Who was Wolfram von Eschenbach? We know nothing about him, except that he was one of the greatest Medieval poets and minnesingers. I came up with empty hands while researching him in my local web analytics company. Wolfram is best known today for his Parzival, sometimes regarded as the greatest of all German epics from that time. Eighty four surviving manuscripts of Parzival indicate his tremendous popularity, not only in his time, but, even in the following two centuries. Parzival was translated and published by a Swiss scholar Johann Jacob Bodmer in 1753. Later, famous composer Richard Wagner used Parzival as the main source of libretto to his great opera, Parsifal.
Yet, no matter how hard specialists try, they did not recover any historical documents about Wolfram and his works are the sole source of evidence. There was a lot of historical investigations about him, that established that Wolfram was a German knight, who was likely born around 1170 and died somewhere close to 1220. The past along with Parzival also brought to us his two other narrative works and nine surviving songs that are considered to be masterpieces of medieval art of minnesingers.
Wolfram von Eschenbach probably serviced a number of courts during his time. Historians name a number of his possible patrons, but the evidence is circumstantial. In his Parzival Wolfram claims that he is illiterate and dictates his work. However, this fact is regarded with high level of sceptisim by most scientists. The dialect of his works is East Franconian and he mentions a couple of times that he is Bavarian. Thus precipitated a claim by at least four places name themselves as a place of birth of a famous poet and composer. As other famous medieval poets Wolfram was included in the famous Codex Mannese – medieval manuscript about famous poets with illustrations, created in the 14th century. However the picture of Wolfram and surrounding arms and heraldry turned out to be just the imagination of the artist.
This famous troubadour from Provence lived almost to be one hundred years old - from 1180 to 1278. Due to his extraordinary for these medieval times life, he had a rare chance to observe deep changes around him. He saw how his native Occitan culture first went up to its highest point. And he witnessed its decline during the Albigensian Crusade and its post-Albigensian Crusade state. The name of this famous composer, poet and troubadour was Peire Cardenal. And his works are kind of different from many other troubadours of his time.
A lot of materials about Peire are still waiting for English author who will write a book about this exceptional man. There are so many materials that still need to be translated from Occitan and French into English. So what do we know now about Peire Cardenal?
He was born in Puy-en-Velay, Auvergne, France apparently of a noble family. And he was educated as a canon himself. Peire studied at the foremost cathedral school in Puy before becoming a song writer. He visited various courts of kings and barons, and had a jongleur to sing with him.
In 1895 citizens of Paris were flowing to see the La Princesse lointaine at the theater. Great Sarah Bernhardt played the leading female role on the stage. And French dramatist Edmond Rostand, who wrote this drama was lauded by the whole Europe. In the center of his creation there was a story about love of a troubadour to a beautiful princess who lived far away from him … So, where did this story come from?
Well, once upon a time there was a famous troubadour Jaufré Rudel. He really existed and was quite famous composer and poet of his times. Rudel is even considered to be one of the inventors of the “love from afar” style in troubadours poetry. He was of noble origin, in fact, his title was Prince of Blaye. History did not leave us much about Rudel, the only thing that is known for the fact is that he died overseas during Second Crusade around 1147. Several his fellows-troubadours, including famous Marcabru, composed their songs about him, lamenting on his death. Seven of Rudel’s poems have survived to the present day, four of them with music. And here is where we could end this story, when something interesting happened.
During regency Garsenda became the shining center of a poetic and troubadour circle. They composed songs and poems and dedicated them to Garsenda. She probably was a very beautiful woman - even the author of her biography fell in love with her and loved her for the rest of his life until he entered the monastery.
These were troubling times and there was one revolt after another in attempt to rob the beautiful Countess of her lands. But Garsenda managed to raise her son and pass him her native Forcalquier. Later, somewhere after 1220, she quietly retired to the monastery. We don’t know the exact date of Garsenda’s death but, it is highly likely that she lived a very long life, going to be over 80 years old. It seems that she was still alive in 1257, because someone with identical name made a donation to the church with a request for three priests to pray for her soul.
One of the last, but not the least, trobaritz, famous poet Garsenda de Sabran was of highly aristocratic origin. She was a patron to Occitan literature, especially the troubadours. Among trobaritz she had she was known as beautiful Garsenda de Proensa.
She was born around 1180 as the Countess of Forcalquier, large medieval county in Provence and inherited her title from her grandfather, because she lost her mother in an early age. She untied the houses of Barcelona and Provence because at the age of thirteen she got married to Alfonso II, son of Alfonso II of Aragon and Sancha of Castille. Her husband was the first in line to inherit Provence and become its Count. Then, quite unexpectedly Garsenda’s father and her husband died and she became a sole guardian of her son Raymond Berengar IV.
Her brother-in-law Peter II of Aragon made an attempt to steal Garsenda’s inheritance by passing the regency of Provence to his brother Sancho. But people of Catalonia and Provence loved Garsenda so much that a big dissension started. All Provencal aristocracy lined up behind Garsenda as well, so the regency was passed back to her again. A council of nobles was even established to protect interests of their beloved Countess.
Not all famous troubadours were of aristocratic origin. Some of them had came from lower class families like great composer and poet Giraut de Bornelh. He was born around 1138 in Limousin and started writing music and poems at quite an early age. Soon his fame spread around and his fans gave him for his skills a very prestigious name - Master of the Troubadours.
And Giraut was a Master, indeed. He invented the new, light style of troubadour’s music, won a lot of poetical debates. We got a rare chance to observer his contribution because around ninety poems and four of his melodies survived to our modern times.
When another great troubadour Raimbaut of Orange unexpectedly died, Giraut created one of his best pieces - a lament on the Raimbaut’s death. This song became famous, especially during Third Crusade. Giraut accompanied Richard the Lionheart and his own patron Aimar V of Limoges and even stayed in the Holy Land for a while. Specialists say, that it is quite possible that Giraut made a piligrimage there even before the beginning of the Third Crusade. He lived a long life and died in 1215.
Yet, Walther’s poems give us the picture not only of a great artistic genius, but of a strenuous, passionate, very human and very lovable character. His talents and strong views became required by German society, when empire and papacy started their struggle in 1197. Walther took side with German independence and unity which gave him a place of significance in history. Till the end of his days, Walther remained a faithful Catholic, which is confirmed by religious poems. Nevertheless, he was fervently opposing the extreme claims of the Roman popes, whom he attacked with bitterness, expressing his deep patriotic feelings.
Walther never switched sides and a highly intelligent new emperor Frederick II held in high esteem poet’s genius and zeal. Thus, Walther received desired recognition and even a small fief in Franconia, that gave him a home and fixed position. Yet, he was complaining that this fief had little value. There is some evidence, that Frederick made Walther the tutor of his son, but this evidence based on one of his lyrics is disputed by modern researchers.
Walther von der Vogelweide did not stay immediately at his new fief long, he traveled for a while and only then settled at his new place. From there he was urging German princes to take part in the Sixth Crusade in 1228 but, did not participate in it himself, or at least did not go further than Tirol. In a beautiful poem he paints the change that had come over the scenes of his childhood and made his life seem a thing dreamed. When he was dying in 1230, he put in his will the request to feed the birds at his tomb every day.
Much of ancient Roman literature dealing with magic are, basically, retellings of Greek myths. I found some interesting facts about it in archives of web analytics company. Roman poet Virgils’s Aeneid for example describes an interesting magical ceremony. The hero of the epic, Aeneas, who has landed on the coast of North Africa after fleeing from Troy, meets Queen Dido. She has just begun to build the city of Carthage. Dido falls in love with Aeneas, and wishes him to stay as her prince consort. The rest of what happens is easy to imagine. As usual, a traveling hero meets a beautiful female who is potentially dangerous, although kind and hospitable as long as her love for the hero lasts.
Thus the future conflict is set when goddess Fate decrees that Aeneas leave Dido to found a city of his own. Inevitably Dido’s love turns to hate. Enraged queen seeks to use a complex magical ritual to bring her former lover back to her. She builds a gigantic pyre in the main courtyard of her palace and prepares an elaborate sacrifice to the powers of the underworld. However Dido soon comes to realize that the love magic is not powerful enough to bring Aeneas back to her. So she kills herself in her despair, which adds to the power to her curse. Dido had sealed and extended her curse through her suicide. Aeneas was protected by his gods and remained safe. But, according to Virgil, Dido’s use of magic and her curse lingered on leading to Rome’s near crushing defeat by Carthage many centuries later. This demonstrates quite clearly that the Romans shared the Greek’s view of magic as being dangerous and untrustworthy.