In recent years, the popularity of the Norse myths has grown exponentially. With bestselling books such as Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology and History Channel’s award-winning television series Vikings, the stories of the Norse gods and their human heroes have become a part of our modern cultural life. The thousand-year-old deities that encompassed a rich oral tradition in Iceland have once again become relevant to people on a numerous scale. The blonde-haired and blue-eyed Thor is often staring out at us from shelves bearing comic books, iconic pieces such as Richard Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries set the standard for any student of classical music, and beloved characters bearing names inspired by those of an Old Norse poem, such as Tolkien’s wizard Gandalf, introduce us to vast literary worlds. These are all ways in which the mythological world of the Norse lives on today.
But where do the Norse myths and characters that have inspired so many iconic cultural facets originate? In other words, where does one get the Norse myths from?
There are several sources for Norse mythology, but perhaps the most crucial is a collection of Icelandic poems (written down in the 13th century) called The Poetic Edda. These poems are myths and heroic stories that describe narrative events such as the creation of the universe and its eventual destruction in Ragnarök. The Poetic Edda itself can be divided into two sections: the mythic poems which center around the gods and the heroic poems which focus on the deeds of human heroes. Mythic poems within the Edda include stories such as Völuspá, which provides an Old Norse cosmology, Hávamál, a presentation of Odin’s wisdom, and Lokasenna, a captivating story composed of Loki’s gruesome insults directed to each god and goddess. Heroic poems within the Edda include a number of similar narratives following the life of Helgi and his Valkyrie romances. They also include many stories featured in The Saga of the Volsungs and the adventures of Sigurd the Dragon Slayer.
At first glance, The Poetic Edda may seem a daunting read. After all, the collection of poems that make up the Edda were likely composed by many different skalds in many different places and times. That is why, as a student of Old Norse literature myself, I have written a new book titled The Poetic Edda: A Study Guide, which seeks to break down each poem stanza by stanza, providing knowledgeable insights along the way.
Many years ago, when I first became enthralled with Norse myth and the timeless legends of medieval Iceland and Scandinavia, the thought of picking up The Poetic Edda and reading it was overwhelming. I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t know which god was married to which goddess, nor did I understand how the Norse envisioned the universe and the idea of reading The Poetic Edda cover to cover seemed rather obscure. Naturally, my passion for Norse myth drove me to learn everything I could grasp about this rich mythology, and I decided to write the study guide that I wish I’d had when I first began reading the Edda.
If you would like to learn something new about Norse myth, and subsequently Old Norse literature, you might consider checking out my new book The Poetic Edda: A Study Guide:
Post Author: Noah Tetzner (@HistoryofViking)