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    Mar 13

    Written by: Michael Dalby 3/13/2013 3:43 PM 

    The Greeks have Homeric poetry and the Indians have the Vedic literature; equally as important to Nordic culture are The EddasThe Prose Edda and The Poetic Edda are the pre-Christian Icelandic oral traditions that were written during the medieval period. The creators and compliers of these texts had lives that were just as colorful as the material they wrote about.
    The Poetic Edda/Prose Edda
    The Poetic Edda is a collection of oral poems. For hundreds of years these poems had been orally transmitted. There is no one particular author attributed to The Poetic Edda, however some give credit to a monk called Saemundur the Learned as complier. Saemunder’s life plays a large role in some of the folklore of Iceland.
    He was said to have studied in Paris at the “Black School”, some believe that this was a school of esoteric studies while others say that it is the forerunner to the Sorbonnne. Other sources says that he studied at Franconia, which is today part of the eastern section of the historic Duchy of Franconia in Germany. While in school, he acquired some Latin texts. He also is said to have had some encounters with the Devil. There are some stories of these interactions with the Devil constantly trying Saemunder. Never the less good always triumphs evil and Saemunder is always victorious.
    What is known for sure is that he settled in Oddi, Iceland in the 11th century. He became the first priest and Chieftain. The Latin texts that he brought back with him he had recorded on parchment. Saemunder also collected the oral text that would also make up the Poetic Edda. These activities helped him to put Oddi on the map as a center for learning and culture. The legacy of learning that Saemunder created at Oddi was maintained by his family for two centuries. One of these family members was Jon Loftsson, Saemunder’s grandson. Jon was a much respected Chieftain and landowner during his lifetime.  In his role as Chieftain he settled many disputes amongst the citizenry. One such case involved a priest who got into a dispute with an ambitious landowner named Sturla Thondarson. They had verbal confrontation over money and physical violence ensued. The priest’s wife grabbed a knife, with the intent of taking out one of Sturla’s eyes, but only succeeded in cutting his cheek. Sturla then pretended to care for his wound, but in reality he deepens the cut and blood began to ooze out. The result of this action allowed Sturla to claim personal injury and demand a large settlement. Jon Loftsson came to the aide of the priest. He worked out a deal with Sturla. Jan would adopt his 3 year- old son Snorri. Snorri Sturluson (1178-1241) grew up on the family’s estate on Oddi. While there, he was exposed to poetry, literature, history, theology and Latin.

    Snorri and his family moved up in the realms of political power. He became one of the country’s most powerful leaders, Landspeaker of Iceland. His family dominated Iceland from 1120-1264. This time is known as The Sturlung Age. It was an era marked by political, social and intellectual change in Iceland. Their history is chronicled in The Sturlunga Saga. What differentiates these sagas from other family sagas is that the feuds of the Sturlunga had national ramifications. 

    Durring Snorri’s lifetime he also wrote. He is the author of The Prose Edda. Sturluson wanted to preserve the oral stories and poetry forms of Iceland. These stories ran counter to the teaching of the church. Iceland became Christianized in 1000. The myths and folkloric traditions of the Iceland would have been lost had Snorri not recorded them.
     JRR Tolkien was one person who would have missed out. Tolkien enjoyed these tales and had extensive knowledge of the Icelandic language. These were the myths of the gods like Thor and Odin. He felt that this mythology should receive more attention at Oxford where he was teaching at the time. In order to achieve his goal he and fellow professors, including C.S. Lewis formed a group called The Coalbitters. The name was taken from an Old Norse word that meant a person who sits close to the fire. This group got together to discuss and read The Eddas and Icelandic sagas in their original form. In honor of the release of the movie “The Hobbit” A display of JRR Tolkien and the influence of European Folk-Lore are currently on display in the Special Collections Department. Patrons can also find Hobbit and Tolkien related books on display in the literature department.
    Books of note
    The Demon Whistle
    Sæmundur the Wise and His Dealings with the Devil
    Njörður P. Njarðvík
    White Collection in Special Collections Department
    GR215 .N5613 1995
    The Prose Edda
    White Collection in Special Collections Department
    839.6 ED25B
    The Poetic Edda
    White Collection in Special Collections department
    839.6 ED2H52
    Icelandic Legends (collected by Jón Arnason)
    Jón Árnason
    White Collection in Special Collections department
    384.91 AR6P2
    Sturlunga saga
    White Collection in Special Collections department
    839.6 ST96B V.1-3


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