The Prose Edda

Snorri Sturluson. Illustration by Christian Krogh.

The Prose Edda is one of the most comprehensive sources available on the subject of Norse mythology. It was compiled by Snorri Sturluson, an Icelandic poet, politician, and historian, in the 1200's. The Prose Edda is a compilation of various stories of the Norse gods and other myths, detailing such things as the creation of the world and the Norse apocalypse, or Ragnarok. Throughout the Prose Edda there are also many examples of eddic poetry, a Scandinavian form of poetry often inserted into stories.

The Prologue

The Prose Edda begins with a section that places the book within a 13th century christian context, as it begins with a retelling of the biblical account of genesis and goes on to describe how people became separate from god. It then tells the story of a Trojan man named Tror, who would become known as Thor. Tror traveled north and met and married a prophet called Sif, who bore him a son named Voden, later Odin. Voden shared his mother's gift of prophesy, which told him that he could find great renown in the north. So he goes to Saxland, and eventually Sweden, Here a king named Gylfi granted Odin and those he came with, called the Aesir, as much authority in his lands as he wished. Odin accepted this offer and designated twelve men to administer his laws.


The Gylfaginning, or the Deluding of Gylfi, tells the various myths of the Norse gods through the story of King Gylfi going to see three Aesir chieftains, High, Just-as-High, and Third. Gylfi asks them various questions about the Aesir, which are answered in the form of stories and anecdotes told by the three chieftains. These stories tell of the world of the Aesir, the various gods and creatures that inhabit it, and various notable events, such as the creation of the world and the end of the Aesir in Ragnarok, the apocalypse.


The Skaldskaparmal, or poetic diction, contains two sections. The first tells the major prose stories of Norse mythology. The second tells of the various kennings that were used to refer to various gods and goddesses in Norse mythology, and other kennings that refer to more mundane things, such as natural phenomena, people, and objects, which often relate to Norse mythology.

13th Century Christian Influences in the Prose Edda

The Prose Edda was compiled in the 13th century, when Iceland and most of Scandinavia had already converted to Christianity, and as such it can be seen that some of the various prejudices of that time have seeped into it. The most obvious and blatant of these would be the prologue, which begins with a biblical account of genesis and how the world split into various countries, and then strips the divinity away from Thor, Odin and the rest of the Aesir, while still attempting to maintain a mythic quality to their origins, by stating that they originally came from Troy. In addition, a few of the stories contain similarities to biblical accounts, such as the creation of man and the account of Ragnarok. In the creation myth, a man and a woman, Ask and Embla, are carved from trees and given a home on earth. The names of these two sound somewhat similar to Adam and Eve. In Ragnarok, the Prose Edda tells of Thor's battle with and slaying of the great world serpent Jormungand. This matches up with a similar account in Isaiah 27:1, where God slays the Leviathan as he destroys all who oppose him. In addition to these similarities, there is also the depiction of the gods as generally inept and prideful, such as in the account of the death of Baldr, who dies from a twig of mistletoe being shot at him while the other gods were shooting arrows at him to demonstrate the protection they had arranged for him. Overall, if these examples are the result of Christian influence, it cannot be said as to whether it was Snorri Sturluson's doing or whether the oral legends were corrupted by such influence.


Sturluson, Snorri. The Prose Edda. New York: Penguin Books, 2005