• Bookshop: Bookshop Herman H. J. Lynge & Søn (Denmark)
  • Subjects: History of Literature<br>History, General<br>History, Scandinavian<br>Literature, General<br>Literature, Scandinavian
  • Shipment weight: 1000 g

Bibliographic details

Paris, Iodocus (Josse) Badius Ascensius, 1514 (on colophon). Small folio. Bound in a fully contemporary Danish (possibly northern German) Renaissance full leather binding with three raised bands to back and boards with ornamental brindstamping. Title written in contemporary hand to fore-edge. Binding with overall wear and with very neatly executed restorations. Traces of ties (four to each) to boards. Internally unusually fine and clean, with good margins and very little browning or brownspotting. Title-page and final leaf with a small, neat stamp of the city of Augsburg. Pasted-down front end-paper with the book-plate of Harald Pedersen and with contemporary owner's inscription of "Johannes Hofmair" in the year "1539". Title-page printed in red with large woodcut elaborate ornamental border (with printed red outline-colouring to parts of the figures) and a large woodcut depicting the Danish king in front of his army (signed C.P.). Numerous beautiful large and small woodcut initials throughout. (8), 198 ff. + final blank.

A magnificent copy, one of the finest we have ever seen, in its first binding and in unusually fine condition internally. Most copies of this book have been rebound and it is very rare to encounter one in a strictly contemporary binding. Likewise, copies of the work are usually very worn internally and one very rarely sees a copy that is nice and clean. ¶ The rare editio princeps, the edition that preserved the first full history of Denmark for posterity and to this day the most important of all Danish historical publications. This magnificent work contains the first known written narrative of the legend of Hamlet and served as the basis for Shakespeare's play.

""Hamlet" is based on a Norse legend composed by Saxo Grammaticus in Latin around 1200 AD. The sixteen books that comprise Saxo Grammaticus' "Gesta Danorum", or "History of the Danes", tell of the rise and fall of the great rulers of Denmark, and the tale of Amleth, Saxo's Hamlet, is recounted in books three and four. In Saxo's version, King Rorik of the Danes places his trust in two brothers, Orvendil and Fengi. The brothers are appointed to rule over Jutland, and Orvendil weds the king's beautiful daughter, Geruth. They have a son, Amleth. But Fengi, lusting after Orvendil's new bride and longing to become the sole ruler of Jutland, kills his brother, marries Geruth, and declares himself king over the land. Amleth is desperately afraid, and feigns madness to keep from getting murdered. He plans revenge against his uncle and becomes the new and rightful king of Jutland.
Saxo's story was first printed in Paris in 1514, and Francois de Belleforest translated it into French in 1570." ("Shakespeare's Sources for "Hamlet" " - Shakespeare-on-line).

No complete manuscript of Saxo's History of the Danes has survived, merely a few loose leaves have been preserved, and thus "Pedersen's edition is indeed our only source to Saxo's history" (Thesaurus, 190). "[I]t is this edition that saved Saxo's work, because as mentioned earlier, during the course of time, all manuscripts have disappeared". ([own translation] Carl S. Petersen).

The present copy is the A issue without the words "Venundantur in ædibus Ascensius" underneath the woodcut of the Danish King on the title-page; according to Thesaurus, "[p]resumably the B issue was for sale in Paris and the A issue for export".

The work is extremely rare in nice condition and in a contemporary binding.

Saxo Grammaticus (ab. 1150-1220) was probably a secular clerk or secretary to Absalon, Archbishop of Lund, the great Danish churchman, statesman and warrior. Saxo is remembered today as the author of the first full history of Denmark, in which he modelled himself on the classical authors (e.g. Virgil, Plato, Cicero) in order to glorify his fatherland. The work dates from the end of the 12th century and was edited by Christiern Pedersen, a Canon of Lund, and printed by Jodocus Badius Ascendius in Paris in 1514 (the present copy) with 16th century re-issues following in 1534 (Basel) and 1576 (Frankfurt). Only with the first printing of this seminal work did the work become known throughout academic circles. The work soon received international fame and is to this day renowned as not only being immensely important historically, but also being extremely well written (Saxo is praised by Erasmus, for instance, for possessing great power of eloquence).

The work consists of sixteen books that cover the time from the founders of the Danish people (Dan I of Denmark) till Saxo's own time, ending around 1185 (with the submission of Pomerania), when the last part is supposedly written. The work thus covers the entire history of Denmark until Saxo's own time, seen under a somewhat glorified perspective, from heathen times with tales of Odin and the gods of Valhalla to the times of Absalon, who probably directly influenced the sections on the history of his own time, working closely with Saxo himself.

The work also contains the first known written narration of the legend of Hamlet (Amleth, the son who took revenge for his murdered father). It is this narrative of Saxo's, which he based on an oral tale, that forms the basis for Shakespeare's "Hamlet", which takes place in Helsinore in Denmark. There is fairly certain evidence that Shakespeare knew Saxo's work on the History of Denmark and thus the legend of Amleth.

"This is the old, Norse folk-tale of Amleth, a literary ancestor of Shakespeare's "Hamlet". The Scandinavian legend was recorded in Latin around 1200 by the Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus and first printed in Paris in this beautiful 1514 edition. It is part of the collection of tales known as Gesta Danorum - a partly mythical history of the Danes.
Saxo's Amleth story - a summary
King Rørik of Denmark appoints two brothers, Horwendil and Fengo, as the rulers of Jutland. Horwendil slays the King of Norway, marries King Rørik's daughter Gerutha, and they have a son named Amleth. Consumed by envy of his brother, Fengo murders Horwendil and marries his wife Gerutha. Amleth then feigns madness, clothing himself in rags and spouting nonsense, to shield himself from his uncle's violence. In fact, the name 'Amleth' itself means 'stupid'.
Yet Amleth's behaviour attracts suspicion, and the King attempts to trap him into admitting he has plans for revenge. First, a beautiful woman is used to lure him into betraying himself, but she proves loyal to Amleth. Then a spy is planted to eavesdrop on Amleth's conversation with his mother, in which she repents and he confesses his plans for revenge. Amleth detects the spy, kills him in a mad frenzy, throws his mutilated body in a sewer, and leaves it to be eaten by pigs. Fengo then deports Amleth to England with two escorts carrying a letter directing the King there to execute him. Amleth switches the letter with another one, which orders the death of the escorts and asks for the hand of the English Princess in marriage.
Returning to Denmark, Amleth arrives disguised, in the midst of his own funeral, burns down the hall and hunts down his sleeping uncle. Because Amleth had wounded himself on his sword, attendants had made it harmless by nailing it to the scabbard (the sheath used to hold it). Amleth swaps this useless sword with Fengo's, succeeds in killing his uncle and next day is hailed as the King.
Saxo's account has many of the defining features of Shakespeare's drama:

a villain who kills his brother, takes over the throne and then marries his brother's wife
a cunning young hero, the King's son, who pretends to be mad to shield himself from his uncle
three plots used by the King to uncover the young man's secrets: a young woman, a spy planted in the Queen's bedroom (who is uncovered and killed), and two escorts who take the prince to England (also outwitted and killed)
a hero who returns home during a funeral and finally achieves his revenge through an exchange of swords.

There are equivalents for Shakespeare's central characters - old and young Hamlet, old and young Fortinbras, Claudius and Gertrude, Polonius, Ophelia, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. But Saxo has no ghost demanding vengeance, and the identity of the murderous uncle is known from the start. There is no Osric, no gravediggers or play within a play. The legend lacks a Laertes character and the young woman does not go mad or kill herself. Perhaps most crucially, Amleth lacks Hamlet's melancholy disposition and long self-reflexive soliloquies, and he survives after becoming king." ("Saxo's legend of Amleth in the Gesta Danorum" - The British Library.mht).

Laur.Nielsen 240. - Thesaurus 190.

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