consants with which the general reader may be unfamiliar - for example Hlín, Baldr. Since, however, many people prefer a foreign work to have a foreign flavour and there is, moreover a general tendency amongst scholars in this country today to keep foreign words as far as possible in their native forms, this is the course adopted here, thus even Thór, Óðin, etc.* Valhalla is one of the exceptions.
I should like first and foremost to thank Sigurður Nordal, now Icelandic Minister in Copenhagen, for his masterly introduction and to acknowledge the kind help and encouragement of professor Bruce Dickins, Elrington and Bosworth professor of Anglo~Saxon in the University of Cambridge. I owe much, too, to my father, the late J.T young. To the University of Reading I am indebted for a grant towards expenses of publication.
* It will be noticed, however, that inflextional -r, -l, -n are dropped. The symbol
ð is used for the corresponding Icelandic ð and the Th for the initial þ
In the beginning almighty God created heaven and earth and everything that goes with them and, last of all, two human beings, Adam and Eve, from whom have come families. Their progeny multiplied and spread over all the world. As time went on, however, inequalities sprang up amongst peoples - some were good and righteous but by far the greater number, disregarding God's commandments, turned to the lusts of the world. For this reason God drowned the world and all creatures living in it - with the exception of those who were with Noah in the ark. Eight persons survived Noah's flood and these peopled the world and founded families. As the population of the world increased, however, and a larger area became inhabited, the same thing happened again; the great majority of mankind, loving the pursuit of money and power, left off paying homage to God. This grew to such a pitch that they boycotted any reference to God, and then how could anyone tell their sons about the marvels connected with Him In the end they lost the very name of God and there was not to be found in all the world a man who knew his Maker. Notwithstanding, God granted them earthly gifts, worldly wealth and prosperity, and He also bestowed on them wisdom so that they understood all earthly things and all the ways in which earth and sky were different from each other. They observed that in many respects the earth and birds and beasts have the same nature and yet exhibit different behavior, and they wondered what this signified. For instance, one could dig down into the earth on a mountain peak no deeper than one would in a low lying valley and yet strike water; in the same way, in both birds and beasts, the blood lies as near to the surface of the skin of the head as of the foot. Another characteristic of the earth is that every year grass and flowers grow on it and that same year wither and die; similarly fur and feathers grow and die every year on beasts and birds. There is a third thing about the earth: when its surface is broken into and dug up, grass grows on the topsoil. Mountains and boulders they associated with the teeth and bones of living creatures, and so they looked on earth as in some way a living being with a life of its own. They knew it was inconceivably ancient as years go, and by nature, powerful; it gave birth to all things and owned all that died, and for that reason they gave it a name and reckoned their descent from it. They also learned from their ancestors that the same earth and sun and stars had been in existence for many centuries, but that the procession of the stars was unequal; some had a long journey, others a short one. From things like this they guessed that there must be someone who ruled the stars, who, if he desired, could put an end to their procession, and that he must be very powerful and strong. They reckoned too, that, if he controlled the primal elements, he must have existed before the heavenly bodies; and they realized that, if he guided these, he must rule over the shining of the sun and the dew-fall and the growth of plants resultant on these, and the winds of the air and storms of the sea as well. They did not know where his kingdom was, but they believed that he ruled everything on earth and in the sky, heaven and the stars, the ocean and all weathers. In order that this might be related and kept in mind, they gave their own names to everything, but with the migrations of peoples and multiplication of languages this belief has changed in many ways. They understood everything in a material sense, however, since they had not been given spiritual understanding, and so they thought that everything had been made from some substance. The world was divided into three parts. From south to west up to the Mediterranean was the part known as Africa, and the southern portion of this is so hot that everything there is burned by the sun. The second part, running from west to north up to the ocean, is called Europe or Énéa, and the northern half of this is so cold that no grass grows there and it is uninhabited. From north to east and down to the south is Asia, and these regions of the world have great beauty and magnificence; the earth yields special products like gold and precious stones. The centre of the world is there also, and just as the earth there is more fertile and in every way superior to that found elsewhere, so the human beings living there were endowed beyond their fellows with all manner of gifts - wisdom, strength, beauty and every kind of ability.
Near the centre of the world where what we call Turkey lies, was built the most famous of all palaces and halls - Troy by name. That town was built on a much larger scale than others then in existence and in many ways with greater skill, so lavishly was it equipped. There were twelve kingdoms with one over-king, and each kingdom contained many peoples. In the citadel were twelve chieftains and these excelled other men then living in every human fashion. One of the kings was called Múnón or Mennón. He married a daughter of the chief king Priam who was called Tróáin, and they had a son named Trór - we call him Thór. He was brought up in Thrace by a duke called Loricus and, when he was ten years old, he received his father's arms. When he took his place amongst other men he was as beautiful to look at as ivory inlaid in oak; his hair was lovelier than gold. At twelve years old he had come to his full strength and then he lifted ten bear pelts from the ground at once and killed his foster father Loricus with his wife Lóri or Glóri, and took possession of the realm of Thrace - we call that Thrúðheim. After that he travelled far and wide exploring all the regions of the world and by himself overcoming all the berserks and giants and an enormous dragon and many wild beasts. In the northern part of the world he met with and married a prophetess called Sibyl whom we call Sif . I do not know Sif's genealogy but she was a most beautiful woman with hair like gold. Lóriði, who resembled his father, was their son. Lóriði's son was Einridi, his son Vingethór, his son Vingener, his son Módi, his son Magi, his son Seskef, his son Beðvig, his son Athra, whom we call Annar, his son Ítrmann, his son Heremóð, his son Skjaldun, whom we call Skjöld, his son Bíaf whom we call Bjár, his son Ját, his son Guðólf, his son Finn, his son Fríallaf whom we call Friðleif; he had a son named Vóden whom we call Óðin; he was a man famed for his wisdom and every kind ofaccomplishment. His wife was called Frígíða, whom we call Frigg.
Óðin, and also his wife, had the gift of prophecy, and by means of this magic art he discovered that his name would be famous in the northern part of the world and honoured above that of all kings. For this reason he decided to set out on ajourney from Turkey. He was accompanied by a great host of old and young, men and women, and they had with them many valuables. Through whatever lands they went such glorious exploits were related of them that they were looked on as gods rather than men. They did not halt on their journey until they came to the north of the country now called Germany. There Ó~in lived for a long time taking possession of much of the land and appointing three of his sons to defend it. One was called Vegdeg; he was a powerful king and ruled over East Germany; his son was Vitrgils; his sons were Vitta, father of Heingest, and Sigar, father of Svebdag, whom we call Svipdag. Óðin's second son was called Beldeg, whom we call Baldr; he had the country now called Westphalia; his son was Brand; his son, Frjóðigar, whom we call Fróði; his son, Freóvin; his son, Wigg; his son, Gevis, whom we call Gave. Óðin's third son was called Sigi; his son, Rerir; this pair ruled over what is now called France, and the family known as Völsungar come from there. Great and numerous kindreds have come from all of them. Then Óðin set off on his journey north and coming to the land called Reiðgotaland took possession of everything he wanted in that country. He appointed his son Skjöld to govern there; his son was Friðleif; from thence has come the family known as Skjöldungar; they are kings of Denmark and what was then called Reiðgotaland is now named Judand.
Thereafter Óðin went north to what is now called Sweden. There was a king there called Gylfi and, when he heard of the expedition of the men of Asia, as the Æsir were called, he went to meet them and offered Óðin as much authority over his kingdom as he himself desired. Their travels were attended by such prosperity that, wherever they stayed in a country, that region enjoyed good harvests and peace, and everyone believed that they caused this, since the native inhabitants had never seen any other people like them for good looks and intelligence. The plains and natural resources of life in Sweden struck Óðin as being favourable and he chose there for himself a town-site now called Sigtuna. There he appointed chieftains afier the pattern of Troy, establishing twelve rulers to administer the laws of the land, and he drew up a code of law like that which had held in Troy and to which the Trojans had been accustomed. After that, he travelled north until he reached the sea, which they thought encircled the whole world, and placed his son over the kingdom now called Norway. Their son was called Saeming and, as it says in the Háleygjatal,* together with the earls and other rulers the kings of Norway trace their genealogies back to him. Óðin kept by him the son called Yngvi, who was king of Sweden after him, and from him have come the families known as Ynglingar. The Æsir and some of their sons married with the women of the lands they settled, and their families became so numerous in Germany and thence over the north that their language, that of the men of Asia, became the language proper to all these countries. From the fact that their genealogies are written down, men suppose that these names came along with this language, and that it was brought here to the north of the world, to Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Germany, by the Æsir. In England, however, there are ancient district and place names which must be understood as deriving from a different language.
* The 'Helgeland Genealogies'.