(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

Hartmann von Aue c . 1170-c. 1210

(Also spelled Hartman von Ouwe) German poet.

Hartmann von Aue, with Wolfram von Eschenbach and Gottfried von Straaburg, is one of the three most prominent figures of the Blútezeit of Middle High German poets. Inaddition to love lyrics, Hartmann wrote secular and religious epics and is credited with introducing Arthurian legend into medieval Germany. His Iwein seems to have been especially widely read, and Hartmann's contemporaries emulated its elegant poetic style. Thematically, Hartmann attempts to reconcile the knightly values of the secular world with the asceticism of medieval religion; his oeuvre, which fluctuates between religious didacticism and secular humanism, reflects these countervailing commitments.

Biographical Information

Despite Hartmann's popularity during his lifetime, no historical records exist on which to base an extensive biography. What modern scholars know of his life has been largely gleaned from Hartmann's short autobiographical asides and from comments by other medieval poets. Apparently, Hartmann was born in Swabia and was of Alemannic heritage, but the 'Aue' of his name may refer to the town of Eglisau on the Rhinein Canton Zürich, or to Obernau near Rottenburg on the Nektar. A member of the lower nobility, he was educated beyond his social standing and probably received instruction in a monastery, perhaps Reichenau, where he became acquainted with the classics and the Bible, and became fluent in Latin and French. Hartmann was a ministeriale, a civil servant—he refers to himself as a "dienstman" ("vassal") and a "rîter" ("knight")—and although his lord's identity is uncertain, most recent scholarship identifies the Zähringer family as his likely benefactor. Hartmann probably wrote his minnesangs (love poems), Die Klage, and Erec about 1180, after which he started to explore more openly religious themes. Most scholars believe that the subsequent death of his lord inspired Hartmann to participate in a crusade, a type of atonement that Hartmann may have allegorized in Gregorius. Although historians disagree as to whether Hartmann was involved in the Third Crusade of 1189-90 or in Emperor Henry VI's crusade of 1197, Hartmann seems to have written Der arme Heinrich and Iwein upon returning. Literary references by Straâburg and Heinrich von dem Türlîn place Hartmann's death between 1210 and 1220.

Major Works

Although critics cannot indubitably date any of Hartman' works, they generally agree on chronological sequence and divide his poetry into three major periods. Hartmann's early career produced the minnesangs, Die Klage (also known as Das Büchlein), and Erec. In the minnesangs, Hartmann explores a theme typical of the Middle Ages: that serving an inaccessible love interest is morally educative. However, in one of Hartmann's poems the subject considers leaving his unyielding mistress to seek a mutual love relationship among commoners; some critics cite this as the earliest example of niedere Minne, or common love. Hartmann's minnesangs also include three crusaders' songs (kreuzlieder), in which the crusade is a means of reconciling the dichotomy between God and the world. Such a fusion of apparent opposites is a common subject for Hartmann. Die Klage describes a similar attempt at reconciliation in an argument between herz ("heart") and lip ("body"). Hartmann's most notable literary contributions, however, follow his lyrics. Erec, which Hartmann based on the Erec et Enide (c. 1165) of Chrétien de Troyes, appeared circa 1180, and with it, Hartmann introduced the classic bipartite form of the Arthurian epic into Germany. In Erec, a young knight loves his wife Enite so inordinately that he neglects his knightly duties. Only after realizing his error and regaining his honor in a series of adventures does he reconcile love and knighthood.

Gregorius and Der arme Heinrich comprise Hartmann's second phase, which is characterized by its strict religious didacticism. In Gregorius, which he may have drawn from the French Vie du Pape Gregoire, Hartmann portrays Gregorius, both born of and involved in incestuous relationships, who performs penance, is forgiven, and eventually rises to the papacy. Der arme Heinrich follows, and may have been drawn from the family history of Hartmann's lord. In Heinrich, an apparently flawless man is stricken with leprosy, indicating his physical and spiritual corruption. Drawing on the medieval belief that leprosy could be cured by the blood of a human sacrifice, Hartmann's protagonist befriends a young peasant girl who agrees to enact the cure. Heinrich prevents her death, however, and, apparently because of "eine niuwe güete" ("a new sense of charity"), is subsequently cured.

Iwein, a secular, Arthurian epic that is also based on a work by Chrétien, constitutes Hartmann's final literary period. Here, the protagonist neglects his wife in an inordinate quest for honor, only to realize that love and knightly duty must be balanced. Although Iwein continues themes typical of Hartmann's earlier works—some critics consider it a companion text to Erec—Hartmann's final secular epic is much more stylistically sophisticated.

Textual History

Hartmann's works exist in several manuscripts and fragments dating from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries, some in the original Middle High German, and some in Latin. Commissioned by Emperor Maximilian I and copied by his secretary, Hans Reid, between 1504 and 1516, the Ambraser Heldenbuch contains the only extant version of Die Klage, and nearly complete versions of Erec (of which the first several lines are missing), and Iwein, Hartmann's best preserved work. Hartmann's other works appear in various other manuscripts and fragments. His minnesangs are collected in three major manuscripts, all circa 1300: Die groâe Heidelberger Liederhandschrift, Die kleine Heidelberger Liederhandschrift, and Die Weingartner Liederhandschrift. Several manuscripts and fragments of Gregorius are preserved, all dating from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries. However, the prologue only appears in two of the manuscripts, and was possibly written by someone other than Hartmann. Der arme Heinrich appears only in thirteenth-and fourteenth-century Latin manuscripts and fragments. Despite their popularity during the Middle Ages, Hartmann's works were not translated into modern German until the mid-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and no English translations appeared until the twentieth century.

Critical Reception

Hartmann was highly esteemed by his contemporaries, most notably by Gottfried von Straâburg, Heinrich von dem Türlîn, and Rudolph von Ems. His style and elegant use of structure, which represented significant advances over his predecessors, were held as a standard of Middle High German writing. As evidenced by the many manuscripts and by the numerous tapestries and frescoes that depict scenes from his Arthurian epics, Hartmann's reputation seems to have rested primarily on Erec and Iwein during the Middle Ages, though some scholars considered them mere translations of Chrétien. However, Der arme Heinrich has become Hartmann's best known and most widely studied text in modern times. Heinrich has attracted the attention of such figures as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (who wrote a paraphrased version of the poem), and Gerhart Hauptmann (whose play, "Der arme Heinrich" [1902], is based on Hartmann's epic). In recent years, the critical study of Hartmann's entire oeuvre has flourished, emphasizing, among other aspects, his artistic revisions injected into Chrétien's text and the religious ideas inherent in his works. Rather than a mere translator of Chrétien, Hartmann is now considered an imaginative poet in his own right, a linguistic innovator of Middle High German, and a vital part of German literary history.

Principal Works

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)


Erec c. 1180

Die Klage [The Lament; also published as Das Büchlein, The Little Book] c. 1180

Minnesangs [Love Poems] c. 1180

Gregorius c. 1187

Der arme Heinrich [Poor Heinrich] c. 1191

Iwein c. 1203


Henry the Leper (paraphrased by Dante Gabriel Rossetti) 1905

Old German Love Songs (translated by Frank C. Nicholson) 1907

Peasant Life in Old German Epics: Meier Helmbrecht  and Der arme Heinrich (translated by C. H. Bell) 1931

Gregorius: A Medieval Oedipus Legend (translated by  Edwin H. Zeydel and Bayard Q. Morgan) 1955

Erec (translated by J. Wesley Thomas) 1982

Iwein (translated by J. Wesley Thomas) 1982

The Narrative Works of Hartmann von Aue (translated by  R. W. Fischer) 1983

H. B. Willson (essay date 1958)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Symbol and Reality in Der arme Heinrich" in The Modern Language Review, Vol. LIII, No. 4, October, 1958, pp. 526-36.

[Willson is one of the most prolific Hartmann scholars writing in English. In the following excerpt, he insists that Der arme Heinrich attempts "the paradoxical mingling or fusion of the two spheres of the human and the divine without loss of 'substantial' identity by either," through the spiritual power of caritas.]

If we discount the occasional misguided attempt to interpret Hartmann's Der arme Heinrich as basically pagan in spirit and outlook, it is true to say that its debt to medieval Christian thought has always...

(The entire section is 5537 words.)

Hugh Sacker (essay date 1961)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "An Interpretation of Hartmann's Iwein" in The Germanic Review, Vol. XXXVI, No. 1, 1961, pp. 5-26.

[Sacker has written several critical studies of Medieval German literature, including An Introduction to Wolfram's "Parzival" (1963). In the following essay, Sacker insists that, in Iwein, Hartmann did not portray Arthur's court as the symbol of virtue, but rather made changes to the Chrétien story in order to depict ironically a moral code that differs from that professed by the narrator and the characters.]

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J. Knight Bostock (essay date 1961)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: An introduction to Der arme Heinrich by Hartman von Ouwe, fourth edition, edited by J. Knight Bostock, translated by Erich Gierach, Basil Blackwell, 1961, pp. xvii-xl.

[In the following excerpt, Bostock examines Der arme Heinrich in light of the Medieval (platonic) belief that each person is naturally suited to a particular order of existence.]

All serious literature which is the product of a sophisticated culture, such as that of the thirteenth century, is the expression of the moral philosophy of its time, and it is often impossible to grasp an author's intention without some knowledge of contemporary thought. Many of the ideas and even much of the...

(The entire section is 1547 words.)

H. B. Willson (essay date 1962)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Love and Charity in Hartmann's Iwein" in The Modern Language Review, Vol. LVII, No. 2, April, 1962, pp. 216-27.

[In the following essay, Willson explores the ethical and stylistic influences of Medieval Christianity on Hartmann's Iwein.]

In ["Sin and Redemption in Hartmann's Erec," Germanic Review, xxxiii (1958),] I set out to prove that Hartmann's Erec, in spite of its 'worldly' theme, is constructed on the basis of an ultimately religious formula, a formula which lies at the very heart of Christianity itself, namely sin and redemption. What is true of Erec holds good also for its complement, Iwein,...

(The entire section is 5810 words.)

K. C. King (essay date 1965)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Mother's Guilt in Hartmann's Gregorius," in Mediaeval German Studies, The Institute of Germanic Studies, 1965, pp. 84-93.

[In the following excerpt, King examines Hartmann's language in Gregorius in order to explore the extent to which Hartmann found Gregorius and his mother culpable for their incestuous relationships.]

Discussions of the problem of guilt in Gregorius have usually centred on Gregorius himself; this is neither surprising nor without justification, for the mare is in fact about him, von dem guoten sundare. It is possible that an agreed solution might be achieved in this way, although there are still...

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H. B. Willson (essay date 1966)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Amor Inordinata in Hartmann's Gregorius," in Speculum, Vol. XLI, No. 1, January, 1966, pp. 86-104.

[In the following essay, Willson interprets Gregorius with regard to the doctrine of original sin and the opposition between ordinate and inordinate love.]

Hartmann's Gregorius is concerned largely with the vicissitudes of a man who is the product of an incestual relationship between brother and sister. These, it is made absolutely clear, begin at the very moment of his birth and are the direct result of it. How, then, does the poet intend this highly abnormal sexual relationship to be viewed, and what inferences can be drawn from it...

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Michael S. Batts (essay date 1968)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Hartmann's Humanitas: A New Look at Iwein," in Germanic Studies in Honor of Edward Henry Sehrt, Frithjof Andersen Raven, Wolfram Karl Legner, James Cecil King, eds., University of Miami Press, 1968, pp. 37-51.

[An English educator specializing in Germanic studies, Batts has written and edited several studies of German literature, including Die Form der Aventiuren im Nibel-ungenlied (1961) and Gottfried von Strassburg (1971). In the following excerpt, Batts argues that, in Iwein, Hartmann attempts to formulate a doctrine of aventiure ("adventure") that opposes Arthurian convention.]

Past interpretations of Hartmann's...

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W. H. Jackson (essay date 1970)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Some Observations on the Status of the Narrator in Hartmann von Aue's Erec and Iwein," in Forum for Modern Language Studies, Vol. VI, No. 1, January, 1970, pp. 65-82.

[Jackson was an English-born scholar of Germanic and comparative literature and the author of The Literature of the Middle Ages (1960) and The Anatomy of Love: The Tristan of Gottfried von Strassburg (1971). In the following essay, he compares the narrative strategies of Erec and Iwein and concludes that Iwein represents a more mature narrative technique.]

In both his romances, Hartmann the poet dramatises the process of telling in the figure of...

(The entire section is 8140 words.)

H. B. Willson (essay date 1970)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Triuwe and Untriuwe in Hartmann's Erec," in The German Quarterly, Vol. XLII, No. 1, January, 1970, pp. 5-23.

[In the following essay, Willson explores the relationship between Erec and Enite, insisting that Hartmann uses the characters to elucidate elements of Christian love.]

In that part of Erec which begins with the sich verligen of the hero and heroine and ends with their reconciliation Hartmann von Aue tells us a great deal about his conception of how love should be ordered, particularly in his characterization of Enite. In its turn this vitally significant central section throws considerable light on the joie...

(The entire section is 7331 words.)

J. M. Clifton-Everest (essay date 1973)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Christian Allegory in Hartmann's Iwein," in The Germanic Review, Vol. XLVIII, No. 4, November, 1973, pp. 247-59.

[In the following excerpt, Clifton-Everest examines religious didacticism in Iwein and insists that Iwein, in pursuing a chivalric ideal, allegorically represents the quest for Christian virtue..]

In [The Rise of Romance (1971)] E. Vinaver speaks of the "common intellectual origin of the interpretative nature of romance on the one hand and of the exegetic tradition on the other." Scriptural exegesis is what he has in mind. He argues that the formal education of the twelfth century romancers involved a great deal of training in...

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D. H. Green (essay date 1974)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Hartmann's Ironic Praise of Erec," in The Modern Language Review, Vol. 70, No. 4, October, 1974, pp. 795-807.

[The Schroeder Professor of German at Cambridge University, Green has written several books and articles on medieval German literature, including Irony in the Medi-eval Romance (1979) and The Art of Recognition in Wolfram's "Parzival" (1982). In the following excerpt, Green suggests that irony in the narrator's comments renders Erec a criticism of the courtly ideal.]

The merest suggestion of irony in connexion with Hartmann von Aue is likely to invoke immediate rejection on the grounds that he, of all poets of the courtly...

(The entire section is 7348 words.)

Frank J. Tobin (essay date 1975)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Fallen Man and Hartmann's Gregorius," in The Germanic Review, Vol. L, No. 2, March, 1975, pp. 85-98.

[In the following excerpt, Tobin explores Gregorius with regard to the Augustinian view of original sin that formed the "mainstream of religious thought" during Hartmann's life.]

Among the numerous attempts to interpret Hartmann's Gregorius, it has generally been recognized that seeing the story against a background of the religious thought of the age, whether this be the refined speculation of the theologians or the simpler, pastorally directed sermons, enriches and gives added precision to our understanding of the hero's fate....

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F. P. Pickering (essay date 1976-77)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The 'Fortune' of Hartmann's Erec," in German Life and Letters, Vol. XXX, No. 2, 1976-77, pp. 94-109.

[Pickering is an English scholar whose books include Literatur und darstellende Kunst im Mittelalter (1966; Literature and Art in the Middle Ages, 1970) and Essays on Medieval German Literature and Iconography (1980). In the following excerpt, he asserts that, typical of chivalric romances generally, Erec's storyline exemplifies an essentially Boethian view of history as fortune.]

… I have contended that it is the Boethian view of history as fortune which is reflected in virtually all works of medieval narrative literature, even in...

(The entire section is 5231 words.)

Frank Tobin (essay date 1978)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Hartmann's Erec: The Perils of Young Love," in Seminar, Vol. XIV, No. 1, February, 1978, pp. 1-14.

[In the following excerpt, Tobin examines Erec and Enite's relationship in light of its influence on Erec's knightly duty to pursue adventure.]

Through comments of the narrator and the reactions of the hero's own court Hartmann has supplied us with a basic interpretation of Erec. Out of love for his wife Erec has neglected his courtly duties to society and has failed to pursue knightly activity. This has brought dishonour to his court (2966-98). At the end of the story when he returns to Karnant after a series of successful knightly...

(The entire section is 5720 words.)

S. L. Clark (essay date 1981)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Hartman's Êrec: Language, Perception, and Transformation," in The Germanic Review, Vol. LVI, No. 3, Summer, 1981, pp. 81-94.

[In the following essay, Clark outlines Hartmann's portrayal of Erec's maturation.]

For much of Hartmann's Êrec, the protagonist is characterized as a man plagued by one or another form of disorientation; an examination of the narrator's justifications for Êrec's frequent perceptual failures opens up a profitable avenue of approach to the work's thematic structure. Throughout the poem, the narrator repeatedly calls attention to the hero's unfamiliarity with his surroundings (ll.250, 4277, 4623, 5288, 6737, 7808), his...

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Winder McConnell (essay date 1983)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Sacrificium in Hartmann von Aue's Der arme Heinrich," in Neuphilologische Mitteilungen: Bulletin de la Société Néophilologique, Vol. LXXXIV, No. 2, 1983, pp. 261-68.

[In the following excerpt, McConnell explores the proposed sacrifice of a virgin in Der arme Heinrich and posits that reference to such a pagan ritual skews interpretations that consider Heinrich to be strictly Christian in outlook.]

On the surface, Hartmann von Aue's tale of the sinner, Der arme Heinrich, appears to be a fairly straightforward example of a miracle legend, a tale heavily imbued with religious didacticism, a message, perhaps, to the...

(The entire section is 3299 words.)

William C. McDonald (essay date 1988)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Aspects of Time in Hartmann's Der arme Heinrich" in Monatshefte, Vol. 80, No. 4, Winter 1988, pp. 430-43.

[In the following excerpt, McDonald argues that Hartmann employs a characteristic time motif in his Der arme Heinrich in order to emphasize the transformation of the hero from his fall from grace to his eventual redemption.]

Time is part of the fabric of the plot in each of the narrative poems of Hartmann von Aue, and chronological sequence enhances our understanding of events. In Erec, Iwein, Gregorius, and Der arme Heinrich (hereafter abbreviated as AH), Hartmann demonstrates a keen awareness of the...

(The entire section is 5462 words.)

Further Reading

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

Boggs, Roy A. "Hartmann's Erec." In Innovation in Medieval Literature: Essays to the Memory of Alan Markman, edited by Douglas Radcliff-Umstead, pp. 49-62. Pittsburgh: Medieval Studies Committee of the University of Pittsburgh, 197l.

Compares Hartmann's Erec with its French source, the Erec et Enide of Chrétien de Troyes, concluding that Hartmann made significant changes to the story in order to depict more thoroughly Erec's character development.

Gentry, Francis G. "Hartmann von Aue's Erec: The Burden of Kingship." In King Arthur Through the Ages, edited by Valerie M. Lagorio and Mildred Leake Day, pp. 152-69....

(The entire section is 470 words.)