Saxo was probably a canon of Lund Cathedral, at that period a Danish cathedral, and lived at the end of the twelfth century. He was in the service of Archbishop Absalon, who encouraged him to write a history of his own country from the beginnings up to his own time, with a strong Christian bias. Starting with the myths and heroic tales of primitive Scandinavia, he devoted the first nine of his sixteen books to legendary material before dealing with the first kings of the Viking age and finished in 1285, after relating the earlier exploits of King Cnut Valdemarsson. The activities of the Danish kings were intimately bound up with the monarchies of Norway and Sweden; Cnut the Great, one of Saxo's heroes, whose empire stretched as far as Britain and Iceland, was ruler of both these countries. In the last books Saxo took particular concern to describe the campaigns of Valdemar the Great and his warrior archbishop, Absalon, against the Wends of North Germany. The work is a prosimetrum, that is, in six of the first nine books he inserts poems, which are intended to parallel specimens of old Danish heroic poetry in Latin metres.
Saxo's Latin prose style is often complex, based as it is on models like Valerius Maximus and Martianus Capella, but he is a lively and compelling story-teller, often displaying a rather sly sense of humour, and an interest in the supernatural. He is the first author to give a full account of Hamlet, whose adventures he relates at some length, the elements of which in a great many respects correspond surprisingly closely with the characters and incidents of Shakespeare's play. Volume I of Saxo Grammaticus contains an introduction from the editor, and the first ten books of Saxo's work.
Karsten Friis-Jensen was born in Copenhagen, and educated at the University there, where he became a teacher from 1985 and a senior lecturer from 1990 in the Institute of Greek and Latin, now a part of the Saxo Institiute. Previously he had worked at the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae in Munich from 1983 to 1985. He was a member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters from 1997 onwards. His main field of study was Medieval Latin literature, which culminated in a scholarly edition of Saxo Grammaticus's Gesta Danorum, published in 2005, with a Danish translation by Peter Zeeberg. His other principal area of research was the medieval reception of the Roman poet Horace, and he directed the work on Horace for the Catalogus translationum et commentariorum in Toronto. Peter Fisher was born in Sheffield, and was educated there and later at Exeter College, Oxford, where he read Classics and English. He continued as a teacher in these subjects in Welwyn Garden City and subsequently as a lecturer at what is now Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge. During this time he wrote an M. Phil. thesis on Christopher Marlowe with Warwick University. Since the late 1970s he has translated and published a number of historical and medical texts from Medieval and Renaissance Latin, mainly Scandinavian. A keen amateur clarinettist, he regularly plays in local chamber groups and orchestras, with whom he has performed several concertos. He is married and has four children.