An Online Journal of Modern Philology ISSN 1214-5505

Guta Saga. Dějiny lidu z ostrova Gotland

[Guta Saga. The History of the Gotlanders]

Michal Místecký


The article reviews the book Guta Saga. Dějiny lidu z ostrova Gotland (Edice X, 2014), edited and translated by Miroslav Černý.

In 2014, the Czech readership was provided with a complex and systematic account of Guta Saga, an important text describing the mythological history and legal principles of Gotland, a Scandinavian island nowadays under the Swedish rule. The book, which includes not only the translation of the saga, but also an introduction, language commentaries, extensive notes, and a Gutnish-Czech glossary of terms, was written by Miroslav Černý, Associate Professor at the University of Ostrava, and harmonizes very well with the aroused interest in the old literatures of the European North that we have seen over a few past years.

The core of the book is definitely the translation. The translator’s intention, as described in the introduction, seems to be an elaboration of a linguistically-oriented rendition of the text, in which some peculiarities of the source language will persist, though they may contradict the features of the target one. The translator thus ranges himself into the tradition of Czech translators from Classical languages (Otmar Vaňorný, František Novotný) that, with the intention of keeping certain flavour of the respected original, resorted to stylistically highly effective word-to-word rewriting of the text. Of course, Černý does not have to cope with the metrics of the Aeneid or with the philosophical whims of Platonic dialogues; besides the above-mentioned stylistic effect, his main target appears to be the simplification of a possible mirror reading of the text. The occasional clumsiness of the translated sentences is therefore not to be taken as the translator’s lapse, but rather as an endeavour make the two texts closest to each other possible.

The translation of the saga is accompanied by a meticulously crafted set of notes which are of much help during the reading. They usually uncover the mythological background hidden under the plainly narrated story and trying to link Guta Saga with the other Germanic literary productions, they oscillate between adding new information and needful explaining of the text. The final glossary is, on the other hand, designed mostly for scholars who want to compare both texts in more detail; however, the etymological parallels among different Germanic languages, though incomplete and sketchy, may be of interest for a common reader as well.

Besides the undeniable qualities of the translation and the edition, there are some controversial choices and minor mistakes. Except for the errata, the main problem lies in the title of the book and its behaviour in the Czech language. Although the author presents the declension of the title as natural and backs himself with an authority (a monograph Staré germánské jazyky by Václav Blažek), it is hardly acceptable that the German-looking compound “Gutasága” with the declension “Gutaságy” be natural for a Slavic language with a weak tradition of composition as a process of word-formation. Moreover, -a- is scarcely ever present in Czech compounds as a linking vowel and compounding two nominative cases looks somewhat eccentric. The subtitle, “Dějiny lidu z ostrova Gotland”, though rather lengthy, would be much more suitable, as well as “Sága o Gotlanďanech”, the translator’s proposal that appeared next to Guta Saga when this was mentioned for the first time.

The second issue concerns the conservation of the thorn grapheme in the Czech translation. The letter Þ, typical of the older Germanic graphic system, does not have any place among Czech graphemes and seems rather strange among the other Slavic diacritics. If the translator’s intention was to transport some specificities of the Gutnish graphics to the translated text, this was paid with adding undesirable discrepancy to the already complicated Scandinavian personal names. To conclude, the established digraph “th” would be more appropriate in these cases.

Overall, Guta Saga is a courageous and successful attempt at joining academic professionalism and a focus on the taste and capacities of a passionate layperson. It offers an exquisite translation, a valuable introduction and an exhaustive glossary of terms with all the parts being shaped into a coherent whole worth the name of a monograph.

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