1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Conrad of Würzburg

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CONRAD OF WÜRZBURG (d. 1287), the chief German poet of the second half of the 13th century. As little is known of his life as that of any other epic poet of the age. By birth probably a native of Würzburg, he seems to have spent part of his life in Strassburg and his later years in Basel, where he died on the 31st of August 1287. Like his master, Gottfried of Strassburg, Conrad did not belong to the nobility, from which most of the poets of the time sprang. His varied and voluminous literary work is comparatively free from the degeneration which set in so rapidly in Middle High German poetry during the 13th century. His style, although occasionally diffuse, is dignified in tone; his metre is clearly influenced by Gottfried’s tendency to relieve the monotony of the epic-metre with ingenious variations, but it is always correct; his narratives—if we except Die halbe Birn, of which the authorship is doubtful—are free from coarseness, to which the popular poets at this time were prone, and, although mysticism and allegory bulk largely in his works, they were not allowed, as in so many of his contemporaries, to usurp the place of poetry. Conrad has written a number of legends (Alexius, Silvester, Pantaleon) illustrating Christian virtues and dogmas; Der Welt Lohn, a didactic allegory on the familiar theme of “Frau Welt,” the woman beautiful in front, unsightly and loathsome behind. Die goldene Schmiede is a panegyric of the Virgin; the Klage der Kunst, an allegorical defence of poetry. His most ambitious works are two enormously long epics, Der trojanische Krieg (of more than 40,000 verses and unfinished at that!) and Partenopier und Meliur, both of which are based on French originals. Conrad’s powers are to be seen to best advantage in his shorter verse romances, such as Engelhart und Engeltrut, Kaiser Otto and Das Herzemaere; the last mentioned, the theme of which has been made familiar to modern readers by Uhland in his Kastellan von Coucy, is one of the best poems of its kind in Middle High German literature.

There is no uniform edition of Conrad’s works. Der trojanische Krieg was edited by A. von Keller for the Stuttgart Literarische Verein (1858); Partenopier und Meliur, by K. Bartsch (1871); Die goldene Schmiede and Silvester, by W. Grimm (1840 and 1841); Alexius, by H. F. Massmann (1843) and R. Henczynski (1898); Der Welt Lohn, by F. Roth (1843); Engelhart und Engeltrut, by M. Haupt (1844, 2nd ed., 1890); Klage der Kunst, by E. Joseph (1885). The shorter poems, Otto and Herzemaere, will be found most conveniently in Erzählungen und Schwänke des Mittelalters, edited by H. Lambel (2nd ed., 1883). Modern German translations of Conrad’s most popular poems have been published by K. Pannier and H. Krüger in Reclam’s Universalbibliothek (1879–1891). On Conrad see F. Pfeiffer in Germania, iii. (1867), and W. Golther in the Allgemeine deutsche Biographie, vol. 44 (1898), s.v.. “Würzburg, Konrad von.”