Academic journal article German Quarterly

Early Germanic Literature and Culture

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Early Germanic Literature and Culture

Article excerpt

Murdoch, Brian, and Malcolm Read, eds. Early Germanic Literature and Culture. Camden House, 2004. 334 pp. $90.00 hardcover.

This is the first of ten volumes in a series tracing the history of German literature from its first written evidence to the 20th century. The editors have made a judicious selection of topics for this earliest period, which likely remains unstudied by the majority of Germanists.

The introduction by the editors adumbrates the history of the period and notes that the following "apparently disparate essays" seem to have nothing to do with literature and even those few which do are either "not literary (in the sense that the modern world might understand it) or not German (but rather from England or from Scandinavia)" (1). That is rather a conundrum in a series called "The Camden House History of German Literature," but except for Old Icelandic and Old English the early corpus survives largely only in fragmentary form. This written matter nevertheless holds clues and guidelines to the sort of literature (oral) that clearly once existed in rather defined genres across the Germanic area and includes the great literature of the sagas, skaldic poetry, and the poetry and prose of Old English. A programmatic statement is that "the volume is entitled 'early Germanic culture'" in that it "tries to consider some of the most important sources for the later development of what we understand by German literature" and "also some of the early parallel developments" from which we can "move from the general consideration of what is meant by the study of German antiquity in theory and in practice to the classical literature of German origins" (18).

The following is a brief review of topics covered in individual contributions. Heinrich Beck in "The Concept of Germanic Antiquity" profiles work by previous scholars in discussing the concept of "Germanic" and "Antiquity"; Herwig Wolfram discusses the notion of "Origo gentes: The Literature of German Origins" as exemplified in the history of the Goths and the meaning of the word "goth"; Adrian Murdoch in his "Germania Romana" concentrates first on the mythology of the Varusschlacht and then on Roman influence on warfare, trade, and society; Rudolf Simek's contribution on "Germanic Religion and the Conversion to Christianity" covers a number of related issues, from the earliest stages to the preservation of the Pagan past; R. …

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