1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Waltharius

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WALTHARIUS, a Latin poem founded on German popular tradition, relates the exploits of the west Gothic hero Walter of Aquitaine. Our knowledge of the author, Ekkehard, a monk of St Gall, is due to a later Ekkehard, known as Ekkehard IV. (d. 1060), who gives some account of him in the Casus Sancti Galli (cap. 80). The poem was written by Ekkehard, generally distinguished as Ekkehard I., for his master Geraldus in his schooldays, probably therefore not later than 920, since he was probably no longer young when he became deacon (in charge of ten monks) in 957. He died in 973. Waltharius was dedicated by Geraldus to Erchanbald, bishop of Strassburg (fl. 965-991), but MSS of it were in circulation before that time. Ekkehard IV. stated that he corrected the Latin of the poem, the Germanisms of which offended his patron Aribo, archbishop of Mainz. The poem was probably based on epic songs now lost, so that if the author was still in his teens when he wrote it he must have possessed considerable and precocious powers.

Walter was the son of Alphere, ruler of Aquitaine, which in the 5th century, when the legend developed, was a province of the west Gothic Spanish kingdom. When Attila invaded the west the western princes are represented as making no resistance. They purchased peace by offering tribute and hostages. King Gibich, here described as a Frankish king, gave Hagen as a hostage (of Trojan race, but not, as in the Nibelungenlied, a kinsman of the royal house) in place of his infant son Gunther; the Burgundian king Heririh, his daughter Hiltegund; and Alphere, his son Walter. Hagen and Walter became brothers in arms, fighting at the head of Attila's armies, while Hiltegund was put in charge of the queen's treasure. Presently Gunther succeeded his father and refused to pay tribute to the Huns, whereupon Hagen fled from Attila's court. Walter and Hiltegund, who had been betrothed in childhood, also made good their escape during a drunken feast of the Huns, taking with them a great treasure. The story of their flight forms one of the most charming pictures of old German story. They were recognized at Worms, however, where the treasure excited the cupidity of Gunther. Taking with him twelve knights, among them the reluctant Hagen, he pursued them, and overtook them at the Wasgenstein in the Vosges mountains. Walter engaged the Nibelungen knights one at a time, until all were slain but Hagen, who held aloof from the battle, and was only persuaded by Gunther to attack his comrade in arms on the second day. He lured Walter from the strong position of the day before, and both Gunther and Hagen attacked at once. All three were incapacitated, but their wounds were bound up by Hiltegund and they separated friends.

The essential part of this story is the series of single combats. The occasional incoherences of the tale make it probable that many changes have been introduced in the legend. The Thidreks Saga (chaps. 241-244) makes the story more probable by representing the pursuers as Huns. There is reason to believe that Hagen was originally the father of Hiltegund, and that the tale was a variant of the saga of Hild as told in the Skaldskaparmál. Hild, daughter of King Högni, was carried off by Hedinn, son of Hjarrandi (A.S. Heorrenda). The fight between the forces of father and lover only ceased at sundown, to be renewed on the morrow, since each evening Hild raised the dead by her incantations. This is obviously a form of the old myth of the daily recurring struggle between light and darkness. The songs sung by Hiltegund in Waltharius during her night watches were probably incantations, a view strengthened by the fact that in a Polish version the glance of Helgunda is said to have inspired the combatants with new strength. Hiltegund has retained nothing of Hild's fierceness, but the fragment of the Anglo-Saxon Waldere shows more of the original spirit. In Waltharius Hiltegund advises Walter to fly, in Waldere she urges him to the combat.

BibliographyWaltharius was first edited by Fischer (Leipzig, 1780). Later and more critical editions are by Jacob Grimm (Lat. Gedichte des Mittelalters (Göttingen 1838); R. Peiper (Berlin, 1873); V. Scheffel and A. Holder (Stuttgart 1874); there are German translations by F. Linnig (Paderborn, 1885), and H. Althof (Leipzig, 1896). See also Scheffel's novel of Eckehard (Stuttgart, 1887). The A.S. fragments of Waldere were first edited by G. Stephens (1860), afterwards by R. Wülker in Bibl. der angel-sächs. Poesie (vol. i., Cassel, 1881); by F. Holthausen in Götehorgs Högskolas Årsskrift (vol v., 1899), with autotype reproductions of the two leaves which have been preserved. See also A. Ebert, Allg. Gesch. der Lit. des Mittelalters im Abendlande (Leipzig, 1874–1887); R. Koegel, Gesch. der deutschen Literatur bis sum Ausgange des Mittelalters (vol. i, pt. ii, Strassburg, 1897); M. D. Larned, The Saga of Walter of Aquitaine (Baltimore, 1892); B. Symons, Deutsche Heldensage (Strassburg, 1905). With Waltharius compare the Scottish ballads of “Earl Brand” and “Erlinton” (F. J. Child's English and Scottish Popular Ballads, i. 88 seq.)