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Edda * Jan de Vries (2013)

Jan de Vries (1890-1964) was the most famous scholar on Germanic history in the Netherlands, but also in Germany, since many of his books are only available in German. During WWII De Vries chose the wrong side spoiling his carreer. His most famous work and classic in the ‘genre’ Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte has never been translated and has been out of print for decades. However the publisher AnkhHermes tries to avoid every connection with ‘faulty’ people, they do, fortunately, keep printing the oldest translation of the Poetic Edda in Dutch. That they struggle with this publication will be obvious in what follows.
De Vries first published his translation in 1938. There have been two reprints in 1942 and in 1944 and 1952. The 1952 printing is not too hard to find. It came in two volumes, one with ‘songs of the Gods’ and one with ‘songs of heroes’. Wikipedia information could be explained that every reprint is also a revision, but my 1952 print says nothing of that. In any case, these old printings were all published while De Vries was still alive, so I guess/hope that he has been involved in these reprints, so the 1952 translation is still really his. In 1978 the big ‘new age’ publisher Ankh-Hermes decided to take the translation into their series of the classics of the world. This translation is wonderfully produced in an uncommonly sized book and with photos on shiny paper. There have been several reprints.
I never really gave it a thought, but for this sixth reprint (the first of Ankh-Hermes), the text was revised by a Dutch professor and a daughter of De Vries. Now for the twelfth reprint the translation is revised once more, this time by an anonymous editorial staff. Both revisions are supposedly to make the language more modern. I wonder why! De Vries made his translation to keep the rhythm and alliteration in tact as much as possible. This results in shortened words and order in sentences that are strange in Dutch, but does that not often go for poetry? Besides, many of these word orders and strange terms have been left unaltered.

Wondering what the revisions are, so compared my 1952, 1999 and 2013 editions. There are 50 changes between the text in the 1952 printing and the 1999 and 13 more in the 2013 translation of the Voluspa alone. These changes differ from the removal of shortening of words and adding or removing capitals or punctuation, to more serious editings such as the order of words in a sentence or even new translations of words. Of course there are a lot of ‘modernisations’. Some editings look like the improvement of spelling error, such as “soot red” which is replaced by “blood red” in verse 36, but then again, De Vries probably coordinated 5 printings of his translation, so what if he actually meant to say “soot red”? A certainly more serious editing (twice!) makes verse 25 in which is mentioned what killed Baldr. De Vries had it as “tak der mistel” (we do not adjust prefixes to the gender of a word anymore (like the Germans do still), so this looks ‘oldfashioned’), which was changed to 1994 “een misteltak” and “een maretak” in 2013. Now this is a translation based on the interpretation that this “mistel” is a mistletoe, but I have my doubts that the Dutch word “mistel” is just a synonym for “maretak”, especially because the verse says that this branch grows in the field! I am sure that De Vries thought long and hard about his translation, so why just leave it as it is? There are more of such arbitrary changes. In verse 13 the Norns are originally said to “spelden de toekomst”. Now this is weird Dutch, but I would interpret it as if the Norns ‘make’ the future, but this is changed to “voorspelden de toekomst” or ‘predict’, which is -of course- something wholly different.
Another thing is that the publishers also revised the preface of the author and replace “non neutral” words such as “heidens” (“heathen”) with things like “non Christian”. Argh! I am sure that De Vries used the word “heathen” to refer to the Northern European pre-Christian religion, but “non Christian” is of course a whole different thing. Also annoying is the fact that words such as Valkyrie, Vanir, Aesir, Norns, Alves, etc. have been put in Italics and start without a capital, even in combined words such as “azengeslacht” (‘lineage of the Aesir’) and that “Yggdrasil” is changed to “Ygdrasil” and “Baldr” to “Balder” (to just name a few examples).

In any case, this review is not of much interest if you cannot read Dutch, but it is likely that the same problems go for other translations as well. Also, or particularly, with ‘updated’ reprints. The good thing is that I am now reading the texts with more attention. I might even check my other Dutch translation, my English translations and get my Icelandic print from the shelf. Who knows, I might find out better for myself what I think the texts say.

So, if you are Dutch, there is a nice-looking new translation of De Vries waiting for you. If you are not Dutch, have a critical look of the different translations that you have.
2013 (12th printing) AnkhHermes, isbn 9789020208146

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

Edda * Snorri Sturluson (transl. Anthony Faulkes) (Everyman 1995 * ISBN: 0460876163)

The name of the writer should already tell you that this Edda is the so called ‘prose’ or ‘younger’ Edda (which was in fact written earlier than the poetic Edda!). I already had two translations from the internet, but this translation is 100 years younger (1987). All three translations have something good and something bad. Andersson messes up the numbering of the verses and made chapters himself, but at least isn’t too fanatic in transating names, while Brodeur has the correct numbering, but translates almost everything. And then we come to Faulkes. His translation is readable, but even while he tried to keep the original names, he rewrote them (usually leaving the final “r” for example). Also his numbering is very irritating. However he surely knows how this numbering goes, he only names them in the heads of the pages. You have an enitre page with texts, while the head says: “[8-10]” for example, but there is no mark in the text where the next chapter begins! Hard to use for quotations!

Just as the other translations, Faulkes did not only translate the famous Gylfaginning, but also the more theoretical parts of the book, the Skaldskaparmal and the Hattatal. A nice index and a summery of the most important parts. Sadly enough, also Faulkes translates names a bit too much. “High”, “Just-as-high” and “Third” for example, without giving the original names “Har”, “Jafnhar” and “Thridi” for example. I suppose the three translations will have to complete eachother for me, but fortunately the one that I got in book-form is the best in general.

The Poetic Edda * Carolyne Larrington (transl.) (Oxford World Classics 1999 * ISBN 0192839462)

“A new translation” says the cover of this book. Indeed, this is the newest translation of the Poetic or Elder Edda that I have (1996). I have two Dutch translations of the poetic Edda (which are reviewed above) and I wanted another translation to be able to compare them. As you can read in my review of the De Vries translation, neither of the two Dutch translations is perfect, not by far I am afraid I have to say, but of course both have their value. A point of comment on the Dutch translation of Marcel Otten is that he translates everything, including names, while De Vries leaves all the names as they are. Larrington remains somewhere in between Otten and De Vries. Larrington leaves many names untranslated, but other names are given in English. Otten at least is consistent! The Larrington translation sometimes comes to strange texts, such as:
“New Moon and Dark-of-Moon, North and South | East and West, Master-Thief, Delayer, | Bivor, Bavor, Bombur, and Nori, | An and Anar, Great-grandfather and Mead-wolf.” (Völuspa 11). Otten makes of this (his Dutch to my English):
“Waxing and Sleeping Moon, North and South, | East and West, Master-thief and Tarryer, | Shiver and Glitter, Barrel and Shrivel, | Friend and Enemy, Primal-grandpa and Mead-wolf.”

In general the Larrington translation is a nice one though. For some reason her division of the verses differs slightly from that of Otten and also the order of the poems is different (Otten added a few from other codices). In general this little (and cheap) booklet is a nice one for reference. Also the introduction is scholarly and informative and there is an index. Like I said, I use this translation to compare it with my Dutch translations and of the three English translations that I have, it is by about a 100 years the most recent and (therefor?) also the best. Larrington regards the Faulkes translation of the Snorre-Edda or Prose Edda as the best there is and this one is also available in a cheap paperback and I happen to have it as well (see review below).

Edda * Marcel Otten (Ambo 1994 * isbn 9026316259)

This is the second pressing of Otten’s successfull translation of the Edda into Dutch. It was the first translation into my language in almost 60 years at the time. The book is enormous, 454 pages, making it much thicker than any other translation of the Edda that I know.
The Edda is of course a compilation of old-Icelandic texts. The word “Edda” usually refers to the “Codex Regius” that was given to the king of Denmark in 1662, but because there are more texts in the Codex than the Edda, Otten didn’t entirely limit himself to the Edda. The texts were written down in the 11/12th century, but are much older than that.
Otten comes with a 15-page introduction telling about the history of Iceland (how it became inhabited by Vikings) and how the texts came into being. After this comes a very well-readable translation of 37 texts, some a bit longer, most of them pretty short. The titles are translated, but also given in the original language. A strange thing is that Otten translates half of the names while others he keeps in the original language. The texts themselves are translated very well, both the more continuing stories as the more poetic ones.
In the back you get a very handy genealogy and maps, notes per text, a large bibliography and a gigantic index. Unfortunately the index refers to texts and not to pages.
After this succesfull book, Otten continued to translate more old-Icelandic texts. There are plenty of them, so he had enough to do for the rest of his life. Also see my reviews of “De Sage van de Völsungen” (“Völsungenssaga”) and “De Saga van Njal” (“Brennu Njálsaga”).

Edda * Jan de Vries (translator) (Ankh-Hermes 2000 * ISBN 9020248782)

For ten years we have a second Dutch translation of the “poetic” or “elder Edda”, that is only recently receiving acknowledgement. That other translation of Marcel Otten is reviewed below. The De Vries translation is the classical translation from 1938 from the hand of the writer of Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte (also reviewed), the major source of information about the Nordic tradition. In forewords of the later pressings of his own translation, Otten has serious commentary about the translation of De Vries. De Vries would have played with the order of the verses and he even left out many of them that he didn’t find fitting, or didn’t understand. Indeed, comparing my different translations, it immediately proves that there is no consistancy in the separation of the verses or the order of the poems. I suppose that different translators use different source-texts. De Vries -however- indeed skips a great many verses in some of the poems!
There are other differences between the two Dutch translations that we have now. De Vries tried to keep the poetic characters of the poems, while Otten tried to stay to the original texts as close as possible. Both approaches have their pros and cons.
I think it is a shame what De Vries did with the texts, just leaving verses out without saying why, yet, there is also a major point of comment on the translation of Otten: he completely overlooked the esoteric (religious) nature of the texts. This is proven by a verse from the Völuspa (“Seers’ Prophecy”) where Otten didn’t notice the reference to the four eras in creation (speartime, swordtime, windtime, wolftime). This is verse 44 with Otten, 45 with Larrington and 38 with De Vries (…).
Another thing is that Otten translates èverything, including names. With this he proves that many names have a very significant meaning, or at least that names are merely words, but he also translated the most famous of names, which doesn’t make the text clearer and caused me to make many many notes in the texts. This isn’t necessary with the De Vries translation, who leaves all names as they are. More even, the De Vries pressing has commentary on the verses on the same page as the translation, which may make a compromise for Otten, giving the original names in notes.
In short, when you are a serious Dutch-reading investigator, I suggest that you have both translations to compare. This will not only show you the flaws of both translations, but seeing different interpretations of the same text will also improve your own understanding of the texts. Therefor I hope that the Ankh-Hermes, the publisher of the De Vries translation since 1978, will not have their version go out of print.