In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Wolfram Von Eschenbach

  • Introduction
  • Historical and Literary Context
  • Critical Overviews
  • Introductions
  • Bibliographies
  • Concordance

Medieval Studies Wolfram Von Eschenbach
Albrecht Classen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 September 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0163


Even though Wolfram von Eschenbach’s contemporary Gottfried von Straßburg seems to have disliked his colleague, as we can tell from a disparaging remark in the latter’s literary excursus in his Tristan (c. 1210), Wolfram’s audiences throughout the Middle Ages and his readers today have both paid greatest respect to this extraordinary writer. He created primarily three major works: his Parzival (c. 1205), Books 3 to 13 of which are based on Chrétien de Troyes’ Perceval le Gallois or Le Conte du Graal (c. 1170–1190); Willehalm (c. 1210–1220), based on the Old French genre of the chanson de geste, specifically the Bataille d’Aliscans (c. 1180–1190); and his Titurel fragments (c. 1220), which consist of a most original tale with some loose narrative threads from Parzival, here taken up and developed further, leading to a tragic outcome, as far as we can tell. Wolfram also composed a number of remarkable “dawn songs,” in which he partly embarked on a new discourse on marital love. Apart from some biographical allusions in his texts, often rather satirical, we know really nothing about this poet, which is quite typical of that time. However, we can be certain that he originated from Franconia, today in northern Bavaria; received a considerable education, which certainly included French, perhaps even some Arabic; and enjoyed highest respect for his glorious, but also rather mystifying texts, especially his Grail romance, s24 Parzival. Wolfram was well connected with the territorial prince Hermann, Landgrave of Thuringia, who resided in the Wartburg in Eisenach, and also with the lords of Durne who resided in the Wildenberg Castle near Amorbach and with their neighbor Count Wertheim. We can be certain that Wolfram belonged to the noble class, because he proudly displays his status as a knight and is presented as one (although his face is not shown) in the famous Manesse manuscript (c. 1300–1310). Wolfram was familiar with much of contemporary literature and drew from French sources for his own works. According to the latest count, Wolfram’s Parzival has come down to us in eighty-seven manuscripts, while his Willehalm has survived in seventy-nine manuscripts, both figures confirming the huge appeal that these narratives exerted. The Titurel, however, is extant only in three manuscripts, whereas his dawn songs are contained in four manuscripts. For the latest status regarding Wolfram manuscripts, see the Marburger Repertorium, or Handschriftencensus online.

Historical and Literary Context

De Boor 1966 provides a solid, even though by now slightly dated, framework for Wolfram’s works and discusses them at length. Bertau 1973 offers a broad overview of German literature in the Middle Ages, nicely contextualizing it in the history of that time, not ignoring the history of architecture and art. Schultz 2004 compares Wolfram’s text with his French source by Chrétien de Troyes and examines the overarching design. Nusser 2012 views the literary documents through the lens of history and the cultural-religious contexts.

  • Bertau, Karl. Deutsche Literatur im europäischen Mittelalter. Vol. 2. Munich: Beck, 1973.

    This literary history, which also covers Wolfram von Eschenbach at great length, stands out for its more global perspective, situating the Middle High German texts well in their European context, without ignoring the historical and art-historical background. Bertau characterizes the many different attempts to come to a comprehensive understanding of the Parzival romance as a “Wanderdüne” (p. 787; shifting sand dune).

  • de Boor, Helmut. Die höfische Literatur: Vorbereitung, Blüte, Ausklang 1170–1250. Munich: Beck, 1966.

    De Boor presents a highly authoritative, though by now a little dated, literary history for the period of Middle High German literature from c. 1170 to c. 1250. Wolfram von Eschenbach figures large here, and de Boor offers a concise and informative overview, combining the literary-historical background with solid textual interpretations.

  • Nusser, Peter. Deutsche Literatur: Eine Sozial- und Kulturgeschichte. Vol. 1, Vom Mittelalter bis zur frühen Neuzeit. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2012.

    The author here considerably revised his own previous literary history (1992 and 2002), now offering more of a thematic approach in the discussion of medieval German literature, focusing on specific aspects, such as religion, the heroic, the courtly, etc. Wolfram’s works are discussed at length in the various sections depending on the thematic emphasis.

  • Schultz, James A. “1203, Summer.” In A New History of German Literature. Edited by David E. Wellbery and Judith Ryan, 97–101. Cambridge, MA, and London: Belknap, 2004.

    Schultz briefly but insightfully examines the historical and literary context and the complex design of Wolfram’s Parzival, highlighting the countless names, the family relationship on a global level, and the efforts to curb violence.

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