Academic journal article German Quarterly

Tradierung und Transformation. Mythische Erzählelemente im Tristan Gottfrieds von Straßburg und im Iwein Hartmanns von Aue

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Tradierung und Transformation. Mythische Erzählelemente im Tristan Gottfrieds von Straßburg und im Iwein Hartmanns von Aue

Article excerpt

Medieval Literature and Culture Hammer, Andreas. Tradierung und Transformation. Mythische Erzählelemente im Tristan Gottfrieds von Straßburg und im Iwein Hartmanns von Aue. Stuttgart: Hirzel, 2007. 298 pp. euro48.00 paperback.

This monograph, a slightly revised version of the author's dissertation, argues that the two popular medieval German romances Tristan and Iwein contain mythical elements, albeit on different structural levels of the narrative and with different impacts for the overall interpretations of the stories. In Iwein, the mythical elements are rationalized and ultimately removed from the text, whereas in Tristan they contribute to the breaks in the narrative and to the irresolvability of the love conflict. Thus, to borrow the words of the author, Tristan reveals Operationsformen mythischer Narrativität auf der Ebene der Tiefenstruktur," whereas Iwein presents "Elemente des mythischen Denkens hauptsächlich auf der Textoberfläche" (274-75).

As outlined in the book's first part, the study operates with an understanding of myth that is derived from the work of prominent philosophers and religious scholars, such as Cassirer, Lévi-Strauss, and Eliade. The textual analysis is focused on space and time as the defining characteristics of myth as well as on causality and rationalization. The study's main part analyzes several episodes in Tristan, including Tristan's fights with Morold, with the dragon, and with the giant Urgan as well as the scene in the Minnegrotte. All of these episodes are characterized by inconsistencies and breaks in the narrative and, more importantly, all of them share more or less explicit mythical elements. The monograph's third part looks at the wondrous fountain in Iwein and traces the gradual disappearance of its mythical characteristics.

Throughout, the author effectively compares the episodes in the German romances with the Celtic narrative tradition as attested in Welsh and Irish tales. There are instances, however, where the reader must wonder whether a closer look at the extant Germanic myths and the contemporary literary tradition might not have been able to contribute to and potentially enrich the findings. This is especially true for the discussion of Tristan's battle with Morold. The author remarks that the motif of the poisoned sword and the decapitation of the enemy is an unusual motif "selbst für die Heldenepik" (84) and suggests that the Celtic skull cult may have been the most likely mythological source for the motifs in Gottfried's Tristan (104). …

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