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Review of  Alliteration in the Poetic Edda

Book Title: Alliteration in the Poetic Edda
Book Author: Tadao Shimomiya
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Historical Linguistics
Ling & Literature
Subject Language(s): English
Norse, Old
Language Family(ies): Germanic
Issue Number: 22.3004

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AUTHOR: Shimomiya, Tadao
TITLE: Alliteration in the Poetic Edda
SERIES: Studies in Historical Linguistics, Volume 8
YEAR: 2011

B. A. Thurber, Shimer College

This book, identified as an expansion of Shimomiya (2008), presents a
line-by-line analysis of parts of the Poetic Edda, marking alliterating sounds
in each analyzed line and giving detailed analyses of all forms. The bulk of the
book is taken up by a list of lines and their analyses. An Old Norse-English
glossary takes up most of the rest of the space. The basis of the analysis is
Heusler's (1918-19) system.

The book begins with a forward, legend, and short (3.5-page) introduction
explaining the notation and methods used. The introduction lists the three most
common types of alliterating lines ([aa/ax], [ax/ax], and [xa/ax], where a is
for alliterating and x for non-alliterating) and some rules for what sounds
alliterate. Exceptional lines of the type [aa/xa] lines with twofold
alliteration (either crossed or enclosing), and lines without alliteration are
listed. Examples of lines in which initial is ignored and lines in which
pronouns alliterate are also given. There are also some lines without any
alliteration listed. The introduction ends with a paragraph on the song form
used for some of the poems.

As noted, most of the volume (102 pages) is devoted to examples of alliterating
lines. A few pages are devoted to each poem of the Poetic Edda, in order in
which the poems appear in Kuhn's (1962) edition. All of the poems included by
Kuhn (1962) are given: the 29 poems from Codex Regius plus Balder's Dreams, The
List of Rig, The Song of Hyndla, The Song of Grotti, The Lay of the Fight of the
Huns, The Death-song of Hildibrand. Each analyzed poem receives a few
introductory sentences, typically explaining the plot of the poem, followed by a
number of examples of alliterating lines. In most poems, stanzas are treated as
a whole, but in some poems, including the Seeress's Prophecy, lines are treated
singly. Lines and stanzas are sometimes introduced by a sentence giving their
context in the poem. In the analysis of The Seeress's Prophecy and Sayings of
the High One, the lines are given in alphabetical order by alliterating sound.
Examples from the other poems are given in the order in which they occur.

In each quoted line, the alliterating words are printed in bold face. This
quotation is followed by a literal translation and detailed analysis of all
quoted forms. For each form, all grammatical information and the word's meaning
are given. For some words, notes from other sources, etymological information,
or cognates in other languages are also provided. The analysis of ''Ifing'' is
''Ifing, f. name of river, wohl eig. 'ungestüme' (Jan de Vries)'' (that is, `the
impetuous one'); later in the same stanza, the analysis of ''á á'' is given as
'''on the river', prep. á, with normal North Germanic loss of 'n', Runic ana,
Goth. ana, E. on, G. an, Gr. aná; á, f. 'river', Goth. ahwa, L. aqua, G. Aue''
(Shimomiya 2011: 21).

Following the analysis, there is an Old Icelandic-English glossary intended ''for
beginning students'' (Shimomiya 2011: vii). Each word's entry includes its part
of speech, gender for nouns, class for verbs, and any irregular forms, as well
as its meaning. Some declined or conjugated forms are listed, such as ''hana''
(third person feminine singular accusative pronoun), which is listed separately
from ''hon'' (the nominative singular form) (Shimomiya 2011: 128, 133).
Occasional pointers to a word's occurrence in a a poem are included. Cognates
and etymological information are included for some words. Entries for names
include brief biographical information, as in the entry for Þórr, ''m. Thor,
thunder god, son of Odin [Thursday, G. Donnerstag, L. tonare]'' (Shimomiya 2011:

After the glossary, there is a short bibliography which includes major resources
on the Old Norse language and the Poetic Edda. This is followed by a six-page
précis in Japanese, which features a list of 100 alliterating phrases followed
by examples of all the types of alliterating lines.

The book concludes with a single-page ''Index of Terms''. These refer to types of
alliteration, grammatical features (such as the adverbial genitive), and
interesting content (including a ''list of eight best things'', a reference to the
list in Grimnir's Sayings which includes Sleipnir, Odin's eight-legged horse, as
the best horse) (Shimomiya 2011: 187).

The alliteration analyzed here is an important part of the study of Germanic
metrics, which has long been a subject of study (see, for example, Sievers
1893). Heusler's (1918-19, 1925-29) work was the beginning of a large discussion
of Germanic verse in general, as summarized by Harris (1985: 85-87). This book's
analysis of the Poetic Edda according to Heusler's (1918-19) system provides a
large set of examples of these rules in practice. The examples are meticulously
done, with plenty of detail given to aid a student reader's understanding.

The organization of the volume, with the poems in order and notes on what
happens in each, makes it easy to study one poem at a time. Numerous examples
from each poem are given, but not the complete poems. From Gripir's Prophecy,
for example, Shimomiya has selected nine of the 53 stanzas to analyze (2011:
55-59). No explanation of why these particular stanzas were selected is provided.

The lack of explanation of the analysis and its overall conclusions is my main
criticism of the book. The back cover of the book states, ''the considerable
regularity of the alliterative scheme is demonstrated, with only a handful of
the corpus of approximately 7,300 long-lines falling outside of the rules
identified, and therefore the appropriateness of Heusler's system for
understanding the structure of the Poetic Edda is confirmed,'' but this claim is
not explicitly made in the text. However, it does seem like a reasonable
conclusion to be drawn from the data presented.

Shimomiya does not mention two of Heusler's rules for Old Norse: that
alliterates with syllabic vowels [iörð : upp] and that occasionally
alliterates with a vowel [vættr : atta] (Heusler 1918-19: §27). Shimomiya gives
examples of the first, such as ''iörð fannz æva / né upphiminn (Vsp. 3,3)'' (2011:
8). As for the second, Lehmann and Dillon give ''vætr : átta'' as an alliterating
pair in stanzas 26 and 28 of Thrym's Poem (1954: 17). Shimomiya analyzes the
relevant line in stanza 26, ''Át vætr Freyia / átta nóttom,'' as alliterating on
the á in both half-lines (2011: 39). In the analysis of the equivalent line in
stanza 28, Shimomiya writes that ''Svaf vætr Freyia / átta nóttom,'' does ''not
have any alliteration available'' (2011: 3). Another example of this phenomenon
occurs in another line that Shimomiya states is unalliterating: ''hana kvað hann
óskmey / verða skyldo (Od.16,2)'' (2011: 3). Lehmann and Dillon list óskmey and
verða as an alliterating pair in this line (1954: 113), in keeping with
Heusler's rule. It is not clear why Shimomiya chose not to include this rule.
This is one particular place in which a detailed explanation would be useful,
because there seems to be a disagreement between the studies.

A second criticism is that there are some typographical errors in the book. One
example is in the entry for “Ifing” quoted above: de Vries has “der ungestüme”,
not just “ungestüme”.

Despite these two criticisms, this book ought to be helpful to both students and
scholars. Students beginning to study the Poetic Edda, especially those who may
not be completely comfortable with Old Norse morphology, will find the detailed
grammatical explanations useful. The line-by-line marking and analysis will
help them to understand the structure of alliterative verse. Scholars should
find the details given for each line helpful, provided the lines they are
interested in are included.

Harris, Joseph. 1985. Eddic Poetry. In Old Norse-Icelandic Literature: A
Critical Guide, edited by Carol J. Clover and John Lindow. Islandica, vol. 45.
Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Heusler, Andreas. 1918-1919. Stabreim. In Reallexikon der germanischen
Altertumskunde, edited by Johannes Hoops. Volume 4. Strassburg: Karl J. Trübner.

Heusler, Andreas. 1925-1929. Deutsche Versgeschichte mit Einschluss des
altenglischen und altnordischen Stabreimverses. 3 vols. Berlin: W. de Gruyter.
Reprinted 1956.

Kuhn, Hans. 1962. Edda: Die Lieder des Codex Regius nebst verwandten Denkmälern.
I. Text. Third edition. Heidelberg: Winter.

Lehmann, W. P. and J. L. Dillard. 1954. The Alliterations of the Edda. Austin:
Department of Germanic Languages, University of Texas.

Shimomiya, Tadao. 2008. Alliteration in the Poetic Edda. The Development of the
Anglo-Saxon Language and Linguistic Universals Series 3:87-115. Senshu: Senshu

Sievers, Eduard. 1893. Altgermanische Metrik. Halle: M. Niemeyer.

Vries, Jan de. 1962. Altnordisches etymologisches Wörterbuch. Second edition.
Leiden: E. J. Brill.

B. A. Thurber is Assistant Professor of Humanities and Natural Sciences at Shimer College in Chicago, IL. She is interested in historical linguistics.

Format: Paperback
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