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Essays on Eddic Poetry

Essays on Eddic Poetry

John McKinnell
Donata Kick
John D. Shafer
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 392
  • Book Info
    Essays on Eddic Poetry
    Book Description:

    Originally published between 1988 and 2008, these twelve essays cover a wide range of mythological and heroic poems and have been revised and updated to reflect the latest scholarship.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-6926-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-2)
    John D. Shafer

    John McKinnell’s appetite for medieval studies and traditional narrative was originally whetted by the traditions of oral history, ballad, and storytelling in the small fishing and farming community on the east coast of Scotland where he spent much of his childhood. As a student at Worcester College, Oxford, and later at the Arnamagnæan Institute in Copenhagen, McKinnell was inspired with an enthusiasm for Old Norse mythological and heroic poetry by the major figures whose lectures he heard and under whom he studied, including J.R.R. Tolkien, Gabriel Turville-Petre, Stefán Karlsson, and Jón Helgason. He was appointed to a temporary lectureship in...

  5. 1 Vǫluspá and the Feast of Easter
    (pp. 3-33)

    It is generally agreed that Vǫluspá has been influenced by Christian ideas to some extent, but the nature of that influence has been debated. Of course it is true, as Daniel Sävborg has pointed out,¹ that all the Old Norse poetry that survives comes from a time when Christianity was already to some extent influential in northern Europe. But there is a difference between the adoption of commonplace Christian expressions (such as calling ÓðinnAlfǫðr‘Father of all’, cf. LatinPater omnium) or general ideas (e.g. that some beings will be resurrected after Ragnarǫk) on the one hand, and on...

  6. 2 On Heiðr and Gullveig
    (pp. 34-58)

    Þat man hon folcvíg fyrst í heimi, er Gullveigo geirom studdo oc í hǫll Hárs hána brendo;

    þrysvar brendo, þrysvar borna, opt, ósialdan, þó hon enn lifir.

    Heiði hana héto, hvars til húsa kom, vǫlo velspá, vitti hon ganda;

    seið hon kunni, seið hon leikin;

    æ var hon angan illrar brúðar. (Vǫluspá21-22)²

    She remembers a killing between peoples, the first in the world, when they propped up Gullveig with spears, and in the hall of Hárr they burned her;

    three times they burned her, three times reborn, often, not seldom, and yet she still lives.

    They called her Heiðr, wherever she came to houses, a prophetess foretelling good fortune, she laid spells on spirits;


  7. 3 The Evolution of Hávamál
    (pp. 59-95)

    There are usually excellent methodological reasons for considering Old Norse literary works strictly as they appear in the manuscripts, but in the case ofHávamál– the longest eddic text, and one of the most disparate¹ – this approach is not very useful. Admittedly, the scribe of the Codex Regius gives all of it the titlehava mal‘The Words of the High One’, and we may be tempted to take this as the name of a single poem, likeAtlamálorHamðismál. But this heading is clearly derived from the opening of the last stanza, which has usually been...

  8. 4 Hávamál B: A Reconstructed Poem of Sexual Intrigue
    (pp. 96-122)

    In studying what I have called ‘The Poem of Sexual Intrigue’ or ‘Hávamál B’, it is first necessary to show thatHávamál A(the Gnomic Poem, stt. 1–79) andHávamál Bare distinct from each other. Both are in the same metre (ljóðaháttr), but the similarity ends there.Hávamál Bhas a single theme – sexual treachery – and is neatly structured to introduce two narrative episodes about named individuals, each consisting of six narrative stanzas and one summarising stanza.Hávamál A, by contrast, is discursive and loosely structured, covering many themes and focussing on pragmatic advice. It rarely alludes...

  9. 5 Wisdom from Dead Relatives: The Ljóðatal Section of Hávamál
    (pp. 123-152)

    This essay will investigate the origins and import ofHávamál D, orLjóðatal, and the mythic pattern on which it is based. Its first four stanzas (stt. 138–41) recall Óðinn’s sacrifice of himself to himself, while the remainder (stt. 146–61, 162,1–3 and 163) detail the nine magical spells that he learned in the world of the dead, together with another nine that he was then empowered to compose for himself. The ‘I’ here is unequivocally Óðinn, and the first-person pronoun appears in every stanza of the poem, as if to emphasise his complete ownership of the eighteen spells. The ‘narratee’...

  10. 6 The Paradox of Vafþrúðnismál
    (pp. 153-171)

    Most opinion has placed the composition ofVafþrúðnismál¹ in the tenth century, and one recent scholar has even suggested that Boer’s early-tenth-century dating may underestimate the poem’s age,² but there is actually too little evidence on which to base such judgements.

    Two details have been argued to indicate a late (possibly twelfth-century) date for the poem. Ulrike Sprenger (1985), 188 has maintained that the wordkaldrifiaðan(Vafþrúðnismál10,6, literally ‘cold-ribbed’, i.e. perhaps ‘cold-hearted, ruthless’) includes the concept of the emotions being seated in the heart, which she regards as a Christian European idea that could not have reached Iceland before...

  11. 7 Motivation and Meaning in Lokasenna
    (pp. 172-199)

    The main question I wish to pose in this paper is a very simple one: what is the reason for the argument inLokasenna? Most verbal contests in eddic poetry are not motiveless, but have some practical intention and result. InVafþrúðnismálthe loser of the wisdom contest will lose his life; inAlvíssmálthe dwarf wants a wife and Þórr wants to keep him talking until the sun turns him to stone; inHárbarðsljóð, Þórr wants to be ferried across a fjord and Óðinn wants to assert his own intellectual superiority; inSkírnismál, Skírnir wants to gain Gerðr’s love...

  12. 8 Myth as Therapy: The Usefulness of Þrymskviða
    (pp. 200-220)

    One of the major embarrassments of discussing the mythological poems of thePoetic Eddahas always been the lack of a clear consensus on the date of many poems. Not only can we not agree about whether some poems date from the tenth century or the early thirteenth, but we cannot even decide whether they were composed by heathens who genuinely believed in the myths they related, or by medieval Catholic Christians to whom they were at best amusing fictions (if not lies devised by the devil). This obviously affects not only the background culture within which they were composed,...

  13. 9 Vǫlundarkviða: Origins and Interpretation
    (pp. 221-248)

    Much criticism ofVǫlundarkviðahas tended to concentrate on investigation of the two archetypal stories on which its plot is based – that of the Other-World swan maiden who is married by a mortal man but subsequently leaves him, and that of the smith who, after being captured and maimed by an unjust king, takes vengeance by murdering his oppressor’s sons and making jewellery from their skulls, eyes and teeth, seducing the king’s daughter and leaving her pregnant, and telling the king of his revenge before flying away. Both stories are very widespread, and the study of them has been...

  14. 10 Female Reactions to the Death of Sigurðr
    (pp. 249-267)

    I want in this paper to look at a single moment in the legend of the Nibelungen – the situation immediately after the death of Sîfrit. To someone who, like me, comes to the German epic as an outsider from the North, there are three strange features about this section of theNiebelungenlied(roughly Âv. 17):

    1. The discovery of Sîfrit’s body by a servant outside Kriemhilt’s room (stt. 1005–06)¹ is a strange and rather unsatisfactory compromise. It seems likely that the poem’s source had the corpse thrown into her bed, as happens inÞiðreks sagach. 391;² the softening of...

  15. 11 Two Sex Goddesses: Þorgerðr Hǫlgabrúðr and Freyja in Hyndluljóð
    (pp. 268-291)

    One of the most interesting questions raised in Lotte Motz’sThe Beauty and the Hagconcerns the evidence for the veneration of giantess-figures in Scandinavia in the late heathen period, and central to this discussion is the figure of Þorgerðr Hǫlgabrúðr.¹ In this paper I shall collect the sources about her, consider what kind of figure she was, and suggest that some understanding of cults like hers may also be gained from the much later eddic poemHyndluljóð.

    The surviving accounts of Þorgerðr or episodes about her that I have found (some of which are preserved in more than one source,...

  16. 12 The Trouble with Father: Hervararkviða and the Adaptation of Traditional Story-patterns
    (pp. 292-316)

    Encounters between a representative of humanity and some being from another world are extremely common in Old Norse mythology. It is easy to make this statement because of a firm dualism of outlook which usually allows us to recognise clearly which types of being belong in which category. Gods and human beings belong to This World; the gods were its creators, and the creators of the first man and woman.¹ Selected human warriors are in turn chosen by Óðinn to help the gods in their last great battle against the giants; and when the gods fall at Ragnarǫk, human beings...

  17. Abbreviations
    (pp. 317-320)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 321-348)
  19. Index
    (pp. 349-374)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 375-375)