From the origins to the 16th century
If we ignore the historical, epigraphic and archaeological evidence, which makes it plausible that the Swedes have knowledge of the rich poetic, legal and narrative heritage that flourished in the pre-Christian age in the vast Norse area, we cannot speak of a Swedish literature until after conversion. to Christianity, that is, when the country is incorporated into Western civilization, and even then only on the basis of documents that are not essentially literary. In fact, the ancient traditions of customary law, partly not yet influenced by Roman and canon law, transcribed by jurists, often on royal initiative, in a corpus of provincial laws (the Swedish state was a union of provinces until 1523) can be consider the earliest vernacular documents of Swedish literature. Of these, the most archaic redaction of the ancient law of Västergötland (Västgötalagen), preserved in a manuscript from about 1280, is also remarkable from a linguistic-literary point of view. Less literary value, by comparison, is demonstrated by the anonymous rhymed chronicles (Erikskrönikan «Chronicle of Erik», Karlskrönikan «Chronicle of Karl», Lilla rimkrönikan «Minor chronicle in rhyme»), pale and crude reflection of the chivalrous novel. Obviously, religious literature in Latin prevails, with a European rather than Swedish character (paraphrases of sacred texts, lives of saints, narratives of miracles, etc.).
● In the 13th century. the Uppsala Chapter founded its own student Collegium in Paris, where a Brynolf Algotsson hymnographer and composer of Latin offices stayed for several years and where, together with Sigieri of Brabant, the Swedish Averroist Boethius of Dacia taught. s. Thomas Aquinas, Peter of Dacia, author of a Vita benedictae virginis Christi Christinae dedicated to a humble Rhenish beguine with whom, until her death, he entertained an epistolary marked by the mystical Neo-Platonist of St. Bernard. In the picture of the late Middle Ages the figure of the aristocratic Saint Bridget of Sweden emerges among all. The monastery of Vadstena, which she founded, was a center of culture where, among other things, the first translation of the Vulgate and many foreign mystics began: from Bernard of Clairvaux to Tommaso da Kempis, from Enrico Suso to Matilda di Magdeburg.
● The liveliest part of medieval profane poetry is found in the anonymous epic-lyric ballads, born in aristocratic circles and then spread among the people to be only later (starting from the sixteenth century) transcribed and finally enhanced by the medievalizing taste of the romantics. The Protestant Reformation, introduced for substantially political reasons by Gustavo I Vasa, stifled the ferment of Italian Humanism and the Renaissance in theological diatribes, contaminated with incipient nationalism (leading exponents, in the 16th century, were J. Magnus and O. Magnus, with their ethnographic and folkloric Historiae, and a century later O. Rudbeck, with the famous Atland eller Manheim “Atlantis homeland of man”, which identifies the Sweden with the Platonic Atlantis), ending with the establishment of the more rigid orthodoxy and ecclesiastical hierarchy. It is from M. Luther and from Erasmus of Rotterdam that innovative impulses start, both in the religious and in the philological field, received above all by Olaus Petri, who played a prominent part in the Swedish translation of the Bible (1541) by Gustavo I Vasa. The Reformation lowered the level of culture everywhere and not only destroyed libraries and churches, schools and convents, but within a few decades, despite the resistance of men like Olaus Petri, completely subjugated the Church to the state.
From the 17th to the middle of the 19th century
According to RECIPESINTHEBOX.COM, the seventeenth century is at the same time the age of the political expansion of the Sweden (which became one of the great powers of Europe) and the development of erudition and studies, favored by the use of the press. The libraries of Europe provide the victors of the Thirty Years’ War with book treasures. The daughter of Gustavo II Adolfo, Cristina, moved by intelligent patronage, surrounded herself with the most eminent scholars of the time, from R. Descartes to U. Grotius. Even if the knowledge of Italian Renaissance thought passes through Germany, Holland, France, it is nevertheless felt its influence in writers such as G. Stiernhielm, GE Dahlstierna, in the transgressive L. Wivallius and L. Lucidor, while pietism and rationalism, both heirs of the Reformation, affirm the rights of sentiment and reason against the principle of authority. On the one hand the Lutheran psalms with H. Spegel and J. Frese (both 17th-18th century) reflects the mystical fervor and bitter voluntarism of the Reformed Church, on the other scientists-writers such as E. Swedenborg and C. Linnaeus manage to reconcile sentimental and rational needs: the first in the Latin scholastic of his otherworldly visions, the second in the lively and meticulous Swedish prose of his ‘travels’.
● In the 18th century, participants in both currents were, with the triumph of classicism and the Enlightenment in art and philosophy, the writer-journalist O. von Dalin, who was inspired by the English Tatler and the Spectator for his moralistic periodical Der svenska Argus (“The Swedish Argo”, 1732-34), no less than the Winckelmannian CA Ehrenswärd, or poets such as HC Nordenflycht, GF Gyllenborg, GP Creutz and especially CM Bellman, dithyrambic singer of intoxication and ‘eros in compositions of great metric-musical virtuosity that find, on the narrative level, a parallel in the crackling prose of the priest on board J. Wallenberg,Dutch Indies (Mi son pä galejan «My son on the galley», 1781). In 1786 Gustav III founded, on the French model, the Academy of Sweden. He himself writes and, moreover, promotes an intense literary activity in the circle of his collaborators, with artistically very mediocre results. Also in Sweden, in the second half of the century, the need for sentiment is increasingly clear: on Voltaire the pathos of J.-J. Rousseau. Even JK Kellgren, former opponent of T. Thorild (first representative of the Swedish Sturm und Drang) and founder of the Enlightenment periodical Stockolms; posten (1778-95), he shows himself sensitive to pre-romantic aura, and with him many Gustavians such as AM Lenngren, CG Leopold, FM Franzén.
● However, it was the rediscovery of literary Germany (the Norwegian naturalist H. Steffens as an intermediary) that brought about a historical turning point. The reading of Rousseau, Ossian, W. Shakespeare (mostly in German), by JG Fichte, F. Schelling, F. Schleiermacher and L. Tieck, by the brothers Schlegel and Grimm is the ideal ferment that pervades the new culture, promoting its aesthetic, philological and historical developments, religious: E. Tegnér in the cycle of romances of the Fritiofs saga (“Saga of Fritjof”, 1825) offers an image of Nordic heroism pervaded at the same time by Christianity and Platonism; EG Geijer echoes Fichtian and Schellinghian ideas in his lyric and historical work; PDA Atterbom with the dramatic fairy tale Lycksalighetens ö (“The island of happiness”, 1824-27) aims to express the prophetic mystical-musical essence of Romanticism; EJ Stagnelius turns out to be Novalis’ ideal brother of the hymns to the night for the speculative themes of his lyric.
● In the mid-19th century, the romantic-idealist crisis, F. Bremer, E. Flygare-Carlén, OP Sturzen-Becker, or men of the theater such as B. von Beskow, is specified as a crisis of morals as well as historical-psychological in the very copious heterogeneous work of CJL Almquist, mystical-esoteric writer and collaborator of the liberal press, a poet inspired by quietism and Satanism at the same time. Throughout this generation, the underlying sensitivity remains romantic, while the demands of the new times are felt more and more clear, even if the individual writers who have matured in the bosom of liberalism, such as V. Rydberg and CJG Snoilsky, or like JL Runeberg and Sweden Topelius, refuse to draw the extreme consequences from the crisis of traditional values.