Saxo's Gesta Danorum in print


Title page of the 1514 edition of the Gesta Danorum, held at the Danish Royal Library.

The first printed edition of Saxo's chronicle appeared in Paris in 1514 under the Latin title Danorum Regum heroumque Historiae ('Histories of the Danish kings and heroes'). It was prepared by Christiern Pedersen (c. 1480–1554), a Danish theologian and author, who underwent a significant part of his education in Paris. During his time in Paris Pedersen met Jodocus Badius, one of the most active publishers of the early sixteenth century, who was responsible for bringing Saxo's work to print. 

Pedersen's edition is an important source for studies of Saxo's chronicle, as the manuscript on which this edition was based is now lost and no other complete medieval manuscript of this work survived to our times.

Among other works that Pedersen published is a translation of a French prose romance Ogier le Danois, which appeared in 1534 as Kong Olger Danskis Krønicke ('King Ogier the Dane's chronicle'). Ogier the Dane (Holger Danske in Danish) was a legendary knight of Charlemagne who appears in various French medieval romances, and became a symbol of Danish national identity in the era of the nineteenth-century national romanticism (read more about Ogier the Dane in the Writing Futures exhibition).

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Portrait by Tobias Gemperlin of Anders Sørensen Vedel, the first translator of the Gesta Danorum into Danish, held at the Museum of National History, Frederiksborg Castle.

Gesta Danorum in Danish

The first Danish translation of Saxo's chronicle appeared in print in 1575. It was prepared by the Danish historian and philologist Anders Sørensen Vedel (1542–1616), who is known, among other things, for his edition of Danish folk songs in Hundredvisebogen. His translation of Saxo’s chronicle was published in Copenhagen by Hans Støckelman and Andream Gutteruitz under the title Den Danske Krønicke som Saxo Grammaticus screff, halfffierde hundrede Aar forleden.

Vedel’s portrait (reproduced in the figure to the left) presents the famous historiographer surrounded by inscriptions written in four ancient alphabets (Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and runes). This highlights not only his broad scholarly interests, but also the importance he attached to the ‘native’ Scandinavian tradition, which is represented here by the runic alphabet written on the leaves in the bottom-left corner of the painting.

In Vedel's translation of the Gesta Danorum the men of Thule are clearly identified as Icelanders, as he translates the Latin "Nec Tylensium industria silentio oblitteranda" into Danish as "Her bør de fromme Isslenders flittighed icke at forgettis" ('Here the diligence of the hard-working Icelanders cannot be forgotten'). 

Oehlenschläger's copy of Den Danske Krønicke

The copy of Vedel's translation of Saxo's chronicle presented in the picture below belonged to the famous Danish author Adam Gottlob Oehlenschläger (1779–1850), who, in addition to many works inspired by Old Norse literature, wrote the lyrics for one of the Danish national anthems Der er et yndigt land ('There is a lovely country') as well as the famous poem Guldhornene ('The Golden Horns') from 1802 (read more about the history behind 'The Golden Horns' in our Paired Objects Exhibition).


Opening of the Danish translation of the Gesta Danorum, exhibited at the Museum of National History, Frederiksborg Castle.