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Literature / Prose Edda

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Title page of a 17th century manuscipt. Images 

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 The name Edda has often been taken to mean "great-grandmother", but this interpretation is considered outdated; state of the art is that it derives from the Latin "edo", "I compose poetry".

The book has also been referred to as Younger Edda, though this name is considered outdated, as it is not categorically younger than the Poetic Edda.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 synthesize Norse 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:



  • Adam and Eve Plot: No less than three instances:
    • 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, and is laid on the pyre with her husband.
  • The Great Flood: When Odin and his brothers kill Ymir (the primordial giant whose corpse is the entire Earth), all the frost-giants drown in the blood flowing from Ymir's wounds, except for the giant Bergelmir and his wife who save themselves on an ark (i.e. a wooden chest). A little later it is said that Ymir's blood turned into the sea and the lakes of the world.
  • Fairy Godmother: After naming the norns Urd, Skuld and Verdandi, the guardians of the Well of Urd, "Gylfaginning" adds (ch. 15) that there are yet more norns who visit newborn children to "shape their lives":
    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.
  • Giant Corpse World: High, Just-as-High and Third relate to Gylfi that Odin and his brothers, after killing the primal giant Ymir, made the whole world from Ymir's dead body: His flesh became the earth, his blood the sea and lakes, his bones rocks and mountains, his teeth and bone fragments stones and scree, his skull the dome of the sky, his brains the clouds, and his eyelashes the fence of Midgard that separates the world of men from the world of giants.
  • 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.
  • Rescued from the Underworld (attempted): After Baldr has been accidentally killed by Hod through Loki's malicious agency, Hermod (another son of Odin) volunteers to ride to Hel (the realm of the dead) and bargain with Hel (the ruler of the dead) for Baldr's release. On Odin's horse Sleipnir, Hermod rides for nine nights through "valleys dark and deep" until he reaches the hall of Hel, where Baldr is being hosted in the seat of honor. Hermod obtains Hel's promise that she will let Baldr go back "if all things in the world, alive and dead, weep for him". Having received this message through Hermod, the Aesir can persuade all things in the world (including animals, stones, and trees) to weep for Baldr, except for a giantess in a cave, Thokk, who refuses to mourn Baldr. Thus Baldr must stay in Hel.
  • The Stars Are Going Out: High says about Ragnarok that at the end of Fimbulwinter (a winter which will last three normal years), giant wolves will devour the son and the moon, and "[t]he stars will disappear from the sky". Afterwards, the wolf Fenrir breaks his chain, and the enemies of the Aesir gather to challenge the Aesir to battle.
  • To Hell and Back: When Baldur has died, his brother Hermod rides to the Underworld to ask Hel to release Baldur.
  • Viking Funeral: Baldur's pyre is built on a ship which is pushed out to sea as the pyre is kindled. Trope Codifier.
  • The Weird Sisters:
    • The three Norns Urd, Verdandi and Skuld "shape the lives of men". They are referred to as maidens.
    • Valkyries, the supernatural women who determine who is going to die in a battle, frequently come in threes or multiples of three: There is a list of three valkyries in "Gylfaginning" and a list of nine in "Skaldskaparmal".


  • 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.
  • Chaste Separating Sword: Gunnar cannot pass Brynhild's Engagement Challenge, but Sigurd can. Serving as Romantic Wingman, Sigurd shapeshifts as Gunnar and they switch places. Sigurd passes the challenge and marries Brynhild in Gunnar's stead. To refrain from consummating the marriage, Sigurd lays his sword Gram between him and Brynhild at night until he and Gunnar can switch back.
  • 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. Other kennings quoted by Snorri are "lair of Fafnir", "Grafvitnir's pillow" and similar expressions (like Fafnir, Grafvitnir is a mythological dragon).
  • Draw Sword, Draw Blood: King Högni's dwarf-made sword Dáinsleif "has to be the death of someone every time it is unsheathed." When Högni challenges King Hedin to battle because Hedin has abducted his daughter, Hedin wants to reconcile; Högni declines because he has already drawn Dainsleif, and thus the spell has to be appeased.
  • 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.
  • Evil Makes You Monstrous: After Fafnir has murdered his father and chased away his brother over Andvari's gold, he turns into a dragon to guard his treasure. While this is a voluntary transformation, he never shifts out of his dragon shape afterwards.
  • Expecting Someone Taller: Hrolf Kraki of Denmark supposedly received his epithet when a Swede, Vogg, saw the king for the first time and exclaimed:
    "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.
  • Gold Fever: Snorri claims that ever since Andvari cursed his gold hoard so that it would cause the death of every future owner, gold is also called "metal of conflict" (rógmálmr). Andvari's curse comes true: First Fafnir and Regin murder their father Hreidmar, but Fafnir chases away Regin, and then Regin incites Sigurd to kill Fafnir for the gold. After Fafnir's death, Regin plans to kill Sigurd, but Sigurd realizes his intentions and kills him first.
  • 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.
  • People of Hair Color: All the Niflungs have "hair as black as ravens".
  • Ring of Power: According to Andvari, the ring Andvaranaut has the magical property to make his owner rich.
  • Snake Pit: When Gunnar refuses to tell Atli the location of Andvari's gold, Atli has him thrown into a snake pit to die.
  • Stellification:
    • As part of the Aesir's compensation to Skadi for their slaying of her father Thjazi, Odin throws Thjazi's eyes into the sky and thus makes them into two stars.
    • Thor mentions how he carried a certain "Aurvandil the Bold" in a basket on his back when wading home from Jotunheim across the streams of Elivagar ("ice-waves"). One of Aurvandil's toes was sticking out from the basket and froze stiff; Thor broke it off and hurled it into the sky, where it became a star called Aurvandil's Toe. (There is no other information on Aurvandil, or why he had to be rescued from Jotunheim.)


  • In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: The book was first only called Edda, but it has been so often referred to as Snorri's Edda that it became a part of the title.

Alternative Title(s): Snorra Edda, Younger Edda