Loosed in Translation discussion

Which Translation is Best? > Poetic & Prose Edda

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message 1: by Kendra (new)

Kendra (okaynevermind) | 6 comments Does anyone have any knowledge of the various translations and editions of these? What is more literal, or more in tone, etc. I have some knowledge of Icelandic and Old Norse so anything slightly bilingual is also welcomed.

message 2: by William (new)

William | 1 comments There are two widely-available versions of the Poetic Edda. The earlier is by Lee Hollander, who was a professor of Germanic Studies at UT. He was a minor poet in his own right and was basically able to preserve the original form of the Edda, at the cost of some awkward or incongruous language. The translation is almost a century old at this point, and some of the word choices are archaic or pretentious, but I would say the general run of opinion is the that the Hollander translation is the best. Its primary flaw is occasional obscurity, and like most verse translations, the voice of the translator sometimes overwhelms the voice of the original author.

There's also more recent translation by Carolyne Larrington. I haven't yet read it in full, I put a few hours into reading it and it basically struck me as unremarkable. It is much clearer than Hollander's, but not of much value as a work of poetry. I have heard there are some inaccuracies and missteps, but I don't have the expertise to comment on that.

There are a ton of versions of the Prose Edda. In my opinion the best is Faulkes' "Edda". Byock's is fine too but large parts of the work are excised, which is bizarre given how specialized the interest in the Eddas has become. You're not necessarily missing much, the parts that were cut out are pretty dull, but I thought I would mention it.

I'm not aware of any bilingual versions, but I'm sure academic publishers offer something. Good luck.

message 3: by Gestumblindi (last edited Mar 10, 2019 06:31AM) (new)

Gestumblindi | 3 comments Faulkes' translation of the Prose Edda is indeed the best and most reliable, aside from being complete. It is also available free online at http://vsnrweb-publications.org.uk/ where you will find a treasure trove of Old Norse materials, including Faulkes' 4-volume edition of the Old Norse text of the Prose Edda, with notes and glossary. Both edition and translation may be relied upon.

Turning to the Poetic Edda, there is no one such reliable translation in English. If by chance you know German, the mass market translation by Arnulf Krause published by Reclam is quite good, better, I think, than any mass market edition in English. The translation included in the mammoth and magisterial 8-volume Kommentar zu den Liedern der Edda is also dependable, and the commentary is almost the alpha and omega of what you would need to make sense of the text and the debates around it.

For parallel text, there is no complete edition in English. Ursula Dronke's three-part edition is incomplete, but does include parallel text and translation and copious annotations and discussion. The first two volumes are a bit better than the third, in my opinion. Unfortunately, Oxford University Press continues to charge extortionate prices for these volumes so you'll likely have to get them from a library if you can.

Hermann Pálsson published an edition of the Völuspá with explanations of each verse. The English translation of this edition includes each verse, its translation, discussion of difficult words and knotty points, as well as an overall glossary in the back. The same is true of the older edition of Völuspá by Sigurður Nordal, which was also translated into English and which I prefer to Pálsson as I tend to agree more with where Nordal comes down on things.

Moving on to the mass market translations, I believe there are five contenders for attention: Larrington, Orchard, Crawford, Hollander, and Auden/Taylor (now out of print). All of these are complete, though they may differ in the peripheral poems included. If your aim is accuracy and density of information, and you want to make a serious study of the poems, you would do well to get yourself both Larrington and Orchard. Of the two, most reviews give Larrington the edge in terms of accuracy. If you just want a readable and reasonably accurate translation, and don't care as much for academic precision, then go for Crawford.

Hollander attempts to be faithful to the ancient meter, but this forces turgid syntax and many archaic word choices. It's interesting and if you know older varieties of English you can get through the archaisms without difficulty, but I don't know that it works as a good translation (his translation of prose works from Old Norse, like the Saga of the Jómsvíkings, I quite like, though). Of all of these Auden/Taylor may be the closest to something that works as poetry in English, though the least faithful to the source, but it depends on your taste; it didn't quite work for me.

In short, there is no one obvious candidate for best translation of the Poetic Edda into English. If you don't know Old Norse, I advise consulting a couple different translations to get a sense of the range of choices and interpretations possible. Dronke will still be the most helpful in filling you in on some of this.

The modern poetic translation of Jeremy Dodds cannot be recommended. It plays too fast and loose with the meaning of the original and fails to communicate a sense of the style and tone of the Old Norse.

Bellows and Thorpe are very old, but occasionally are still better than their modern counterparts, so you might want to search for their translations at archive.org. They are also free to download.

message 4: by Rafael (new)

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 3 comments Unfortunately there is no portuguese translation, as far as I know, of the Eddas, so I bought english translations. Until now I only tried to read the Poetic one, Bellows translation. But maybe my level of proficiency is not good as needed to read it. I will try again ahead.

message 5: by Gestumblindi (last edited Mar 07, 2019 07:31AM) (new)

Gestumblindi | 3 comments Rafael, do you read Spanish? I haven't seen this translation, so I can't judge its quality for myself, but it seems to be well liked:


I notice the translator has translated lots of books from Icelandic.

Edited to add:

I found some links for you, Rafael.

This is a useful summary of Romance language translations:


Here's a parallel-text Portuguese translation of Hávamál:


Here's a random blog offering downloads of Eddic poems in Portuguese. I haven't looked at these as I don't download files from random sites, so I don't know if these translations have any value.


message 6: by Rafael (last edited Mar 08, 2019 10:25AM) (new)

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 3 comments I do read Spanish, but I read english better, but thank you. I will look into these links carefully.

message 7: by Caroline (new)

Caroline (carobibliophile) | 17 comments Thanks, Gestumblindi. Your comments are most helpful, as one or both are on my 2019 to-read-this-year-no-excuses list.

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