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.
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.
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.
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.
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" , 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.