Wolfram von Eschenbach Additional Biography


To possess factual information pertaining to the life of any courtly poet is a rare occurrence; the poet as professional writer and public figure is, after all, a relatively recent phenomenon. In the case of Wolfram von Eschenbach, few documented details exist. Fortunately, Wolfram was a personable poet who could not refrain from injecting his experiences and opinions into his works. From his utterances, scholars have been able to reconstruct a plausible, if sketchy, vita.

Drawing on literary references, dialect evidence, and geographical speculation, scholars have concluded that Wolfram’s home was probably in Eschenbach, a Franconian town southeast of Ansbach in present-day Bavaria. There is no record of his family, of his formative years, or of his schooling. In fact, Wolfram’s innocent pronouncement in Parzival, “I don’t know a single letter of the alphabet,” has become enigmatic: Does he intend to admit his unlearned background, to boast of his literary accomplishment despite his inability to read and write, or to twit his educated principal critic, Gottfried? In any event, it is clear that he was not formally educated, for influences of classical Latin writers (a staple in the monastery schools) are absent in his poems. Significantly, Wolfram himself never mentioned having “read” from his literary sources; his frequent references to having “heard” information leads scholars to presume that source material was...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Few facts are known about Wolfram von Eschenbach (VAWL-frahm vawn EHSH-uhn-bahk), the strongest of the thirteenth century epic poets writing in Middle High German. Probably born in Eschenbach bei Ansbach, Franconia (now in Germany), about 1170, he was a member of a noble Bavarian family, apparently impoverished, as he says jestingly in his poetry. Many scholars claim that he was a younger son. He served powerful overlords, like the counts of Wertheim and the landgrave Hermann of Thuringia. His feats of sword and spear are subjects for his boasting rather than for his poetry. He mentions being unlettered, yet the French chanson de geste known as La Bataille d’Aliscans was his source for Willehalm, and French originals inspired much of his other poetry. His own work is characterized by acute observation, deep psychology, broad toleration, and sense of humor.{$S[A]Eschenbach, Wolfram von;Wolfram von Eschenbach}

The greatest of his poems is Parzival, a romance of twenty-five thousand lines believed to have been composed between 1200 and 1210. Its popularity is proved by the fifteen complete manuscripts of the work still in existence. Wolfram accredited it to the troubadour Kyot le Provençal, who has never been identified. Its praise of noble marriage and its high moral tone may derive from the personality of the author. Wolfram was admired by all as a deeply religious man; in fact, one contemporary wrote a poem selecting him as the champion of Christianity against an evil enchanter. Willehalm deals also with a noble knight remarkable for his chivalrous treatment of the Saracens. This work, unfinished at Wolfram’s death, was continued by Ulrich von Turkheim (fl. 1235-1250) and Ulrich von dem Türlin (fl. 1261-1270). Titurel, a third romance left only in fragments, was completed by one Albrecht about 1260.

When the landgrave died in 1216, Wolfram apparently left Wartburg Castle and returned to his native town, where he died about 1217. He was reportedly buried in the Church of Our Lady in Eschenbach, but the location of his grave has never been determined.

With the rise of German nationalism in the nineteenth century, Wolfram became a cultural icon. In his opera Tannhäuser (1845) Richard Wagner dramatized the famous, though probably apocryphal, story of a singing contest between Wolfram and his contemporary Tannhäuser, and he based the libretto of his last opera, Parsifal (1882), on Wolfram’s text.