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The mediaeval mind - by Henry Osborn Taylor - PDF - Volume 11

The mediaeval mind: a history of the development of thought and emotion in the Middle Ages.


The mediaeval mind - by  Henry Osborn Taylor


The instances of romantic chivalry and courtly love reviewed in the last chapter exemplify ideals of conduct in some respects opposed to Christian ethics. But there is still a famous poem of chivalry in which the romantic ideal has gained in ethical consideration and achieved a hard-won agreement with the teachings of medieval Christianity, and yet has not become monkish or lost its knightly character. This poem told of a struggle toward wisdom and toward peace; and the victory when won rested upon the broadest medieval thoughts of life, and therefore necessarily included the soul's reconcilement to the saving ways of God. 
Yet it was knighthood's battle, won on earth by the strength of arm, by steadfast courage, and by loyalty to whatsoever through the weary years the man's increasing wisdom recognized as right. A monk, seeking salvation, casts himself on God; the man that battles in the world is conscious that his own endeavor helps, and knows that God is allied to the valiant and not to him who lets his hands drop — even in the lap of God. Among the romances presumably having a remote Breton origin, and somehow connected with the Court of Arthur, was the tale of Parzival, the princely youth reared in foolish ignorance of life, who learned all knighthoods lessons in the end, and became a perfect worshipful knight. This tale was told and retold. 

The adventures of another knight, Gawain, were interwoven in it. Possibly the French poet, Chretien de Tories, about the year 1170, in his re-telling, first brought into the story the conception of that thing, that magic dish, which in the course of Us retellings became the Holy Grail. Chretien did not finish his poem, and after him, others completed or retold the story. Among them there was one who lacked the smooth facility of the French Trouvere, yet surpassed him and all others in thoughtfulness and dramatic power. 

This was the Bavarian, Wolfram von Eschenbach. He was a knight, and wandered from castle to castle and from court to court, and saw men. His generous patron was Hermann, Landgraf of Thiiringen, who held court on the Wartburg, near Eisenach. 

There Wolfram may have composed his great poem in the opening years of the thirteenth century, He was no clerk, and had no clerkly education. Probably he could neither read nor write. But he lived during the best period of medieval German poetry, and Wartburg was the center of gay and literary life. Walther von der Vogelweide was one of Wolfram's familiars in its halls.

Author: Henry Osborn Taylor
Publication date: 1911

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