The literary function of Dietrich von Bern in Middle High German heroic epic and aventiure
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Dietrich von Bern was a figure of great importance in the Middle Ages, both in literary and cultural terms, in the German speaking area and beyond. Unlike other important literary figures, however, such as the Arthurian or Carolingian heroes, the literary form of the works in which he is the central character show extreme divergence in terms of theme and material. The "historical" epics show Dietrich in an essentially tragic role which has its origins in the narrative material of the Germanic heroic tradition. The aventiuren, on the other hand, show Dietrich pitted against a variety of unusual opponents, whose origins lie essentially in popular folk lore, and whose basic function is undoubtedly that of entertainment. This dissertation examines these two traditions with the premise that each of the works within them can inform us as to the reception and significance of Dietrich as a literary and cultural symbol in the thirteenth century. It is argued that the treatment of the "historical" tradition, as borne witness by the extant historical epics, demonstrates that this narrative tradition had lost much of its cultural and social relevance by the time these works were produced. The aventiuren, however, represent the literary adaptation of pre-existing traditional narrative elements, in a form which is much more immediately accessible to the thirteenth century public. It is further suggested that this narrative tradition was of sufficient independent strength not only to become the vehicle for resistance to incoming literary and social trends, but also to exert a certain influence over the development and reception of, in particular, later Middle High German Arthurian romance.
Thesis, MPhil Master of Philosophy
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