Germany Literature: the Ottonian Period


The translations of the Latin classics made around 1000 by Notker Labeo, the first contacts of the Alemannic abbeys with Aristotelian philosophy (through the Cluny reform), the influx of the French epic in the Rhineland (and from here later in Bavaria and Austria) signaled the great receptive capacity of Germany before the creative explosion of Minnesang, the chivalrous poem and the epic. In this interregnum the poetry in German was silent and the Latin poetry of the “wandering clerics” flourished, of which the Carmina Burana are the best example, and the Latin theater of the nun Rosvita of Gandersheim appeared isolated. (ca. 935-after 975). Poetry in German was therefore reborn in the 10th century. XII, with great linguistic and metric labor (the old High-German was evolving into Middle-High-German, approaching today’s language) in two different environments: in the religious one, where he was inspired above all by the cult of Mary (manuscripts of Vorauer, of Vienna and Millstatt), and in the environment of the small nobility without contact with cloisters and courts, in the mouth of lay singers and in the form of folk ballads and gnomic poems, which are usually given the overall name of Spielmannsdichtung (jester poem). The cultural hegemony of the Church eased under the reign of Barbarossa (1152-90); literary activity was no longer the exclusive legacy of members of the clergy, but extended to the new classes of knights and ministerials, to whom the crusades instilled awareness of themselves and worldly values. Ancient moral philosophy now concurred with Christian morality, with Germanic and Hispano-Arab elements to build the new chivalric ethic: la mâze (measure), l ‘ hoher muot (magnanimity), zuht (self-education), triuwe (fidelity) , la staete (constancy), la milte (mercy) and la froeude (serenity) must be combined both in combat and in love, which was conceived as veneration and ennobling passion. As in France, the courts, in particular the southern ones, of Austria, Thuringia, Swabia and the bishopric of Passau became a center of cultural irradiation; German literature of that time was not separable from Austrian.


According to Citypopulationreview, the Minnesang, initially independent of Provence, and the front stil nuovo Italian, has had its first representatives (half of sec. XII) nell’austriaco Kürenberger and Limburger Henry of Veldeke and its most significant items (at the turn of the century. XII and XIII) in Hartmann von Aue, Walther von der Vogelweide, who already preluded the crisis, in Frederick of Hausen and Henry of Morungen, and had its detractor and dissolver in Neidhart von Reuenthal (first half of the XIII century). The other great expression of this late Germanic Middle Ages is the chivalric poem, which drew on French motifs of Celtic derivation: from the long mystical journey of Parsifal in the poem by Wolfram von Eschenbach (ca. 1170-ca. 1220), genuine voice of the exuberant and tormented German religiosity, the apology of carnal and spiritual love as an absolute value was contrasted in the Tristan and Isolde of Goffredo of Strasbourg (active in the early years of the thirteenth century), witness of the overcoming of the chivalrous combination of virtue-love and of the waning dominance of faith. An isolated phenomenon, even if surrounded by other poems-fragments of the same ancient cycle, is the Song of the Nibelungs, violent, sublime explosion of residual pagan spirit in the bosom of the courteous Christian society. The rise of the bourgeoisie and the incipient fusion of the classes at the end of the Swabian age are reflected in the realistic verse novel Meier Helmbrecht by Wernher der Gartenaere (13th century). However ideals of chivalry, separated from the worship of the woman, had a late-bloomer in Prussia colonized by ‘ Teutonic Order between 1230 and 1280. The crisis of the papacy and the Church and the inadequacy of the Scholastica did counterbalance the new mystique nourished by rediscovered Dionysius the Areopagite, culminating (14th century) in the work of Meister Eckhart, Tauler and Seuse, and flanked by a strong secular mass component and a conspicuous participation of women (see the forerunner Matilda of Magdeburg, ca. 1210-83). The work of the three Dominicans exerted a decisive influence in the formation of German prose, even if the linguistic unity of the Middle-Upper-German language was weakened by the recovery of regional dialects and the formal care of the courtly age overtaken by the search for new expressive modes. The courts ceded their cultural function to the cities, in particular to Prague, Cologne, Nuremberg; the themes of courtly poetry were absorbed by the poetry of wanderers and, mediated by Reinmar von Zweter, contributed to the birth of the Meistersang, in which H. Rosenplüt excelled in the fifteenth century and in the sixteenth century H. Sachs. The fourteenth century saw the decline of the lyric and the spread of didactic-allegorical prose, the prose reworking of the courtly epos, the evolution of the courtly story into an erotic story, the expansion of the sacred representation (born around 1000) that was given now for the first time of written texts, and from which, in the fifteenth century, the profane carnival representation or the Fastnachtsspiel, which reached great splendor in Tyrol, Lübeck and Nuremberg.

Germany Literature - the Ottonian Period

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