Germany Literature – From the Origins to 1180 Part III

A completely different picture offers us the century. X. Culture, neglected for a few decades during the combative reign of Henry I, flourished again at the court of the Ottoni, to which, as already at that of Aachen, the scholars of every country, Stefano da Novara, Gunzone da Pavia, meet. Ekkehardo of St. Gallen, and the members of the imperial family themselves cultivate letters with tireless love and, something new and unusual, also women take part in the most lively culture; but, while in the ninth century, thanks to the address given by the genius of Charlemagne and his love for homelands, poetry and catechetical prose had made use of the vernacular, composing a rich production in a national guise, although foreign in the its containment, the studies of the century. X take a different path; the clergy and the monk remain, as during the

The study of the classics becomes the foundation and purpose of every culture, poetry knows no other formal perfection than the imitation of the writers of the Augustan age or of others of the low latinity. We could not therefore speak of a real German literature of the century. X, because there is no important poetic document in the vernacular, and prose, although of great importance for the history of the language, is nothing but the prose of translations and serves only for the learning of Latin. So it is, for example, with the whole vast work of Nokter III of St. Gall, who freely popularized writings by Boethius, by Marziano Capella, the Psalms, etc.; than that of Williram, a monk first in Fulda and then in Bamberg, who composed a prosastic translation of the Song of Songs, and so on. With all this the classical influence remains external, limited only to the form; the content of the literature is quite independent of classical poetry.

Here, in fact, precisely in this time of humanism, the legends of Germanic antiquity, which seemed buried under the Christian literature of the ninth century, resurrect, and those that were the most genuine fruits of national thought obtain a broad and finite treatment; here is clothed in exaggeratedly imitated and emulated forms, the most sincere German fables, the cult of ancient art associated with that of national traditions, and the verse made in imitation of Virgil and Horace celebrating, in addition to passion, life and the miracle of the Christian saint, also the facts of the ancient epic and the deeds of the indigenous hero.

It is a new trend, in which the effect of the restored political power is directly perceived (the saxon sovereigns who now call themselves reges Teutonicorum hope) and, at the same time, of “that awakening of the Germanic national consciousness, to which the great conception of he universal empire, which Charlemagne had wanted to revive, had indeed succeeded in partly and partly in extinguishing; but which now, having broken the fictitious ties, was resurrecting everywhere with no greater vivacity “(Novati).

Leaving aside Hrotsuith or Rosvita, the nun of Gandersheim, who, with her sacred legends and her plays written in aemulationem Terentii, reenters, by form and content, in the history of medieval Latin literature, this national content has precisely the works of this period that are of greatest interest: first of all the Waltharius manu fortis by Ekkehardo I of San Gallo, the most notable literary composition of the century. X, who has preserved the legend of Walter of Aquitaine in his 1456 hexameters with a Virgilian flavor, perhaps elaborating some of those chants that the usual custodians and propagators of the epic, the jesters, passed off as squares and trivîs.

According to themotorcyclers, the legend probably originated between the Ostrogoths and the Alemanni, and although the author, an ecclesiastical, dyed it with several Christian features and adorned it with not a few classical motifs, nevertheless the spirit of Germanism informs the tale and appears in all the details of the life of the characters, who carry that pure heroic character of the early times, still devoid of the foreign costume of the chivalric age: under the Latin hexameter you can hear the fresh and barbaric vein of ancient song.

Even the animal epic, which had already reached the Germans through the Latin versions, at this time had its first treatment in that Ecbasis cuiusdam captivi, composed in Leonine hexameters around 940 by a young clergyman of the convent of St. Aper a Tull, in which the poet has intertwined the Aesopian fable of the sick lion with the figurative story of his own conversion, expanding it with infinite details. And of this century, or the first years of the 11th, it is also the first adventure novel, also written in Leonine hexameters with the title of Ruodlieb from a monk of Tegernsee, of which only fragments have come down to us, in which, moreover, with the narration of the various and curious adventures of a young knight, a rich material for the history of culture, for the study of uses and customs is preserved dominant among the aristocratic classes around the year 1000.

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