1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Heldenbuch, Das
HELDENBUCH, DAS, the title under which a large body of German epic poetry of the 13th century has come down to us. The subjects of the individual poems are taken from national German sagas which originated in the epoch of the Migrations (Völkerwanderung), although doubtless here, as in all purely popular sagas, motives borrowed from the forces and phenomena of nature were, in course of time, woven into events originally historical. While the saga of the Nibelungs crystallized in the 13th century into the Nibelungenlied (q.v.), and the Low German Hilde-saga into the epic of Gudrun (q.v.) the poems of the Heldenbuch, in the more restricted use of that term, belong almost exclusively to two cycles, (1) the Ostrogothic saga of Ermanrich, Dietrich von Bern (i.e. Dietrich of Verona, Theodorich the Great) and Etzel (Attila), and (2) the cycle of Hugdietrich, Wolfdietrich and Ortnit, which like the Nibelungen saga, was probably of Franconian origin. The romances of the Heldenbuch are of varying poetic value; only occasionally do they rise to the height of the two chief epics, the Nibelungenlied and Gudrun. Dietrich von Bern, the central figure of the first and more important group, was the ideal type of German medieval hero, and, under more favourable literary conditions, he might have become the centre of an epic more nationally German than even the Nibelungenlied itself. Of the romances of this group, the chief are Biterolf und Dietlieb, evidently the work of an Austrian poet, who introduced many elements from the court epic of chivalry into a milieu and amongst characters familiar to us from the Nibelungenlied. Der Rosengarten tells of the conflicts which took place round Kriemhild‛s “rose garden” in Worms—conflicts from which Dietrich always emerges victor, even when he is confronted by Siegfried himself. In Laurin und der kleine Rosengarten, the Heldensage is mingled with elements of popular fairy-lore; it deals with the adventures of Dietrich and his henchman Witege with the wily dwarf Laurin, who watches over another rose garden, that of the Tyrol. Similar in character are the adventures of Dietrich with the giants Ecke (Eckenlied) and Sigenot, with the dwarf Goldemar, and the deeds of chivalry he performs for queen Virginal (Dietrichs erste Ausfahrt)—all of these romances being written in the fresh and popular tone characteristic of the wandering singers or Spielleute. Other elements of the Dietrich saga are represented by the poems Alpharts Tod, Dietrichs Flucht and Die Rabenschlacht (“Battle of Ravenna”). Of these, the first is much the finest poem of the entire cycle and worthy of a place beside the best popular poetry of the Middle High German epoch. Alphart, a young hero in Dietrich‛s army, goes out to fight single-handed with Witege and Heime, who had deserted to Ermanrich, and he falls, not in fair battle, but by the treachery of Witege whose life he had spared. The other two Dietrich epics belong to a later period, the end of the 13th century—the author being an Austrian, Heinrich der Vogler—and show only too plainly the decay that had by this time set in in Middle High German poetry.
The second cycle of sagas is represented by several long romances, all of them unmistakably “popular” in tone—conflicts with dragons, supernatural adventures, the wonderland of the East providing the chief features of interest. The epics of this group are Ortnit, Hugdietrich, Wolfdietrich, the latter with its pathetic episode of the unswerving loyalty of Wolfdietrich's vassal Duke Berchtung and his ten sons. Although many of the incidents and motives of this cycle are drawn from the best traditions of the Heldensage, its literary value is not very high.
This collection of popular romances was one of the first German books to be printed. The date of the first edition is unknown, but the second edition appeared in the year 1491 and was followed by later reprints in 1509, 1545, 1560 and 1590. The last of these forms the basis of the text edited by A. von Keller for the Stuttgart Literarische Verein in 1867. In 1472 the Heldenbuch was adapted to the popular tastes of the time by being remodelled in rough Knittelvers or doggerel; the author, or at least copyist, of the MS. was a certain Kaspar von dor Roen, of Münnerstadt in Franconia. This version was printed by F. von der Hagen and S. Primisser in their Heldenbuch (1820-1825). Das Heldenbuch, which F. von der Hagen published in 2 vols, in 1855, was the first attempt to reproduce the original text by collating the MSS. A critical edition, based not merely on the oldest printed text—the only one which has any value for this purpose, as the others are all copies of it—but also on the MSS., was published in 5 vols. by O. Jänicke, E. Martin, A. Amelung and J. Zupitza at Berlin (1866-1873). A selection, edited by E. Henrici, will be found in Kürschner's Deutsche Nationalliteratur, vol. 7 (1887). Recent editions have appeared of Der Rosengarten and Laurin, by G. Holz (1893 and 1897). All the poems have been translated into modern German by K. Simrock and others. See F. E. Sandbach, The Heroic Saga-Cycle of Dietrich of Bern (1906). The literature of the Heldensage is very extensive. See especially W. Grimm, Die deutsche Heldensage (3rd ed., 1889); L. Uhland, “Geschichte der deutschen Poesie im Mittelalter,” Schriften, vol. i. (1866); O. L. Jiriczek, Deutsche Heldensage, vol. i. (1898); and especially B. Symons, “Germanische Heldensage,” in Paul's Grundriss der germanischen Philologie (2nd ed., 1898).