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Heimskringla: or, The Lives of the Norse Kings Paperback – May 1, 1990

ISBN-13: 978-0486263663 ISBN-10: 0486263665 Edition: Reprint

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Heimskringla: or, The Lives of the Norse Kings + Viking Age Iceland (Penguin History) + Njal's Saga (Penguin Classics)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 832 pages
  • Publisher: Dover Publications; Reprint edition (May 1, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0486263665
  • ISBN-13: 978-0486263663
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.4 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #188,314 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 37 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 19, 1997
Format: Paperback
Few topics might have a less boring promise to them than a a dreary, commented narration of the deeds of long-dead monarchs. But, as it happens, in the skilful hands of that remote, enigmatic figure that was Snorre Sturlason, this compendium becomes a thrilling subject likely to satisfy the mind of the professional historian and thirst for adventure of the young, budding intellectual turk.

Mr. Sturlason is indeed a kind of mysterious figure. Icelandic by birth, he would no doubt feel at home in the world of modern politics; as a matter of fact, he might have one or two things to teach any well seasoned contemporary politician. Why he devoted his life to political scheming and Norse history, we shall never know for sure; but should be under no illusion about his prowess in both disciplines. He's no doubt the Herodotus of the northern latitudes - and the Machiavelli. Nonetheless, in analogy to other historical figures, he machinated and intrigued a bit too far, which brought him his demise, after an anyway rather long life.

At the thirteenth century, the historical framework that saw the flourishing of Snorre Sturlason, the dynasties of Norwegian kings have come to an end. Not surprisingly so though, due to the extreme bellicosity and, from our late twentieth century point of view, hooligan-like features that characterized that string of monarchs.

Snorre's tale starts at the mythical times of the creation of the world, eons ago, with a crisp narrative of the well-known old Norse cosmology. It is not clear where mythology terminates and history begins, and one cannot help but wondering if the scheming historian kept the ambiguity on purpose.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Christopher R. Travers on August 8, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I rate translations of historical document based on the importance of the original, the readability of the translation, and the availability of better translations. In rare cases, I also look at the fidelity to the original (in cases where I have read the material in the original language). This work gets 3 stars.

On the first element, Heimskringla is is of enormous importance in both mythological and historical studies relating to Viking and Medieval Scandinavia. Snorri's account begins with a mythological account of the gods euhemerized (as in Edda) in the Ynglinga Saga, and then goes through the history of the kings of Norway starting with Harald Fairhair. The material is of tremendous importance and even later sagas in the series have proven important in folklore studies.

However the translation was made at a time when it was fashionable to provide very flowery translations of sagas and other Old Norse documents. The goal was to make the work feel classy and old. Unfortunately this greatly hurts its readability and, as Einar Haugan pointed out in his essay "On Translating from the Scandinavian," this approach fails to note that in their day such works did not have such a feel and hence a more direct translation is often better. Hence I think that the fidelity and readability issues are worth treating this edition as less important than it would be otherwise.

Finally there are other translations out there which are more recent and reflect a better understanding of the Old Norse documents in their historical context. For this reason, while this is't a BAD addition to one's library, I would recommend other translations instead.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 29, 1999
Format: Paperback
Heimskringla is the account of the kings of Norway, starting with the Norse god Odin as a great general and wizard and centered around the story of St. Olav, king of Norway for 15 years. The detailed account of his years as a king is over 200 pages long and the Old Norwegian terms will keep you reading the footnotes some of the time, but it helps.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By J. Spencer on May 26, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is the best history book that I have ever read. It is very full of history and details without any author input of personal opinions. I have been doing genealogy and this book has cleared up some questions that I could not find answers to anywhere. The book is well worth it for anyone into history or genealogy.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Webistrator on October 24, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This compendium of the norse kings' chronicles is a great effort to keep the flavor and literary rhythym of the original works by Snorri Sturluson.

The extensive annotations and clarifications make this an ideal reference work for navigating the labyrinth of icelandic and norse sagas and other literature from the Scandinavian side of the sea. It's an ideal companion to an aggregation of the norse sagas. If this volume has a shortcoming, that is that it lacks what all of the present-day renderings of the related body of literature could have to add interest for the novice: up-to-date maps keyed to the individual chronicles. But in fairness, that could be a volume in itself, for sure!

Criticism of this translation of the Snorri's chronicles of the lives of the norse kings as "victorian" is not very insightful. First, the Victorian era ended with the 20th century (Queen Victoria died in 1899). This volume dates at the earliest back to 1932.

Second, expecting a translation that reads like Harry Potter does a major disservice to both Snorri's and the editorial board/translators' efforts. It might make for a more casual read, but that isn't the purpose of this volume. Perhaps a version of Clif's Notes or a lighter pictoral Marvel's comics edition will be forthcoming...
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