Edda is a term used to describe two Icelandic manuscripts that were copied and compiled in the 13th century. Together they are the main sources of Norse mythology and Skaldic poetry that relate the religion, cosmogony and history of the Norse and Proto-Germanic tribes. The prose or younger edda dates from around AD 1220 and was compiled by Snorri Sturluson, an Icelandic poet and historian.

Snorri Sturluson’s work was the first of the two manuscripts to be called the Edda, however scholars are unsure exactly how this came about. Snorri himself did not name it. The term, ‘Edda’, was later attributed to Snorri’s work by a different author in an early 14th-century manuscript, the Codex Upsaliensis, which contained a copy of Snorri’s Edda within it. Gudbrand Vigfusson, in The Poetry of the Old Northern Tongue, quotes the Codex Upsaliensis as saying: “This book is called the Edda, which Snorri Sturlason put together according to the order set forth here: First, on the Æsir and Gylfi.”

The first use of the word ‘Edda’, which has so far been located, was in a poem called Lay of Righ (Háttatal), which was written by Snorri. In this poem, the word “Edda” is used as a title for “great-grandmother”. Various theories exist, but one suggests that the term may have been associated with Snorri’s manuscript because, as a great-grandmother, she carries a breadth of ancient knowledge and wisdom. Another theory that is more widely accepted by scholars today proposes that ‘Edda’ is closely associated with the word Oddi, which is the Icelandic town where Snorri grew up.

Snorri Sturluson’s Edda was later called the Prose Edda, due to its addition of prose explanations of alliterative verse and difficult symbolism. It appears that Snorri designed the manuscript as a textbook on skaldic poetry. However, it has been highly regarded for the songs and poems that record an incredible variety of mythology, heroes, and battles. His verse reflected the older styles of court poetry and was esteemed a high standard for other poets. It was a perhaps unattainable standard for future generations of poets, as many considered it too cryptic and difficult.