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Hartmann von Aue

A Middle High German epic poet and minnesinger; d. between 1210 and 1220

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Hartmann von Aue, a Middle High German epic poet and minnesinger; d. between 1210 and 1220. Little is known concerning his life; neither the place nor the date of his birth has been ascertained. He was a Swabian knight in the service of the Lords of Aue, and was exceptionally well-educated for a layman of his time, being able to read and to write and possessing a knowledge of French and Latin, besides being well versed in the literature of his time. His life was comparatively uneventful. The death of his liege lord, whom he mourns in tender verses, was the occasion of his joining a crusade, whether that of 1197, or the earlier one of 1189, is uncertain. He must have died shortly after 1210, for Gottfried von Strasburg in his “Tristan”, composed about that year, speaks of him as still living, while Heinrich von dem Turlin in his “Krone”, written between 1215 and 1220, mentions him as one deceased. Hartmann is the author of a number of lyric poems in the fashion of the age, dealing largely with Minne or love. More original than these Minnesongs are his crusading lyrics. He also wrote two buchelin poetic epistles of an amatory nature; but his authorship of the second of these epistles is disputed. His fame rests on his four epics, “Erec”, “Iwein”, “Gregorius”, and “Der arme Heinrich” (Poor Henry).

The “Erec”, Hartmann’s earliest work, composed about 1192, marks the introduction of the Arthurian romances into German literature. It was modeled on the French poem of Chrestien de Troyes, but considerably amplified and otherwise altered. Its fundamental motif is the conflict between Minne and knightly honor. Erec neglects his knightly duties in his devotion to his lovely bride Enite; when reproached by her, he makes her accompany him on an expedition which restores his tarnished prestige, but in the course of which Enite suffers the harshest treatment. In the end the lovers are reconciled. In the “Iwein”, based on Chrestien’s “Chevalier au Lion”, the same motif is utilized, but here the hero, having neglected his wife for knightly adventures, is rejected by her and goes insane. After passing through many ordeals he regains her favor. In this poem the court epic is shown in its classic form. Less pretentious are the legendary epics. “Gregorius”, based on a French poem of unknown authorship, is the story of a medieval Oedipus, who unwittingly marries his own mother, but atones for his enormities by most rigorous penance, and in the end is esteemed a saint and elected pope. “Der arme Heinrich” is a charming tale of womanly devotion. A poor maid offers herself as a sacrifice that her lord, who is smitten with leprosy, may be healed. But at the last moment the knight refuses the sacrifice; as a reward he is miraculously restored to health and the maiden becomes his wife. For this work the poet used a written source, probably a Latin chronicle, of which however nothing definite is known.

Hartmann was the favorite poet of courtly circles, whose ideals are most perfectly reflected in his works. The faultless form and polished diction of his epics made them the classic models for subsequent poets. A complete edition of Hartmann’s works is that of Fedor Bech (2nd ed., 3 vols.) in “Deutsche Klassiker des Mittelalters”, edited by Pfeiffer, IV—VI (Leipzig, 1887-1893). Selections were edited by P. Piper in Kurschner’s “Deutsche National Litteratur”. There is a separate edition of “Erec” by M. Haupt (2nd ed., Leipzig, 1871); of “Iwein” by Emil Henrici (Halle, 1891-93); of “Gregorius” by H. Paul (Halle, 1873); of “Der arme Heinrich” by H. Paul (3rd ed., Halle, 1904). Translations of the last-mentioned work into modern German were made by Simrock (2nd ed., Heilbronn, 1874), Botticher (Halle, 1891), and Legerlotz (Bielefeld, 1904).



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