Middle High German Arthurian Romance: New Readings

By Sullivan, Joseph M. | Arthuriana, October 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

Middle High German Arthurian Romance: New Readings


Sullivan, Joseph M., Arthuriana


When Bonnie Wheeler approached me with the idea of assembling a special issue on the Middle High German Arthurian romances, I immediately became interested in the project. Indeed, as a long-time reader of Arthuriana I had often lamented that so few articles on the German romances appear in the journal, and this despite the large size of the German corpus and its centrality to the medieval European Arthurian tradition. I also realized that the scarcity of German pieces in Arthuriana was but a symptom of a larger phenomenon. Thus despite the relatively large number of North Americans working on German Arthurian romance, those scholars tend to present their findings in conference and print venues devoted narrowly to German Studies. And unlike colleagues in English, French, and Dutch, for example, North American scholars of German Arthuriana both participate less in interdisciplinary organizations like the International Arthurian Society and seem ever more detached from doing collaborative work with Arthurian researchers outside German.

All this seems to have contributed to a declining awareness of German Arthuriana by colleagues working in the other Arthurian national traditions, a trend that decreasing German-language literacy among humanities scholars has only exacerbated. While the ability to read scholarly German well is still fairly common among the generation of Arthurian experts who are at retirement age, such proficiency is now rare among scholars under sixty. This means that few young scholars outside German Studies ever even consider venturing into the thorough and generally excellent-but notoriously dense, often awkwardly written, and sometimes repetitive-research on medieval Arthuriana that appears voluminously every year in the German language.

Arthuriana's current editor, Dorsey Armstrong, and I hope that this special issue helps to remedy, albeit in a very small way, some of these issues. By presenting essays in English, we intend both to give colleagues outside German Studies an idea of the types of innovative research scholars of German Arthuriana are currently pursuing as well as to encourage those colleagues to revisit the German Arthurian romances and to incorporate them into their research and teaching. Further, we hope that this volume will motivate German Arthurian scholars to publish more of their findings in English so as to make them accessible to scholars outside German Studies. And lastly, we hope that this special German issue will encourage more North American researchers of German Arthuriana to contribute their scholarship to this journal and to interact more greatly with Arthurian scholars outside German Studies.

The articles appearing in this issue, by five North American scholars at very different stages in their careers, represent a variety of approaches to medieval Arthuriana.

James H. Brown, for instance, investigates the use of ekphrasis in a work that was enormously successful in the Middle Ages but which is today strangely underappreciated, namely, Wirnt von Gravenberg's Wigalois. As Brown deftly illustrates, the author employs ekphrasis to establish a message of religious toleration that is unusually progressive for the time.

Straddling both medieval German and Old French traditions, Stephen Mark Carey's contribution is a piece of philological detective work that uses the average time of delay in reception for Old French works into Middle High German to date the romances of Chrétien de Troyes.

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