Edda to English

A Survey of English Language Translations of the Prose Edda

A depiction of the god Heimdallr providing gifts to mankind by Swedish artist Nils Asplund, 1907, in a lecture hall at the University of Gothenburg. The Prose Edda contains references to a lost poem about the god, “Heimdalargaldr”. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

 Joseph S. Hopkins, May 2019, Mimisbrunnr.info, expanded and modified periodically

The present article provides the first in-depth survey of English translations of the Prose Edda to date, and was composed by its author in tandem with the similarly-named Eddic to English, a survey of English translations of the Poetic Edda, a closely connected manuscript. Click here for an introduction to translations of the Poetic Edda.

Translations of the Prose Edda vary greatly and only one English translation, that of Anthony Faulkes, can be said to approach ‘completeness’ to date. It is for this reason that Mimisbrunnr.info recommend the Faulkes translation of the Prose Edda to all readers.

However, the reception, interpretation, and presentation of the Prose Edda makes for an important point of study when considering the reintroduction of the topic of Norse mythology and, more broadly, Germanic mythology into western culture. In turn, academics, heathens, or other interested parties will find much of interest in the various translations of the Prose Edda.

Foreword

Composed partially or entirely in the 13th century by Icelander Snorri Sturluson, the Prose Edda is an enigmatic work that draws from an immense body of traditional North Germanic material, much of it otherwise unrecorded elsewhere. In turn, the Prose Edda is of central value to ancient Germanic studies.

The present article is not intended to be an introduction to the Prose Edda, but rather a survey of extant translations of the book. For an extensive introduction to the Prose Edda, including its many mysteries and complexities, see Anthony Faulkes’s masterful introduction online here.

That said, some discussion regarding the books of the Prose Edda will assist many new or novice readers of the text in approaching some of the topics breached below. While the original form in which Snorri composed and compiled the work which we know today as the Prose Edda remains unclear, extant manuscripts of the Prose Edda reflect four distinct sections:

1. Prologue: A brief section presenting the North Germanic gods as deified humans (a rationalizing concept known as euhemerization). The authorship of this section remains particularly unclear—the prologue may have been an addition to an earlier form of the Prose Edda by an unknown author.

2. Gylfaginning: A frame story-driven narrative consisting primarily of dialogue between three deity-like entities and Gylfi, a legendary king. Gylfaginning focuses primarily on providing information derived from a genre of poetry known as eddic poetry (essentially, poems in a style in line with those of the Poetic Edda). The section includes excerpts from numerous known eddic poems as well as several eddic poems now otherwise lost.

3. Skáldskaparmál: Part frame story-driven (a dialogue between the jǫtunn Ægir and the skald and/or deity Bragi), this section also contains numerous lists of kennings and excerpts from skaldic poetry. Like the Prose Edda’s prologue, Skáldskaparmál may have been modified or expanded upon by an unknown author (or unknown authors).

4. Háttatal: The final section of the Prose Edda, Háttatal primarily contains discussion on the technical aspects of composing skaldic poetry.


Translations

Nils_Asplund_-_Heimdal.jpg

JESSE BYOCK

2006
The Prose Edda
Penguin Classics
180 pages
Publisher website

Contents:

* Acknowledgements vi
* Introduction ix
* Further reading xxxi
* Note on the translation xxxiv
* Map: The Geographical World of the Edda

* The Prose Edda 1
* Prologue 3
* Gylfaginning (The Deluding of Gylfi) 9
* Skaldskaparmal (Poetic Diction) 80

** Mythic and Legendary Tales 80
** Poetic References from Skaldskaparmal (Translated by Russel Poole) 108
* Appendices
**1: The Norse Cosmos and the World Tree 119
**2: The Language of the Skalds: Kennings and Heiti 123
**3: Eddic Poems Used as Sources in Gylfaginning 129
* Genealogical Tables 129
* Notes 135
* Glossary of Names 153

Notes:
Although the lengthy table of contents above may lead one to believe otherwise, Jesse Byock’s translation of the Prose Edda is one of the slimmest and most incomplete on the market. It ultimately represents a step backward, particularly when compared to the similarly priced and available Anthony Faulkes translation (described below).

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ANTHONY FAULKES

1987
Edda
Everyman’s Library
260 pages
(No publisher website)

Contents:

* Notes on the Author and Editor vi
* Chronology of Early Icelandic Literature viii
* Introduction xi
* Select Bibliography xxiv

* Prologue 1
* Gylfaginning 7
* Skaldskaparmal 59
* Hattatal 165

* Text Summaries 221
* Annotated Index of Names 229
* Index of Metrical Terms 260

* Notes:
Anthony Faulkes’s translation of the Prose Edda makes for the most complete, approachable, and affordable edition of the Prose Edda to date. In fact, the publication of Faulkes’s edition no doubt marked a major milestone in ancient Germanic studies: Now non-specialists could for the first time easily find a complete edition the Prose Edda in the English language.

In addition, Faulkes makes his Old Norse editions and extensive additional commentary available for free, vastly expanding the contents of his edition. Readers can find Faulkes’s supplements at the Viking Society of Northern Research’s website here.

Nils_Asplund_-_Heimdal.jpg

ANTHONY GILCHRIST BRODEUR

1916
The Prose Edda
Oxford University Press (American-Scandinavian Foundation)

269 pages
Public domain: Read online at Archive.org

Contents:

* Introduction ix

* Prologue 1
* Glyfaginning 11
* Skáldskaparmál 87

* Index 243

Notes:
Prior to the publication of Anthony Faulkes’s edition of the Prose Edda (described above), Brodeur’s edition served as the de facto standard English translation of the book. However, like most other translations of the Prose Edda, Gilchrist’s edition is notably incomplete, limiting its use for non-specialists.

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GEORGE WEBB DASENT

1842
The Prose Edda or Younger Edda
Nordstedt and Sons
115 pages
This translation is in the public domain. Click here to read it online at Archive.org.

Contents:

* Preface v

* Gefiuns Ploughing (no number provided)
* Gylfi’s Mocking 1
* Bragi’s Telling 86

* Foreword to the Edda 96
* Afterword to Glyfi’s Mocking 112
* Afterword to the Edda 113

Notes:
Dasent’s unusual edition includes a mash-up of various excerpts from the four books of the Prose Edda, arranged to the author’s preference. Like Anderson before him (and many of his contemporaries), Dasent applies bawlderization and censorship to his translation (cf. p. 90: “… he tyed [sic] a string to the beard of a goat, and the other end to his own body …”).

Nils_Asplund_-_Heimdal.jpg

RASMUS BJÖRN ANDERSON

1880
The Younger Edda
Chicago: S. C. Griggs and Company, London: Trübner & Co.
299 pages
This translation is in the public domain. Click here to read it online at Archive.org.

Contents:

* Preface 5
* Introduction 15
* Foreword 33

The Fooling of Gylfe

* Chapter I: Gefjun’s Plowing 49
* Chapter II: Gylfe’s Journey to Asgard 51
* Chapter III: On the Highest God 54
* Chapter IV: The Creation of the World 56
* Chapter V: The Creation (Continued) 64
* Chapter VI: The First Works of the Ases—The Golden Age 69
* Chapter VII: On the Wonderful Things in Heaven 72
* Chapter VIII: The Asas 79
* Chapter IX: Loke and his Offspring 91
* Chapter X: The Goddesses (Asynjes) 97
* Chapter XI: The Giantess Gerd and Skirner’s Journey 101
* Chapter XII: Life in Valhal 104
* Chapter XIII: Odin’s Horse and Frey’s Ship 109
* Chapter XIV: Thor’s Adventure 113
* Chapter XV: The Death of Balder 131
* Chapter XVI: Ragnarok 140
* Chapter XVII: Regeneration 147
* Afterword to the Fooling of Gylfe 151

Brage’s Talk

* Chapter I: Aeger’s Journey to Asgard 152
* Chapter II: Idun and her Apples 155
* Chapter III: How Njord got Skade to Wife 158
* Chapter IV: The Origin of Poetry 160
* Afterword to Brage’s Talk 166

Extracts from the Poetical Diction

* Thor and Hrungner 169
* Thor’s Journey to Geirrod’s 176
* Idun 184
* Æger’s Feast 187
* Loke’s Wager with the Dwarfs 189
* The Niflungs and the Gjukungs 193
* Menja and Fenja 206
* The Grottesong 208
* Rolf Krake 214
* Hogne and Hild 218

Notes

* Enea 221
* Herikon 221
* The Historical Odin 221
* Fornjot and the Settlement of Norway 239
* Notes to the Fooling of Glyfe 242
* Note on the Niflungs and Gjukungs 266
* Note on Menja and Fenja 267
* Why the Sea is Salt 268

Notes:
While his translation could more accurately be described as snippets from the Prose Edda, Anderson’s edition represents the first step toward a full English language translation of the book (on this, Anderson says, “the present volume contains all of the Younger Edda that can possibly be any importance to English readers”, p. 9). Anderson applies the bawlderization and censorship typical of his era (for example, see p. 158: “Then Loke tied one end of a string fast around the beard of a goat and the other around his own body, and one pulled this way and the other that …”)