Could it be that both of Greece’s most well-known literary works, the Iliad and the Odyssey, originate from Denmark? When I wrote Ilion, I used a new and somewhat controversial theory, which claims that Homer’s classical works the Iliad and the Odyssey were indeed written down in Greece around 700 BC, but that the eposes in fact tell about people living in the mythical Nordic Bronze Age 3,600 years ago.
When you move the events in the Iliad and the Odyssey to the Nordic countries, it becomes evident that it is primarily Danish heroes that you read about and that one or several Danish bards probably composed the eposes. Greece’s most well know literary works might thus have their roots in – Denmark!
The Iliad and the Odyssey, and other great stories, could have migrated
It is not only the Iliad and the Odyssey that have their origins in Denmark, the most well-known works of several other countries seem to come from Denmark as well. Now it may sound like other countries have stolen lots of good stories from the Danes and made them their own, but the explanation is rather to be found in the migration of people and climate change. The Iliad and the Odyssey have their origins in the Nordic Bronze Age, according to Felice Vinci, who has put forth this theory. But later, the stories followed people southwards, when they had to leave their homes because of an increasingly colder climate. Eventually, these people settled down in Greece and became ancestors of today’s Greeks.
The Danish prince Amlet became the model for Shakespeare’s Hamlet
There are more stories, apart from the Iliad and the Odyssey, that could originally come from Denmark. Another example is Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Hamlet is prince of Denmark and Shakespeare took the whole storyline for the play from Gesta Danorum, or Deeds of the Danes. It is a chronicle written by the Danish writer Saxo Grammaticus in the early 13th century. In his chronicle, Saxo tells about the prince Amlet who became the model for Hamlet in Shakespear’s play.
The Swedish hero Beowulf
Yet another example is England’s famous epos Beowulf, which also takes place in Denmark. Beowulf was written down sometime between 700-1000 AD and tells about the hero Beowulf, who is half Göte/Goth/Geat and half Swede, so Beowulf is actually Swedish (as Götar/Goths/Geats lived in Sweden), but the story takes place in Denmark. There, the Danish king Hrodgar’s royal hall has been haunted by a horrible troll, Grendel. Beowulf visits king Hrodgar with his warriors and defeats the troll and releases Denmark from this horrific monster. Beowulf is composed in Old English and was written down and preserved in England. This is obviously why England has all the right to be proud of it. It is one of the oldest writings that exist in Old English and thanks to the fact that the heroic poem was written down, those of us who are Swedes and Danes can also enjoy it.
Wilhelm Tell or Danish Toke?
So, both Greece and England have Denmark to thank for their most important literary eposes – if you believe that the Iliad, the Odyssey and Beowulf stemmed from the Danes. Another example is Switzerland’s famous story about Wilhelm Tell. Wilhelm Tell is said to have lived in the 14th century. He was a brave man who refused to bow to the hat of the Habsburg bailiff (at this time, Switzerland was occupied by the House of Habsburg). The hat of the Habsburg bailiff had been hung on a pole and everyone had to bow to the hat. In this way, the Habsburg authorities wanted to humiliate the Swiss by forcing them to bow to the hat. But Tell refused. As Tell was a phenomenal archer, the bailiff subjected him to a terrible punishment. Tell was to place an apple on his son’s head and manage to hit it with an arrow using his crossbow. Wilhelm Tell brought two arrows to the trial. With the first he managed to hit the apple on his son’s head. The son survived and Tell passed the test. When the bailiff asked him why he brought two arrows, Tell answered that if he had failed he would have used the other arrow to shoot the bailiff.
There is a much older Danish version of this story, which was also recorded by Saxo Grammaticus in the early 13th century in Gesta Danorum, that is, in the Deeds of the Danes. Saxo tells about a man named Toke, who lived in the 9th century and who boasted about how good he was at archery. The Danish king, Harald Bluetooth, was annoyed by Toke’s boasting and put him to the test. The test consisted of Toke placing an apple on his son’s head and hitting the apple with an arrow. And just like in the later Swiss version, Toke brought two extra arrows, which he would have used on the king if he had missed the apple and killed his own son.
There are details in the stories that indicate that the older Danish version is considerably more realistic than the younger Swiss version. In the Swiss version, Tell uses a crossbow, which takes a while to recharge. If Tell had missed the apple and instead had hit his son and killed him, Tell would have needed some time to reload his bow with a new arrow. The bailiff’s jacks would have been able to put an end to it all, long before Tell would even had had the time to recharge his bow. In other words, the whole point of bringing an extra arrow to kill the bailiff had been lost. In the older Danish version, Toke uses a regular bow. And he also brings not one but two extra arrows. A fast archer (using a regular bow) might very well manage to shoot two arrows in mere seconds. So the Danish version is not only older but also more realistic.
To sum up: Homer’s eposes the Iliad and the Odyssey are mainly about Danish heroes (if you believe in Felice Vinci’s theory), Shakespeare’s Hamlet is about the Danish prince Amlet, England’s famous epos Beowulf and Switzerland’s story about Wilhelm Tell – all of them come from Denmark. Europe and the world have a lot to thank Denmark for, as Denmark has given us so many good stories that other countries have changed into their own versions.
Copyright Malena Lagerhorn