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Hearth Culture Book Review: Prose Edda

Czech edition of this top primary sources for the study of Norse Paganism comes with a thorough and readable foreword focused on the historical and literary context of the work, though not much the religion, unfortunately. The translator is our prominent Germanic Studies scholar.

The Gylfagynning is an inspiring and enchanting piece of mythology, edespite the number of centuries that have passed, and the fact that this is a translated work. If anything, I felt I could “catch” the spirit of the Pagan way of thinking, although distant. The narrative is framed by the story of king Gylfi who visits the Ásgard in disguise and inquires about many secrets of the world from the High One (Odin) himself. The name of this part indicates that for a Christian-raised monk it was only acceptable to tell the mythological stories as fiction, as we find out in the end that all which Gylfi has seen was just a peculiar illusion. The second visible treatment of the material, characteristic for Medieval Scholarship, is the historizing of mythical beings, such as the Aesir being a noble race from Asia. Aside from that though we can observe the traditional amicable Norse attitude towards Paganism that contrasted with the rest of Europe.

The second part, Skáldskaparmál, is a dialogue between two gods, where Bragi,the patron of poetry explains origins of several kennings in stories.

The Háttatál, third part, about poetry forging, comes useful for liturgy creation, as my Asatru friend pointed out to me, namely the epithets of gods given there.
The work is attributed to Snorri Sturlusson, an Icelandic historian, poet and politician. His main aim, says the common history textbook, was to preserve the traditional poetry forms for future generations. Naturally this became a subject to furious speculations among Neopagans who would be happier to believe that he was in fact aiming to preserve the old religion.

Was Snorri a Pagan-in-hiding, trying to preserve the ancient lore or a Christian apologist, scoffing openly at the barbaric religion of his fore bearers? As much as both interpretations ignite and could be supported by arguments, I personally see Snorri as the normal guy he probably was: a man who loved good storytelling, the cultural richness of his people and who was educated in a Latin, Christian manner.