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German Literature of the Early Middle Ages

German Literature of the Early Middle Ages

Edited by Brian Murdoch
Volume: 2
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    German Literature of the Early Middle Ages
    Book Description:

    This second volume of the set not only presents a detailed picture of the beginnings of writing in German from its first emergence as a literary language from around 750 to 1100, but also places those earliest writings into a context. The first stages of German literature existed within a manuscript culture, so careful consideration is given to what constitutes the actual texts, but German literature also arose within a society that had recently been Christianized -- through the medium of Latin. Therefore what we understand by literature in Germany at this early period must include a great amount of writing in Latin. Thus the volume looks in detail at Latin works in prose and verse, but with an eye upon the interaction between Latin and German writings. Some of the material in the newly written German language is not literary in the modern sense of the word, but makes clear the difficulties and indeed the triumphs of the establishing of a written literary language. Individual chapters look first at the earliest translations and functional literature in German (including charms and prayers); next, the examination of heroic material juxtaposes the 'Hildebrandlied' with the Christian 'Ludwigslied' and with Latin writings like 'Waltharius' and the panegyrics; Otfrid's work -- the Gospel-poem in German -- is given its due prominence; the smaller German texts and the later prose works are fully treated; as is chronicle-writing in German and Latin. Old High German literature was a trickle compared to the flood of the Latin that surrounded (and influenced) it, but its importance is undeniable: that trickle became a river. Contributors: Linda Archibald, Graeme Dunphy, Stephen Penn, Christopher Wells, Jonathan West, Brian Murdoch. Brian Murdoch is Professor of German at the University of Stirling, Scotland.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-642-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
    Brian Murdoch
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-33)
    Brian Murdoch

    The early Middle Ages are hard to define as a period. As far as the literature and culture of the German-speaking countries are concerned, however, we might try to refine the term in various ways. We might, for example, refer to the Old High German period, which is a philological designation for the earliest stage of the German language, implying a period starting in about A.D. 500, when phonological distinctions between the ancestors of English (representing Low German) and modern German (representing High German) began to assert themselves, and ending around 1050, when a further set of distinctive sound changes...

  7. Into German: The Language of the Earliest German Literature
    (pp. 35-56)
    Jonathan West

    The origins of german literature lie in the oral tradition of the pre-literary period but the origins of German literacy are to be found in the Latin literary culture of the post-Roman world.¹ Indeed, a division between primarily oral German and primarily written Latin, and essentially regional German contrasting with supra-regional Latin, is a defining feature of German literary and linguistic history from the beginnings of writing in German in the middle of the eighth century to the dawn of the early modern period in the middle of the fourteenth. Yet another three hundred years would elapse before German finally...

  8. Charms, Recipes, and Prayers
    (pp. 57-72)
    Brian Murdoch

    It cannot be emphasized sufficiently that all the material that we have in Old High German was written down in the context of the Christian Church. Nevertheless, some German texts, even though committed to writing by monks, contain at least some clues to pre-Christian, pagan writings and religious thought. Of particular interest in this respect are the few glimpses of Germanic religion that have survived in the early German charms. It is understandable, too, that even though all the pieces we have are Christianized, a disproportionate amount of attention has been paid to that aspect of these small texts. By...

  9. Latin Prose: Latin Writing in the Frankish World, 700–1100
    (pp. 73-86)
    Linda Archibald

    The early development of Germanic languages and literature has been much studied, even though the amount of surviving evidence on which to base such studies is quite limited. It must not be forgotten that the language of formal, official and academic communication was still predominantly Latin, and the volume of surviving Latin texts from this period exceeds that of the vernacular pieces many times over. The decline of the Roman Empire and the rise in power of the so-called barbarian tribes of northern and western Europe had resulted in a corresponding decline in the classical purity of the Latin language....

  10. Latin Verse
    (pp. 87-119)
    Stephen Penn

    Literary activity in early medieval Germany, as throughout most of medieval Europe, was dominated by the production of Latin texts rather than those in the vernacular, and these texts form an important part of the history of German literature in the early period. From the beginning of the reign of Pépin the Short, the first Carolingian ruler, largely as a result of reforms instituted by Charlemagne, the Latin language had acquired an unprecedented authority among educators, courtiers, and ecclesiastics. Its privileged status was maintained, as recent research has suggested, by the curricular centrality of grammatica, the first of the seven...

  11. Heroic Verse
    (pp. 121-138)
    Brian Murdoch

    It is a valid assumption that there must have been in and before the Old High German period a tradition of orally transmitted heroic poetry associated with the warrior aristocracy and consisting of tales of kings, warriors and heroes, a poetry of action and conflict, set within a particular class of society, and comparable with early poetry in many other cultures. Having oral roots, poetry of this kind — usually known as oral-formulaic poetry — would use the kind of poetic formulas that are found in writings as old as the Homeric epics, set phrases that fit into the established meter, a...

  12. Otfrid of Weissenburg
    (pp. 139-156)
    Linda Archibald

    The most significant figure in the early history of German literature is the Benedictine monk Otfrid (sometimes Otfried) of Weissenburg, author of the Evangelienbuch (Gospel Book).¹ He lived from around 800 until around 875 and completed his major work toward the end of his life between 863 and 871 in the monastery at Weissenburg, now known as Wissembourg, in the northeast of France. His poetic retelling of the gospel story consists of 7,104 lines of Old High German, packaged in sections with Latin headings taken mainly from the Bible, and provided with additional introductory pieces, one in Latin prose and...

  13. The Shorter German Verse Texts
    (pp. 157-200)
    Christopher Wells

    Commonly, the oldest written documents of any culture are ritual, historical, and legal texts embodying the religious and cultural concerns of a people. These are often verse texts, reflecting a pre-literary, pre-textual origin, since rhythm, alliteration, assonance and, later, rhyme, make the material memorable and carry it from generation to generation until it is written down. At the same time, their carefully crafted form lends them a heightened expression and raises them above the everyday.¹ Early German poetry also comes to us refracted through writing; we know nothing directly of popular oral poetry and song among the illiterate Germans, and...

  14. Historical Writing in and after the Old High German Period
    (pp. 201-226)
    R. Graeme Dunphy

    Medieval historical writing did not arise in a vacuum. The classical Greek and Latin historians had already established a tradition with its own standards and norms, which were to continue to be influential well into the modern era. However, in the late classical period a process of selection took place that determined which ancient writers would be available to the medieval reader. Some of those whom we regarded as the greatest Greek and Latin historians (from the fifth century B.C. to the first of our era) were all but forgotten in the Middle Ages. Herodotus, Thucydides, Plutarch, and Tacitus were...

  15. Late Old High German Prose
    (pp. 227-246)
    Jonathan West

    The literature of the late Old High German period is characterized by the fractured nature of the tradition. Between Otfrid von Weissenburg (ca. 800–ca. 867) and Notker of St. Gallen (ca. 950–1022), who dominates the end of the OHG period, and who was probably the most prolific author of period as a whole,¹ there is almost a century to which no substantial text of certain date can be assigned. Moreover, after Notker’s death, there is a similar forty-year lacuna in the evidence for German-language production before Williram of Ebersberg (ca. 1015–1085) and his paraphrase of the biblical...

  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 247-272)
  17. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. 273-274)
  18. Index
    (pp. 275-283)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 284-284)