The Poetic Edda is a collection of Norse-Icelandic mythological and heroic poetry, which has inspired so much of the literature and media which we in the modern world know and love. Many of the poems in this collection – which has been both translated and edited by Carolyne Larrington – were penned by an unknown writer around the year 1270, and can be found in a medieval Icelandic document, the Codex Regius. It has not been possible to prove whether these poems came from Iceland or Norway, as experts on the poems have noted that elements of importance are often included from both countries. It is worth noting that many of the poems within The Poetic Edda were written before the conversion of Scandinavia to Christianity.
In her introduction, Larrington sets out the importance of the poems within The Poetic Edda. She believes that the collection is ‘comic, tragic, instructive, grandiose, witty and profound’, and that it contains scenes which have been ‘vividly staged’. Larrington goes on to write that the Edda, incorporating as it does ‘comedy, satire, didactic verse, tragedy, high drama and profoundly moving lament’, is one of the greatest masterpieces in world literature. Larrington’s introduction is well written and informative, and is split up into useful sections which deal with such different elements as the Old Norse cosmos and mythological history.
The Poetic Edda ‘contains the great narratives of the creation of the world and the coming of Ragnarok, the doom of the Gods’. It traces the exploits of many characters from Icelandic and Norse mythology, from Thor to Sigurd and Brynhild, and their doomed love affair. In their style, the poems are relatively simple, but they are often profound and always striking in the scenes and imagery which they present.
Larrington’s version of The Poetic Edda has been beautifully translated, and the flow of each poem is perfect. The narrative voices and structure used in each is coherent and well wrought, and the collection as a whole is absolutely fascinating. Each poem is different from the next, and every single one is filled with many memorable characters and scenes. Violence abounds in The Poetic Edda, as do history, passion and emotions.
Oxford World’s Classics’ revised edition of the poems includes a select bibliography and a section on the genealogies of giants, gods and heroes. Larrington has also chosen to place two new poems within the collection – ‘The Lay of Svipdag’ and ‘The Waking of Angatyr’. There is also an invaluable section with notes on the meter and style of the poems, which is essential for any student of the work. Each poem is prefaced by a useful contextual introduction, making The Poetic Edda accessible to all.