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The Chronicle of the Kings of Norway, Heimskringa
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"Heimskringla" is a collection of tales about Norwegian kings, a chronicle. It contains tales of how Scandinavia was christened in the Viking Age (ca. 800–1066 CE) and afterward. The chronicle was written in Old Norse by the Icelandic historian and poet Snorre Sturlason (c.1179–1241) in or around 1225 CE. He had visited Norway and Sweden, and had access to old resources in Iceland too. The exact sources of his work are disputed.

The first parts of the work go back to mythological times for the Danes, Swedes and Norwegians, to be followed by sagas from the 800s CE up to the death of the pretender Eystein Meyla in 1177.

The Heimskringla consists of several sagas. A saga is a prose narrative of historic or legendary figures and events, and may contain quite detailed accounts, ficticious or otherwise. The first of the Chronicle sagas traces Odin and his followers from Asgard to their settlements in Scandinavia. The sagas that follow tell of contesting kings and nobles and Viking expeditions. The Saga of Olaf Haraldsson is the longest. It was edited by monks.

In the 1800s, Norwegians strove for independence, and the ancient stories of the independent Norwegian medieval kingdom became very popular, even a national symbol. The Norwegian parliament subsidised new translations of Heimskringla in 1900.

Heimskringla as a historical source is not much trustworthy, for Snorri's work was written several centuries after most of the events it describes. Yet Heimskringla has continued to be used as a historical source, but with caution: Historians tend to see little to no historical truth behind the first few sagas.

The texts that follow, stem ultimately from the English translation by Samuel Laing (1844). A second edition, revised, with notes by Rasmus B. Anderson, was published in London by the Norroena Society in 1889. Many Internet presentations of the work are from the still later Heimskringla: A History of the Norse Kings (Norroena Society, London, 1907), which lacks the Ynglinga Saga.

The most recent translation into English has been made by Alison Finlay and Anthoy Faulkes. It may be downloaded for free in three volumes. Their translation is based on the text of the three-volume Íslenzk fornrit edition by Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson (Reykjavík: Hið Íslenzka Fornritafélag, 194151).

Kate Heslop's comments to volume 1 (first edition)

Heimskringla is a compendium of sagas attributed to the thirteenth-century Icelander Snorri Sturluson, tracing the history of the kings of Norway from their legendary beginnings to the late twelfth century. A classic of both Old Norse literature and historiography. . . . Alison Finlay and Anthony Faulkes translate the verse and prose . . . Both are eminent Old Norse scholars and highly experienced translators, Faulkes of Snorri's Edda, among other things, and Finlay of saga literature, especially the kings' sagas and skaldic verse . . . Faulkes's and Finlay's expert work ensures that it will also be the new standard translation of Heimskringla . . .

The authorship of Heimskringla, the importance of oral testimony, poetry and pre-existing texts as sources, and the question of the work's target audience (Norwegian or Icelandic?) are canvassed in the brief introduction. . . .

Aids for the reader comprise a chronological table giving dates of battles, deaths, and other relevant historical events; a family tree of the kings of Norway from Óláfr trételgja to Hákon herðibreiðr; maps of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark; and a list of further reading and a bibliography, concise but thorough and up to date. A very useful index . . . translates and explains Old Norse name forms. These are used in the translation unless an exact English equivalent exists . . . The maps stick to Old Norse place-names, which necessitates flipping between text, index, and maps to identify the translation's "Selund (Sjlland)" as the map's "Sjáland" [etc.].

She shows how the Norseless reader is sometimes left adrift, without knowing what many uncommon names in the text mean. That may be taken into account too, although we may appreciate the translators' work all the same. There are links for downloading the three volumes in PDF format at the bottom of this page.

A comparison of texts

A quite random example starts at the end of chapter 30 in Finlay and Faulkes - which is at the end chapter 34 in Laing:

It was considered that a man could properly be called a sea-king only if he never slept under a sooty beam and never drank in the hearth corner.

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

There was a sea-king called Sǫlvi, son of Hǫgni on Njarðey, who was raiding in the Baltic then. He held rule in Jutland. He went with his company to Svíþjóð [Sweden]. King Eysteinn was then at a feast in the district called Lófund. King Sǫlvi came there unexpectedly at night and seized the kings house and burned him inside it with all his following. Then Sǫlvi went to Sigtúnir and demanded the title of king and to be accepted as king, but the Svíar [Swedes] mustered an army and intended to defend their land, and a battle took place, so great that it was said that it did not stop for eleven days. There King Sǫlvi gained victory, and he was then king over Svjóð for a long time until the Svíar betrayed him, and he was killed there. (Ynglinge Saga, From chaps. 30-31 in Finlay and Faulkes, 2016, 33)

By comparison, Samuel Laing tells that

there were many sea-kings who ruled over many people, but had no lands, and he might well be called a sea-king who never slept beneath sooty roof-timbers.

35. OF EYSTEIN AND THE JUTLAND KING SOLVE

Solve, a son of Hogne of Njardo, who at that time plundered in the Baltic, but had his dominion in Jutland. He came with his forces to Sweden, just as King Eystein was at a feast in a district called Lofond. Solve came unexpectedly in the night on Eystein, surrounded the house in which the king was, and burned him and all his court. Then Solve went to Sigtun, and desired that the Swedes should receive him, and give him the title of king; but they collected an army, and tried to defend the country against him, on which there was a great battle, that lasted, according to report, eleven days. There King Solve was victorious, and was afterwards king of the Swedish dominions for a long time, till at last the Swedes betrayed him, and he was killed."

Laing does not use Icelandic letters. By that alone, many place names may be traced without knowledge of Norse letters and names. Just a few trifles have been added to the meaning of Laing's main text here. - T. K.

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The Chronicle of the Kings of Norway, Heimskringa by Snorri Sturluson, Literature  

The Heimskringla, or Chronicle of the Kings of Norway: Translated from the Islandic of Snorro Sturleson, with a Preliminary Dissertation by Samuel Laing. 3 Vols. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1844. Online.

Heslop, Kate. 2014. "Heimskringla Volume 1: The Beginnings to Olafr Tryggvason by Snorri Sturluson (review)." JEGP, Journal of English and Germanic Philology 113, no. 3 (2014): 372-374. muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed January 11, 2019).

Hødnebø, Finn, og Hallvard Magerøy, eds: 1979. Norges kongesagaer, Vols 1-4. Oslo: Gyldendal.

Snorri Sturluson. 2016. Heimskringla. Volume 1: The Beginnings to Olafr Tryggvason. 2nd ed. Trs. Alison Finlay and Anthony Faulkes. London: The Viking Society for Northern Research, University College London. ◦PDF download.

Snorri Sturluson. 2014. Heimskringla. Volume 2: Olafr Haraldsson (the Saint). Trs. Alison Finlay and Anthony Faulkes. London: The Viking Society for Northern Research, University College London. ◦PDF download.

Snorri Sturluson. 2015. Heimskringla. Volume 3: Magnus Olafsson to Magnus Erlingsson. Trs. Alison Finlay and Anthony Faulkes. London: The Viking Society for Northern Research, University College London. ◦PDF download.

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