A lazy Reykjavik


Sat, 31 May 2003

Note To Bray.

Tim Bray apparently noticed an inbound link to his site from Már and wondered what Már was saying.

The answer is simple, Már was trying to style his RSS feed with CSS and was running into problems with Internet Explorer (go on, click the link, that styled web-page is his RSS feed).

And so he sympathetically linked to Tim Bray’s recent anti-IE rant noting that Tim agrees with him.

The reason why I’m posting this here, instead of e-mailing it to Tim Bray is that I can’t for the life of me find any sort of contact info on the Ongoing site.

Besides, other people might be interested.

Tue, 04 Feb 2003

On Names.

Dorothea Salon responded to my cry for help regarding the issue of translating names. She neatly summarises the possibilities, what approaches are generally available.

And as I was thinking about this I ran across a post in Jonathon Delacour’s weblog.

The post discusses the “lang” HTML attribute, the CSS2 attribute selector and how, when coupled with the “title” HTML attribute you can provide the original language word, the English language translation and semantically correct language information all in one go, along with popups of the translation in the browsers that support it.

So I slapped together a page collecting what little I’ve translated so far of Gylfaginning, using the lang attribute along with the title attribute wherever I felt like it.

For the most part, I think it works. The only thing I’m still thinking about is what it should look like.

But anyway, head off over to the new Gylfaginning webpage and have a gander.

And here’s an short example:

Then Astall says: “Earlier, Niflheimur was made. Many ages before the creation of earth, and there in its middle lies a well named Hvergelmir. From there rivers flow so named: Svöl, Gunnþrá, Fjörm, Fimbulþul, Slíður og Hríð, Sylgur og Ylgur, Víð, Leiftur. Gjöll is the one closest to the gates of Hel.”

Chapter five is proving a tad more difficult, which of course means that the entertainment value of translating it goes up exponentially.

It’ll be up eventually.

Baldur Bjarnason.
Clifton, Bristol.

Thu, 30 Jan 2003

Chapter 4 of Gylfaginning from the Prose-Edda.

Gangleri asked: “What was the beginning, how did things begin, what was before?”

Tall answers: “As is said in Völuspá, the prophecy of the Volva:”

r var alda
a er ekki var,
vara sandur n sr
n svalar unnir;
jör fannst eigi
n upphiminn,
gap var Ginnunga,
en gras ekki.”

As the ages began
what is, was not,
no sand nor sea
or cooling waves;
no earth was found
or sky above,
emptiness was young,
and of grass was none.

Then Astall says: “Earlier, Niflheimur was made. Many ages before the creation of earth, and there in its middle lies a well named Hvergelmir. From there rivers flow so named:Svöl, Gunnþrá, Fjörm, Fimbulþul, Slíður og Hríð, Sylgur og Ylgur, Víð, Leiftur. Gjöll is the one closest to the gates of Hel.”

Then Third says: “First, though, was the world in the south named Múspell. It is bright and hot, burning with fire, impassable to strangers and those not native to the land. Surtur is the one so named who stands on Múspell’s border, guarding the land. His sword is flaming and as the world ends he will go out, make war against and triumph over the gods. And he will burn the whole world with fire. So is said in Völuspá:

Surtur fer sunnan
me svigalvi,
skn af sveri
sl valtva;
grjtbjörg gnata,
en gfur rata,
troa halir helveg,
en himinn klofna

Surtur comes from the south
wielding fire
The gods’ swords shine, like suns in the darkness

Mountains collapse into rubble
And fiends shall fall
Man walks the road to ruin
as the sky splits in two

More Translation Notes.

I’m having fun with this, obviously.

The main problem is with the names, trying to judge when to translate the names and when not to.

Icelandic names can be problematic this way. Most names, especially in the old myths have a literal meaning.

Óski and Ómi, for example, some of Odin’s names from chapter 3, mean Wish and Tone, respectively. My dad’s name, Bjarni, means Bear, while my mother’s name Bergljót, means Beautiful Mountain or rock.

Beautiful, in Old Norse, that is. After christianity, the meaning of the word ljótur changed to mean ugly as it had religious connotations connected in relation to the old faith.

The problem with translating these names is that in Icelandic the name function takes precedence. When you read a text where the names have obvious meanings, the names still function as names first, and the semantic meaning of the words fades into the background (still there of course, affecting the reading).

If you translate these name into English, the meaning of the words take over and the names are lost as names, become awkward metaphors.

It’s made even worse by the fact that some of the names are absolutely untranslatable, their meaning so vague and indistinct.

I decided to provide the original language versions of the poetry, accompanied by translations, rather than simply translating the verses into English prose, or worse, pretending to be a poet and translating them into poetry.

I’d like to hear what people think about that.

I’m very greatful for the online annotations of Völuspá available, unfortunately, only in Icelandic.

Baldur Bjarnason.
Clifton, Bristol.

Wed, 29 Jan 2003

Chapter 3 of Gylfaginning from the Prose-Edda.

Gangleri began with the question: “Who is the greatest or oldest of the gods?”

Tall said: “In our language his name is Allfather, but in ancient Asgard he had twelve different names. One is Allfather, second is Herran or Herjan, third is Nikar or Hnikar, fourth is Nikuss or Hnikuður, fifth is Fjölnir, sixth Óski, seventh Ómi, eighth Bifliði or Biflindi, ninth Sviðar, tenth Sviðrir, eleventh Viðrir, twelfth Jálg or Jálkur.”

Gangleri then asked: “Where is that god, what can he, or what has he accomplished?”

Tall said: “He lives for all ages and rules his all his kingdom, and rules all things, large and small.”

Then Astall says: “He built the heaven and earth and the air and all that belongs to them.”

The Third says: “The geatest thing he did was the creation of man and giving man the spirit that shall live and never fade away, though the body rots to dirt or burns to ash. And all people shall live, those who are honorable and just, and be with him in the place named Gimlé or Vingólf, while the bad and dishonest shall go to Hel and from there to Niflhel, down in the ninth world.”

Then Gangleri asks: “What did he do before the creation of heaven and earth?”

Tall answers: “Then, he was with the ice-giants.”

Tue, 28 Jan 2003

Notes on Translating from Icelandic.

I might throw up a few translations here from time to time and, to give people a bit of a background info, I’d like to make a few points on why I’m doing this.

First of all, none of these translations are suitable for those who want all of the references and styles of the original preserved. I’m aiming for the preservation of the work’s feel rather than its context.

I’m also assuming that you know things like the fact that the Aesir are one of the nations of the Nordic Gods (the other one was Vanir).

The context is very important for students of these things but I believe that the feel of the original text sets the stage, focusses your approach to studying its context.

But that feel is often lost in translations, especially those intended for academic reading.

So I reason that there are others who are much better at preserving context through careful use of style and footnotes but that portraying a feel, an emotion, is something I can strive to do.

So when these translations work (probably not that often) you should be able to read my translated pieces first to get the feel and then use a proper academic translation to study the work with proper references and what will probably be a style closer to the original.

We’ll see how it goes; whether I’ll do any more translations in the future.

Baldur Bjarnason.
Clifton, Bristol.

Chapter Two of Gylfaginning from the Prose-Edda.

Translation by Baldur Bjarnason, of the original text by Snorri Sturluson.

King Gylfi was a wise man with some skills in the arts of magic. He was perplexed about the powers of the aesir, seeing that all things were at their beck and call. Those powers, he reasoned, were either derived from something in their nature or from the godly powers they paid their allegiance to.

He headed towards Asgard in secret; in the guise of an old man. But the aesir learned of this and they spotted him on his journey before he arrived to Asgard. They prepared for his arrival with illusions.

When he arrived in the city he sighted a palace so tall that its upper reaches were barely visible. Its roof was tiled with golden shields.

Gylfi saw a man juggling with handaxes, seven at once, in the palace’s doorway. The juggler asked for his name. Gylfi called himself Gangleri and claimed to be a lost wanderer looking for a place to sleep for the night. He asked who the palace’s owner was.

The juggler answered that it was their king. “I can take you to see him. You can then ask him yourself for his name,” and in speaking those words he turned around and walked into the palace. The door closed shut after Gylfi as he followed.

Inside he saw many rooms and crowds of people, some playing games, some drinking, some fighting with arms. He found many of the things he saw incredible.

He saw three thrones in a row and three men, each sitting in his throne. He then asked for their names.

The juggler who led him in, answers that the man in the lowest throne was their king whose name was Tall, the man in the next throne was Astall, while the man in the highest throne was Third. Tall then asks the newly-arrived Gylfi whether he has any other business here mentioning that he is free to partake in the feast with the other people in Havahöll.

Gylfi first asks whether there is somebody here who is well-read and knowledgable, as he is seeking some information. Tall says that he will not be able to leave the palace safely without finding some answers to his questions, and

“Step forward as you listen
the speaker shall stay seated.”