In the broadest sense, the term “German literature” encompasses everything written in the German language. However, this only applies to the early days of German literary history, when even the most modest written notes are of interest.
With the increase in literary evidence, the meaning of the term is more and more restricted to the three classic genres of aesthetic literature (poetry, epic, drama) and to linguistic works of art of non-fictional literature. From theology, philosophy and humanities, after the Middle Ages, mostly only those writings are singled out that are directly or indirectly related to poetic works or their authors. The medieval German literary history occasionally also includes works written in Latin by German authors.
It is not always possible to distinguish it from Austrian literature, and German-language Swiss literature is also partly included in German literary historiography.
From the beginning to the late Middle Ages
For the structure of medieval literature, various criteria can be found in literary historiography, which often overlap: In addition to a breakdown according to the linguistic historical epochs (Old High German: 750–1050; Early Middle High German: 1050–1200; Middle High German [classic]: 1200–1250; Late Middle High German: 1250–1350, although the time limits may be shifted), there are classifications following medieval ruling families (Carolingians: 750–900; Ottonen: 900–1050; Salier: 1050–1150; Staufer: 1150–1250), according to cultural epochs (Vorhöfische, high court, late court literature) or according to the literary bearers (clergy, nobility, early bourgeoisie). The neutral division based on centuries is often chosen.
High German certificates
Of the Germanic tribes that have settled within today’s language borders (German language) since late antiquity, there is only a few direct linguistic evidence up to the 8th century AD. The earliest Germanic runic inscriptions, e.g. B. the only partially legible scratches on a silver-plated disc in Liebenau (Central Weser) do not date back to the 5th century AD on German soil. The oldest German language certificates in the Latin alphabet are German legal words in Latin texts or Old High German names in Latin documents. More than from these scanty finds one learns about poetic formations in the early Germanic period through indirect reflections in ancient literature, such as Tacitus who reported in the “Germania” (and similarly in his “Annales”) of myths and heroic songs as well as battle songs of the Germanic peoples.
The Byzantine historian Priskos testified that Germanic singers gave praise songs at the court of Attila. Likewise in the 5th century, Sidonius Apollinaris mentioned a Germanic wedding song, Jordanes (* around 500, † around 555/560) a cultic song and Venantius Fortunatus Germanic price songs. Germanic memorial poetry seems to emerge in the royal series in the Lombard code of law “Edictus Rothari” (643). Certain sections of Fredegar (Franconian world chronicle, 7th century) and Paulus Diaconus could be found in Germanic heroic sagas (»Historia Langobardorum«, after 787). The Germanic poems were only passed on orally. Only the translation of the Bible from Greek into Gothic by the Visigothic bishop Wulfila (4th century, before the »Vulgate« by Hieronymus) can be found as a singular literary achievement in a Germanic language from pre-High German times.
Theodoric the Great had lfila’s text copied at the beginning of the 6th century (Codex argenteus). Apart from that, Latin was the dominant literary language in the empires of the Ostrogoths and Merovingians; even in the monasteries on German soil (Sankt Gallen, Reichenau, Fulda) only Latin was written.
Old high German literature
The only evidence of poetry from this period is the “Hildebrandslied” (recorded at the beginning of the 9th century by two Fulda monks) belonging to the Ostgothic Dietrichsagenkreis, probably a reflection of the lost collection of Old High German songs that Charlemagne himself initiated (based on Einhard’s “Vita Karoli Magni «). – After Karl’s death, literary impulses came primarily from the monasteries. The center was Fulda, whose abbot Hrabanus Maurus developed a far-reaching scholarly theological activity. He became a “Praeceptor Germaniae” during the reign of Louis I, the pious, at whose suggestion the Old Saxon epic “Heliand” is said to have been written in wide, sweeping stick rhymes. The extensive East Franconian prose translation of the Gospel Harmony by the Syrian Tatian is said to come from Fulda. – Old High German poems with Christian materials are only preserved from the time of the East Franconian King Ludwig the German, to whom the main work of this epoch is dedicated, the “Gospel Harmony” by the monk Otfrid von Weissenburg. The Carolingian Latin authors such as the Reichenau monk Walahfrid Strabo wrote in classical meter without rhyme; this also applies to the first sequence poet, the Sankt Galler Notker Balbulus. The question of the origin of the Old High German, Old Saxon, Old English verse and rhyme forms is probably more complicated than the usual reduction to the schematic contrast: Germanic all-round rhymes – Christian-Latin end rhyme; d. In other words, there may have been poems with alliteration and / or end rhyme even before Otfrid. This is also supported by smaller Old High German poems, in which the form is usually treated more negligently: smaller rhyming poems such as the “Petruslied”, the “Georgslied”, the “Preislied auf Ludwig III. «, The» 138. Psalm ”or alliteration poems like the“ Muspilli ”, the“ Wessobrunn creation poem ”(in which also rhyme forms are encountered) and the gnomic poems, pagan and Christian spells and blessings (like the“ Merseburg magic spells ”), which also often contain alliteration and Mix rhyme. – With the end of the Carolingian rule (911), the impetus of Charlemagne subsided, thus ending the first epoch of German literature.
Ottonian period (900–1050): In the Ottonian period, Latin reappeared as the sole poetic language, in continuation of the more demanding Latin-Christian monastic literature and with an emphasis on antiquity (“Ottonian Renaissance”). Then took the nun Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, which also legends of saints and the epic “Carmen de gestis Oddonis I., Imperatoris” are preserved, for its martyrs dramas ancient playwright Terence as a model.
People Language fabrics offer in Latin Hexameterepen the “Waltharius” in the Middle Ages the St. Gall monk Ekkehart I. attributed to, and the first medieval novel, which has survived in fragments, »Ruodlieb« (mid-11th century). In the middle of this epoch, Notker Labeo worked in Sankt Gallen as head of the monastery school; He not only wrote Latin scripts (a rhetoric, a logic, etc.), but also translated eleven works from Latin school literature into German, which earned him the nickname »Teutonicus«.