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Edda * Snorri Sturluson (transl. Marcel Otten) (2011)

In Dutch so far we had no translation of the “Snorra Edda” (also called “Prose Edda” or “younger Edda”). In a 1990’s book the most important parts have been translated in a book about Northern mythology, but I have never been able to lay my hands on a copy. Otten also translated the other Edda and many sagas. Otten lives and works in Reykjavik. This new translation comes in a luxery hardcover, Otten added the first 12 chapters of the Heimskringla as well (and he is said to have plans for the complete Heimskringla in Dutch) and made a large list of notes and a detailed index. According to the preface, there are hardly any (near) complete translations of this book. Only Faulkes’ translation to English (which I happen to have) and now his own translation did not skip the lengthy lists of ‘kennings’ and Snorri’s test-of-strength concluding poem in which everything that he described in the previous chapters comes back. Yet, both Otten and Faulkes left out a few untranslatable passages. As you might know, this Edda of Snorri is really a handbook for poets, but in his explaining of the meanings of passages, Snorri rattles up a massive number of myths, also a few that we do not know from other sources. Also he quotes poems that have not survived. The first two chapters are the most famous. In the Gylfaginning king Gylfi visits the Aesir to gain knowledge. In later chapters the poetry itself is what it is all about. Snorri comes up with countless of ways to refer to something or someone. The material is getting dryer and dryer. As Otten says, once you get the hang of the strange ‘kennings’ and other poetical tricks, trying to figure them out becomes enjoyable.
As with Otten’s other translations, there is a downpart to this new book, to me at least. Otten chooses to translate almost anything. Especially his translations of names works on my nerves. I agree with Otten that many (or all) names are not chosen by accident and (probably) mean something, but I would prefer the he made notes of that rather than translate the names in the texts. Also I find his choices what to translate questionable. “Mjölnir” is an established name and Otten leaves it untranslated, but “Audhumla” becomes “Zonder Hoorn” (‘without horn’). So I find myself making a load of notes so that I know what Otten is talking about. Besides, when the names are meaningless, what is the use of translations such as “Hosklos” (for Hrungir, meaning something like ‘bounce spool’) or “Rietgrijnzer” (‘reed grinner’ for Sefgrísnir). Especially when he translates known names I find myself opening another Edda or page to the index (Fafnir becomes “Inslaper” or ‘faller asleep’, Hvergelmir becomes “Bruisketel” or ‘foam kettle’, etc.). Another thing that bugs me is that neither Faulkes nor Otten makes any subdivisions. I do not know if the divisions of Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur is based on the original texts, but I find his ‘chapters’ very helpfull. If all translators would use them, I could tell a German or a Brit to go to chapter 30 instead of saying: “In my Dutch translation this is page 52, in my English translation 26.” I marked these chapter in both my translations.
Even though I am not always too happy with the translation itself, I am happy that Otten makes the effort to bring these texts under the attention of a larger audience and I suppose this book will come in handy for all Dutch-speaking Asatruar and interested.
2011 Athenaeum, isbn 902536814X

4 thoughts on “Edda * Snorri Sturluson (transl. Marcel Otten) (2011)”

  1. Thank you for your review on my translation of Snorra Edda. However, there are some things I would like to comment upon. First of all: I have no intention to translate Heimskringla into Dutch, as I think the story of the Norwegian kings is not of interest for a Dutch reading public. I am not aware that Anthony Faulkes skipped ‘a few untranslatable passages’, he translated the entire text. I didn’t translate Snorri’s comments on the different verse forms in Háttatal; however, I sometimes explained those comments in the notes. In the introductions of both Edda’s I made a clear distinction which names in the text are translated and which names are left in the original form. There is really no need to make ‘a load of notes’ on the names: in the index of both Edda’s you will find the translated names as well as the original ones. I never translated the name Fafnir; the names of Fafnir and Sváfnir are mixed up here. ‘Inslaper’ is a correct translation of ‘Sváfnir’. I am fully aware that it is questionable to translate names, but I am sure it appeals to the Dutch reading public. I do not make any subdivisions because they are not to be found in the original text.

    Kind regards,

    Marcel Otten

  2. Marcel, thanks a lot for your follow up. I realise that it is impossible to please everyone. There is a gap between the audience that buys your book because of an interest in literature and there are people like myself who look at the text from a more religious point of view. I like to have a couple of translations and the original text (which I have of the elder Edda, but not of this one) for textual comparisons, referential purposes, etc. so subdivisions such as that of Brodeur are helpfull (any idea on how he came to his divisions?) and especially a bilingual publication would be amazing. Of course I read about your considerations about what to translate and what not, but for my kind of reader, Mjölnir or Audhumla are both vital term and equally known.
    The two mistakes in my review (undoubtely because of hastiness) are my bad and corrected.

    I am of, and write for, another audience than you aim for. It is just the way it is. I am very happy with your translation (in combination with my other translations) and look forward to your next work (if it will not be the Heimskringla, what then?)


  3. Dear Roy,

    Thank you for your email. The best publications of the Snorra Edda are:
    Snorri Sturluson, Edda, Prologue and Gylfaginning, ed. Anthony Faulkes, Viking Society for Northern Research, London 2005
    – – – – , Skáldskaparmál, 1: Introduction, Text and Notes; ed. Anthony Faulkes, Viking etc.1998
    – – – -, Skáldskaparmál, 2: Glossary and Index, ed. Anthony Faulkes, Viking etc.1998
    – – – – , Háttatal, ed. Anthony Faulkes, Viking etc.1999

    These are the publications of the original texts. The complete English translation by Anthony Faulkes, Snorri Sturluson, Edda, Everyman, New York 1995.
    Another good (partial) translation is by Jesse L. Byock, Penguin Classics, London 2005.

    Subdivisions as by Brodeur are made by the translators themselves. Nowhere in the original text subdivisions are given; this goes for the saga’s as well.

    How come you can read Dutch?

    Kind regards,

    Marcel Otten

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