Hartmann von Aue

From Citizendium
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This article is developing and not approved.
Main Article
Related Articles  [?]
Bibliography  [?]
External Links  [?]
Citable Version  [?]
This editable Main Article is under development and subject to a disclaimer.

Hartmann von Aue (c. 1160/65 – c. 1210) was a German medieval author of epic poetry, one of the three most important poets of German courtly literature of the Middle Ages. He is especially credited with introducing Arthurian romances to the German-speaking world and is best known for his Arthurian epics Iwein and Erec, and the saint's legends Gregorius and Der arme Heinrich.


Practically nothing is known about the poet himself, despite the fact that he identifies himself explicitly in practically all his works. Unfortunately, the personal information he includes is often imprecise and includes no unambiguous references to places or overlords with whom he may have been associated. His most famous self-description is found in Der arme Heinrich:

Ein ritter sô gelêret was

Daz er an den buochen las
Swaz er dar an geschriben fand
Der was Hartman genant

Dienstman was er zOuwe

(There was a knight so learned / That he would read in books / Whatever he could find written down; / This one was called Hartmann, / A ministerialis he was in Ouwe.)

This and other self-descriptions tell us that Hartmann was himself a knight and a ministerialis (a member of the lower nobility). He was educated, able to read both French and Latin; in view of the above quotation, this was a fact he himself apparently considered somewhat unusual.

The reference to Ouwe (in modern German Aue) could refer to many different places in modern Swabia or Switzerland. This is at least consistent with the clearly Alemannic dialect found in the transmitted manuscripts of his works. Attempts to localize Hartmann through the associations of his works with coats of arms found in some illuminated manuscripts of his Minnesang have not yielded any conclusions. Based on references to Hartmann by contemporaries, scholars conclude that Hartmann was active as an author around 1180 or shortly thereafter. Wolfram von Eschenbach refers to characters from Hartmann's Iwein in his Parzival; since Wolfram composed Parzival around 1205, Hartmann must have finished Iwein, believed to be his last work, before that time. Gottfried von Straßburg speaks of Hartmann as still alive in his Tristan (c. 1210) but Heinrich von dem Türlin eulogizes him in Diu Crône (after 1220).


The first author of the rich courtly period (höfische Literatur) in German medieval literature, Hartmann's great accomplishment is the introduction of Arthurian romance to the German-speaking world, through his Erec and Iwein, both translations (or adaptations) of the French author Chrétien de Troyes.


Hartmann's Erec is the first Arthurian romance in German, possibly written around 1190. It is a fairly loose adaptation of the romance of the same name by the medieval French author Chrétien de Troyes. Although the two works are essentially the same story, Hartmann has changed and added considerable amounts. The German version is over 3,000 lines longer and differs in some important respects from Chrétien's original, leading some scholars to think that Hartmann may have used other sources. Such a hypothesis is not necessary, however, as the differences could be explained quite easily by Hartmann's desire to make the French story with its foreign culture understandable to a German audience. In general, Hartmann has expanded the descriptions of the courtly pomp and circumstance and added more moralizing intrusions by the narrator.

The romance relates the story of Erec, a young knight, who attains great fame, power, and a good wife early in life but then squanders his reputation and his subjects' loyalty on account of his immature behavior as a king. Erec has to regain his honor in a long series of tests and adventures in which he learns what it means to be a true knight and good king.

The work survives in only one (almost) complete manuscript, the Ambraser Heldenbuch from the early 16th century. There are also a few fragments from the 13th and 14th century.


Gregorius is a saint's legend, recounting the story of the incestuous birth of the fictional St. Gregorius and his eventual crowning as pope. The legend survives in six complete manuscripts and five fragments. The text runs to 6,004 lines. Hartmann's story is based on the Old French La Vie du Pape Saint Grégoire.

Gregorius is born in a noble family as the result of the incestuous love of twin brother and sister. The father leaves on pilgrimage when he learns of his sister's pregnancy and dies while away. The mother puts the newborn Gregorius together with a tablet inscribed with information about his origins in a small boat and entrusts him to the sea; she then assumes the queendom of Aquitaine. Gregorius is found by fishermen and turned over to a monastery where he grows up. When by chance he hears of his noble birth, he leaves the monastery to become a knight. On arriving in Aquitaine, he liberates his mother from a siege laid on her city by a suitor who was trying to force her to marry him. Unaware of her identity, he marries his own mother. Eventually, when the royal mother/wife finds the original tablet inscribed with her son's origin, she realizes whom she has married. Horrified, Gregorius immediately departs to do penance for his sin. He spends seventeen years shackled to a rock in a lake, living only off the water provided by nature. He is finally released when papal legates are led by God's revelation in a dream to find him and elect him pope. After many years, his mother arrives in Rome on a pilgrimage. She received absolution for her sin from her son, the pope, and stays in Rome until her death.

Hartmann explicitly explains the moral of his story in both the prologue and the epilogue: no sin is too great to be covered by God's grace, as long as penitence is shown. Scholarship on the legend is divided about the question of culpability, and thus ultimately about Hartmann's understanding of sin. If Gregorius cannot be considered an active participant in the incestuous relationship between his parents, did he nevertheless inherit the stain of his parents' sin in birth, or did baptism wash this away? And in what way does Gregorius become sinful in any of his other actions (leaving the monastery, becoming a knight, marrying his mother unknowingly) that he should do penance for any of these things?

Der arme Heinrich

This is a shorter epic poem of about 1,500 lines. The genre is difficult to establish, since there are serious differences in the text between the different manuscripts. It appears to be a type of Christian exemplum, but it also has similarities to the genre of fairy tale. There are also clear echos of the Biblical story of Job.

The hero of Der arme Heinrich is a noble lord, Heinrich von Ouwe, a man of splendid qualities. Suddenly, he is afflicted with leprosy. The best doctors in Salerno are unable to help him and he is told that only the blood of a virgin who willingly sacrifices her life for him can cure him. Concluding that such an event is unlikely, Heinrich gives up his possessions and retires to a remote farm. The farmer's eight-year old daughter serves him and takes a liking to him. After three years, the family learns of the only possible cure for his leprosy. After many lengthy debates, the daughter receives her parents' consent to sacrifice her life for her lord Heinrich. They travel to Salerno and just as the doctors are ready to stab the girl's heart, Heinrich stops the affair and declares that he would rather remain ill than accept this sacrifice. Through divine intervention, Heinrich is immediately healed. Heinrich returns to his former station in life and marries the young girl.

The story survives in three complete manuscripts. Although the A manuscript (Strasbourg, Stadtbibliothek, dated c. 1330-1350) was destroyed in a fire in 1870, a good copy was made in 1784. There are two manuscripts belonging to a separate B tradition (Heidelberg, Universitätsbibliothek cpg 341, c. 1320-30; and Genf-Cologny, Fondation Martin Bodmer, Cod. Bodmer 72, dated c. 1320-30), as well as three fragments. The B manuscripts preserve a different ending than in A, not concluding with the wedding of Heinrich and the maiden but with Heinrich's entering a monastery.

The source of Hartmann's tale is unknown. His use of the word diuten 'to interpret' has suggested a Latin-language source. Though there are a few Latin exempla with similar story lines, the only surviving copies of these are of younger date than Hartmann's story and are almost certainly inspired by Der arme Heinrich. There are similarities to the legend of St. Sylvester, according to which this saint cured the emperor Constantine from leprosy after he had refused a bath in the blood of children, as well as to several other common medieval stories.


This work is, like Erec, an adaptation of a work by Chrétien de Troyes (his Yvain or Chevalier au Lion). There are 15 complete manuscripts of Iwein and 17 fragments. The romance presents one important philological problem, because there are some not inconsiderable differences between the two oldest manuscripts (Ms. A Gießen and Ms. B. Heidelberg, both 13th century), making it impossible to produce a traditional stemma of the surviving manuscripts.

Iwein tells the story of a knight at King Arthur's court who is so zealous for knightly adventure that he neglects his wife and comes to shame. It is a story with many references to magical objects and events. Iwein's adventures begin when he pours water from a magical fountain onto a stone, an act which conjures up a big storm. After the storm subsides, the lord and protector of the magical fountain arrives and fights the intruder Iwein in a duel. Iwein deals him a fatal blow and pursues the defeated and fleeing knight to his castle where Iwein is trapped. He escapes a terrible fate through the use of a magical ring of invisibility given to him by a lovely maiden, Lunete. On observing the grieving widow of the now dead knight, Laudine, Iwein falls in love with her. Lunete arranges a shrewd plan so that Iwein and Laudine end up marrying each other. When King Arthur and Gawain arrive, the latter warns Iwein not to be too lazy at home (like Erec) and persuades him to come along with him and be active. Laudine gives her new husband a one-year leave. Iwein, however, is so busy that he misses the deadline. Shamed, Iwein withdraws from society and lives as a mad hermit until a passing countess with a magical ointment heals him of his madness. The knight then undergoes a number of adventures, including most famously a fight with a dragon that results in a life-long friendship with a lion which he had rescued from the dragon's attack. Henceforth, Iwein is called Knight with the Lion. Eventually Iwein restores his honor and, again by an ingenious device proposed by Lunete, is reconciled to his wife Laudine.

Although Hartmann remains much closer to Chrétien than in Erec, scholars consider a number of Hartmann's changes ineffective. In particular, the change in character motivation of Laudine makes her reconciliation with Iwein at the end of the story less satisfying than in Chrétien's version. Magic is a recurring motif in the story, such as the magical fountain, ring of invisibility, magical ointment, dragons, dwarfs, giants, the thankful lion, etc.; even Laudine is sometimes considered to have fairy attributes and this may point to a much older history to some of the motifs in Iwein. The influence of the work must have been enormous. Not only are there so many extant manuscripts, scenes from the story are depicted in at least two series of wall paintings from the 13th century (one in Tyrol, Austria, and one in Thuringia) and in the 14th-century Malterer Embroidery.

Die Klage (or Das Büchlein)

Die Klage (The Complaint), formerly known under the title Das Büchlein (The Booklet) is a didactic poem of 1914 verses teaching about courtly love. It is an allegorical poem in which heart and body argue about love. The poem is transmitted in one single manuscript.


We have 18 songs written by Hartmann, many of which deal with chivalric or courtly love.

Reception and influence

Hartmann von Aue was admired by most of his contemporaries. Gottfried von Straßburg lauds him in the famous "praise of poets" passage in Tristan. Rudolf von Ems and Heinrich von dem Türlin also praise him. Only Wolfram von Eschenbach is highly critical of Hartmann. In several passages in his Parzival Wolfram takes issue with several plot decisions in his colleague's work.

Hartmann's works have remained influential until recently. In the twentieth century, Thomas Mann took Hartmann's Gregorius legend as inspiration for his own novel Der Erwählte (The Holy Sinner), while Gerhart Hauptmann adapted Der arme Heinrich into a drama.