The Edda. Songs of Germanic Gods and Heroes


Manesse, Bibliothek der Weltliteratur, 1987


Fantasy literature, at least since the world success of J. R. R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings", has become a reason for young readers to retreat with a book for several hours and immerse themselves into distant, magical worlds. They accompany the protagonists into highly dangerous adventures with giants, monsters, maybe even into the realm of the dead or to the end of the world. However, the attraction of these stories of gods and heroes is by no means a new invention- the "Edda" are the living proof.  


The term "Edda" refers to a collection of Germanic mythological poems and heroic lays, written in Old Icelandic. It is impossible to reconstruct, when the individual parts were created. Though the majority of the text must have been written down no later than the 13th century, it is presumed that some of the recorded legends are much older than that. There are stories from the historical context of the Migration Period, but there are also myths from the origin of the world and the gods, as well as 15 songs that revolve around the Nibelung saga.


The book has a lot to offer to a modern reader, as it is full of exciting stories. There are giants and gods, who are mortal enemies, dwarfs, valkyries, and humans, too. An enormous  

sea serpent is twined around the world of Midgard, where the humans live among others. The underworld is guarded by the sister of the Midgard serpent, by a goddess called Hel. And their brother is a huge wolf, who is a threat even to the gods. One day it is said, there will be a devastating battle between giants and gods and the wolf Fenrir will break free and devour the greatest of all gods.


But this is just a tiny fraction of what can be found in the "Edda". A lot of the stories will strongly remind readers of the well-known Greek and Roman myths. For instance, the book contains a war god like Ares. He is called Tyr here and he has to fight against the Fenris-wolf in the final battle. There is also a Venus-like love goddess by the name of Freya and a father of the gods like Zeus/Jupiter, who is called Odin in Germanic mythology. Aside from these gods, there are numerous gripping stories of heroes and heroines that deal with revenge, honour, murder and courage. 


Time and again the stories of the "Edda" have also been used in modern works of literature. "Lord of the Rings"-author Tolkien in particular, strongly relied on them and also took many names from Germanic myths. The name "Middle Earth", for instance, derives from the Old Norse "Midgard". His entire literary oeuvre is based on the "Edda". Tolkien is just one of countless authors who have worked with the Germanic mythological poems and heroic lays.


Nevertheless - or precisely for this reason - it is an exciting challenge for readers of all ages to take to the "Edda". The book takes us back to the very beginnings of our own culture. Back to base, so to speak. Our own world suddenly appears as a mythologically charged place, filled with the memory of ancient heroes and gods. What could be more thrilling than to get oneself into such a fantastic world, where North and Central Europe were still populated by giants, dwarfs and other creatures?


Christina Schlögl

Signet Sunflower Foundation