Viktor Rydberg

Infobox Writer
name = Viktor Rydberg

imagesize =
caption = Rydberg in 1876
pseudonym =
birthname = Abraham Victor Rydberg
birthdate = birth date|1828|12|18
birthplace = Jönkopig, Sweden
deathdate = Death date and age|1895|09|22|1828|12|18
deathplace = Djursholm
occupation = Author, publicist, translator and poet
nationality = Swedish
period =
genre =
subject =
movement =
notableworks = Singoalla, Undersökningar i Germanisk Mythologi I-II, Fädernas Gudasaga,
spouse = Susen Hasselblad
partner =
children =
relatives =
influences =
influenced =
awards =

website =
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Abraham Viktor Rydberg (Jönköping, December 18, 1828 – Djursholm, September 22, 1895) was a Swedish writer and a member of the Swedish Academy, 1877-1895. “Primarily a classical idealist,” [Charles Wharton Stork, Anthology of Swedish Lyrics: From 1750 to 1915, New York, The Scandinavian-American Foundation, London, 1930, p. ] “Viktor Rydberg, poet, novelist, essayist, idealist philosopher and one of the prominent figures in Swedish intellectual life in the latter half of the nineteenth century”, [University and Society: Essays on the Social Role of research and Higher Education, edited by Martin Trow and Thorsten Nybom, 1991, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London.] has been described as "Sweden's last Romantic" and by 1859 was “generally regarded in the first rank of Swedish novelists.” [Cyclopedia of World Authors, Revised 3rd edition, Vol. 4, Edited by Frank N. Magill, 1997, s.v. Viktor Rydberg] “The leading cultural figure of his day, he also wrote works on philosophy, philology, and aesthetics.” [Larousse Dictionary of Writers, Edited by Rosemary Goring, New York, Larousse, 1994, p. 842.] As “an idealist faithful to the Romantic tradition in poetry and thought, but with a mind receptive to the ideas of a new age. He achieved an unequalled position of authority in Swedish literature” and “with his broad range of achievements, greatly influenced Swedish cultural life” [The New Encyclopedia Brittanica in 30 Volumes, Micropedia Volume VIII., 1974, s.v. Viktor Rydberg, pp. 739-740] He came to be described by subsequent biographer Judith Moffett as "a 'man of letters': a journalist, novelist, poet, religious historian, an expert on Norse mythology and the history of ideas, an all-around cultural leader." [Judith Moffett, "The North! To the North!" (2001), p. 78.] Of him, a trio of scholars at the University of Cambridge in 1951, write:

"One writer, par excellence, represents the transition from idealism of the 'Nyromantik' ['New Romantic'] to the Naturalism of the '80s. Viktor Rydberg (1828-1895) was a radical, largely self-educated journalist, who ended up as a professor at the newly founded University (Högskola) of Stockholm, and the Grand Old Man of the Swedish Academy, novelist, poet, philosopher, he owes his place in the history of Swedish literature before 1879 principally to his ideoligcal novel "The Last Athenian" ('Den siste atheneran', 1859) and his philosophical treatise "The Bible's Doctrine Concerning Christ" (Bibelns lära om kristus, 1862). In both of these work he attacks the narrow orthodoxy of the Church, implicitly or explicitly. Rydberg was a fighter for broader perspectives and loftier ideals, in fact for a better world." [Elias Bredsdorff, Brita Mortensen, and Ronald Popperwell (1951). "An Introduction to Scandinavian Literature", Cambridge, p.127.]

Fredrik Böök sums up Rydberg as a metaphysical: "He saw the ideas of things, not the things themselves, the eternal, the overall patterns not the shifting multicolor phenomena of this world." [Moffett (2001), p. 84] "It is as an exegetic researcher that Rydberg’s influence on the history of ideas is the greatest." His work has "plainly been seen as the breakthrough of religious liberalism in Sweden." [Edvard Rodhe. Den religiösa liberalismen i Sverige Uppsala, 1935), p. 168.] Rydberg works on the history of religion and comparative Indo-European studies has not been recognized to the same extent. [Anna Lindén, Viktor Rydberg and the comparative study of the history of Indo-European religion, Lychnos: Årsbok för idé- och lärdomshistoria (Uppsala, 2004)] “Rydberg fell between idealism and Naturalism, for as a novelist, poet, and critic, he began as a radical journalist and ended as a professor and author of philosophical poems.” [The New Encyclopedia Brittanica in 30 Volumes, 1974, s.v. “Literature, Western” p. 1205.] As an idealist and a romantic, Rydberg had little influence on the next generation of writers, dominated by realism. [Moffett (2001), p. 85] “With the death of Rydberg, the last ideal barrier against the invading realism falls.” [ Fredrika Blankner, Scandinavian Literatures, 1938, Dial Press, New York.]


Viktor Rydberg was of humble parentage. One biographer notes that: "He had a hard struggle to satisfy the thirst for learning which was a leading passion of his life, but he finally attained distinction in several fields of scholarship." [Anthology of Swedish Lyrics From 1750 to 1925 by Charles Wharton Stork, 1930] The son of a soldier turned prison guard, Johann Rydberg, and a midwife, Hedvig Düker. Viktor Rydberg had two brothers and three sisters. In 1834 his mother died during a cholera epidemic. Her death broke the spirit of his father, who yielded to hypochondria and alcoholism, contributing towards his loss of employment and the family's apartment, [European Authors 1000-1900, edited by Stanley J. Kunitz and Vineta Colby, New York, H.W. Wilson Co., 1967, s.v. Rydberg, (Abraham) Viktor, p. 809.] forcing authorities to board young Viktor out to a series of foster homes, one of which burnt down, further traumatizing the youth.

Despite his economic status, Rydberg was recognized for his talents. From 1838 to 1847, Rydberg attended grammar school, and studied law at the University in Lund from 1851 to 1852. Due to financial reasons, [Encyclopedia Brittanica, Micropædia, 1986, s.v. Viktor Rydberg, p. 269.] his university studies ended after one year, without a degree. Afterward, he took a job as a private tutor. In 1855, he was offered work at the Göteborgs Handels- och Sjöfartstidning, a newspaper in Göteborg, where he would remain employed for more than 20 years. It was during this time that his first novels saw print. He soon become a central figure of late Romanticism in Sweden, and Sweden's most famous living author.

Throughout his adult life, Rydberg was active in politics. In 1859, he wrote a pamphlet on national defense, which inspired the "Sharpshooter's movement", a voluntary militia of some political importance during the 1860s. In 1870, he took a controversial pro-German stance during the Franco-Prussian War. Representing the traditional economic system of Sweden, from 1870 to 1872, Rydberg was a member of the Swedish Parliament as a supporter of the Peasant's Party. Having been a supporter of the Jewish cause since his youth, it was MP Viktor Rydberg who gave the keynote speech in the parliamentary debate to enact a law granting all non-Lutherans full civil rights. He worked dilligently for working class people and in 1906 his works on the labor question in both prose and poetry were regarded as part of the "treasury of this class." [The American Monthly Review of Reviews by Albert Shaw; "Viktor Rydberg: Reformer, The Dante of Sweden", p. 96] He also advocated language reform, purging foreign words from the Swedish language, particularly those of German origin. ["The Nordic Languages:An International History of the North Germanic Language", Vol. 1, 2002, by Oskar Bandle, Kurt Braunmuller, Lennart Elmevik, Ernst Hakon Jahr, Gun Widmark, Allan Karker, Hans-Peter Naumann, Ulf Teleman.] Around this time, he advocated a more Germanic spelling of his own name: Viktor, as opposed to Victor.

Throughout his life and career, Rydberg would coin several Swedish words, many, such as "gudasaga" for the foreign "mythologi," still in use today. [The Nordic Languages: An International History of the North Germanic Language, Vol. 1, 2002, by Oskar Bandle, Kurt Braunmuller, Lennart Elmevik, Ernst Hakon Jahr, Gun Widmark, Allan Karker, Hans-Peter Naumann, Ulf Teleman, p. 1544 ] In 1884, he refused to support anarchist writer August Strindberg, in his blasphemy case. As a juror in an 1888 trial of socialist leader Hjalmar Branting, Rydberg voted to send him to jail for blasphemy. They would never speak to one another again. His apprehension of unregulated capitalism at the dawn of the industrial age is most fully expressed in his acclaimed poem "Den nya Grottesången" ("The New Grotti Song") in which he delivered a fierce attack on the miserable working conditions in factories of the era, using the mill of "Grottasöngr" as his literary backdrop.

For his lifetime of literary achievement, Rydberg received an honorary doctorate from the University of Uppsala and was elected to the Swedish Academy in 1877. He served as History of Culture professor and eventually as chair to History of Art at Stockholm Högskola, now Stockholm University (1884 - 1888). [European Authors 1000-1900, edited by Stanley J. Kunitz and Vineta Colby, New York, H.W. Wilson Co., 1967, s.v. Rydberg, (Abraham) Viktor, p. 810.]

Rydberg died at the age of 67 on September 8th, 1895 due to complications from diabetes and arteriosclerosis. Rydberg's passing was reported as far away as the United States of America, where the New York Times published an obituary titled: "Death of Prof. A.V. Rydberg, Career and Remarkable works of one of Sweden's Leading Men." [cite web|url=|publisher=New York Times|date=8.22.1895|title=Death of Prof. A.V.Rydberg] A national day of mourning would ensue all over Sweden. His grave is a national monument to this day. Many of his works have been translated, and remain in print. His works are widely read in schools throughout Sweden, and his poem "Tomten" is a Christmas favorite. A group of three charter high schools (Gymnasium) and one middle school in Stockholm, as well as a street in Götesborg, a student dormitory, and other buildings carry his name. He is still listed in many English language encyclopedias as an individual entry.

Since the late 1920s, scholars and critics have speculated about Rydberg's private life and sexual orientation. Referring to a failed engagement, Judith Moffett writes:

We can construct a story of backdoor illicit liaisons and front door respectability from these fragments and others— Rydberg would hardly be the first, if it were true— but he never spoke openly about his private life at any time, and our best guess would still be guesswork. [ibid, p. 81]
Svanberg (1928) and Stolpe (1978) suggested that Rydberg had a homosexual orientation, based on their interpretations of Rydberg's published works. Moffett (2001) endorsed Stolpe's theory, speculating that Rydberg's sexual orientation was the result of the early loss of his mother, concluding that Rydberg was homosexual but celibate. In her opinion, Rydberg found all sexual expression "dispicable, impossible, or, at best, delicious but lethal." [Ibid. At 82.] Sven Delblanc (1983) argued that the novel "Singoalla" "reflected homosexual desires and impulses in Rydberg himself," and that the protagonist’s slaying of his unacknowledged son Sorgborn ['child of sorrow'] was a "masked representation of homosexual intercourse." [Quoting Stig Bäckman "Viktor Rydberg som Erland Månesköld. Om Sven Delblancs läsning av Singoalla," Samlaren 125:78-91.] Bäckmann (2004) disputed this theory noting that there is "no textual evidence" to support this "empathetic reading" of Rydberg's biography.


In 1857, Rydberg's first novel, "Fribytaren på Östersjön" ("The Freebooter of the Baltic"; 1857), a historical romance set in the 17th century, incorporating themes of piracy, witchcraft and nautical excursions, was published.

This was soon followed by his first major success, and one of his most popular novels, "Singoalla" (1858), a "romantic story out of the Middle Ages, permeated with a poetic nature-mysticism, about the tragic love between a knight and a gypsy girl." [ European Authors (1000-1900) A Biographical Dictionary of European Literature, Edited by Stanley J. Kunitz and Vineta Colby, 1967.] Rydberg rewrote the book throughout his life. The fourth and final edition of 1894, concludes with Erland dying as a hermit monk. The story has been made into a film twice, and today, a popular brand of cookie takes its name from the book's main character: Singoalla. A review of the first English translation of the work in the Saga-Book of the Viking Club, Vol. 4, Part 1, 1904-5, noting that the book "has already been translated into most of the languages of continental Europe," remarks that "Singoalla is a novel occupying a pre-eminent place among Rydberg's prose writings."

In 1859, Rydberg's most ambitious novel, and his last one for 30 years, was published under the title "Den siste Atenaren" ("The Last Athenian"). This, his best-known novel, offers a contrast between "Rydberg's admiration for classical antiquity and his critical attitude to dogmatic Christianity." [ ibid, Kunitz and Colby.] This struggle is set in Athens, in the time of the last pagan emperor, Julian the Apostate, during the transition from Platonic paganism to Christianity. The novel advocates a philosophy founded on the noblest elements of both ideologies. At "scarcely thirty years of age," William Widgery Thomas, Jr. said that Rydberg was "already acknowledged to be the foremost living prose writer of Scandinavia." [William Widgery Thomas, Jr. writing in the introduction to The Last Athenian.]

In 1862 he wrote and published “"Bibelns lära om Kristus"” (‘"Christ According to the Bible”"), a work of contemporary religious criticism, which was hugely successful. Introducing modern Biblical criticism to Scandinavia, he used the New Testament to deny the divinity of Christ. The long term effects of the book would be the weakening of the authority of the Church over the educated classes of Scandinavia. He taught freedom of individual conscience. It was this that inspired him in the fight against the state church. [ibid, Albert Shaw.] Predictably, this book attracted the ire of the orthodox religious establishment and is generally credited for Rydberg's exclusion from the Swedish Academy until as late as 1877. From 1865 to 1868, Rydberg suffered a severe bout of depression caused by the theological struggle and a broken engagement in 1865.

Rydberg's next work, "Medeltidens Magi" ("The Magic of the Middle Ages") 1865 is an exposition of the magical practices and beliefs of the Medieval period. According to Rydberg, the contemporary Church was still driven by the ideology of the Dark Ages, and its dualistic notions of good and evil, represented by God and the Devil, Heaven and Hell, contributed towards the horror of the witch-hunts in Europe and America in the recent past. From this point forward, Rydberg was economically successful as a writer."Lille Viggs äventyr på julafton" ("Little Vigg's Adventures on Christmas Eve", 1871) is a short Christmas tale for all ages, originally written for a newspaper, but later widely printed. It has since become a Christmas classic in Sweden.

After a long journey in Italy in 1874, Rydberg published "Romerska sägner om apostlarna Petrus och Paulus" ("Roman Legends concerning the Apostles Peter and Paul" 1874) and "Romerska Dagar" ("Roman Days" 1877), a series of essays on Italian culture, history and archaeology; The journey is said to have strengthened Rydberg's creative power, as he now produced some of "the finest philosophical lyrics in Swedish literature". [ibid, Kunitz & Colby, p. 809.] “His poems are not numerous, but their masterly form and wealth of thought give them rank among the best poetry in Swedish literature.” [Frederik Winkel Horn, PhD., History of the Literature of the Scandinavian North from the Most Ancient Times to the Present. Chicago, S.C. Griggs and Co., 1895.] Charles Wharton Stork remarks: “In the originality and forcefulness of his imagery Rydberg marks an important advance in Swedish poetry;” “there is a manliness in Rydberg’s voice which makes the notes carry. His ideas are not the shadows of others, they are his by strong conviction." [Anthology of Swedish Lyrics: From 1750 to 1915, New York, The Scandinavian-American Foundation, London, 1930, pp. xxx & xxxi.]

Other important works include his translation of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's "Faust" (1876) and the historical novel "Vapensmeden" ("The Armoror", 1891), his first novel in three decades. Set during the Reformation, the novel depicts the struggle between Luthern Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. In it, Rydberg "still fought fanaticism and dogmatism, and his ideal was still humanity and liberty." [Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature, Second Edition, edited by Jean-Albert Bédé and William B. Edgerton, 1980.]

Between 1886 and 1889, his literary work was focused on Norse and broader Germanic mythology. [ibid, Bédé and Edgerton.] He published several works in the field including two articles on the origins of the Poetic Edda poem "Völuspá", in which he debated the authenticity of the poem with Norwegian scholar Sophus Bugge, who held that the poem was based on Classical and Biblical sources. Old Norse scholar Ursula Dronke characterizes this work as:

"... over one hundred pages (as against Bang's twenty-three!) of marvellously intelligent, masterly criticism of the errors, imprecise thinking and failure of scholarly imagination that underlay Bang's claim." ["Völuspá and the Sibylline Traditions", "Latin Culture and Medieval Germanic Europe", ed. Richard North and T. Hofstra, 1992 [Reprinted in her book "Myth and Fiction in Early Norse Lands"] .]

Even Sophus Bugge acknowledged that Rydberg won the argument, ushering in the modern age of Eddic scholarship by firmly vanquishing the nature-school of mythology. [Jan de Vries, "Forschungsgeschichte der Mythologie", Freiburg and Munich: Verlag Karl Alber, 1961, p. 250] The result of his own investigations in prose was titled "Segerssvärdet" 1882, ("The Sword of Victory"), followed by two volumes of mythic studies titled "Undersökningar i germanisk mythologi, första delen", 1886 ("Investigations into Germanic Mythology, Volume 1"); and "Undersökningar i germanisk mythologi, andre delen", ("Investigations into Germanic Mythology, Volume 2") 1889 as well as a children's version of Norse mythology in 1887 titled "Fädernas gudasaga" ("Our Fathers' Godsaga"). In a letter to Rydberg, after receiving the first volume of his mythological research, Bugge stated: "As I have read my heart has warmed more and more. ...Forgive these words from a man who before such a magnificent and in many respects remarkable work is well aware that he is nothing but a philologist." [Karl Warburg, Viktor Rydberg, En Lefnadsteckning II, p. 623) translated by Fredrik Gadde in "Viktor Rydberg and Some Beowulf Questions," p. 73.]

Henrik Schück wrote at the turn of the 20th century that he considered Rydberg the "last —and poetically most gifted —of the mythological school founded by Jacob Grimm and represented by such men as Adalbert Kuhn" which is "strongly synthetic" in its understanding of myth. [ Henrik Schück, quoted by Karl Warburg in Viktor Rydberg, En Lefnadsteckning, 1900.] Of this work, Jan de Vries said:

"At a time, when one was firmly convinced that the Old Norse myths were a late product, Rydberg’s voice resounds. At that time, he swam against the stream, but he clearly expressed that which has become an ever stronger certainty today: a large part of the myths of the Germanic tradition —and that is to say basically the Old Norse tradition—must be set back in a time when the undivided Proto-Indo-European people themselves created the vessel of their worldview in myths." [Jan De Vries, "Forschungsgeschichte der Mythologie", 1961, p. 250.]

In contrast Anatoly Liberman observed that

“ [m] erging Eddic characters and looking for hypostases is an unprofitable occupation. It allows any god (giant, dwarf) to become anybody else, as happened under Rydberg’s pen.” [ Liberman, Anatoly (2004). "Some Controversial Aspects of the Myth of Baldr," Alvíssmál 11:33-34.]
H. R. Ellis Davidson, who saw Idunn, Gefjun, Gerd and other goddesses as hypostases of Freyja [Hilda Ellis Davidson, Roles of the Northern Goddess, 1998, Routledge, pp. 85-86] dismisses Rydberg’s mythological writing as “fantasies.” [ H. R. Ellis Davidson (1974). "Review of Hamlet's Mill," Folklore 85:282-283.]

During the 1880s, Rydberg also published two studies of runic inscriptions. His acceptance speech into the Swedish Academy, titled "Om Hjeltesagan å Rökstenen" (translated as "Concerning the Heroic-Saga on the Rök Runestone") was published in English translation, with an introduction by Swedish Scholar Ola Östin, in its entirety in "The Runestone Journal" 1, 2007, a publication of the Asatru Folk Assembly.

Rydberg’s final publication, an essay titled "Den hvita rasens framtid", "The Future of the White Race", was published posthumously as an introduction to the Swedish edition of Benjamin Kidd’s "Social Evolution." Noting that "Rydberg’s conception of race is not equivalent with the modern term; the meaning he gives the word is in fact more cultural than biological, ...he includes Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists living in Asia, America and to some extent Africa in this expression." Swedish scholar Anna Lindén says "what he actually criticizes is a phenomenon within Europe, not on other continents," continuing,

"The Swedish author is, unlike Kidd, not a Social Darwinist and far more pessimistic about the European future than the Irishman. A common feature is however that both of them view religion and ethics as most important for the survival of a “race”.

"Evolution is rightly said to be one of the most typical theme in 19th century Europe, but parallel to this optimism in the second half of the century there was a widespread, nearly apocalyptic, anxiety for the degeneration of the population caused by exceptional fast development. Rydberg shared this anxiety: he was very critical to industrialism and unhealthy milieu of the big European metropolises, combination with low nativity this was a dangerous threat to Europe, especially compared to the steadily growing, physically as well as morally sound population in China and the Far East. ...This lack of morals will in the long run ruin the ecological system as well as the poor people on our continent." [Anna Linden, in En europeisk apokalyps? Om Viktor Rydbergs 'Den hvita rasens framtid' (Centrum för Europaforskning, 2005)]

In contrast to Kidd’s optimistic Darwinism ("all'ottimismo darwiniano di Kidd"), Rydberg foresaw the possibility of European culture being overcome by the more industrious and more prolific Chinese nation. [See Dotti, Luca (2004). "L’utopia eugenetica del welfare state svedese, 1934-1975", p. 58: "“In dissenso rispetto all'ottimismo darwiniano di Kidd, Rydberg tratteggiava il crollo della cultura europea per opera della nazione cinese.” ; Kerr, Anne, and Tom Shakespeare (2002). "Genetic Politics: From Eugenics to Genome". Cheltenham, Eng.: New Clarion, ISBN 1873797257, p. 49:“The racial focus originated in the nineteenth-century tradition with anthropologists such as Anders Retzius promoting superior Nordic virtues, while Victor Rydberg wrote about the potential downfall of the white race and the threat of the Chinese.”] In this essay,

“Rydberg envisioned European culture being overthrown by the Chinese. He predicted that the downfall would come in the very near future and would come about because of moral degeneration, demographic conditions, and the ensuing defects in the population.” [ Broberg, Gunnar, and Mattias Tydén (1996). “Eugenics in Sweden: Efficient Care,” in "Eugenics and the Welfare State: Sterilization Policy in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland" (Gunnar Broberg & Nils Roll-Hansen, eds.), p. 79.]

Mythological works

There is no shortage of scholarly opinion and no consensus on Viktor Rydberg's works on Indo-European and Germanic mythology. Some scholars feel that his work is ingenious, [Commenting on specifics of Rydberg's comparative mythology, the Dutch scholar Jan de Vries calls him "sagacious." De Vries, writing in "The Problem of Loki", 1933, said:

The resemblance between Loki and Prometheus, which indeed cannot be denied, was mostly considered to be a proof of his character as a fire-god, even going back to the Aryan period. The sagacious Swedish scholar V. Rydberg argued in the same way, considering him only more particularly to be connected with the heavenly fire, the lightning; this seems to be shown by the etymological meaning of the names Byleistr and Farbauti both parents of Loki.”
] while others feel the work is too speculative. One scholar expressed the opinion that "Rydberg's views" concerning resemblances of Thor and Indra were carried to extremes, therefore receiving "less recognition than they deserved." [E.O.G. Turville-Petre, "Myth and Religion of the North", 1964, p. 103] Others refute individual points of the work. [Marlene Ciklamini observed in 1962, "Since Suttungr is unanimously declared to be the possessor of the poetic mead, it is difficult to agree with Rydberg that Hávamál 140 represents Bölþorn's son as the owner. His hypothesis is based on a misinterpretation of the stanza, since Háv. 140 represents the boast of a god who deprived his enemies of the exclusive right to magic and the ownership of the mead.... Rydberg's suggestion that Mímir is Bölþorn's son is not substantiated by any source." Marlene Ciklamini, "Óðinn and the Giants," Neophilologus 46:145-58 (1962), p. 151. ] Still others have commented on what they see as fundamental flaws in Rydberg's methodology, objecting to any systematization of the mythology including the one imposed by Snorri Sturlusson, believing it artificial, John Lindow [Handbook of Norse Mythology, p. 39-45] and Margaret Clunies Ross [ Prolonged Echoes, pp. 234-238] have recently supported a chronological systemization of the most important mythic episodes as inherent in the oral tradition underlying Eddic poetry. Rydberg, however, believed that most of the Germanic myths were part of a chronological epic. H. R. Ellis Davidson has characterized this approach as "fundamentalist". [ Hilda R. Ellis Davidson: “Another approach is the fundamentalist one, illustrated by the 19th century scholar Rydberg. He accepted every detail in Old Norse mythological literature as reliable, and showed much ingenuity in building up a complex mythological scheme to include it all, smoothing over apparent contradictions. Such approaches arise from an assumption that the mythology was once complete and rational," "Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe", 1988.] While Rydberg's ingenuity has been recognized by some, [ Mary E. Litchfield wrote: "Rydberg’s researches have made it possible, for the first time, for one to form a definite conception of the cosmology of the mythology, and also because it clears away many inconsistencies that have long clung to it.” "The Nine Worlds, Stories from Norse Mythology", 1890 (reprinted by Freedonia Books, Amsterdam in 2001)] his work has most often been criticized for being too subjective. Yet, within his work, many find points on which they can agree. [Britt-Mari Näsström (1995) "Freyja: The Great Goddess of the North". University of Lund, ISBN 9122016945:
“Victor Rydberg suggested that Siritha is Freyja herself and that Ottar is identical with same as Svipdagr, who appears as Menglöd’s beloved in Fjölsvinnsmál. Rydberg’s intentions in his investigations of Germanic mythology were to co-ordinate the myths and mythical fragments into coherent short stories. Not for a moment did he hesitate to make subjective interpretations of the episodes, based more on his imagination and poetical skills than on facts. His explication of the Siritha-episode is an example of his approach, and yet he probably was right when he identified Siritha with Freyja.”
] In the first comprehensive review of the work in English, Rydberg's "brilliancy" and "great success" were recognized, alongside an acknowledgement that he sometimes "stumbles badly" in his effort to "reduce chaos to order." [In the introduction to the first English translation of Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus' "Gesta Danorum" by Oliver Elton, Frederick York Powell wrote in 1894:
No one has commented upon Saxo's mythology with such brilliancy, such minute consideration, and such success as the Swedish scholar, Victor Rydberg. More than occasionally he is over-ingenious and over-anxious to reduce chaos to order; sometimes he almost loses his faithful reader in the maze he treads so easily and confidently, and sometimes he stumbles badly. But he has placed the whole subject on a fresh footing, and much that is to follow will be drawn from his "Teutonic Mythology," adding "The skeleton-key of identification, used even as ably as Dr. Rydberg uses it, will not pick every mythologic lock, though it undoubtedly has opened many hitherto closed."
] In 1976, German-language scholar Peter-Hans Naumann published the first evaluation of the full range of Viktor Rydberg's mythological writings. In 2004, Swedish Doktorand (PhD student) Anna Lindén reviewed the full two-volume work on mythology, concluding in part that it was not more widely received because it was not fully available in one of the three international languages of scholarship: English, German or French. ["Viktor Rydberg and the comparative study of the history of Indo-European religion", by Anna Lindén, Doktorand, Lund University; Himlens blå, Örjan Lindberger, Veritas 5 (1991)]

At the time of its publication, the German school of Nature mythology dominated the field, and contemporary scholars took a dim view of comparative mythology, which would come to flourish in the 20th century. Commenting on Rydberg’s mythological work in 1902, Dutch Professor, P.D. Chantepie de la Saussaye, remarks:

”The comparative school has, even at the present time, some firm adherents. Among these may be reckoned the Swede, V. Rydberg, who shows great learning in the combination of various aspects of mythical narratives and according to whom even the cosmogonic myths are to be classed among the original possessions of the primitive Indo-European period. Such attempts, however, —of which this single example will suffice—lie outside of the current of modern development.” [The Religion of the Teutons, Boston and London, Ginn and Co, 1902]
As Fredrik Gadde has explained, it was in this context, that

“the book was reviewed by several German scholars, who all took up a more or less disparaging attitude towards Rydberg’s methods of investigation and his results. Although they speak with high praise of the author's learning, his thorough insight, his ability to occasionally throw light upon intricate problems by means of ingenious suggestions, they criticize severely his hazardous etymologies, his identification of different mythical figures without sufficient grounds, his mixing up of heroic saga and myth, and, above all, his bent for remodeling myths in order to make them fit into a system which (they say) never existed.” [Gadde, Frederik (1942). “Viktor Rydberg and Some Beowulf Questions,” Studia Neophilologica 15:72.]

"Rydberg's work was, then, stamped as a failure, and this verdict from certain points of view cannot be considered unjust, seems to have caused the book to fall into oblivion, a fate which surely it has not deserved." [ ibid, Gadde, p. 73.] Among contemporary Swedish reviewers, Hildebrand and Bååth were appreciative, the latter unreservedly praising the work. [ibid, Gadde, citing Hildebrand, Nordisk Tidskrift, 1887, p. 251, and Bååth Nordisk Tidskrift, 1891, p. 68.] In 1892, Irish scholar Stopford A. Brooke remarked: "When we have made every allowance for a certain fancifulness, and for the bias which a well-loved theory creates, this book is a real contribution to Northern mythology." [History of Early English Literature, Vol. I, 1892, p. 111, fn.] While, in 1942, Fredrik Gadde concluded:
"Even though the views set forth by Rydberg never stood a chance of being accepted, there are points in his exposition that deserve being once more brought to light." ["Viktor Rydberg and Some Beowulf Questions" (1942)Studia Neophilogica 15: 71-90.]

Since their publication, some of Rydberg's mythological theories have been cited in a number of other scholarly works including his theory regarding a World Mill, [Georgia de Santilliana and Hertha von Duchend, "Hamlet's Mill", 1969. Clive Tolley, "The Mill in Norse and Finnish Mythology." 1995 Saga-Book 24:63-82, p.73. German Kommentar zu den Liedern der Edda, Bd. 3, Grottosöngr.] the dead, [William H. Swatos, Jr. and Loftur Reimar Gissurarson, Icelandic Spiritualism: Mediumship and Modernity in Iceland, pp. 38-39.] various aspects of the world-tree Yggdrassil, [ The Ash Tree In Indo-European Culture, Mankind Quarterly, Volume XXXII, Number 4, Summer 1992, pp. 323-336] the afterlife and underworld [H.V. Routh, God, Man, & Epic Poetry, A Study in Comparative Literature, Cambridge University Press, 1927, pp. 36n, 45, 65n, 80n, 81.] and his identification of Harbard with Loki in the eddic poem Hárbarðsljóð. [Carol Clover "Hárbardsljóð as Generic Farce", in "The Poetic Edda, Essays on Old Norse Mythology," edited by Paul Acker and Carolyne Larrington, 2002, ISBN 0815316607. Kommentar zu den Liedern der Edda, edited by Klaus Von See, Beatrice LaFarge, Eve Picard, Ilona Priebe, and Katja Schultz, Bd. 3, p. 836.] He has been mentioned as one of several writers who proposed analogs of Askr and Embla in comparative mythology, ["The Askr and Embla Myth in a Comparative Perspective" (2008) by Anders Hultgård. Published in Old Norse Religion in Long-Term Perspectives: Origins, Changes, and Interactions, Edited by Anders Andrén, Kristina Jennbart, and Katharina Raudvere, Nordic Academic Press, 2006.] and who sought Indo-Iranian analogs for the Eddic Poem, Völuspá. [ Simek, Rudolf, "Dictionary of Northern Mythology", pp. 366-67.] Marvin Taylor cites Rydberg’s definition of the phrase, “dómr um dauðan hvern,” as predating that of a more contemporary writer cited by the author in his review of Julia Zernack's Geschichten aus Thule, 1994, published in the Saga-Book of the Viking Society. [“If Zernack wants to use the word already, how about mentioning Viktor Rydberg, who made the same point in 1886 ("Undersökningar i germansk mythologi", I 373)?"]


Many of Rydberg's works can be found catalogued on the Project Runeberg website listed below.

*1857, "Fribytaren på Östersjön"
**"The Freebooter of the Baltic", translated by Caroline L. Broomall, 1891.
*1858, "Singoalla"
**Singoalla, A Legend-Story, translated by Josef Fredbärj, 1904.
*1859, "Den siste Atenaren"
**"The Last Athenian", translated by William W. Thomas Jr.
*1862, "Bibelns lära om Kristus" (‘"Christ According to the Bible"')
*1865, "Medeltidens Magi"
**"The Magic of the Middle Ages" translated by August Hjalmar Edgren.
*1871, "Lille Viggs äventyr på julafton" (Little Vigg's Adventures on Christmas Eve)
**"Little Vigg's Christmas Eve", in the anthology, Australia Once a Month, translated by D. Conolly, 1885.
*1874, "Romerska sägner om apostlarna Petrus och Paulus"
**"Roman Legends about the Apostles Paul and Peter", translated by Ottilia von Düben, 1898.
*1877, "Romerska Dagar"
**"Roman Days", translated by Alfred C. Clark, 1877.
*1876, Swedish translation of Goethe's Faust
*1882, "Segerssvärdet" ("The Sword of Victory")
*1887, "Fädernas gudasaga"
**"Our Fathers' Godsaga", translated by William P. Reaves, 2003.
*1886, "Undersökningar i germanisk mythologi, första delen", ("Investigations into Germanic Mythology, Volume I").
**"Teutonic Mythology" translated by Rasmus B. Anderson 1889
*1889, "Undersökningar i germanisk mythologi, andre delen".
**Viktor Rydberg's Investigations into Germanic Mythology, Volume 2, Parts 1 & 2, translated by William P. Reaves, 2004-2007.
*1882-1891 Dikter ("Poems")
**A selection of these appear in "Anthology of Swedish Lyrics from 1750 to 1925", translated by Charles W. Stork, 1930; and "The North! To the North!: Five Swedish Poets of the Nineteenth Century", translated by Judith Moffett, 2001.
*1891, Vapensmeden,(The Armorer, literally "The Weapon-smith").
*1894, Varia (Miscellanea).
*1895 Den hvitarasens framtid ("The Future of the White Race"). Introduction to Swedish edition of Benjamin Kidd’s "Social Evolution". Stockholm: Hugo Gebers.


* [ Viktor Rydberg] in the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica
*Gustafson, Alrik, "A History of Swedish Literature" (Minneapolis, 1961)
*J. Moffett, 'Viktor Rydberg, 1828-1895', in "The North! To the North!: Five Swedish Poets of the Nineteenth Century" (2001).

External links

* [ Viktor Rydberg, His Life and Works, a Memorial by Tore Lund.]
* [, Viktor Rydbergs Sällskapet (The Viktor Rydberg Society), publisher of the Journal "Veratis", devoted to Rydberg's Life and Literature.]
* [, Several works online at Projekt Runeberg (in Swedish)]
* [ Viktor Rydberg's "Teutonic Mythology: Gods and Goddesses of the Northland" 1906 edition, e-book]
* [, Viktor Rydberg and the comparative study of the history of Indo-European religion, by Anna Lindén, Doktorand, Lund University.]
* [ The Invincible Sword of the Elf-Smith, The Complete Norse Mythology Set to Music, based on Rydberg's Fädernas Gudasaga.] by Mats Wendt:

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