Nils Ekedahl, Virtue and Apotheosis: Georg Stiernhielm's Hercules from poem to drama.
In 1658, Georg Stiernhielm's Hercules, the most famous poem of Swedish Baroque literature, was published as a moralising treatise, urging young Swedish noblemen to attain virtue and honour. Eleven years later, in 1669, the poem was converted into a drama, Spel om Herculis wägewal, given at the royal court in Stockholm. Despite a number of alterations of and additions to the original text, most scholars have interpreted the dramatization as a morality play in close conformity with the poem. In this article, however, I have focused on the differences between the two versions of Stiernhielm's story of Hercules' choice between lust and virtue. The differences are traced on three levels: the social context, the rhetorical structure of the text, and its ideological message.
The social context of Hercules was the Swedish government's demand for literate and intellectually trained noblemen after the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. In his poem Stiernhielm stresses the nobleman's duty to society, and declares that virtue and honour is to be attained only by studies and hard work in the administration of the new Baltic empire. The context of the dramatization was the political propaganda of the royal dynasty during the minority of Charles XI. The results of his studies had been discomforting, and at the Diet in 1668 the government's managing of the education of the future king was brought up for debate. This makes it likely that the purpose of the stage production of Spel om Herculis wägewal was to confirm the ability of the young prince to reign the country.
According to their rhetorical structure, the two versions of the story about Hercules' choice belong to two different genres. Hercules is a clearly deliberative text, consisting mainly of a pro et contra-argumentation between Lady Lust and Lady Virtue, whereas the dramatization is written in close accordance with the classical rules for epideictic oratory and represents Hercules as a moral example. While Stiernhielm's original poem belongs to the genus deliberativum of classical rhetoric, Spel om Herculis wägewal belongs to genus demonstrativum.
The two versions differ finally in their ideological message. In an important article, Sven Delblanc has argued that the protagonist of Hercules is intended as a vir magnanimus or impersonation of virtus heroica, the Aristotelian concept of heroic virtue. In my opinion, there is, however, no satisfying evidence of this in the actual poem, which gives only a brief sketch of Hercules' character. In the dramatization, on the other hand, the protagonist is distinctly depicted as a vir magnanimus. He is also explicitly identified with the Swedish prince, which emphasizes the dynastical purpose of the stage production. In Spel om Herculis wägewal Stiernhielm's didactic poem thus has been transformed into a political spectacle.
Uppsala: Svenska Litteratursällskapet , 2000. Vol. 121, 5-32 p.