Sweden Literature – The Literature of the Reformation

By | December 28, 2021

Only with the Reformation did a new period begin in Sweden, even in literature. Throughout the fifteenth century, humanism had had very little impact in Sweden. Even in the early decades of the sixteenth century, one encounters purely medieval novels: a Historia Trojana (1529) based on the text by Guido Colonna; a Karl Magnus, from a Norwegian prose reduction. There is no lack of signs of a new spirit, which begins to stir in consciences, as in the compositions of Bishop Thomas Simonsson (died 1443), cantor of freedom and love of the country, or in the Chronica Regni Gothorum, which Ericus Olai (died 1486) composed) in fluent Latin, without criticism of the sources, but with a clear eye for men and things in the reality of his time. But they are sporadic appearances. The same Peder Månsson, who came to Rome in 1508 to redeem the convent of Saint Bridget, she was sixteen years old, engaged in legal and scientific studies and, in return, turned in Swedish, in Barnabok, the Istitutio Principis Christiani of Erasmus still remains substantially in the tradition of his order. Only with Johannes Magnus, the last Catholic archbishop of Sweden, who graduated in Perugia around 1520 and died in Rome in 1544, and with his brother Olaus Magnus, who published the Carta Marina in Venice in 1539, first geographical map of the Nordic regions, and died in Rome in 1558, contacts with Humanism became more intimate: the Historia de omnibus Gothorum Sveonumque regibus of the first – source, among other things, by Torrismondo del Tasso – applies to a fantastic prehistory and Swedish history the patriotic pathos that the Italian humanists felt in front of the memories of ancient Rome; and in the Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus (Rome 1555), of the second, the spirit of the Renaissance is often heard. For Sweden 2003, please check computerannals.com.

The Reformation broke out on these first germs of the evolution of spirits. Since the Reformation did not arise in Sweden “from within”, as a result of a pre-existing travail of thought, but had instead, for the most part, to be spread to the people “from the outside” – because it lent itself to the political designs of Gustavo Vasa -, the need to overwhelm the resistance transformed Sweden into a field of very hard religious struggles. The political genius of Gustavo Vasa won. And the Swedes received in the translation of the New Testament of 1526 and in the so-called Bible of Gustavo Vasa of 1541 the Lutheran foundation of their new spiritual life. And in the ideal figure of the reformer Olaus Petri they also found the new forming force of their consciences. But for almost a century, despite Laurentius Petri’s tenacious reorganizing work, the fanaticism of the ever-reviving religious struggles created an extremely difficult situation for culture. Since the existing culture in Sweden had radiated, in large part, from the convents, everything that was culture became synonymous with “papisteria”. And not only were the schools closed, the churches; not only were the gold and silver of sacred furnishings and art objects merged into coins: libraries were also destroyed and dispersed. For three quarters of a century, therefore, almost no other literature flourished than that – directly or indirectly – at the service of the new faith: books and pamphlets of theological discussion or of religious or historical or political controversy, ordinances, rituals, jumps. It was not, in truth, a work of little historical importance: especially Olaus and Laurentius Petri – with their biblical versions, with their psalteries (Svenska sånger eller visor by Olaus; Psalmbok by Laurentius) – created a new multiplicity of modes of expression in literature; and Olaus’ polemical prose exerted a decisive clarifying influence on the language, shaping its forms and precisely its structure according to the persuasive strength of his dynamic style. However, the immediate literary resonance was – at that first moment – scarce. And Olaus himself also remains literally the greatest figure of the time: both as a historian, with Svensk crönika, and as a dramatic poet, with the Tobie comedia. Only with the beginning of the following century did the renewal of spirits finally lead to a full awakening of cultural interests, when Charles IX succeeded in definitively pacifying the country. In the same university of Upsala, which had meanwhile reopened in 1593, we passed from the dogmatism of Johannes Rudbeckius to the innovative daring of Johannes Messenius. Intellectual horizons broadened in every sense. Sweden also had, among the “popular books”, its Reyncke Fosz, its Thil Ulspegel, its Marcolphus. The Italian short stories and the “jokes” of the Renaissance also penetrated it. Above all, the theater achieved its own autonomy. Rudbeckius’s students already played Terentius and Euripides at the university. Messenius replaced it with comedies he himself composed, in Swedish. In the same drama on biblical subjects – Holofernis och Judiths historia (1599); J. Rondeletus, Judas redivivus (1611) – penetrated a new freedom of attitudes, now with realistic tonalities, now with unscrupulous development of legendary motifs. A comedy by M. Olai Asteropherus, performed in 1610 – En lustig comedia vid namn Thisbe – deals with the subject taken up by Shakespeare in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, according to a version of which no other text is preserved.

Sweden Literature - The Literature of the Reformation