Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Early Germanic Literature and Culture

Early Germanic Literature and Culture

Brian Murdoch
Malcolm Read
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 344
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Early Germanic Literature and Culture
    Book Description:

    The first volume of this set views the development of writing in German with respect to broad aspects of the early Germanic past, drawing on a range of disciplines including archaeology, anthropology, and philology in addition to literary history. The first part considers the whole concept of Germanic antiquity and the way in which it has been approached, examines classical writings about Germanic origins and the earliest Germanic tribes, and looks at the two great influences on the early Germanic world: the confrontation with the Roman Empire and the displacement of Germanic religion by Christianity. A chapter on orality -- the earliest stage of all literature -- provides a bridge to the earliest Germanic writings. The second part of the book is devoted to written Germanic -- rather than German -- materials, with a series of chapters looking first at the Runic inscriptions, then at Gothic, the first Germanic language to find its way onto parchment (in Ulfilas's Bible translation). The topic turns finally to what we now understand as literature, with general surveys of the three great areas of early Germanic literature: Old Norse, Old English, and Old High and Low German. A final chapter is devoted to the Old Saxon Heliand.Contributors: T. M. Andersson, Heinrich Beck, Graeme Dunphy, Klaus Düwel, G. Ronald Murphy, Adrian Murdoch, Brian Murdoch, Rudolf Simek, Herwig Wolfram.Brian Murdoch and Malcolm Read both teach in the German Department of the University of Stirling in Scotland.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-637-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-ix)
    Brian Murdoch and Malcolm Read
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. x-x)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)
    Brian Murdoch and Malcolm Read

    Why should a history of early medieval German literature contain a collection of apparently disparate essays, only a few of which — and those toward the end of the volume — have anything directly to do with literature at all? Indeed, even in the later chapters, some of the literature described either is not literary (at least in the sense that the modern world might understand it), or not German (but rather from England or from Scandinavia). The aim of this volume is to provide some insights into aspects of the culture of the Germanic world from which German literature in the...

  7. The Concept of Germanic Antiquity
    (pp. 25-38)
    Heinrich Beck

    The study of germanic antiquity(Germanische Altertumskunde),both as a concept and as a problem, is a peculiarly German affair. This is demonstrated by the fact that there is no entirely appropriate English translation of the term. It is worth considering why, and to what extent, the founders and subsequent representatives of this discipline saddled themselves with a conceptual term that exercises critical attention, today more than ever. Such critical considerations are concerned with both aspects of the term: “Germanic” on the one hand, and “antiquity” on the other. TheReallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde,which began to appear in its...

  8. Origo Gentis: The Literature of Germanic Origins
    (pp. 39-54)
    Herwig Wolfram

    Theorigo gentistheme — the literary examination of the origins of a given people, which in the Germanic context is the theme of this chapter — does not constitute a literary genre in its own right,¹ but is found in connection with various different genres to produce what is in fact agenus mixtum,which conveys details of the origins of a particular people by using various narrative patterns. Examples of theorigo gentismay be found in heroic epics, may introduce or form part of ethnographic works, chronicles, biographies and legends, or may even be used in official writings either...

  9. Germania Romana
    (pp. 55-72)
    Adrian Murdoch

    In a.d. 15 the Roman general Germanicus, adopted son of the emperor Tiberius, crossed the Rhine at the head of eight infantry divisions of the Roman army. His mission was to avenge Rome’s most humiliating defeat, a battle that had taken place six years previously that wiped out three of Rome’s elite legions, possibly as many as twenty thousand men. The effects of that massacre are in some respect still being felt today. What had happened? Over a period of three days the new governor of Germania, three legions, and three cavalry units were massacred in the Teutoburg Forest. The...

  10. Germanic Religion and the Conversion to Christianity
    (pp. 73-102)
    Rudolf Simek

    Of all the fields of early Germanic culture and literature, none has been as badly marred by ideological controversies as the study of the pre-Christian heathen Germanic religion. The great interest taken by the political and cultural leaders of the Third Reich in this field was unfortunately shared by many university teachers at the time. They saw this interest as a unique chance to promote their fields and themselves. This led to a nearly total lapse of interest after 1945. For almost thirty years after the Second World War, work in this field restricted itself either to minor studies or...

  11. Orality
    (pp. 103-119)
    R. Graeme Dunphy

    In the context of literary history, “orality” refers to traditions of oral performance of works which may also be literary works, or which may resemble literature. The widely used tag “oral literature” is a contradiction in terms, and is in several respects too problematic to be helpful. It is better to speak of oral verse, oral narrative traditions, oral epic and so forth. However, in a literary history which looks back to the beginnings one must take into consideration the production of literature before it took on written form. Long before the advent of writing, the careful assembly of words...

  12. Runic
    (pp. 121-147)
    Klaus Düwel

    Runes are the name given to the earliest Germanic written characters, characters that differ from any modern alphabet. Their precise origin remains unknown, though it is assumed that they were based on a Mediterranean alphabet (Greek, Latin, or Northern Italic), Latin because of the great impact of Roman culture on Northern Europe being the most probable. In any case, the several related Northern Italic alphabets used in inscriptions found in the Alps from the fourth to the first century B.C . demonstrate the most obvious parallels to runic shapes. The earliest extant runes can be dated archeologically to the second...

  13. Gothic
    (pp. 149-170)
    Brian Murdoch

    Gothic is the earliest germanic language to be written down in full form in manuscript — other than isolated Germanic words recorded by Roman writers. Written Gothic dates from the fourth century, several centuries before the ancestor of modern German was committed to writing for the first time. Nevertheless, titles likeGotische Literaturdenkmälerfound in the secondary literature are at best optimistic, since most of what we have in the written Gothic language (for the most part Visigothic) are translations of parts of the Greek Bible. Such nonbiblical fragments as survive are small indeed: a fragment of a biblical commentary, which...

  14. Old Norse-Icelandic Literature
    (pp. 171-204)
    Theodore M. Andersson

    The body of old Norse-Icelandic literature is larger, more varied, and of longer duration than the partially overlapping literatures of early medieval England and Germany. Old English literature disappeared from view for several centuries because of the linguistic transition after the Norman Conquest, and Old High German and Old Saxon literature were not recovered until the early nineteenth century. Old Icelandic literature, by contrast, was protected by a substantial linguistic continuity in Iceland and never disappeared from circulation altogether, although, like Old English, it received a notable stimulus from the antiquarian and national impulses of the Renaissance. In particular, the...

  15. Old English
    (pp. 205-234)
    Fred C. Robinson

    During the fifth century A.D. Germanic tribes from around the north German littoral and the modern-dayLandof Schleswig-Holstein migrated across the North Sea to the island of Britain. The occupants of Britain at that time were Romanized Celts, who were finding it difficult to defend themselves against invaders, the protecting Roman legions having been withdrawn early in the fifth century. The Germanic invaders — Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and probably some Frisians — conquered and peopled the island of Britain, which thereafter bore the nameEngla land(land of the Angles), England. The Celts fled in large numbers into Wales, Cornwall, or...

  16. Old High German and Continental Old Low German
    (pp. 235-262)
    Brian Murdoch

    There are two ways of approaching the relatively limited amount of literature (a term usually extended to cover everything written down in the vernacular) that has survived from the earliest stages of High or Low German in continental Germania, from the Low Countries to Lombardy, between about 750 and around 1200. One approach places the greatest emphasis on the Germanic content and what those survivals can confirm or tell us about pre-Christian Germanic tribal culture. Since there is little directly relevant material for this approach beyond a few legal works, a couple of charms and one single short Old High...

  17. The Old Saxon Heliand
    (pp. 263-284)
    G. Ronald Murphy

    TheHeliandis over a thousand years old, and is the oldest epic work of German literature, antedating theNibelungenliedby four centuries. It consists of approximately 6,000 lines of alliterative verse, twice the length ofBeowulf,which shares just enough imagery and poetic phraseology with theHeliandthat it might possibly be contemporary. The Heliand was written in Old Saxon,¹ possibly at the behest of the emperor Louis the Pious (Ludwig der Fromme), in the first half of the ninth century, around the year A.D. 830, near the beginning of the era of the Viking raids. That it is...

  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 285-316)
  19. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. 317-318)
  20. Index
    (pp. 319-334)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 335-335)