Codex Regius

Codex Regius

Cōdex Rēgius (which is Latin for "King's Book", in Icelandic Konungsbók) (GKS 2365 4to) is an Icelandic manuscript (See also Codex) in which the Poetic Edda is preserved. It is made up of 45 vellum leaves, thought to have been written in the 1270s. It originally contained a further 8 leaves, which are now missing. It is the sole source for most of the poems it contains. In scholarly texts, this manuscript is commonly abbreviated as for Codex Regius, or as for Konungsbók.

Nothing is known of its whereabouts until 1643 when it came into the possession of Brynjólfur Sveinsson, then Bishop of Skálholt, who sent it as a present to King Frederick III of Denmark in 1662, hence the name. It was then kept in the Royal Library in Copenhagen until April 21 1971, when it was brought back to Reykjavík and is now kept in the Árni Magnússon Institute. Since air travel was not to be entirely trusted at the time with such precious cargo, it was transported by ship, accompanied by a military escort.

One of the principal manuscripts of the Prose Edda (GKS 2367 4to) also goes by the name of the Codex Regius. It is made up of 55 vellum pages dating from the early 14th century. It was part of the same gift from Bishop Brynjólfur to Frederick III. It was returned to Iceland in 1985, where it is now also in the Árni Magnússon Institute.

Bestselling author J.R.R. Tolkien frequently lectured on the subject of the Codex Regius during his decades long career as an Oxford professor. In 2009, seventy years after its composition, HarperCollins posthumously published Tolkien's verse retelling of part of the Codex Regius, which was entitled, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun.

In a 1967 letter to W. H. Auden, Tolkien had written,

"Thank you for your wonderful effort in translating and reorganizing The Song of the Sibyl. In return, I hope to send you, if I can lay my hands on it (I hope it isn't lost), a thing I did many years ago while trying to learn the art of writing alliterative poetry: an attempt to unify the lays about the Völsungs from the Elder Edda, written in the old eight-line fornyrðislag stanza."

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