Since the 16th century the music and the songs of the people - both from outside of Europe and from the European periphery - found the interest of scholars and travelers. A few examples were even made available in some of the relevant publications. Montaigne presented two fragmentary Brazilian texts in one of his Essais (1580), Jean de Léry published five tunes from Brazil (1585), de Salinas' De Musica Libri Septem (1587) included a considerable number of what later would be called "folk tunes" (see in this blog: "Exotic" Songs and Tunes in European Publications 1577-1830).
But some forward-looking intellectuals also began to discover the popular song traditions of their own country. The earliest anthology of old ballads was published in 1591 in Denmark: Anders Sørensen Vedel's Et hundrede udvaalde Danske Viser (see a later edition, Kopenhagen, 1619, at the Internet Archive). In Sweden Johannes Messenius (1579-1636), historian and playwright, used popular songs in his dramas (see Lidell 1935, pp. 126-61; see also Jonsson 1967, pp. 38-43).
Recently I came across one very early example that predates nearly everything else but is usually not discussed in this context. In 1554 the Historia De Omnibus Gothorum Sveonumque Regibus by the exiled Swedish bishop Johannes Magnus was published posthumously in Rome. This was a rather fanciful history of Sweden and its Kings. Here we can find a Latin text of 10 verses about one King Erik. Magnus claimed that this was his translation of an "old" song still known all over Sweden (pp. 27-8):
During the 19th century this "song" was very popular among scholars in Sweden. Historian Erik Gustav Geijer described it as "en gammal Svensk Folkvisa" (1825, p. 113) and literary historian Peter Wieselgren (1835, p. 77) claimed that it was "utan tvivfel [...] den äldsta sång, folkminnet till oss framfört" ("without doubt the oldest song preserved by the memory of the people"). In 1853 "Eriks-Visan" appeared as the very first song in what was then the standard anthology of Swedish historical and political ballads (here No. 1, pp. 1-18). But, alas, it wasn't a real song but a deliberate fabrication, a "balladpastisch" (Jonsson, pp. 681) by Johannes Magnus himself (see Schück 1891).
This is an interesting story that is worth recapitulating. At first I will give a short introduction to Johannes Magnus' life and work as well as the historical context. This will be followed by a review of the digital copies of the different editions and translations of Johannes Magnus' book. That is a necessary work because at the moment it is not possible to get quick access to all existing scans of a particular publication. They are usually scattered across many different repositories and much "footwork" is needed to find them all. In the third chapter I will present the history of this song from its initial publication until the end of the 19th century with the help of digital copies of the relevant publications. In fact nearly everything I needed is available online.
Johannes Magnus (1488-1544; see Johannesson 1982; Nilsson 2006; Schmidt-Voges 2004, pp. 95-129; Lindroth in SBL; Wikipedia), the brother of the famous Olaus Magnus, was the last Catholic archbishop in Uppsala and also a notable scholar. He and his brother left the country in the 1520s because of the reformation. He never returned home but instead lived at first for some years in Danzig and then spent the rest of his life in Italy. Even though at odds with King Gustav Vasa he remained a committed Swedish patriot. His major work was this history of Sweden that was published by his brother in 1554.
Sweden at that time needed a presentable history. Since the late 14th century the "heroic" Goths had been rediscovered and they were claimed as the forefathers of the Swedes (about the "Gothic renaissance", see f. ex. Schmidt-Voges 2004, part. pp. 37-62; Neville 2009). He started with Magog, Noah's grandson and then offered a long list of kings since the days of the old Goths. This great narrative with an anti-Danish stance was based on all available literary and historical sources but most of all on his own rich fantasy :
"What is remarkable in Magnus's version is his number of details from these remote times in combination with his aggressive patriotism. Magnus had to rely on his own imagination. Not afraid of deliberate falsifications, he claims support from sources he does not know and manipulates those he does know" (Skovgaard-Petersen 2002, p. 94).
One may also say that he "composed the truth" (see Nilsson 2016). But his truth wasn't received particularly well in Denmark. Historian Hans Svaning wrote a Refutatio (1561, available at Google Books). Later - in 1612 - Swedish scholar Johannes Messenius felt it necessary to publish a Refutatio of the Refutatio (available at the Internet Archive; see Skovgaard-Petersen 2009; Schmidt-Voges 2004, p. 368). Magnus' Historia was not only regarded as a theoretical treatise. It had great political potency and offered historical legitimation for Sweden as a monarchy and for its strive to be an European power. Its influence on Swedish political thinking during the 17th century was "enormous" (see Roberts 1984, p. 72).
The original Latin version appeared in new editions in 1548, 1567 and then in 1617 (see Warmholtz, pp. 38-46). Early on there were also attempts to create a Swedish translation. Erik XIV (1533-1577), Gustav Vasa's son who had been deposed by his brother in 1568, tried one during his captivity but his manuscript is lost (see Warmholtz, p. 43). Historian and diplomat Peter Petrejus published En kort och nytthigh Chrönica Om alla Swerikis och Göthis Konungar in 1611 (available at Google Books). This was a kind of abbreviated popular version of Johannes Magnus' big tome.
At around the same time one Elai Terserus, probst and vicar, prepared a translation of the complete book but it was never published. Thankfully the manuscript has survived. Only in 1620 a Swedish edition appeared, commissioned by King Gustav Adolf. It was the work of Ericus Schroderus (1570-1647; see Wikipedia; Svenskt Biografiskt Lexikon), printer, writer, slotssekreterare and at that time the King's official translator (available at Google Books). Interestingly there were no translations into other languages.
The first step is now - of course - to look for digital copies of these different editions. Once again the result is impressive. Of the first edition - there were two variants with different title-pages - I found 15 scans. Most of them - 12! - were produced by Google and only three by other libraries. But this is the typical ratio:
- Historia Ioannis Magni Gothi Sedis Apostolicae Legati Suetiae Et Gotiae Primatis Ac Archiescopi Upsalensis De Omnibus Gothorum Sueonumque Regibus qui unquam ab initio nationis extitere, corumque memorabilibus bellis Late Varieque Per Orbem Gestis, Opera Olai Magni Gothi Fratris eiusdem autoris ac etiam Archiepiscopi Upsalensis in lucem edita. Suscipiant Montes Pacem Populo. Cum Gratia Et Privilegio Iulii III. Pont. Max., Apud Ioannem Mariam de Viottis, Romae, 1554at Google Books [= BNC Roma], also at the Internet Archive
at Google Books [= BNC Roma]
at Google Books [= Biblioteca Alessandrina, Roma]
at Google Books [= Biblioteca Casanatense]
at Google Books [= Università di Torino]
at Google Books [= ÖNB]
at Google Books [= BSB/SBB Augsburg]
at Google Books [= NCR]
at Lower Silesian Digital Library (DBC) [djvu]
at BVH, Tours
- Gothorum Sveonum Que Historia Autore Io. Magno Gotho Archiepiscopo Upsalensi, Apud Ioannem Mariam de Viottis, Romae, 1554at Google Books [= Biblioteca Casanatense]
at Google Books [= ÖNB]
at Google Books [= BSB/SBB Augsburg]
at Google Books [= UB Gent]
As far as I can see all are in decent quality. It is always necessary to be careful with scans by Google. Often enough something is missing: illustrations, fold-outs or supplements. In this case there was not much to do wrong. Some of them look a little bit uneven - too many fingers! - but otherwise they all seem to be usable. One problem remains: even though most of them are available online as colored scans they can be downloaded at Google Books only as pdfs in black and white and sometimes worse quality. This is annoying and should be corrected. But at least the copies made for the BSB and the ÖNB can also be downloaded as colored pdfs from their own repositories.
The three digital copies not produced by Google are also reliable. The one at the Lower Silesian Digital Library is a little bit difficult to use: it is in djvu and the online reader is awfully slow. Another one is available at the BVH (= Les Bibliothéques Virtuelles Humanistes). That is, by the way, an excellent digital library. Litteraturbanken.se is also an important and helpful resource. They offer a great selection of Swedish literature from the earliest times to the 20th century and naturally one can find there also Johannes Magnus' Historia. But their reader is not as effective and flexible as I would wish and apparently it is not possible to download this book as a pdf.
The later editions are also available online. I found 11 digital copies of the one published in 1558. Once again most of them were produced by Google. The other two are a little bit more rare. Of the third edition printed in Cologne in 1567 there is only one and of the fourth from 1617 there are three:
- Gothoruum Sveonumque Historia, Ex Probatis Antiquorum Monumentis Collecta, & in xxiiii. libros redacta, Autore IO. Magno Gotho, Archiepiscopo Upsalensi. Cum Indice rerum ac gestorum memorabilium locopleußimo. Basileae Ex Officina Isingriniana, anno á Christonato, 1558at Google Books [= BNC Roma], also at the Internet Archive
at Google Books [= Biblioteca Alessandrina, Roma]
at Google Books [= BM Lyon]
at Google Books [= ÖNB]
at Google Books [= BSB]
at Google Books [= BSB/SB Regensburg]
at Google Books [= BSB/SBB Augsburg]
at Google Books [= UB Gent]
at Google Books [= NCR]
at e-rara, UB Zürich
at Universidad de Granada [pdf-b&w]
- Historiae (Qua Vix Alia Lectu Iucundior) De Gothorum Sveonumqve Rebus Gestis, Lib. XXIIII. Antiquitatis reconditae studiosis apprimè utiles, Ioh. Magno, Gotho, Archiepiscopo upsalensi, auctore: Non Sine Verborum & Rerum locuplete tabella. Coloniae, Apud Ioannem Birckmannum, 1567at Google Books [= BSB]
- Gothorum Sveonumque Historia, Ex Probatis Antiquorum monumentis collecta, & in 24. libros redacta, Autore Jo. Magno Gotho, Archiepiscopo Vpsalensi. Cum Indice rerum ac gestorum memorabilium locupletissimo. Jam denuo summ side recognita, à mendis nonullis fideliter repurgata, & in honorem Serenis. Illustratiss. ac Potentiss Regis, Nationumq; Sveciae. Secunda vice edita. Sumptibus & cura Zachariae Schüreri Bibliopolae, 1617at Google Books [= ÖNB]
at Google Books [= BM Lyon]
at SB Berlin
The Swedish editions haven't been digitized that often. There is at the moment only one digital copy of the first edition of Petrejus' Chrönica as well as one of a later edition. Both are by Google, of course. They are usable even though in case of the latter some mishaps seem to have happened during the scanning process:
- Petrus Petrejus, En kort och nyttigh Chrönica Om alla Swerikis och Göthis Konungar, som hafwa både in och uthrijkis regerat, ifrån then Första Konung Magogh, in til thenna höghlosliga nu regerande Konungh Carl then IX. [...], Reusner, Stockholm, 1611,
at Google Books [= BSB]
- -, Meurer, Stockholm, 1656,
at Google Books [= BSB] (not so good)
There is also only one digital copy available of Schroderus' translation published in 1620. I must admit I can't understand why this book hasn't been digitized by a Swedish library. Here once again Google comes to help. They have scanned the British Library's copy:
- Joannis Magni Archiep. Upsal. Swea och Götha Cronica; Hwaruthinnan beskrifwes, icke allena the Inrikis Konungars lefwerne och namnkunnige bedrifter uthi thera eghit Fosterland: Räknandes ifrån Magog Japhetson, Götha första Regent, in til then Stormächtige (Christeligh och höglosligh i åminnelse) Konung Göstaff: Uthan och the uthländske Göthers loslighe Regimente och store Mandon, som the på många ortar uthoefwer wijda Werlden, och särdeles uthi Hispanien och Italien bedrifwit hafwe. Aldraförst på åthskillige tijder och rum uthgången på Latin, Och nu på Swenska uthtålkat aff Erico Schrodero Stockholms Slots Secretario. Tryckt uthi Stockholm, hoos Ignatium Meurer, 1620, at Google Books [= BL]
This was only added to Google Books recently, in May 2016. The quality is fine. The problem is - as usual - that it can only be downloaded in black and white and the pdf doesn't look as good as what can be seen online. It is also possible to access this book on the site of the British Library. But their viewer seems to be in an experimental stage and is not as flexible and effective as it should be. Strangely it is not possible to download a complete book as a pdf.
But I don't want to complain. Digital copies of all the different editions of Magnus' Historia are available and can be used. Of course it is still necessary to check their quality but that should go without saying. Once again we can also see how much Google has contributed. I am often very critical about what they offer. But without them we wouldn't have much and the world of digital books would look rather empty. In fact in many cases serious work would not even be possible.
Now I can return to Johannes Magnus' song about King Eric and its publication history (see Schück 1891, pp. 283-8; Jonsson 1967, pp. 667-81; Swanson 2000) which is also easy to illustrate with the help of online resources. Nearly all the relevant older literature has been digitized. As already mentioned the original version of the text appeared in 1554 in the first edition of the Historia De Omnibus Gothorum Sueonumque Regibus (here pp. 27-8; see 2nd ed., 1558, pp. 33-4):
Primus in regnis Geticis coronam
Regiam gessi, subiique Regis
Munus, & mores colui sereno
It consists of 10 verses (Engl. translation in Swanson, pp. 58-9). Here the reader learned that King Eric was the founder of what would become Denmark. He sent out convicts to settle there. Later Dan, son of King Humle, was appointed King of this country. This song was completely in line with the anti-Danish stance expressed throughout Magnus' book. He claimed that it was known all over Sweden and that his text was a Latin translation of this popular piece.
But there is good reason to assume that had simply written this "old" song himself : "Hans Eriksvisa är nämligen intet annat än en amplifierad parafras af lilla Rimkrönikans inledningsstycke" (Schück, p. 287). This chronicle (c. 1450) starts with a short monologue by fictitious King Erik (here in: Scriptores Rerum Suecicarum, p. 252):
Jak var förste Konung i Giöthaland redh,
Ta bodde ingen i skane eller Wetaleedh,
Jak lot them byggia och upptaga
There is no evidence that a song like this has ever existed in Sweden. He created it anew and made it fit his narrative: it served both as a historical source and as a "political statement", not at least because he could present a song from Sweden that was "far older than anything Danish" (Swanson, p. 58).
At this point there was an old Swedish song, but only in Latin. The Swedish text would be created with the translations of Magnus's Historia several decades later. The first was Elaus Terserus in 1611. His attempt - not published at that time (but in Säve 1850, p. 58-9; Hyltén-Cavallius 1853, pp. 10-11 ) - was not an exact translation but can be described as a "fairly generous re-conception of the poem as a Swedish text" (Swanson, p. 53):
Erik han var den förste Kong
I Göthe landett wijde,
Aff sinne och modh dhå war han from´,
Som någon dher kunne rijde.
Så låther han först ergie uthi Juthland
He added an extra refrain line - "Så låther han först ergie uthi Juthland" - that emphasized the anti-Danish message even more: King Eric was the first to plow in "Juthland". This did not mean Jutland but Skåne in the south of Sweden which was at that time a part of Denmark.
Schroderus included in his translation of the Historia both the original Latin text and a new Swedish version (pp. 8-10). He was surely familiar with Terserus' text but he made it look older and used "en besynnerlig arkaiserande rotvälska" (Schück, p. 284). "Vätulum"apparently included Småland, Skåne and Denmark as a whole (see Afzelius 1839, p. 34):
In Eiriker fyrsti Kununge war
I Göthalandinu widhu
I bragd uk i hughi sniäller mar,
I Wighi swa uk i fridhi.
Han war uk er fyrsti uthi Vätulum ärdi.
We can see here how this "song" was created and then shaped to fit its purpose. First there was Magnus' fabricated Latin text together with the claim that it was well known in Sweden and also "old". Terserus then produced the missing - i. e. not existing - Swedish text. His was still in the language of that time. Schroderus then turned it into an "old" song by adjusting the language a little bit. This would become the standard version. This is an early and very interesting example of how an "authentic" old song was produced. It only existed in the fantasy of these scholars but they made it real.
Strangely this text was only rarely referred to and quoted during the 17th century. I would have expected more. Two verses from Schroderus' translation were reprinted in an obscure historical tract, Wattrangius' Theatridium Sveo-Gothicarum Antiquitatum (1647, p. 24). Riksantikvarie Olav Verelius quoted three verses in a note in his edition of the Hervarar Saga (1672, p. 113). This, by the way, was one of the few Old Norse sagas about the Goths and medieval Sweden (see Wikipedia). A new translation of one single verse from Magnus' original version can be found in a dissertation published in 1687 (see Hyltén-Cavallius , p. 6). Two decades later one respectively two verses - this time taken from Verelius' book - were included in two other dissertations (see dto. p. 5). But that was all.
By all accounts there were no attempts to turn the text into a real popular song. It was never printed on a broadside. That would have been a not unreasonable idea. Instead this piece remained confined to publications for the learned elite. There is no evidence that it was known among the real people. Already during the 17th century "old ballads" were collected from rural singers (see the overview in Jonsson) but no variant from oral tradition has been found in Sweden, neither at that time nor later.
Johann Hadorph (1630-1693), historian and chairman of the antikvariatskolleg, claimed - in a note in his at that time unpublished edition of a chronicle - that it was still sung in parts of the country ("[...] "cantilenam, quam adhuc in Vestrogothia et Dalia plebeii homines canunt"). But this is highly unlikely (see Jonsson, p. 680). In fact he only quoted two verses that he had taken from either Schroderus or Verelius. Hadorph's rather misleading contribution to this topic was only made available much later, in 1818, in Fant's Scriptores Rerum Svecicarum (see here p. 240).
During the 18th century Johannes Magnus' curious "song" more or less fell into oblivion. But then it returned and became much better known than during its first life. This old text was revived in 1811 by Arvid August Afzelius (1785-1871; see Wikipedia), pastor, poet and scholar, one of the mainstays of the new Gothic revival (see Götiska Förbundet, at Wikipedia) and the Swedish romantic era. He - together with historian Erik Gustav Geijer (1783-1847, see Wikipedia) - compiled the very first collection of Swedish "Folkvisor" (1814-18, see Vol. 1, at the Internet Archive). His first publications were new translations of some Old Norse sagas, among them the Herwara Saga (1811). One may assume that he was familiar with Verelius' edition and and therefore also had become acquainted with the song about King Erik.
But he didn't only quote the three verses from that book but instead included in his notes the complete Swedish text (here pp. 105-6). In fact this was the very first time since Schroderus' Cronica in 1620 that all 10 verses were published and it is clear that this also must have been his source. But there is no reference to Magnus or even to Schroderus and he preferred not to tell about his source. At least he modernized the language a little bit and avoided some of the more absurd archaisms of the original version. Interestingly Afzelius called it here "en gammal folkvisa" - an old national song - about King Erik "som skall hafwa warit den förste Konung i Göthaland". He appears to have been somewhat skeptical and interestingly the song was not included in Afzelius' and Geijer's Swenska Folkevisor från Forntiden that was published shortly later.
But afterwards it was regularly reprinted and discussed. By all accounts there were very few doubts about its "authenticity". At that time such an "old" song was always welcome. The year 1818 saw the publication of Fant's Scriptores Rerum Svecicarum. Here Hadorph's - dubious - claim that the song was still known to the people was published for the first time. A year later a new edition of Afzelius' Herwara Saga came out (pp. 87-8) and in 1825 historian Geijer published the first and only part of his Svea Rikes Häfder. This was a kind of history of Sweden starting with its mythical beginnings. Here (p. 113) he quoted not the complete text but only the three verses from Verelius' book, referred to Hadorph and - like Afzelius - described it as "en gammal Svensk Folkvisa".
Later historian Anders Magnus Strinnholm in his Svenska Folkets Historia (1834, here pp. 90-1) and literary historian Peter Wieselgren, in his Sveriges Sköna Litteratur (1834, p. 77) took their cue from Geijer and also recycled these three verses. Afzelius himself used this "gammal visa" again in his Svenska Folkets Sago-Häfder, eller Fäderneslandets Historia (Vol. 1, 1839, pp. 34-6; 2nd ed. 1844, pp. 38-40 ; 3rd ed. 1860, pp. 37-9). This was a popular and often reprinted patriotic history of Sweden in many volumes, based on "Sägner, Folksånger och andra Minnesmärken aand written for the people: "Till Läsning för Folket".
He presented one verse of of Schroderus' original text and then the complete song "på ett något yngre språk", in a modernized Swedish. In fact this was the same text he already had used in his edition of the Herwara Saga. Here Afzelius once again reiterated the great narrative of Sweden's mythical golden era with the old Gothic kings. Of course at that time it was pure Folklorism and - one may assume - had lost all the political vigor . But at least it still sounded like a good and worthwhile story. Any serious discussion of the text's publication history or of its value as an historical source was still missing here. At this time King Erik also became known in Germany. Both Geijer's and Afzelius' books were translated and published there (1826, p. 92; 1842, pp. 75-8).
The first real scholarly examination only came out in 1849: linguist Carl Säve's (1812-1876; see Wikipedia) dissertation Eriks-Visan. Ett Fornsvenskt Qväde, Behandlat in Språkligt Afseende . This was a very strange work. On one hand he had access to the manuscript of Terserus' translation of Johannes Magnus' Historia (1611) and therefore was able to make available in print the earliest extant Swedish text (pp. 58-9). This was a helpful and important addition. But on the other hand Säve's theories about the song's history now look patently absurd.
Informed and encouraged by George Stephens (1813-1895; see Wikipedia, SBL; see also Byrman 2008), an English scholar working in Sweden at that time who had done some research, he claimed - without any supporting evidence - that this "urgamla Svenska qväde" was first written down in runes not later than the 13th century. But - he added - it must have been put together much earlier, based on "ännu äldre traditioner" (pp. 6-7). The absurdity reached its peak with his attempt to reconstruct the text's original form. Then he translated his fantasy-text back into more modern Swedish. This was all very dubious and a good example of misguided scholarship.
A little more realism was brought into the discussion by Norwegian scholar P. A. Munch who showed that the fictitious King Erik was invented only during the 15th century and therefore the song can't be older (1850, pp. 330-1). But the above-mentioned Mr. Stephens must have missed this article. In 1853 he - together with Gunnar-Olof Hyltén-Cavallius - published Sveriges Historiska och Politiska Visor, an anthology of historical and political ballads. This was for the greatest part an excellent and very helpful work. The song about King Erik was regarded as the oldest extant ballad and therefore placed first (here No. 1, pp. 1-18). But what is offered here looks more like wishful thinking.
Of course they - like their predecessors and also Säve in his dissertation - presumed a lost Swedish original version. There was still the belief that Magnus' Latin text was only a translation. Also most extant texts - those by Terserus, Schroderus, Wattrangius, Verelius, Lund, Hadorph and Afzelius - were regarded as individual variants derived from this assumed Urtext. Just like Säve they also included a fanciful "reconstruction" of the "original" version that looked equally absurd (pp. 16-8). This was "Urtext-romanticism pressed to its uttermost" (Swanson, p. 57). What we can see here is a history of a song that never existed. The enthusiasm about such an "old" song must have seriously hindered these scholars' critical abilities.
After this curious excesses it became somewhat quiet. But as late as 1882 King Erik's song - in this case Terserus' translation - still found a place in Klemming's Svenska Medeltids Dikter och Rim, an anthology of medieval Swedish poetry (Vol. 2, No. 11, pp. 401-2, notes, p. 523-4). The editor rejected all dubious claims about its old age but nonetheless thought it genuine. He dated the assumed original text - following Munch's work - as from the 15th century.
Only in 1891 literary historian Henrik Schück managed to shatter all scholarly illusions about this piece. In an article in the Historisk Tidskrift about Våra äldsta historiska folkvisor (here pp. 283-8) he showed convincingly that Johannes Magnus' Latin text was the original version from which all later "variants" were derived, either directly or indirectly. A Swedish Urtext never existed. Not only did he see clearly that Magnus had produced simply an extended "parafras" of the relevant part about King Erik in the Minor Rhyme Chronicle. He also noted that the translations by Terserus and Schroderus did not offer anything more than the original Latin text: "De innehåller intet, hvilket icke står att läsa på latin [...]" (p. 285). Johannes Magnus had claimed that his piece was only a translation of a part of a Swedish song. But - in fact - nobody ever managed to find more verses.
It was Schück's article that actually buried this "urgamla visa" and later scholars - with only few exceptions - followed his reasoning (see Jonsson, p. 679). Bengt Jonsson also discussed the song in his Svensk Balladtradition (1967, here pp. 667-81), but only in the chapter about pastiches and falsifications. He once again examined all relevant literature but saw no reason to reanimate this piece. Otherwise it was more or less ignored since then and I found only one recent article (Swanson 2000).
But why should we discuss Bishop Magnus' obvious fraud? His "old song" was excellent work and it took nearly 350 years until it was debunked. This doesn't speak well for the critical abilities of the scholars who fell for this trick. But there is no reason to mock them. They all - Afzelius, Geijer, Säve, Hyltén-Cavallius, Stephens et al. - did a lot of excellent work. But this particular field - Folkloristics, or the research into the products of the "folk" - is and was prone to flights of fancy. It is an interesting and instructive chapter in the history of this genre. In fact nothing should be taken for granted and one should be particularly suspicious of everything that is claimed to be "old" or even "very old".
But there are more reasons to have a look at this piece. Swanson (p. 58) notes that "no-one seems ever to have taken Johannes Magnus's poem seriously, neither as a text nor as a cultural artifact". It was regarded either a translation of an original Swedish song with no particular creative input by him or as a fabrication not worth further discussion after it was exposed as such. This is too narrow a perspective. Swanson (p. 62) sees it as an early example of "neo-Latin poetry". That's correct. But equally valid is another perspective and here I can return to the start.
Johannes Magnus' song of King Erik was in fact a very early example of what would later be defined as the songs of the people - "Volkslied" in German, "national songs" of "Folk-songs" in English - and it should be seen as a part of the prehistory of the genre. As already mentioned this text was published years before nearly all other early contributions. In this respect it doesn't matter that it was not "authentic". For a long time the text was regarded as genuine.
At around the same time Münster in his Cosmographei (1550, p. 929) and Goebel in his book about amber (1566, [p. 20]; see in this blog: "Jeru, Jeru, Mascolon" - The Remarks About a Livonian Lament in Löwenklau's Annales Sultanorum Othmanidarum, 1588) referred to a Baltic song, "Jeru" or "Jehu, Jehu". But this was only a fragment of one word. Magnus instead offered an nearly complete song of 10 verses that made sense. For the learned readership at which Magnus' Historia was aimed it looked like the very first indigenous song of quasi-"exotic" people from the European periphery. That was something new. Here we can also see an increased "ethnographic" interest in the music of "exotic" people both in and outside of Europe. Olaus Magnus - the editor and publisher of his late brother's great work - also referred to the musical practices of the Swedish "folk" in his immensely popular Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus (1555, see here p. 521, p. 523) but didn't include any examples.
On the other hand Bishop Magnus also anticipated - or perhaps even introduced - a particular technique that would win great favor among the learned elites interested in the songs of the people: if the "folk" didn't produce what was needed it was no problem to create something new and claim it was sung by them. In this respect he also was a pioneer. Magnus wanted to prove the existence of a fictitious king and the early settlement of Denmark from Sweden. Therefore he invented this song which served as a political statement and an historical source. That was a forward-looking idea.
Writing new "old" ballads would become a not uncommon pastime of interested scholars and poets. For example Laurids Kock (1634-1691) in Denmark, clergyman, writer and linguist, produced several historical ballads that were then included in Peder Syv's new extended edition of Vedel's collection (200 Viser om Konger, Kemper og Andre, 1695; later editions: 1739, at the Internet Archive; 1764, at NB, Oslo). One of these texts, "Danmark, dejligst Vang og vaenge" about the legendary queen Thyre Dannebod (here p. 545), was set to music in the early 19th century and became one of the most popular patriotic songs (see Dumreicher & Madsen 1956).
Pastiches, falsifications and songs in the "style" of the people - whatever that is - have always been a major part of the genre. Often enough scholars, editors and collectors have doctored texts and tunes or even passed off their own works as traditional. Today there are many so-called "Folk-songs" - political statements sung to a simple tune with three chords - that were surely not written by the "folk" but receive a certain kind of cultural legitimation from its pretended connection to the people. It would not be too far-fetched to regard the old Bishop as the long-forgotten inventor of this still popular genre.
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