Edda Sæmundar Hinns Froða
The Edda Of Sæmund The Learned
From The Old Norse Or Icelandic With A Mythological Index
(Chiefly from the Vita Sæamundi Multiseii volgo Froda, Autore Arna Magnæo,
prefixed to the Copenhagen edition.)
Sæmund, son of Sigfus, the reputed collector of the poems bearing his name, which is sometimes also called the Elder, and the Poetic, Edda, was of a highly distinguished family, being descended in a direct line from King Harald Hildetönn. He was born at Oddi, his paternal dwelling in the south of Iceland, between the years 1054 and 1057, or about 50 years after the establishment by law of the Christian religion in that island; hence it is easy to imagine that many heathens, or baptized favourers of the old mythic songs of heathenism, may have lived in his days and imparted to him the lays of the times of old, which his unfettered mind induced him to hand down to posterity.
The youth of Sæmund was
passed in travel and study, in Germany and France, and, according to some
accounts, in Italy. His cousin John Ögmundson, who later became first
bishop of Holum, and after his death was received among the number of
saints, when on his way to Rome, fell in with his youthful kinsman, and
took him back with him to Iceland, in the year 1076. Sæmund afterwards
became a priest at Oddi, where he instructed many young men in useful
learning; but the effects of which were not improbably such as to the
common people might appear as witchcraft or magic: and, indeed, Sæmund´s
predilection for the sagas and songs of the old heathen times (even for
the magical ones) was so well known, that among his countrymen there were
some who regarded him as a great sorcerer, though chiefly in what is called
white or innocuous and defensive sorcery, a repute which still clings
to his memory among the common people of Iceland, and will long adhere
to it through the numerous and popular stories regarding him (some of
them highly entertaining) that are orally transmitted from generation
to generation. (1.)
Sæmund died at the age of 77, leaving behind him a work on the history of Norway and Iceland, which is now entirely lost.
The first who ascribed to Sæmund the collection of poems known as the Poetic Edda, (2) was Brynjolf Sveinsson, bishop of Skalholt. This prelate, who was a zealous collector of ancient manuscripts, found in the year 1643, the old vellum codex, which is the most complete of all the known manuscripts of the Edda; of this he caused a transcript to be made, which he entitled Edda Sæmundi Multiseii. The transcript came into the possession of the royal historiographer Torfæus; the original, together with other MSS., was presented to the King of Denmark, Frederick III., and placed in the royal library at Copenhagen, where it now is. (3) As many of the Eddaic poems appear to have been orally transmitted in an imperfect state, the collector has supplied the deficiencies by prose insertions, whereby the integrity of the subject is to a certain degree restored.
The collection called Sæmund´s Edda consists of two parts, viz., the Mythological and the Heroic. It is the former of these which is now offered to the public in an English version. In the year 1797, a translation of this first part, by A.S. Cottle, was published at Bristol. This work I have never met with; nor have I seen any English version of any part of the Edda, which the exception of Gray´s spirited but free translation of the Vegtamskvida. The present volume closes with a translation of the Solarlioð, a poem in which the religion of the country appears in a transition state from Heathenism to Christianity. (4)
Some readers will, I doubt
not, be desirous of ampler illustration of the mythological poems of the
Edda than that which is afforded by the Index to this volume; to such
I would recommend the translation of the Prose Edda, in Mallet´s “Northern
Antiquities”, published by Bohn, and Thorpe´s “Northern Mythology and
Popular Traditions,” in 3 vols. Small 8, the 1st vol. Of which contains
a good and satisfactory compendium of the Odinic religion. The German
scholar will find ample and valuable information on the same subject in
the “Altnordische Mythologie” prefixed to Professor Lünings editions of
the Edda, a work which I have principally used while revising the present
translation, and which I regard as unquestionably the best existing.
From a memorandum made at the time, I find that this volume was ready for press in the year 1856, though the idea of offering it to the public was not entertained until about two years ago. On intimating my intention to one or two persons, I was informed that an edition was already in the press, and, consequently, I withdrew from the field. But as that edition seems to be postponed sine die, or I had been misinformed regarding it, I have resolved on sending forth my humble production. It is needless to inform my readers that it has no pretension to elegance; but I believe it to be a faithful though homely representation of the original, and may, at all events serve as a stop-gap until made to give place to a worthier work; for that the lack of an edition of the Edda seems a chasm in our literaeniture cannot be denied.
If a not unfavourable
reception is given it by the British public, the Second, or Heroic part
shall be immediately sent to press.
1. The following, the first among many, may serve as a specimen.
Sæmund was residing, in the south of Europe, with a famous Master, by whom he was instructed in every kind of lore; while, on the other hand, he forgot (apparently through intense study) all that he had previously learned, even to his own name; so that when the holy man John Ögmundson came to his abode, he told him that his name was Koll; but on John insisting that he was no other than Sæmund Sigfusson, born at Oddi in Iceland, and relating to him many particulars regarding himself, he at length became conscious of his own identity, and resolved to flee from the place with his kinsman. For the purpose of deceiving the Master, John continued some time in the place, and often came to visit him and Sæmund: till at last, on dark night, they betook themselves to flight. No sooner had the Master missed them than he sent in pursuit of them; but in vain, and the heavens were too overcast to admit, according to his custom, of reading their whereabouts in the stars. So they traveled day and night and all the following day. But the next night was clear, and the Master at once read in the stars where they were, and set out after them at full speed. Then Sæmund, casting his eyes up at the heavens, said: ‘Now is my Master in chase of us, and sees where we are.’ And on John asking what was to be done, he answered: ‘Take one of my shoes off; fill it with water, and set it on my head.’ John did so, and at the same moment, the Master, looking up at the heavens, says to his companion: ‘Bad news: the stranger John has drowned my pupil; there is water about his forehead.’ And thereupon returned home. The pair now again prosecute their journey night and day; but, in the following night, the Master again consults the stars, when, to his great amazement, he sees the star of Sæmund directly above his head, and again sets out after the fugitives. Observing this, Sæmund says: ‘The astrologer is again after us, and again we must look to ourselves: take my shoe off again, and with your knife stab me in the thigh: fill the shoe with blood, and place it on the top of my head.’ John does as directed, and the Master again gazing at the stars, says: ‘There is blood now about the star of Master Koll, and the stranger has for certain murdered him’: and so returns home. The old man now has once more recourse to his art; but on seeing Sæmund’s star shining brightly above him, he exclaimed: ‘My pupil is still living: so much the better. I have taught him more than enough; for he outdoes me both in astrology and magic. Let them now proceed in safety; I am unable to hinder their departure.’ [Back]
2) Bishop P.E. Müller supposes the greater number of the Eddaic poems to be of the 8th century. Sagabibliothek II, p.131. [Back]
3) Codex Regius, No. 2365, 4. The handwriting of this MS. is supposed to be of the beginning of the 14th century. [Back]
4) The Solarlioð is by some supposed to be the composition of Sæmund himself. [Back]