Viktor Rydberg och den jämförande indoeuropeiska religionshistorien
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In the United States of today, there is an increasing interest taken in the books on comparative religion written by the Swedish poet and scholar Viktor Rydberg (1828–95). Last year two of his major works, Researches in Teutonic mythology (Undersökningar i germanisk mythologi, I) and Magic of the Middle Ages (Medeltidens magi), appeared in English reprint. At the same time Rydberg’s Our father’s god saga (Fädernas gudasaga) was translated into English. In this essay, I have studied Rydberg’s mythological research of the 1880s – especially his Indo-European comparisons – in its scholarly context and asked why it did not attract as much attention as one would have expected. Rydberg’s research is, of course, far too fanciful for our modern taste; yet, I think it deserves better than being ignored as a mere curiosity. Even today, Rydberg’s Indo-European comparisons in the second part of Undersökningar (not yet available in English translation) can give the Indo-European scholar much inspiration. Characteristic for Rydberg as a scholar of comparative religion is his independence. The main thesis in Undersökningar is that the originally individual myths were arranged in an epical chain, starting with chaos and creation and ending with Ragnarök and the new creation, during the Neolithic period (the oldest Indo-European age, according to Rydberg). Rydberg sees the epical chain as the essence of the Teutonic and Indo-Iranian mythologies. He probably got this idea from the Old Norse poem Völuspá, which contains a kind of eschatological epos. The focus on apocalypse and eschatology in the ancient Iranian religion probably also inspired him. Rydberg’s mythological research had little influence on his contemporaries, since comparative religion was dominated by schools that Rydberg did not belong to. He was in fact sometimes very critical of them, and the representatives of those schools were of course as critical to Rydberg as he was to them. Rydberg’s Undersökningar was written in the Swedish language. Although the first part of this work was translated into English in 1889, the from a scholarly perspective most interesting Indo-European comparisons were to be found in the second part, not available in any of the world languages. This fact surely diminished Rydberg’s international influence.