Academic journal article Arthuriana

Lanzelet: Ulrich Von Zatzikhoven

Academic journal article Arthuriana

Lanzelet: Ulrich Von Zatzikhoven

Article excerpt

THOMAS KERTH, trans., Lanzelet: Ulrich von Zatzikhoven. Records of Western Civilization. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005 Pp. x, 241. ISBN: 0-231-12869-x. $69.50.

Like so many of the 'lesser' medieval Arthurian romances, i.e. works not written by Chrétien, Wolfram or their peers, the Lanzelet had long been considered unworthy of scholarly attention. Thomas Kerth's new translation of this important work makes it possible for a wider readership of Arthurian romance to reassess its place in the canon. Kerth's main achievement here, of course, is in presenting a lively and skilful translation of the earliest extant full version of the story of Lancelots youthful adventures, a story that includes details of Lancelot's youth only alluded to by Chrétien.

What started out as project to write a new introduction to G.T. Webster's 1951 translation of Lanzelet, also published by Columbia, resulted in an entirely new rendering of the Middle High German text, and one that is both more readily comprehensible and considerably more accurate than Webster's earlier effort. The introduction is a model of the genre: succinct yet informative, covering all the important issues, including the Breton background to the Lancelot material, the author and his putative sources, date of composition, the text's relation to other romances (notably Chrétien and Wolfram von Eschenbach), and its structure and critical reception.

Producing an accurate translation of any work presupposes the existence of a reliable edition of the original. Kerth's is necessarily based on Hahn's 1845 edition, which includes numerous emendations by Karl Lachmann, and the translator justly laments the absence of a more modern edition of this work. Yet no matter what aspects of the romance might emerge differently in the pages of a new edition, the story as it stands is a splendid one. Here we learn of Lanzelet's nurturing in the land of the faeries-mermaids, actually, in this case-of how he sets out on his knightly adventures unaccustomed to the ways of the world and ignorant of his own name. The poem's 9444 lines (in the original; Kerth's is a rendering in prose) embrace a bewildering series of adventures that fall roughly into two halves. …

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