EDDIC TO ENGLISH: introduction
Joseph S. Hopkins, Mimisbrunnr.info
Eddic to English is an ongoing effort with a single, simple goal: to assist in better understanding the enigmatic body of Old Norse poems most commonly known today as the Poetic Edda. To that end, we intend Eddic to English to be approachable, readable, and useful, a crucial tool for both readers and future translations of the Poetic Edda.
Eddic to English’s intended audience may be divided into three groups: academics, heathens, and enthusiasts. As scholars of Old Norse know, even the most seasoned experts encounter mystery upon mystery in eddic poetry. To truly appreciate—and accurately render—these poems, scholars require background in a variety of interwoven fields, including ancient Germanic studies, historical linguistics, folkloristics, anthropology, and history. They must also draw from the works of their forebears: experienced translators and new learners alike turn to the work of their forebears throughout the translation process. Only in this way can they understand where those before them succeeded and failed.
Heathens, adherents of what may be referred to as Heathenry or Germanic Neopaganism, spend perhaps more time with these texts than any other group. However, they are also by and large dependent upon the work of translators—few can be expected to invest the time required (or to conjure up the increasing prohibitive price) necessary to attend university courses in Old Norse, particularly in the United States. In turn, translations wield immense influence on how the source texts that make up the foundations of the religion are understood and interpreted.
The third group, enthusiasts, falls somewhere between the first two. Enthusiasts, as defined here, generally encounter Norse mythology by way of popular culture references. Whether via music, film, comic books, video games, or some other form of media, references to Norse mythology in western popular culture have become increasingly frequent for the past decade year, proving to be both commercially viable and endlessly fascinating general audiences. Translators enjoy influence on the transmission of Norse mythology into popular culture like never before.
While these three groups draw from immensely diverse backgrounds, they all come to the text with the desire to understand it. But understanding the Poetic Edda can be very difficult. This is not only due to the dense, mysterious, and initially alien nature of eddic texts to modern English speakers but also because of conventions, specialized terminology, and outright bad habits that translators have developed as a group over time.
This study sets out to highlight the differences, commonalities, and trends among translators of the Poetic Edda. The intention of this approach is not to shame or promote any particular translation. Indeed, the author believes that a translation of the Poetic Edda on par with, say, Anthony Faulkes’s translation of the Prose Edda has yet to be produced. But this is because the Poetic Edda is a particularly difficult text that requires an especially complicated approach, as well as the eyes, minds, and skills of a community rather than the capabilities and limitations of a single translator.
Eddic to English was inspired by a 2001 website, Old Norse for Beginners, authored by Haukur Þorgeirsson (University of Iceland), in which Haukur compared a variety of stanzas found in different translations of the Poetic Edda. Another particularly useful resource for this project is Carolyne Larrington’s (University of Oxford) Translating the Poetic Edda into English (Larrington 2007). Larrington is herself a translator of one of the better known and most widely circulated editions of the Poetic Edda and her survey of English translations has no precedent. While it lacks discussion about recent translations of the Poetic Edda, Larrington’s piece should be read by anyone considering producing a translation of the Poetic Edda or anyone interested in better understanding some of the processes that go into the productions of the texts.
This project is currently a work in progress. Once in a stabilized, complete form, the author plans to convert it into an accessible PDF. In the mean time, Mimisbrunnr.info will post updates as sections of Eddic to English are complete.
* Haukur Þorgeirsson. 2001. "Old Norse for Beginners". Web.
* Larrington, Carolyne. 2007. "Translating the Poetic Edda” as published in Old Norse Made New, pp. 21-42. eds. D. Clark and C. Phelpstead. Viking Society for Northern Research.