Denmark Literature Part I

By | December 18, 2021

The Danish people are among the few who have not known, at least in historical times, foreign domination, which created particularly favorable conditions for the emergence of a national literature. The runic inscriptions – which for Denmark have been preserved up to us in number of about 200 – testify in their epigraphic brevity its independence since the century. VIII, to which the oldest date back. But they generally have an ethnographic and historical interest, as well as a linguistic one: not a literary one. The most ancient poetry, from the era of transmigrations, has disappeared with the language in which it flourished still unique for the whole North, and has not left a direct document of itself. Only the poetry of the Viking Age, transmitted by oral tradition from generation to generation, could, surviving for centuries, finally be fixed in the written version: in Iceland, in the language that had already come there by differentiating and forming: in Denmark, in Latin, by the work of Saxo Grammaticus. t is a poem that sings, with sober and tight power of dramatic tones, the tragic fate to which the heroes in the harsh war affair are condemned to succumb, the virile strength with which they know how to go serenely even towards death, the fidelity they know to keep to oneself and one’s people; and the form is made up of sharply cadenced stanzas of eight short lines with alliteration, of which some of the runic inscriptions also offer examples. However, since the subject is common to all Norse poetry – in large part also to Anglo-Saxon, to the Vidsid, al Beowulf – the distinction within it of the more properly Danish legends is possible only by internal clues or by vague historical references, and in individual cases. Danish is the saga of King Uffe, who fights against the Saxons, one against two, avenging an ancient shame for his people. Danese is in the cycle of King Sigar, the saga of Hagbard and Signe, of their family hecatombs and their love and their death. And Danish historians claim the whole cycle of the Sioldunghi of Danish origins: particularly the Bjarkemaal, which evokes in Nibelung’s gloom of vision the tragic succumbing of Rolf Krake and his heroes, until Bjarke himself, last, falls cursing Odin because of so much disaster: and the Ingjaldskvad, in which Starkad the Elder (Strærkodder) admonishes King Ingjald to prove himself worthy of the heroism of his ancestors. Already recorded in Saxo is also (although in a different, heroic tone) the legend of Hamlet, son of king Ørvendel, with his revenge and his madness. Belleforest later took it off from Saxo: until the closed and tenacious Jütlander hero, avenger of his father’s death, turned, with Shakespeare, into the pale and pensive dreamer who, in the midst of the glories of the Renaissance, arises, as a tragic shadow, to point the bottomless abyss that has opened up in the new consciousness of men. Axel Olrik, who is the greatest scholar of this ancient poem (see Danmarks Heltedigtning, vols. 2,1903-10) also translated it in part, finding in the metric as in the style, with rare happiness, the line of the ancient saga. For Denmark 2012, please check eningbo.info.

With the spread of Christianity begins what is usually referred to as the Danish Middle Ages. The Latin “rhymers” also arrive with Christianity, expel the national “scaldi” from the courts and replace them. Thus sacred poetry prevails over the heroic, cultivated especially in the cloisters and in Latin, mixed at times with motifs of chivalrous poetry imported from the south. Shortly after his death (1095), there are two lives of the holy king Canute: the Passio Sancti Canuti, of a Danish monk from the Benedictine monastery of Odense, and the broader Historia ortus, vitae et passionis Sancti Canuti, of an English immigrant Ælnoth, also a priest in Odense: once attributed to King Niels. The first chronicles arise at the same time:(mid-11th century), the anonymous Rotsceldengis Chronicon Daniae (around 1138). Until with the advent of King Valdemaro, under the inspiration of Archbishop Absalon, the Danish Middle Ages reached its maximum flowering. Imbued with national enthusiasm, but educated in Paris in contact with the new Western civilization, Absalon was not only a man of church and politics, of pen and sword himself, the one who dictated the corpus legum of Scania and Seeland, but also incitement, animator. At his encouragement, Svend Aagesen wrote the Compendiosa historia regum Daniae (circa 1185). And at his prompting Saxo Grammaticus he composed the Gesta Danorum: whose first 10 books have preserved most of the ancient national sagas, although not exclusively Danish, and whose following books are a fundamental historical source, especially for the time of Absalon himself (book XIV from 1157 to ’78), of which Saxo understood the importance and of which he knew very close the understanding and the work. The Danes regard him as their Livy; and for the national sentiment that animates the moving narrative, the comparison has a certain foundation. Even his Latin is, for the place and for the times, singularly elaborate: such that even in the humanistic age it could be read with admiration. Saxo dedicated his existence to it, even after Absalon’s death; and only towards 1220 did he complete his work. At the same time, Bishop Anders Sunesøn (1165-1228), Hexaemeron an extensive poem in hexameters with the story of creation in the first three books and an exposition of Christian doctrine in the following nine books (1165-1228). The life of Archbishop Gunner of Viborg, written by a monk of the monastery of Øm, after his death in 1251, is another of the works of this medieval humanism of the age of the Valdemari kings, of which the juridical arrangement of the political, economic and social life was also one of the boasts: so much so that precisely the numerous juridical constitutions, all written in Danish, probably represent the most important and remarkable document of the civilization of the time, such as the Skaanske Lov, the so-called Valdemars and Eriks sj œllandske Love, il Jydske Lov the Skanske Stadsret og Flmsborg Bylov, etc. The first important document of secular literature written in Danish, of which we know, is the L œge og Urtebœger (Books of herbs and medicines), by Henrik Harpestræng (died 1250), a doctor who left great fame for himself.

Denmark Literature Part I