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Front page of a 17th century manuscipt. Images Clockwise from top left: Odin and his two ravens (top three), Odin's drill Rati, the cow Auðumbla, the boar Sæhrímnir, Valhall, Odin's horse Sleipnir, Heimdall with Gjallarhorn, Thor's hammer Mjolnir.
One of the two books referred to as Eddas, the Prose Edda is a poetic manual composed by Snorri Sturluson in c. 1220 CE in Iceland. The book was first known as Edda, then as Snorra Edda (Snorri's Edda), and finally as Prose Edda to distinguish it from the Poetic Edda. The name Edda has often been taken to mean "great-grandmother", but this interpretation is considered outdated; state of the art is that it derives from the Latin "edo", "I compose poetry".The book has also been referred to as Younger Edda, though this name is considered outdated, as it is not categorically younger than the Poetic Edda.As mentioned, the book is primarily a textbook for aspiring poets. It consists of four parts:
Prologue: A pseudohistorical treatise that offers a (somewhat strained) attempt to synthesizeNorse myth with Classical learning, claiming that the Aesir (the Norse Gods) were survivors of the Fall of Troy who sought refuge in the North, where, thanks to their superior civilization, they came to be regarded as gods by the primitive inhabitants.
Gylfaginning ("The Fooling of Gylfi"): After the Aesir have pilfered a whole province of his domain (thus creating the island of Zealand), mythical King Gylfi of Sweden travels to Asgard (the city of the gods) to learn everything about the newcomers. He gets his questions answered by three mysterious strangers. The resulting dialogue is actually a treatise on Norse Mythology.
Skaldskaparmal ("Poetic Diction") has a new framing device: Aegir (the god of the sea, but who here is a mortal man) wants to learn from Bragi (the god of poetry) everything about poetry. So Bragi goes in a long lecture about the styles and devices of poetry, with special emphasis on kenningar (poetic circumlocutions), and heiti, (poetic synonyms), Old Norse poetry having a roughly infinite number of both. As knowledge of myths and legends is essential for the understanding of many kenningar, Bragi also recounts many of these. The latter part consists only of synopses of myths and legends. Skaldskaparmal is the longest part, making up about half of the whole book.
Hattatal ("Catalogue of Verse Meters"): An anthology of Snorri’s own praise poetry (or, depending on your interpretation, a single poem) on his patrons King Hakon and Jarl Skule of Norway, together with the author’s commentary on forms and meters. As Hattatal is not concerned with mythology, it is almost universally omitted from editions (also, it’s considered essentially untranslatable).
An online translation can be found on Wikisource (minus the Prologue).
Prose Edda contains example of the following tropes:
When the Aesir kill Ymir, all the giants drown in his blood except one couple, Begelmir and his wife, from whom all later giants are descended.
The first humans are created by Odin and his two brothers as a couple, Ask and Embla. Suspiciously, their names begin with the same letters as Adam and Eve, which could be an allusion to the Book of Genesis.
In Ragnarok, all humanity is destined to perish except a single couple, Lif and Lifthrasir, who will repopulate Earth.
Arrow Catch: After Frigg has made all things swear they would not harm Baldur, the gods make a game of shooting arrows at Baldur, with Baldur catching them from the air for fun. He does not catch the mistletoe, the one thing that Frigg had forgotten.
Death by Despair: When Baldur is laid on the pyre, his wife Nanna dies from a broken heart.
Fairy Godmother: After naming the norns Urd, Skuld and Verdandi, the guardians of the Well of Urd, "Gylfaginning" continues (ch. 15):
There are yet more norns, namely those who come to every man when he is born, to shape his life, and these are known to be of the race of gods; others, on the other hand, are of the race of elves, and yet others are of the race of dwarfs.
These norns who visit newborn children to "shape their lives" are functionally the same beings as the "fairies" making wishes (or curses) at Sleeping Beauty's baptismal feast.
Glamour: King Gylfi's mysterious dialogue partners and the entire city of Asgard disappear before his eyes, revealing that everything was only a magical illusion.
King Incognito: King Gylfi goes searching for Asgard disguised as an old man and calling himself Gangleri.
Nutty Squirrel: The squirrel Ratatösk ("Drill-Tooth") is constantly running up and down the tree Yggdrasil, transmitting insults between the eagle at the top and the dragon Nidhoggr at its root.
To Hell and Back: When Baldur has died, his brother Hermod rides to the Underworld to ask Hel to release Baldur.
Artifact of Doom: When Loki strips him of his wealth, the dwarf Andvari curses his most precious possession, the magic gold ring Andvaranaut, to bring about the death of every future owner. Richard Wagner made Andvaranaut the central motif in the Ring of the Nibelung operas.
Bring My Brown Pants: The clay giant Mökkurkalfi who is supposed to aid Hrungnir in his single combat with Thor wets himself when he sees Thor approaching.
Dragon Hoard: After Fafnir killed his father for a pile of gold, he transformed into a dragon to guard the treasure. Snorri explicitly traces the kenning "dragon's bed" (dreka beðr) for "gold" to Fafnir's treasure.
Duel to the Death: After Hrungnir, the strongest of the giants, has insulted and threatened the Aesir, Thor and Hrungnir agree to settle the score by fighting each other in single combat.
"I heard say that King Hrolf was the greatest man in the Northlands, but now here sits on the throne a little kraki [a pole ladder], and they call it their king!"
Framing Device: Aegir is invited to feast with the Aesir and gets to sit besides Bragi, the god of poetry. Aegir questions Bragi about poetry, giving him opportunity to talk at length about poetical language.
Golem: To assist their champion Hrungnir in his appointed duel with Thor, the giants of Jotunheim form an artificial giant from clay and bring him to life by putting a mare's heart into his breast (as this is the largest heart they can find). Unfortunately, the titanic creature, which is called Mökkurkalfi, is also a coward, and is dispatched by Thor's servant Thjalfi with relative ease.
"Groundhog Day" Loop: The armies of the kings Hedin and Hogni are caught forever fighting each other on the island of Hoy.
Handy Feet: Gunnar is thrown into the snake pit with his hands bound, but Gudrun gives him a harp which he plays with his toes and thus puts the snakes to sleep except for one.
"Just So" Story: The story of the magical mill Grotti explains why the sea is salt.
Mega Maelstrom: Having robbed King Frodi's magical mill Grotti, the viking Mysingr loads it on his ship and orders the giantesses who turn the mill to make the mill create salt. When the ship is full, the giantesses ask him if they should continue. Mysingr tells them to make still more salt. The ship sinks, but Grotti is still turning on the sea-bottom, making a maelstrom where the sea falls into the mill-eye.
Music Soothes the Savage Beast: On the orders of Atli, Gunnar is tied up and thrown into a snake pit, but his sister Gudrun gives him a harp which he plays with his toes. His music puts all the snakes to sleep except one which kills him.