Norway Literature Part II

By | December 17, 2021

Every Icelandic with ambition usually had to spend part of his youth in the motherland, and the surest way to success in Norway was offered by the practice of poetry and saga. At the courts of the Norwegian kings and chiefs of the 11th and 12th centuries, literary entertainment is mainly provided by Icelanders, and the literary activity of the Norwegians proper is scarce: alongside the historiography in Latin we can recall some hymns and legends, also in Latin, a collection of sermons in Norwegian and the excellent formulation and codification of Norwegian laws. Around 1200 was composed the work of political controversy entitled Discourse against the bishops, inspired by King Sverre himself, which constitutes an interesting contribution by Norway to the then fiery conflict in Europe between state and church. For Norway 2012, please check

In the century XIII a new literary activity appears in Norway: a series of free prose translations of the most famous French poems of chivalry and other sagas and legends; especially then the very interesting original work Kongespeilet (Speculum regale), about 1260. A little later the poetry of folkevisers begins, whose full bloom belongs to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Many folkevisers have come to Norway from Denmark (see denmark: Literature), but it is likely that a particular and numerous group of folkevisers has arisen in Norway itself, namely the poems that deal especially with the struggles against giants and trolls., but sometimes they also represent in another way the relations of men with supernatural powers. There is often found traces of Norwegian traditions drawn from the Edda, from sagas and stories that form the sources of these poems, whose naturist background sometimes bears the imprint of the Norwegian mountains. Alongside the robust and imaginative trollvisers and mythical-heroic songs (eg, Roland og Magnus kongjen), the admirable poetry of Bendik and Aarolilja’s tragic love stands out. The grandiose vision Draumkvædet (probably composed a little after 1300) is often assigned to folkeviser poetry, which for its liveliness of representation can stand up to much of the rest of European apocalyptic literature.

In the literature of the Edda and of the Scaldic poetry the rhythm is determined by the alternation of short and long syllables and the usual form of rhyme is alliteration. The folkevisers, composed not for declamation but for singing, have a melodic-musical form, with a final rhyme and a rhythmic accent. The Norwegian folkevisers were still sung, for dance accompaniment and for pleasure, in the 10th century. XIX among the peasants of the Telemark district, and were fixed in writing only between 1840 and 1860, after an oral tradition of more than five centuries. In the late Middle Ages and at the beginning of the modern age, under the influence of the epic-lyric poetry of the folkevisers, a shorter and more purely lyrical poetic form developed, which often bears an erotic imprint, the poetry of the stev, which still survives in part in the Norwegian countryside.

The period of the flourishing of folkeviser poetry was poor for written literature, just as it was also a troubled era from an economic, political and national point of view. The events of 1536-37 mark the point of greatest decline in the history of Norway; but starting from the middle of the century. XVI begins the progress of the country and the people. This turning point in Norwegian history is marked among other things by the gradual disappearance of the predominance of the Hanseatic people of Bergen, the largest city in Norway, while the Norwegian bourgeoisie begins to trade directly with the rest of Europe; but also from the emergence of a new Norwegian written literature, which in its beginning is closely connected with the national situation. L’ ancient Norwegian literary language had been declining from the middle of the century. XIV, dialectal differences between individual regions had rapidly increased, so that Norwegian authors who were then starting their business found it obvious to use literary Danish as a normal language, albeit with a number of Norwegian linguistic peculiarities.

Although the new Norwegian literature of the century. XVI is composed in a Danish with a Norwegian color, its content and its fundamental inspiration can certainly be considered as national: the anger against the Hanseatic arrogance and the affliction for the Danish domination give it the inspiration, and its theme favorite is the earlier history of Norway, with its ancient grandeur. It is easy to recognize the parallelism with the humanist historians of Italy; and in reality the Norwegians underwent the influence of humanism, partly through study in German universities, partly also through the reading of Italian writers, among whom Flavio Biondo had a special importance with his historical-topographical works. The head of the humanistic movement in Bergen was Absalon Pederssøn Beyer (1528-1575), Om Norges Rige (Around the kingdom of Norway), as well as a valuable diary, which reflects the life of Bergen at that time with freshness and vivacity. Among the other humanists, translators of sagas and historians of western Norway, we note the parish priest Peder Claussøn Friis (1545-1614), author of a Description of Norway, who translated the Heimskringla by Snorre Sturlason so excellently that the Norwegian royal sagas gradually became, through its translation, the national book of the Norwegians. In the eastern part of the country, in and around Oslo, the humanistic environment was more erudite and used Latin as a literary language. Typical for the trends of this environment is the name of “Florence” given by one of the humanists of Oslo to his villa. Hallvard Gunnarsön (about 1545-1608) printed a Chronicon Regum Norwaye in Latin verse in Rostock, the first book through which learned Europe was able to get acquainted with the history of Norway.

Norway Literature Part II