Den första svenskspråkiga fabelsamlingen som konfessionaliseringsprojekt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Literary scholars have taken very little interest in the first collection of fables published in Swedish, Hundrade Esopi Fabler (A Hundred Fables of Aesop, 1603), compared to the interest shown its European counterparts. Based on research in the interdisciplinary field of ecclesiastical history, the present paper relates Hundrade Esopi Fabler to the concept of confessionalization, elaborated in recent studies on the fusion of state and religion that took place in Europe after the reformation. In Sweden, this process reached its peak at around the turn of the 16th century. The paper’s main line of argument claims that the first fable collection in Swedish made a contribution to the ongoing process of Lutheran confessionalization, which, since the Uppsala Assembly in 1593, was clearly intensifying as it aimed not only at conjoining the state and the church but also at shaping a homogenous national-confessional identity by means of education and social discipline.
The paper investigates a set of contextual and textual factors determining Hundrade Esopi Fabler as a confessionalization project. It can be proved that the Swedish collection is a faithful translation of a German fable collection composed in the 1570s by Nathan Chytraeus, a Latin professor at the Lutheran University of Rostock and also the younger brother of the famous Rostock theologian David Chytraeus. The latter had an exceptional impact on religious life in Sweden, as most Swedish clergymen during the second half of the 16th century were educated by him. Nathan Chytraeus’ Hundert Fabeln aus Esopo was translated into Swedish by Nicolaus Balk, a student in Rostock in the 1560s and later a vicar in the county of Södermanland, which, under the reign of Duke Karl, was the center of orthodox Lutheranism (or the so-called Rostock orthodoxy) within the kingdom of Sweden. Between 1596 and 1611 Nicolaus Balk published five translations, four of them being strictly religious volumes with a clear Lutheran bias and the fifth being Hundrade Esopi Fabler. It is established that the first fable collection in Swedish owes a significant part of its character as confessionalization project to the fact, firstly, that it was a Chytraeus product from Rostock and, secondly, that it formed part of the expanding Lutheran book printing that followed the Uppsala Assembly.
Several important textual factors that are scrutinized in the paper show Hundrade Esopi Fabler to be an element of the confessionalization process. The Swedish fable collection systematically refers to the authority of Martin Luther and his high esteem for the fable genre; in 1530 Luther himself set out to compose a morally edifying, though never completed, fable collection in German. The Swedish translator’s preface praises Luther as fable reviser and Luther’s own foreword of 1530, which is a veritable apology for the usefulness of the genre, is in extenso translated and included in the Swedish volume. Moreover, the fable collection proper begins with 15 fables as revised by Luther. These 15 texts, placed within the body of fables as initial reading instruction, represent what might be termed a Lutheran fable model, which functions, in form as well as in content, as the norm for the collection in its entirety. When this model is sometimes abandoned, the outcome, strikingly, often serves to reinforce the collection’s Christianizing and Lutheranizing tendencies. The analyses of a number of individual fable texts demonstrate that when compared to earlier vernacular collections of fables, the Lutheran outlook in Hundrade Esopi Fabler distinctly manifests itself by stressing the supremacy of God, the hierarchy of society and the principle of patriarchy.
The paper concludes by discussing some aspects, two of them being effects of strong genre conventions, that might have complicated Hundrade Esopi Fabler as confessionalization project: the presence of mythological deities in the fable stories, the inclusion of the Aesop novel in the collection, and finally, the conversion of Nathan Chytraeus in the 1590s from Lutheranism to Calvinism. The paper shows that the first two aspects are played down to suit the overall Lutheran approach of the collection, whereas the religious reorientation of the elderly Nathan Chytraeus probably played only a marginal role, if any, for Swedish readers. The final conclusion hence remains that the ancient genre of Aesopic fable was initially received in Swedish through the filter of German Lutheranism.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Languages and Literature


  • konfessionalisering, fabelsamlingar, aisopiska fabler, confessionalization, David Chytraeus, Nathan Chytraeus, Martin Luther, Lutheranism, aesopic fables, fable collections, literary reception history, litterär receptionshistoria
Original languageSwedish
Pages (from-to)5-50
JournalSamlaren: tidskrift för svensk litteraturvetenskaplig forskning
Publication statusPublished - 2005
Publication categoryResearch