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Wolfram von Eschenbach (1170–1220)

Author of Parzival

68+ Works 2,226 Members 16 Reviews 8 Favorited

About the Author

Wolfram Von Eschenbach was born around 1170. He led a life as a Bavarian knight, serving lords in Abensburg, Wildenburg, and Wertheim. By 1203 he was in the court of Landgrave Hermann von Thuringen. He was also a poet. His surviving writings include eight lyric poems. The most important of these is show more Parzival, a poem of 25,000 lines in 16 books that introduced the theme of chivalry and the search for the Holy Grail into German literature. The work had an influence on later poets and it was the basis for Richard Wagner's final opera, Parsifal. His other works include Tagelieder, Willehalm, and Titurel. He died around 1220. (Bowker Author Biography) show less
Image credit: Codex Manesse (c.1300)

Works by Wolfram von Eschenbach

Parzival (1220) — Author — 1,678 copies
Parzival and Titurel (0013) 156 copies
Willehalm (1310) 127 copies
Parzival : eine Auswahl (1959) — Author — 55 copies
Parzival (Auswahl) (2003) — Author — 28 copies
Titurel (1985) 16 copies
Parzival: Band 1 und 2 (1992) 6 copies
Wolfram von Eschenbach (1983) 6 copies
Parzival (Auswahl) (1959) 6 copies
Parzival, Buch I-VI (1961) 3 copies
Parzival : eine Auswahl (1973) 2 copies
Parzival Schulausgabe (1920) 2 copies
Parzival 2 1 copy
Parzival 1 1 copy
Parzival. Auswahl. (1965) 1 copy
Minnesänger 1 copy

Associated Works

Deutsche Gedichte (1956) — Contributor, some editions — 135 copies


(36) 13th century (53) anthology (13) Arthur (13) Arthurian (117) Arthurian legend (37) Arthurian Romance (12) Arthuriana (21) chivalry (11) classic (23) classics (40) epic (35) epic poetry (10) fantasy (12) fiction (133) German (128) German literature (147) Germany (32) grail (41) history (25) Holy Grail (36) King Arthur (29) knights (11) legend (11) literature (111) Lyrik (10) medieval (163) medieval history (10) medieval literature (85) Middle Ages (71) Middle High German (38) Parsifal (26) Penguin Classics (22) poems (13) poetry (136) Reclam (17) romance (30) to-read (76) translation (33) unread (20)

Common Knowledge

Legal name
Wolfram von Eschenbach
1170 (circa)
Date of death
1220 (circa)
Places of residence
Eschenbach, Franconia



It has very encouraging reviews, but I simply couldn't get through the first chapter. The translation seems rocky and inconsistent, veering wildly in register within a single sentence, and I found it impossible to get a grip on Wolfram's voice and settle into the story. I suspect they were keen to retain as much as possible of the original, and this sabotaged the ability to produce a smooth and readable version. But I may be unfair; perhaps it was like that in the German.

It's also loaded with the same amount of detail as this genre likes; flicking through the book, I found him spending several sentences describing knives held by people forming one part of a procession that takes many pages. There was nothing to indicate these knives would be of later importance. It's just all about painting lavish word-pictures; more suited in my view to storytelling than reading.

In short, not for me.
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Shimmin | 10 other reviews | Jan 8, 2015 |
I honestly don't know what to make of this. Somehow everything I understood in Chrétien, refracted through Wolfram, became confusing: why does Parzival disappear for almost the entire narrative? What's Gawain's point? Why the proliferation and names? What accounts for this paratactic aesthetic? I know it'd be fun to teach the authorial intrusions, and I'm sure the German is itself unbearably dense, probably the sort of thing that'd reward a life's attention. But lord knows I'll never put this on a syllabus: it's just too smart for me.… (more)
karl.steel | 1 other review | Apr 2, 2013 |
I'm glad I read this book for several reasons. First, I had wanted to read it since learning that it had influenced the wonderful novel Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes which I read earlier this year. Second, I had the advantage of reading it as part of a group read, and I benefited from the comments, insights, and encouragement of my fellow readers. And finally, I had recently finished Chrétien de Troyes's version in Arthurian Romances and was interested in comparing them.

And there's the rub. I much preferred Chrétien's version, even though it was unfinished, possibly because I really loved all of his tales. Chrétien is a considerably livelier writer, and has deeper psychological insight -- maybe he just seems more modern. Wolfram's writing is, dare I say it, Germanic -- heavy, convoluted, and occasionally confusing (the book's introduction and translator both address the difficulty of Wolfram's style). But even more than that, which I got used to, he is obsessed with the names and provenance of dozens and dozens and dozens of characters. Even with a list of people and places that runs to 16 pages in the edition I read (as well as a somewhat unreadable family tree), it was impossible to keep track of who everyone was or where they came from. I wonder whether all this information was meaningful to medieval readers or whether it was just something that Wolfram loved. And, as in Chrétien, the jousts can come to seem endless and interchangeable.

There were things I liked about this book. Wolfram has a sly habit of injecting himself into the story, mostly in a deprecating way, but it was fun when he did. His writing, occasionally, is poetic, and thanks are due to the translator (in my edition, Cyril Edwards) for this because I've seen corresponding sections from other translators and they are different. For example, at the very beginning, Edwards's translation rhymes "There is both scorning and adorning" and uses alliteration in "The flying image is far too fleet for fools." I again enjoyed seeing the relative personal and sexual freedom of upper class medieval women. And finally, I was glad to have the tale finished, and to understand this early version of the grail legend.

My edition also include excerpts from Titurel; that is, my edition is Parzival and Titure. I confess I skimmed through this, essentially a "prequel" to Parzival, in that it deals with the childhood of his mother and some of her relatives.
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7 vote
rebeccanyc | 1 other review | Dec 4, 2011 |
The search for the holy grail - "the stuff of legend" - King Arthur'e knights of the round table ride out in pursuit of the mysterious object that will provide beneficence to all who are able to see it. This 13th century version by Wolfram von Eschenbach is one of the earliest and some familiar figures are missing; there is no Lancelot, no Galahad, no Merlin and even the grail (gral here) is nothing like a chalice or cup that is usual in these tales.

Wolfram, however much he tries to deny it has based his story on the original version by Chretien de Troyes, which was written some 20 years earlier in about 1190 and was unfinished. Wolframs version completes the story in such a way that it remains fairly true to the original, he also greatly expands Chretien's story and adds a sort of a prequel that gives the whole thing some context. In Wolfram's retelling however the focus of the story has subtly changed. The main theme of Chretien's tale was the search for the gral by a knight who was worthy in the eyes of God. This is still an essential part of Wolfram's tale, but he is more interested in centering Parzival as a knight who is destined to take his place in the dynasty of the community of the grail. We are therefore told of his ancestry his progeny and his relationship to Ansfortas (The Fisher King). To reinforce this interpretation Wolfram says on the final page of his story "If master Chretien has done wrong by this story...... I have names Parzival's sons and his high lineage correctly, and have brought him to the gaol with a happy dispensation intended for him, despite his setbacks."

In Wolfram's story Parzival is one of the essential guardians of the grail, but this has been denied him by his mother's attempts to keep him safe from the rigours of knighthood. He is first denied his lineage and then himself denies his service to God. He achieves redemption through chivalry, feats of arms and a long period of celibacy. Wolfram's point here is that noble lineage cannot be denied; it will always come to the fore and be recognised in the face (good looks) and the stance of the individual. The religious content of the story is still in evidence, but Wolfram's treatment of it is peculiarly secularised. The clergy are not in evidence and Trevizent whose role is to tell Parzival of his true lineage and restore his faith in God is described as a hermit and holy man. Trevizent tells Parzival "no man can win the gral other than one who who is acknowledged in heaven as destined for it" Gawan{Gawain) in a parallel story is also searching for the gral, but his task has come to him second hand as his chivalric code has indebted him to take over the task from another knight. It is clear that Gawan who is "under the tyranny of love" will never see the gral, but his adventures are a useful counterpoint to Parzival's and Wolfram shows his skill in bringing the two strands of his story together, which is something Chretien had neglected to do.

I have previously read and enjoyed Chretien de Troyes Arthurian Romances for the high poetic style in which they were written and for their sense of magic and mystery. Wolfram's style is more prosaic, there is more detail and his love of pageantry, rank and order is evident in almost everything he writes. He is more successful in binding all of the parts of the story together and tidying up the loose ends, he also brings a certain authenticity to his story telling; he was a German knight in service, and his experience shows in how he describes the elaborate procedures in removing armour. He also seems more knowledgeable in the art of jousting, telling us through one of his characters that there are essentially five lance strokes and then goes on to describe what they are. Much of his expansion of Chretien's tale is due to to the heraldic aspects of the story; his description of the first sighting of the grail contains the names of many of the ladies who tale part in this pageant like procession, his portrayal of King Arthur's camp is careful to place in order and rank all of the important knights that are present. This was so important to Wolfram and his audience and at one stage it degenerates into Parzival and his brother Firefiz, trying to outdo each other by listing the names of the important knights in their service. This is an aspect of the story that can be of little interest to today's readers and results in confusion at times as there is a need to keep the important characters in mind to make sense of the story. In A T Hatto's good translation he has thoughtfully included a glossary of names.

Although we know very little about Wolfram von Escenbach from other sources, his habit of authorial intervention into his Parzival provides an intriguing glimpse of the man and his times. Wolfram comes across as mischievous, playful and probably totally disingenuous. It is only three chapters into the book before he launches into his "Apology". Typically in medieval literature an "apology" would appear near the end of a piece of writing and would be an attempt by the author to absolve himself of any sins in telling his story, he would be at pains to square himself with the clergy and religious convention. Not so with Wolfram; the subject of his apology is his perceived treatment of women:

"From one alone would I withold my love service - having found her unfaithful my anger towards her does not change .........I have not lost my ability to judge shrewdly of their ways and behaviour, yet I will champion any women of modest character, touching her good name - any pain she suffered I should take very much to heart........ a man who aims at love through chivalric exploits gambles for high stakes."

Later in the story Wolfram expounds the views through his characters that fidelity in marriage is the true path to salvation, however I am never sure where the irony stops and he comes across to me as someone well used to the conventions of courtly(adulterous) love. Many of his female characters have "hot lips" and he is not above giving us some salacious details for example this is Gahmuret Percival's father:

"Over his hauberk he wore a small white silken shift of the Queen's (the one who was now his wife) as it came from her naked body. - They saw no less than eighteen pierced by lances and hacked through by swords, before he left the lady. She used to slip them on again when her darling returned from jousting...... The love of these two expressed a deep attachment"

Later in the apology Wolfram says he has "not a letter to his name" trying to intimate that he cannot write. He also tries to obfuscate his debt to Chretien by inventing a Provencal knight "Kyot" who supposedly is responsible for the original story. Apart from being disingenuous his interventions can also be humorous and irreverent. After describing the meagre food that Parzival manages to forage while doing his penance with the hermit Trevrizent, Wolfram says this fare would not do for him and says to the reader "But why do I mock these good people, I am misbehaving again". I particularly like his little aside about King Arthur: "Arthur was generous in giving ladies away - he never wearied of bestowing such gifts! but this was all discussed and agreed beforehand".

Wolfram is a true story teller in every sense of the words. but he 'nails' his story of Parzival. There are some longueurs and his expanded tale runs aground sometimes when he gets lost in the pageantry. It is however endlessly fascinating and a must read for anyone interested in medieval literature or the King Arthur legends.
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12 vote
baswood | 10 other reviews | Dec 3, 2011 |



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