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Marcel Otten

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

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.

De saga van Grettir * Marcel Otten (translator) (Ambo 2003 * isbn 9026317905)

Another Icelandic saga translated in Dutch by Marcel Otten. Just as the earlier released translations of Njal, Volsüngen and Edda a wonderfull translation with a foreword of professor M.C. van den Toorn and geneologies and an index at the end. This more storytelling (historical?) saga speaks about Grettir who is an utter and complete bastard. After banishments and other punishments, he receives the ultimate punishment: outlawel. A nice book again and there is plenty left to translate, so more will follow hopefully.
Also available in English of course, just check Amazon.

De Saga van Njal * Marcel Otten (translator) (Ambo 2000 * isbn 9026316038)

Third translation of an old-Icelandic text into Dutch by Marcel Otten (also see “Edda” and “De Saga van Völsungen”) became a gigantic book. A 447 pages hardcover with a very nice translation of the “Brennu Njálsaga”. This is a family-epic about Njal, Gunnar and their family. A long and complex story with elements of Icelandic and Norse traditions and mythology doesn’t make this book an easy read.

Like we get used to there is helpfull information in the back, genealogy, notes, bibliograpy, maps and an index.

Verhalen Uit De Vikingtijd * Marcel Otten (2006 ambo * isbn 9026319096)

Stories From The Time Of The Vikings is the Dutch counterpart of The Sagas Of The Icelanders that you can find reviewed elsewhere. Marcel Otten has earlier translated other sagas (all reviewed) and the poetic Edda. This time he compiled mostly Icelandic sagas, translated them into Dutch and of course wrote an introduction and added extra information and maps. Unfortunately there are four texts in this book that are also among the English translations (marked with an * furtheron). I must say, I did like the English translations, but got a bit bored after reading too much of these longs sagas, but I enjoyed the Dutch translations a lot better. Maybe it is the free style of Otten that works a lot better with these sagas than with the Edda, is it the language or just my mood? Anyway, in this book you will find the following sagas: Í–rvar-Odds Saga (the saga of Od with the arrows), Króka-Refs Saga (the saga of Fox the Sly)*, EirÍ­ks saga rauða (the saga of Eirik the Red)*, Gunnlaugssaga ormstungu (the saga of Gunnlaug Serpenttongue)*, Ížorsteins Ížáttr bæjarmagns (the story of Thorstein Househigh (“staff-struck” in the other book))*, Bósa saga og Herrauðs (the saga of Bosi and Herraud), Egils saga einhenda ok ́smundar berserkjabana (the sage of Egil Onehand and Asmund the Berserkrkiller), Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks (the saga of Hervör and Heidrek). Very funny is that many storylines seem somehow familiar and towards the ends I found out why. The first saga is that of “Od with the arrows” and in one of Od’s adventures he goes out to kill twelve Berserkr brothers. At the end of the book there is the saga of Hervör and Heidrik which is partly about twelve Berserkr brothers who suddenly run into some “Od with the arrows”!! Such things give a nice idea of how these stories were transmitted and how many stories there must have been. The style of the stories is very funny too, especially the very explicit sex-scenes in Bosi’s story. The texts are full of jokes and amusing events, but also give a good idea of Viking life and ethics. Strangely enough (or not) almost all characters are very much against the prechristian faith and devout Christians. Certainly a sign of the time they were written down in. All in all a very enjoyable collection of old stories in a very nice translation.

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”).