The Prose Edda Background

The Prose Edda Background

The rise of Christianity from a small pack of wandering nonconformists to worldwide influence has not been kind to the literary traditions of cultures it gobbled up in its determined trek up through Europe in the first millennia. By the 1100s, traditional Norse and Scandinavian sagas composed in their native languages were coming more and more under the suspicious eye of Catholic Church. Many traditional literary works as well as glossaries useful for translating them starting to disappear. In the wake of this threat of the loss of knowledge that had the potential to become permanent, Snorri Sturluson took upon himself the weighty of job of preserving nothing less than an entire cultural legacy on the verge of extinction.

The Prose Edda is Sturluson’s attempt to create a guide a richly detailed guide to the oldest and earliest examples of Scandinavian verse and myth. The result is no mere anthology, but a precisely designed and highly systematic outline of the literary rules and conventions imposed upon those texts. Valuable information is provided on foundational Norse literary devices like kennings as well the complexities at play in the governance of meter within Icelandic poetry that might otherwise have been lost inside the Vatican Library forever.

The plots, characters and themes contained within the actual legends and myths collected by Sturluson have gone on to become the inspiration for some of the most familiar stories of the modern age: from Wagner’s furiously riding Valkyries to the hierarchical social organization found among the various inhabitants of Middle Earth.

Sturluson’s Prose Edda has since gone on to become known, somewhat confusingly, as the Young Edda in light of the anonymous publication a few decades later of the Poetic Edda, which is also known as the Elder Edda. The confusion of the newer volume being referenced as the Elder version stems not from the publication date of the collection, but rather to the age of the verse contained within. The Poetic—or Elder—Edda is a collection of Scandinavian verse which predates the selections compiled by Sturluson.

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