Authors: Wolfram von Eschenbach

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

German poet

Author Works


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.{$I[AN]9810000568}{$I[A]Wolfram von Eschenbach}{$S[A]Eschenbach, Wolfram von;Wolfram von Eschenbach}{$I[geo]GERMANY;Wolfram von Eschenbach}{$I[tim]1170;Wolfram von Eschenbach}

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.

BibliographyGreen, Dennis H. The Art of Recognition in Wolfram’ “Parzival.” New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982. Scholarly analysis of Parzival.Groos, Arthur. Romancing the Grail: Genre, Science, and Quest in Wolfram’s Parzival. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1995. With roots in the critical theory of Russian scholar Mikhail Bahktin, this study examines the narrative discourse of one of Wolfram’s major poems. Unfortunately, Groos is not especially successful in applying a critical theory which was designed to interpret modern novels to this major work of medieval poetry. Moreover, Groos does not pay enough attention to Wolfram’s other major works.Hasty, Will, ed. A Companion to Wolfram’ “Parzival.” Columbia: Camden House, 1999. Essays provide analysis of the popular vernacular work as well as social and cultural context.Hutchins, Eileen. Parzival: An Introduction. 1979. Reprint. London: Temple Lodge, 1992. Filled with spiritual wisdom and artistic beauty, Parzival is one of the greatest works of world literature. A basic introduction, accessible to students, to the story and its moral significance.Jones, Martin, and Timothy McFarland, eds. Wolfram’ “Willehalm”: Fifteen Essays. New York: Camden House, 2001. Jones, a senior lecturer in German at King’ College, London, and McFarland, a retired senior lecturer in German at University College, London, provide fifteen essays on Wolfram’ epic of the Christian-Muslim conflict, placing it in historical and literary context and elucidating the epic’ main themes, characters, and techniques.Poag, James F. Wolfram von Eschenbach. New York: Twayne, 1972. A useful introduction with quotations in both English and German. Contains index and bibliography.Reinhardt, Kurt F. Germany: 2000 Years. Milwaukee, Wis.: Bruce, 1950. This survey of German civilization includes an excellent chapter on the Middle Ages, with a discussion of Wolfram and Parzifal. Contains bibliography and index.Sivertson, Randal. Loyalty and Riches in Wolfram’ “Parzifal.” New York: P. Lang, 1999. A reinterpretation of Parzival as the presentation of a conflict in medieval knighthood between the fight for abstract ideals and service for material gain. The author argues that Wolfram’ epic defends feudal values that were in a state of decline. Compares works by Chrétien de Troyes and others.Springer, Otto. “Wolfram’s Parzifal.” In Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages: A Collaborative History, edited by Roger Loomis. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959. This chapter considers some of the central questions in Parzifal scholarship.Sullivan, Robert G. Justice and the Social Context of Early Middle High German Literature. New York: Routledge, 2001. A history of the Holy Roman Empire hinging on an examination of High German literature and its authors’ focus on social, political, and spiritual issues during a time of transformation. Bibliographical references, index.Walshe, Maurice O’Connell. Medieval German Literature. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1962. Excellent introduction to the period, with a section on Wolfram. Contains a bibliography.Weigand, Hermann J. Wolfram’ “Parzival.” Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1969. General but very good introduction to Wolfram’ text by a noted scholar. Contains bibliographic references and index.
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