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Kommentar zu den Liedern der Edda ed. by Klaus von See et al. (review)

From: Scandinavian Studies
Volume 85, Number 2, Summer 2013
pp. 256-260 | 10.1353/scd.2013.0002

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The Frankfurt team is getting ready for the grand finale. The Kommentar has reached the end of the heroic part of the Poetic Edda (so that now only the opening lays of the collection have to be annotated), and this is probably the reason the present volume opens with a combined bibliography for all the previous ones. Completion of the Kommentar, an important event in the history of Old Scandinavian philology, will deserve not only a local celebration but also an international conference (“The Edda in the Twenty-First Century and Beyond” or something like it, with ... and beyond included in the title as a matter of course). A new eddic compendium of such breadth will probably never be launched again. The Kommentar is a variorum edition, but, unlike, for instance, Furness’s almost impartial, though extremely valuable, variorum edition of Shakespeare, it defends certain solutions and disagrees with others. The set has been around so long and is known so well that discussing its methodology in detail will at this point serve no purpose, and I will confine myself to a few remarks. The excellence of the work and the awe-inspiring erudition of the team are taken here for granted.

The first thing the user of the Kommentar notices is the size of the volumes, especially of the present one. Not many people, besides (let us hope) the reviewers, will read it from cover to cover. The number of publications keeps growing at an unhealthy rate, and evaluating this scholarly and pseudo-scholarly production of the Fenja-Menja mill requires the ability to select and compress. The editors have read everything, and it could perhaps have saved both space and effort if they had a clearer view of their audience. For example, when þau referring to the plural of “mixed company” turns up, as a rule, they tell us why the pronoun is in the neuter. Apparently, those whose knowledge of Old Icelandic allows them to read the Edda already know such an elementary fact. Time and again the mechanism of Verner’s Law is explained instead of simply saying: “Voicing by Verner’s Law.” The commentary provides many etymologies. Since the information rarely goes beyond the most easily available dictionaries, the references look dispensable (a philologically minded student of the Edda can look up all such words in Jan de Vries and their obvious cognates in Kluge without editorial advice). They never miss the chance to indicate that a certain word is a hapax legomenon. Insofar as no conclusions follow from such observations, their usefulness needs proof, the more so as most of those words are compounds, members of an open set. Similarly, the editors are fond of pointing out that the word under discussion does not occur elsewhere in the extant corpus of Old Icelandic poetry but has been attested in later poetry or prose, or that its possible reflex surfaced in Modern Icelandic. This may be interesting in and of itself but contributes nothing to the understanding of the eddic texts. Below I will briefly return to the lack of contact between listing formal devices and analyzing the artistic fabric of eddic poetry. But first I would like to quote a typical passage (in my translation):

The compound húsfreyja ... has been recorded in poetry only here [in Atlamál] and in Gúðrúnarkviða I: 10 but occurs more often in prose (see Fritzner ...). The second element of the compound (-freyja) is indistinguishable from Freyja, the name of the goddess, and reflects the etymology of the name, i.e. “lady” [Herrin]. It is akin to the Old Norse noun frú and German Frau, which, likewise, means “lady” (cf. de Vries ..., Kluge21 ...). We find a counterpart of Freyr, to which Freyja is related, in Old High German fro “lord” (see de Vries ...); the meaning “lord” has been preserved in Modern German Fronleichnam (literally, the Lord’s body, Latin Corpus Christi; cf. Kluge21 ...). Therefore, the compound húsfreyja is not a kenning, with the name of the goddess as base word; from a semantic point of view, it can be compared with húsfrú, another Old Norse designation of ‘the lady of the house...

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