Lieder, c. 1200
Parzival, c. 1200-1210 (English translation, 1894)
Willehalm, c. 1212-1217 (English translation, 1977)
Titurel, c. 1217 (Schionatulander and Sigune, 1960)
Few facts are known about Wolfram von Eschenbach (VAWL-frahm vawn EHSH-uhn-bahk), the strongest of the thirteenth century epic poets writing in Middle High German. Probably born in Eschenbach bei Ansbach, Franconia (now in Germany), about 1170, he was a member of a noble Bavarian family, apparently impoverished, as he says jestingly in his poetry. Many scholars claim that he was a younger son. He served powerful overlords, like the counts of Wertheim and the landgrave Hermann of Thuringia. His feats of sword and spear are subjects for his boasting rather than for his poetry. He mentions being unlettered, yet the French chanson de geste known as La Bataille d’Aliscans was his source for Willehalm, and French originals inspired much of his other poetry. His own work is characterized by acute observation, deep psychology, broad toleration, and sense of humor.
The greatest of his poems is Parzival, a romance of twenty-five thousand lines believed to have been composed between 1200 and 1210. Its popularity is proved by the fifteen complete manuscripts of the work still in existence. Wolfram accredited it to the troubadour Kyot le Provençal, who has never been identified. Its praise of noble marriage and its high moral tone may derive from the personality of the author. Wolfram was admired by all as a deeply religious man; in fact, one contemporary wrote a poem selecting him as the champion of Christianity against an evil enchanter. Willehalm deals also with a noble knight remarkable for his chivalrous treatment of the Saracens. This work, unfinished at Wolfram’s death, was continued by Ulrich von Turkheim (fl. 1235-1250) and Ulrich von dem Türlin (fl. 1261-1270). Titurel, a third romance left only in fragments, was completed by one Albrecht about 1260.
When the landgrave died in 1216, Wolfram apparently left Wartburg Castle and returned to his native town, where he died about 1217. He was reportedly buried in the Church of Our Lady in Eschenbach, but the location of his grave has never been determined.
With the rise of German nationalism in the nineteenth century, Wolfram became a cultural icon. In his opera Tannhäuser (1845) Richard Wagner dramatized the famous, though probably apocryphal, story of a singing contest between Wolfram and his contemporary Tannhäuser, and he based the libretto of his last opera, Parsifal (1882), on Wolfram’s text.