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13.09.28, Finlay and Faulkes, trans., Heimskringla, volume 1: The Beginnings to Óláfr Tryggvason

13.09.28, Finlay and Faulkes, trans., Heimskringla, volume 1: The Beginnings to Óláfr Tryggvason

Heimskringla (c. 1230), written in Old Icelandic, is a chronological compilation of sagas of the Norwegian kings. It contains one prologue and sixteen sagas about the kings who reigned in Norway from the legendary ancestors of the kings of Sweden, the Ynglingar, to Haraldr háfagri (860-933), Óláfr Tryggvason (995-999 or 1000), Óláfr Haraldsson (1014-1030) concluding with Magnús Erlingsson (1161-1184). As mentioned in the introduction to Finlay and Faulkes's Heimskringla, "The work is often described as a triptych, falling naturally into three sections, with the saga of Óláfr Haraldsson, translated and beatified as St Óláfr in the centrepiece" (vii). It is considered the apotheosis, as well as the last work, of the period of kings' saga writing. Interestingly, some of the kings' sagas, unlike Snorri's Heimskringla, were written in Latin--Historia de Antiquitate Regum Norwagiensium, Historia Norwegiae, and the two sagas of Óláfr Tryggvason--in spite of the already established tradition of writing in Old Norse. Heimskringla survives in several manuscripts, which contain the whole text or fragments of it: Kringla (one leaf extant), AM 39 fol., AM 45 fol. Codex Frisianus (Fríssbók), AM 47 fol. Eirspennill, Jöfraskinna (7 leaves extant), DG 3 (lost), and smaller fragments. The two major manuscripts are the Kringla and the Jöfraskinna. The Kringla manuscript was written in Iceland in c.1260, and was later kept in Copenhagen, where it was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1728. However two copies of this manuscript were made in the seventeenth century. The Jöfraskinna manuscript contained the first and the last part of Heimskringla. Óláfs saga helga, however, was not reproduced, and a different version of it, usually considered an abridgement of The Separate Saga of Óláfr helgi, was inserted later in the manuscript. The manuscript also contained Sverris saga and Hákonar saga Hákonarsonar, whose three fragments, together with four fragments of the Óláfs saga helga, survived the fire of 1728. Just like Jöfraskinna, the Codex Frisianus (c. 1320) contains the first and the last part of Heimskringla. In his description of the manuscript, Jon Gunnar Jørgensen writes that "the text has undergone considerable changes, and from the end of Óláfs saga kyrra to the end of Inga/Sigurðar saga it is most closely related to Morkinskinna (HkrFJ I: xxi)." [1] Regarding the authorship of Heimskringla the text is attributed to Snorri Sturluson (1178 or 1179-1241), even though his name does not appear in any of the medieval manuscripts or fragments of Heimskringla. Only two sixteenth-century translators of Heimskringla, Laurents Hanssøn (1550) and Peder Claussøn Friis (1599), record Snorri's name. Most scholars agree that Snorri is the author, though perhaps not in the modern sense of the word, of Heimskringla.

The publication of Finlay and Faulkes's new translation of Heimskringla Volume 1 is a welcome, and much needed addition to the editions and translations of the Viking Society of Northern Research. Even though we have to wait for Volumes 2 and 3, we can now rejoice in reading a more accurate, as well as learned, translation of the prologue and the first six sagas: Ynglinga saga, Hálfdanar saga svarta, Haralds saga ins hárfagra, Hákonar saga góða, Haralds saga gráfeldar, Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar. The translation is based on Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson's edition in Íslenzk fornrit XXVI; and Alison Finlay is responsible for the first draft of Ynglinga saga, along with "most of the footnotes and the translation of all the verses. Anthony Faulkes translated the rest of the prose" (xiv). What Finlay and Faulkes offer is a close and clear translation into Modern English, which definitely reproduces the narrative style and structure of the original text. As Finlay states in her introduction to the translation, by keeping the original sentence structure and the Old Norse proper names in the original when there is no exact equivalent in modern English, the reader is given the opportunity to capture and feel the original narrative style. The translation of the verses is also very accurate, with a successful attempt to reproduce the complex dróttkvætt form, which includes alliterations and six-syllable lines. Furthermore, kennings are all literally translated into English and carefully glossed, making references to other sagas or skaldic verses, as well as Snorri's Edda. The meticulous translation of the verses will prove to be a useful tool for both scholars and students of Old Norse, who will have access to explanatory footnotes and references to recent skaldic scholarship.

The translation is prefaced by a short introduction that briefly discusses authorship, sources and manuscripts. It is a shame that the care that is put into the translation and footnotes is not completely mirrored in the introduction. With this first volume of Heimskringla the reader might expect a longer introduction which introduces the text as a whole, and the six sagas in the volume, rather than simply mentioning the fact that "Heimskringla covers the history of Norway from its legendary beginnings up to the year 1177, and is structured as a sequence of sixteen sagas..." (vii). On the other hand, the authorship of Heimskringla is explored fairly thoroughly, providing references to recent studies, and the discussion of Snorri's use of sources in the composition of his history of the kings of Norway is equally well examined. Indeed, Finlay provides a detailed analysis of the Prologue, examining the sources mentioned by Snorri (oral reports, genealogies, the works of Ari Þorgilsson, and poetry), along with other works used, but not acknowledged by Snorri (historical surveys and biographies). I believe that this work would have profited considerably from a more detailed introduction on the contents of the text and on the manuscripts.

The introduction is followed by a useful chronology, maps and bibliographical references. The index of names at the end of the translation makes reference to the page numbers of the Íslenzk fornrit edition, which can be found in square brackets in the translation. On the one hand, this is useful if one has the Old Norse edition at hand, however for those readers whose access to the Íslenzk fornrit edition is limited, it might have been useful to also provide the page numbers of the current translation.

In sum, it is to be hoped that the next two volumes will offer the same high standard of translation, and that with the publication of the third and final volume there will be a comprehensive bibliography with the most recent studies on Heimskringla, Old Norse-Icelandic historiography and skaldic poetry. This excellent first volume of Heimskringla will be useful to scholars as well as students of Old Norse-Icelandic literature and history. The translation definitely gives "the English reader more of the flavour of the original narrative than the rather bland 'normal' English style of most other translations" (xv).



1. Jon Gunnar Jørgensen, The Lost Vellum Kringla, trans. Siân Grønlie (Copenhagen: C.A. Reitzel, 2007), 6.