Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Edda
1. The Prose Edda, properly known as Edda Snorra Sturlusonar, was arranged and modified by Snorri, but actually composed, as has been conjectured, between the years 1140 and 1160. It is divided into five parts, the Preface or Formáli, Gylfaginníng, Bragaræður, Skáldskaparmál, and Háttatal. The preface bears a very modern character, and simply gives a history of the world from Adam and Eve, in accordance with the Christian tradition. Gylfaginning, or the Delusion of Gylfi, on the other hand, is the most precious compendium which we possess of the mythological system of the ancient inhabitants of Scandinavia. Commencing with the adventures of a mythical king Gylfi and the giantess Gefion, and the miraculous formation of the island of Zealand, it tells us that the Æsir, led by Odin, invaded Svithjod or Sweden, the land of Gylfi, and settled there. It is from the Ynglingasaga and from the Gylfaginning that we gain all the information we possess about the conquering deities or heroes who set their stamp upon the religion of the North. Advancing from the Black Sea northwards through Russia, and westward through Esthonia, the Æsir seem to have overrun the south lands of Scandinavia, not as a horde but as an immigrant aristocracy. The Eddaic version, however, of the history of the gods is not so circumstantial as that in the Ynglingasaga; it is, on the other hand, distinguished by an exquisite simplicity and archaic force of style, which give an entirely classical character to its mythical legends of Odin and of Loki. The Gylfaginning is written in prose, with brief poetic insertions. The Bragaræður, or sayings of Bragi, are further legends of the deities, attributed to Bragi, the god of poetry, or to a poet of the same name. The Skáldskaparmál, or Art of Poetry, commonly called Skálda, contains the instructions given by Bragi to Ægir, and consists of the rules and theories of ancient verse, exemplified in copious extracts from Eyvindr Skáldaspillir and other eminent Icelandic poets. The word Skáldskapr refers to the form rather than the substance of verse, and this treatise is almost solely technical in character. It is by far the largest of the sections of the Edda of Snorri, and comprises not only extracts but some long poems, notably the Thorsdrapa of Eilifr Guðrúnarson and the Haustlaung of Thjóðólfr. The fifth section of the Edda, the Háttatal, or Number of Metres, is a running technical commentary on the text of Snorri's three poems written in honour of Hakon, king of Norway. Affixed to some MS. of the Younger Edda are a list of poets, and a number of philological treatises and grammatical studies. These belong, however, to a later period than the life of Snorri Sturluson.
The three oldest MSS. of the prose Edda all belong to the beginning of the 14th century. The Wurm MS. was sent to Ole Wurm in 1628; the Codex Regius was discovered by the indefatigable bishop Brynjulf Sveinsson in 1640. The most important, however, of these MSS. is the Upsala Codex, an octavo volume written probably about the year 1300. There have been several good editions of the Edda Snorra Sturlusonar, of which perhaps the best is that published by the Arne-Magnæan Society in Copenhagen in 1848, in two vols., edited by a group of scholars under the direction of Jón Sigurdsson.
2. The Elder Edda, Poetic Edda, or Sæmundar Edda hins froða was entirely unknown until about 1643, when it came into the hands of Brynjulf Sveinsson, who, puzzled to classify it, gave it the title of Edda Sæmundi multiscii. Sæmund Sigfusson, who was thus credited with the collection of these poems, was a scion of the royal house of Norway, and lived from about 1055 to 1132 in Iceland. The poems themselves date in all probability from the 8th or 9th centuries, and are many of them only fragments of longer heroic chants now otherwise entirely lost. They treat of mythical and religious legends of an early Scandinavian civilization, and are composed in the simplest and most archaic forms of Icelandic verse. The author of no one of them is mentioned. It is evident that they were collected from oral tradition; and the fact that the same story is occasionally repeated, in varied form, and that some of the poems themselves bear internal evidence of being more ancient than others, proves that the present collection is only a gathering made early in the Middle Ages, long after the composition of the pieces, and in no critical spirit. Sophus Bugge, indeed, one of the greatest living authorities, absolutely rejects the name of Sæmund, and is of opinion that the poetic Edda, as we at present hold it, dates from about 1240. There is no doubt that it was collected in Iceland, and by an Icelander.
The principal MS. of this Edda is the Codex Regius in the Royal Library at Copenhagen, written continuously, without regard to prose or verse, on 45 leaves. This is that found by Bishop Brynjulf. Another valuable fragment exists in the Arne-Magnæan collection in the University of Copenhagen, consisting of six leaves. These are the only MSS. older than the 17th century which contain a collection of the ancient mythico-heroic lays, but fragments occur in various other works, and especially in the Edda of Snorri. The poetic Edda was translated into English verse by Amos Cottle in 1797; the poet Gray produced a version of the Vegtamskviða; but the first good translation of the whole was that published by Benjamin Thorpe in 1866. An excellent edition of the Icelandic text has been prepared by Th. Möbius, but the standard of the original orthography will be found in the admirable edition of Sophus Bugge, Norrœa Fornkvæði, published at Christiania in 1867.
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