GERM-201 Love and/versus Warfare in the Medieval Epic
Offered academic year 2017-2018
Nowhere in the world of story has a wronged woman blinded by lust for vengeance so relentlessly arranged for the deaths of so many warriors as in the Nibelungenlied.
No one in all of Europe told the story of the Holy Grail with such love for women and for knighthood combined with an equal revulsion at Crusader warfare against Muslims as fratricide. That is Wolfram in his Parzival.
No adulterous deceivers have been so idealized for their passionate love and clever deceptions as Gottfried’s Tristan and Isolde.
These three unforgettable epics tell the many-colored tale of what it means to be a human being, all coming from the few years surrounding AD 1200.


The thematic purpose of this course is to study the changing dynamic between human love and conflict as presented in the poetry of three of the medieval world’s greatest epics: The Nibelungenlied, Parzival, and Tristan and Isolde. The focus in the Nibelungenlied will be on the pivotal role of Kriemhild in her love and (self-) vengeance versus Hagen; in Parzival on the leading role of Condwiramurs and the women toward his finding the true nature of the Grail, versus the anti-Muslim conflict of the crusader knight; and in Tristan on the ambiguous success of the hero’s fighting ability and on the (self-)deceptive nature of his loving the two Isoldes.


Tree of Salvation, Yggdrasil and the Cross of the North. Murphy (Oxford UP) 2013
The Nibelungenlied. Anonymous. Transl. Hatto (Penguin Classics)
Parzival, Wolfram von Eschenbach. Transl. Hatto (Penguin Classics)
Tristan, Gottfried von Strassburg. Transl. Hatto (Penguin Classics)
Gemstone of Paradise, The Holy Grail in Wolfram’s Parzival. Murphy (Oxford paperback)

The medieval texts will be read using the method of contemplative visualization. The epic poems are seen against a theoretical Aristotelian background in which the texts are considered as artistic creations expressing realizations by their authors. Attention will also be given to the three contemporary epics—stylistic individuality within the epic genre. The three stories will be read and interpreted in the historical and theological context of their time of origin, the turn of the 13th Century.


Students are required to read the portion of the work assigned by the instructor in advance of class and thus be able to participate in discussion, questioning, interpretation and sharing any realizations concerning the work. Because class participation is vital and an important component of the course, absence will affect final evaluation of performance.

Credits: 3
Prerequisites: None
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