Dumb Beasts in Hallowed Tombs

Swedish Funerary Poetry for Animals 1670–1760

by Daniel Möller (Author)
©2016 Monographs 371 Pages


When Kersti Berg died in 1735, she was honoured with an obituary in the form of a poetic epitaph composed by Olof von Dalin. A modern-day reader can easily get the impression that Dalin’s poem is an example of a funerary poem for a human being – one of the eighteenth century’s most common poetic genres. Kersti Berg, however, was a dog, and Dalin’s poem belongs to another genre, namely, the animal epitaph. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries this was a frequently practised form of poetry which could be used for a great many purposes, from imitations of ancient originals to masked poems composed to convey a political message or to further the writer’s career.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Starting points
  • Aim, method, and material
  • Occasional literature and rhetoric
  • Funerary poetry for humans
  • Subgenres of funerary poetry
  • Genuine and fictitious epitaphs
  • The occasional poet as the performer of a role
  • Rhetoric and the doctrine of imitatio
  • Dialogicity
  • The principle of decorum
  • Earlier research
  • Earlier research on occasional poetry
  • International research on funerary poetry for animals
  • Swedish funerary poetry for animals – not yet researched
  • Manuals of poetics
  • Instructions in manuals of poetics
  • The varied terms for funerary poetry
  • Hypothesis
  • Outline
  • Part I: Lindschöld, Rosenfelt, and Leijoncrona
  • 1. Erik Lindschöld’s epitaphs to Queen Dowager Hedvig Eleonora’s dogs
  • Lindschöld and court culture
  • The Greek Anthology
  • French salon poetry
  • The genre comes to Sweden
  • Classically influenced poetry
  • 2. Werner von Rosenfelt’s epicedium to a dead parrot and its classical models
  • Rosenfelt’s poetic conversations
  • Exotic talking birds
  • The content and structure of the poem
  • The epitaph
  • 3. Animal epitaphs as a qualification for office: Christoffer Leijoncrona’s poem about Charles XI’s bear
  • The young poet
  • Charles XI and the bear hunt in Sickelsjö
  • Leijoncrona’s poem and its function
  • Part II: Holmström and the epitaph to Pompe
  • 4. The magnum opus of Swedish funerary poetry for animals
  • Holmström’s epitaph to Pompe
  • Pompe and Charles XII’s other dogs
  • Holmström and burlesque panegyric
  • Charles XII, Pompe, and classical antiquity
  • 5. Erotic animal epitaphs
  • Indecent wordplay
  • Holmström and French poetic epigrams
  • Animals, humour, eroticism
  • Meleager and the funerary epigram to the hare
  • Catullus’ epitaph to Lesbia’s sparrow
  • Imitations of Catullus’ poem
  • Swedish erotic animal epitaphs before Dalin
  • Charles XII and la petite mort
  • 6. Poems about Pompe in dialogue and in different languages
  • Replies
  • Poetry about Pompe in Latin
  • The poem to Pompe in the Celsius’ manuscript collection
  • Bolle Willum Luxdorph’s verses about Pompe
  • Olof Hermelin’s epitaph to Pompe
  • Poems about Pompe in archives and anthologies
  • “DEPLAISIR sur la mort de PLAISIR” by Runius
  • Germund Cederhielm’s funerary poem to Hedvig Sofia’s Orange
  • The poet and official
  • The idea and content of the poem
  • The fictitious grave inscription
  • Part III: Brenner and Dalin
  • 7. Sophia Elisabet Brenner’s funerary poem to a small bird
  • 8. Olof von Dalin as a composer of funerary poems for animals
  • Background
  • The state of the texts
  • Awazu och Wallasis
  • Occasional poetry
  • Deliberately bad poetry and critique of the clergy and the learned
  • The poems to the dog Kersti Berg
  • A pekoral by Salig Gubben
  • The “learned” poem about Gasse
  • Poetic games, wills, and panegyric
  • Bilingual games
  • Funerary poems and wills
  • The East India Company
  • Dalin’s animal epitaphs – a concluding survey
  • Conclusion
  • Excursus
  • Holmström’s funerary poem to Ellan the bear
  • List of animal epitaphs
  • Bibliography
  • Index of Persons

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The publication of this book was made possible by generous grants from Magnus Bergvalls Stiftelse, Stiftelsen Konung Gustaf VI Adolfs fond för svensk kultur, Stiftelsen Längmanska kulturfonden, Stiftelsen Olle Engkvist Byggmästare, and Sven och Dagmar Saléns Stiftelse.

The translations of the Swedish poems stay as close as possible to the wording of the originals, partly because specific Swedish words and expressions, along with variant readings, are often discussed in the text. As any attempt to rhyme the English versions would inevitably require a much freer translation, rhyme has almost always been abandoned, along with the poet’s original alternation between masculine and feminine words at the end of lines. What is retained in the translations is the meaning and the rhythm of the original poems.

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Starting points

In 1651 a poet and teacher in Strängnäs, Andreas Arvidi (c. 1620–1673) published an “Epitaph to a Hen Bitten to Death by Reynard the Fox” in his handbook of Swedish poetry, Manuductio Ad Poesin Svecanam. The poem reads:

Här ligger vnder Steen then Höna Mickel beet/

Ey skötte han om hon war mager eller feet/

Hon nämpndes Skarpekloo/ och hennes Fader Kock/

Hoo hennes Moder war weet Läsaren fullnock:

Men thetta weete wij/ at Räfwen stodh på Luur/

Och henne greep ther hon gick jämpte Klåstermuur.1

Beneath this headstone lies the hen that Reynard bit,

He did not care at all if she was thin or fat,

Her name was Razorclaw, her father was called Cock,

Who her mother was, the reader knows full well:

But this much we do know, the fox he lay in wait,

And grabbed her as she walked along the convent wall.

Arvidi’s epitaph is the first known example in Sweden of funerary poetry written for an animal. In his poetic manual it serves as one of several examples of the art of iambic verse and is presumably fictitious, not referring to a real subject, an actual dead hen. The poem is in every sense simple and unambiguous: the aim was to demonstrate in an amusing way how iambic verse should be written. The age of the epitaph can be compared with the oldest known funerary poem composed for a human being in Sweden. It was written in 1535 by the Latin poet Johannes Magnus (1488–1544),2 brother of Olaus Magnus (1490–1557), author of Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus (1555).

After Arvidi had his poem printed, about twenty years were to elapse before anyone else in Sweden wrote a poem to a dead animal – at least one that has survived to the present day – and this time the subjects were not fictitious, but animals that had really existed. Erik Lindschöld (1634–1690), court poet to the ← 13 | 14 → queen dowager, Hedvig Eleonora, was the one who ensured that this form of poetry would become firmly established in Sweden; his funerary poems to the queen dowager’s bitches were probably composed in the 1670s. These poems were the incentive for the poetry that would be written in the succeeding decades. It thus seems natural to begin with Lindschöld and not Arvidi: this is the start of a line that runs via poets such as Christoffer Leijoncrona, Israel Holmström, Olof Hermelin, Johan Runius, Germund Cederhielm, Sophia Elisabet Brenner, and Olof von Dalin.

Funerary poetry for animals is a subgenre of the funerary poetry normally written for human beings. The relationship between genre and subgenre – and other subgenres (or variants) of funerary poetry – will be discussed below. In the following, for the sake of simplicity, I shall treat funerary poetry for animals as a genre, although theoretically speaking it is a subgenre.

The forward limit is set at the death of Olof von Dalin in the 1760s. This study thus comprises the later part of Sweden’s Age of Greatness – the Caroline era – and the major part of the Age of Liberty.3 After Dalin, several Gustavian poets continued to write poems in honour of dead animals. Carl Michael Bellman, for ← 14 | 15 → example, composed both an “Ode to Putte the Little Bird, Who Died in May” (1768) and some verses “On a Dead Canary” (1770);4 Samuel Olof Tilas wrote the poem “To My Little Bibi” (a siskin), which was printed in 1785 in Gustaf Regnér’s periodical Svenska Parnassen (“The Swedish Parnassus”); in the same year and in the same journal, Gustaf von Paykull published his “Stanzas to a Lady on the Death of Her Parrot”).5 During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, funerary poem for animals continued to be written.6

Many of the poems analysed and commented in this study, especially the handwritten poems, are undated and therefore difficult to order chronologically. The material is compiled in the list of animal epitaphs at the end of the book. ← 15 | 16 →

Of the almost eighty Swedish funeral poems for animals known to me up to the death of Dalin, I discuss just over a third, or about two dozen examples, here. Of these, roughly half are subjected to detailed analysis and comment. These “main poems” around which the discussion is conducted are: Lindschöld’s epitaphs for Hedvig Eleonora’s bitches, Werner von Rosenfelt’s epicedium for his family’s parrot, Leijoncrona’s epitaph for a bear shot by Charles XI, and a poem by Cederhielm, one by Brenner, and a handful by Dalin. The central vault of the book concerns Holmström’s epitaph for King Charles XII’s dog Pompe and a series of poems that came in its wake.

The two dozen poems have been carefully selected to cover the entire breadth of the genre and to enable as representative a picture as possible. Parallel to the poems from the Swedish-language area I also discuss classical Greek and Latin poems and poems from Europe contemporary with the Swedish examples; the way the selection was made is described below. Texts that do not belong to the genre of funerary poetry for animals but which can increase our understanding of this poetry in different ways are sometimes brought into the discussion.

The only woman in this context is Sophia Elisabet Brenner (1659–1730). She occupies a unique position in the early history of Swedish literature in general, because she was – with two possible exceptions7 – Sweden’s first female poet. It is not until some time into the eighteenth century that female composers of occasional poems begin to appear in Sweden.8 None of these, to my knowledge, wrote poetry about dead animals. Hedvig Charlotta Nordenflycht, however, wrote a playful oration to a squirrel.9

1 “En Hönas Graffskrifft dödh bijten aff Mickel Räf” in Andreas Arvidi, Manuductio Ad Poesin Svecanam, Thet är/ En kort Handledning til thet Swenske Poeterij/ Verß- eller Rijm-Konsten [1651], ed. by Mats Malm, Svenska författare utg. av Svenska Vitterhetssamfundet, Ny serie, Stockholm 1996, p. 88.

2 Birger Bergh, “Reformations- och stormaktstidens svenska latindiktning”, in [Ritva Jonsson (ed.)], Den levande antiken: Uppsatser om den klassiska traditionen i litteraturen, Stockholm 1973 [pp. 9–32], p. 12.

3 The Caroline era comprises the years 1654–1718, denoting the reigns of Charles X Gustavus, Charles XI, and Charles XII; the Age of Liberty extends from the death of Charles XII in 1718 to the political revolution of Gustavus III in 1772. The literary character of the Caroline period displays a broad cultural range, the most common aesthetic designations for which are “Renaissance” and “baroque”. Both Renaissance and baroque, as Kurt Johannesson has pointed out, are essentially classicistic: both idealize ancient Greco-Roman literature. This means that “baroque” and “classicism” should not be regarded as each other’s opposites. “On no occasion were there two schools, baroque and classicism, clearly confronting each other,” Johannesson writes; “We should rather regard these concepts as fictitious poles in a literary field of tension.” Kurt Johannesson, I polstjärnans tecken: Studier i svensk barock, Lychnos-bibliotek 24, diss., Uppsala 1968, p. 11. A crucial difference between baroque and French classicism is that the former has a fondness for copia, verbosity, and for amplificatio, the rhetotic of “expansion”, while the latter strives for what is called le mot propre, a short, precise expression. Stina Hansson, “Så skev är ingen brukbar pärla! Det omöjliga barockbegreppet”, in Anders Mortensen & al. (eds), I diktens spegel: Nitton essäer tillägnade Bernt Olsson, Litteratur, teater, film 10, Lund 1994 [pp. 83–97], p. 89. The literature of the Age of Liberty is, if possible, even more multifaceted than that of the Caroline period, and during its first decades the baroque – or Late Renaissance, as Stina Hansson prefers to call it – lived on in some places. The label “rococo” also occurs as an aesthetic designation for eighteenth-century literature. For a discussion of the terms “baroque” and “Late Renaissance” see Hansson 1994 and Mats Malm, Voluptuous Language and Poetic Ambivalence: The Example of Swedish Baroque, transl. by Alan Crozier, Frankfurt am Main – Berlin – Bern – Bruxelles – New York – Oxford – Wien 2011, pp. 13–21 & passim.

4 See Carl Michael Bellmans skrifter, VIII: Dikter till enskilda, 1: 1757–1773, Standardupplaga utg. av Bellmanssällskapet, Stockholm 1942, pp. 75 f., for “Ode öfver den lilla fogeln Putte, som dog i Maj 1768”, and XII: Dikter till enskilda. 5: 1794 jämte Tillägg. Dikter till konungahuset. Tillägg, Standardupplaga utg. av Bellmanssällskapet, Stockholm 1974, p. 70, for “Öfwer en död Canari-Fogel”.

5 “Til min lilla Bibi” and “Stancer til et Fruntimmer vid hennes Papgojas död”, Svenska Parnassen, Stockholm 1785, pp. 129 f. and 73 ff. Anonymous poems were printed too, for example, in the journal Nytt och Gammalt, where the pseudonym Tacitus on 23 June 1768 published an elegy on a parrot, “Öfwer en Papegoja, som nyligen dödt”, the newspaper Götheborgs Allehanda printed another parrot epitaph “Öfwer Madem. v. A.[’s] Papegoya” on 5 May 1774, and in Dagligt Allehanda on 24 October 1770 a person using the name Grefwe v. R** inserted an elegy on a canary, “Impromtu til Fröken Eleonora T***, öfwer en Canarie-Fogel-Hane som dog i Går aftons den 9 October 1770”.

6 Here are some examples from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: Carl Lindegren (1770–1815), on a canary, “Öfver en Kanariefågels död” (Samlade Arbeten, I, Stockholm 1805, pp. 265 f.); anonymous poet, on a turkey, “Til en Wän wid en Kalkonhönas död” (Götheborgs tidningar, 31 December 1805); J[acob Samuel] Eiserman (1787–1867), on a canary, “På en kanariefogels graf” (Några blad ur en dilettants portfölj, Götheborg 1849, p. 220); C. M. L., “Vid en kanariefogels död” (Eos, 1 April 1859); Harriet Löwenhjelm (1887–1918), on a dog, “Sonett till en hund” (Dikter, 5th ed., Stockholm 1941 [1927], pp. 45 f.); Ebba Lindqvist (1908–1995), on a cat, “Avsked till en katt” (Sången om Fedra, Stockholm 1952, pp. 67 ff.); Karl Vennberg (1910–1995), on another cat, “Gravskrift [över en katt]” (Tillskrift, Stockholm 1960, p. 17); Lars Gustafsson (b. 1936), on a labrador, “XVI (Elegi över en död labrador)” (Artesiska brunnar, cartesianska drömmar: Tjugotvå lärodikter, Stockholm 1980, p. 49); Barbro Dahlin (1940–2000), on a cat, “Requiem över en katt” (Döden kommer så försiktigt, Stockholm 1988, p. 25).

7 Two female Swedish poets before Brenner are known. One is Wendela Skytte (1608–1629, daughter of Göran Skytte, Councillor of the Realm), who wrote in Latin; the other was from Finland, Christina Regina von Birchenbaum (date of birth and death unknown, lived in the first half of the seventeenth century), who wrote religious poetry in Swedish.

8 On this see Ann Öhrberg, Vittra fruntimmer: Författarroll och retorik hos frihetstidens kvinnliga författare, Skrifter utg. av Avdelningen för litteratursociologi vid Litteraturvetenskapliga institutionen i Uppsala 45, diss. Uppsala, Stockholm 2001.

9 Hedvig Charlotta Nordenflycht, “Personalier Öfwer en Ikorn, som ägdes af Fru Grefwinnan och Riksrådinnan Cronstedt”, in Samlade skrifter av Hedvig Charlotta Nordenflycht, 3, ed. by Hilma Borelius & Theodor Hjemqvist, Svenska författare utg. av Svenska Vitterhetssamfundet XI, Stockholm 1938, pp. 85 ff.

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Aim, method, and material

Poems from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, most of which belong to the category of occasional poetry,10 had functions radically different from those of poetry and literature today. The major general question in this study therefore concerns the functions of funerary poetry for animals. That question is linked to two problems – the first of which seems more important – namely, (1) the contexts in which the poems came about, and (2) why they were written, what the purpose behind them was. As part of the aim of ascertaining the authors’ various motives, I shall consider rhetorical aspects of the poems. As Jørgen Fafner states, baroque and rhetoric are “communicating vessels, and the former is therefore ultimately incomprehensible without the latter”.11 I shall investigate and discuss the many functions (chiefly social) of the poetry – and try to show that the poems could have been written for career reasons, that they could function as (veiled) poems in praise of aristocrats and royals and serve as weapons in the critique of those in power in society or as camouflage in the treatment of (politically) sensitive topics, and that they could be a means to amuse, console, and entertain, for example at court or in an order, but also in a strictly private context.

Poems at this time could have double functions and, for example, function both as epitaphs to an animal and as panegyric poetry (and thus be veiled actions to improve the author’s qualifications in the quest for public office or to render the poet other kinds of benefits); this much is obvious in many contexts. The famous poets John Donne (1572–1631) and Pierre de Ronsard (1524–1585), for example, composed lyrical love poems which, besides functioning as love poems, were also intended to provoke admiration in a purely masculine context and moreover, in the case of the latter, were written by the poet to earn money.12

To carry out these animal studies, it was essential to take stock of the genre and assemble a corpus of texts. I have searched through anthologies, occasional publications, newspapers, magazines, manuscript collections, poetry collections, ← 17 | 18 → and modern scholarly editions of individual authors, all in order to paint the most comprehensive picture possible of the genre and its uses. Since the study does not go beyond the 1760s, poems published in newspapers are, naturally enough, less numerous than they would have been if the study had been extended to the 1780s. Newspapers did not begin to appear on any great scale in Sweden before the mid-eighteenth century, and among the texts they printed were examples of occasional literature such as elegies for animals. If the limit had instead been drawn at 1780 or as late as 1800, the material would have been difficult to survey and the large number of poems would have been virtually impossible to handle. Yet the chronological boundary is not absolutely observed. Sometimes examples have also been taken from poems written after 1770, but these are never at the centre of the discussion and are only cited to elucidate the older material. The aim, as far as possible – and within the set frames – is to chart this unknown and disregarded part of Swedish literature in order to see how the genre is related to foreign poems of the same kind and how it interacts with other genres; to study how it interacts with society, whether it is possible, for instance, to link it to any particular institutions, and to examine the authors’ motives and intentions.

Many of the poems discussed in this study are available only in manuscript. To decipher these I have benefited from works on Swedish handwriting, above all those by Robert Swedlund and Olof Svenonius (1948) and Alf Åberg (1950).13 In two manuscript collections in Uppsala University Library (UUB), those of Palmskiöld and Nordin, there are large amounts of occasional literature from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, including some funerary poetry for animals. The founder of the former collection was the secretary of the National Archives, Elias Palmskiöld (1667–1719); the latter collection is named after Carl Gustaf Nordin (1749–1812), who was a historian and bishop.14 Alongside these gigantic collections there are considerable quantities of manuscripts especially in the ← 18 | 19 → Royal Library (Kungliga biblioteket, KB) and the National Archives (Riksarkivet, RA), both in Stockholm, in Lund University Library (LUB), which houses the De la Gardie archive,15 and the diocesan and provincial libraries in Skara (SSB) and Linköping (LSB),16 in the Fryxell manuscript collection in Karlstad Diocesan and Grammar School Library (KLB),17 and in the “Zetterström Library” in Jämtland County Library.18 It is above all in these archives that the handwritten material for this study has been sought.

Some of the poems in the manuscript collections have been printed in various anthologies. The editors of these text collections have often modernized the spelling and sometimes also taken the liberty to make changes and omissions. One example is Per Hanselli’s “Collected Literary Works by Swedish Authors from Stjernhjelm to Dalin”, published in 22 parts 1856–1878,19 an indispensable source for anyone doing research on Swedish seventeenth- and eighteenth-century literature. One normally begins with Hanselli and then proceeds to the original publications and manuscripts. His anthology contains nine funerary poems for animals. Abraham Sahlstedt’s “Collection of Verses in Swedish” ← 19 | 20 → (I–IV, 1751–1753) likewise includes a large number of occasional poems, often abridged, by different authors.20

Two anthologies compiled by the historian, publisher, and manuscript collector Bengt Bergius, “Trifles for Pleasure and Pastime” (I–VIII, 1755–1757) and “Miscellany” (I–III, 1757–1758), printed – often without authorization – large amounts of occasional literature from the seventeenth century and the first half of the eighteenth.21 The third part of Allahanda contains almost thirty funerary poems for animals and “personalia” or versified funerary orations for animals, just over half of which are also known from elsewhere.22

In cases where the original manuscripts of the poems are lost, it is of course impossible to determine whether the editor has rendered them correctly. The poems in the anthologies by Hanselli, Sahlstedt, and Bergius should therefore be regarded as a kind of transcripts of originals, or transcripts of transcripts: often it is not possible to determine whether the editor used an original manuscript or a transcript of an original manuscript or a transcript of a transcript for his collection of texts.

If the poems are not available in scholarly editions, they are cited in the first instance from the author’s autograph, if that survives, otherwise from printed originals.23 The reason the printed originals are considered secondary sources is that, because of the censorship, one can never be sure that an early printed text was not subject to changes. From the sixteenth century onwards, all manuscripts in Sweden were examined by censors before they were printed.24 That is probably ← 20 | 21 → one reason why handwritten literature continued vigorously long after the art of printing had its breakthrough in Europe: handwritten poems were not obliged to go through the censors, and so could evade critical scrutiny and make their entrance in the literary or political arena. The Freedom of the Press Ordinance of 1766 abolished censorship, except for theological writings; the censors still had the right to alter texts and even confiscate works which, for various reasons, they did not wish to reach the general public. The freedom of the press was restricted once again, however, in 1772.25

I observe the following principles of textual criticism. If the poems do not exist in modern scholarly editions but exist in an original manuscript, these are always cited in the first instance; if they do not exist as autographs, they are cited from a transcript, that is, a manuscript by a hand other than the author’s (or from contemporary anthologies, which can also be regarded as a form of transcripts). A Haquin Spegel (1645–1714) or a Johan Hinric Lidén (1741–1793) is then always preferable to an unknown hand. In rendering the poems I have exclusively followed the spelling and word forms of the manuscripts. This means that the inconsistencies that are sometimes found are faithfully reproduced.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (November)
animal epitaph court poetry occasional poetry erotic poetry animal studies
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 371 pp., 4 coloured fig., 16 b/w fig.

Biographical notes

Daniel Möller (Author)

Daniel Möller has a doctorate in literature from Lund University, Sweden, where he is associate professor and does research on early modern literature.


Title: Dumb Beasts in Hallowed Tombs
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