The Poetic Edda, trans. by Lee M. Hollander

My Copy: 9780292764996 (image from

This is another book that’ll take me a while to get into again. Like The Georgics (which I chose not to review), I am just not up on my early poetry or poetic works. And so much of what’s in here is fragmentary.

I chose to pick up The Poetic Edda because I heard this was the best translation (according to Werner Herzog, anyway) of the stories. It’s an older translation, but it works. There’s the obvious ones thanks to a certain cinematic universe: Odin, Thor, Frigg(a), Loki, etc., but half the Edda are related to Norse heroes.

I think The Poetic Edda is a book you have to have patience for, or really know your Norse literature or history. I’ve heard some names in the past, but haven’t read up on any additional Nordic mythology. I blame that because of having to read Beowulf in school, which colored my outlook on Nordic works. For one, Beowulf has been tampered with so much (with Christian references thrown in when the original tale would’ve had none) and redone and replaced. And I despise stories where the characters brag about themselves endlessly to impress people.

Now, there’s a smidgen of that here, but at least it’s largely broken up. The difficulty is maneuvering through the pronunciations and accents and whatnot. It’s very laconic poetry, sparse with description but when it gives it, it’s quite nice, especially at the beginning.

But some of the work gets annoying: someone goes to conquer, marries/rapes and impregnates, and then goes and fights some more, meets their death or messes with a Valkyrie and there goes the neighborhood. I think I read 5 in a row that were like that.

Odin comes out as the worst man-whore since Zeus (and if a woman gets too powerful, like a Valkyrie, he’ll try to make them powerless and just get married off…at least, he tried it in one of ’em–ugh!). Thor, in the few bits he’s in, is like a working class man with an occasional temper (and no wonder so likable to the masses). Loki is interesting, in the few sparse parts he’s in. He reminds me of the Monkey God in the Chinese masterpiece Journey to the West: being clever, breaking rules, and just pissing people off.

Yeah, no wonder he’s supposed to meet such an awful end (makes me want to give him a hug anyway).

Funny how I still despise Odin, in whatever form he’s in!

This is one I know I’ll come back to when I get some more poetic study under my belt, and perhaps do a re-review in a few years.

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