16.02.01, Crawford, The Poetic Edda

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Kari Ellen Gade

The Medieval Review 16.02.01

Crawford, Jackson, trans. and ed. The Poetic Edda: Stories of the Norse Gods and Heroes. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2015. pp. xxiv, 366. ISBN: 978-1-62466-357-4 (hardback) 978-1-62466-356-7 (paperback).

Reviewed by:
Kari Ellen Gade
Indiana University Bloomington

This book is a translation of all the eddic poems in Codex Regius of the Poetic Edda with the exclusion of Atlamál, but including Baldrs draumar, Rígsãula, Võluspá in skamma, and Grottasõngr. It is prefaced by an introduction with brief sections on "The World of the Poetic Edda" (ix-xiii), "The Gods, the Realms, and the Heroes: A Basic Orientation" (xiii-xv), "Motifs and Style" (xv-xix), "Language and Pronunciation" (xix-xxi), "The Text" (xxi-xxiii), "What Is Included in This Translation" (xxiii), and "Further Reading" (xxiii-xxiv). The poems are divided into two main parts, "Poems about Gods and Elves" and "Poems about Heroes." The volume concludes with an appendix, "The Cowboy Havamal" (81 stanzas), and a glossary of names. It is not clear from the introduction on which diplomatic or critical edition(s) the translations are based, nor who the intended audience is.

Each poem is introduced by a brief section detailing the content of the poem and introducing its main characters. The translations are not poetic translations attempting to recast the Old Norse poetic forms in Modern English; rather, as Crawford explains in the introduction, "[i]n my translation, I have not sought to reproduce the meter of the original poems, nor have I made any particular effort to regularize the length of the lines in the poems if doing so would add to, or subtract from, the original meaning of a stanza" (xviii). The result is eminently readable, and the language flows naturally.

The main problem with the translations is that they are very loose--indeed so loose that in many places the nuances and the meaning of the original stanzas are lost or changed completely. Consider, for example, stanzas 20-21 of Helgakviña Hjõrvarñssonar, which consist of a sexually charged verbal exchange between one of the heroes, Atli, and the giantess Hrímgerñr. Rendered as prose, these stanzas read (my translation): "You would have neighed, Atli, if you had not been gelded; Hrímgerñr lifts her tail. I believe your heart is in your rear, Atli, although you have the voice of a stallion" (stanza 20); "I will seem like a stallion to you if you wish to try and I step onto land from the sea; you'll be completely crushed if it pleases me, and you'll lower your tail, Hrímgerñr." Crawford recasts the stanzas as follows (here and elsewhere, vertical lines indicate line-breaks): "And now you would shout, | Atli, if you weren't a gelding-- | now I, Hrimgerth, stretch out my neck. | You have a coward's heart, | Atli, though I think | you have a handsome voice"; "A gelding? You'll think I'm | a stallion if you get to try me, | if I come ashore from my ship. | You'll have all your bones | broken, if I carry out my threats-- | I'll hang you by your neck, Hrimgerth" (182). In many instances, the Old Norse text is hardly recognizable. Stanza 26/1-7 of the same poem is rendered by Crawford as follows: "Hrimgerth said, 'Helgi, | you'd rather have Svava, | who ruled the sea last night-- | that sparkling sea | seemed stronger than I am. | Here the land rises from the sea | and holds your fleet…'" (183). In reality, these lines read (prose, my translation): "You would rather have that one, Helgi, who surveyed the harbors last night with men; the gold-adorned girl seemed to me to have more strength than I; here she stepped onto land from the sea and thus secured your fleet." Similarly, Helgakviña Hundingsbana I, stanza 7/1-4 reads (prose, my translation): "That one seemed to people a prince; they said prosperous times had come to men." Crawford gives the lines as "The boy grew up | and was warlike at a young age; | they said he was already | reckoned as a man" (191). Such instances are numerous, unfortunately, and it is not clear whether they are mistranslations or creative innovations. (There are no notes of any kind.) In other cases, however, the mistranslations are blatant, as in Võluspá stanza 41/1-2 Fyllisk fjõrvi | feigra manna "He [the wolf] fills himself with the flesh of doomed men," which is rendered by Crawford as "Dead men | are filled with life" (11).

There is also mythological misinformation, for example when Crawford confuses the goddess Freyja's husband Óñr with the god Óñinn, and translates Võluspá stanza 25/8 Óñs mey "Óñr's girl" (i.e. the goddess Freyja) as "Odin's wife" (i.e. the goddess Frigg) (7). Similarly, Võluspá in skamma stanza 47/1 Rannt at Œñi "you ran to Óñr," is given by Crawford as "You ran after Odin" (166). In his translation of stanza 40/3-4 of the same poem, we hear that the god Loki "fathered Sleipnir with Svathilfari" (165), which is hardly likely since the horse Svañilfari was a stallion and Loki enticed it away from its owner, a giant, in the shape of a mare, which resulted in the birth of Óñinn's horse Sleipnir.

As mentioned above, Crawford does not specify what kind of audience the translation is intended for. Because of the many inaccuracies and mistakes, this is unfortunately not a translation that can be recommended for academic purposes, neither for research nor for teaching. The translation reads well, and it is a great pity that Crawford apparently did not consult other scholarly editions and translations, which would have helped avoid some of the most egregious pitfalls. That being said, a casual reader will likely embrace this volume.

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