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German Literature of the High Middle Ages

German Literature of the High Middle Ages

Edited by Will Hasty
Volume: 3
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 350
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  • Book Info
    German Literature of the High Middle Ages
    Book Description:

    The High Middle Ages, and particularly the period from 1180 to 1230, saw the beginnings of a vibrant literary culture in the German vernacular. While significant literary achievements in German had already been made in earlier centuries, they were a somewhat precarious vernacular extension of Christian Latin culture. But the vernacular literary culture of the High Middle Ages was an integral part of broader cultural developments in which the unquestioned validity of traditional authoritative models began to lose its hold. A secular culture began to emerge in which positive value began to be attached to the – however transitory – allegiances, pleasures, and loves of life. In new essays dealing with the most significant literary genres (the heroic epics, the romances, the love lyrics, and political poetry) and with broader political, social, and cultural issues (control of aggression, territorialization), this third volume of the Camden House History of German Literature demonstrates how the emergence of a vernacular literary culture in Germany was an important part of a broader cultural transformation in which medieval people began to redefine themselves, their relationships to one another, and the position of humanity in the scheme of things. Contributors: Albrecht Classen, Nicola McLelland, Rodney Fisher, Neil Thomas, Marion Gibbs and Sidney Johnson, Rüdiger Krohn, Will Hasty, Nigel Harris, Susann Samples, Sara Poor, Michael Resler, Rüdiger Brandt, Elizabeth A. Andersen, Ulrich Müller and Franz Viktor Spechtler, Ruth Weichselbaumer, W. H. Jackson, Charles Bowlus. Will Hasty is Professor of German Studies and co-founder and co-director of the Center for Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the University of Florida.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-669-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
    W. H.
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)
    Will Hasty

    The European High Middle Ages saw a convergence of oral and written narrative traditions, new philosophical and scientific knowledge, and individual creativity that has been called the “Twelfth Century Renaissance.”¹ Beginning in the twelfth century, authors schooled in the septem artes liberales (seven liberal arts) turned in greater numbers from Latin to the vernacular languages as their means of literary expression. Literary works from classical antiquity enjoyed a surge of popularity and reached wider audiences as they were transformed into epics in French and German.² Poetry originally based on events during the migration period (Völkerwanderungen: fifth and sixth centuries) or...

  6. Part I. The First Flourishing of German Literature

    • Heinrich von Veldeke
      (pp. 23-35)
      Albrecht Classen

      Two closely connected myths deeply influenced medieval concepts about the origins of the medieval world and its cultural identity. The first myth dealt with the history of ancient Troy and its defeat at the hands of the Greeks, originally described in Homer’s Iliad, parts of which were later handed down in the sixth century Historia de excidio Trojae attributed to the Latin author Dares Phrygius and in the fifth century Ephemeris belli Trojani attributed to Dictys Cretensis, which in turn goes back to a Greek source from the first century.¹ The second myth concerned Aeneas and his successful escape from...

    • Hartmann von Aue
      (pp. 37-53)
      Rodney Fisher

      Although one of the best known and most widely studied poets of the German Middle Ages, Hartmann von Aue presents the modern scholar in search of biographical details with the usual problems: there are no firm dates, no contemporary historical records of his name, no precise pointers, even within the works themselves, to personal circumstances or family connections.¹ By his own proud boast, he was a knight with a good education, an unusual distinction for the warrior class. The place name “Au” and compounds of it are far too common to be localized with any degree of confidence. There is...

    • Gottfried von Strassburg and the Tristan Myth
      (pp. 55-73)
      Rüdiger Krohn

      Behind the myth of Tristan and Isolde is an Occidental tradition of thinking according to which marriage and love are mutually exclusive. This tradition was already formulated in a provocative way by Andreas Capellanus around 1200 in his theoretical treatise on love, De amore libri tres,¹ and it was given a broader cultural and socio-historical legitimacy in 1939 by Denis de Rougemont.² Nowhere has the contradiction between the universally binding demands of society and the autonomously postulated desire of the individual been so sharply formulated as in the Tristan romances. Each of these romances depicts in its own way the...

    • Wolfram von Eschenbach
      (pp. 75-100)
      Marion E. Gibbs and Sidney M. Johnson

      Wolfram von Eschenbach belongs to the great quartet (along with Hartmann von Aue, Gottfried von Strassburg, and the anonymous author of the Nibelungenlied) of medieval German narrative poets at the turn of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, but he is as distinct from them as they are from one another. It is the nature of that distinctiveness that will concern us here, together with the enduring regard in which he is held. The number of manuscripts of his two major works attests to his popularity in the Middle Ages (87 MSS and fragments of Parzival, 76 of Willehalm). In the...

    • Ulrich von Zatzikhoven’s Lanzelet
      (pp. 101-107)
      Nicola McLelland

      Lanzelet, a work of 9444 lines in the four-beat rhyming couplets of German courtly romance, is based, according to the narrator, on a welschez buoch (9324–41), a French written source brought to Germany by a hostage for Richard the Lionheart in 1194, Hûc de Morville. The author of the German work, Ulrich von Zatzikhoven, was probably a cleric who lived not far from Lake Constance in what is today Switzerland. K. A. Hahn’s edition (1845, reprinted 1965) is based on the two nearly complete manuscripts which survive, W (fourteenth century) and P (fifteenth century), both from the Alemannic dialect...

    • Walther von der Vogelweide
      (pp. 109-120)
      Will Hasty

      On the basis of the new accents he was able to give to the love lyric-tradition, and the new foundation he provided for didactic poetry (the Sangsprüche, or gnomic poetry) with his verses on religious, social, and political topics, Walther von der Vogelweide was one of the most innovative and productive lyric poets of the German High Middle Ages.¹ Walther’s lyric poetry could be discussed in the chapters about the love lyrics and didactic and political poetry elsewhere in this volume, but the important role he played in shaping these lyrical genres and in establishing new thematic and formal relationships...

  7. Part II. Lyric and Narrative Traditions

    • Didactic Poetry
      (pp. 123-140)
      Nigel Harris

      It is possible to argue that almost all medieval poetry is didactic. Even authors of works such as courtly romances or other essentially secular narratives sought to provide not only amusement, excitement or aesthetic stimulation, but also instruction, edification, and moral improvement. Moreover, most creators and recipients of medieval literature would probably have seen no contradiction between the twin aims of teaching and entertaining, but would have regarded the two as ultimately indivisible.

      Within this broad consensus, however, there was ample room for differences of priority and approach. In many works, the didactic element seems, to the modern reader at...

    • Minnesang — The Medieval German Love Lyrics
      (pp. 141-160)
      Will Hasty

      One of the earliest vernacular references to love songs in Germany is contained in Von des tôdes gehugede (remembrance of death), a poem written ca. 1160 by a layman poet named Heinrich, who was associated with the monastery of Melk. The poem articulates the memento mori theme so common in religious and lay literature of the Middle Ages, by means of which one was brought to think of death and thus of the instability of life and all worldly things. In this poem, a beautiful woman is instructed to behold the decomposing corpse of a man who during his life...

    • The German Heroic Narratives
      (pp. 161-184)
      Susann Samples

      The use of the term “heroic narratives” in the title of this essay is a departure from earlier established tradition, but is in line with current scholarly consensus in medieval studies. The more traditional designation “heroic epic” is now usually employed to designate the Nibelungenlied, which is the prototypical German heroic epic and the model for all subsequent heroic literature. One of the dominant characteristics of this work is its apparent nihilism. But later heroic works view the world differently, with none coming close to the pessimism of the Nibelungenlied. Consequently, scholars are now arguing for a more flexible approach...

    • Early Mystical Writings
      (pp. 185-200)
      Sara S. Poor

      The flowering of medieval German literature that began in the decades around 1200 was not limited to the secular courts. Beginning in the early thirteenth century, changing currents in Christian religious thought and practice led to a notable increase in the production and consumption of religious writing in the vernacular. The rise of new religious orders advocating vernacular preaching facilitated the spread of religious enthusiasm for the pious life both within and outside of religious orders, especially among women. The religious and mystical literature of the German Middle Ages thus differs in one important respect from the secular tradition: it...

  8. Part III. Continuity, Transformation, and Innovation in the Thirteenth Century

    • Wirnt von Gravenberg’s Wigalois and Heinrich von dem Türlin’s Diu Crône
      (pp. 203-214)
      Neil Thomas

      Wigalois is a courtly romance of some twelve thousand lines (following the three and four stress metrical pattern typical of this genre) composed by Wirnt von Gravenberg. Little is known of the author of Wigalois beyond his given name and his connection with Gravenberg (the modern Gräfenberg northeast of Nuremberg and Bayreuth).¹ Dating is also uncertain with competent scholars having issued conjectures ranging from 1205 to 1235. While it was once supposed that Wirnt knew only the first six books of Wolfram’s Parzival (which probably came into circulation ca. 1204–10), his lofty praise of Wolfram, of whom Wirnt says...

    • Der Stricker
      (pp. 215-224)
      Michael Resler

      Der Stricker (The Weaver, ca. 1190–1250), who flourished in the first half of the thirteenth century, is known chiefly for his short verse narratives and fables, of which approximately 170 have survived. In addition, he wrote two longer works: the Arthurian romance Daniel von dem Blühenden Tal¹ (translated as Daniel of the Blossoming Valley by der Stricker) around the period 1210 to 1225, and, apparently somewhat later,² the heroic epic Karl der Große (Charlemagne).³ It is generally accepted that these two major poems were written first, and that the shorter stories — which form the foundation of der Stricker’s literary...

    • Rudolf von Ems
      (pp. 225-233)
      Elizabeth A. Andersen

      Rudolf von Ems (ca. 1200–ca. 1255) is one of the most significant and prolific authors in the development of thirteenth-century “post-classical” German narrative literature (ca. 1220–90). His five extant works are thought to have been written in the following order: Der guote Gêrhart (Good Gerhard, ca. 1220–25), Barlaam und Josaphat (ca. 1225–30), Alexander (begun ca. 1230 and continued in the 1240s after the composition of Willehalm von Orlens), Willehalm von Orlens (ca. 1235–40) and the Weltchronik (Chronicle of the World, ca. 1250).¹ These texts are cast in the dominant narrative verse form of the “classical”...

    • Ulrich von Liechtenstein
      (pp. 235-241)
      Ulrich Müller and Franz Viktor Spechtler

      The Styrian nobleman Ulrich von liechtenstein (ca. 1200/1210–January 26, 1275)¹ played an important role in the politics of his country, and at the same time he composed love songs, an autobiographical romance, and a treatise about love.² The words of his love songs, but unfortunately not the melodies, have been transmitted in the most prestigious collection of Middle High German Lyrics, the Codex Manesse.³ Included is a painting (Miniatur) depicting Ulrich in the ambiguous role of the goddess Venus, a female “Knight of Love.”⁴ The songs are also transmitted in his romance Frauendienst (Service of the Ladies), which is...

    • Konrad von Würzburg
      (pp. 243-254)
      Rüdiger Brandt

      Until the fifteenth century, Konrad was not only the most productive medieval German author, but he also represented the broadest spectrum of genres.¹ Though this is quite unusual for his time, Konrad worked in all three of the major vernacular lyric genres simultaneously, composing a secular and a religious Leich (lay; a long lyrical form not divided into strophes), twenty-three love songs, and more than fifty moral-didactic poems (Sangsprüche). Beyond this, he wrote three courtly romances, Partonopier und Meliur (based on a French source), Der Trojanerkrieg (The Trojan War, based on French and Latin sources²), and Engelhard with its lengthy...

    • Wernher der Gärtner
      (pp. 255-260)
      Ruth Weichselbaumer

      Historical sources reveal nothing about Wernher der Gärtner, author of the short verse narrative Helmbrecht. It is therefore difficult to know exactly when and where he lived and what his social status may have been. Some biographical information can be reconstructed on the basis of his work. We know the name of the poet from the final lines of Helmbrecht, in which he asks his audience to include him in their prayers:

      Swer iu ditze mære lese,

      bitet daz im got genædec wese

      und dem tihtære,

      Wernher dem Gartenære. (1931–34)

      [Whoever might read this tale to you, pray that...

  9. Part IV. Historical Perspectives

    • Court Literature and Violence in the High Middle Ages
      (pp. 263-276)
      William H. Jackson

      Violence, especially in its politically most prominent form as military force, is an essential and complex feature of the German literary landscape in the High Middle Ages. In order to understand the role of violence in this literature it is necessary to reflect on the use of force as a cultural and historical variable so as to avoid projecting onto medieval German literature concepts of violence and its relation to ethical, political and social values that belong to other historical contexts.

      In modern societies the licit use of armed force is generally seen as a prerogative of the state, not...

    • Mobility, Politics, and Society in Medieval Germany
      (pp. 277-290)
      Charles R. Bowlus

      The literature of medieval Germany portrays a society in motion. In the Latin poem, Ruodlieb, which was written in the last third of the eleventh century in the Bavarian monastery of Tegernsee, the hero flees the arbitrary demands of lords in his homeland to wander about looking for the honorable service that he finally finds at the court of a good, but distant king. In one of medieval literature’s great satires, the bard Ulrich von Liechtenstein travels from the Adriatic to Bohemia. Clad as a woman, Ulrich participates in a tournament in Friesach. Poor Heinrich (Der arme Heinrich) journeys from...

  10. Bibliography

  11. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. 325-328)
  12. Index
    (pp. 329-338)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 339-339)