The Fluid Text: Observations on the History of Transmission and Textual Criticism of the Thirteenth-Century Courtly Epic

  • Joachim Bumke
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


The object of this study is the manuscript history of the courtly epic in the thirteenth century. The methods of dealing with these medieval texts passed down to us in written form have been, up until the present day, characterized by a form of textual criticism, which is based on the work of Karl Lachmann and which derived its methodological foundation by transposing terms and conceptions of texts from classical philology and biblical philology onto vernacular texts. In the last several decades, the legitimacy of such procedures has been called into question for a broad range of medieval literary texts.1 Only the courtly epic (which was, from the very beginning, of central significance in the formulation of this methodology of textual criticism) has, until now, been exempted from this, with the exception of research on the Nibelungenlied, which occupies a special position within the textual historical tradition. The aim of this chapter is to reconsider the premises of textual criticism and the manuscript tradition for the courtly epic as well. I proceed from the premise that there can be no objective method of treating texts that is valid for all periods and all cultures, but rather that texts fixed in writing must be interpreted as cultural artifacts characterized by the historical conditions of their period. For the courtly epic of the thirteenth century, this means that the specific conditions of the manuscript tradition—especially the fact that these texts were intended for a nobility still living to a large extent without writing—must be considered in order to understand the history of textual transmission.


Parallel Version Thirteenth Century Epic Variation Medieval Literature Poetic Work 
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© Kathryn Starkey and Horst Wenzel 2005

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  • Joachim Bumke

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