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The Elder Edda

The Poetic, or "Elder" Edda is among the very earliest of documents pertaining to the Old Norse religion and its folk traditions, in which are found among its scattered fragments the seeds of The Ring Saga story. The Poetic Eddas are a collection of early oral folk tales in alliterative verse (interspersed with some passages of prose) intended for recitation by Nordic scops, or bards. The primary body are collected in the Codex Regius, an Icelandic manuscript dating from the 13th century, though most of its contents date from much earlier, some of which were likely passed down in various forms through oral tradition for many hundreds of years before being committed to parchment. There are roughly two sections, the first containing mythological tales and the latter consisting of heroic lays.

Comparative editions of each section are available for reference below, compiled by R. Scot Johns as preparatory research in creating The Ring Saga series. Each contains a side-by-side, multi-column presentation of standard translations in Modern English, along with introductory notes and interlinear footnotes regarding composition and cruces.

For a short introductory essay on The Elder Edda, see this post on Scot's Blog. For further notes on these compilations, as well as longer descriptions of each part, see this post.

-------------------------- The Mythological Poems --------------------------

The Prophecy of the Seeress: A Comparative Study
Translations by Thorpe, Bellows, & Auden-Taylor.
In which a seeress prophecies the end of the world! One of the primary sources for information regarding Ragnarök.

The Sayings of the High One: A Comparative Study
Thorpe, Bellows, Auden-Taylor & Hollander.

Words of wisdom from the high god of the Norsemen, Odin the Alfather, including accounts of how he won the runes and stole the mead of poetry!

The Sayings of Vafthrudnir: A Comparative Study
Translations by Thorpe, Bellows, & Auden-Taylor.
A deadly riddle contest between Odin and the giant Vafthrudnir which functions as a compendium of Nordic lore, including more on Ragnarök.

Grimnir's Sayings: A Comparative Study
Translations by Thorpe, Bellows & Hollander.

A veritable concordance of who's who in Norse mythology, including the most detailed description of northern mythic geography given anywhere.

The Norse World View

The Norse view of the "Nine Worlds" is most admirably visualized in this illustration from Kevin Crossley-Holland's The Norse Myths, a highly recommended retelling of The Elder Edda.
[NOTE: Niflheim is in the north of the underworld, while Muspelheim, the realm of fire, not shown here, is to the south.]
Click image for larger version!

Skirnir's Journey: A Comparative Study
Translations by Thorpe, Bellows, & Auden-Taylor.
A romantic love ballad in dramatic form containing one of the best curses ever blasted at a stubborn woman!

Harbard's Lay: A Comparative Study
Thorpe, Bellows, Hollander & Auden-Taylor.

Odin & Thor engage in a contest of abuse. Among the wittiest bits of raunchy comedy in Old Norse literature!

The Lay of Hymir: A Comparative Study
Thorpe, Bellows, & Auden-Taylor versions.

A collection of stories concerning the strength of Thor, central to which is his fishing for the Midgard Serpent.

The Flyting of Loki: A Comparative Study
Thorpe, Bellows, & Auden-Taylor versions.

The trickster god Loki berates the gods, each in turn, at a feast, besting them all - until he comes to Thor.

The Lay of Thrym: A Comparative Study
Translations by Thorpe, Bellows, & Hollander.

In this most popular and comic of Norse tales, Thor's hammer is stolen by a giant as ransom for Freya as wife, and to win it back Thor takes Freya's place, much to the giant's dismay.

The Sayings of All-Wise: A Comparative Study
Translations by Thorpe, Bellows, & Hollander.

Of interest mainly to authors and poets, this short work in which a dwarf attempts to steal Thor's daughter for a wife consists essentially of clever synonyms for numerous objects.

The Lay of Volund: A Comparative Study
Translations by Thorpe, Bellows, & Hollander.

Akin to the Greek myth of Daedalus, this is the wrenching tale of Völund (a.k.a. Wayland) the Smith and his captivity and ultimate escape and revenge on those who enslaved him.

----------------------------- The Eddica Minora -----------------------------

These are the more significant of the additional mythological poems which are not found in the two primary codices, but rather in several paper manuscripts dating somewhat later.

Baldur's Dreams: A Comparative Study
Versions by Thorpe, Bellows, & Auden-Taylor.
A shorter companion piece to the Völuspá, in which Odin rides to Hel to seek the meaning of Baldur's dreams.

The Song of Rig: A Comparative Study
Translations by Thorpe & Bellows.

An unusual cultural treatise explaining how the three castes of thralls, churls, and jarls came to be.

The Song of Hyndla: A Comparative Study
Translations by Cottle, Thorpe & Bellows.

Important only in that it contains "The Shorter Völuspá," a late imitative work of some 50 lines which provides an additional glimpse into Ragnarök, as well as a curious and quite compelling myth of Loki's evil found nowhere else.

The Ballad of Svipdag: A Comparative Study
Translations by Thorpe & Bellows.

Two related 17th century poems concerning Svipdag's quest for his true love Menglöð, who dwells within a giant-guarded fortress encircled by fire, mirroring the Sigurd-Brunhild motif. The first is a short charm song while the second is a riddle game with the hall's giant guardian.

Hrafnagaldur Óðins: A Comparative Study
Translations by Thorpe & Björnsson.

A short, incomplete poem that is a late imitative work in the style of the Völuspá, providing some vividly bizarre and cryptic references to the end times and the final battle of Ragnarök.

----------------------------- The Heroic Ballads -----------------------------

These are the lays and sagas that tell the tale of the heroic rise and tragic fall of the Volsung clan.

The Lay of Helgi Hjörvarð's Son: A Comparative Study
Including the translations of Thorpe & Bellows.
The tale of Helgi's first heroic incarnation, as the son of Hjörvard, is a compilation of four different poems crammed together into one, the highlight being Atli's confrontation with the giantess Hrimgerth.

The First Lay of Helgi Hunding's Bane: A Comparative Study
Including the translations of Thorpe, Bellows, and Hollander.

In this version of Helgi's tale, the intrepid hero is reborn as the son of Sigmund, fighting bravely to win the hand of the Valkyrie Sigrún.
Featuring a comically boisterous exchange of taunts.

The Second Lay of Helgi Hunding's Bane: A Comparative Study
Translations by Thorpe, Bellows, and Hollander.

The saga continues in this eight-part mash-up of random odds and ends related to Helgi, including "The Old Volsung Lay" and "The Lament of Sigrún," among the finest of Old Norse poems to be found.

The Death of Sinfjötli: A Comparative Study
Translations by Thorpe, Bellows, and Hollander, plus an outline.

A short prose narrative describing "The Death of Sinfjotli," which functions to connect the preceding Helgi lays with the following Volsung poems.

Grípír's Prophecy: A Comparative Study
Translations by Thorpe, Bellows, and Hollander, with an outline.

A question-and-answer dialogue between Sigurd and his uncle Grípir in which is foretold all the events of Sigurd's life to come. It functions as something of a preface to the following poems in the Edda collection, but is useful only in its summarizing of the missing sections.

The Ballad of Regin: A Comparative Study
Translations by Thorpe, Bellows, and Hollander, including a detailed outline.

Here the Volsung saga begins in earnest, starting with the earliest known mention of Andvari's gold, of its being cursed, and the first tragic results of that dreaded hex with the slaying of Hreithmar by his own son Fáfnir, who turns into the prototypical hoard-guarding dragon!

The Ballad of Fáfnir: A Comparative Study
Translations by Thorpe, Bellows, and Hollander, including a detailed outline.

The saga continues as Sigurd takes on the hoard-guarding dragon Fáfnir and his wily brother Regin. In this episode our intrepid hero roasts the dragon's heart and learns to understand the speech of birds, who tell him not to trust the dragon's kin, and we first hear of Brynhild.

The Ballad of the Victory-Bringer: A Comparative Study
Translations by Thorpe, Bellows, and Hollander, including a detailed outline.

Here we have a primary source of Wagner's "Sigfried" in the opening stanzas telling of Sigurd's discovery of the sleeping valkyrie Brynhild, surrounded by a wall of fire and dressed in armor. The poem contains a lengthy compendium of "counsels" on conduct and Rune-lore.

Fragment of a Sigurd Lay: A Comparative Study
Translations by Thorpe, Bellows, and Hollander, including an outline,
With a Discussion of "The Great Lacuna" & Selections from Völsungá Saga.

Twenty stanzas are all that remain of "The Long Lay of Sigurd," a work originally running some 100-250 stanzas, now all but lost. What survives comprises the murder of Sigurd and Brynhild's prophecy of doom, including a psychologically vivid scene of laments and cursing.

The First Lay of Gudrún: A Comparative Study
Translations by Thorpe, Bellows, and Hollander, including an outline.

Here begins Guðrún's part of the tale, which encompasses much of the remainder of the Eddas as it shifts toward the German version of events. This lay relates the depths of Guðrún's grief as relatives attempt to console her, and includes her curse of doom on Sigurd's murderers.

The Short Lay of Sigurd: A Comparative Study
Translations by Thorpe, Bellows, and Hollander, including an outline.

This supposed "Short" Lay of Sigurd is, in fact, among the longest of the Eddaic poems, telling in part what the now-lost longer lay most likely covered. But from the outset this is fully Brynhild's tale, including most prominently her vow of vengeance and last words at her death.

The Hel-Ride of Brynhild: A Comparative Study
Translations by Thorpe, Bellows, and Hollander, including an outline.

This short poem follows Brynhild into the afterlife as she descends to Hel and is confronted by a giantess, to whom she defends and describes her life as fraught with naught but sorrow. It contains a further description of Brynhild's angering of Odin and subsequent punishment.

The Fall of the Niflungs: A Comparative Study
Translations by Thorpe, Bellows, and Hollander.

A short prose narrative which functions as a link between the preceding Sigurd matter and the upcoming Atli lays, which essentially just summarizes the events to come.

The Second Lay of Gudrún: A Comparative Study
Translations by Thorpe, Bellows, and Hollander, with an outline.

Among the earliest sections of the Elder Edda, this second Gudrún ballad contains a superb recounting of her sad lament after Sigurd's death, tells of her unwilling betrothal to Atli as recompense for Brynhild's death, and gives a prophecy of her revenge in the form of dream interpretation. It also contains a highly detailed recipe for a potion of forgetfulness.

The Third Lay of Gudrún: A Comparative Study
Translations by Thorpe, Bellows, and Hollander, with an outline.

A short episode in which Gudrún, accused of adultery, undergoes the ordeal by boiling water.

The Lament of Oddrún: A Comparative Study
Translations by Thorpe, Bellows, and Hollander, with an outline.

Here we have the tale of Oddrún, sister to Atli and Brynhild, and illicit lover of Gunnar after Brynhild's death. In this episode we are given additional details concerning the Gjúking's interactions with the Huns and how they were ultimately defeated by Atli (Attila the Hun).

The Lay of Atli: A Comparative Study
Translations by Thorpe, Bellows, and Hollander, with an outline.

In the first of two Atli lays we get a shorter (46 stanza), more poetic account of the heroic deaths of Gunnar and Hogni, and the horrific vengeance meted out by Gudrún on her husband, the King of Huns.

The Greenland Lay of Atli: A Comparative Study
Translations by Thorpe, Bellows, and Hollander, with an outline.

In the second of the two Atli lays we get a longer (99 stanza), more romanticized account of the heroic deaths of Gunnar and Hogni, and of the terrible vengeance of Gudrún, here given additional detail of names and places (most of them invented), and the recounting of events.

Gudrún's Lament: A Comparative Study
Translations by Thorpe, Bellows, and Hollander, with an outline.

Gudrún, now married to her third husband, suffers further tragedy and instigates another round of tragic vengeance, this time on Jormunrek for his killing of her daughter Svanhild. This is the true "Lament of Gudrún," of which all others are mere shadows and imitations.

The Ballad of Hamthir: A Comparative Study
Translations by Thorpe, Bellows, and Hollander, with an outline.

In this "Old" lay of Hamthir is told in greater detail the attempted revenge of Gudrún's sons on Jormunrek for the death of their half-sister Svanhild, taking up where the narrative of Gudrún's Lament leaves off, thus giving the reason for her latest grief.

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