From Lutheran penitence to pastoral court culture

The use of Danish translations of Italian literature in 16th and 17th century Denmark

By Anders Toftgaard (Royal Danish Library, Denmark)


Translations into Danish of Italian texts began on a large scale in the 18th century, when Italian opera libretti were translated into Danish. Several pages of the Danish National Bibliography are thus devoted to Italian plays translated into Danish (Bruun 1877-1902, vol. 4: 415-427). However, even before the 18th century Italian texts had been translated into Danish, whether in print or manuscript. At the time of Christian IV (1577-1648) Italian language and literature were held in high esteem (Toftgaard 2014 and 2016), and the desire for Italian culture continued during the reign of Frederic III (born 1609, King of Denmark and Norway 1648-1670). The purpose of this article is to inquire into the role of the Italian language in Denmark and its connection with Danish translations of Italian literature in the 16th and 17th centuries. Two very different translations of 16th century Italian authors will be analysed, in order to answer the underlying question of how translations of Italian literature were used in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Keywords: Italian language, Italian literature, Italo-Danish relations, Christian IV, early modern translation, translation from Italian into Danish, Danish court

©inTRAlinea & Anders Toftgaard (2019).
"From Lutheran penitence to pastoral court culture The use of Danish translations of Italian literature in 16th and 17th century Denmark"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Transit and Translation in Early Modern Europe
Edited by: Donatella Montini, Iolanda Plescia, Anna Maria Segala and Francesca Terrenato
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
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Petrarch, Petrarchism and penitence

Among the three great Trecento authors, Dante was not translated into Danish before the 19th century (Lausten & Toftgaard 2016), while minor parts of the works of both Boccaccio and Petrarch had already been translated indirectly or directly in the second half of the 16th century.

Four leaves from a book containing short stories drawn from the Decameron have survived (LN 1066 – the bibliographical number LN referring to the bibliography of Danish 15th and 16th century printed books: Nielsen 1931-33). The 4 leaves contain parts of novellas IX, 5; VIII, 8; and VIII, 2. The book was believed to be a fragment of a partial Danish translation of Decameron, but in 1923 Robert Paulli showed that it was in reality part of a translation of Rastbüchlein by the German author Michael Lindener (1520-1562), who had used novellas from the Decameron in his book (Paulli 1923). A chapbook was also published containing the story of Griselda, the joint enterprise of Boccaccio and Petrarch: Griseldis, Tuende deylige oc Nyttelige Historier at læse. Den første om Griseldis. Den Anden om en Doctors Daater aff Bononia, Lybeck: Prentet ... hos Asswerus Krøger 1592 (see Olsen 2007).

It was the priest, historian, author, translator and publisher Anders Sørensen Vedel (1542-1616) who introduced Petrarch to a Danish reading audience. In 1577 – the year that Christian IV was born – Vedel published a translation of Petrarch’s seven penitential psalms written in Latin, Septem psalmi penitentiales, which was published again in 1593. There are two existing copies of this book; one in the library of Ribe Cathedral School, and one in the National Library in Oslo. The Ribe copy has been described by Kinck (1854), Haar (1924), Nielsen (1925 & 1931-33), and the Oslo copy by Tunold (1963). The translation is quoted extensively in Sørensen (2004). The title page of the 1577 edition has been lost, though the book’s title was probably identical to that of the 1593 edition. The 1593 edition was printed along with an interpretation of Psalm 51, most probably a translation of an interpretation by the Florentine monk Savonarola, some of whose sermons and bible interpretations were translated into Danish in the 16th century. The remarkable title of the translation of Petrarch is worth quoting in full:

Siu Gudelige Penitentze Psalmer, som ere skreffne aff den høylærde oc naffnkundige Francisco Petrarcha Florentino, mere end for tu hundrede Aar forleden, mit vdi Paffuedommet.

[Seven Godly Penitential Psalms written by the most learned and renowned Francisco Petrarcha Florentino more than two hundred years ago, in the middle of the Papal Lands].

Nielsen (2004: 52) states that the translation could have been done from either Latin or Italian, though there is no reason to believe that the translation was not done from Latin, the original language, which Vedel had mastered to perfection (see Mortensen 1995).

In the preface to the 1577 edition (the preface was replaced by another in the 1593 edition) Anders Sørensen Vedel elaborates on the fact that Petrarch wrote piously while living in the Papal Lands. With examples from the Old and the New Testament, he states that Satan has never been able to fully eradicate the true word. There has always been a ‘holy Christian Church, the communion of saints’. The same holds true under the Papacy:

Det samme haffuer ocsaa ladet sig ansee vnder Paffvedømmet, vdi den store Forblindelse oc Mørckhed , som vore Forfædre haffue veret vdi, vnder den Romske Antichristen. (quoted in Kinck 1854: 213)

[The same has been the case under the Papacy, during the great infatuation and darkness in which our ancestors lived under the Roman Antichrist.]

The last part of the sentence, with its Lutheran resentment against the pope, echoes the title of the first book published by Anders Sørensen Vedel, a history of the popes: Antichristus Romanus. Romske Paffuers leffnede oc gerninger, fra Apostlers tid indtil dette 1571 Aar, [Antichristus Romanus. The lives and deeds of the Roman Popes from the time of the Apostles to this year 1571], Copenhagen, Matz Wingaardt, 1571 (LN 1609).

Vedel states that God has preserved some pious Christians even under Papal rule, and Petrarch is one of them:

Iblant andre gudfryetige Christne, sum Gud haffuer beuaret sig vnder Paffuedommet, haffuer ocsaa veret denne herlige oc naffnkundige Mand Franciscus Petrarcha. (Kinck 1854: 213)

[Among the other god-fearing Christians, whom God has kept under Papal rule, was also this wonderful and renowned man Franciscus Petrarcha.]

According to Vedel, the seven penitential psalms testify to the fact that Petrarch’s faith and confession were very different from what the monks and clergymen taught at his time:

disse siu Psalmer, som klarligen vidne om hans Tro oc Bekiendelse. at den haffuer veret langt anderledis, end som Munckene oc Papistiske Preste haffue lærdt oc predicket den tid. (Kinck 1854: 213)

[these seven Psalms, which clearly bear witness to his faith and confession, showing that it was far different from what the Monks and Papistic priests taught and preached at that time, our translation.]

In the preface to his translation of the penitential psalms, Vedel further explained that he had made the translation at the instigation of the late Hans Philipsen Pratensis (1543-1576), who had died the previous year (Aggebo 1938). The doctor and professor of medicine, Hans Philipsen Pratensis/Johannes Pratensis (1543-1576) was the son of Philippe du Pré (Philippus Pratensis, ca. 1465-1567) from Rouen who had come to Denmark with Christian II’s wife Elisabeth; he was a close friend of both Anders Sørensen Vedel, the Paracelsian Petrus Severinus (Peder Sørensen, 1542-1602), and Tycho Brahe (1546-1601).

Pratensis travelled with Peder Sørensen around Europe for six years 1566-1571, and they both studied medicine in Padua. As a 20-year old student, Johannes Pratensis published a pastoral poem in Latin, written for the wedding of Hans Thomesen (1532-1573, priest and later editor of the first official Danish psalm book): Johannis Pratensis Arrhusii Daphnis. Copenhagen: Lorens Benedict, 1563 (LN 1342). The pastoral was inspired by Erasmus Laetus’ (1526-1582) Bucolica, Wittenberg, 1560 (LN 664) (see Friis-Jensen 1987 and Zeeberg 2008). Johannes Pratensis is today best known as Tycho Brahe’s friend, who urged him to make known his observations on the new star and who supervised their publication in De nova et nullius ævi memoria prius visa stella jam pridem Anno a nato Christo 1572 mense Novembr. primum conspecta, contemplatio mathematica (Copenhagen, Lorentz Benedict, 1573 (LN 429)) – to which Anders Sørensen Vedel contributed with a poem in honor of Brahe. After the death of Johannes Pratensis, Brahe published an epitaph in his honor: Epitaphium clarissimo et omnigena eruditione virtuteque ornatissimo viro D. Johanni Pratensi Aarusiensi Medicinæ Paracelsicæ et Galenicæ Doctori excellentissimo ob ingenitam naturæ bonitatem […]: Obiit Anno 1576 Uraniburgi, 1584 (LN 431, cf. Brahe 1913-29: 176-177).

Vedel states that Hans Philipsen Pratensis had urged him to translate the psalms, and that afterwards other friends had asked him to make the translation available to them.

Anders Sørensen Vedel was also the first Dane to quote and translate an Italian Renaissance Petrarchan poet. In a collection of sermons, Den XC. Psalme, Mose Guds Mands Bøn, met en kaart Vdleggelse, forfattet vdi ni Predickener (Ribe: 1593) (LN 1618) (see Nielsen 1923: 144 and Brix 1924: 81-82), Anders Sørensen Vedel quoted the first part of a poem by Jacopo Sannazaro (ca. 1456-1530) and gave it a new content in his rendering.

According to the preface, Anders Sørensen Vedel delivered the sermons while he was a preacher at the Royal Court. It should be mentioned that there are two different issues of the book, though the second issue is identical apart from a new preface (see Brix 1924).

All nine sermons in the book interpret Psalm 90, the psalm attributed to Moses and dear to Martin Luther. Luther had lectured at the university on this psalm in 1534/35 and his interpretation was published in 1541 (cf. Luther 1541 and Luther 1930), and in the preface to the first issue Vedel mentions Martin Luther (f. A6v).

In the very beginning of the book, after a dedication, psalm 90 is shown in full (16 lines) in the Danish translation from Christian III’s Bible (1550). Each of the nine sermons that follow takes as a point of departure a new verse of psalm 90. The interpretations are loaded with citations of classical and modern authors. Thus, Anders Sørensen Vedel quotes Lucretius (referring to him as den Hedenske poet, ‘the pagan poet’), Ovid, Persius, Aesop, Horace and the French author Robert Gauguin (1433-1501).

In the seventh of the nine sermons, Vedel interprets the second part of verse ten and all of verse eleven of Psalm 90, speaking of the nullity of worldly existence and the wrath of God. In the Vulgate, where the psalm is numbered 89, lines 10 and 11 read:

[dies annorum nostrorum in ipsis septuaginta anni si autem in potentatibus octoginta anni] et amplius eorum labor et dolor quoniam supervenit mansuetudo et corripiemur / quis novit potestatem irae tuae et prae timore tuo iram tuam.

Vedel renders the lines of the Psalm with this translation from Christian III’s Bible (1550):

Og naar det var kosteligt, var det Arbeid og Møie og det flyver bort; hvo troer, at du er vred og frygter for din Grumhed

[And even if it was precious, it was labour and sorrow, and it flies away; who believes that you are angry and fears your ferocity?]

In his interpretation of these lines, Vedel quotes the sonnet ‘O vita, vita no, ma vivo affanno’ by Jacopo Sannazaro (first published in 1530 [Sannazaro 1961: 149][1] and made famous by the musical rendering by Ruffo), with what would seem to be his own Danish translation. A printed marginal note says ‘En italiensk Dict’ [An Italian poem]. In the introduction to the poem, Vedel explains that he himself has had the poem explained to him by ‘den høylærde og meget fromme Mand, Doctor Johannes Philippus Pratensis’ [the very learned and very pious man, Doctor Johannes Philippus Pratensis]. And Vedel wishes to commemorate his friend by printing the translation. Thus, once again, Hans Philipsen Pratensis was the originator of the translation.

In seven lines of the first two quartets below (line 5 is excluded), we see that Vedel makes use of both doubling and expansion in his translation with the result that some of the Italian lines are translated by an entire stanza (Vedel 1593: f. I5recto-verso).

O vita, vita non, ma vivo affanno,

O Liff, O Leffnet, som icke er Liff

Som icke er Leffnet at kalde:

Men levende Banghed, Fect og Kiff

En liffs Forgifft oc Galde

O life, O living, which is not life

Which cannot be called living

But living fear, scraping a living and quarrel

Life’s poison and bile

nave di vetro in mar di cieco orrore,

Et Skib udi Storm oc Mørckheds Egn,

Som løber paa Eventyrs hyre:

A ship in storm and in the area of darkness,

Signed on on adventure

sotto pioggia di pianto e di dolore

Hves seyl er Suck, under Graadsens regn

For Omhues skrøbelig styre

Whose sails are sighs, under the rain of tears

Steered in a fragile way by solicitude

che sempre cresce con vergogna e danno,

Denne regn hand voxer til Skade oc brøst

This rain increases with damage and flaw as a result

le tue false promesse e 'l vero inganno

Effter spotten tør mand ey lede:

After the mockery one dares not search

mi han prive sì d'ogni speranza il core,

Det haffver mig skilt, ved all min Trøst,

Som Hu oc Hiertet skulde glæde

It has separated me from any consolation,

Which could have pleased the mind and the heart

ch'io porto invidia a quei che son già fòre

Ved eder, i Døde, ieg Affvende baar

For lycken, som sømligt kunde være:

For you, dead ones, I feel envy,

For the happiness, which could be due

et ho pietà degli altri che verranno.

Men i Ufødde, Ulycken staar faar,

Offver eder mig ynckis end mere

But for you unborn ones, who face unhappiness,

I feel even more pity for you

The translation is quite free, but it follows the outline of the original. It is curious how the Petrarchan description of the sufferings of the lover who has lost his beloved is used in a sermon to depict the worldly existence of the Christian in a Lutheran worldview of man as a sinner wholly dependent on God’s mercy.

Italian language and literature in Denmark

Anders Sørensen Vedel translated Petrarch in the year that Christian IV was born, and he quoted Sannazaro in 1593, the year that the king was declared of age. In order to explain this interest in Italian poetry it is necessary to look into the general knowledge of Italian at the Danish court.

Christian IV (1577-1648, king 1588-1648, crowned 1596), wrote in Latin, German and Danish, and it would appear that later in his life he learned to speak, or at least to understand, French and Italian (Toftgaard 2016). How could the king, who had never been to Italy, have learned to speak Italian? We have the testimony of his doctor, Otto Sperling (1602-1681), a Dutch immigrant, who was physician to the king for many years. In his autobiography, preserved in a manuscript in the Royal Library, (GKS 3094 4°), Otto Sperling explains that sometimes the king began to speak to him in Italian, and that he had learned it from his fencing master, Salvator Fabris.

Having spent several years in Gottorp in the service of Count Johan Friedrich, whom he had met in Padua, Salvator Fabris (1544-1617) spent five more years at the court of Denmark, from October 1601 to November 1606, as master of arms to the young king Christian IV. Fabris had compiled a lavishly illustrated manuscript in three volumes on the art of fencing (GKS 1868 4°), which he dedicated to his patron, Johan Friedrich, Count of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorp, and also Archbishop of Bremen and a cousin of Christian IV. In 1606 Fabris published an edition of the tract – now entitled De lo schermo overo scienza d’arme [On fencing or weaponry] and with a dedication to Christian IV – printed by Henrik Waldkirch (d. 1629), who had immigrated from Germany and in 1599 had become the university printer.

De lo schermo ovvero scienza d'arme is an outstanding work in the history of Danish books. The typographical layout is unusual for that time; it is the first Danish book to contain copperplates for illustration, a total of 190, depicting the two naked male fencers, who also appear in the manuscript (Nielsen 1941: 104). It is the second Danish book printed in Italian – after Melchior Borchgrevinck’s collection of madrigals which had appeared the year before (Borchgrevinck 1605) - also printed by Heinrich Waldkirch.

The King appreciated the Italian language and it is certain that one can speak of a real Italian influence at the time of Christian IV. The interest that Christian IV gave to the Italian model, has for good reasons been studied especially regarding his taste for music. According to musicologist Susan Lewis Hammond, the Danish king used the Italian model to establish Denmark as a European power (Lewis Hammond 2005); Christian IV invested heavily in court music throughout his reign (Moe 2010/2011).

To prepare young noblemen for their careers, it became customary in the sixteenth century to send them abroad. Abroad meant mainly the German states. But by the end of the sixteenth century the young noblemen started travelling to the southern part of Europe, especially to Italy, and, in Italy, especially to Padua, where Protestants were tolerated (Grendler 2002: 191). From 1536 to 1660, there were no fewer than 355 Danish and Norwegian students at the University of Padua whilst there were 132 in Siena. Numbers were far smaller in other Italian cities. In the same period, there were 2 in Bologna and Perugia, and 3 in Rome. For comparison, there were 158 Danish students registered in Basel, 107 in Geneva and 278 in Orleans; 582 were enrolled in Leiden, 1326 in Rostock and 962 in Wittenberg. The alba amicorum – in German Stambücher – provide rich testimony of the intellectual relationships formed during these trips.

Women, however noble, were seldom sent abroad, but in the early seventeenth century there were many learned women who were often linked by kinship relations (Pedersen 2017). Among foreign languages, German was the most common, followed by French and Latin. Marie Below (1586-1651) had learnt Latin with her brother and French by herself. According to her contemporaries, the niece of Marie Below, Birgitte Thott (1610-1662), mastered Danish, German, Dutch, English, French, Italian, Spanish, Latin, Greek and Hebrew; in a dedication in Latin the Dutch Anna Maria van Schurman – herself one of the most learned women of the time – called Thott the ‘tenth muse’ (Alenius 2004). These learned women used their knowledge of languages to make translations into Danish. Birgitte Thott made several (Joseph Hall, Pierre du Moulin, Philippe de Mornay, Thomas Fuller), but she is especially famous for her Danish translation of the entire moral work of Seneca; this beautiful edition (1658) remains a landmark in the history of the book in Denmark. In 1659 Susanne Gøye (1634-1689) translated the treaty of Juan Luis Vives on the education of women, De institutione feminae christianae (1523) from French to Danish (Riising 1956: 171). Susanne Gøye thus made the translation when her daughter, the future book collector Karen Brahe (1657-1736), was only two years old, and around the time that the parents had a painting made of Karen Brahe. The manuscript is kept at Karen Brahe’s library (shelfmark G 3) and is still unpublished.

During their travels, the young noblemen learned many languages – as did their tutors – but at great expense. Furthermore, long tours were characterized by a fairly high mortality rate. For these reasons King Frederic II created a school in Sorø, a former Cistercian monastery, for sixty boys: thirty commoners and thirty noblemen. In 1623, Christian IV added an academy to the school stating that young people could further their education only there and not abroad. The king ordered the noblemen to send their sons up to nineteen years of age to Sorø. Skovgaard-Petersen (2011) has shown how this Danish equestrian academy was built upon the principles laid out in François de la Noue’s Discours politiques et militaires first published in 1587. Whereas the University was meant for the lower estates, the Academy in Sorø was intended for the higher estates. In 1623 the Frenchman Daniel Matras (1598-1689) was employed as a teacher of French and Italian. Thus, the young noblemen could learn French and Italian without having to go abroad. Matras published a glossary Nomenclature françoise, allemande, italienne et danoise (1631) and in 1633 a parallel edition of French, Danish, Italian and German proverbs. Thereafter he published grammars of the Italian language.

The son of Christian IV, King Frederic III (reigned 1648-1670), continued his father’s interest in Italian culture, even though he was even more interested in French culture, in a period in which French court culture was exemplary.

During the reign of Frederic III various translations were made from Italian, not only of literary texts. The medical professor Thomas Bartholin translated the Venetian nobleman Luigi Cornaro’s book on healthy aging – a topic which has not ceased to be of interest – under the title It edrue Lefnets Gafn oc Nytte beskrefven af Luigi Cornaro, Venetiansk Herremand dennem til Villie, som ville naa hundrede Aar, af det Italianske Sprock-udsat af en hvers Tienist Berede [The benefit and use of a Sober Life described by Luigi Cornaro, Venitian landholder, for those who may wish to live until one hundred years, translated from the Italian language by everyone’s most obliged [i.e.: Thomas Bartholin]] (Copenhagen, 1658).

The Dutch bookseller Jan Janssonius kept a shop in the Stock Exchange [Børsen] built by Christian IV. His catalogue gives us an idea of what foreign books were available in Copenhagen in 1649, the year after Frederic III ascended the throne. The catalogue (Catalogus librorum etc. 1649) is divided into books in Latin (96 pages), German (27 pages), French (11 pages) and Italian (6 pages). Among the 103 Italian titles we find the following literary texts: ‘Arcadia di Sannazaro’, ‘Decameron di Bocacci’, ‘Genealogia degli Dei di Boccacci’, ‘Gerusalemme Liberata di Torquato Tasso,’ ‘Machiavelli Opera’ and ‘Pastor fido’.

In these years we also find an interest in Italian vernacular literature. Professor Ole Borch (1626-1690) gave a series of lectures in Copenhagen on poetry, Dissertationes academicæ de poëtis I-VII. Although the lectures deal exclusively with literature in Latin, including that written by modern Italian authors, Borch mentions that the Italians have excellent writers in the vernacular. Borch cites Dante and Petrarch, but not Boccaccio. Apart from the two Trecento authors, Borch cites the poet Battista Guarini (1538-1612) along with two other Italian sixteenth-century poets:

Vernaculo carmine excelluēre itidem multi, inprimis autem Dantes, Fr. Petrarca, Bapt. Guarinus, Lud. Ariostus, & Torquatus Tassus; & Quidem Tragicomoedia Guarini, cui nomen Fidi Pastoris, omnium hactenus laudes provocavit. (Borch 1683: 109)

[Many authors distinguished themselves in vernacular poetry, but first and foremost Dante, Fr. Petrarca, Battista Guarini, Ludovico Ariosto & Torquato Tasso; and a certain tragicomedy by Guarini, entitled Pastor fido has so far invoked praise from all.]

In order to give the reader a taste of the pleasantness of Guarini’s poetry Borch cites a passage epitomizing the very moral of Il pastor fido (‘Sed ne Guarini suavitatem non degustemus ecce fimbriam de illo texto’ [In order to taste Guarini’s pleasantness here is a fringe of the text]): ‘Non è sana ogni gioia,/ Nè mal ciò che v’annoia./ Quello è vero gioire, / Che nasce da virtù dopò il soffrire.’ (Borch 1683: 109-110).

Pastoral poetry and patriotism

We have seen that Johannes Pratensis published a pastoral poem, written in Latin and inspired by the Bucolica by Erasmus Laetus. According to Peter Zeeberg, ‘The pastoral was a favourite genre among the first generation of humanist Latin poets in Denmark, as indeed all over Europe’ (Zeeberg 2008: 96). The 17th century saw a new vogue of pastoral in the vernacular. A translation (through German) of parts of Honoré d’Urfé’s novel L’Astrée by Søren Terkelsen (d. 1656) was published 1645-48 and court ballet was inspired by the pastoral genre. According to Krogh (1939: 50), the era of pastoral (with a German word: ‘Schäferi’) started here.

It is in this context that we should locate a Danish translation of Guarini’s Il pastor fido, which was written in 1666 but never printed. It is preserved in a manuscript which looks like a presentation copy, now housed in the Thott collection in the Royal Danish Library with the shelf mark Thott 1084 4°. I will analyze samples of the translation here, but it would be worth making a proper edition of the manuscript.

The manuscript consists of 102 leaves bound in parchment.[2] A line on all leaves marks the outer margin of each page, and the titles of each act and scene have been highlighted by 17th century decorative calligraphic convolutions. Whereas the writer and playwright Ludvig Holberg in the 18th century would use the Latin words Actus, abbreviated Act., and Scena, abbreviated Sc., the translator has translated Atto by ‘Handel’ and scena by the word ‘udkomst’[3].

The manuscript is written in a beautiful Gothic script, and notable epigrammatic sentences have been highlighted in Roman script. Indeed, the Roman script would seem to correspond closely to those lines that are marked by marginal quotation marks in the left margin in both the editio princeps (Guarini 1590) and the ne varietur edition (Guarini 1602) of Il pastor fido. This feature of the text has not been included in the modern edition used for the present article (Guarini 1999). For instance, the prophecy of the oracle in the ‘Argomento’ [Indhold] is highlighted. Proverbial sentences such as the following have also been highlighted:

[Linco:] ‘Altri tempi, altre cure’ (At. I, Sc. 1, l. 49), ‘Andre Tider, andre Sorge’ [Other times, other sorrows];

[Uranio:] ‘Per tutto è buona stanza, ov’altri goda / Ed ogni stanza al valent’huomo è patria (At. V, Sc. 1, l. 1-2), ‘Det er offver alt godt at boe hvor mand befinder sig vell, oc alle orter er for een tapper mand et Fæderneland’ [It is good to live everywhere where you are well, and all places are a fatherland for a brave man];

[Mirtillo:] ‘Non è in man di chi perde l’anima, il non morire’, (At. III, Sc. 3, l. 449-450), ‘Det staaer icke i dens Haand, som mister sin sjæl, at hand ikke døer’ [It is not in the power of the person who loses his soul to decide not to die].

The same is true for the three so-called ‘monostich disputes’ (Baldassari 1999: 29). This marking of sententiae worth noting ‘fairly common in certain classes of books printed in Europe between the approximate dates 1500 and 1660’ (Hunter 1951: 171) has been deemed ‘very specifically related to commonplace-books’ (Moss 1996: 210). It is interesting to note how the translator – clearly aware of the importance of the quotation marks – conveys this distinct typographical feature by a change of script from Gothic to Roman.

The translation is preceded by a dedication from the translator to Danish women, ‘Till det høyt-priisede oc meget tucktige Danske Fruentimmer’ [To the higly esteemed and very virtuous Danish women], in which the name of the translator signing the dedication has been crossed out in black ink. The translation is also preceded by dedicatory poems by five authors connected to the Academy of Sorø and to eastern Jutland: Janus Foss (i.e. Jens Foss 1629-1687), Johannes Rhodius (1587-1659), a certain N. Drostrop (possibly Hans Drostrup?), Johannes Olavius (1624-1698, Olden-Jørgensen 1996: 79) and a certain Anshelmus v. Podevelsk (i.e. Anselm von Podewils to Lyngbygaard, 1625-1695). The dedicatory poem by Johannes Rhodius is in Latin but it is also translated into Danish under the title ‘Til De Moder-Maalet-elskende Landsmænd’ [to mother-tongue-loving fellow countrymen]. Translating an Italian classic was thus conceived as a way of enriching the mother tongue. In his poem in French, Drostrop celebrates the erudition of the translator:

L'Italie donna naissance
A cette douce Jouissance
Le Danmarc a la puissance
Pour la mettre a balance

Et quiquonque a du jugement
Pour parler Danois purement
Lira avec contentement
Des aggreables changements

Ici, le Berger Fidelle
Et Amaryllis nompareille
Nous disent tant de merveilles
Pour enjouir les cerveilles

Cecy n'est qu-un estincillon [sic]
Du grand esprit d'un bon homme
Qui scait faire esclater son nom
Par cette docte version

Who is this learned translator? In the Thott catalogue of from 1795, where we find the earliest extant mention of the manuscript, the translator is identified as the learned Erik Pontoppidan (1616-1678). The entry in the catalogue says: ‘Pastor fido, oversat af Erik Pontoppidan. 1666’ [Pastor fido, translated by Erik Pontoppidan. 1666] ([Nyerup]: 1795: 437), and this ascription has been repeated to this day by the manuscript catalogue of the Royal Danish Library. This attribution was also repeated by the bibliographer and literary historian Holger Ehrencron-Müller in his entry on Erik Pontoppidan (Ehrencron-Müller 1924-1939, vol. 6: 321). Erik Pontoppidan was a pastor and prolific writer who also published the first Danish grammar. However, as early as the 19th century the literary historian Julius Paludan (1843-1926) had shown that Erik Pontoppidan was an erroneous attribution, caused by a misreading of the name in the dedicatory poems where a certain licentiate named Broberg is addressed as the translator (Paludan 1887: 323-324). Pontoppidan is a latinization of the name Broby (‘pons’, bridge, is ‘bro’ in Danish, and ‘oppidum’, small town, is ‘by’ in Danish). Paludan does not identify the translator, but he states that Broberg was connected to the academy in Sorø.

Thanks to research in the 20th century it is now possible to come to a closer identification of the translator. The three Broberg brothers, Mathias (c. 1629-1683), Jens (1630-1652) and Niels (1636-1674) all studied at Sorø Academy (Glahn 1978: 169, 189). Jens died young while studying theology. Both Mathias and Niels studied law. Niels Broberg became licentiatus juris in Orléans and married a daughter of Hans Drostrup, Kirsten Drostrup (1647-1731). Mathias Broberg (c. 1630-1681) studied law in Padua in 1653 and became doctor juris in 1654; he was a friend of Johannes Rhodius (Helk 1987: 180, citing i.a. the album amicorum of Rhodius, Thott 573 8°: 31). The mention of the title licentiatus and the fact that Hans Drostrup appears as the author of a poem should point us to Niels Broberg. On the other hand, Mathias Broberg’s studies in Padua and the fact that he was acquainted with Johannes Rhodius suggests that it might be his brother. So it remains an open question whether the translator is in fact Mathias or Niels Broberg.

The title page bears the following lengthy title, which follows the original closely:

Den Troe Hyrde. Sørgelig-Lystigendende Hyrde-spill skrefffuit i den Italienske Tale aff Battista Guarini tilskreffuit den Stormæctigste Første H. Carl Emmanuel Hertug aff Savoien etc. Allerførst udi Skuespill fremviist till Turin udi Hans Kongl. Høyh. Bielager med den Høybaarne Printsesse Frøicken Catharina aff Østerrige oc nu udi det Danske Sprock offuersatt.

[The Faithful Shepherd, Tragi-comical Pastoral Play written in the Italian language by Battista Guarini, dedicated to the mighty Prince H. Carl Emmanuel duke of Savoy etc., first performed as a play in Turin at His Royal Highness’ wedding with the high born Princess Catherine of Austria and now translated into the Danish language.]

The way the title is translated – in its orientation towards the source language – is typical of the translation as a whole. The entire title of the editio princeps (Venice: Bonfadini, 1590) reads: Il pastor fido. tragicomedia pastorale di Battista Guarini, dedicata al d. Carlo Emanuele duca di Sauoia. &c., nelle reali nozze di s.a. con la infante d. Caterina d'Austria. The translator follows the title closely. He adds the fact that it was written in Italian (‘skrefffuit i den Italienske Tale’) and that it is also translated into Danish (‘oc nu udi det Danske Sprock offuersatt’). But where the original states that it was dedicated to the Duke on the occasion of his marriage (in 1585) when Guarini gave the duke a manuscript copy (cf. Selmi 1999: 35), the translator adds that it was performed as a play in Turin: ‘Allerførst udi Skuespill fremviist till Turin’. Moreover, the translation of the title inverts the genre of the text. Whereas Guarini termed his Pastor fido a tragicomedia pastorale the translator turns it into a Sørgelig-Lystigendende Hyrde-spill, which is to say a ‘tragi-comic pastoral play’, a solution that unfortunately downplays the importance of the genre tragicomedia. While the Italian word pastorale can be used as either a noun or an adjective, Danish does not have an adjective deriving from the noun Hyrde-spill, pastoral.

Julius Paludan (1887: 324) found the Danish translation devoid of any attraction simply because it was in prose: ‘Den danske Oversætter […] har ikke vovet sig videre end til at gjengive sin Original i Prosa, hvorved det lyriske Hyrdedrama taber al Tiltrækning’ [The Danish translator […] has not dared more than to reproduce his original in prose on account of which the lyrical pastoral play loses any attraction]. But Julius Paludan reached this aesthetic verdict before the invention of modernist free verse, and if we try not to judge the translation by those same aesthetic rules, the translation is full of interest. Its interest lies not only in the fact that it exists and has come down to us (albeit only in one manuscript copy), but we can appreciate its fidelity to the source text and the information it carries about literary tastes and languages used in seventeenth-century Denmark. All this is instructive about the uses and purposes of translations.

One way to appreciate the prose translation is to make a detailed analysis of a key passage in the text, the prophecy of the oracle:

Non havrà prima fin quel, che v’offende,
Che duo semi del ciel congiunga Amore,
E di Donna infedel l’antico errore
 L’alta pietà d’un PASTOR FIDO ammende


Det som eder beskader, skal icke faae ende førend Kierlighed har sammenføjet tu aff himmelske Sæd; oc en høy medlidenhed udaff en TRO HYRDE betaler for den utroe Quindes gamle forseelse. (f. 8v)

What damages you shall not come to an end before love has combined two of divine semen, and the high compassion of a FAITHFUL SHEPHERD pays for the unfaithful woman’s ancient offence.

The prophecy consists of one sentence, which includes two temporal subordinate clauses. The subject of the sentence includes a relative clause, ‘quel, che v’offende’, and this structure is imitated in the Danish translation ‘Det som eder beskader’ [that which damages you]. The verbal is translated directly: ‘Non havrà fin’ > ‘skal icke faae ende’ [shall not come to an end]. The two paratactical temporal subordinate clauses are introduced by the adverbial ‘prima che’ which is translated as ‘førend’ [before] in Danish. In the first temporal clause, the translator changes the tense of the verb: while the Italian original has a present subjunctive, the Danish translation uses present perfect (indicative): ‘Che duo semi del ciel congiunga Amore’ > ‘Kierlighed har sammenføjet tu aff himmelske Sæd’ [love has combined two of divine semen]. One could argue that, given the absence of the subjunctive in Danish, the present perfect is the best translation of the subjunctive. In the second temporal clause, the Danish translation repeats the grammatical structure. The subject ‘l’alta pietà d’un PASTOR FIDO’ is translated as follows: ‘en høy medlidenhed udaff en TRO HYRDE’ [the high compassion of a FAITHFUL SHEPHERD], where ‘medlidenhed’ [compassion] is a somewhat surprising translation of pietà. The verbal ‘ammende’ is translated as ‘betaler’. The object ‘di Donna infedel l’antico errore’ is translated with a corresponding genitive construction (‘den utroe Quindes gamle forseelse’) [the unfaithful woman’s ancient offence], while the undetermined ‘donna infidel’ is turned into determined ‘den utroe Quindes’ [the unfaithful woman’s]. The analysis of the prophecy shows that Broberg has tried to match both the structure and the vocabulary of the source language as closely as possible. In this way, the strategy employed could be called foreignization in Lawrence Venuti’s terms (Venuti 1995). Nonetheless, Broberg does not use foreign words, but Danish words.

The same is clear from the final words of the play, though these will not be the object of a detailed analysis here. In the first sentence we notice the same repetition of the structure of the source language in the target language.

Oh fortunata coppia,

O lycksalige Par

O happy Couple

Che pianto hà seminato, e riso accoglie

Som har saaet Graad og høstet ladder,

Which has sown Tears and reaped laughter

Con quante amare doglie

Med hvor mange bittre bedrøffvelser

With how many bitter sorrows

Hai raddolciti tu gli affetti tuoi.

Har du sødgjort dine kærlige tilbøjeligheder

Have you sweetened your loving inclinations

Quinci imparate voi

Lærer derudaf,

Learn from this,

O ciechi, e troppo teneri mortali

I blinde oc alt for bekere dødelige Mennisker

You blind and far too week mortal Human beings,

I sinceri diletti, e i veri mali.

De oprictige Forlystelser oc sande Gienvordigheder att kiende

To distinguish the genuine Pleasures and true Adversities.

Non è sana ogni gioia

Alt det som fornøyer er icke lycksaligt,

Everything that pleases is not blissful

Nè mal ciò che v’annoia.

Oc alt det som bekymrer er icke ulyckeligt.

And everything that worries is not unhappy

Quello è vero gioire,

Det er den rette Fornøyelse

It is the right Pleasure

Che nasce da virtù dopò il soffrire.

som med møye oc arbeid adspurt aff Dyden alleene fremkommer.

which alone comes from effort and labor enticed by Vertue

Even though the structure and vocabulary of the source language is imitated in the target language, in the last clause we see a case of both duplication (the strategy employed by Vedel in his translation of Sannazaro) and dynamic translation of the vocabulary. The relative clause ‘Che nasce da virtù dopò il soffrire’ becomes ‘som med møye oc arbeid adspurt aff Dyden alleene fremkommer’ [which alone comes from effort and labor enticed by Vertue]; ‘møye oc arbeid’ [effort and labor] is a peculiar translation of ‘soffrire’ [suffer], which would normally be translated by ‘lidelse’ [suffering] or ‘pine’ [torment] in Danish. The combination ‘møye oc arbeid’ was known from Luther’s works, i.a. from the preface to his little catechismus (‘Mühe und Arbeit’), and strangely enough, the combination of the two words was used – as we saw above – in the Danish translation of psalm 90/89, where it translates the Latin words ‘labor et dolor’.

Thus, one of the most important words of the Italian vocabulary of love, ‘soffrire’, is translated by a biblical Lutheran concept, which has little to do with the vocabulary of love. Even a source-language oriented translation adapts the concepts to a local context.


In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Danes acquired knowledge of Italian by travelling to Italy (mainly Padua), by reading Italian texts, and by conversing with Italians in Denmark. The interest in and desire for Italian culture led to translations from Italian, and as we have seen in the case of Sannazaro’s poem, in some cases the translations were adapted to the Danish Lutheran context.

From the beginning of the 17th century, Italian books were printed in Copenhagen. When Christian IV died, and Frederic III ascended to the throne, Italian books were available in Copenhagen, Italian was being taught in Sorø and Italian books were being translated into Danish. The transit of people between Italy and Denmark led to translations from Italian to Danish, and to an interest in the ways in which Italian had become a dominant literary language.

In these years Peder Syv wrote in his Nogle Betenkninger om det cimbriske sprog (1663) that authors should follow the example set by Dante and Petrarch who had cultivated their vernacular: ‘Saaledis skulde sproget uddyrkes. Saa have Dantes, Petrarka og efter dem mange andre udarbejded det vælske sprog’ [Thus the language should be cultivated. In this way Dante, Petrarch and many after them have developed the Italian language] (Syv 1663: 9).

This article is a small contribution to the early history of translation of Italian literature into Danish. Apart from the fact that they are both translations of 16th century Italian poetry, the two translations of Italian literary texts studied in this article – the sonnet “O vita, vita no, ma vivo affanno” by Sannazaro and Il pastor fido by Guarini – are two very different kinds of translation. They are both translations of sixteenth century authors, but in the first case, it is a sonnet used among other texts in order to interpret Psalm 90/89 in a sermon that was subsequently printed. In the second case, it is a manuscript translation of an entire literary work.

Nevertheless, the two translations embody the two kinds of Renaissance translation identified by Eric Jacobsen (1958) in his study of translation:

The older and chiefly didactic one, which aims at transferring a body of knowledge […] into the native store; and the more recent and patriotic one, eager to convey at once new information and new words into local culture (Jacobsen 1958: 137).

Anders Sørensen Vedel’s translation of Sannazaro’s sonnet is chiefly didactic, and he uses the translation for his own purpose in his sermon. Broberg’s source-language oriented translation from 1660 of Il pastor fido is explicitly presented in the paratexts as a patriotic act. As to the use of the translation it is worth noting that Anders Sørensen Vedel uses his translation of Sannazaro as a way of commemorating his friend Pratensis, who died too young, just as he commemorated Pratensis by translating Petrarch’s penitential psalms (and perhaps somewhat like the way in which Montaigne commemorated his father by publishing a translation of Raymond de Sebond’s Theologia naturalis). Broberg, on the other hand, apart from the patriotic act of recreating a modern literary classic in Danish, seems to have created his precious book object for a special occasion. The name of the translator has been crossed out, probably by the translator himself, and has thus come down to us as a riddle to be solved through a careful reading of the paratexts.


I would like to thank Prof. Anna Maria Segala for the invitation to contribute to this issue, Bruno Berni for his precious advice (it was Bruno Berni who in the reading room of the Royal Danish Library showed me Vedel’s partial translation of Sannazaro’s poem), the two anonymous peer reviewers for their acumen, Prof. Charles Lock for his most learned linguistic and stylistic revision, and the editors for their patience.

Manuscripts cited

Royal Danish Library (Copenhagen)

GKS 1868 4°

GKS 3094 4°

Thott 1084 4°

Thott 573 8°

Karen Brahe’s Library (Roskilde)

G 3


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[1] In the sixteenth-century translation made by the Scottish poet William Drummond (1585-1649) the poem reads: ‘O Woefull Life ! Life, no, but living Death, / Fraile Boat of Christall in a rockie Sea, /A Sport expos’d to Fortunes stormie Breath, / Which kept with Paine, with Terrour doth decay :/ The false Delights, true Woes thou dost bequeath,/ Mine all-appalled Minde doe so affraye,/ That I those enuie who are laid in Earth,/ And pittie them that runne thy dreadfull Waye’ (Drummond 1913: 1, 53).

[2] Since the manuscript has not yet been foliated, I will not refer to the leaf numbers, but to the pagination in the edition of the Italian text, Guarini (1999).

[3] The word ‘Handel’ was also used in the contemporary ballets as the Danish counterpart of the French word Partie, cf. Krog 1939: 59.

About the author(s)

Anders Toftgaard is a senior researcher at the Royal Danish Library, Copenhagen. MA in comparative literature, he received his
Ph.D.-degree in Italian and French literature from the University of Copenhagen in 2006. He is specialized in book history and
in Renaissance Italian and French literature. His most recent publications include articles on Montaigne and the Montaigne
collector Frederik Thorkelin, on French 17th c. political pamphlets (socalled "mazarinades"), on Italianism at the court of
Denmark and on manuscripts by Giacomo Castelvetro. Anders Toftgaard has published a book in Danish on the birth of the
novella genre in 13th and 14th c. Italy. He is currently working on a project on Otto Thott’s 18th c. library.

Email: [please login or register to view author's email address]

©inTRAlinea & Anders Toftgaard (2019).
"From Lutheran penitence to pastoral court culture The use of Danish translations of Italian literature in 16th and 17th century Denmark"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Transit and Translation in Early Modern Europe
Edited by: Donatella Montini, Iolanda Plescia, Anna Maria Segala and Francesca Terrenato
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