Last month, we talked about how some basic English words were derived from Old Norse. Well this time around, ‘Cowboy Professor’ Dr. Jackson Crawford has released a video that focuses solely on the historically Nordic scheme of things, with his pronunciation of authentic Old Norse sourced from Poetic Edda.
Professor Crawford, who is currently serving as the Director of Nordic Studies at the University of Colorado, makes it clear that Old Norse is not identical to any modern Scandinavian language (though it is similar to the present-day Icelandic linguistic pattern).
English translation of the Hávamál 77 –
deyr sjálfr et sama;
ek veit einn,
at aldri deyr:
dómr um dauðan hvern.
you yourself die;
I know one thing
which never dies:
the judgment of a dead man’s life.
The Poetic Edda –
Now while we do get a fair notion of how Old Norse sounded from the video, the source material in itself also boasts its fascinating place in the history of Nordic literature. We are talking about the Poetic Edda that pertains to Old Norse poems that formed a unique part of the incredible oral tradition of early medieval Iceland. Many of these poems were compiled and written down (from circa 1000 – 1300 AD), with most of the collections (and their variant versions) containing text from the Codex Regius (Royal Book), an Icelandic medieval manuscript dating from circa 1270 AD.
The Codex Regius in itself is considered as one of the most important extant sources for both Norse mythology and Germanic legends. John Bruno Hare, the late founder of Internet Sacred Text Archive, had this to say about the related content of Poetic Edda –
The poems are great tragic literature, with vivid descriptions of the emotional states of the protagonists, Gods and heroes alike. Women play a prominent role in the Eddic age, and many of them are delineated as skilled warriors. The impact of these sagas from a sparsely inhabited rocky island in the middle of the Atlantic on world culture is wide-ranging. Wagners’ operas are largely based on incidents from the Edda, via the Niebelungenlied. J.R.R. Tolkien also plundered the Eddas for atmosphere, plot material and the names of many characters in the Hobbit, and the Lord of the Rings.
Finally, as for the authorship of the Poetic Edda, experts have concluded that a vast majority of these Old Norse poems were of the minstrel type, probably passed down from generation to generation via the oral tradition – much like the archaic Greek tales that were later compiled into Iliad and Odyssey. In essence, the Scandinavian poems were probably composed by different poets (in variant time periods), and in some cases were possibly even ‘modified’ by bards of the next century. The Hávamál (roughly translated to “sayings of the high one”), presented in the video above by Professor Crawford, pertains to one such composite poem from the Codex Regius, with its verses being attributed to Odin himself.
Source: Sacred Texts