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Living Asatru * Stephen A. McNallen * 1993

“A handbook of simple celebrations” is the subtitle for this A4 book of 54 pages. It is a nice introduction to show how you can bring Asatru into your daily life. McNallen shows how he sees influence and fuctions of the gods, how to revive your pre-Christian faith by simple daily rituals, how to make mead, how to make your family aware of the kins-links, etc. Towards the end McNallen goes around the year speaking about self-invented and traditional festivities and how to incorporate them in our present day lives. All this is brought in a very readable and simple manner with a lot of humor. A nice read for sure and both for newbees and people who have been studying the matter for a longer time, but fail to find a way to use all the information in their daily lifes.

What Is Asatru * Stephen A. McNallen 1985

This is an old booklet by the founder of the Asatru Folk Assembly, but it was revised in the previous year. In the form of questions and answers you get the most basic info about the Asatru faith. How does the “Asafolk” see their gods, festivities, other convictions, nature, daily life, etc. The booklet is only 16 pages.

Tacitus: De Opstand Van De Bataven * Vincent Hunink (transl.) (athenaeum 2005 * isbn 9025353347)

However the revolt of the Batavians was actually just a short rebellion against the Roman occupators, this history is often displayed as being a part of the glorious past of the Dutch peoples. The only information about this period in history comes from the Histories of Publius Cornelius Tacitus (ca.55-117). Hunink is translator of more classical texts and is working on a translation of the complete works of Tacitus. For the purpose of the Batavians, he only used the three parts of the Histories in which Tacitus writes about the Batavians. This Germanic tribe came to live on what is now Dutch soil. They cooperated with the Romans, but revolted and eventually came back on friendly terms. This history can be found in this nice, small and cheap book. Hunink made a nice introduction and a register/glossery. That register is not too handy, because when Tacitus writes: “Civilis and Classicus were happy because…” and you want to look up who these two persons were again, you have to scan the entire register, because the names are listed under the J of “Julius Civilis” and “Julius Classicus”. For the rest, a very nice booklet in a luxery publication.

Commentarii De Bello Gallico * Gaius Julius Caesar (Vincent Hunink, translator) (51 BCE / 1997/2004 athenaeum * isbn 9025306667)

This new (1997) Dutch translation comes in a nice and small hardcover booklet for a more than reasonable price. For a long time I had wanted to read it, just to have read it. When I eventually bought the book it took me relatively long to read it. Not because it is a boring book, but just because I read small parts of it every now and then. This is of course the famous book about Julius Caesar’s wars in Gaul, a book that is often quoted as a source of information on Celts and Teutons. The book (or at least this translation) reads very easily, almost like a novel. Caesar is regarded as a gifted writer and I can only agree with it. Together with information about wars and expeditions, Caesar gives information about Germanic and Celtic tribes, the way they live, their gods (but of course with the famous ‘interpretatio Romana’), how bridges are built, how battles are prepared. A very nice read! Hunink (who also translated Tacitus for us Dutchmen) added the additions by Aulus Hirtius who filled the gap until the end of Caesars book and the end of Caesar’s reign. After this follows a very informative text of the translator of how this book is extremely coloured and not at all a reliable source of information, nor even does it give a good image of the Gaulic campaign of Caesar. With such information, this is a must-read for everybody interested in (Roman) history and prechristian Northern Europe. I am sure (or at least hope) that there is a comparable English (or whatever language is your own) version available. Dutch readers are lucky to be able to buy something like this.

Germania * Tacitus (reclam 1972 – isbn 3150093910)

“De origine et situ Germanorum liber” is the actual title of this first century book. It was written by the Roman Publius or Gaius Cornelius Tacitus (±55-120) and as you can see the book got known under a much shorter name. The actual title means ‘book about the origins and location of the Germans’, which covers the text completely. I got this Latin/German book for only E 3,10. The German publisher Reclam always has these small and cheap books, many of them of old texts. The translation is of 1972. This small book has about 110 pages. About half of them are filled with the Latin text (on the left pages) and the German translation (on the right). The rest are notes/explanations and a biography of the writer.

Tacitus has travelled through the Germanic countries extensively and gives a nice overview of the differnt tribes, the Germanic culture, etc. Of course he wrote from his Roman background, so -for example- Germanic gods get Roman names. Also not all information has proven correctly too. Still the text is a very nice overview of the mass of Germanic tribes that were present in the first years of our era. Tacitus gives some history, where the different tribes had their territories, describes habbits and culture, a little bit of mythology. In any case it is good to have a copy of this often-quoted text at home yourself, especially when you also get the original language and even more especially when it is only E 3,10! There are more expensive German translations and all of the English translations are more expensive, but there is a Penguin Classic with the “Agricola” and “Germania” in one book for $ 10,50.

Saxo Grammaticus * Hans-Jürgen Hube (marix verlag 2004 * isbn 393771541X)

In Germany older books are sometimes rereleased by publishers such as Marix Verlag. The books are printed nicely, they mostly have a hard cover, but most of all, the prices are scandalously low. You can read reviews of other such books in these pages. The books and titles are all in German. I was delighted when in this line of works the history of the Danes (“Gesta Danorum”) of Saxo Grammaticus (ca. 1150 – ca. 1220) was released for a mere E 13,-. It was quite a read and I am still not sure what to think of this version of the book.
This work of Hube is not just a translation of the famous text. He also made lengthy explanations. Actually the explanations are longer than the text of Gramaticus himself. When reading this book I get the idea that Hube has tried to retell it using quotes from Gramaticus in his text. Still the cover says that this is a complete translation. Hube places the things that Gramaticus says in perspective, which is often helpfull. Sometimes the text he adds is superfluous. Further he seems to have made his own titles for chapters and I guess Hube has tried to put some humour in the book… The texts of Hube and Gramaticus are printed through eachother without a different typeface, make-up of anything which isn’t very handy. And inspite of the lengthy explanations there are hundreds and hundres of notes.
The “Gesta Danorum” is a book much like the “Heimskringla” of Snorri Sturluson (reviewed elsewhere). It is a history, in the case of Grammaticus of the kings of Denmark. Like Sturluson, Grammaticus interweaves history and myth, but mostly he tries to give the history of Denmark. Hube mostly aims for this historical side in his comments which doesn’t make the book more interesting. Hube IS helpfull for having descent knowledge of other important texts such as the sagas, the Eddas, other Northern texts (like Beowulf, the Nibelungenlied), etc. so he can give comparisons and illucidations. In a few cases Gramaticus gives other versions of famous myths, such as the death of Balder. Also there are myths in Grammaticus that can’t be found elsewhere, such as the stories of Starkadr. Since the “Gesta Danorum” was written in Latin, the names are sometimes different, but Hube translates them (“Balder” for “Balderus”, “Hodr” for “Hotherus”) which is a pitty.
All in all this book isn’t much of an exiting read, just like the Heimskringla actually. Since there is a good index, I decided to use this book for referential purposes. There are writers who compared Grammaticus’ text with the Eddas, etc. and I now have the possibility to look things back.

History Of The Archbishops Of Hamburg-Bremen * Adam of Bremen (translated by Charles Mierow) (columbia university press 2002 * isbn 0231125755)

This is an often-quoted 11th century book on the pre-Christian beliefs of (Northern) Europe. -Like Saxo Grammaticus- this is one of these books that belong in your personal library. This English translation is a nice publication. The translation is very readable (Adam must already have had a nice writing-style) and the translator not only searched for Adams sources, but added tons of notes (there are even notes within notes!). Like the title suggests, the book gives a history of the archbishops of the enormous bishophric of Hamburg-Bremen (Germany) which extented all the way up to Norway and Iceland. Most of the text consists of not too interesting and rather detailed discriptions of the early churchfathers, missionaries and bishops. Interwoven is information about the lands where these people travelled to in order to bring the ‘true faith’. You can also read about the struggles that the conversions costed sometimes, pagan kings who become Christian and pagan again, the Viking raids, etc. Here and there are descriptions of the pagan’s (Slavic and Germanic) practices, with of course as most famous, the description of the great temple of Uppsala in Sweden and the rituals around the feast that is held there every nine years. Adam used many texts that were compiled before him (by for example Beda and Vergil). I must note that Adam got all of his informations second-hand, the named sources, but mostly the stories of his contemporaries. Adam is often quoted as a reliable source, but the reason I am not too sure about this is the famous passage about the temple of Uppsala. On page 206 of my book (paragraph “XXV (25)” of book four) Adam describes the east of Sweden “where there is an immense wasteland, the deepest snows, and where hordes of human monsters prevent access to what lies beyond. There are Amazons, and Cyclops who have but one eye on their foreheads; there are those Solinus calls Himantopodes, who hop on one foot, and those who delight in human flesh as food”. The next three paragraphs are about the temple of Uppsala and the nine-year-feast during which men and a great many animals are killed and hung in trees as offerings to the gods… Indeed, most of the times Adam seems reliable, but such passages about monsters does not add to that idea!
But like I said, the book reads easily and since it is so often quoted, it is good to have a copy in your possession. This version is printed well, has many notes, a large bibliography and a descent index. Read it, and form your own opinion.

Heimskringla or the lives of the norse kings * Snorre Sturlason (transl. Erling Monsen) (dover 1990 * isbn 0486263665)

Irritating that the name of a famous man like Snorri Sturluson is written differently. This affordable version of the Heimskringla is harder to find at Amazon this way. Anyway, here we have a 1990 rework by Albert Hugh Smith of the 1932 transtion of Monsen of Sturluson’s famous work. Of course Sturluson is even more famous for his ‘prose Edda’, but here we have his magnum-opus, a gigantic work, especially compared to his Edda. As the title of this translation suggests, this work is more historical than mythological, but in the old North writing and talling worked differently from today. Of course the main part is history, but in between (the lines) you will find Norse mythology and information about customs and folklore which makes the Heimskringla a must-read for people interested in Norse mythology. The book is a 780 pages paperback with 145 illustrations and 5 maps and a massive index for a more than reasonable price.

Myths Of The Norsemen * Hélène Adeline Guerber (1909 Dover 1992 * isbn 0486273482)

While in Europe massive scholarly works were written about the religion, mytholgy and culture of the Northern peoples, at the other side of the water a book was published with the myths and sagas themselves. This book was originally published in 1909. I hadn’t noticed that when I bought this book at the ‘half priced books’ in Seattle and I was in particular caught by the subtitle “from the Eddas and Sagas”. As you know I have both Eddas more than once, but I have only a few separate sagas and I hoped that this book would have more of those.

I noticed that this book is still regarded as a standard work, but I am not sure why. The writer (re)tells the myths of the Northern people and here and there quotes from translations of them. These quotations are not given with their full source, but in ways like: “Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold)”, “Hávamál (W. Taylor’s tr.)” or “Sæmund’s Edda (Thorpe’s tr.)”. Here you can already see a few points of comment. First, these references are entirely unclear. “Sæmund’s Edda” is a reference to the poetic Edda, but this of course consists of different poems, under which the “Hávamál”, so why isn’t the poem named in the third case, while it is in the second? Besides, a line or stanza number would have been helpfull too. It is the same with the rest. Quotes are given, but the sources are kept vague.

For the rest, “Myths Of The Norsemen” is an enjoyable book. It starts with information from the Eddas telling about creation. After this separate gods, goddesses, giants, dwarves, etc. are told about, here and there quoting from sagas, myths or modern tellings. Also there are quite a few images.

For a beginner this may be a nice book to read. When you are digging deeper in the subjects, you will at least have heard about the most important things about the Aesir, the Vanas and the rest. Those of you who are already well informed may (like me) get irritated by the fact that you can hardly look back the information yourself because you have no idea where to look. Still -like I said- this book seems to be regarded as a standard work until the present day, so I am sure that Guerber has brought together information from a respectable amount of sources not easily found in one book.

De Saga van de Völsungen * Marcel Otten (translator) (Ambo 1996 * isbn 9063036817)

After Otten’s succesfull translation of the “Edda” in Dutch (see elsewhere), the “Völsungssage” is the second old-Idelandic text that Otten made available in Dutch. With his “Edda” Otten caught the interest of M.C. van den Toorn who works with old-Icelandic text professionally and who helped him with the translation and wrote the informative introction to this saga. The Edda is a collection of songs in different styles, the “Völsungssaga” is more of a continuing story, but with the same persons as in the Edda and is more of a heroes-epic than a collection of short stories.

The introduction speaks of the historical background, has comparisons with other texts (such as the “Nibelungenlied”) and speaks of Wagner who used this text for his “Ring des Nibelungen” symphony.

At the end again the notes per chapter, genealogy, bibliography and an index which fortunately does refer to pages this time.