Sweden Literature – The Catholic Middle Ages

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Origins. – The origins of Swedish literature are lost in the complex ethnic-linguistic cultural unity of the ancient Nordic world. Modern philology has managed, with patient investigation, to trace the elements scattered throughout the Germanic-Nordic epic, from the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf to the songs of the Edda and to the Ynglingatal welcomed by Snorre in the Heimkringsha, from the Irish sagas and Norwegian to those preserved by Saxo in the Gesta Danorum. But no original text is left to us, neither of the compositions on the religious myth and heroic legend in the era of transmigration, nor of the songs with which, in the Viking age, the scalds (v.) Kept alive at the courts, even in Sweden, the cult of the ornate word and the sentiment of poetry. Only the runes (v.) Remain as a direct document of the literary culture of the time. The most important is that of the end of the century. IX, engraved on the four sides and on the top of a large runic stone, more than two meters high, which stands at the church of Rok in Östergötland: it consists of over 750 runic signs with numerous – partly still obscure – references to facts historical and legendary and constitutes for the Swedes one of the most venerable and evocative documents of their most distant history.

The Catholic Middle Ages. – The Latin alphabet is encountered in Sweden for the first time, towards the end of the century. X, in a coin by Olof Skötskonung: the first Swedish manuscript that we own is a Latin epistle by Archbishop Stefan, dated 1167; and the first written in Swedish language surviving to us is a fragment of the laws of the Västgötalag, generally dated around 1250. And only in this period, when the Dominicans founded their first convents in Sigtuna and Skänninge (1237), soon followed by the Franciscans in Stockholm and elsewhere, a Christian culture also began to flourish in Sweden. But then, under the Folkungi dynasty, progress was rapid; and at the end of the century a Collegium Upsaliense was already functioning in Paris for the Swedes studying there at the university. One of these, Brynolphus, became bishop of Skara in 1278, and he was the first Swedish poet in Latin, with a series of Uffizi in devotion to the Virgin Mary, Saint Helen of Skövden, Saint Exil and Christ’s Crown of Thorns. Another, Petrus de Dacia, before going to Paris, had spent his novitiate years in the Dominican convent in Cologne around 1266, had met the mystic St. Christina in nearby Stumbelen (now Stommeln) and then continued to ” correspond “with her, until she died, prior in the convent of Visby, in 1289, and was, in her letters and biography (Vita Christinae Stumbelensis), Sweden’s first mystical writer. Shortly afterwards, scholastic thought also found a vigorous representative in Sweden in Magister Matthias, a canon in Linköping, who died in 1350, author of a collection of examples (Copia Exemplorum), of an introduction to Christian life (Homo conditus), of a commentary to the Apocalypse, and a large work now lost (Concordantia super totam Bibliam): teacher and first spiritual father of Sweden Brigida. Which was, of this new spirituality, the nationally most accentuated, singularly grandiose expression. With her, the Catholic Middle Ages found its great expression, also in Sweden. And the “double monastery” of Wadstena (finally consecrated in 1384, eleven years after the death of Bridget, seven years before her sanctification [1391]) became, for over a century, throughout the North, the center of religious radiation of the new culture. The work of translating the Bible continued which Bridget had already initiated, according to some, by Magister Matthias himself. The works of the mystics were translated, from Bonaventure to Suso, from Bernard of Clairvaux to the Speculum Virginum. The art of preaching flourished. And the collections of legends and “examples” multiplied; and such was the same first book printed in Sweden, by Johann Snell, in 1483, a Dialogus creaturarum. The lives of saints multiplied: the life of Saint Bridget was narrated by Petrus of Alvastra – who succeeded Magister Matthias in the Latin translation of the Revelations – and by Petrus of Skänningen, who had lived alongside Bridget in the twenty years of her stay in Italy. And quickly a new sacred lyric also originated from it (Petrus of Skänningen, Cantus sororum ; Archbishop Birger Gregersson, Birgitta – Officium, etc.): particularly in the hymn Rosa rorans of Bishop Nils Hermansson – Nicolaus Hermanni – Brigittine mysticism has found its prayerful expression of melodious tenderness.

With Christianity, chivalric poetry also reached Sweden. But the same Euphe niavisorna, who at the beginning of the century. XIV Queen Euphemia, wife of the Norwegian king Haakon, had it translated in honor of her future son-in-law Magnus Eriksson (Ivan Lejonriddaren, from the French, on the plot of Ivain ; Hertig Fredrik av Normandie, from the German editorial staff of an otherwise lost poem; Flores och Blanzeflor, from an uncertain text, perhaps from a Norwegian prose version), remain essentially an “import product”. And every spirit of chivalry is already absent, at the end of the same century, in the Konung Alexander (circa 1380): later also the use of “Knittelvers” ceased, and – as for the subject of the saga (Didrikskrönikan, circa 1450) – prose also prevailed in the novel (Namnlös och Valentin, from the French, 15th century)). Although especially the time of Magnus Ladulås was sensitive to the poetry of chivalry, Sweden lacked not only the feudal hierarchy, but also the conditions of life and culture necessary for the ideal of chivalry to develop and live spontaneously. Tougher and more urgent work there was to be done: and first of all that of giving economic, social and political life a solid juridical order. And to the codifications of the Västgötalag, over the course of a century and a half, Upplandslag (1296), Södermannalag (1327), etc., until, under Magnus Eriksson, the law of the individual provinces was unified in the Landslag(1347-52). An anonymous scholar also provided a book of rules for rulers, with a free elaboration of Egidio Romano ‘s De regimine principum (Um styrilsi kununga ok höfdinga, circa 1330); and it is the most important prose book of the time. H. Schück attributes its authorship to the same chancellor of King Magnus, Philippus Ragwaldi, who is also the author of the Erikskrönikan (before 1350), chronicle of the age of the Folkungi, which, despite its legendary character, nevertheless constitutes the first historiographical attempt of Swedish literature.

The only living poetry of the time, apart from religious inspiration, was represented by popular songs (Folkvisor ; see above: Folklore). For Sweden 2006, please check computergees.com.

Romanticism (1810-1830). – In March 1809 Gustavo IV Adolfo was deposed and in September 1810 Bernadotte was proclaimed hereditary prince: it was the new history of Sweden that was beginning. And not only in politics, but in the whole life of the spirit. In literature, the romantic revolution coincided with those events (see romanticism: Romanticism in the Scandinavian countries). In 1810 the magazine Phosphoros was published in Upsala, the organ of the Aurora förbundet cenacle gathered around PDA Atterbom; at the same time the Lyceum magazine was published for a short time in Stockholm, by Hammarsköld, containing, among other things, the first triplets of Swedish literature, with a version of the “Francesca da Rimini”; in 1811 followed the review Iduna, organ of a new Gotiska Förbundet cenacle, gathered around EG Geijer; and also a Polyfem humor magazinehe flanked the movement between 1810 and 1812, mixing satirical laughter with the tumultuous roar of youthful battles. It was a general liberation of all creative forces, which at first brought about a contrasting variety of directions. The group of “goths” – alongside Geijer, PH Ling, father of Swedish gymnastics, AA Afzelius, collector of Swedish folk songs – turned their enthusiasm to revive the ancient Nordic world in studies and the ancient Nordic spirit in poetry. Isaias Tegnér, the poet of purest and highest and deeply lived, and almost suffered, classicism that Sweden has ever possessed, but took away from the ancient Nordic legend the material of his poem Frithjofs Saga, but he reworked it, aiming at Goethe, according to a serene humanistic ideal, in clear forms of complete harmony. The major current, which for its most integral romantic aspirations gave the name (phosphorism) to the whole school – Atterbom, and around him P. Elgström, SI Hedborn, FW Palmblad, A. Törneros, Malla Montgomery Silfverstolpe, etc., and, for the Stockholm group of poets or publicists, L. Hammarsköld, JC Askelöf, C. Livijn, Julia Nyberg (Euphrosyne), etc. – was inspired by an aesthetic-mystical romanticism, according to an interpretation of poetry as a revelation of the infinite, which recalls Novalis, the Schlegels, Tieck and especially Schelling. And there was no lack of controversy between one group and the other. But more than what divided the spirits, what united them was substantial; and little by little all tendencies inevitably converged together in the creation of a general “romantic consciousness”, which – arriving further English influences from Scott to Byron and French from Chateaubriand to Hugo – imposed itself on all the poets of the time: from JO Wallin – who, interpreter of the new religiosity, gave the Swedish church with power of inspiration the moving, human interiority of the new Psalms – to EJ Stagnelius, who in intoxication of senses and with richness of colors gave the eroticism of the romantics the most passionate expression, and from mystical speculation drew the warm charm of soft, never before heard melodies; from the ecstatic pensive idealist Vitalis – E. Sjöberg – to the kind romantic Italian poet KA Nikander and CW Böttiger, also a poet of Italy and Dante scholar and founder of Romance philology in Sweden.

Sweden Literature - The Catholic Middle Ages


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