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German Literature

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German Literature
literature written in the German language from the 8th
century to the present
includes the works of German, Austrian, and Swiss
authors
divided into periods that correspond to the following:
development of the German language
growth and unification of Germany
as a nation

Old High German Literature (800-1100)


the epic Hildebrandslied (Lay of Hildebrand): the oldest known
literary work in German
Other legends deal with heroic personalities.
Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths
Attila, king of the Huns
Siegfried, identified by some authorities as the
German chief Arminius
The pagan tradition was disowned by the Roman
Catholic Church.
remained the dominant force in German
literature from the 4th century to the 12th
century

Old High German Literature (800-1100)


The pagan tradition was disowned by the Roman Catholic Church.
381: Ulfilas, bishop of the Goths, translated the Bible into the
vernacular
epic Heliand: Christ is represented as a German prince
Charles Martel (688?-741): Carolingian ruler of the Frankish
kingdom of Austrasia
Many abbeys were founded.
The monks preserved ancient literature as well as
the history of their own time.
The major literary works were written in Latin, with
German used primarily in translations from the older
language.

Middle High German Literature (1100-1370)


prose writing and drama: primarily in the form of didactic religious
works
poetry: a mode of secular expression
epic, lyric, and satiric forms: virtues of chivalry and courtly love
Spielleute (wandering minstrels): entertained their listeners with
stories of adventure
court epic
The German writers expressed their own ideals, found their own
form and style, and very often added depth to the stories.
variation: epic with an animal as the central figure
Reinecke Fuchs (1180?) by Heinrich der
Glchezaere
greatest German epic: Nibelungenlied

Middle High German Literature (1100-1370)


Lyric poetry developed in the form of the Minnesang (courtly
lyric)
composed by the lyric poets known as
minnesingers
great master: Walther von der Vogelweide
second half of the 13th century
The nature of the epic began to change as characters from
the middle class and the peasantry were introduced.
Peasantry became increasingly important in literature.
Meier Helmbrecht: a 13th century tale of peasant life

The Reformation (1500-1700)


the great 16th century religious revolution in the Christian Church
the rise of the middle class in the 14th and 15th centuries
the struggles of the peasants against the nobility
was reflected in literature
Martin Luthers translation of the Bible established New High
German as the literary language of Germany.
secular literature: the aristocratic Minnesang was discarded in
favor of the Meistergesang (master song)
written by guilds of artisans known as
Meistersinger
simple lyric poems later collectively titled
Volkslied (folk songs)

Martin Luther (1483-1546)


German theologian and religious
reformer
one of the crucial figures in modern
European history
initiated the Protestant
Reformation
published in 1517 his Ninety-Five
Theses
argued that the essence of
Christianity lies in each persons
direct communication with God

Sources:
Garcia, C. U., Rosales, P. G., & Dimalanta, O. A.
(2001). An anthology of continental literature (13th
century 20th century). Manila: UST Publishing
House.
Microsoft Encarta 2006 [DVD]. Redmond, WA:
Microsoft Corporation, 2005.