Medieval Studies Snorra Edda
by
Emily Beyer, Kirsten Wolf
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0327

Introduction

Snorra Edda is sometimes also referred to as the Prose Edda or the Younger Edda in order to distinguish it from the Poetic Edda. It was composed by the chieftain, lawyer, and poet Snorri Sturluson (b. 1179–d. 1241). The work, a main source of information about Norse mythology, is a treatise on skaldic poetry. It consists of four parts. The Prologue provides an account of the origin of pagan religions and a euhemeristic explanation of the origin of the Norse gods in Asia. The second part, Gylfaginning (“The delusion of Gylvi”), is a dialogue between three of the newly migrated gods from Troy and the Swedish King Gylfi. The gods’ answers to Gylfi’s questions comprise a full account of Norse mythology, and this part was likely included because many skaldic kennings require a knowledge of pagan mythology. The first section of the third part, Skáldskaparmal (“The language of poetry”), is also a dialogue, here between Bragi, god of poetry, and Ægir, a personification of the sea. It is followed by a discussion of the language of poetry. The discussion includes some narratives in order to account for the origins of kennings, both mythological and heroic. It is at the beginning of this part that Snorri describes the purpose of the work: to instruct young poets in the traditional techniques of skaldic verse. The final part is Háttatal (“List of verse forms”), which consists of a series of three poems composed by Snorri himself along with a prose commentary that explains the meters and devices used. Snorri’s Edda is preserved in a large number of manuscripts. Seven manuscripts and manuscript fragments have independent textual value. Most editions are based on the Codex Regius from the latter half of the fourteenth century.

General Overviews

This section provides references to studies that deal with Snorra Edda as a whole, rather than specific sections of the work, individual myths, or themes. The works noted here are useful for those beginning a study of Snorra Edda and provide a sampling of overviews written by important scholars of this work. Furthermore, Faulkes 1993 and Holtsmark 1956 provide bibliographies for further study that supplement this list. Finally, each overview includes a focus on specific topics. For example, Orton 2005 provides background on the sources for Norse mythology, while Tómasson 1992 provides an overview of foreign learned literature with specific attention to Snorra Edda.

  • Faulkes, Anthony. “Snorra Edda.” In Medieval Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia. Edited by Phillip Pulsiano and Kirsten Wolf with the assistance of Paul Acker and Donald K. Fry, 600–602. New York and London: Garland, 1993.

    Gives a general overview of Snorra Edda, its contents, its purpose, and its transmission. The entry is followed by a lengthy bibliography.

  • Hallberg, Peter. Old Icelandic Poetry: Eddic Lay and Skaldic Verse. Translated with a foreword by Paul Schach and Sonja Lindgrenson. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1975.

    Gives a general overview of the contents of the Snorra Edda and summarizes its contents in the first chapter “Snorri Sturluson’s Poetics” (pp. 1–9).

  • Holtsmark, Anne. “Edda, den yngre.” In Kulturhistorisk leksikon for nordisk middelalder. Vol. 3. 475–480. Copenhagen: Rosenkilde and Bagger, 1956.

    Gives a general overview of Snorra Edda, its contents, its purpose, and sources. The entry is followed by a lengthy bibliography.

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

    Gives a general overview of Snorra Edda and its contents on pp. 175–178.

  • Orton, Peter. “Pagan Myth and Religion.” In A Companion to Old Norse-Icelandic Literature and Culture. Edited by Rory McTurk, 302–319. Oxford: Blackwell, 2005.

    Includes a section on sources for Norse mythology and a brief discussion of the individual parts of Snorra Edda on pp. 308–311.

  • Sverrir Tómasson. “Erlendur vísdómur og forn fræði.” In Íslensk bókmenntasaga I. Edited by Guðrún Nordal, Sverrir Tómasson, and Vésteinn Ólason, 517–570. Reykjavík: Mál og Menning, 1992.

    Provides an overview of foreign learned literature. Section 3 of the chapter discusses Snorra Edda, its preservation, structure, contents, and influence.

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