cradle of democracy
About the Sagas
Vikings in America
The Complete Sagas of IcelandersMargaret Clunies Ross in Parergon, 16.2: 1998
"This, the first English translation of the complete corpus of Old Icelandic sagas of Icelanders, or family sagas, together with a number of short tales (pættir), is a major achievement of its editors and its teams of translators and advisers who have worked together to ensure the overall publication's consistency of methodology and general scholarly approach. It comes handsomely packaged as a five-volume boxed set, printed on quality paper. It is, as its dark binding and gold lettering proclaim, a collection of 'Viking Age Classics', complete with no less than three Forewords by Icelandic dignitaries and the financial support of several Icelandic banks, insurance companies and Icelandair, the work's main sponsor.
[...] The Complete Sagas of Icelanders has numerous advantages over existing translations, when these are considered as a group. It contains all known sagas that belong to the genre of family sagas, as they are usually called in English (the Icelanders calls them 'sagas of Icelanders', hence the title of this collecfion), together with a number of short tales. It does not, by the way, include numerous other prose works that also go by the name of 'saga' in Icelandic-historical sagas, sagas of legendary and heroic kind, and indigenous or translated romances.
This collection tries for a uniform approach to questions of translation and the provision of information to the reader about the cultural world whose nature is taken more or less for granted by the saga authors. The editors have supplied many helpful charts, maps and notes and have included in Volume Five a glossary of key concepts and special terms that refer to specifically Icelandic cultural phenomena that the ordinary reader is unlikely to know words like 'Althing' and 'Moving Days', for example. These words are italicised in the translations, so the reader knows to look them up. Another useful resource is a cross-referenced index of saga characters, which tells at a glance all the sagas in which a particular character appears. This handy list (which will be useful to scholars perhaps even more than the general reader) would have been even better if it had cross-referenced the characters on the basis of kinship as well.
A further advantage of the present collection is that the translators pay serious attention to the poetry which is embedded in many saga texts. This poetry called 'skaldic', is complex and esoteric, both in diction and verse form, but it is of very great literary interest. Previous editors and translators have not, on the whole, made a very good job of presenting it to the non-specialist reader, and there is no doubt that this is a difficult undertaking. In the present collection, however, a number of the sagas are particularly well translated when it comes to the poetry (several of the translators are experts in poetry), the verses being accurately and sensitively rendered. The reader is given a good sense of the meaning and aesthetic value of the kennings or poetic periphrases that characterise skaldic verse.
The editors have also paid attention to the classification of groups of sagas into several major categories, following recent scholarly work by Icelandic experts Vésteinn Ólason and Örnólfur Thorsson. This classification for the most part determines the division of the texts within the translation's five volumes. There is an informative general introduction to the sagas of Icelanders as a literary genre by Robert Kellogg of the University of Virginia at the beginning of Volume One.
The riches in these volumes are thus laid before the English-reading public wherever they may be in the world. [...]
On the whole, [...] The
Complete Sagas of Icelanders is a work of high quality and a major addition to
the resources available to the English reader who takes an interest in Old Icelandic
literature. It will also be of great use to the student of Icelandic and even
the scholar. In this respect it complements a recent Icelandic edition of the
sagas of Icelanders and a CD-ROM edition issued in 1996, together with a new Icelandic
literary history of Old Icelandic literature, Íslensk bókmenntasaga I-II (1992-93)."
"The riches in these volumes are thus laid before the English-reading public wherever they may be in the world."
"On the whole, [...] The Complete Sagas of Icelanders is a work of high quality and a major addition to the resources available to the English reader who takes an interest in Old Icelandic literature. It will also be of great use to the student of Icelandic and even the scholar."
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