Book: Prose Edda

The book: The Younger Edda, by Snorre Sturleson,

The edition: free e-book by Dodo Press of the 1879 edition edited by Rasmus B. Anderson, 216 pages. It includes an English translation of the Foreword, the Fooling of Gylfe, the Afterword, Brage’s Talk, the Afterword to Brage’s Talk and passages from the Skaldskaparmal, plus and introduction, notes and vocabulary by the editor.

About the book: this is one of the main original sources for Nordic mythology, and includes a telling of cosmogony and gods’ feats.

My experience with the book & my thoughts: back in my university days, I had to study the Edda from a linguistic point of view, and was fascinated, but never read the whole of it (which I regretted deeply while reading American Gods). Now that I finally got around to it I cannot say I’m satisfied.
Of course I wasn’t completely ready. The Edda was written in the XII century and storytelling was completely different. I did expect some of it, but it was harder than I thought. It reminded me of the Catholic Catechism of old, with its questions and answers.
I guess this is one of those books that you (or at least I) don’t read for the sake of it, but more because of all the other works that refer back to it. And I’m glad I’ve read it, and I surely do know more about Norse mythology now than I ever wanted to, but I cannot say that the details will stay with me.
Also, I was very sad to discover that the part I studied was not included in this edition, although I do agree that when the editor had all the reasons to do so:

We have not translated any of the Hattatal, and only the narrative part of Skaldskaparmal. The parts omitted cannot possibly be of any interest to any one who cannot read them in the original. All the paraphrases of the asas and asynjes, of the world, the earth, the sea, the sun, the wind, fire, summer, man, woman, gold, of war, arms, of a ship, emperor, king, ruler, etc., are of interest only as they help to explain passages of Old Norse poems.

Still, that was the part that fascinated me and I was sad that it was not included.

What I liked: in the middle of a description of the end of the world, they would stop and insert rules for good living. It cracked me up, every time, such as here:

[During the Ragnarok] the ship that is called Naglfar also becomes loose. It is made of the nails of dead men; wherefore it is worth warning that, when a man dies with unpared nails, he supplies a large amount of materials for the building of this ship, which both gods and men wish may be finished as late as possible.

… so be good and take care that your nails are short at all times! LOL

Also, I loved deciphering the details Tolkien took directly from here to draw his world. For example, did you know that Gandalf was the name of a dwarf, originally, part of a list that included Bifur, Bofur, Bombur and Thorin?

What I didn’t like: this is a 19th century edition, and it shows. There is a lot of praising the “Teutonic race” and it grated on me. Things like:

Such marriages [i.e. incestuous marriages] were not allowed among our Odinic ancestors. Our ancestors were never savages!

Language & writing: I loved that these people had a myth about the origin of poetry (see the mead of poetry on Wikipedia, as it’s longish to tell here) and that their “catechism” included definitions for poetry itself:

Then said Æger: In how many ways do you vary the poetical expressions, or how many kinds of poetry are there? Answered Brage: There are two kinds, and all poetry falls into one or the other of these classes. Æger asks: Which two? Brage answers: Diction and meter. What diction is used in poetry? There are three sorts of poetic diction. Which? One is to name everything by its own name; another is to name it with a pronoun, but the third sort of diction is called kenning (a poetical periphrasis or descriptive name); and this sort is so managed that when we name Odin, or Thor or Tyr, or any other of the asas or elves, we add to their name a reference to some other asa, or we make mention of some of his works.

In the author’s own words: just let me share this passage about the name of Norway. This is from the notes, but I find that the characters’ names are interesting, because they give a good insight on the kind of world the authors of the Edda were used to in terms of weather:

The third son, Kare, had a numerous offspring. He had one son by name Jokul (iceberg), another Froste (frost), and Froste’s son was named Sna (snow). He had a third son, by name Thorri (bare frost), after whom the mid-winter month, Thorra-month, was called; and his daughters hight Fonn (packed snow), Drifa (snow-drift), and Mjoll (meal, fine snow). All these correspond well to Kare’s name, which, as stated, means wind. Thorri had two sons, Nor and Gor, and a daughter, Goe. The story goes on to tell how Goe, the sister, was lost, and how the brothers went to search for her, until they finally found him who had robbed her. He was Hrolf, from the mountain, a son of the giant Svade, and a grandson of Asa-Thor. They settled their trouble, and thereupon Hrolf married Goe, and Nor married Hrolf’s sister, settled in the land and called it after his own name, Norvegr, that is, Norway.

Links to better understand this book:

Counts as: I wanted to read this for so long, but I had to make it count for a whole host of things before I actually got to it. So it counts for the Medieval Challenge (my first read!), Classic Double challenge, Semi-charmed Summer Challenge (a book I was supposed to read in school, in a way), my personal goal of reading mythology, and the Travel with books project for Norway. Weeee!

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Translators’ Day

Today, September 30th, is Saint Jerome’s name day according to the Roman Church calendar, and St Jerome is the patron saint of translators. So happy Translators’ Day, fellow readers!

Do stop a moment and think about the latest books you’ve read in translation. I hope it was good, and you may want to say a little thank you to that translator! Feel free to share your gratitude for his/her work in the comments.

(What? You are regretting the experience of reading in translation? Feel free to share that, too. Translators are always happy to learn from their mistakes.)

A very homely Saint Jerome. This painting was photographed by Paul Lowry (on Flickr) in Montreal. If anyone knows the author, I'd be delighted to hear from you!

I celebrate by sharing this poem I found online dedicated to Saint Jerome. Apparently, it was made into a song, but I couldn’t find the tune.

The Thunderer, by Phyllis McGinley

God’s angry man, his crotchety scholar
Was Saint Jerome, the great name-caller
Who cared not a dime for the laws of libel
And in his spare time translated the Bible.

Quick to disparage all arts but learning,
Jerome liked marriage better than burning
But didn’t like woman’s painted cheeks;
Didn’t like Romans, didn’t like Greeks,
Hated Pagans for their Pagan ways,
Yet doted on Cicero all his days.

A born reformer, cross and gifted,
He scolded mankind sterner than Swift did;
Worked to save the world from the heathen;
Fled to a cave for peace to breathe in,
Promptly wherewith for miles around
He filled the air with fury and sound.

In a mighty prose, for almighty ends,
He thrust at his foes, quarreled with his friends,
And served his Master though with complaint.
He wasn’t a plaster sort of saint.
But he swelled men’s minds with a Christian leaven.
It takes all kinds to make a heaven.