Chair No. 8 - Jesper Svenbro

Poet and classical philologist.
Elected: 2006.

Jesper Svenbro was born in Landskrona in 1944. After finishing school, he read Latin and Greek at Lund University, where he also later presented his thesis, written in French and entitled La parole et le marbre (1976; "The Word and the Marble"), on the origins of Greek poetics. At the time living in Rome, he was, after defending his thesis, offered a research position at the internationally renowned Centre Louis Gernet in Paris, where he worked for around thirty years. A selection of his work has been translated into Swedish in the books Försokratikern Sapfo och andra studier i antikt tänkande (2007; "Pre-Socratic Sappho and Other Studies in Classical Thought") and Ögonen våra målare (2022; "Painting with Our Eyes"). Firmly grounded in cultural sociology, his Phrasikleia (1988) – available in French, English and German – and Swedish essay collection Myrstigar (1999; "Ant Trails") are two works that examine the ways in which the ancient Greeks read and understood reading. In Fjärilslära (2002; "Butterfly Teachings"), which may be seen as a continuation of Myrstigar but can equally be read independently, the perspective is broadened to include both baroque and modernist Swedish poetry.

Although Svenbro made his debut as a poet as early as 1966 with Det är i dag det sker ("It Happens Today"), it was not until much later, while living in Paris, that he returned with his next collection of poems, Element till en kosmologi och andra dikter (1979; "Elements of a Cosmology and Other Poems"). This work can be said to anticipate his development towards longer, more impersonal, semantically refined poetry in which he, blending erudition with humour, creates a dialogue between ancient cultural history and contemporary experience. In Svenbro’s later poetry, there is a marked progression towards an intimate, personal tone, which includes giving voice to his religious experiences. This is particularly evident in the collections Blått (Blue, 1994), Vid budet att Santo Bambino di Aracoeli slutligen stulits av maffian (1996; "On Receiving the News that Santo Bambino di Aracoeli Has Finally Been Stolen by the Mafia"), Pastorn min far (2001; "My Father the Pastor"), Vingårdsmannen och hans söner (2008; "The Vineyard Worker and His Sons") and Inget andetag är det andra likt (2011; "No Two Breaths Are Alike"). Spanning half a century, his work on the extant poetry of Sappho has resulted in the essayistic volume Sapfo har lämnat oss (2015; "Sappho Has Left Us") and a collection of poems entitled Namnet på Sapfos dotter (2017; "The Name of Sappho’s Daughter"). As an Academy member, he has authored biographies of Ivar Harrie (2009), Carl Fredrik Hill (2015) and Martin P:son Nilsson (2019).

Jesper Svenbro was elected to chair number 8 at the Swedish Academy on 5 October 2006, succeeding Östen Sjöstrand. He was a member of the Nobel Committee from 2019 to 2020.