Carl's Reviews > Edda

Edda by Snorri Sturluson
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's review
Sep 20, 2007

it was amazing
bookshelves: mythology, middleages, oldnorsestudies, heroicliterature
Recommended for: Students/enthusiasts of mythology, heroic lit, and Norse lit.
Read in January, 2002

Naturally my review has turned out to be too long, so I'll post what I can and then post the rest as comments. And if anyone in a position of power at goodreads sees this, please give us more room to write!

An excellent translation of Snorri's Edda, or the Prose Edda. I hear Jesse Byock has a translation out as well which I'll have to check out, but I see no reason for the beginner to try anything other than Faulkes'-- at the very least, I believe his academic work has had him more involved in research on Edda than Byock's, but I could be wrong. Of course, I know Byock's been doing some work on oral history that could be considered relevant to Edda, but as far as that whole topic goes I recommend Gisli Sigurdsson instead.
I believe Faulkes takes the majority or all of his translation from the Codex Regius manuscript, which is the primary one. As another review has said, Faulkes is one of the few translators to include Skaldskaparmal, which contains many of the most important stories. Well, some older translations include the interesting bits but leave out the rest. But with Faulkes you get the whole thing, and it serves as a reminder that Edda was not written as a handbook on mythology, but as a Poetics-- in fact, I believe Faulkes subscribes (as I do) to the idea that "Edda" (the book is named this in the Uppsala codex-- the name for Poetic or Elder Edda was applied to that MSS in the 1600s) is derived from the Latin verb for "compose", "edo" (based on a comparison to the Old Norse adaptation of the word "credo" to "kredda").
I think it was Magnus Olsen who first suggested that the book was originally written in reverse order. As we have it, it begins with a prologue (which may or may not have been written by Snorri) in which we are given a euhemeristic explanation for the gods, claiming that they are magicians who left Troy after the Trojan war and came to Sweden because their leader Odin prophecied that they would thrive there-- after arrival they convince the inhabitants they are gods (though I could be confusing a bit of this account with that in Ynglinga saga, or even Gylfaginning), which leads us to the next section, Gylfaginning (=The Deluding of Gylfi), which frames a summary of the mythology (especially the creation, Ragnarok, the main gods and some representative stories, basically along the lines of Voluspa/Seeress' Prophecy, which he constantly quotes) with a dialogue between the Swedish King Gylfi and the immigrant, magical Aesir from Asia Minor. After that we have Skaldskaparmal (=Poetic Diction), which begins with but doesn't sustain a frame narrative in which Aegir (in some places a "sea king", in some a giant or sea god) is at a feast with the Aesir (this could be the feast that the Aesir force the giant Aegir to host in Hymir's poem and Loki's quarrel in Poetic Edda) and questions Bragi, the god of poetry (apparently derived from the supposed court poet Bragi from around 850 who composed the first known skaldic poems, or drottkvaett stanzas-- the sort of poetry Snorri is teaching here) on the art of poetry, mainly kennings in this case, which are ornate circumlocutions used in drottkvaett (and to a lesser degree of ornateness in all Germanic alliterative verse). Most of these kennings are based on mythological stories, so Bragi explains many of these kennings by telling these stories. Eventually Skaldskaparmal turns into a bunch of lists of "heiti", which aren't kennings proper but just other ways of referring to things.
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message 1: by Carl (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:37PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Carl Then we have the final section, Hattatal (tally of meters), in which Snorri uses a question and answer format to discuss the basic elements of skaldic meter and exemplifies the different meters, or rather, variations on drottkvaett and germanic long-line, with stanzas from a poem he composed for the king of Norway (I believe it was this king who later arranged for his death-- though it might have been the king's uncle who did that).
I mentioned above that it's been suggested that these sections were written in reverse order-- I think the logic behind that would go thus. First, we know the poem for the king was composed first. Later, Snorri apparently decided to create a poetics to ensure that new poets could learn the craft properly (and also to reinforce his own intellectual capital, I'm sure). Having given the bare bones in Hattatal, he realized that his basic explanation of the kennings would not actually help much in understanding the poems, as so many of the kennings and heiti were dependent on knowledge of the stories behind them. Having written Skaldskaparmal, he either decided to just go all the way and explain the mythology as a whole, or realized that isolated stories weren't enough, the poetic diction was too rooted in the narrative context of the mythology for it to be adequately appreciated without a more thorough knowledge of the grand mythological narrative, and so wrote Gylfaginning based largely on Voluspa. Then, because telling stories about pagan gods is an awkward thing to do in a Medieval Christian country, he or a later scribe added a prologue which further emphasized the fact that these stories were false and shouldn't be believed.
I could go on forever. If anyone's interested, one of my first conference papers was on this topic: [http://www.geocities.com/carlolsen78/...]
But to be honest, I wrote this really early on, and I ended up just saying very poorly things which I have since discovered others have been saying very well. And of course, Anthony Faulkes has a very good introduction to the translation which you can also read, if you get to it.
one last thing to remember when reading this book-- Snorri is writing these myths down 200+ years after Iceland has become Christian, so we can't necessarily take these for an accurate picture of pagan belief-- rather, we are dealing with a mythology which is considered wholly fictional at the time of writing, a narrative mythology rather than a ritual mythology. That isn't to say that we can't speculate on the past based on Edda, but we need to first and foremost take it as a narrative, Medieval Christian conception of a pagan mythology.


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