The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson.

1666 edition of The Prose Edda.
Snorri Sturluson
by Hauks Stefánssonar (1930).
The Prose Edda (Snorra-Edda) is a work on Norse mythology written by Snorri Sturluson in around 1220 A.D. It's a fascinating work, but the purposes of writing something about it let me first say that this was my introduction to Norse mythology, and however much I enjoyed it it was almost entirely new to me, so there was an awful lot of information to take in and it will have to be re-read (which I will do with great pleasure), so for now this is going to have to be a very brief post!

The Prose Edda is divided into four parts: the PrologueGylfaginning or 'the Deluding of Gylfi', Skáldskaparmál, or 'Poetric Diction', and Háttatal, or 'List of Metres'; this final section was not included in my Penguin edition (2005) but there were excerpts in the appendix. It is unclear what "Edda" actually means, but perhaps is related to the word "óðr", which refers to poetry in Old Norse, or the Latin "edo" meaning "I write". There is some debate on the matter.

The Prologue is an account of a myth of origin and begins,
In the beginning, almighty God created heaven and earth and all that pertains to them. Lastly he created two people, Adam and Eve, and from them came clans, whose descendants multiplied and spread across the whole world. But as time passed, people became dissimilar to one another. Some were good and held to the right beliefs, but the large majority turned to the desires of this world and neglected God's commandments. For this reason God drowned the world and all its living things in a flood, except for those who were on the ark with Noah. After Noah's flood, either people remained alive, and they inhabited the world and from them are descended the families of man.
Sturluson goes on to write about the 'three parts of the world' - Africa, Europe, and Asia, and then on 'the people of Troy and Thor' - of how Priam's daughter Tróán married king Múnón and their son was Thor (Priam of course was the king of Troy during the Trojan War). Sturluson writes of the descendants of Thor up to Odin, who, as Sturluson describes, established the royal line in Germany, referred to as Saxland.

Gylfi in an 18th Century Icelandic manuscript.
After the short Prologue, Gylfaginning, the longest part of the book. In this Sturluson writes about the tricking of Gylfi, one of the earliest of the Scandinavian kings. He is tricked by the Æsir (ǫ́ss), which is I believe the group or pantheon of Norse Gods. There Gylfi meets the three manifestations of Odin: High, Just-as-High, and Third. In this section they are questioned by Gylfi (who is now disguised as a traveller named Gangleri) and they reveal their wisdom. This part is divided into some 55 parts (around 70 pages) and in this section Norse mythology and gods and goddesses, as well as more on the creation myth and the destruction of the world (known as the Ragnarøkkr or 'Fate of the Gods'). This ends with the Æsir vanishing and Gylfi being left to tell the tale to others.

The final section I read was Skáldskaparmál, which takes the form of a dialogue between two gods, Ægir, the god of the sea, and Bragi, the god of poetry. It is subdivided into two parts: Mythical and Legendary Tales from Skaldskaparmal and Poetic References from Skaldskaparmal, the former relating to the stories of gods and heroes, the latter on how to refer to and understand poetry, gods, natural phenomena, men, women, gold, ships, battle, and so on.

Reading The Prose Edda for a novice such as myself is tricky, a little confusing, but highly entertaining and downright essential: here is the perfect introduction to Norse myths and legends. It's definitely one I intend on reading again, but, from a first read, I loved reading it and highly recommend it!

To finish, some illustrations from the 18th Century Stofnun Árna Magnússonar á Íslandi:

Baldr.
Odin and Baugi.
Heimdall.
Three gods boiling food.
Hermod rides to Hel.
Loki.
Odin.
The mead of poetry is delivered.
Odin riding Sleipnir.
Thjazi and Loki.
Thor and Hymir.
Thor.
Fenrisulfr bites Tyr's hand off.
Ullr.

Comments

  1. I read this years and years ago when I took Norse Myth and Religion in college (for my major, I had to take two classics classes, and two in ancient literatures that were not Greek or Roman, and I was reading Scandinavian lit anyway). I don't remember much, so I put it on my next CC list along with the Elder Edda. I'm glad you enjoyed it--Norse myth is fascinating stuff!

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    1. It is, I was really into it! I'm looking forward to reading it again :)

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  2. This is one of those books on my 'dream to read' list, haha. I'm interested in it because of its influence on Tolkien. I'm not sure when I'll be ready to tackle it, though.

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    1. It got me wanting to try Tolkien again, actually. Thinking of trying the Lord of the Rings books again :)

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  3. i read
    the "saga of burnt njall" some years back, in the Dasent version; it was complicated; sort of soap opera/legal hair-splitting/jukes and the kallikaks kind of thing... i liked it and have meant to read more norse mythology, but haven't gotten to it yet... Haggard's "the saga of eric brighteyes" is good, also... i had a course in Norse mythology and developed a taste for it, but haven't followed through. must remedy that... tx for the reminding post... amazing pictures!!

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    1. I haven't heard of any of those I'm afraid, I'm an absolute novice. I'll look out for them though, thanks for mentioning them I shall make a note of the titles :)

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  4. I am fascinated by Norse myth and about to work up the courage to start reading the enormous Sagas of the Icelanders, which contains a few different sagas including the Saga of Burnt Njall which Mudpuddle mentioned above. I loved the Prose Edda, too. It is really interesting how Snorri fit Norse myth and legend into Christian cosmology, and I also liked reading his instructions for aspiring skalds about how to create kennings in their poetry, ways of referring to the gods, etc. I also really enjoyed The Poetic Edda. Love the illustrations you featured here!

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    1. "It is really interesting how Snorri fit Norse myth and legend into Christian cosmology" - yes, I was taken by that too, just didn't have the confidence to go into it! I'm looking forward to reading more, though, and another read of the Prose Edda. I'll look out for The Poetic Edda too :)

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