Eddic to English

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GUÐBRANDUR VIGFÚSSON & F. YORK POWELL

1883
Corpus Poeticum Boreale, vol. 1 & 2
Henry Frowde (Clarendon Press)
724 pages

Corpus Poeticum Boreale is a two-volume work. Readers may download each volume from Archive.org: volume one here and volume two here.

Translated poems (39):

Codex Regius (32)
VǫluspáHávamálVafþrúðnismálGrímnismálSkírnismálHárbarðsljóðHymiskviðaLokasennaÞrymskviðaVǫlundarkviðaAlvíssmálFrá dauða SinfjǫtlaGrípisspá, Reginsmál, Fáfnismál, Sigrdrífumál, Brot af Sigurðarkviðu, Sigurðarkviða hin skamma, Helreið Brynhildar, Dráp Niflunga, Oddrúnargrátr, Atlakviða, AtlamálGuðrúnarhvǫt, Hamðismál, Helgakviða Hundingsbana (I, II), Helgakviða HjörvarðssonarGuðrúnarkviða (I, II, III) 

Non-Codex Regius (7)
Hrafnagaldr Óðins, Sólarljóð, Svipdagsmál, Baldrs draumarRígsþula, HyndluljóðGrottasǫngr

Other notable contents: As discussed below, Guðbrandur Vigfússon and York Powell's Corpus Poeticum Boreale contains numerous translations beyond the scope of Eddic to English. However, discussion frequently harks back to eddic material. In turn, essentially everything in these two volumes connects in some manner with eddic material.
Introduction page length: See above.
Notes? Footnotes and endnotes
Dual Edition? Yes
Rendering: jǫtunn = "giant" (cf. p. 22), þurs = "ogre" (cf. p. 112)
Bowlderization/censorship: Yes (cf. p. 106)
Original illustrations? No

 

I. Samples

a.) Vǫluspá (p. I. 193):

In the beginning, when naught was, there was neither sand nor sea nor the cold waves, nor was earth to be seen nor heaven above. The was a Yawning Chasm [chaos], but grass nowhere, ere that the sons of Bor, who made the blessed earth, raised the flat ground.

b.) Helgakviða Hundingsbana II (p. I. 143):

Sigrun goes out to meet her dead lord, and falls upon his neck and kisses him, saying: I am as glad to meet thee as are the greedy hawks of Woden when they scent the slain, their warm prey, or dew-spangled espy the brows of dawn.

c.) Rígsþula (p. I. 242):

Earl capped spells with Righ, he overcame him by cunning, and outdid him. Then he came into his heritage and got the surname of Righ the Spell-wise.

II. Reviews

1. Hollander, Lee M. 1919. “Concerning a Proposed Translation of the Edda” in Scandinavian Studies and Notes, p. 197-201. Vol. V. George Banta Publishing Company. Mixed (Negative?).

The very respectable prose version of Vígfusson in Corpus Poeticum Boreale, made in 1884, is thoroughly antiquated. At best, it represented the frequently erratic and generally unacceptable theories of that brilliant scholar. It is on the market for those who can pay $30. It has not been, nor does it deserve to be, reprinted (p. 197).

III. Observations

Grasp hold of the two hefty volumes of Icelandic scholar Guðbrandur Vigfússon and British historian Frederick York Powell's Corpus Poeticum Boreale and you may suspect that this edition is unlike other Poetic Edda translations. You'd be right. As its title implies (Latin 'Body of Northern Poetry'), the scope of the duo’s translation reaches far beyond what we today consider the Poetic Edda. Here, Guðbrandur and York Powell collect, translate, and comment on poems from the entirety of the Old Norse corpus. While the authors restrict most of their translations of eddic material to volume one, the two volumes remain squarely focused on matters eddic throughout their pages.

Vigfússon and Powell's edition remains to date the only English language prose translation of the Poetic Edda. The volumes are full of unconventional approaches and oddities. For example, they two decide to render Old Norse Óðinn not as the established anglicized form Odin (appearing, for example, throughout the translations of both Cottle and Thorpe) but as Woden (and sometimes, inexplicably, Wodin). While this decision was clearly made to represent the deity's Old English extension, Woden, the translators do not provide the same treatment to the theonyms of other entities attested in the Old English record  (readers should not expect to find, say, Old Norse Þórr rendered as Thunor or Thunder).

A publication date of 1883 combined with a curious organization (stemming from the theories of the authors) makes for a highly dated approach, which future translator Lee M. Hollander notes above (in 1919!). Still, as the volumes includes renderings of a number of works that have rarely seen English translation or commentary since (like the Icelandic rímur, pp. II. 392-418), Vigfússon and York Powell's edition remains useful for Old Norse translators and those who more generally seek to mine the obscure in the North Germanic corpus.