Machiavelli’s Belfagor in seventeenth century Denmark

By Anna Maria Segala (University La Sapienza of Rome, Italy)


Long before Machiavelli’s political thought became influential in Denmark, where the Prince was first translated in 1876, his tale Belfagor (published in 1549) reached an extensive international audience, particularly in Northern Europe, on the wave of the popular theme of women possessed by the devil. The tale’s first anonymous translation into Danish, entitled Machiavelli – Den florentinske Secretarii artige oc lystige Belphegors Gifftermaal, was printed – not published – around 1660 and probably intended as a commercial booklet. The purpose of this article is to shed light on this forgotten translation, which testifies to the assimilation in Renaissance Danish of a narrative model imported from Italy and circulating in Early Modern Europe. Focusing on the historical and cultural background of the target text, the article also aims to offer an insight into the translating strategies applied by the unknown translator.

Keywords: Belfagor, Renaissance Denmark, Early modern book market, married women, Machiavelli

©inTRAlinea & Anna Maria Segala (2019).
"Machiavelli’s Belfagor in seventeenth 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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Literary migrations

The first known translation into Danish of Machiavelli’s “fable” Belfagor,[1] carried out by an anonymous translator, printed by an unknown printer or publisher in an unspecified year (‘udi dette aar’ – ‘in this year’) estimated around 1660, was found in 1938 in Oslo University Library by the research librarian Øyvind Anker.[2] It is a loose print, never registered, as one would expect, in Biblioteca Danica, the unified catalogue of all Danish printed publications from 1482 to 1830. It had apparently remained unseen up to that point. Øyvind Anker published his research on this unique specimen in the same year in the brief but relevant article “En dansk Machiavelli-oversettelse fra 1600-tallet” [A Danish translation from Machiavelli from the seventeenth century].[3] The translation is a 12-page text in black letters bearing the following title on the frontispiece:

Machiavelli/ Den Florentinske Secretarii/ artige og lystige/ BELFE-/GORS Gifftermaal// Udsæt aff Italiensk paa / Danske/ oc dedicerit til alle/ Onde Qvinder. – Prentet udi dette Aar.

[Machiavelli. The Florentine Secretary’s BELPHEGOR’S Righteous and Jocular MarriageTransposed from Italian into Danish and dedicated to all Bad Women. – Printed this year]. [4]

Although we cannot be certain, it is likely that this was the first translation of Belfagor into Danish. The text might have been part of a book, an almanac or an anthology, as was common at the time. The indication ‘Printed this year’ may refer to the publication date on the title page of the main work, but even in that case we don’t know who printed it and whether the book was meant, as it seems, for commercial use. However, its apparition outside of any contemporary official reception of Machiavelli’s works in Denmark[5] makes it a challenging case of cultural importation and ‘relocation̕ (Steiner 1975: 299).

The year 1660 was a crucial year for Denmark’s history: it marked the end of Adelsvælden (the nobles’ power) (1536-1660) and the introduction of Absolutism by Frederik III in the Dano-Norwegian Kingdom. Before that, during Christian IV’s reign (1577-1648), court culture had been characterized by the overwhelming splendor of royal power and by such new cultural forms as ‘Renaissance (Mannerist) architecture, silver furniture, court ballets and music at international level’ (Olden-Jørgensen 2002: 68).[6] The major historical event marking the beginning of this period was the Reformation, introduced in 1536 in Denmark-Norway by Christian III. The new religious, political and cultural climate benefited enormously from the recent invention of the printing press.

In the first decades after the rupture between the Lutheran church and the Roman Catholic church, printers worked mainly at the service of the Reformation’s need for propaganda. The reorganization of the church made it necessary to mediate the new faith in the mother tongue, which is the reason why religious texts were the focus of an intense printing and translating activity, mainly from German: Luther’s Bible, the Catechism, the Hymns and various books of prayer. However, these decisive changes did not undermine the enduring prestige of Latin as the language of the Church and of elite circles. On the contrary, Christian IV, the Renaissance king par excellence, in favour of a national humanistic literary production, welcomed the impulse coming from the Southern European Renaissance. Therefore, through the sixteenth and seventeenth century, original poetry written in Latin by Danish poets flourished side by side with imitations, adaptations and translations of the classics into Danish.[7]

Given this background, the first translation of Machiavelli’s Favola di Belfagor Arcidiavolo is, on the one hand, a Danish example of the migration of themes and stories in Early Modern Europe, on the other, the evidence of the higher standard achieved in the use of the vernacular language.[8] The former was part of the humanists’ urge to introduce new literary models as part of a project of cultural renewal, an essential step towards the making of a national literature; while the latter reveals a pragmatic, heterogeneous approach to the transfer of an original story from Italian via French to that middle phase of the Danish language called Renaissance Danish.

The Italian Language in a multilingual Renaissance court

Anders Toftgaard’s essay Les Langues à la cour de Danemark à la Renaissance et l’italianisme à l’époque de Christian IV (Toftgaard 2016) is an invaluable source of information on the cultural environment of the Danish Renaissance court and, in particular, on the multilingual and multicultural situation during the reign of Christian IV (1577-1648). The Danish monarchy included, in a personal union, Norway, Iceland and the duchies of Schleswig-Holstein. From 1536 to 1660, its territory was second in size only to the Spanish Empire, therefore within its boundaries several languages were spoken: Danish, German, Icelandic and Norwegian. At court, German and Latin were used for foreign affairs, Danish for internal affairs. French and Italian were part of a young noblemen’s education – alongside German which played a primary role. Italian was the language of culture and the king himself used the Italian model to gain prestige among the other European courts.

High-ranking people would all have studied for some time in Padua. Musicians like Hans Nielsen and Mogens Pedersøn wrote and published their madrigals in Venice. Italian was learned during educational journeys to Italy (a real investment on the part of middle-class parents who were aiming at social promotion for their children), through books or through conversation with Italian people. Olden-Jørgensen (2007: 28) sums up the situation as follows: ‘Court culture under Christian IV was characterized by an Italianate Renaissance and mannerist style, mediated by German courts and Nederlandish craftsmen and artists.’ Moreover, the close ties which developed between the Danish and the Scottish and English Courts after Anna of Denmark’s marriage to James VI/I of England in 1589, further favored the circulation of Italian culture. Anna, Christian IV’s sister, was very fond of Italian Renaissance festivals and played an important role in the artistic life of the very early Stuart court.[9] In the context of cultural exchanges between Italy and other European countries, however, it is the Italian man of letters Giacomo Castelvetro, a protestant voluntary exile and a learned cosmopolitan, who played a leading part in the dissemination of Italian culture in Europe, and who exerted a remarkable influence on both courts. Besides being James VI and Anna’s teacher of Italian from about 1592 to 1593,[10] he had collaborated for some time with John Wolf, a London printer specialized in Italian literary works, in order to publish blacklisted books, among which Machiavelli’s Discorsi. At the Scottish court, he met the Danish nobleman Christian Barnekow, who asked him to work for him in Denmark. Between the summer of 1594 and the autumn of 1595, Castelvetro tried to put into order and edit, for the purpose of a publication which was unfortunately left unfinished, a huge corpus of Italian writings on political theory [‘scritture politiche’] that Barnekow, perhaps the most learned man of his day, had brought home from his long stay in Italy. These writings were highly valued by young Danish aristocrats, proof that the prestige of the Italian language and culture was connected not only to the arts, but also to the political subtleties for which the Italians were famous.[11]

As far as Machiavelli is concerned, an article by Harald Ilsøe (Ilsøe 1969: 7-30) informs us that his works were frequently present in the private libraries of seventeenth-century Denmark and it is quite easy to suppose that travelers coming back from the Grand Tour introduced some of the copies now property of The Royal Library. For example, a copy of Tutte le opere (the so called “Testina-udgave”/ “Testina” edition) featuring a small reproduction of Machiavelli’s head on the frontispiece), probably printed in the early seventeenth century but bearing the falsified date of 1550, had belonged to the brothers Flemming and Laurids Ulfeldt, who signed it in 1640.[12] The Fable of Belfagor, however, was neither part of this edition nor of the sixteenth-seventeenth century French and English translations of Machiavelli’s works (Anker 1938:29). Further information about how the text reached the Danish book market is still lacking.

Books for the common man

In the lively harbour city of Copenhagen, outside the life of the court, and mostly thanks to the Reformation, the first book markets were opened in a side chapel inside the main churches (Appel: 2001), so that they might be kept under control.[13] As the number of printers and booksellers began to expand in the whole country, others came from Germany or from the Netherlands. Henrik Horstbøll explains, in his thorough and very comprehensive study on the impact of the printing press in Denmark (Horstbøll 1999), how letterpress printing in the seventeenth century expanded the reading public beyond the small educated élite. The written word became part of everyday life in the country and influenced the perception of contemporary events through religious or didactic writings, the narration of tales and the historical reconstruction of a common heritage. Books offered a new way of looking at every aspect of life, therefore they are considered today as the common man’s media of the time. The major works intended for a learned public in late sixteenth and early seventeenth century were normally published in Latin and were expensive, whereas handbooks, stories and almanacs written in Danish dominated in the field of small format books, aimed at the general public. Such publications enjoyed a very wide circulation (Horstbøll 1999: 279-336), but only a minority of them have been preserved up to the present time.

It is therefore possible that the translation of  The Fable of Belfagor was printed in Copenhagen for a popular readership. Venturing even further, the publication or book that it was a part of, might have travelled to Norway just like many other books printed in Copenhagen and sent to a detached part of the kingdom; or it might have been bought in Copenhagen and taken to Christiania (Oslo’s earlier name). For example, one of the German publishers active in Copenhagen, Cassube, was specialized in popular, low price literature, also of a religious character, and was not adverse to producing pirate editions of the books he thought worth publishing.[14]

Belfagor arcidiavolo and Belphegaars Gifftermaal. In-between, Le mariage de Belphégor

Before looking at the Danish translation, I will briefly recall the plot of Belfagor. The story begins in hell. After a meeting of the devils’ Council, Belfagor the Archfiend is sent by Pluto down to earth in order to find out why so many husbands, once descended in hell, complain about their wives’ faults. Having been told to get married and given some money to invest, the Archfiend chooses to settle in Florence, where, under the name of Roderigo, he marries Onesta, a vain and demanding woman for whom he becomes indebted. He is therefore obliged to flee Florence and his creditors. During his escape, he meets a peasant, Gianmatteo, with whom he comes to an agreement: while Roderigo – who has in the meantime revealed himself as a devil – will take possession of rich young women, the peasant will pretend to enact an exorcism, delivering the woman from possession in exchange for a reward from her family. After two exorcisms, Roderigo decides unilaterally that he has paid off his debt of gratitude, but the peasant, now famous, is called by the King of France to deliver his daughter who is possessed by a devil. The devil in question is, of course, Roderigo, who refuses to leave the girl’s body. Under the terrible pressure of a double threat, the King’s and the devil’s, Gianmatteo makes Roderigo believe that his wife is coming to fetch him. In fear of having to return to his married life, Roderigo leaves Earth and goes back to hell, while the peasant, now a rich man, returns to Florence.

It hardly needs to be pointed out that, while elaborating on a theme borrowed from a French medieval tradition, Machiavelli introduces: 1) a realistic element in the frequent references to concrete places or persons in Florence; 2) an ironical description of hell as a very orderly kingdom, wisely ruled by Pluto, juxtaposed with a satirical picture of  the Florentine people’s interest in money and social status; 3) a misogynist view of married women’s vanity and arrogance; 4) a reversed conclusion of the pact between Belfagor, the devil, and Gianmatteo where  Belfagor is the one who must give in if he wants to free himself from his wife, while Gianmatteo turns the situation to his own advantage.[15]

The Danish translation, Belphegaars Gifftermaal (Belfagor’s marriage) is – as frequently happens with translations – quite a bit longer than the original. Unfortunately, a critical edition of this work is still missing, in spite of the fact that other Danish translations of the tale have been published in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, not always with satisfactory results.[16] As to the linguistic aspect, the first difficulty one encounters in dealing with such an ancient text is decoding the black letter script.[17] The acquisition of a normalized transcription to work on was therefore the first important step towards understanding this early Danish Belphegor printed in approximately 1660.[18]

The plot follows the pattern of the original, but there are a few additions, a couple of which are totally external to the story, so that we can venture to speak of a form of ‘rewriting’ (Lefevere 1992: 9, 200).

Øyvind Anker, who was the first to come across the anonymous print, points to a separate French translation of the tale dated 1661, which, like other coeval English translations, probably circulated among learned people, showing that the theme of ‘bad women’ possessed by the devil was quite popular in the western European countries. [19] The anonymous Danish translator seems to have worked with the help of a French translation while probably referring to the Italian source text.

However, even the first French translation, Le mariage de Belfégor, carried out by Tanneguy Le Febvre and published ‘after several editions’ in Saumur in 1665 (Le Febvre 1665), did not appear as an independent text; rather, it was almost hidden at the end of an abridged version of the lives of the Greek poets, Les Vies des Poètes grecs. Whether Machiavelli’s fable was being smuggled like an exoteric text or added as a concluding divertissement is difficult to say. What is particularly interesting in our context is the final note added by Le Febvre, where he apologizes for the changes and additions he has made to the tale claiming, at the same time, that no harm has been done to the text, since

Peut-estre mesme qu’en quelques endroits Machiauel n’auoit pas dit tout ce qu’il eust bien voulu dire: et  pour parler plus nettement, mais sans pourtant me flatter beaucoup, ie croy que le François vaut bien l’Italien pour le moins. (Le Febvre 1665: 28)

The cultural and linguistic contiguity between Italian and French puts the translator in the privileged position of being less “foreign” than others in relation to the text. In spite of the lesser distance and probably moved by the desire to gain a kind of literary authorship, Le Febvre emphasizes the act of translation trying to “improve” on the original by adding missing details. His attempt to ‘render  “clear” what does not wish to be clear in the original’ would fall into the trend Antoine Berman defines as ‘deforming tendency’.[20]

The Danish translator’s strategies go even further. A look at the title page will tell us a number of things in relation to the cultural context:

Den Florentinske Secretarii
artige oc lystige
GORS Gifftermaal,
Udsæt aff Italiensk paa
Danske, oc dedicerit til alle
Onde Qvinder[21]

Firstly, the author is presented as the Florentine Secretary, probably to indicate the uniqueness of that position and the well-known political role it involved. The implication is that by 1660 Machiavelli was easily identifiable as the author of the Prince, even outside a limited circle of humanists.[22] Secondly, the title of the story, Belfagor’s marriage, reproduces the French title, Le Mariage de Belfégor, focusing on only one of the themes – the most appealing for the readers – present in the original story. The third statement about the translation being made from Italian into Danish is probably intended to enhance the authenticity of the story. Last but not least, the dedication to all bad women (‘til alle Onde Qvinder’) points to a dual commercial purpose: on the one hand the popularity of misogynous themes among men, on the other, a growing market for writings about married life directed at female readers. In fact, the majority of the publications of an overtly religious and moral inspiration in the sixteenth-seventeeth century were addressed to widows. One exception was a booklet by a certain Holzmann, Fromme Qvinders Speyl, eller alle gudfryctige Matroners Plict oc Skyld imod Gud, deris Ecte-Mænd, saa oc alle Mennisker, oc dem self [Pious women’s mirror, or all the devout mistresses’ duty towards God, their husbands and all the people, also themselves], translated by the Danish publisher Moltke in 1653 (Appel 2001: 621).[23] How different from the subversive situation or “moral” presented in our Belphegors Gifftermaal!

Apart from the title page, the preamble, which adds almost one page to the original, is again explicitly addressed to women: ‘Braffve oc vitberømte Qvinder’ [To the Audacious and Famous Women]. The translator, here speaking as if covered by the author’s identity, uses the first person jeg and a patronizing tone to give women some useful directions about how to behave with their husbands, since ‘ligesom I venner dem i Begyndelsen, saa har I dem altid’ [if you steer them from the beginning, you will always have them with you]. Then, suddenly, the narrator’s voice takes a sideways step into a shared social context to show a direct knowledge of family and social life, for which the fable could work as a parable:

[...] ja jeg kiender dem,som gifver vores Honesta slet intet effter; Oc hvis Mænd skulle heller ønske med vores Dom Rodrigo at brænde udi Helffvede ved ævigvarende Steen-Kull, end at boe her paa Jorden, (om det var end i Roskild eller KiøgeKroe) udi stedsvarende Klammer oc Trætte. Med det haffver intet paa sig, I veed vel at dersom Manden er Qvindens Hoffvet, saa er Qvinden Hoffvedets Krone: Lader dem derfore dantze effter eders Pibe, lærer dem at krybe i Sæcken, saa skal mand udi sin tid sætte eder udi de Danske Krønnicker; Ligesom Honesta staar udi de Florentinske. Leffver oc holder eder vel.[24]

[[…] yes, I do know women who are not inferior to our Honesta, and men who would rather burn in hell’s eternal tenterhooks than, like Dom Rodrigo live here on earth, (be it Roskilde or Køge-kro), in perennial rows and disputes. But there’s nothing to do, you know very well that if a man is a woman’s head, then the woman is the head’s crown. Therefore, let them obey you, teach them to take the cowl so that, with time, you will be recorded in the Danish chronicles, just like Honesta has been in the Florentine.]

As we can see, by expanding the subject matter of the text with the example of two well-known places in Denmark, Roskilde and Køge, the translator is adding some local details with a domesticating effect for the Danish public. One should note that Roskilde, once a rich and important cathedral city, had been recently devastated by the plague and by the war against Sweden (soon to end with a Danish defeat). Køge, a flourishing fish-market, in the previous decades had been the site of many witch trials, the most notorious of them being in 1612 Køge huskors, when a husband’s accusation that his wife had sent the devil into his house had caused 15 women to be condemned to the stake. This could explain why Dom Rodrigo/the archfiend would rather ‘burn in hell’s eternal tenterhooks’ than live in one of those cities, a metonym for Denmark. In fact, the country was going through a crucial change. The power of the State Council (Rigsrådet), which had reached its height at the end of the 1640s, was about to be overtaken by the king’s absolute power in 1660. Therefore, the very orderly Council meeting summoned by Pluto in hell could be a satirical mirror of the tensions between the aristocracy and Frederik III. And there is more. When the members of the Council in hell decide to make a rigorous inquiry into the causes of many a husband’s unhappiness, they do so ‘without consulting the Queen, who precisely that week was not very well’ [‘foruden at tale til Dronningen der om, som var ilde til pass den gandske uge’].[25] This expansion of the target text, wholly outside of the Florentine context, has the characteristic of a pretext, which may be explained only if we take into account that king Frederik III’s wife, queen Sophie Amalie, strongly supported her husband’s policy against the nobility, a policy that would lead to the introduction of absolutism.

The prism of translation

So far, we have gone through a few items that allow a reading of the target text as an example of interaction with the Danish cultural-political system. This brings us into the territory of “translation as rewriting”, a concept developed by André Lefevere in a series of articles collected in his seminal book Translation, Rewriting, and the Manipulation of Literary Fame.[26] Given the influence of the Italian model in Renaissance Denmark, the translation of Belfagor can be regarded not only as a means of cultural enrichment, but also as an attempt to introduce into the vernacular a satirical tale meant to function in a Danish context.  The complexity of the act of translating is very well expressed in another basic concept put forward by Lefevere, that is “refraction”, by which he signifies ‘the adaptation of a work of literature to a different audience, with the intention of influencing the way in which that audience reads the work’ (Shuping 2013: 56). In this respect, Belphegors Gifftermaal reveals a strategy that takes into account the readers’ awareness of the coexistence in the Danish society of a double standard of speaking as well as of reading and writing. The gap between books for the learned few and printed matter intended for ordinary people is actually refracted in the ironical, amplified resonance given to the episode of Roderic’s first possession of a married Florentine woman. Here the devil, described as ‘an honourable devil’ [‘en retskaffens Djeffvel’], takes his job so seriously that ‘he spoke better Latin than one finds in books, disputed of universal wisdom, and revealed many people’s sins’ [‘talte hand bedre Latin end Mand finder udi Bøgerne, disputerede udi Verdslig Viißdom, oc aabenbarede adskillige Folckis Synder’].[27]

It will be evident by now that, compared to the literary production of the time, Belphegor’s Gifftermaal is a very entertaining story which succeeds in keeping the ironical and satirical tone of the Italian original by turning it into a more popular form of narration.  Frequent signs of this are represented by the translator’s interpolations. For example, the first time we meet Gianmatteo (Matteo in the Danish version), Machiavelli uses one single, but meaningful adjective, ‘animoso’, whereas the Danish version expands Matteo’s characteristics into: ‘a man ready for anything, and a hard nut to crack’ [‘en Mand færdig til alt, oc som haffde Been udi Næsen’]. Again, when Matteo sets the devil free from his creditors, the first-person narrator makes the devil even nobler by adding: ‘and I dare say that never had a devil kept his promises so well, or showed so much gratitude and honesty as he did’ [‘oc jeg tør vel sige, at aldrig haffver nogen Djeffvel holt sine Løffter  saa vel, eller ladet see saa stor Taknemmelighed oc Oprictighed som han gjorde’].[28]


To conclude, so much good will on the part of the devils is, in my opinion, suspect. What I would suggest, is that the translator is “speaking” to an audience that does not take devils so seriously and which laughs at miracles, since, in the words of the king of France, ‘it was just as easy to make miracles in Paris, as it was in Florence or in Naples’ [‘det var lige saa læt at gjøre Mirakler til Paris, som  til Florence oc til Naples’]. On the contrary, he shows a kind of sympathetic understanding for the character of Matteo, who in the end, after succeeding in his third and last pseudo-exorcism, happily returns to Florence – with a meaningful difference in the translator’s addition: ‘he thought he was lucky enough having escaped being hanged in Paris’ [‘[…] holdt han sig lycksalig nock at hand slap fra at hand icke bleff hengt til Paris’]. [29]

It is quite likely that the translation was more than a commercial enterprise. One might even suggest that it was the output of a learned person who found Machiavelli’s fable an apt means to convey a tale about bad women who control their husbands (if not, they must learn to do so), good devils who prefer hell to being married in Denmark and a cunning peasant, who is eager to get rich, but who wisely holds his own life dearer than the money offered by a king. One hundred years and a couple of decades after the Reformation, on the threshold of Absolutism and at the dawn of a literary production of complete orthodoxy towards the king, a Danish translator finds a way to introduce his countrymen to a satirical form of narration coming from Southern Europe.


Appel, Charlotte (2001), Læsning og bogmarked i 1600-tallets Danmark. Bind I-II (Reading and the Book Market in seventeenth Century Denmark. Voll. I-II), Det Kongelige Bibliotek og Museum Tusculanums Forlag, København.

Belphegors Gifftermaal (approx. 1660) Oslo, Universitetsbiblioteket, Lib. Rar. D 48.

Berman, Antoine (1985/2000) “Translation and the Trials of the Foreign”, in Lawrence Venuti (ed.) The Translation Studies Reader, London, Routledge: 284-297. English translation of “La Traduction comme épreuve de l’étranger,” Texte, 1985: 67-81.

Horstbøll, Henrik (1999) Menigmandsmedie. Det folkelige bogtryk i Danmark 1500-1840. En kulturhistorisk undersøgelse (The common man’s media. The popular printed press in Denmark 1580-1840), Museum Tusculanums Forlag, København: 279-336.

Ilsøe, Harald (1969) “Af Machiavellis historie i Danmark i femhundredåret for hans fødsel” (Of Machiavelli’s History in Denmark Five Hundred Years from his Birth), Fund og forskning i det Kongelige Biblioteks samlinger 1969, 16: 7-30.

Ilsøe, Ingrid (1982-83) Christian Cassube Boghandler i København 1650-1693, in Fund og Forskning, Bind 26 Det Kongelige Bibliotek, København,

Leeds Barroll, J. (2001) Anna of Denmark, Queen of England: A Cultural Biography, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.

Le Febvre, Tanneguy (1665) "Le mariage de Belfégor. Nouvelle, traduite de l'italien de messer Nicolo M. secretaire de Florence", in Les Vies des Poètes grecs - en abrégé par Mr Le Febvre, latest checked in February 19th 2018.

Lefevere, André (1982) “Mother Courage's Cucumbers: Text, System and Refraction in a Theory of Literature”, Modern Language Studies 12(4): 3-20.

Lefevere, André (ed.) (1992) Translation/ History/ Culture: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London and New York.

Munday, Jeremy (2016) Introducing translation Studies. Theories and Applications, Routledge, London and New York.

Olden-Jørgensen Sebastian (2002) “State Ceremonial, Court Culture and Political Power in Early Modern Denmark, 1536-1746”, Scandinavian Journal of History 27, 2: 65-76.

Olden-Jørgensen, Sebastian (2007) “Court Culture during the Reign of Christian IV”, in Pieter Isaacsz (1568-1625): Court Painter, Art Dealer and Spy, B. Noldus and J. Roding (eds.), Brepols Publishers n.v., Turnhout, Belgium: 15-29.

Shuping, Ren (2013) “Translation as Rewriting”, International Journal of Humanities and Social Science 3, 18: 55-59.

Skovgaard Petersen, Karen (2004) “Et dansk hyldestdigt til Nürnberg”, in Renæssancen: dansk. europæisk, globalt, Marianne Pade and Minna Skafte Jensen eds., Museum Tusculanums Forlag-Københavns Universitet: 161-176.

Segala, Anna Maria (2014) “La fortuna di Machiavelli nei Paesi scandinavi”, in Machiavelli. Enciclopedia Machiavelliana, Istituto dell’Enciclopedia Italiana, 2014, Vol. II: 271-273.

Steiner, George (1975) After Babel. Aspects of language and Translation, Oxford University Press, New York and London.

Stoppelli, Pasquale (2007) Machiavelli e la novella di Belfagor. Saggio di filologia attributiva, Salerno Editrice, Roma.

Toftgaard, Anders (2011) “Måske vil vi engang glædes ved at mindes dette”. Om Giacomo Castevetros håndskrifter”, Det Kgl. Bibliotek, in Fund og Forskning, Bind 50, Det Kongelige Bibliotek, København.

Toftgaard, Anders (2016) “Les langues à la cour de Danemark à la Renaissance et l’italianisme à l’époque de Christian IV (1577-1648)” in Les cours comme lieux de rencontre et d’élaboration des langues vernaculaires à la Renaissance, Jean Balsamo and Anna-Kathrin Bleuler (eds), Librairie Droz, Genève : 153-180.

Zuliani, Federico (2011) “En samling politiske håndskrifter fra slutningen af det 16. århundrede. Giacomo Castevetro og Christian Barnekows bibliotek”, Det Kgl. Bibliotek, in Fund og Forskning, Bind 50, 2011, Det Kongelige Bibliotek, København.

Øyvind, Anker (1938) En dansk Machiavelli-oversettelse fra 1600-tallet, Bok og bibliotek 5: 28-31.


[1]The edition consulted here is Machiavelli (1971) published by Giunti, Florence.

[2] I am grateful to Anders Toftgaard, research librarian at the Manuscript section of the Royal Library in Copenhagen, for his invaluable help in referring me to this text, kept at the Royal Library as a photocopy of the original in Oslo, and also in giving me access to Øyvind Anker’s presentation of the translation found at Oslo University Library (see next note) and to relevant research on the sixteenth-seventeenth century in Denmark. Toftgaard discusses a related topic in the this special issue.

[3] Øyvind Anker (1938) “En dansk Machiavelli-oversettelse fra 1600-tallet”, Bok og bibliotek 5: 28-31.

[4] Oslo, Universitetsbiblioteket, Lib. Rar. D 48.

[5] The Prince (Fyrsten) was first translated into Danish, by Johannes C. Barth in 1876, although the historian Caspar Paludan Muller had already published an essay on Machiavelli in 1839 (Segala 2014: 271-273).

[6] Sebastian Olden-Jørgensen (2002: 65-76) “State Ceremonial, Court Culture and Political Power in Early Modern Denmark, 1536-1746”, Scandinavian Journal of History 27(2): 65-76. In this article, the author attempts a new definition of the representative public sphere as an Early Modern phenomenon because of the structure and values of society that it expressed. Although these values concerned the aristocracy, they were an efficient means of social and political communication.

[7] See Karen Skovgaard Petersen (2004: 161-176). The two editors of the book underline that much remains to be explored in this field of research.

[8] Here a mention must be made of Anders Sørensen Vedel, the most learned and refined Renaissance humanist, both as the translator of Saxo Grammaticus’ Gesta Danorum from Latin into Danish and as the editor of the first collection of Medieval Danish ballads, Hundredvisebog, published in 1591.

[9] See Leeds Barroll (2001: 1-13).

[10] Some years later, John Florio would have an even more important role at the English court. See Montini in this issue.

[11] Two articles have been relevant for this part of my paper: Toftgaard (2011) and Zuliani (2011). Both authors underline the wealth of manuscripts related to the role of the Italian culture in Denmark that are still to be investigated.

[12] Harald Ilsøe, research librarian and bibliographer at the Royal Library in Copenhagen, see Ilsøe 1969.

[13] Charlotte Appel (2001) gives a comprehensive and detailed picture of the type of books and prints circulating in the sixteenth-seventeenth century, only partially preserved and classified in the national catalogue Biblioteca Danica.

 [14]See Ilsøe (1982-83).

[15] Here I am indebted to Stoppelli’s reading of Belfagor Arcidiavolo from a philological point of view in the light of a long tradition of studies in Stoppelli (2007), where he underlines the coexistence of different types of narration in Machiavelli’s text: the structure of the exemplum, already developed into a fable by Le Fèvre, the later use of the theme in the European repertoire of misogynous stories, and the new link to the medieval theme of the peasant’s cunningness with clear allusions to the city of Florence as a whole. Belfagor, only seemingly a fable, reveals then a rhetorical status that can be connected to Florence’s linguistic, cultural and political context in the 16th century.

[16] See En meget lystig novelle [A very Funny Story], translated by Johan Windfeld-Hansen in Halvtreds Mesterfortællinger [Master Stories from the 1950s], Jens Kruuse and Ole Storm (eds), Det Schønbergske Forlag, København 1954 and Belfagor eller Djævelen der blev gift [Belfagor or the Devil who got married], translated by Mads Qvortrup, Informations Forlag, København 2008. The latter has been strongly criticized (and with good reason) by Anders Toftgaard and other critics in the Danish press.

[17] I am very grateful to Mauro Camiz, who in the years 2011-2015 was postdoctoral research assistant in Germanic Philology at La Sapienza university in Rome for his accurate normalized transcription of the black letter print.

[18] I am also grateful to Simon Skovgaard Boeck, Senior editor of Gammeldansk Ordbog, Det Danske Sprog- og Litteratur Selskab, for revising the transcription and supplying historical information on some lexical occurrences in the Danish Belphegor.

[19] Anker (1938: 29).

[20]Antoine Berman (1985/2000) quoted in Munday (2016: 231).

[21] All the proper names and words quoted in Italics here, are marked in Antiqua in the print, which means that they were perceived as foreign.

[22]Among them, Arild Uidtfeldt, author of Danmarks Riges Krønicke (1595-1603) [A History of the Kingdom of Denmark 1595-1603]. He was well informed on Machiavelli and had a direct knowledge of his texts. In the first part of his work, Frederik I.s Historie, he finds similarities between Christian II and Cesare Borgia, both of them terrible tyrants, a fact that, according to the moral values current at the time, Uidtfelfdt condemns. His source here is The Prince, chapter 7, but no mention is made of it by Huitfeldt. Some other parts of his History show signs that he has read and used passages from the French translation of Discorsi, but the conclusions he comes to are quite different compared to Machiavelli’s philosophy, basically because Uidtfeldt was afraid of influencing the king. However, Ilsøe (1969: 14-19) gives detailed evidence of the interpretative angles from which the Danish humanists of the time tried to interpret Machiavelli’s state reason in the Nordic political context. Quite a number of them were in fact State Counsellors, as well as Huitfeldt himself, which explains his cautious attitude.

[23] In the course of the seventeenth century, owing to the Lutheran Church’s endeavor to spread the reading of the catechism, there was an improvement in literacy rates in the country, with obvious differences between town and countryside, men and women, rich and poor. By the end of the seventeenth century, it is quite likely that there were as many literate women as there were men, at least in the towns.

[24] Oslo, Universitetsbiblioteket, Lib. Rar. D 48, – f. 3v.

[25] Oslo, Universitetsbiblioteket, Lib. Rar. D 48, – f. 4r.

[26] Lefevere (1982: 4) quoted in Shuping (2013: 56).

[27] Oslo, Universitetsbiblioteket, Lib. Rar. D 48, – f. 10v. It may be worth noting the difference in register between the word disputerede, clearly from the Latin “disputare”, and the alliterative expression ̔Verdslig Viißdom̕, in my translation ‘universal wisdom’, used as a more popular equivalent  for  Machiavelli’s ‘philosophia’. See Machiavelli, Tutte le Opere, La favola di Belfagor Arcidiavolo, Einaudi on line, p. 7: ‘parlava in latino et disputava delle cose di philosophia et scopriva i peccati di molti’.

[28] Oslo, Universitetsbiblioteket, Lib. Rar, D 48, – f. 14v.

[29] Oslo, Universitetsbiblioteket, Lib. Rar. D 48, – f. 14v.

About the author(s)

Anna Maria Segala has been Professor of Nordic languages and literature at Sapienza, Università di Roma. Her major areas of interest are the fairy tale, nineteenth and twentieth century poetry and fiction, experimental theatre and translation. Among her publications: Karen Blixen's Babette’s Feast/ Babettes Gaestebud, Einaudi 1997, the anthology of essays Forme della modernità in H. C. Andersen, Bulzoni 2010, proceedings of the International Conference at Sapienza Università di Roma for H.C. Andersen’s Bicentenary in 2005, the essays Superficie con frattura. La prosa di Helle Helle, AION 2010 and Le Vivisezioni di Strindberg. L’osservazione scientifica come pretesto per nuove forme narrative, AION 2013. More recently, the anthology of essays The Nordic Avant-gardes in the European Context of the Early 20th Century, Edizioni di Pagina 2017, proceedings of the International Conference at Sapienza Università di Roma, 2015. Translations from the original of works by H.C. Andersen, S. Kierkegaard and A. Strindberg.

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©inTRAlinea & Anna Maria Segala (2019).
"Machiavelli’s Belfagor in seventeenth 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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