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Ian Myles Slater on: An Up-to-Date Version,
This review is from: The Poetic Edda (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
The "Elder" or "Poetic" "Edda" is the modern name for a set of Old Norse mythological (mainly about gods) and heroic (mainly about humans) poems, found in a limited number of Icelandic manuscripts, the most important of which is damaged, and missing pages, and does not agree with other copies, and quotations in other medieval texts. The exact list of poems included in "The Poetic Edda" varies slightly, with editors and translators having a little leeway.
The exact meaning of the name is uncertain -‚€" it may indicate "Poetics," it may just mean "(the book written) at Oddi" in Iceland. In either case, the name originally designated a mainly prose work by Snorri Sturluson, the "Younger" or "Prose" "Edda" describing the mythology of his ancestors, and how to compose or understand poems in the traditional style based on references to it. The present group of poems in a simpler style, some of which were cited by Snorri, was for a time attributed to another Icelander, Saemund the Wise, who was vaguely described as having also written an "Edda," and it was sometimes called "Edda Saemundar" ("Saemund's Edda"), as against "Snorri's Edda." Under these various titles, the collections has been translated into English many times, in prose and verse, beginning in the nineteenth century; with some portions appearing in English as early as the eighteenth century.
The "World's Classics" series from Oxford University Press finally included a translation of this famous collection in its list in 1997; it has since been reprinted in the slightly refurbished and renamed series of "Oxford World's Classics."
In it, Carolyne Larrington followed the 1983 revision of the Neckel-Kuhn text edition, without giving specific notice of all of its decisions on how to resolve contradictions in the manuscript evidence. (A reader who consults the notes at the end will find some of them, particularly regarding the ordering of stanzas.) Most previous translators produced eclectic versions, based on a variety of older editions, and often noting their own departures from the then-standard text editions. This may have given rise to complaints about the translation's accuracy, as in the Amazon US reviews. For those without access to the latest revised version of Kuhn's revision of Neckel's turn-of-the-century critical edition, or even aware that such changes are possible, Larrington's departures from the familiar are likely to seem arbitrary.
She also seems to be making full use of the latest in linguistic scholarship -- another reason for departing from familiar readings.
Of course, some of her translations may well be wrong -- translators have to make decisions among various options, and the format of this book does not allow for full discussions of such problems. Some problems have no easy answer; for example, there are lists of names, most of which, but not all, were chosen for their obvious meanings; should any of them be translated in the main text? I found many points on which I would differ, preferring the arguments advanced by other scholars, but any other amateur, but enthusiastic, reader could probably come up with an entirely different list. I appreciate having her version available.
What I find a more serious problem is that the translation is not really all that pleasant to read, and, although valuable to the serious student, is not likely to attract the merely curious. Despite being set up in stanzas, it is extremely prosy. This was probably the result of a decision to prefer precision to literary form, but, after comparing translations of sample passages going back to William Morris in the nineteenth century, I can't say that I am completely convinced. I could be wrong; I would not be astonished to find that someone fell in love with Old Norse literature through this version. But I do think that some older versions would serve this purpose better, despite many shortcomings, due in part to age.
I offer, as examples, two other complete versions in English. Henry Adams Bellows' translation (from the American-Scandinavian Foundation, 1923) was at least interesting to read aloud, despite numerous shortcomings, both as a translation and as poetry. (It was out of print, except in a very expensive limited edition, but is available in digital form, and is being reprinted in its original two-volume format, at a much more reasonable price, by Dover; as of summer 2004, "Mythological Poems" had appeared.) Lee M. Hollander's attempt at an alliterative verse rendering (University of Texas, also 1923, second edition, 1962, and still in print in paperback) is sometimes a little hard to follow, but at least the reader is kept aware that the original is a metrical composition. (I once worked through a good part of Hollander's text-edition-for-students of "Seven Eddic Lays," so his translation seems to me comparatively clear -- and very accurate, since it matches his editing and glossary!) Larrington's stanza divisions, by comparison, seem to be there strictly as points of reference.
Curiously, neither of these translations is mentioned, so far as I can see, anywhere in the present volume; nor is another, more recent, American translation, by Patricia Terry, which has undergone several revised printings, under at least two titles. Larrington discusses in detail older translations published in Britain, which is fair enough; but she somehow omits from this survey the expanded edition of Auden and Taylor's "The Elder Edda: A Selection" as "Norse Poems" (1981), which does contain the whole standard Eddic "canon".
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 24 Sep 2009 14:37:54 BDT
Martin Turner says:
She probably omits Auden and Taylor's because it is not a translation, but rather a loose interpretation, as set out in the 'translator's' note at the beginning. It sounds lovely, but is more interesting for students of Auden than for students of Old Norse.
Posted on 28 Nov 2010 17:26:08 GMT
A Reader says:
An excellent review, perhaps more Poetic Edda overview, but very useful nonetheless, thank you.
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