The Myth of the Birth of the Hero: A Psychological Interpretation of Mythology

By Otto Rank; F. Robbins et al. | Go to book overview

Wagner's dramatisation of this theme. The story of Lohengrin, the knight with the swan, as transmitted by the medieval German epic [modernized by Junghaus, Reclam] and briefly rendered by the Grimm brothers, in their "German Sagas" ( Part II, Berlin, 1818, p. 306) under the title: Lohengrin in Brabant.

The Duke of Brabant and Limburg died, without leaving other heirs than a young daughter, Els, or Elsam by name; her he recommended on his death bed to one of his retainers, Friedrich von Telramund. Friedrich, the intrepid warrior, became emboldened to demand the youthful duchess' hand and lands, under the false claim that she had promised to marry him. She steadfastly refused to do so. Friedrich complained to Emperor Heinrich, surnamed the Vogler, and the verdict was that she must defend herself against him, through some hero, in a so called divine judgment, in which God would accord the victory to the innocent, and defeat the guilty. As none were ready to take her part, the young duchess prayed ardently to God, to save her; and far away in distant Montsalvatsch, in the Council of the Grail, the sound of the bell was heard, showing that there was some one in urgent need of help. The Grail therefore resolved to despatch as a rescuer, Lohengrin the son of Parsifal. Just as he was about to place his foot in the stirrup a swan came floating down the water drawing a skiff behind him. As soon as Lohengrin set eyes upon the swan, he exclaimed: "Take the steed back to the manger, I shall follow this bird wherever he may lead me." Having faith in God's omnipotence he took no food with him in the skiff. After they had been afloat on the sea five days, the swan dipped his bill in the water, caught a fish, ate one half of it, and gave the other half to the prince to eat. Thus the knight was fed by the swan.

Meanwhile Elsa had summoned her chieftains and retainers to a meeting in Antwerp. Precisely on the day of the assembly, a swan was sighted swimming up stream (river Schelde) and drawing behind him a skiff, in which Lohengrin lay asleep on his

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