In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Eddic Poetry

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Detailed Commentaries on the Eddic Poems
  • Collections of Articles on the Poetic Edda
  • The Manuscripts of the Eddic Poems
  • The “Original Texts” of the Eddic Poems
  • Translations of the Eddic Poems
  • Glossary of the Eddic Poems
  • The Dating of the Eddic Poems
  • The Meters of the Eddic Poems
  • The Eddic Poems and the Oral Tradition
  • The Performance of Eddic Poetry

Medieval Studies Eddic Poetry
Terry Gunnell
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0311


Rather than being a genre in its own right, “Eddic poetry” is essentially a body of poetry dealing with Old Nordic mythology and Old Nordic/Germanic heroes that was preserved for the main part in two Icelandic manuscripts from the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries: the Codex Regius (GKS 2365 4to: c. 1270) and the AM 748 IA 4to (c. 1300) (see Manuscripts of the Eddic Poems). The term is also used for certain other mythological poems from the same period that have been composed in the main two meters used in these manuscripts (see Meters of the Eddic Poems), most particularly Hyndluljóð, contained in the Flateyjarbók manuscript (GKS 1005 fol.; late 14th century); and Rígsþula, contained in the Ormsbók manuscript (Codex Wormianus: AM 242 fol.; mid-14th century). Originally believed to have been preserved intact in the oral tradition from pagan times (the official Christianization of Iceland and Norway occurring c. 1000), the poems are now seen as having originated at different times (see Dating of the Eddic Poems), some viewed as having a potentially pre-Christian background while others appear to be more recent (in part or as a whole). Whatever the case, it seems evident that the Icelandic scholar Snorri Sturluson (b. 1119–d. 1241), who composed the so-called Prose Edda (also referred to as Snorra Edda) in c. 1220, using several Eddic poems as sources on pre-Christian Nordic mythology, viewed these works as having been ancient. In spite of various discussions about their exact place of origin, it is evident that many of the Eddic poems (which were referred to under this name by later scholars in order to differentiate them from Snorri’s Prose Edda) have their roots outside Iceland in the Nordic and Germanic countries, the narratives of the heroic Eddic poems containing memories that appear to go back several hundred years. The main source of the Eddic poems, the Codex Regius, evidently written and edited by Christian Icelanders, is divided into two parts, the first dealing with mythology, including the creation and ending of the world in Vǫluspá (the Prophecy of the Seeress), followed by various poems in different meters dealing with the gods Óðinn (Odin/Wotan), Freyr (Frey), Þórr (Thor), and Loki, while the second contains material dealing with the lives of the heroes, Helgi Hjǫrvarðsson, Helgi Hundingsbani, and then Sigurðr Fáfnisbani (the killer of the serpent Fáfnir) and his family. For logical reasons, in the following bibliography, emphasis is placed on more recent scholarship, although several earlier works that are still relevant are also mentioned.

General Overviews

There are naturally numerous general introductions to the Eddic poems, most forming part of wider overviews of Viking-Age culture (Clunies Ross 2005, Gunnell 2005, Lindow 2020), or Icelandic literature (see, for example, Vésteinn Ólason 1992 [in Icelandic]), or taking the shape of introductions to editions or translations of Eddic poetry (as in Gísli Sigurðsson 1989 and Gísli Sigurðsson 1998 [both in Icelandic], Orchard 2011, and Larrington 2014). Alongside these, English readers approaching the Eddic poems for the first time are recommended to read the relevant section of Jónas Kristjánsson 1988, which places Eddic poetry in the wider context of Old Icelandic literature as a whole. One of the best overviews (outside the detailed analyses introduced in Detailed Commentaries on the Eddic Poems) nonetheless remains that given in Harris 1985. All of the above provide useful basic insights into the nature of the poems, their subject matter, their meters, their age, their cultural contexts, and the manuscripts that contain them.

  • Clunies Ross, Margaret. A History of Old Norse Poetry and Poetics. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1017/9781846154010

    Like Jónas Kristjánsson’s Edda and Saga, this work focuses essentially on Eddic poetry as literature, underlining its wider context within Old Nordic poetry as a whole. On Eddic poetry, see pp. 6–13.

  • Gísli Sigurðsson. “Eddukvæði.” In Íslensk þjóðmenning. Vol. 6, Munnmenntir og bókmenning. Edited by Frosti F. Jóhansson, 293–314. Reykjavík: Þjóðsaga, 1989.

    Part of an incomplete series of works that were planned to deal with Icelandic folk culture as a whole, past and present, this chapter places Eddic poetry first and foremost within the context of other forms of Icelandic folk literature.

  • Gísli Sigurðsson. “Inngangur.” In Eddukvæði. Edited by Gísli Sigurðsson, ix–lxiii. Reykjavík: Mál og menning, 1998.

    Particularly striking about this introduction is the emphasis placed on the close connections that appear to have existed between Eddic poetry and the oral tradition (see also Eddic Poems and the Oral Tradition) and even pre-Christian ritual, while also showing awareness of potential Christian influences and those introduced by the growing literary culture of Iceland.

  • Gunnell, Terry. “Eddic Poetry.” In A Companion to Old Icelandic Literature and Culture. Edited by Rory McTurk, 82–100. Oxford: Blackwell, 2005.

    Probably to the first general overview to follow up Harris (in Harris 1985) in underlining the importance of considering not only the role of oral tradition but also that of performance and performance contexts.

  • Harris, Joseph. “Eddic Poetry.” In Old Norse-Icelandic Literature: A Critical Guide. Edited by Carol J. Clover and John Lindow, 67–156. Islandica 45. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985.

    Probably still one of the best overviews available in English (outside the detailed commentaries). In addition to containing information about the nature and background of the poems, it also reviews the main emphases in Eddic research during the years between 1950 and 1980, and not least the arrival of considerations about the role of orality in shaping the poems.

  • Jónas Kristjánsson. Eddas and Sagas: Iceland’s Medieval Literature. Translated by Peter Foote. Reykjavík: Hið íslenska bókmenntafélag, 1988.

    Written by one of the leading experts on the Eddic poems in recent decades, this work is designed as a general introduction to Old Icelandic literature as a whole, and thus provides valuable context for the Eddic poems, considering them as essentially literary works. On Eddic poetry, see pp. 25–83.

  • Larrington, Carolyne, ed. and trans. “Introduction.” In The Poetic Edda. Rev ed. Edited by Carolyne Larrington, ix–xxvi. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    The introduction to Larrington’s revised translation of the Eddic poems, this also pays some brief but valuable attention to their influence on modern literature and media.

  • Lindow, John. “Written Sources.” In The Pre-Christian Religions of the North: History and Structures. Vol. 1. Edited by Jens Peter Schjødt, John Lindow, and Anders Andrén, 63–101. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2020.

    Appearing near the start of the first part of the groundbreaking four-volume international work on pre-Christian religion in northern Europe, this section naturally plays close attention to the role of the extant Eddic poems as sources on pre-Christian belief. On Eddic poetry, see pp. 67–73.

  • Orchard, Andy. “Introduction.” In The Elder Edda: A Book of Viking Lore. Translated by Andy Orchard, xiv–xxxv. London: Penguin, 2011.

    As with Larrington 2014, this introduction to Orchard’s translation of the Eddic poems also contains some information about the reception of the poems in later times.

  • Vésteinn Ólason. “Eddukvæði.” In Íslensk bókmenntasaga I. Edited by Guðrún Nordal, Sverrir Tómasson, and Vésteinn Ólason, 73–187. Reykjavík: Mál og menning, 1992.

    Forming part of a comparatively recent history of Icelandic literature, this chapter by another leading expert on the Eddic poems forms a taster for the much longer introduction to the new edition of the Eddic poems edited by him and Jónas Kristjánsson (Eddukvæði 2014, cited under The “Original Texts” of the Eddic Poems). Here the poems are placed within the context of Icelandic literature throughout history.

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