Old High German Literature 13





Old High German Literature ~750-1050


    It has already been pointed out that there is little in the Old High German period which can be classified as literature. In this anthology the period is represented by the Hildebrandslied, passages from two Gospel harmonies, Heliand and the Evangelienbuch of Otfried von Weißenburg, and the Ludwigslied. The various creeds, Pater nosters, and confessions are linguistic and cultural, but not literary monuments. To be sure, the Wessobrunner Gebet (c.790) does contain some fine descriptions, and the Muspilli (early ninth century) has an account of the Day of Judgment that has provided generations of scholars with the opportunity of speculating about its immediate and ultimate origins.

    The end of the century is marked by the appearance of some shorter poems of a religious nature, most of which are really vernacular versions of Latin poems, e.g. the Georgslied, Christus und die Samariterin, and the Galluslied. Although didactic in purpose, their style is simple and largely narrative. The best of these short poems is the Ludwigslied.

    It is hardly necessary to state that throughout the period in which these works were being written there was also a flourishing Latin literature of much greater sophistication. Both poetry and prose experienced a revival under Charlemagne and his immediate successors, a period sometimes referred to as the Carolingian Renaissance. The term is misleading, for there was little of real moment produced. The most significant contribution of the period is that it assured that the classical heritage did not perish and that it was made available to a wider public. During the tenth and early eleventh centuries the impetus for writing in the vernacular seems to have weakened, and little of significance appeared that was not written in Latin. This was at least in part due to the chaotic state of society, a condition that ensured that any literary works produced were written in monasteries or at least by persons close to the Church. One or two of the Latin works are significant, not because they were written by Germans but because they very probably incorporated material from native Germanic sources. The Waltharius, an account of the escape of Walther of Aquitaine from the court of Attila and his fight with Gunther and Hagen near Worms, belongs in this category. Some scholars have claimed that the poem is little more than a cento of scenes and passages from Vergil and Statius, but this is not true. It is essentially a Germanic poem written in Latin and is of great value in showing that there already existed in western Germany a tradition of a weak King Gunther and a strong and

14 Old High German Literature


undaunted Hagen. Unfortunately, arguments about its date and authorship (ninth or tenth century; Geraldus or Ekkehard of St. Gallen) have distracted attention from its literary importance. Ruodlieb, a fragmentary poem about a young man who finds wisdom and fortune abroad, is also from about the mid-tenth century.

    The only author who wrote in German during this period who is of any importance is Notker der Deutsche, or Notker Labeo (950-1022). He was a schoolmaster and commentator at St. Gallen whose work is of more significance for the development of the language and for education than for literature.

Hildebrandslied, 1. Seite
Das Hildebrandslied 15



Das Hildebrandslied

    The Hildebrandslied has had a most eventful existence.  The sixty-eight-line fragment was found on the flyleaves of a religious work preserved at Kassel.  Two scribes had copied it at Fulda between 830 and 840, possibly as a writing exercise, onto the last and then the first empty page of a tome during the tenure of abbot Hrabanus Maurus.  During the Second World War the leaves were stolen and only one has been recovered and returned to Kassel.  Fortunately the work had been copied, and many facsimiles are available.  The poem is important because it is the only known example of what must have been a common type in the Germanic period: the short heroic lay or «Heldenlie». It should be emphasized that such lays were complete poetic works, transmitted orally, and their style is such that merely tacking them together would never have produced an epic such as Beowulf or the Nibelungenlied. Although part of the beginning and the last parts of the Hildebrandslied are missing, it clearly could not have been much more than a hundred lines long.  It tells in this short space the whole story of the meeting between the father Hildebrand and his son Hadubrand, of the father’s discovery that he is to face his own son in combat, of his attempt to avoid the impending conflict without telling his son who he is, and of the final outcome.  The narration is economical and terse.  There is relatively little descriptive ornament and no digression.

    The story itself is widespread in Indo-European literature, and its dramatic possibilities are fully exploited in the poem.  The father can easily recognize his son but he cannot reveal himself without compromising the army for which he is fighting.  Loyalty to his lord decrees that he should win even though his opponent is his own son.  The son, on the other hand, wishes to defeat the celebrated Hildebrand and will not listen to his father’s offer to exchange gifts, that is, call off the fight.  Unfortunately, it is clear that the version we possess was copied by a scribe who did not understand the dialect in which his original had been written;  there is great confusion of dialects within the poem, and some lines are incomprehensible.  The efforts to determine the original dialect and the conditions under which the poem was written down have sometimes verged on the ridiculous, but it is now generally believed that the poem as we have it may well have been Langobardic and that its present form may be due to its having been copied at or near Fulda.

    The verse form of the poem is «Stabreim», that is, a line of two distinct halves, each of which has two major stresses.  The number of unstressed syllables is indefinite.  The sound that begins the syllable on which the third main stress falls is the «Hauptstab» and must appear at the beginning of at least one other stressed syllable in the first half-line (e.g. "Hiltibrant enti Hadubrant untar heriun tuem").  Usually there is triple alliteration of this sort in the full line.  Most modern critics, following the theory of Andreas Heusler, believe that each half line contained two full beats of musical time, not counting those unstressed syllables that occur before the first stress.  In making this count, a normally stressed syllable is regarded as a quarter beat but it may be lengthened to a half beat.  Unstressed syllables represent either a quarter beat or an eighth beat.  The meter of the Hildebrandslied is thus the same as that found in the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf and the Old Saxon Heliand, but the vicissitudes of transmission have produced considerable irregularities, so that some lines cannot be scanned according to the rules.

16 Das Hildebrandslied


Das Hildebrandslied

Ik gihorta dat seggen, 
dat sih urhettun ænon muotin: 
Hiltibrant enti Hadubrant untar heriun tuem. 
sunufatarungo iro saro rihtun, 
5 garutun se iro gudhamun, gurtun sih iro suert ana, 5 
helidos, ubar hringa, do sie to dero hiltiu ritun. 
Hiltibrant gimahalta, Heribrantes sunu,— her uuas heroro man, 
ferahes frotoro— her fragen gistuont 
fohem uuortum, hwer sin fater wari 
10 fireo in folche, 10 
"eddo hwelihhes cnuosles du sis. 
ibu du mi enan sages, ik mi de odre uuet, 
chind in chunincriche. chud ist mi al irmindeot." 
Hadubrant gimahalta, Hiltibrantes sunu: 
15 "dat sagetun mi usere liuti, 15 
alte anti frote, dea érhina warun, 
dat Hiltibrant hætti min fater, ih heittu Hadubrant. 
forn her ostar giweit, floh her Otachres nid, 
hina miti Theotrihhe enti sinero degano filu. 
20 her furlaet in lante luttila sitten, 20 
prut in bure barn unwahsan, 
arbeo laosa. her raet ostar hina. 
des sid Detrihhe darba gistuontun 
fateres mines: dat uuas so friuntlaos man. 
25 her was Otachre ummet tirri, 25 
degano dechisto miti Deotrihhe. 
her was eo folches at ente: imo was eo fehta ti leop. 
chud was her chonnem mannum. 
ni waniu ih iu lib habbe." 
30 "wettu irmingot", quad Hiltibrant, "obana ab heuane, 
dat du neo dana halt mit sus sippan man 
dinc ni gileitos!" 
want her do ar arme wuntane bauga, 
cheisuringu gitan, so imo se der chuning gap,
Das Hildebrandslied 17
Das Hildebrandslied

Ich hörte [glaubwürdig] berichten,1 daß zwei Krieger, Hildebrand und Hadubrand, [allein] zwischen ihren beiden Heeren, aufeinanderstießen. Zwei Leute von gleichem Blut, Vater und Sohn, rückten da ihre Rüstung zurecht,

(5) sie strafften ihre Panzerhemden und gürteten ihre Schwerter über die Eisenringe, die Männer, als sie zu diesem Kampf ritten. Hildebrand, Heribrands Sohn, begann die Rede—er war der Ältere, auch der Erfahrenere—, mit wenigen Worten fragte er,

(10) von welchen Leuten im Volk der Vater des anderen sei, "oder [sag mir] zu welchem Geschlecht du zählst. Wenn du mir nur einen [Namen] nennst, weiß ich schon, wer die andern sind, die Angehörigen im Stammesverband.2 Ich kenne das ganze Volk." Hadubrand, Hildebrands Sohn, antwortete:

(15) "Es haben mir unsere Leute gesagt, alte und erfahrene, die schon früher lebten, daß mein Vater Hildebrand heiße. Mein Name ist Hadubrand. Einst ist mein Vater nach Osten gezogen, auf der Flucht vor Odoakars Haß, zusammen mit Theoderich und vielen seiner Krieger.3

(20) Er hat in der Heimat, in seinem Haus hilflos und ohne Erbe seine junge Frau [und] ein kleines Kind zurückgelassen. Er ist nach Osten fortgeritten. Danach sollte Dietrich den Verlust meines Vaters noch sehr spüren: er war so ohne jeden Freund.

(25) [Mein Vater aber,] Dietrichs treuester Gefolgsmann, hatte seinen maßlosen Zorn auf Odoakar geteilt. Immer ritt er dem Heer voran. Jeder Kampf war ihm so sehr willkommen. Die Tapfersten kannten ihn. Ich glaube nicht, daß er noch am Leben ist."

(30) "Ich rufe Gott vom Himmel", sprach Hildebrand da, "zum Zeugen an, daß du bisher noch nicht einen so nah Verwandten zum Gegner gewählt hast." Darauf löste er Ringe vom Arm, aus Kaisergold geschmiedet, wie sie ihm der König,

18 Das Hildebrandslied


35 Huneo truhtin: "dat ih dir it nu bi huldi gibu." 35 
Hadubrant gimahalta, Hiltibrantes sunu: 
"mit geru scal man geba infahan, 
ort widar orte. 
du bist dir, alter Hun, ummet spaher; 
40 spenis mih mit dinem wortun, wili mih dinu speru werpan 
pist also gialtet man, so du ewin inwit fortos. 
dat sagetun mi seolidante 
westar ubar wentilseo, dat inan wic furnam: 
tot is Hiltibrant, Heribrantes suno." 
45 Hiltibrant gimahalta, Heribrantes suno: 45 
"wela gisihu ih in dinem hrustim, 
dat du habes heme herron goten, 
dat du noh bi desemo riche reccheo ni wurti.— 
welaga nu, waltant got", quad Hiltibrant, "wewurt skihit! 
50 ih wallota sumaro enti wintro sehstic ur lante, 50 
dar man mih eo scerita in folc sceotantero. 
so man mir at burc enigeru banun ni gifasta. 
nu scal mih suasat chind suertu hauwan, 
breton mit sinu billiu— eddo ih imo ti banin werdan. 
55 doh maht du nu aodlihho, ibu dir din ellen taoc, 55 
in sus heremo man hrusti giwinnan, 
rauba birahanen, ibu du dar enic reht habes."— 
"der si doh nu argosto", quad Hiltibrant, "ostarliuto, 
der dir nu wiges warne, nu dih es so wel lustit, 
60 gudea gimeinun. niuse de motti, 60 
hwerdar sih hiutu dero hregilo rumen muotti, 
erdo desero brunnono bedero uualtan!" 
do lettun se ærist asckim scritan 
scarpen scurim, dat in dem sciltim stont. 
65 do stoptun to samane staimbort hludun, 65 
heuwun harmlicco huitte scilti, 
unti im iro lintun luttila wurtun, 
giwigan miti wabnum []
19 Das Hildebrandslied


(35) der Herrscher der Hunnen, geschenkt hatte: "Das schenke ich dir aus Freundschaft." Hadubrand, Hildebrands Sohn, entgegnete aber: "Ein Mann soll [solche] Gaben mit dem Speer aufnehmen: Spitze gegen Spitze! Alter Hunne, du bist überaus listig;

(40) wiegst mich mit deinen Worten in Sicherheit, um mich dann [um so besser] mit deinem Speer zu treffen. Du bist schon so alt, und doch bist du immer [noch] voll Hinterlist.—Ich weiß es von Seefahrern, die westwärts übers Meer [gekommen sind], daß ein Kampf mir meinen Vater genommen hat: tot ist Hildebrand, der Sohn Heribrands!"

(45) Hildebrand, Heribrands Sohn, sagte da: "An deiner Rüstung sehe ich deutlich, daß du zuhause einen mächtigen Herrn hast und daß du dieses Herrschers wegen noch nicht in die Verbannung hast gehen müssen.—O waltender Gott",4 fuhr Hildebrand fort, "das Schicksal will seinen Lauf!

(50) Ich bin sechzig Sommer und Winter außer Landes gegangen. Da hat man mich immer in die Schar der Bogenschützen gestellt. Nachdem mich vor keiner Burg der Tod ereilt hat, soll es nun geschehen, daß mich mein eigener Sohn mit dem Schwert erschlägt, mich mit seiner Waffe zu Boden fällt—oder daß ich ihm den Tod bringe.

(55) Doch kannst du nun leicht, wenn deine Kraft ausreicht, von einem so alten Krieger die Rüstung gewinnen, die Beute an dich bringen, wenn du irgendein Recht darauf haben wirst.—Der wäre nun wirklich einer der Feigsten unter denen, die nach Osten gegangen sind", sprach Hildebrand, "der dir den Kampf verweigern wollte, da du so darauf brennst,

(60) auf den Kampf zwischen uns. So erprobe nun der, dem es auferlegt ist, wer von uns beiden den Harnisch verlieren muß, wer von uns beide Brünnen5 gewinnen wird!" Da ließen sie zunächst die Eschenlanzen gegeneinander rasen, mit einem so harten Stoß, daß sie sich fest in die Schilde gruben.

(65) Darauf ließen sie ihre laut dröhnenden Schilde selbst aufeinanderprallen. Sie schlugen voll Ingrimm auf die weißen Schilde ein, bis ihnen das Lindenholz zu Spänen zerfiel, von den Waffen zerschlagen []