Gesta Danorum

  • Country in which the text is set
    Baltic Region
  • Featured locations
    Denmark, Jutland, Sweden, Baltic Sea, Britain (Britannien) 


  • Impact

    Saxo's big treaty abouth the >Deeds of the Danes< or >Danish Chronicles< is not only one of the most important sources of Denmark's ancient history but also a valuable collection of the traditions and legends of northern gods and heroes.

    The preface tells about how the author came to undertake his project and outlines the geography of Denmark and its neighbouring countries. Books 1-9 deal mainly with the mythic and legendary past of the country, books 10-16 with its historical past, until the reign of king Knut VI. (1182-1202).

  • Balticness

    Saxo's outline of the Baltic region is another important component within the series of descriptions of the North which develop from ancient, mostly mythologigal and phantastic conceptions to a more realistic view (cf. Plinius, Pomponius Mela, Adam of Bremen and Olaus Magnus).

    Saxo Grammaticus also tells the legend about Amled, a Prince of Jutland, around 1590 the legend was used by William Shakespeare as raw material for the tragedy "Hamlet”. Even though Shakespeare rewrote the legend and moved it from Jutland to Elsinore, the outline is still recognizable. In the legend a Denmark ruled by a number of minor kings is described. This probably means that Amled lived around year 400 or a bit earlier. The Chieftain-son Ørvendel was chosen by King Rørik as leader of the territorial forces in Jutland together with his brother Fenge. Some years later, Ørvendel married the King's daughter and they had the son Amled. Ørvendels marriage and the high esteem he held made Fenge envious. He murdered Ørvendel and forced the widow to marry him. But "under a marvellous disguise of silliness, Amled not only found in his subtlety means to protect his own safety, but also by its guidance found opportunity to avenge his father." When Amled announced what had happened and how he had to act mad for years to get his revenge, the people found that Amled had acted rightly and chose him as Fenge's successor.

    Later on, when King Rørik died and was succeeded by King Viglek, Amled fought him. In one of the battles Amled was killed and Saxo tells us that "his barrow was set on the heath in Jutland that bears his name". Saxo was probably thinking of Ammelhede, southeast of Randers.  

    Reinhard Kaiser


  • Bibliographic information

    The Gesta Danorum were written about 1200. Numerous manuscripts don't seem to have existed in early times, and only a few fragments of these have survived. The oldest complete edition that still exists and the basis of all following publications is an edition by Christiern Pedersøn printed in Paris in 1514.

    Latin text: Saxo Grammaticus: Gesta Danorum, ed. J. Olrik and H. Ræder, 1931 Copyright: Det Danske Sprog- og Litteraturselskab. Digitized and converted by Ivan Boserup. With kind permission of The Royal Library, Copenhagen.

    Danish text: Saxo Grammaticus: Gesta Danorum. Danmarkshistorien. Latinsk tekst udgivet af Karsten Friis-Jensen. Dansk oversættelse ved Peter Zeeberg, København: Det Danske Sprog- og Litteraturselskab/Gads Forlag 2005.

    By kind permission of Det Danske Sprog- og Litteraturselskab. The copyrights of the digital text are licensed to The Royal Library, Copenhagen.

    German text: Saxo Grammaticus: Die ersten neun Bücher der dänischen Geschichte. Übers. u. erläutert von Hermann Jantzen, Berlin: Felber 1900.

  • Translations
    Language Year Translator
    Danish 1575 Anders Søffrenssøn Vedel (abr.)
    Danish 1610 Anders Søffrenssøn Vedel
    Danish 1752 Sejer Schousbølle
    Danish 1818-22 N. F. S. Grundtvig
    Danish 1898 Frederik Winkel Horn
    Danish 1908-12 Jørgen Olrik
    Danish 1985-86 Mogens Boisen (abr.)
    Danish 2000 Peter Zeeberg
    English 1894 Oliver Elton
    English 1979-1980 Peter Fisher & Hilda Ellis Davidson 
    English 1980-81 Eric Christiansen
    English 1983 William F. Hansen
    German 1900 Hermann Jantzen
    German 2004 Hans-Jürgen Hube
    Norwegian 1962 Erika Eggen (abr.)
    Swedish 1964 Svante Setterblad (abr.)
  • Year of first publication
  • Place of first publication

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