Poetic Edda

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The Poetic Edda is a collection of Old Norse poems primarily preserved in the Icelandic mediaeval manuscript Codex Regius. Along with Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda, the Poetic Edda is the most important extant source on Norse mythology and Germanic heroic legends, and from the early 19th century onwards has had a powerful influence on later Scandinavian literatures, not merely through the stories it contains but through the visionary force and dramatic quality of many of the poems. It has also become an inspiring model for many later innovations in poetic meter, particularly in the Nordic languages, offering many varied examples of terse, stress-based metrical schemes working without any final rhyme, and instead using allitterative devices and strongly concentrated imagery. Poets who have acknowledged their debt to the Poetic Edda include Vilhelm Ekelund, August Strindberg, Ezra Pound and Karin Boye.

Codex Regius was written in the 13th century but nothing is known of its whereabouts until 1643 when it came into the possession of Brynjólfur Sveinsson, then Bishop of Skálholt. At that time versions of the Prose Edda were well known in Iceland but scholars speculated that there once was another Edda—an Elder Edda—which contained the pagan poems which Snorri quotes in his Prose Edda. When Codex Regius was discovered, it seemed that this speculation had proven correct. Brynjólfur attributed the manuscript to Sæmundr the Learned, a larger-than-life 12th century Icelandic priest. While this attribution is rejected by modern scholars, the name Sæmundar Edda is still sometimes encountered.

Bishop Brynjólfur sent Codex Regius as a present to the Danish king, hence the name. For centuries it was stored in the Royal Library in Copenhagen but in 1971 it was returned to Iceland.

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