- Series: Penguin Classics
- Paperback: 160 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Classics; unknown edition (January 1, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0140447385
- ISBN-13: 978-0140447385
- Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.4 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 76 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #20,591 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Saga of the Volsungs (Penguin Classics) Paperback – January 1, 2000
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About the Author
Jesse Byock is a professor of Icelandic and Old Norse studies at UCLA. He is the translator of The Saga of the Volsungs and The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki for Penguin Classics.
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I've decided to set this book aside for a few months and pick it up again. That says a lot about its value.
The value of this saga on literature is enormous. It influenced the German Nibelungenlied, Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and his recently published The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, among others. Many aspects of the saga are reminiscent in literature - a ring of power; a broken sword that is reforged to perform a specific task; a group of kings and warriors attempting to pull a sword out of a tree with only one person succeeding; a horse descended from Odin's Sleipnir making it one of the best horses in the world; a dragon guarding a vast amount of gold and wealth.
As entertainment, The Saga of the Volsungs is up there, with a wonderful story. Of course, the writing is a bit different than most people are accustomed to, being several centuries old and written much differently than today. While some versions may prove a tad difficult and uninteresting to the casual reader, Jesse Byock does an excellent job making it accessible to the common reader while still staying relatively true to the original.
Aside from the entertainment value of the saga, it offers insight into the world of the Norse and Norse literature such as kennings, which replaced a noun with a circumlocution - "battle-sweat" instead of "blood", "sleep of the sword" instead of "death", "bane of wood" replacing "fire", etc. This specific translation of the saga maintains many of the kennings which liven up the saga and aid in its unique style. And, of course, it offers glimpses of Norse mythology as Odin plays many roles in the story, as do the norns and valkyries, as well as magic runes and Norse sorcery and, humorously, a senna - that is, a contest of insults including this zinger:
Sinfjotli replied: You probably do not remember clearly now when you were the witch on Varinsey and said that you wanted to marry a man and you chose me for the role of husband...I sired nine wolves on you at Laganess, and I was the father of them all. (As can be surmised, he is speaking to another man)
The Saga of the Volsungs is an entertaining read, and at roughly 110 pages is not very time consuming and offers a quick glimpse into what some of the Norse valued and how they perceived kingship, courtship, and war.
This is one of the most important stories in Western culture, on a scale with the Illead and Beowulf.
I actually found Byock's translation readable and the introduction and notes were helpful. I don't think it can be a single source for understanding the story, however.
However, I would second the idea that facing page translation formats are probably better for the serious student, and often result in better translations from the original.
It is a neglected tradition, as evidenced by the paucity of translations in print. We commonly talk of the Classical (Greek and Roman) and Judeo-Christian roots of our culture, but greatly underestimate the Norse and Celtic influences. The Volsung saga and the Niebelungenlied are among the best known and influential of the medieval epics and if you enjoy one you will probably enjoy the other. You might start with the Volsungs because theirs is the shorter and more coherent story, even though the more mythical and fantastic.
Byock's translation is very readable, reflecting the sparse, unadorned style of the original. His introduction is excellent, especially the notes on Wagner, in which he traces the influence of this work in the Ring.
The Saga of Ragnar Lodbrok and The Lay of the Raven follow the Volsung saga in the original manuscripts and form a continuous narrative. So why, as the Volsung saga is quite short, are they not all three published together in one volume? I felt rather short changed. Even so, I heartily recommend this book.