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Heinrich der Glichezare

A Middle High German poet

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Heinrich der Glichezare (i.e. the hypocrite, in the sense of one who adopts a strange name or pseudonym), a Middle High German poet, author of a narrative poem “Reinhart Fuchs” (Reynard the Fox), the oldest German beast-epic that we possess. The date of its composition is about 1180. It is based on a French poem, part of an extensive “Roman de Renart”, but older than any of the branches of this romance that have come down to us. Of the German poem in its original form, entitled “Isengrines not” (Isengrin’s trouble), only a few fragments are preserved in a mutilated manuscript discovered in 1839 in the Hessian town of Melsungen. We possess, however, a complete version made by an unknown hand in the thirteenth century and preserved in two manuscripts, one at Heidelberg and one belonging to the archiepiscopal library of Kalocsa. This version is very faithful, the changes made therein pertaining apparently only to form and versification. Its title is “Reinhart Fuchs”. In the beginning of this poem the fox is anything but a successful impostor, being generally outwitted by far weaker animals. But later on this changes. Reynard plays outrageous pranks on most of the animals, especially on Isengrin, the wolf, but escapes punishment by healing the sick lion. This the fox accomplishes at the expense of his adversaries. In the end he poisons the lion, his benefactor, and the poem closes with a reflection on the success attending craft and falsehood while honesty goes unrewarded. The story is told in a plain, straight-forward manner; compared with the French model the German poem shows abbreviations as well as additions, so that it is not a mere translation. The order in which the different incidents are related has also been changed, and occasional touches of satire are not wanting. The poem of der Glichezare is the only beast-epic of Middle High German literature. The famous later versions of this material are Low German. It is on one of these latter that Goethe based his well-known “Reineke Fuchs”. The complete poem (from the Heidelberg MS.) was edited by J. Grimm under the title “Reinhart Fuchs” (Berlin, 1834), and together with the older fragments by K. Reissenberger in “Paul’s Altdeutsche Textbibliothek”, VII (Halle, 1886). The Kalocsa MS. was published by Mailath and Koffinger (Budapest, 1817). Selections are found in P. Piper’s “Die Spielmannsdichtung” (in Kurschner, “Deutsche National litteratur”, II), pt. I, 287-315.


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