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Fruhe deutsche Literatur und lateinische Literatur in Deutschland, 800-1150.

Ed. by Walter Haug and Benedikt Konrad Vollmann, Bibliothek des Mittelalters, I (Frankfurt am Main: Deutsche Klassiker Verlag, 1991). 1593 pp. ISBN 3-698-66010-3. DM 240.

With this beautifully produced first volume, the new series of editions gets off to an impressive start. In their anthology, Haug and Vollmann document in unprecedented breadth the early stages of literary development in Germany and in German, and they assist the reader in every possible way: each text is accompanied by a parallel translation into modem German prose, and an extensive commentary in the second part of the volume gives account of editorial principles, places each work in its literary context and provides fine-by-fine commentaries with bibliographical references. The collection opens with one of the most fascinating examples of early German literature, the Hildebrandslied -- that tantalizingly incomplete tale of combat between father and son which gives a glimpse of the earlier oral traditions of German heroic poetry. Wherever necessary, Haug's notes point to difficulties in the manuscript readings, discussing the various possible interpretations put forward by scholars, and offering his own solution. From these beginnings, the editors' selection vividly traces the literary development and the gradual emancipation of the vernacular language from Latin, from early interlinear translations of baptismal vows and benedictions to Otfried's much more complex rendition of the Gospels in Old High German verse; and yet the inclusion of the complete Latin Walthatius and of the Ruodlieb fragments serves as a reminder of the fact that this is no linear development and illustrates die recurring phases in which Latin takes precedence over the vernacular. With a terminal date of 1150, the editors take the reader well into the beginnings of early Middle High German, and their focus on works transmitted together in the Vorau MS gives an illuminating view of the way in which a mediaeval codex assembled different literary works. Given the vast scope of the collection, it seems churlish to complain at gaps necessitated by its inevitable selectiveness; and yet it might have been interesting if the rather broad definition of the term |literature' used in the first part could have been retained, so that examples of early German sermons could have been included; and the omission of Hrosvita of Gandersheim deprives the reader of a glimpse of the earliest Christian dramatist. Moreover, to help place the individual works in their historical as well as literary context, a slightly more extensive epilogue would be useful; but this collection and the often inspired translations by Haug and Voumann will undoubtedly make the beginnings of German literature accessible to a wider general audience while providing a wealth of new suggestions to the specialist.
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Author:Suerbaum, Almut
Publication:Medium Aevum
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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