Hammer, Andreas. Tradierung und Transformation. Mythische Erzahlelemente im Tristan Gottfrieds von Strassburg und im Iwein Hartmanns von Aue.
This monograph, a slightly revised version of the author's dissertation, argues that the two popular medieval German romances Tristan and Iwein contain mythical elements, albeit on different structural leveis of the narrative and with different impacts for the overall interpretations of the stories. In Iwein, the mythical elements are rationaiized and ultimately removed from the text, whereas in Tristan they contribute to the breaks in the narrative and to the irresolvability of the love conflict. Thus, to borrow the words of the author, Tristan reveals "Operationsformen mythischer Narrativitat auf der Ebene der Tiefenstruktur," whereas Iwein presents "Elemente des mythischen Denkens hauptsachlich auf der Textoberflache" (274-75).
As outlined in the book's first part, the study operates with an understanding of myth that is derived from the work of prominent philosophers and religious scholars, such as Cassirer, Levi-Strauss, and Eliade. The textual analysis is focused on space and time as the defining characteristics of myth as well as on causality and rationalization. The study's main part analyzes several episodes in Tristan, including Tristan's fights with Morold, with the dragon, and with the giant Urgan as weli as the scene in the Minnegrotte. Ali of these episodes are characterized by inconsistencies and breaks in the narrative and, more importantly, all of them share more or less explicit mythical elements. The monograph's third part looks at the wondrous fountain in Iwein and traces the gradual disappearance of its mythical characteristics.
Throughout, the author effectively compares the episodes in the German romances with the Celtic narrative tradition as attested in Welsh and Irish tales. There are instances, however, where the reader must wonder whether a closer look at the extant Germanic myths and the contemporary literary tradition might not have been able to contribute to and potentially enrich the findings. This is especially true for the discussion of Tristan's battie with Morold. The author remarks that the motif of the poisoned sword and the decapitation of the enemy is an unusuai motif "selbst fur die Heldenepik" (84) and suggests that the Celtic skull cult may have been the most likely mythological source for the motifs in Gottfried's Tristan (104). Poisoned weapons, however, are a common occurrence in the sagas of the Icelanders and decapitation is much better attested in Germanic heroic and mythological poetry than the author acknowledges (compare the story of Weland the smith, the beheading of Mimir, Hagen beheading the ferryman in the Nibelungenlied, and many others). That Tristan's battle with Morold has some affinities to the Germanic tradition is not least attested by the fact that the battle is explicitly called a holmgang. Thus, instead of postulating the possibility of at ieast indirect influences of the Celtic skuli cult on the beheading of Morold in Tristan ("... doch sollte man sich durchaus der Moglichkeit eines indirekten Einflusses derartiger keltischer Erzahltraditionen Ides "Kopfkults"] bewusst sein," 104), it might be more helpful to place the scene into the broader context of the Germanic mythological and, perhaps more importantly, literary tradition.
At times, the selection of scenes and episodes ieaves the reader somewhat confused. For example, the author concludes that "alie Gegner Tristans in irgendeiner Weise ubermenschlich oder ubernaturlich [sind]," (180), without having discussed Tristan's first battle (the attack on Morgan). Yet this episode, as the author correctly remarks in a footnote (80, n. 152), is quite ambiguous in itself as it is neither a knightly encounter nor a fully legitimized blood feud. Like the other battles under discussion, it thus also clearly presents a break and inconsistency in the narrative which, as the author concludes at the end of the monograph, is characteristic for the text as a whole (276).
Overall, the author's perceptive readings of the texts make for a coherent and very dense argument that produces some intriguing conciusions. For readers seeking a more general discussion of myth in Tristan and Iwein, however, the study will be of iimited use as they will find instead ah intricate argument about narrative structure while at the same time the study of myth oftentimes tends to be too exclusively focused on finding parallels in Celtic tradition.
The Catholic University of America
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|Publication:||The German Quarterly|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2008|
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