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The Complete Sagas of Icelanders

Kirsten Wolf in Speculum - A Journal of Medieval Studies, oct: 1998

"These five volumes contain the first complete, coordinated English translation of the sagas of Icelanders, forty in all, together with forty-nine tales (■Šttir) of lcelanders. All the translations were specifically commissioned for this project, except for recently published translations of three sagas and two tales, which were revised to conform with the general editorial policy of these volumes. Over thirty translators, all native speakers of English and scholars within che field of Old Norse-Icelandic language and literature, participated in the project.

[...] A further attractive feature about the translations in these volumes is the consistency in rendering key terms, concepts, and motifs. As the editors point out in their preface, "the world of the sagas and the tales is a unified whole in several senses. They belong to the same geographical setting and tell of a particular period of history. They also share a recognisable narrative technique, although individual sagas often differ sharply in style and conrent. Each saga highlights various aspects of this common world and presents it from an individual perspective. An important priority has therefore been to retain the uniqueness of this world through consistent translation of certain concepts and the vocabulary belonging to specialised fields, and through the standardisation of names" (l:xv).

Each saga is prefaced by a note on its approximate date of composition, its (modern) Icelandic title, and a brief introduction specifying the manuscript and edition on which the translation is based and describing the saga's setting, main action, and literary qualities. The historical period covered by Ihe saga is given at the heading on its first page. No introductions are provided for the tales; instead, their Icelandic titles are printed under the English, and information on the source texts and original manuscripts is given in a footnote. On the whole, the saga translation is allowed to stand by itself, and foomotes are kept to a minÝmum. To that end recurrent key terms and concepts have been italicized. These italicized words, which highlight usage specific to the world of the sagas and which include legal terms, social ranks, supernatural elements, weights and measures, to mention but a few, are explained in a glossary toward the end of volume 5. Remarks on textual or manuscript problems, such as lacunae in the manuscript, have been italicized in square brackets. Occasional explanations of problematic passages are also inserted in the text in square brackecs. In the translation of the verses, the imagery, mythology, and thought patterns behind the compound kennings are explained in side glosses.

An extraordinarily well considered, informative, and beautifully writren introduction by Robert Kellogg on the sagas of Icelanders, their characteristics, and their place in Old Norse-Icelandic literarure prefaces the translations. The translations are followed by a lengthy four-part reference section. The first part comprises maps of the Vinland explorations, saga sites in Iceland, and Scandinavia and northem Europe; lists of kings of Norway, Denmark, and England; a chronology of historical events relevant to the sagas; and a list of law speakers in Iceland. The second part consists of illustrations of ships and the farm, diagrams of the social and political structure in medieval Iceland and of the social positions named in the sagas, and a map of assembly sites. The third part comprises the glossary and brief descriptions of che imagery of the verses, common elements in place-names, and the Old Icelandic calendar. A cross-reference index of characters makes up the fourth part and concludes the volume.

Collectively, the sagas of Icelanders provide a window to history and culture that is unique. As Kellogg writes, "[T]he development of a prose fiction in medieval Iceland that was fluent, nuanced and seciously occupied with the legal, moral and political life of a whole society of ordinary people was an achievement unparalleled elsewhere in Europe until the rise of the novel five hundred years later" (l:xxxii). With these five volumes, the daunting task of translating the sagas of Icelanders has been accomplished most successfully. Editors and translators alike have done exemplary work, and Leifur EirÝksson Publishing, which was founded in 1993 with the sole aim of publishing The Complete Sagas o(Icelnnders, Inclading 49 Tales, is to be congramlated for taking this worthwhile initiative and for producing such handsome volumes. [...]

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A further attractive feature about the translations in these volumes is the consistency in rendering key terms, concepts, and motifs."





"An extraordinarily well considered, informative, and beautifully writren introduction by Robert Kellogg on the sagas of Icelanders, their characteristics, and their place in Old Norse-Icelandic literarure prefaces the translations."