Uppsala University Library

Erik Benzelius' Edition of 1750


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Erik Benzelius the Younger (1675–1743) came from a remarkable family. His father, Erik Benzelius the Elder, was son of a farmer in Bensbyn, a small village near Luleå in the north of Sweden. Father Benzelius took his family name from the village. He completed his career as the Archbishop of Sweden, as did his eldest son Erik the Younger and two other sons, Jakob and Henrik.

As a student and scholar, Benzelius – Erik the Younger – made a comprehensive educational tour in Europe for some years. He established scholarly relations to the learned elite of his time: Leibniz, Thomasius, Malebranche, and others. Back in Uppsala Benzelius was after a couple of years (in 1702, at the age of just 27!) appointed the Librarian of Uppsala University. Though ungraduated, he was chosen for his wide learning and for his fame of "wonder child". And the choice was lucky; the library was remarkably enriched under his leadership, regarding quality as well as quantity. As a scholar, a teacher, and a university official, Benzelius was multidisciplinary. He was a "polyhistor", interested in science as well as in the humanities. As a lecturer, an editor, and a founder of learned societies, he became an intellectual central figure in Uppsala and in Sweden in general.

Junius’ and Stiernhielm’s editions of the Codex Argenteus had opened up a new field of research: the Gothic language. The editors had essentially paid attention to the Gothic vocabulary, while the grammar was still virgin soil. However, there were scholars eager to grapple with this aspect of the language, but some of them suspected the published editions to suffer from misreading and lacunas though they could not verify it.

But Benzelius could, he had the codex in his hands. One day in the beginning of his library career he began with some spot tests. »One day«, he says, »I took it into my head to collate some leaves of Cod. Argenteo with Editione Dordrechtana, and as I found this not being correct, I went through all the manuscript, supplementing infinitely many places.« But of course the work went slowly, since Benzelius had many duties and tasks of great moment. In 1706 Benzelius persuaded Lars Roberg, professor of medicine, to make a facsimile page of the manuscript in woodcut, and sent it to different persons. At the same time he translated the Gothic text of the Codex Argenteus into Latin, since he did not find the Vulgate suitable as a parallel text. These measures were preliminaries. Now the object was to get the King interested.

The King became interested or at least very positive to the project, and this was very much thanks to offensive lobbying efforts from Benzelius’ supporters. When Olof Rudbeck obtained an audience with the King in Lund in the summer 1717, he used the opportunity for this purpose. On his way to Lund, Rudbeck had met Count Carl Mörner, member of the Royal Council, who also got very keen on Benzelius’ project when he heard about it. Mörner too attended the King for the same purpose and got a very positive response.

However, the following year 1718 was fatal for the Swedish King Karl XII. The famous bullet at Halden during his Norwegian raid crossed his head and ended his life.  In this situation it seemed impossible to Benzelius to base the project on Swedish resources. Benzelius turned his eyes abroad. He began to look for the Gothic types once cut by Junius and found them in England, more specifically at Oxford University, as we have seen earlier. So he began to negotiate with English scholars, making plans, looking for partners and looking for financial backing. These preparations went on for several years in various stages.

Benzelius worked tirelessly with the project, though he had left Uppsala to become Bishop of Gothenburg in 1726 and of Linköping in 1731. In 1742 he was appointed Archbishop of Uppsala and would have returned there if he had not died the year after. However, the edition was published several years after Benzelius’ death thanks to Benzelius’ English co-editor, the vicar and philologist Edward Lye. Lye was skilled in the Gothic language, as Benzelius had also become over the years.

The 1750 edition contains Benzelius’ collating of the Gothic text and his translation into Latin. The Gothic text is printed with Junius’ types. Moreover, there are critical and grammatical commentaries by Benzelius, and also his preface concerning the philological relations of the Gothic language and Wulfila’s Bible translation. Lye’s contribution is a Gothic grammar and several notes. The Eusebian section numbers are noted in the margin, but the parallel tables are omitted.

Benzelius like the earlier editors had not, in spite of his qualified philological achievement, been able to fill up all the lacunae in the Gothic text. Perhaps he was afraid of later critical voices when he wrote in his autobiographical notes: »I could believe that many a one coming after me would say, that in many places I have feigned what is supplemented, since he cannot see primo intuitu the letters on the leaf; but be as diligent as I: have that patience: use the glasses: turn the leaf so that not too bright sunshine catches the purple colour: confere loca parallela, and you will find them rightly as easy as I.«


The woodcut block Lars Roberg made for Benzelius in 1706