By Maria Dorninger
Electronic Antiquity, Vol.14:1 (2010)
Introduction: There once lived in Greece a King named Peleas. He was noble and powerful. He lived in splendor in his castles and in his country. Food and (costly) garments were abundant at his court.
With these words, Herbort von Fritzlar begins the introduction of his “Liet von Troye” (Song of Troy). But what first appears to be a fairy-tale idyll, is soon revealed as deceptive. For this king, who is supposed to possess all sorts of virtues, lacks one very important one: he is an unfaithful person. He behaves faithlessly toward his nephew and future heir, Jason, whom he pretends to send out in search of the Golden Fleece in hopes that he will never return. And so, the history of the destruction of the city of Troy evolves, leading finally to the story of Aeneas in Italy. The battles for Troy, in which the hero Achilles plays a special role, take center stage in this work of 18, 458 lines. Achilles stands out not only for his courage in battle, but also for his passions. In this paper I will outline how Herbort presents Achilles, how he integrates Achilles into the context of the work, and Herbort’s historical concept, which is essential to the portrayal of his protagonist, and hope that by doing so, I will evoke further interpretations. First, it will be helpful to provide some brief information about this author.
The author of the “Liet von Troye”, Herbort states his name at the end of his novel (LT 18450). Little is known about him. He identifies himself as a gelarter schulere, a learned scholar, and must therefore have enjoyed a religious or theological education. According to Joachim Bumke, it is not clear whether Herbort was a member of the clergy at the court of Thuringia or at the Monastery for Canons of St. Peter in Fritzlar. He might have been working as a master or teacher at the monastery.
His patron was Landgrave Hermann of Thuringia, who gave Herbort the source document for his novel. Herbort includes a dedication to Hermann in his epic. During the first, that is to say, minor destruction of Troy, as Herbort portrays it, the author outfits the leader of the Greeks with the coat of arms of the Ludowingians; a red and white striped lion on a blue field (LT 1326-1335). There is evidence of this coat-of-arms being used in Thuringia as far back as 1179. Even though Herbort is often ranked only as a second-or even third-rate poet in the literary histories (Gustav Ehrismann, Helmut de Boor), some see him in a more positive light. Rolf Bräuer speaks of the “impressionistic – expressive scene and plot” seen in his works. Herbort’s (middle German) language shows rhetorical training, and he shows a marked inclination to omit conjunctions. His modest goal is to increase the number of poets, that is to be counted as one of them, and he seeks to reach this through his epic (LT 18456sqq.). This claim should probably be counted as an introductory topic, a modesty topos. The very transmittal of the text has indeed justified this modest goal. There is only one complete manuscript of his epic, dating from the year 1333. It was written in Würzburg for the Teutonic Knight Wilhelm von Kirweiler. In this text, the “Liet von Troye” is seen as a prelude to Heinrich von Veldeke’s “Eneit.” In addition to this one complete manuscript, only three fragments from the 12th century have been preserved. However, the novel may have been more widely distributed than is apparent. It is considered to be the first extant German-language version of the Trojan material, since the 12th-century ‘Vorauer Alexander’ by Pfaffe Lamprecht only mentions a description of the conflict in passing. The German-language portrayals of the material reach their zenith in Konrad of Würzburg’s “Trojanerkrieg” (Trojan War).