The Middle High German I chose for this year’s #WhanThatAprilleDay17 initiative was a rhymed couplet from the very beginning of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival.
Ist zwîvel herzen nâchgebûr, / daz muoz der sêle werden sûr.
(If doubt is near neighbour to the heart, that may turn sour on the soul.)
The quotation is from the Lachmann/Nellmann edition, the translated by Cyril Edwards; see here for other contributions to the virtual event by my colleagues at CML.
Being critical of canons and classics is all well and good. Like it or not, however, there are some works of art that have taken on a cultural life of their own, something resembling a second existence on a level removed from just the time and place in which they came into being. The Odyssey and the Winterreise are two examples, and Parzival, for me, is another. There are the reinventions of the material over the centuries, the engagement with themes such as destiny and error, the sense of a distinctive voice that is hard to quantify …
There is also a personal connection – not merely in the relevance of that couplet now but also in the fact that this was one of the texts with which my encounter with medieval Germany began. Very long ago it seems, that sense of discovery of a world enigmatically at once distant and familiar, and the excitement of learning and scholarship as an opening of minds. It’s inseparable from the clarity of the air in late autumn in an English university city, before secrecy and competitiveness and all the rest of it came into view.
Personal engagement with literature is not really the done thing in the field, particularly when there is so much chronological distance to complicate matters, so that’s enough of that for now. But before next dismissing such thinking as unscholarly, perhaps we might take a moment to reflect on how many Festschrifts are published with titles that use a quotation from a primary text as a message or allusion to the honorand?