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How the History of Literature Relied in Ancient Prose and Poetry-- The Influence of The Icelandic Edda

Updated on September 6, 2012
Beowulf, first page
Beowulf, first page | Source
The Karlevi Runestone 10th Century. How some patterns would lately would keep our poetry intact.
The Karlevi Runestone 10th Century. How some patterns would lately would keep our poetry intact. | Source

How to start this hub coming back from a mental... long journey into Nordic Oceans? Seeing Human beings roaming our Planet... Ancestors that just walked over our ancient world, willing to tell with joy to the next generation, about their epic stories. How could they have transferred worth telling experiences, if they didn't even have a manuscript or a quill? Only stones and sharpening edges from rocks.

Somewhere down the line...

Someone who knew that his lifespan wouldn't last over a hundred years, 'thought' of becoming a story teller. Wolves howling, partners whining around and our great great great parents memorizing from that natural rhyming. Besides the repetitive whistling and our stomach making that characteristic noise after eating a good meal. They had to come up with an idea that was already rhyming in their minds.

Just imagine (today), you and grandpa sitting down one night on that front porch. Genetically, that sensation of hearing and listening was felt thousand of years ago. Ever heard that word respect the elder?

So, to make those stories or legends worth listening to, men started to create those first alliterative vowels that eventually made up the first archaic prose. Proto-Germanic language and runic alphabet were available for whoever wanted to leave an inscription on foreign shores.

How were the first Norse stories concocted?

Imagine yourself being Olaf the Viking and have gone with your dad to Angle-saxonian shores over and over, and you wanted to remember how your 'grandpa' was doing it 200 years before your own time. Shipwrecking, thunder and self imposed Gods were ready to recreate your first 'Odyssey,' sort of Shopin meets Quincy Jones at a Westin Hotel in Downtown L.A.

Adding myths, worries and those scars from war, at one point under an Icelandic Oak, the first Poets of that time, started to say repetitively, what they were taught by their own ancestors. Some started to like what they created and shared it like in here.

Norse mythology and epic wars that happened before, were told about once more. Some added nottingham and Robin hood. Literature was being told instead of being quill down... so far.

There was no leafs to write, so they were sang and versed. Just have in mind the sound of nature on their neurons. Somewhere down the line they came up with an idea: Passing Myths and legends through verses that could easily be remembered. "Okay bring that catchy Chorus Elvis..!"


Were the first group of poets that composed courtly poetry, and panegyrics for Kings and their aristocracy. Some were perfect story tellers and some Kings became Skalds in their own right.

If you check you own bloodline that goes back to England, you will, probably find an ancestor that was a poet. Have you ever wonder why you love to read and write in here? Do you see yourself already commenting in your mind, as you read us?

Fast forward to 1269 A.D.

By the thirteen century, Christianising eliminated most of the Skaldic poetic creativity, because, they say, confronted pagan believes with christian elements. Continental Scandinavia was already done with that profession. We think it was their syndicates (unions)

Luckily Iceland was still away from those reforms and erudite monks were ready to collect ancient tales, and fables.. and amazing stories that survived in old English (the Karlevi Runestone from the late 10th century has the oldest surviving text in the metre).

Medieval English was already in vogue and that runic alphabet was gone. Here is how these theologists connected this 'floating Literature' to Shakespeare's luck... and ours as well!

The meaning of Edda?

Edda refers to: Old Norse Poetic Eda, and Prose Edda. If we want to make a rough analogy with the Bible, then these Literature from Viking era would have represented the old and new testament for Icelandic writers. Actually Prose Eda is called also younger Edda (Snorri Sturlusson compiled this Prose).

Elder Edda or poetic Edda

Is the compilation of Norse poetic mythology; called also Saemundar Edda. These poems were held together inside this Codex Regius (Royal book). The date of the first manuscripts goes back to 1270. Its mostly attributed to Saemundar Edda 'the learned', a larger that life bishop that was another venerable Bede of his time.

These poems brought to life stories from Odin, Thor, loki, Ollr, Freyr (that gave origin to our friday), and so many Nordic Gods like Siggurd and Gunnar. From Edda, we inherited the word 'ode.' and from Skald, we inherited our 'scold'

Codex Regius, was lost until 1645, and went from Scandinavia back to Iceland in 1971.

Prose Edda

Prose edda is of course an Icelandic manual of poetics which also contains many mythological stories. Its purpose was to enable Icelandic poets and readers to understand the subtleties of alliterative verse, and to grasp the mythological allusions behind the many kennings (compound words that would replace a simple word) that were used in skaldic poetry. That's where the creative 'Bard' from 9th century Norway would come up with a compounded word like wound-hoe instead of Sword.


Descriptive phrase which takes the place of a common noun...used to explain it...often used in Old English poetry.

Snorri Sturluson

(1179 – 23 September 1241)

Snorri’s enduring importance lies in the fact that without his writings, our possibilities for perceiving the views and thoughts of pagan North Europeans, and even of Germanic and other peoples in general, would be considerably more limited than they admittedly are.--Wikipedia


The Subtle influence

That subtle influence was caused by those alliterative verses. Those verses would make use of alliterations as the principal structuring device to unify lines of poetry. Going back to those story tellers from that 9th Century and before, we can deduct that they would device words that would have connecting phonetic syllable as a link. Just imagine they had nature as an example: A bird making the noise over and over. Or just think of our 'quak-quack' sound. Somehow they came up with the way of transmitting essential stories through subtly repetitive consonants. For today's average readers, we can just show you practical examples, even in the media, we are used to words like, Coca Cola, Donald Duck, Peter Pan, or even Janet Jackson, that propaganda studies and psychology instilled in our minds forever. Just came to my mind this Star wars... how about Harry Potter?


It was gravitational. Beowulf and Robin hood would've died immediately if these scalds woudn't have known how to orally preserve so many eulogist verses by heart. Some were real story tellers that added their own style. By 1270 this Icelandic Bedes, took the task to put all those Norse stories into that medieval manuscript, the codex Reggis. The time was right and, the past was preserved coming back stronger than ever when enlightenment struck hard around Hamlet and King Lear times.

I wonder if Bede, Buddha, Jedi Yoda and Lady Gaga have something in common?



Submit a Comment

  • Lord De Cross profile image

    Joseph De Cross 5 years ago

    Hi John; will answer you with a hub! And thanks for the tip. We love Newton and Asyrian shores influences. Have a good one too!

  • John Sarkis profile image

    John Sarkis 5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

    lord, this has to be one of your finest hubs to date. I truly enjoyed it. I love Nordic legends - anything related to the history of the Germanic peoples has always fascinated me.

    Q: I read a book by Isaac Newton which makes reference to the Greeks never using prose before they conquered Persia. Can you give any input on this? I realize the Greeks are not Germanics, but you seem well rounded.

    Take care and enjoy the rest of your weekend.


  • Lord De Cross profile image

    Joseph De Cross 6 years ago

    You are welcome Phyllis Doyle.

    You have a wonderful night and be blessed! Thanks for being part of this family at HP

  • Phyllis Doyle profile image

    Phyllis Doyle Burns 6 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

    Lord, this is an awesome hub and the video is great! You took me back to another time and place where I believe I once walked with pride and nobility. The Vikings and Norse legends have always been dear to my heart. Snorri Sturlusson and the Prose Edda, Poetic Edda, Hesiod, all the scholars and poets of the distant past did so much to preserve these wonderful legends. Thank you so much for writing this hub.

    Up Awesome Interesting Beautiful

  • Lord De Cross profile image

    Joseph De Cross 6 years ago

    Hi There Rustic,

    Still shocked by your mentioning me in your last hub. This hub was crafted with joy. Was actually a trip to the origins of my own poetry and inspirations. No wonder we still have these Mythology in our everyday life. Thor gave the name to our Thursday. So funny indeed! Thanks for stopping by Lisa. Have a Wonderful day.


  • Rusticliving profile image

    Elizabeth Rayen 6 years ago from California

    Good Morning LORD,

    I have always loved Norse mythology. I remember listening to my grandfather (who was an excellent storyteller) act out the adventures of Thor. His animated face would keep me engulfed for hours!

    Wonderful Hub. Voted way up!

  • Lord De Cross profile image

    Joseph De Cross 6 years ago

    Gypsy Rose Lee,

    Hi there friend. You have covered a topic that was left aside, and thanks for giving us that lead. Now that we have the information highway to our fingertips; just think, how hard it was before the invention of the Printing machine/Lord/

    Hi there Raciniwa,

    Norse mythology was always fascinating. Just to think of it, we used to love Thor and his adventures, when we were kids. Take care friend!


  • raciniwa profile image

    raciniwa 6 years ago from Naga City, Cebu

    I'm a lover of stories Mighty Lord, and i'm glad you write a hub about the Icelandic Prose, i'm always fascinated by Norse mythology, they have a style of their you do have too...great hub...

  • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

    Gypsy Rose Lee 6 years ago from Riga, Latvia

    Voted up and interesting! Great hub! I'd heard about something called tale weaving guess it's similar to story telling and prose writing. Passing this on.

  • Lord De Cross profile image

    Joseph De Cross 6 years ago

    Hi Debbie!

    Was rewarding enough writing it. We as writers should wonder, where this thirst for writing come from? Is it really in the genes? The fellow hubber Notuba commented that some are..or have a style of their own, and some can tell a tale with powerful meanings! Glad you liked it!


  • Deborah Brooks profile image

    Deborah Brooks Langford 6 years ago from Brownsville,TX

    wow.. this is amazing.. I come from England.. the Norsemen have always amazed me.. this is my kind of reading,, what great history and poets too.

    I love your hubs.. and the video excellent.

    voted way up my friend


  • Lord De Cross profile image

    Joseph De Cross 6 years ago

    Hi Nutuba,

    This was interesting enough for us to investigate and do research. Thanks to Phillys Doyle, we went back to Norse shores to find...ourselves? Storytelling was passed along from lost and timeless generations. One of the legacies came in the music and the lyrics we all remember so well, when we sign it with our favorite rock star. Thanks for leaving a comment Nutuba.


  • nutuba profile image

    nutuba 6 years ago from North Carolina

    Interesting! The art of storytelling has always fascinated me. I've noticed that some families are prolific, while other families do very little. I think the older generations do a better job at it than the younger generations.