Germany Literature – From 1180 to 1350 Part I

Germany Literature – From 1180 to 1350 Part I

The epoch that followed and that could be delimited from 1180 to about 1350, that is from the advent of Arrigo VI to the great interregnum, had in Germany the characteristics of an epoch of greatness for all aspects of life: political power and glory of fortunate warlike enterprises, increased well-being of all social classes, magnificence of courtly life, full splendor of chivalry no longer opposed by the Church, but at the service of this and ideally consecrated by her in the enterprises of the Holy Land. Having become the ruling class, the cavalry also takes over the direction of literary activity; and poetry, whose representatives now belong to the high and low nobility and find patrons in the courts of the sovereigns, reaches its climax in this period. But, at the same time, the the innate danger of the Germanic nation, the infatuation with foreign things, reaches its most acute crisis. France, whose influence manifested itself on the whole chivalric life of the West, and which had already given some models to the secular epic of the previous period, now dominates the more properly courtesan poetry in larger proportions: the French poets and narrators do not only become the formal models, but they also offer in their texts the immediate source of matter, whatever it may be – Celtic, Oriental, classical, Frankish -, to the independent and sometimes brilliant translation and elaboration of German artists, while it blossoms, alongside the epic, the flower of amorous lyric. At the same time this time too, as in every great period of German literature, the the national element resurrects vigorously in the face of the foreign element; the songs of the ancient sagas rooted in the history of the nation also find the poets who, refining them with art and tinging them with Christianity and courtesy, restore to them the charm of domestic glories.

According to ALLUNITCONVERTERS, three genres therefore mainly give character to this golden period of medieval German poetry and make it its glory: the chivalric epic, the national epic and the Minnesang. The first, although substantially reflected, has characteristics that make it a specific product of Germanic art in some of its best productions. These courtly poets are almost never mere translators, but often let us glimpse a little of their way of feeling and thinking, profoundly different from that of the French. The bold, light and realistic manner is replaced by a marked tendency to sentimental and ideal, moral and serious. The habit of observing the interior life became more acute with Christian psychology and morality, and the subtle analysis of feelings became the characteristic sign of the new poetry.

The founder, or rather the initiator of the art epic was Henry von Veldeke, of Maestricht, who translated the Eneit towards 1180(Aeneid) from a French remake in which the classical material had been completely reworked and adapted to the conditions of the time. Although Veldeke’s work is by no means original and its novelty is above all linguistic, it was a great success, also due to the fact that, giving a brilliant image of chivalry and the cult of love, intertwining the heroic with the sentimental, fully corresponded to the taste of the time. Greater originality and a few whiffs of true poetry can already be found in the works of the oldest of the three great poets of chivalry, Hartmann von Aue, who died before 1220, the first who gave courtesan art its smoothness and grace, tempering the gallant coldness with a sense of spiritual humanism. Following the model of the poems of Chrétien de Troyes, he composed the two poems Erec and Iwein, on the theme of the conflict between marital love and the needs of chivalry, with not before known clarity of style and with single episodes of penetrating intuition of souls. He then reworked two legends with a religious and moral tinge: the Swabian one of Poor Henry (Der arme Heinrich), a sad story of a leper who can only be healed with the blood of the heart of a virgin who spontaneously offers it for him; and the ferocious legend of Gregorio Stilita (Gregorius auf dem Steine), of French source, a kind of Christian Oedipus, who, himself an incestuous son, pays for the involuntary fault of incest with his mother with seventeen years of penance, and is therefore elected pope. Without humiliation not even the most righteous man can attain the grace of God, but humiliation and repentance purify even the most horrendous sin: these are the fundamental concepts of these legends, also narrated with elegant simplicity of form. In Hartmann’s footsteps Godfrey of Strasbourg proceeds, who in his Tristan and Isolde, composed around 1210, affirms the eternally human needs of passion. The model followed by Godfrey is the poem by the Frenchman Thomas, on the well-known Celtic legend, then already ancient among the troubadours; but he knew how to treat it like a great artist, rising in many places above its source. After Hartmann, who had introduced the marvelous of adventures into chivalric poetry, Godfrey brought to it the minute analysis of sentiments. And another element he put into it, which served to bring color and light into his lines: the feeling of nature. Unsurpassed master in the handling of metrics and language, although finally, at times, to the artificial metric and stylistic ornaments, he explains all the resources of his art in a subtle analysis of the joy and pains of the two lovers,

Germany Literature - From 1180 to 1350 1

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