Håkon V Magnussøn

Håkon V Magnussøn

In Dante’s time there was not much accurate information in Italy about Norway.  Dante mentions it just once in the Divine Comedy in the place which includes, among the bad Christian monarchs of Europe, the king who was on the throne in his time: Hakon V, specifically Håkon V Magnussøn, who reigned over Norway from 1299 to 1319.

Dante is in no way clear about the misdeeds which he attributes to King Hakon, but it is a fact that the Norwegian monarch is one of the sixteen European reigning Christians which Dante included in the celestial Eagle invective.  The Enciclopedia dantesca, taking its cue from the annotated translations of Molbech and Lovén in Danish and Swedish, speculates that the reason lies in the fact that Hakon V had given asylum to the assassins of the Danish king Erik V in 1288 and with their aid had waged war against his successor, Erik VI, with disastrous consequences for both reigns.  And it may well be that Dante had heard of these matters from Florentine traders in contact with these northern countries.


In any case, whatever the reason, Dante condemned the Norwegian monarch and declared that he too, on the day of universal judgment, would see his name inscribed with his misdeeds in the great eternal book of divine justice.  And thus Dante also involves King Hakon – just like his Portuguese colleague Denis (also condemned for no specific reason) – in the rhetorical question uttered by the celestial Eagle: “whatever will the non-Christians (li Perse) be able to say to them when they see what has been written in that volume?”.

Here are Dante’s verses with reference to king Hakon of Norway (Par. XIX, 112-114 and 139-140):

Che poran dir li Perse a’ vostri regi,
come vedranno quel volume aperto
nel qual si scrivon tutti suoi dispregi?
E quel di Portogallo e di Norvegia
lì si conosceranno…

Gli stessi versi sono stati così tradotti in norvegese da Magnus Ulleland:

Kva mun dei persiske til dykkar kongar
seie, når dei får sjå den boka open,
der dei får ført i pennen alt sitt illverk?
Og han fra Portugal og han fra Noreg
vil kunne kjennast der…

And here is how the same verses have been translated into English by John Ciardi:

What shall the Persians say to your kings there
when the Great Book is opened and they see
the sum of their depravities laid bare?
There shall be marked for all men to behold
Norway’s king and Portugal’s…

[1] C. Wiborg Bonafede, Enciclopedia dantesca, vol IV, p. 75.  An ancient misprint which has been passed on by some mediaeval commentators right up to our time has caused this Norwegian king to be often named, even today, as Hakon VII.  Only the most recent Norwegian translator and commentator (Magnus Ulleland, Paradiset, Oslo 1996, p. 140, note to verse 139) has highlighted the error.  It is a rather peculiar misprint given that Hakon VII existed, but reigned over Norway six hundred years after Dante, from 1906 to 1957, and was a much admired monarch, having opposed the claims of the Nazi invader with great courage and dignity (see Geirr H. Haarr, The German Invasion of Norway, Barnsley 2009).

Isaac van Geelkercks, mappa di Oslo (già Christiania), 1648