Old Norse and Medieval Studies
The Mediation and Re-creation of Guðrún Gjúkadóttir in English Translations of the Poetic Edda in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries
Postgraduate English: A Journal and Forum for Postgraduates in English, 37 (2018)
This article offers a new interpretation of the character of Guðrún Gjúkadóttir in the Poetic Edda as a heroic ‘warrior’ with the ability for extreme self-control, based on the comparison of translations of the poems in which she features prominently.
Due to her complex and varied character, this comparison also reveals how the art and function of translations of Eddic poems use the character of Guðrún as a cipher for exploring their wider thematic concerns with Old Norse literature and culture more broadly. These themes include the experience and expression of grief; the relationship between the heart, mind, and emotion; the potential physicality of emotion; the simultaneous roles and duties of women in Norse societies as wife, sister, and mother; the world-view of fate and its relation to guilt; the impact of descriptions to celebrate or condemn Guðrún’s actions; and the concept of revenge as desire or duty.
As each translator necessarily brings different temporal and cultural perspectives to their understanding of the medieval texts, as well as more consciously choosing to emphasise certain aspects in order to accord with their general view of Old Norse society and culture, each translation of the Eddic poems surrounding Guðrún should be viewed as an interpretation. By comparing a range of translations, new insights into the changing re-creation and mediation of Guðrún’s character are revealed, suggesting a new understanding of her fascinating and famous character.