Germany Literature – From the Origins to the Late Middle Ages

By | January 27, 2022

The beginnings – The first evidence of an independent German literature with respect to the Latin and Romanesque world dates back to the Carolingian era and belong to the field of lexicography: the Abrogans, a collection of synonyms translated into Bavarian dialect in 765-70 and then into Alemannic dialect towards the end of the century, and the Vocabolarius Sancti Galli. These are the premises for the further erudite work of the translation, almost always exclusively interlinear, of Latin texts (the Rule of St. Benedict, the Psalms, the Hymns, especially the Ambrosian one); it is from the last decade of the 8th century, perhaps in the circle of the Palatine school of Alcuin, the most ambitious project to translate Isidore of Seville. All this does not yet belong to literature itself, but constitutes a direct premise of it. The first poetic compositions are faithful to Germanic stylistic features or similar: the Bavarians Wessobrunner Gebet and Muspilli, on the theme of the origin and the end of the world, and the Hildebrandslied, heroic poem in a mixed Saxon and Bavarian language.

According to SEARCHFORPUBLICSCHOOLS, an impression of completeness and novelty is provided only by Heliand , a poem of about 6000 lines written around 830 in the Saxon dialect perhaps by a monk from Fulda, a solemn and at the same time lively exaltation of the greatness of the Savior. Still in Fulda in the same period the so-called Saxon Genesis was composed, proof of the increase in religiosity desired by the new King Louis the Pious. Towards 870, the wide-ranging poetic composition was tried again thanks to Otfried, author of an Evangelienharmonie in southern Franconian dialect, a very important poem for the innovations it introduces into the German metric, i.e. the rhyme derived from the hymns in Latin and the iambic rhythm dominant in them, thus inserting German poetry, as regards the form, in the wider European poetry community. The road opened by Otfried was soon trodden by others as well, as evidenced by the Alemannic Christus und die Samariterin, the Lobgesang auf den heilige Gallus and the Georgslied, and the Ludwigslied, a Franconian-Rhenish commendation poem dating back to around 880. These were the last traces of a declining poetic culture, with the extinction of the Carolingian monarchy (911), poetry in Latin is making a comeback, as evidenced by Notker Balbulus (d. 912), a poet supported by a good lyric vein.

The Ottonian age The eclipse of German-language poetry lasted about 150 years. The strengthening of the empire, due to the new Ottonian dynasty, was accompanied by a revival of the classical tradition, thanks also to the rise of some enlightened courts, with a general enrichment of the cultural level, but to the detriment of German, considered inadequate to become the language of the Church. of science and culture in general: the production was inspired by Terenzio di Rosvita, the first German poetess active, although not in German, in the second half of the 10th century, and the Waltharius (difficult to date and attribute), who attempts the fusion of the para-Virgilian form and the Germanic subject. The language had fallen into considerable neglect when, before the end of the 10th century, the monk of St. Gallen Notker the German he translated and commented on philosophical treatises and biblical texts, founding German prose in a scientific and theological-philosophical context.

The Salic age Between the second half of the 11th century. and the first decades of the 12th century, in the climate of the Cluniac reform, German returned to vogue as a literary language, aimed at teaching catechesis as widely as possible. The language appears at least partially involved in an involutionary process, and the poetic composition is less accurate in the face of a well-coordinated and rather uniform theme. We remember the chanter Ezzolied (1060 ca.), the Memento mori(1070-80, by a certain Noker), the hagiographic Annolied (1085 ca.), the so-called Wiener Genesis (1060-65), and the Physiologus (1070 ca.), theological-allegorical representation of the animal world, coming from the abbey of Hirsau, in the Black Forest, center of the Cluniac culture. In full Cluniac climate the Austrian Frau Ava worked, who wrote 4 poems in German in the years 1120-25. The theme of the Memento mori is taken up again in the Erinnerung an den Tod by another Austrian, H. von Melk, not a monk but a knight, who in his work lashes the customs especially of the nobility, a symptom of the emergence of a chivalrous civilization in itself characterized.

The Swabian age The hundred years at the turn of the 12th and 13th centuries. they see an intense development of individual creative forces, with external influences, especially from France, which also encourage high-tone autonomous production in poetry. The profane epic was born, first with the still hybrid König Rother, a Bavarian adventurous poem (1150-60), and after 20 years with the more concrete Herzog Ernst, also Bavarian, next to which the epic in 17,000 lines from the Kaiserchronik, still Bavarian; The Reinhart Fuchs, the first novel of talking animals Alsatian Heinrich, starts a usually following very lucky. In the middle of the courtly period, the works of the great epics appear, starting with those of the low Franconian H. von Veldeke, author of the chivalrous poem Eneit (1185 ca.). The three ‘classics’ of the time follow, H. von Aue (Alemannic, about 1160-1210), author of the chivalric-religious legends Gregorius and Der arme Heinrich ; W. von Eschenbach (Franco-Bavarian, about 1170-1220), with the mighty Parzival ; finally Germany von Strassburg, author, with Tristan und Isolde (finished before 1210), of the medieval masterpiece of the mystic of love.

The courteous age also created a lyric of great sincerity, especially through the flourishing of Minnesang, which found inspiration in troubadour poetry but developed on its own canons and lively and refined motifs. Passing in various degrees from popular to courteous, we note the lyrics of Kürenberger, D. von Aist and the triad represented by H. von Morungen, R. von Hagenau and W. von der Vogelweide, maximum exponent of the hohe Minne (courteous love), perfect stylist and master of political song, in which he exalted the Swabian imperial ideality, of which, however, at the end of his life (1230 ca.), he sadly had to sing also the decline.

Alongside the aristocratic genres of the courtly epic and the poem of love, the heroic saga culminating, around 1200, in the anonymous Nibelungenlied, a unique poem for the tragic tension that runs through it, which is flanked, equally anonymous, the poem Kudrun.

14th Century The long period that followed was marked by the advance, often confused and even stormy, of new social classes, the decline of the great cultural centers and a general literary decline. Among the few fruitfully cultivated genres is the mystical one, in which Meister Eckhart (circa 1260-1328) dominates, giving voice to one of the constants of German interiority, the yearning for the inexpressible. The Minnesang was still cultivated by good followers, among which O. von Wolkenstein (1377-1445). The new genre of Meistersang emerged, a conceptual and virtuosic lyric initiated by the Saxon scholar H. von Meissen, nicknamed Frauenlob (circa 1250-1318). Upon requests from Italy (Petrarch), some cultural circles received the newly minted humanistic message. J. von Tepl (about 1350-1415) was trained at the Prague court, to whom we owe the masterpiece of the German prose Der Ackermann aus Böhmen (1401), a vigorous contrast of ideas and feelings in a soul profoundly tried by pain.

Germany Literature - From the Origins to the Late Middle Ages