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Reflections on the Creation of Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Languages, Department of Scandinavian Languages.
2017 (English)In: Scripta Islandica: Isländska Sällskapets Årsbok, ISSN 0582-3234, E-ISSN 2001-9416, Vol. 68, p. 189-232Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Since Elias Wessén’s facsimile edition of the Codex Regius of the Younger Edda (1940) most scholars have agreed (if a little hesitantly) with his theory that the Prose Edda was composed back to front, and that Háttatal was the first part to be written. This theory has also played an important role in the dating of Edda. The present article begins by investigating the arguments that lay behind Wessén’s conclusions and finds them to be very weak. On the basis of the discussion conducted here of the potential connection and lack of connection that exists between Hátta­tal, Skáld­skapar­mál, Gylfaginning and the Prologue, the conclusion is that as several Ice­landic scholars have earlier hinted, it is neces­sary for future scholars to carry out more research into the various parts of the Edda as individual works rather than as a whole. As is shown, there is good reason for postulating that the corpus of tales that lies behind Gylfaginning was probably essentially gathered during Snorri’s years in Oddi (1180–1198) and that this might also apply to the corpus of stanzas and lists of ken­nings that form the lion’s share of Skáldskaparmál, even if the final touches to these didactic works was written later, perhaps during Snorri’s years in Reykjaholt (after 1206 and before the visit to Norway in 1218). This might explain why earlier efforts to find a single archetype for the Edda as a whole have hitherto been more or less in vain: The likelihood is that for Edda as a whole there was not just one archetype but it is more a question of three works which were later assembled into one, along with a Prologue which may have previously accompanied a version of Gylfa­ginning.

There is little question that the poet who wrote Háttatal in 1222–25 had already attained training in composing verse that provided him with a detailed knowledge of the poetic language, kennings and heiti. However, with regard to the potential connection between Háttatal and the rest of the Edda, it needs to be borne in mind that there was actually very little need to explain the poetic language used in the poem. On the contrary: anyone trained in listening to skaldic poetry could most likely have understood almost all of the roughly 230 kennings in the poem, very few of which actually build upon tales told in Skáldskaparmál and Gylfaginning.

It seems likely that Snorri’s main innovation for the cultural history of Iceland with the various parts of the Edda was his organisation of the extant heathen mythol­ogy and the materials that had been used to train poets over the centuries. In short, his skill here was more that of an editor more than of a creative author. Indeed, this is reflected in in the DG 11 4to manuscript in Uppsala, which states that he ‘setti saman’, or compiled existing knowledge about the heathen gods and the traditional poetry.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Isländska sällskapet , 2017. Vol. 68, p. 189-232
Keyword [en]
Edda composition, dating of Prose-Edda, Gylfaginning, Skáld­skapar­mál, Háttatal, Prologue, textbooks
National Category
Languages and Literature
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-336112OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-336112DiVA, id: diva2:1168390
Available from: 2017-12-20 Created: 2017-12-20 Last updated: 2017-12-20

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