Reykjavik project brings Icelandic sagas out of Norse code

May 15, 1998

A five-year project to translate the entire canon of ancient Icelandic sagas from Old Norse into a foreign language, English, for the first time has been completed by translators and international literary experts led by the University of Reykjavik, writes Christopher Follett from Copenhagen.

The Pounds 500,000 project involved 50 translators and experts in seven nations, including Britain and the United States. The university coordinated the project by the Internet. "The task of coordinating the translation work was solved by setting up a web site forum, where we could conduct conferences between translators and editorial staff," chief editor Vidar Hreinsson said.

"It was a challenge to convey the tone of the sagas, with their refined narrative and oral style, into readable modern English. When a translation was completed, 11 Icelandic saga experts combed the texts for inaccuracies before the manuscripts were checked and sub-edited by English-speaking literary consultants," he said.

Mr Hreinsson worked with a four-strong editorial committee from the University of Reykjavik. The final 2,300-page translation embraces 40 sagas in five volumes. The Nordic Council is providing funds to market the work in English-speaking nations.

The sagas are the greatest source of information on Old Nordic culture. They recount the settlement of Iceland in the ninth century by Vikings, driven from Norway by persecution from King Harold the Fairheaded, the first Norse chieftain to unite Norway, and their subsequent bloody family feuds. They were written from the 12th to the 18th centuries by unknown scribes. After a long dispute with Denmark, Copenhagen University last year completed the return of the sagas and other ancient documents to Reykjavik.

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