Greta Giädda might almost have become one of the many forgotten female poets who from time to time treated friends and relatives to the odd verse at special occasions, such as weddings, funerals or birthdays. But the discovery of a manuscript in Linköping’s Stifts- och Landsbiblioteket revealed her to be the woman who, in the early eighteenth century, initiated possibly the first-ever flyting in Swedish.
Greta Giädda was probably born into a clergyman’s family in Naverstad in the Bohus region in the early 1680s. Her father appears to have been removed – possibly due to suspicions of collaboration with the enemy on the west coast – to Linköping diocese around the year 1715, at which point Greta Giädda should already have left her parental home. By the 1710s she was probably already in Stockholm, near the rectorate of Jacob and Johannes parish, where the priest Andreas Lysing and his wife lived and worked. In 1719 Greta Giärde married the priest Johannes Norrstadius, who became the rector of Västerlösa in Linköping diocese a few years later.
Andreas Lysing’s circle of acquaintances included poets such as Johan Runius and Carl Johan Lohman. Johan Runius made a toast to a wedding couple with an ordinary but perhaps unusually favourable ode to marriage. His poem was printed in 1712 and elicited a response from Greta Giädda. She was around 30 years old at the time and happily unmarried. She formulated her objections to Runius in defence of the status of the unmarried woman in a contra verse. It was perhaps intended as a playful response – she made use of the literary device in gallant poetry by responding with similar wordplay but creating the opposite argument. Runius wrote: “Att giftta sig/ det är ett motgifft utan lika” (“to marry is an antidote without comparison”, which plays on the dual meaning of the Swedish word “gift” as both poison and marriage), to which Greta Giädda responded brusquely: “Att illa giffta sig, är ondt som bara Fanen.” (“to marry badly hurts like the Devil”).
Johan Runius took offence at this and responded to her counterargument in a later wedding verse: “Då war der en som skref: Jag hade talt för mycket / Hon Skref det ock på Vers fast det ey kom på trycket” (“There was one who wrote: I had said too much/ She even wrote it in verse but it was never printed”). It is thanks to this information that we know of the existence of the counterargument in verse and that it was written by a woman. The literary duel would continue and become increasingly heated when someone who remains unknown became involved with blatantly injurious verses which are also preserved in a manuscript. The literary duel did not end until Johan Runius died on 1 June 1713. At that point Greta Giädda composed a tribute in verse and signed it with her name and the words: “Better late than never.”
Samuel Triewald wrote an interesting follow-up in December 1712. The title of Triewald’s posthumously published collected poems reads: “In celebration of old maids”. This is a mock letter in verse about marriage and its potential necessity, written by a woman to her female companion, which makes open references to the literary duel earlier that year. Triewald reprehends Runius for his overreaction, saying he has too much fire and not enough phlegm. According to Triewald, Runius was certainly a better poet but the author of the contra verse may have been right, she too is intelligent. The long argumentation for and against marriage makes this poem worth a read, and here Triewald is possibly being supportive of Greta Giädda.
Greta Giädda continued to compose verse as the wife of Västerlösa’s rector and as a guest of Erik von Roland and his wife at Tolefors farm. Altogether 15 occasional poems survive, eight of which were printed. They include poems addressed to newlyweds married by her husband or grateful thanks for generous hospitality at Tolefors, where conversations appear to have been had on the conditions of marriage and the rights and worth of women. Greta Giädda emerges as a woman with pronounced opinions in these poems as well. Perhaps that is why Johan Hinric Lidén listed her as “an old fixture” in his handwritten list of female poets. That was how he remembered her from his childhood in Östergötland.
Greta Giädda died in 1753.