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Naturkundliches im 'Reinfried von Braunschweig': Zur Funktion naturkundlicher Kenntnisse in deutscher Erzahldichtung des Mittelalters.

Herfried Vogel, (Frankfurt am Main [etc.]: Peter Lang, 1990). 187 pp. ISBN 3-631-40493-x. DM 49.

This book is the revised version of a doctoral thesis written in Munich under the supervision of Wolfgang Harms. Its prime aim is to identify the various functions of the references to animals, birds or other natural phenomena which occur in the anonymous, incomplete verse romance Reinfried von Braunschweig (c. 1300). Vogel fully recognizes the hazards associated with such an enterprise, and above all the danger of either ignoring or inventing hidden |meanings' of animals which a mediaeval author may have wished to imply. Accordingly he adopts an admirably clear-headed and undogmatic method, which combines detailed reference to the pseudo-scientific Latin traditions on which the author has drawn (albeit often at second hand) with considerable literary sensitivity. He summarizes this method as follows: |Ansatzpunkt der Interpretation ist das Sach und Bedeutungswissen der Zeit, das in Enzyklopadien und anderen Werken uberliefert ist. Deutungen einer res, die nicht belegt sind, sind auszuschlie[beta]en. Und schlie[beta]lich: Angebotene Deutungen sind am Kontext zu prufen' (p. 36).

The bulk of Vogel's study consists of two chapters of detailed textual analysis, which correspond to the two main parts of the enormous Reinfried torso itself. In the first of these parts, which deals primarily with Reinfried's love for and winning of the beautiful Danish princess Yrkane, Vogel shows the author consistently using references to creatures such as the dove, the falcon and the eagle to suggest or reinforce an idealized presentation of the lovers and their relationship, and to point to the contrastingly lustful character of the desire felt for Yrkane by an unnamed Danish knight. In the second part, which is concerned with the hero's travels in the Orient, the author appears much more interested in conveying natural historical information for its own sake. This is particularly evident in a lengthy excursus about monstrous peoples and their origin. In this part too, however, some references to natural phenomena are used to illuminate Reinfried's character and progress: above all, his fascination with and pursuit of a siren is used to suggest a proneness to the sin of curiositas, with the death of the siren and his return to Yrkane implying an eventual victory over this sin. In neither part is it possible to discern a single main source for the author's zoological material, but his knowledge of both scientific and imaginative literature was manifestly extensive.

The soundness of Vogel's judgement and the lucidity of his style are consistently impressive. He demonstrates a thorough knowledge of the great mediaeval Latin nature encyclopaedias, and of work by German scholars on the spiritual interpretation of animals. His familiarity with secondary literature in other languages at times appears less complete: he makes no reference, for example, to important English work by George C. Druce on the elephant, or by Meg Twycross on sirens.

Along with other studies published in the last twenty years (notably those of Gunda Dittrich-Orlovius and Otto Neudeck), this book enables us to appreciate more fully both the breadth of learning and the narrative skill of the author of the Reinfried, a work which, like so many of its period and type, was for many years dismissed as uninterestingly epigonic. Vogel's work will, however, also be found valuable by all with an interest in mediaeval animal lore. It is to be hoped that it will both stimulate and (perhaps alongside Hans-Henning Rausch's excellent 1977 book on the Jungerer Titurel) serve as a model for further studies of the reception of such lore in vernacular narratives of the later Middle Ages.
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Author:Harris, Nigel
Publication:Medium Aevum
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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