Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies


Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies


Article excerpt

Disappearances of a Song

It has sometimes been thought that the ballad called Eriks-visan is Sweden's oldest political song or, to be more correct, oldest song about Sweden's oldest political event. Its relatively brief narrative tells how Erik ruled firmly over Gotaland (Southern Sweden) and sent south, to present-day Denmark, those who were unruly, from among whom came Dan, who gave his name to that kingdom, but who paid taxes to the Swedes. Both Erik and Dan are mythical first kings of their countries. The historical accuracy of the ballad is not the issue here, but, rather, something about how that text proceeds as a literary-historical artefact. This song does not appear in either of the great collections of the early lyric poetry of Scandinavia, Danmarks gamle Folkeviser (DgF) or Sveriges medeltida ballader, however. Bengt Jonsson summarizes the arguments for and against the song's authenticity and concludes fairly convincingly that the ballad originates in a sixteenth century fabrication by Johannes Magnus.(1)

There are a number of written and printed versions of Eriks-visan, none of which is especially old; these were gathered and published in 1853 by Gunnar Hylten-Cavallius and George Stephens (H-C/S),(2) who put Eriks-visan first in their collection suggesting their view of its age, authenticity, and political importance. A peculiarity of their edition is that the songs and ballads are placed in the chronological order of the date of the historical event they supposedly describe and not according to the date of the text itself. This is handy, in that all the material related to a certain event is drawn together, but unhandy in that it pulls the texts out of their own historical position, insofar as that is known. For instance, all the texts about the death of Gustaf II Adolf in 1632, say, are placed together, even though most of them come from well after that event. In the present instance, H-C/S's arrangement of the versions of Eriks-visan makes assumptions about their order which disregard the date of the source in which it is found. What is more important about H-C/S's order, however, is that it presumes a lost, Swedish, original.

Here are the two oldest known versions of the first verse of this piece according to the sources in which they appear. These first strophes are by Johannes Magnus and Elaus Terserus, respectively (Terserus's text as given in H-C/S).

Exx. 1 and 2: Johannes Magnus (1554) and Elaus Terserus ("before 1611").


Primus in regnis Geticis coronam          (First, in the kingdom
Regiam gessi, subiique Regis              of the Goths I have
Munus, & mores colui sereno               borne the royal crown,
Principe dignos.                          cultivated the duty
                                          of a king, and honored
                                          the customs worthy of
                                          a serene prince.)

Erich han war den forste Kong             (Eric was the first
I Gothe landett wijde                     king in the whole
Aff sinne och modh dha war han from       land of the Goths. He
Som nagon dher kunne rijde                was pious in mind and
Sa lather han forst ergie vthi Juthland   heart, as anyone there
                                          could tell you. And he
                                          was the first who
                                          cultivated land in

It is at once clear here that the Latin version by Johannes Magnus (published in 1554 though certainly written earlier, as he died in 1544(3) differs considerably from the Swedish version (and, indeed, all Swedish versions), not only in its language but in its form and content.

Johannes Magnus explicitly claims that his "patriotic song" is a Latin translation of a well-known old song.(4) Johannes's remark, and the song to which it refers, seems to lie at the root of all the subsequent wishful thinking and confusion about this piece, for there is no known earlier version of these words. …

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