Thursday, October 2, 2014

Norse Eddas and Sagas

The Norse Eddas and Sagas

By Patti Wigington


Are you interested in the legends and history of the Norse people?  One good place to start learning about the Gods and Goddesses is in the Eddas and Sagas, collections of stories that go back hundreds of years.  Most can be read online.


1. The Poetic Edda

denmark-b.jpgThe Poetic Edda, also known as the Elder Edda, is a collection of stories first written down about a thousand years ago.  A translation, by Henry Adams Bellows, includes tales of a number of gods and goddesses, heroes and monsters, kings and warrior women.  This collection is one of the most comprehensive sources of Germanic legends, and its influence can be seen in many contemporary writings.  Perhaps the most noteworthy tribute is the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, who was not only an author, but also a scholar of Norse legend.  In the 1930s, Tolkien wrote a retelling of the Poetic Edda's Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, which was not published until 2009.


2. The Prose Edda

Written - or at the very least, compiled - by Icelandic poet Snorri Sturlson around 1200 c.e., the Prose Edda consists of a number of tales that any traveling bard or entertainer would have known.  It includes a number of stories regarding the backgrounds of the gods, as well as their creation and destruction.


3. The Volsunga Saga

The Volsunga Saga, or the story of the Volsung family, is one of the earliest remaining examples of epic poetry, dating back to at least 1000 c.e.  It tells of the adventures of a number of heroes, including Sigurd the Dragon Slayer (who served as inspiration for Aragorn in Lord of the Rings), and his lover, the shieldmaiden Brynnhildr.  Odin himself makes regular appearances, typically as a one-eyed old man wrapped in a hooded cloak.


4. The Laxdaela Saga

The Laxdaela Saga, composed in the thirteenth century, is one of the few Icelandic sagas that scholars think could have been written by a woman.  It's the story of Keltill Flatnose and his many descendants, who depart Norway and head to the Orkney Islands.  Gudrun Osvifursdottir shows up to create a complicated love triangle, and there is plenty of death, vengeance, and religious piety.


5. The Orkneyinga Saga

This Saga is the history of the Earls of Orkney, and is compiled from a number of different sources.  It tells the story of the conquest of the Orkney Islands by King Harald of Norway, and introduces a number of both historical and legendary characters.


6. Teutonic Myth and Legend

Compiled by Donald A. Mackenzie in the early 1900s, this collection of stories from the Northern world includes a narrative built from sources like the above listed Eddas, the Volsunga Saga, the Niebelunglied, Beowulf, and German heroic tales.


7. Erik the Red's Saga

Erik Thorvaldsson, known as Erik the Red, is remembered in medieval and Icelandic saga sources as having founded the first Norse settlement in Greenland.  Erik the Red's Saga reveals a casual reading along with the conversions of Nordic to Christianity.  Personally, I love the line in it about a pregnant woman who snatched up a sword and smacked it, freighting the natives into running away; Viking woman are not to be messed with.


8. Gesta Danorum

mother64211550763.jpgThe Danish scholar Saxo Grammaticus wrote a Latin history of the Danes (Gesta Danorum, The History of the Danes) in the twelfth century that includes variants of many of the tales found in the Old Norse sources and even a few otherwise unattested ones.  As with Snorri, these are presented in a highly euhemerized form.


9. Germania

Late in the first century CE, the Roman historian Tacitus wrote a book on the Germanic tribes who dwelt north of the Empire.  This work, De origine et situ Germanorum, “The Origin and Situation of the Germanic Peoples,” commonly referred to simply as Germania, contains many vivid descriptions of the religious views and practices of the tribes.


10. Archaeology

Ok, not a Edda, Saga or Poem but archaeology is the most significant of our non-literary sources.  A plenitude of archaeological finds have provided striking corroborations of elements from the written sources, as well as offering new data that can’t necessarily be explained by the written sources, reminding us of how incomplete a picture the literary sources contain.  Even if you are not near archaeology, there are several other places that can be visited.

  • Áth Cliath Dublin Ireland
  • Beginish County Kerry Ireland
  • Cuerdale Hoard British Museum London United Kingdom
  • Garðar Eastern Settlement Greenland
  • Hrísbrú Mosfell Valley Iceland
  • Jelling Jutland Denmark
  • L'Anse aux Meadows Newfoundland Canada
  • Leif Erikson Statue Boston Massachusetts USA
  • Norse Wiccan Community Church Columbus Ohio USA
  • Oseberg Museum of Cultural History Norway
  • Ribe Jutland Denmark
  • Ridanäs Gotland Sweden
  • The Chapel in the Hills Rapid City South Dakota USA





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