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Danish Literature

written, age, ballads, ages, denmark, latin and life

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DANISH LITERATURE. Danish history may properly be divided into three epochs: The heathen age, from the earliest times to 1000; midde age, 1000-1500; modern age, 1500 to the present. Apart from the Runic inscriptions, no literature originating in the first period has been preserved. Great Danish scholars as Rask, one of the founders of comparative philology, Thotnsen, Steenstrup, Worsaae, Sophus Muller Olrik and others have shown that great epics had their origin among the Danes from the time of the migrations to the close of this period, the golden age of Danish heroic poetry. We find traces of them in Saxo, in the Norwegian-Ice landic sagas, in English sources. In the Mid dle Ages a written literature first arises by reason of the practical needs of the Catholic church, especially after the establishment of the archiepiscopal seat at Lund (1104). The lan guage used is Latin. The first book written in Denmark was a brief history in Latin of Saint Canute. The author was the English monk knoth who was a preacher in Odense shortly after 1100. Many Danes had studied in Paris and other places and were well versed in the scholastic learning of the times. Of these, An ders Suneson, Archbishop at Lund (1201-1222), who had been a professor in Paris, wrote in Latin hexameters (Hexaemeron,) describing the creation of the world in six days and also containing scholastic comments on doctrines of the church. In the age of the Valdemars (1150 1250) Denmark reached her highest point of power and culture. The great Absalon is the central figure. At his instigation the history of Denmark was written, a very brief

works written by Henrik Harpestreng (d. 1244). In the 15th century appeared Peer Laale'5 Proverbs in Latin and Danish. Toward the close of the Middle Ages we have the Dan ish Rhyme Chronicle, the first Danish book. printed (1495). The kings are introduced in chronological order, and each relates his own story, which includes even his death and burial. But more important than the written literature is the Danish ballad. In the Middle Ages, the popular ballad flourished in all the Scandina vian countries, and especially in Denmark from the grand age of the Valdemars. Denmark alone has over 500 original ballads, while the variants number several thousand. The first printed collection (of 100 ballads) appeared in 1591 and was edited by A. S. Vedel. Before his time ladies of the nobility had copied many of them. But they continued to enjoy a vigor ous life on the lips of the people until they finally were collected in the 19th century. The main critical edition is by Svend Grundtvig (5 vols.) ; this edition was continued by Axel Olrik (d. 1917) who published three additional volumes and also a selection of ballads with an excellent introduction. The popular ballad orig inated among the nobility or higher classes in connection with the dance, introduced into the Scandinavian countries in the 12th century.

In the ballads may be traced many relics of old, mythological beliefs and there may be found many themes of former ages, so they, in a manner, preserve the connection between the spiritual life of past ages and the national renaissance of times that follow. But they also paint pictures of the life of chivalry, of the doings of the common people, of moral aspects and customs. In vigorous descriptions they show us life when not "the monk" but 'the knight° was the centre of attraction. They supply the lack of a more complete national history and poetic activity. There are songs of magic and miracle, ballads relating to his torical persons and numerous ballads of chivalry.

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