Alboin and Cunimund in Hell

Back in 2012 we had a look at the first novel written in Swedish, 1666/68's Stratonice by Urban Hiärne (1641-1724). He went on to become a high-ranking doctor, founded a hydrotherapeutic spa resort, was instrumental in putting an end to the Swedish witch hunts and fathered 26 children by his three wives. But before all this, at the suggestion of professor Olof Rudbeckius Sr., he also found time to write the first original play performed in Swedish: Rosimunda. This was student theatre, with a cast of young noblemen, put on to entertain the 11-y-o future king Carolus XI at Uppsala Castle on 15 August in 1665.

Hiärne took the material for his play from Paul the Deacon's narrative about the 6th century hero king of the Lombards, Alboin. (I don't know if Hiärne read Rucellai's 1525 play in Italian on the same theme.) Alboin defeated the Gepids in AD 567, killed their last king Cunimund and forced the Gepid princess Rosamund to marry him. After Alboin served his wife wine out of her own father's skull, she conspired with her husband's foster-brother Helmichis and the Byzantines and had Alboin assassinated in 572.

The play consists mainly of long verse monologues, but in Act 4, Scene 4 we get some pretty funny dialogue. My favourite line is the smug yet resigned Det ähr förseent att gaalnas, "It's too late now to get all worked up." Cunimund is in the Land of the Dead and has just watched Rosamund and Helmichis kill Alboin. (And I translate:)

Cunimund's ghost:

Yes! That was right! The inhuman dog
Has now received fair payment
For manslaughter, for the abominable wine cup
For enmity and blood-thirst
For mockery, for scorn, for the dismembered body
For cutting off my head.
I had to die thus, in order for you, Rosamund
Truly my child and my daughter
To prove definitively
That you take after your lord father.
I praise your laudable hands
And your nature that shows no degeneration.
But you, vile Alboin, have learned
To your great cost
What comes of angering my beloved daughter
Wronging her
And serving her such an awful drink
Which she would avenge.
Oh, did you not know, deluded one
And have you not learned
That the mighty heavenly avengers will not
Leave such vices unpunished?
Righteous revenge followed you
Though it travelled slowly.
But do not think that I am satisfied
By what happened to you just now.
There are no pains hellish enough
For what you truly deserve.
Yes, the thirst and unbearable hunger of Tantalus
Even such punishment would be too good for you.
But beware, you appalling blood-hound:
What you have suffered so far
Is but the vengeance and duty of my passionate daughter.
There is more to come:
To a grimmer court and harsher judgement
Will I soon sue you.

Alboin's ghost enters at full sprint, delirious.

But look, there he comes, poor wretch.
That fellow is not in his right mind
Fear-struck, as if mad and demented
He shakes, gargles, makes threats.
What a troll! Oh dear, look at him
Like horned Hecate!
He reveals his uncontrolled mind
With a hundred crazy antics
Stares at the sky and the ground with awful eyes
Bitter, dizzy and burning.

A: Oh gods in heaven! And you, Rosamund!

C: He has evil intentions.

A: Oh you Rosamund, you Rosamund!

C: What's wrong with you, madman?

A: You'll get what you deserve, and soon!

C: It's too late now to get all worked up.

Alboin runs up to Cunimund and slaps him in the face.

A: Who are you, weird-looking goat beard?
Oh it's you, who have fathered
Such a vile and dreadful daughter!

C: A righteous daughter.

A: Yes, she, who has done this to her husband - - -
Oh, I can't stand talking about it!

Alboin begins to rave again.

I want to come after you now, right away, right away!
Just look at that bent old heartless man!
You should watch out for me.
Who will give me his torch, so I can
Hit the old cod across the neck?
Where is the sword flecked with my blood?
I hate this disgraceful delay
In having myself avenged.
Oh, you ungrateful dog, Helmichis!
Oh, how dear you were to me, Rosamund
And how did you repay me?

A great blue flame rises, as if Phlegeton wishes to reclaim the ghosts.

Let's see -- where am I? What am I doing here?
Oh, wait just a little, Pluto! I'll be with you shortly.
My path leads downward after all.
I will be there in good time.
But first let me get my hands on them.
Guardsmen! Run, run, run, good men!
Be swift and kill them both!
But spare my Alswinda, my lovely daughter in waiting.
Hurry, hurry, seize them, hang them, burn them!

Alboin exits, running.


Who knows where he runs in his madness?
I know the company he keeps.
He is plotting against my Rosamund
But I shall travel away with him
To the pit of Styx, where the two of us
Shall settle our differences decisively.

The earth splits and the ghost of Cunimund swiftly climbs inside; then the crack closes.

More like this

As a schoolboy I read the first original play performed publically written in Swedish, Urban Hiärne's Rosimunda (1665). Me and my friend Tor loved the absurd spelling, the odd changes that had occurred in the sense of many words and some of the comical one-liners. Recently I learned that about…
A couple of months ago, right before TAM 9, I took note of a rather disturbing post by one of the regular bloggers on the anti-vaccine crank blog Age of Autism. Basically, the post was worrisome because in it Kent Heckenlively portrayed those who oppose anti-vaccine pseudoscience as "wicked," even…
As some here know, I have a daughter. If some idiot (like, for example, Laura Ingraham) made a comment about her, I'd stand up for her. That's what fathers do - especially if that comment had something to do about your daughter's body. Apparently this is not the case with John McCain. Quoting…
The Saltsjöbaden Co-Ed celebrates 100 years with an open house. I've been here only once since graduation a quarter of a century ago. I just saw toilet roll draped over a tree for the first time since 1977 when I lived in Connecticut. Hallowe'en has recently been imported into Swedish culture.…

"Carolus XI"I

Why not Carl XI, or even Karl XI, in English?

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 23 May 2014 #permalink

Wikipedia has Carl XI, but I like to call our three 17th century Carls Carolus -- in analogy with Gustavus Adolphus, who hardly ever gets called Gustav Adolf in English.

Alboin seems to be unaware of the line he crossed. Killing your enemy in battle is strictly business. Forcing his daughter to marry you…that's frowned upon nowadays, but back then it was standard practice. But to make her drink wine from her father's skull, and expect that she'll simply take it…what was Alboin thinking?

But Cunimund is an optimist if he think he can settle his differences with Alboin decisively in the pit of Styx. Those differences already have been settled decisively: both of them are dead. I'm reminded of the Wilfred Owen poem in which a soldier finds himself detached from the raging battle and talking to a "strange friend", not realizing that he is in the afterworld until near the end of the poem, when the other person (after a discourse on the futility of war) identifies himself: "I am the enemy you killed, my friend".

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 23 May 2014 #permalink

Kings' names are weird. I just learned Louis = Clovis (and Ludwig, Ludovicus and what was probably the original, Chlodovech). So Clovis was first, at least in France.

I reckon the real problem was that in polite society one simply doesn't serve wine in a skull. Beer, yes. Mead, at a pinch. But wine? Never!

It's OK for vin ordinaire or Beaujolais.

By John Massey (not verified) on 24 May 2014 #permalink

A bit of colour from Cheung Chau (= Long Island) where Hong Kong's only ever Olympic gold medal winning champion came from - the windsurfing goddess San San (Lee Lai-shan).

Taoist priests are a bunch of thugs, but the kids are beautiful.

By John Massey (not verified) on 24 May 2014 #permalink

"Taoist priests are a bunch of thugs"
They should work for Thulsa Doom!

i think English king-spelling antics are sprung from the same instincts that make them drive cars on the left side of the road or hate the European Union. They just can't do things the same way as the continentals.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 26 May 2014 #permalink