The Arthur of the Germans: The Arthurian Legend in Medieval German and Dutch Literature

By W. H. Jackson; S. A. Ranawake | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

W. H. Jackson and Silvia Ranawake

As part of the Vinaver Trust project to survey afresh the spectrum of Arthurian literature in the Middle Ages, the present volume is devoted to the German and Dutch fields. The two terms are in the first instance linguistic descriptors, indicating literature that was produced and transmitted in Dutch and in German as languages. Moreover, 'German' and 'Dutch' do not have the same meanings when applied to the medieval period as they do today, for, whereas the terms now refer to two different (though clearly related) languages, in the Middle Ages Dutch and German were only just beginning to separate out as distinct languages, and both were still part of the Continental West Germanic language continuum that was known as tiutsch in Middle High German and dietsch in Middle Dutch (Beckers 1995, 147). Whilst the modern termsDutch' and 'German' are used throughout this volume, the term 'German' in the main title of the volume should be understood in the medieval, integrative sense of the word dietsch or tiutsch.

These linguistic categories point to communities of speakers from areas of northern and central continental Europe that were geographically linked, but differed in size and cultural complexity, and within and between which there were varying degrees of social, political and cultural exchange. Overall, the areas concerned stretch from the South Tirol to the North Sea and Baltic coasts, and from the borders of France in the west to the kingdom of Bohemia in the east. During the period when Arthurian literature spread in the Middle Ages, the speakers of Dutch lived in principalities which owed titular allegiance to the French or German rulers but were in fact more like 'independent[mini-states]' (Prevenier 1994, 12). The kingdom of Germany itself was a conglomeration of lordships which combined considerable independence with a degree of cohesion that derived from shared social and cultural traditions.

The historical and geographical scope of the volume marks a key stage in the diffusion of the Arthurian legend, when it spread outward from France; and the interplay of common features and variables in the treatment of Arthurian themes throws light on the cultural history of the areas under consideration and on the transmission of Arthurian material in Europe as a whole. In the Dutch and German areas, Arthurian literature was first adopted from French sources, and then indigenous works were also produced. Almost all the sizeable corpus of

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