Olaus Verelius

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Olaus Verelius

Olaus or Olof Verelius (12 February 1618 – 3 January 1682) was a Swedish scholar of Northern antiquities who published the first edition of a saga and the first Old Norse-Swedish dictionary and is held to have been the founder of the Hyperborean School which led to Gothicism.

Life and career[edit]

He was born in Häsleby parish in Jönköping County, to the pastor Nicolaus Petri and his wife, Botilda Olofsdotter, but adopted the surname Verelius in his youth.[1] He studied at Dorpat (now Tartu, Estonia) in 1633 and Uppsala in 1638, was given a position as tutor to youths of noble birth by Axel Oxenstierna, and in 1648–50 took a tour abroad on which he made a speech in Leiden about the Peace of Westphalia and in Paris on the occasion of the coronation of Queen Christina.[1]

Verelius was named to a professorship of Rhetoric at Dorpat in 1652 but never took it up; instead, in 1653 he became steward of the academy at Uppsala, a position which he held until 1657, when he took a teaching position in history. In 1662 he took up the chair in Swedish antiquities at Uppsala University which had been created especially for him.[1] In 1666 he also became national archivist, and assessor in the newly founded College of Antiquaries (Swedish: Antikvitetskollegium).[1][2] In 1675 and 1679 respectively, he resigned those positions.[1] In 1679, while retaining his professorship, he became university librarian.[1] He died in Uppsala on 3 January 1682.


The Icelandic student Jón Rúgman Jónsson, who had been intending to study in Copenhagen but ended up in Sweden, had brought a number of saga texts to Uppsala; he had copied them as leisure reading.[3] With his uncredited assistance in translation,[4] in 1664 Verelius published the first edition of an Icelandic saga, together with a Swedish translation: Gautreks saga, under the title Gothrici & Rolfi Westrogothiæ regum historia lingua antiqua Gothica conscripta.[2][5][6] This was followed by Herrauds och Bosa saga (Bósa saga ok Herrauðs) in 1666 and Hervarar saga (Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks) in 1672.[6] Verelius also wrote the first Old Norse dictionary by a non-Icelander, Index linguæ veteris scytho-scandicæ sive gothicæ, begun in 1681 and published after his death by Olaus Rudbeck in 1691.[6][7] He was probably best known abroad for this and the Hervarar saga.[8]

In 1675, he published a handbook of Swedish runic inscriptions, in Latin and Swedish, Manuductio ad runographiam.[6][9] This continued Johannes Bureus' research into the runes and was a significant work, although limited by, for example, the assumption that the runes could be derived from the Greek alphabet.[7]

On his return from his foreign tour, Verelius had written Epitomarum Historiæ Svio-Gothicæ libri quattuor et Gothorum extra patrium gestarum libri duo, a highly patriotic view of ancient Swedish history. This was published in 1730 and became popular as a reader because of its good Latin.[1]

Views and controversies[edit]

Verelius is counted the founder of the Hyperborean School in Swedish scholarship, which took the view that the Goths of Gotland were the people referred to as Hyperboreans in Greek literature; this gave rise to Gothicism and Verelius' student Rudbeck became its most prominent proponent.[1][10][11]

From 1672 to 1681 he and Johannes Schefferus disputed bitterly over the site of the heathen temple at Uppsala.[6][12] Schefferus argued in Upsalia, published in 1666, that the temple had been located in the centre of the modern town.[13] Verelius disputed this in his notes to Hervarar saga, arguing that the temple had been on the site of the church at Gamla Uppsala.[7][13] In 1678, Verelius published excerpts from Bishop Karl's Chronicle in support of his view, but the document was a forgery, although Verelius and Rudbeck may not have known this.[14][15] In any event Verelius' view, although based less on sober scholarship than Schefferus'—he considered the tower of the church at Gamla Uppsala to predate Christianity and be identical with the heathen temple—[16] has proven correct.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h C. Annerstedt, "Verēlius, Olof", Nordisk familjebok, 1926, cols. 1216–17, col. 1216, online at Project Runeberg (Swedish)
  2. ^ a b Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, Annales 1992, p. 28.
  3. ^ Henrik Williams, "Förnyad filologi: Filologins rötter", in Omodernt: Människor och tankar i förmodern tid, ed. Mohammad Fazlhashemi and Eva Österberg, Lund: Nordic Academic Press, 2009, ISBN 978-91-85509-18-8, pp. 276–92, p. 278 (Swedish)
  4. ^ Annales, p. 30.
  5. ^ Andrew Wawn, The Vikings and the Victorians: Inventing the Old North in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Cambridge: Brewer, 2000, ISBN 0-85991-575-1, p. 18.
  6. ^ a b c d e Annerstedt, col. 1217, online.
  7. ^ a b c d Henrik Schück and Karl Warburg, Illustrerad Svensk Litteraturhistoria volume 1 Sveriges litteratur till frihetstidens början, Stockholm: Geber, 1896, OCLC 178920307, p. 267 (Swedish)
  8. ^ Frank Edgar Farley, Scandinavian Influences in the English Romantic Movement, [Harvard] studies and notes in philology and literature 9, Boston: Ginn, 1903, OCLC 3505574, p. 5.
  9. ^ The Nordic Languages: An International Handbook of the History of the North Germanic Languages, ed. Oskar Bandle et al, Handbücher zur Sprach- und Kommunikationswissenschaft 22, volume 1 Berlin: de Gruyter, 2002, ISBN 978-3-11-014876-3, p. 359.
  10. ^ The Nordic Languages, p. 358.
  11. ^ Adolph Burnett Benson, The Old Norse Element in Swedish Romanticism, Columbia University Germanic Studies, New York: Columbia University, 1914, OCLC 16957175, p. 21: "and it was from [Verelius] that Rudbeck received the impetus for his work."
  12. ^ Patrik Hall, The Social Construction of Nationalism: Sweden as an Example, Lund political studies 106, Lund: Lund University Press, 1998, ISBN 978-91-7966-525-8, p. 161.
  13. ^ a b David King, Finding Atlantis: A True Story of Genius, Madness and an Extraordinary Quest, New York: Harmony, 2005, ISBN 978-1-4000-4752-9, p. 177.
  14. ^ Olof Sundqvist, Freyr's Offspring: Rulers and Religion in Ancient Svea Society, Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, Historia religionum 21, Uppsala: Universitet, 2002, ISBN 978-91-554-5263-6, pp. 299–300.
  15. ^ King, pp. 182, 185.
  16. ^ Henrik Janson, "Äkta förfalskning åter bevismaterial. Annotationes ex scriptis Karoli", Scandia 2008, pp. 41–60, p. 42, pdf p. 2 (Swedish)

Further reading[edit]

  • Claes Annerstedt. "Schefferus och Verelius, en litterär fejd i sjuttonde seklet". In Ur några antecknares samlingar: gärd af tacksamhet och vänskap till mästaren i svensk bokkunskap G. E. Klemming. Uppsala: 1891. OCLC 186602901 (Swedish)