Codex Regius

Codex Regius

Codex Regius
Codex Regius and Flateyjarbók (open).

Codex Regius, “(The) Royal Book”; Icelandic: Konungsbók) is an Icelandic codex in which many Old Norse poems are 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 [R] for Codex Regius, or as [K] for Konungsbók.

Nothing was 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 for Icelandic Studies. 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 Snorri’s 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 for Icelandic Studies.

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 Gudrún.

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 fornyrðislagstanza.”


Völuspá (Prophecy of the Völva)
Hávamál (Sayings of the high one)
Vafþrúðnismál (Vafþrúðnir’s sayings)
Grímnismál (Sayings of Grímnir)
Skírnismál (Sayings of Skírnir)
Hárbarðsljóð (Lay of Hárbarðr)
Hymiskviða (Hymir’s poem)
Lokasenna (Loki’s quarrel)
Þrymskviða (Thrym’s poem)
Völundarkviða (Völundr’s poem)
Alvíssmál (Talk of Alvíss)
Helgakviða Hundingsbana I (First Lay of Helgi Hundingsbane)
Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar (Lay of Helgi Hjörvarðsson)
Helgakviða Hundingsbana II (Second Lay of Helgi Hundingsbane)
Frá dauða Sinfjötla (On the death of Sinfjötli)
Grípisspá (Grípir’s prophecy)
Reginsmál (Reginn’s sayings)
Fáfnismál (Fáfnir’s sayings)
Sigrdrífumál (Sigrdrífa sayings)
The Great Lacuna
Brot af Sigurðarkviðu
Guðrúnarkviða I (First Lay of Guðrún)
Sigurðarkviða hin skamma (the Short Lay of Sigurd)
Helreið Brynhildar (Brynhild’s Hel-Ride)
Dráp Niflunga
Guðrúnarkviða II (The Second Lay of Gudrún)
Guðrúnarkviða III (The Third Lay of Gudrún)
Oddrúnargrátr (Oddrún’s lament)
Atlakviða (The Lay of Atli)
Atlamál (The Greenlandic Lay of Atli)