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13.07.09, Pálsson, ed., The Uppsala Edda

13.07.09, Pálsson, ed., The Uppsala Edda

I preface this review by specifying the standpoint from which I will assess this new edition and English translation, designed to "be of benefit to Anglophone students and scholars unaccustomed to diplomatic editions" (cxxiii), of the Icelandic manuscript known as Uppsalabók or Codex Upsaliensis, or U for short. I have no experience or training in manuscript studies or in the preparation of editions or translations. Rather, I tend to produce analyses of the interwoven contents and contexts of Snorri Sturluson's Edda and related texts, with a focus on the interpretation of accounts of myth, and the place and role of religion in medieval Norse society. As such, I review this volume not so much as a peer of Heimir Pálsson, who prepared the edition, notes, and introduction, or Anthony Faulkes, the translator, as I do as someone whose scholarship texts such as theirs make possible. Before, therefore, considering the usefulness and merits of The Uppsala Edda, I acknowledge the debt those like myself owe to those who undertake the detailed (i.e., tedious) work needed to produce volumes of this sort.

This book's author and title are potentially misleading, since it is its subtitle that most accurately and fully identifies its contents. For The Uppsala Edda provides not just versions of the parts of the textbook on myth and poetry that has been ascribed to the Icelandic chieftain, lawspeaker, and poet Snorri Sturluson (1178/9–1241), but the full contents of U, a manuscript catalogued as DG 11 4to and dated to the start of the fourteenth century. Thus, to refer to "the Uppsala Edda" as if it were identical to DG 11 4to seems inaccurate (vii), and instead of comparing "the Uppsala Edda version" with "the Codex Regius version" (e.g., xlii, lv–lviii), it would have been more precise to speak in the former case of the Codex Upsaliensis version of the Edda. Oddly, however, Heimir avoids using the name Codex Upsaliensis--I only find it appearing in quotations--even though he normally refers to the other major Edda manuscripts by their customary Latin labels (Regius, Wormianus, and Trajectinus, or R, W, and T for short); he also never uses the Icelandic names Uppsalabók and Konungsbók for U and R respectively, although he does introduce, but does not subsequently employ, the names Ormsbók for W and Trektarbók for T (xxxii–xxxiii). It would have been advisable in a volume such as this to introduce all of the relevant nomenclature and to make sure that the relationship between the names and the texts they designate is clear.

DG 11 4to and thus The Uppsala Edda contain, in order: sections of the Edda known as the Prologue and Gylfaginning or "Gylfi's Deluding," the latter a collection of myths that in U includes stories placed in a later part of the Edda in other manuscripts; three lists, of, respectively, court poets and their patrons (Skáldatal), of the Sturlungar's ancestry (Ættartala Sturlunga), and of Icelandic lawspeakers up until Snorri's second term of office (Lǫgsǫgumannatal), all of which, while probably not compiled by Snorri, have obvious connections to him and his family; a version of a part of the Edda called Skáldskaparmál or "The Language of Poetry"; a short anonymous text known as the Second Grammatical Treatise; and finally, 56 of the 102 stanzas of Snorri's Háttatal or "List of Verse-forms," a joint encomium and demonstration of metrical and rhetorical variation in skaldic poetry dedicated to King Hákon Hákonarson (d. 1263) and Jarl Skúli Bárðarson (d. 1240) of Norway. The edited text and translation appear on facing pages, and "folio numbers and pagination of the manuscript are shown in the margins" (cxxvi). Illustrations from U are also reproduced.

The Uppsala Edda has been designed and formatted to match the four-volume Edda edited by Faulkes and also published by the Viking Society for Northern Research. Faulkes's earlier effort was designed primarily for those interested in the contents and context of the Edda. It sought to provide a best text based largely, but not exclusively, on R—thus his introductions and notes—while providing information about manuscripts. Heimir's apparatus, on the other hand, is more focused on this one manuscript, its features, origins, history, intertextual relationships, etc. Suggestions made in the introduction, which aims to address "the material…from all possible points of view" (ix), about U in isolation and in relation to other manuscripts are carefully and, where suitable, cautiously argued and supported with ample evidence. In particular, Heimir strengthens the case, made previously by Faulkes and others, for thinking that U and R represent different stages of work by the original producer(s) of the Edda, with U reflecting a scribal compilation of what were perhaps draft copies of portions of the Edda alongside other materials from Snorri's/the Sturlungar's workshop (see esp. xlii–xliii, lxxx–lxxxi). He also offers compelling reasons for scholars not to be too confident about what have become widely accepted theories regarding the order in which the Edda's parts were produced (xxiii–xxiv, lxvii–lxx, cxvi). Much of this argumentation is, however, intricate, and may prove difficult for those uninitiated to or uninvested in manuscript studies to follow or to appreciate its significance.

Other portions of the introduction provide a straightforward and faithful account, based as they must be on a handful of thirteenth-century contemporary sagas, of Snorri's life and literary activity. Here too Heimir's positions are well-supported and independent, i.e., not overly beholden to existing schools of thought. However, I feel compelled to challenge, even at the risk of self-promotion, his statements that "[s]o much has been written about Snorri Sturluson's life that it is pointless to add anything further," and that "[t]he most important biographical accounts are included in the bibliography" (xi), for, despite the book's publication date of 2012, my own 2008 book on Snorri and the production of the Edda is not found here. [1] Neither are any of the important texts by Torfi H. Tulinius published since the turn of the millennium that also deal with Snorri's life and works. [2] I mention these here not only because they seem to me important contributions, but because Torfi and myself have both, independently yet roughly simultaneously, sought to account for Snorri's works in light of what is known about his biography and extra-literary pursuits through application of the theory of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (d. 2002). Our attempts to understand Snorri's literary activity as part of his efforts as an actor invested in overlapping social fields to preserve the conversion-value of what, using Bourdieu, we label his cultural capital was meant in part to challenge scholarship that characterizes the Edda as an antiquarian or artistic project, a viewpoint that tends to regard the relationship between Snorri as author/poet and what is known of Snorri as lawyer/politician/power-broker as paradoxical. Heimir's biographical account, while being itself fairly sober, ends by noting that Snorri's "life is in many ways a riddle," and by quoting approvingly from one of the many "romantic pictures of him" (xxix). It thus seems a shame that he has not taken into account recent scholarship that was designed to solve parts of this riddle and to move us past an inclination toward romanticization or charismatic mystification of Snorri's literary practices. Furthermore, since there are specific suggestions made in my book that Heimir labels "absurd," such as the idea that Háttatal's commentary "would have accompanied the poem when it was sent abroad" to Hákon and Skúli (lxviii), it would have been nice to see him give reasons for rejecting my arguments.

As indicated above, The Uppsala Edda provides a normalized rather than diplomatic edition of DG 11 4to, based on the transcribed text of Anders Grape and others. [3] The decision to normalize the text so as "to give an impression of the stage of linguistic development in the time of Snorri Sturluson rather than of that of the scribe of the manuscript" (cxxiv) seems questionable since, as Heimir himself states, the edition's "intention is not to reconstruct the original text of Snorri…but rather to examine exhaustively the text the anonymous scribe set down on parchment around the year 1300" (cxxv). This intention is also somewhat undermined by some misalignment between the apparent policies followed in the edited text on the one hand, and in the translation on the other. In the case of the former, the practice is generally to retain apparent scribal errors in U while drawing attention to what was probably the intended word, based on other manuscripts' readings, in footnotes. Since, however, such errors are usually silently corrected in the translation, this at times does not accord with the corresponding edited text. While it mostly remains clear what is going on, those utilizing only the translation may not always realize that they are relying on an emended text. But there are also instances where such inconsistencies could prove more confusing. For instance, the translation sometimes keeps the word given in U even where the scribe appears to be in error, as when the line "herr gerði þá kyrra" is rendered "the army made them submissive" despite the fact, as footnote 8 on p. 232 observes, that herr "ought to be hyrr 'burning', as is shown by the prose" (232–233), or when the translation renders "hinn búni áss" as "the prepared Áss" even though this makes little sense as a kenning for Loki and footnote 7 on p. 148 notes that "[o]ther manuscripts have bundni 'bound'" (148–149). There are also inconsistencies of this sort within stanzas or even single lines: for example, the line "varmt eldr í munn Karmtar" is said in footnote 3 on p. 222 to contain two errors, eldr "fire" for ǫlðr "ale," and munn "mouth" for men "necklace," but the translation emends only one of these, thus resulting in "the watcher's (wolf's) warm ale (blood…) flowed… into the mouth of Kǫrmt (sea)" (222–223). While complete consistency is not to be expected in such matters, and perhaps the best policy is to decide whether to emend on a case by case basis, the criteria being applied in making these decisions probably ought to have been made more conspicuous.

As for the care with which The Uppsala Edda has been prepared, there are a good number of typos throughout the book. These are relatively rare in the Old Norse text, but a cursory inspection turned up a few mistakes such as misspellings, e.g., meðr instead of með (6), and wrong case forms, e.g., "af limum trés þess er Leráðs heitir," where the nominative case, "Leráðr," ought to appear (58). The bibliography contains quite a few typos and formatting inconsistencies: for example, we find the properly punctuated abbreviation "et al." but also "et. al." and "et al" (cxxiii–cxxx), and the volume numbers for the journal Gripla switch between using Arabic and Roman numerals (cxxix, cxxxi, cxxxiv). Mistakes become more common in the English portions of the text (the introduction, notes, and translation), and include misspellings, repeated words, missing words, missing apostrophes, missing italics, missing or wrong use of punctuation, failures to include closing parentheses and quotation marks, inconsistencies in line spacing, and so on. Since such mistakes are mostly obvious ones, they will cause few problems other than distraction for most readers. More significant are grammatical mistakes or awkwardness that get in the way of communicating meaning, and slips that result in factual errors. An example of the former is this sentence that tries to explain how the non-Edda material made its way into U: "The most likely explanation is that someone in the Sturlung family was having material collected…that lay in booklets on loose leaves and was connected with the family, or was relics of Snorri" (lxxx). As examples of the latter, "Arnórr" appears in the translation for "Einarr" in the original text (232–233), and "Sturla" is a mistake for "Gizurr" (Þorvaldsson) in the sentence that begins "Sturla takes seventy men" and which describes the movements of the raiding party that killed Snorri Sturluson in 1241 (xxix). It is also incorrect to say that "Sturlunga saga is…in fact the only source for what happened in Norway in 1220" (xxi), since Hákonar saga Hákonarsonar offers an alternative version of the same events that are here described.

Ultimately, the flaws that I have noted do little to detract from the benefits of having a complete and accessible edition and English translation of U. Overall, there is little to criticize in Faulkes's straightforward, literal translation, though certainly some lines could have been rendered more elegantly. For example, "There is a goat that is called Heiðrún stands up on top of Valhǫll" is an unnecessarily awkward way to translate "Geit sú er Heiðrún heitir stendr uppi á Valhǫll" (58–59), and the same goes for "It was some dwarfs made Skíðblaðnir" for "Dvergar nokkurir gerðu Skíðblaðni" (62–63). Since users of The Uppsala Edda will likely be familiar with Faulkes's earlier Edda translation and editions, having him translate U has the perhaps unintended effect of facilitating comparison of the style as well as contents of R and U by those with less experience in reading Old Norse. An impression I got from reading this new translation was that the century and more of scholarly emphasis on the stylistic inferiority of U compared to R has been exaggerated, although certainly R's fuller versions of most of the mythic narratives will continue to be more attractive to most readers. As a final comment also having to do with manuscript variations, it would have been helpful in the notes to have had more attention drawn to and more references to scholarship addressing significant differences in content between R and U; for example, that the dwarf who stitches Loki's lips together calls for "his brother's awl" (239) rather than his brother Alr, or that Frigg is called "grandmother of óðinn" (149) are features of U that cry out for comment. Perhaps more of this sort of thing can be provided in the promised upcoming "Icelandic reader's edition" (cxxiii).



1. Kevin J. Wanner, Snorri Sturluson and the "Edda": The Conversion of Cultural Capital in Medieval Scandinavia (Toronto Old Norse- Icelandic Studies 4; Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008).

2. See, e.g., Torfi H. Tulinius, "Snorri og bræður hans. Framgangur og átök í félagslegu rými þjóðveldisins," Ný Saga 12 (2000): 49–60; idem, "Virðing í flóknu samfélagi. Getur félagsfræði Pierre Bourdieu skýrt hlutverk og eðli virðingar í íslensku miðaldasamfélagi?", in Helgi Þorláksson, ed., Sæmdarmenn. Um heiður á þjóðveldisöld (Reykjavík: Hugvísindastofnun, 2001), 57–89; and idem, Skáldið í skriftinni: Snorri Sturluson og "Egils saga" (Reykjavík: Hið íslenska bókmenntafélag, 2004).

3. Anders Grape, Gottfried Kallstenius, and Olof Thorell, eds., Snorre Sturlassons Edda. Uppsala-handskriften DG 11, 2 vols., Vol. 2: Transkriberad text och paleografisk kommentar av Anders Grape, Gottfried Kallstenius och Olof Thorell, inledning och ordförrad av Olof Thorell (Uppsala: Almqvist och Wiksell, 1977).