Article abstract: Through its language, style, and literary form, Hartmann’s work provided a model for the composition of courtly epic verse and stands at the beginning of the Hohenstaufen renaissance in German literature.
As is often the case with medieval literary figures, what is known about the life of Hartmann von Aue is mainly conjecture. What knowledge there is does not come from official documents of the time but rather from personal comments which he makes in his own works and an analysis of his language. There are also several brief references to him in the work of his contemporaries and a coat of arms found in manuscript illustrations. Thus, even his place of birth is questioned by some scholars. Because of the peculiarities of his language, which point to the Alemmanic dialect area in southwestern Germany, it is generally believed that Hartmann was born in Swabia.
Hartmann was probably a ministerial or landless nobleman in service to a patron. A miniature dating from the fourteenth century shows him on horseback with the armor and dress of a knight. His work includes a lament of the loss of his liege lord and a vow to go on a crusade, either in 1189 under Frederick I Barbarossa or in 1197 under Henry VI. Hartmann was an educated man, possibly receiving his formal education at the monastery school at Reichenau, a conclusion drawn from his introductory words to Der arme Heinrich (c. 1195; English translation, 1931), where he describes himself as an educated knight (Ritter) and a vassal in service at Aue.
The exact order in which Hartmann’s work was written is open to debate by scholars, although there seems to be more general agreement as to the order of the works than as to their dates of composition. Among his early works is a long, didactic poem on love, sometimes referred to as Das Büchlein (little book) but more often called Die Klage (c. 1185; the lament) in recent scholarship. His other major early work is an adaptation of a work by Chrétien de Troyes, Erec (c. 1180-1185; English translation, 1982). Both Die Klage and Erec—as well as some of Hartmann’s earlier lyric poetry (Lieder), or courtly love songs—were written in the period between 1180 and 1190.
Die Klage shows Hartmann’s ability to manipulate the forms of the tradition of courtly love. His poem (1,914 verses long) presents an argument between the heart and the body in which the ideals of service to the beloved and self-denial are extolled. The basis for these ideas comes from twelfth century songs of the Provençal troubadours, although Hartmann’s own clear style and didactic tone reveal two characteristics appearing in his mature works as well.
His Arthurian romance Erec demonstrates his talent in the genre where he is considered strongest and where he is certainly best known, the courtly epic. His source was the earliest Arthurian romance of the same name by Chrétien, and, although the basic plot is not changed, the purpose behind the story is altered to stress the concept of moderation, or mâze, in a knight’s life. Erec realizes through his experiences that neither complete devotion to his lady nor total dedication to brave deeds can produce an ideal knight. Instead, he must attain a proper balance between the two.
Both Die Klage and Erec lay the groundwork for Hartmann von Aue’s later compositions, showing a gradual mastery of literary form and establishing themes that form the basis of subsequent works. In fact, Hartmann returned to the Arthurian romance for Iwein (c. 1200-1203; Iwein: The Knight with the Lion, 1979), his last courtly epic.
With Erec, Hartmann composed the first German Arthurian romance and set the focus of his later epics, the question of moral conduct and ideal character. This work also stands at the beginning of several generations of German poets who drew on the same Arthurian legends and the ideals of chivalry. In Hartmann’s work there are two parallel threads: the profane literature of his love lyrics and Arthurian romances and the religious themes of his crusade poetry, Gregorius (c. 1187-1195; English translation, 1955, 1966) and Der arme Heinrich. These two strands reflect opposing currents of his times but are by no means totally separate within his own work.
Hartmann’s love lyrics, or Minne, which follow the medieval courtly tradition, are most often classified among his earliest compositions. In general, they have been regarded with less esteem than his later crusading poems, which have often been singled out for special attention. In addition, some of the themes and elements introduced in the lyric poetry have parallels in his narrative works. From traditional devotional songs to a noble lady, he progressed to the praise of love for women of a humbler station, for example; then in Der arme Heinrich, the unselfish girl who saves her noble lord is the daughter of a peasant, and her immense value is in her willingness to sacrifice herself for him. The themes of estrangement, or alienation from a loved one, reappear in the romances Erec and Iwein.
One event frequently mentioned in discussing Hartmann’s life is the death of his master, which seems to have moved him deeply and to which he refers in a poem showing great devotion. After this event, he may have gone on a crusade (1197), although this is by no means certain, and the crusade may have been an earlier one. Some critics have also suggested that this death marked a turning away from profane love songs to his crusading poems showing a new way of life in the service of Christ (Gottesminne). The unhappiness of the lover who admires a lady who withholds her notice is now transformed into the happiness of a more dangerous but also more rewarding love. The religious sanction of the Crusades transforms the enterprise into a loving service of God. The conclusion that such a change was brought about by the shock of his master’s death has been disputed by other critics, who remind the reader that medieval poetry was often an expression of societal ideals and feelings and cannot be so directly related to an individual’s personal experience as modern verse is. Hartmann’s poetry, including courtly love songs, songs renouncing this love, and crusade songs, places him in the tradition of Reinmar von Hagenau and Walther von der Vogelweide and...
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