Atmosphere, Mood, Stimmung: On a Hidden Potential of Literature

By Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht; Erik Butler | Go to book overview

FLEETING JOYS IN
THE SONGS OF WALTHER
VON DER VOGELWEIDE

THE MIDDLE AGES, as they have been imagined ever since they were rediscovered by Romanticism—valorous knights jousting, fair ladies in high towers surrounded by deep forests—these Middle Ages never existed. The picture is the product of a few hundred songs that bards performed at courts—first in the south of France, then in the north and in German-speaking lands. Since then, this fantasy has set the tone—in a specific, but also in a historically varied way—for our understanding of luck, good and bad, in love; in some cases, it may even have determined the success or failure of individual lives.

With endless variation on a finite repertoire of situations and motifs, these texts encouraged self-confident joy among nobles who must have been obsessed by the defiant eccentricity of their gestures. “Friends, I will sing a song after our taste”—begins a poem ascribed to William IX of Aquitaine (one of the most powerful princes of his day)—“Its love, joy, and youthfulness are more mad than sensible. May he who fails to understand its words be deemed a peasant.” Scholars will never agree about the precise circumstances favoring the development of this tone—the medium of a haughty, elite sense of self. However, there can

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