Elder Edda Analysis

The Poem

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Voluspo. Odin, chief of the gods, calls an ancient wise woman to prophesy for him. She tells first of the creation of the earth from the body of the giant Ymir and catalogs the dwarfs who live beneath the earth. She then describes Yggdrasil, the great ash tree that supports the universe. Its roots reach clear to the underworld, and it is guarded by the three Norns—Past, Present, and Future—who control the destinies of human beings. She also tells briefly how Loki tricked the giant who built Asgard, the home of the gods, and how Loki himself was punished when he killed Odin’s much-loved son Balder. He was bound to a rock so that the venom of a serpent dripped onto his face. The prophet last foretells a great battle. Odin and the other gods will confront the forces of evil, such as the wolf Fenrir, one of Loki’s children, who is fated to kill Odin himself. In conclusion, the wise woman foretells the emergence of a new world that will rise out of the destruction of the old one.

The Ballad of Grimnir. Odin makes a wager with his wife, Frigg, about the relative virtues of two men they have saved from being lost at sea. Frigg accuses King Geirröth, the man Odin has saved, of miserliness and lack of hospitality. Odin goes to Geirröth disguised as Grimnir and is taken prisoner and tortured. The king’s son, Agnar, befriends the prisoner, however, and is rewarded with the mythological lore that makes up most of the poem.

The Lay of Hymir. Thor seeks a kettle big enough to brew ale for a feast of all the gods. He and the god Tyr go to the home of the giant Hymir, where they escape the wrath of Hymir’s nine-hundred-headed grandmother. Hymir then provides a feast for them at which Thor eats two oxen. Finally, they join in a fishing contest in which Thor demonstrates his prowess by hooking Mithgarthsorm, the great serpent that surrounds the earth. Thor and Tyr steal the kettle and carry it home.

The Lay of Thrym. Loki manages to recover Thor’s hammer when the giant Thrym steals it and holds it hostage, demanding Freyja for his wife. Thor goes to Thrym, disguised as Freyja in bridal dress, and takes Loki, disguised as his serving woman, with him. After Thor and Loki have some difficulties in accounting for their huge appetites and masculine looks, Thor is given the precious hammer as a wedding gift, whereupon he slays Thrym and the two return to Asgard.

Balder’s Dream. Acting on an ominous dream his son Balder has had, Odin rides into the underworld, where...

(The entire section is 1042 words.)

Historical Context

(Epics for Students)

The Vikings
The Vikings have entered popular imagination as bloodthirsty and immensely daring pirates, but they were first and...

(The entire section is 1058 words.)

Literary Style

(Epics for Students)

Epic Characteristics
Leaving aside the Sayings of the High One, which has more in common with works like the biblical...

(The entire section is 921 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Epics for Students)

Setting during The Elder Edda: During the Viking era, raw material and slaves are the main resources of northern and western...

(The entire section is 199 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Epics for Students)

The Vikings opened trade routes down the rivers of Russia to Constantinople. Investigate the importance of Viking trade and trading posts to...

(The entire section is 154 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Epics for Students)

The Elder Edda was a primary source for Richard Wagner's cycle of musical dramas The Ring of the Nibelungen, four...

(The entire section is 110 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Epics for Students)

Snorri Sturluson, The Prose Edda: Tales from Norse Mythology, trans. by Jean I. Young (1971), provides a lively translation of the...

(The entire section is 285 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Epics for Students)

Dronke, Ursula, "Art and tradition in Skirnismal," in English and Medieval Studies Presented to J. R. R. Tolkien,...

(The entire section is 585 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Acker, Paul, and Carolyn Larrington, eds. The “Poetic Edda”: Essays on Old Norse Mythology. New York: Routledge, 2002. Collection of essays presents analyses of the major poems in the work from feminist, structuralist, poststructuralist, and other modern standpoints. Includes introductions that provide an overview of the Poetic Edda’s critical history.

Bellows, Henry Adams, ed. and trans. The Poetic Edda. New York: American-Scandinavian Foundation, 1957. Includes a general introduction that gives an excellent overview of the poems, their origins, manuscript texts, and verse forms.

Kellogg, Robert. “Literacy and Orality in the...

(The entire section is 318 words.)