Sunday, 20 March 2016
"Parzival" (c.1215) by Wolfram von Eschenbach (c.1160-c.1220): Translation & Commentary of IX 433
Translation of Parzival IX, 433
“Open up!” “To whom… Who are you, then?”
“I want to come to you, into your heart!”
“That’s too narrow a space for you!”
“What of it? If I entered only with difficulty and distress
You should still be glad that I seek admittance,
Since I tell you the most marvellous stories!”
“Oh, it’s you, Madame Adventure! How are things
Actually going for our splendid hero? I mean noble Parzival,
Whom Cundry drove to search for the Grail with her bitter words.
Many women regretted his irreversible choice.
Back then he set off from Arthur the Breton.
How is he doing now? Tell me about him!
Is he still wandering about mirthlessly as ever,
Or has he once more won high renown?
Is there lots to say concerning his reputation, or not all that much?
But tell me: - what kind of deeds has he performed?
Has Parzival seen Munsalwäsche and gracious Anfortas again –
He whom he left behind in despair?
Be so good as to give a reply as to whether
Anfortas has now been released from his agony?
Relate to us whether Parzival, your hero as well as mine,
Was already at Munsalwäsche?
Commentary on Parzival IX, 433-434
Word count: 1,192
The opening of Book IX sees the Erzähler of Wolfram’s Parzival returning to the eponymous hero after several books of dealing with the exploits of Gawan. What most distinguishes these 60 lines is that they form for the most part a dialogue between the Parzival-Erzähler and Frau Aventüre, his inspiration, fulfilling a role here not dissimilar to that performed by the Muse in the works of ancient Greeks. There have been contradictions in the presentation of the Erzähler before this juncture – for instance, he has claimed to be both of a poor background and yet has an immensely rich patron – but it is at this point that we see the supposedly omniscient narrator’s limitations exposed, and indeed, catch “den Erzähler im Akt des Erzählens”.
The opening takes place in a void, setting-less place, very much extra-narrative – the narrator is by necessity on the fringes of the narrative already, and now he is being addressed by another figure from outside the narrative space. “Tuot ûf!” (433, 1) is a cry that cuts through the fictionality of the Parzival-world, for though it may also be fictitious, through it the attention of the Rezipienten is expressly drawn to the act of creating and of narrating. Indeed, from 433,1 to 434,10 the entirety of the verse takes place in quotation marks; there is nothing visible or tangible about our scene, only the interplay of two non-narrative figures.
As for this interplay, it is important to note that Frau Aventüre addresses the Erzähler as ‘du’ – “ich wil inz herze in zuo dir” (433,2); whereas the Erzähler is much more deferential, even when he does not know of the speaker’s identity (“sô gert ir ze engem rûme” (433,3)). We are, in other words, seeing a hierarchy imposed upon our narrative: here is the figure who has been our accompaniment and guide for eight books’ worth, our relatively familiar Erzähler, and suddenly we are witnessing his subservience to a different speaker, one with whom the Erzähler appears reasonably acquainted – “jâ sît irz, vrou Âventiure?” (433,7). This signifies the way in which the Erzähler is himself a poetic construction, a “figure” within the text as much as Parzival, Condwiramurs or Feirefiz; as our attention is drawn to the act of creating and our awareness of the narrator as “he who narrates” so too do we understand that the narrator has been created, too. The figure is certainly one with whom we, the audience, have been aligned – witness “wir” (232, 22; 16,19), “nu höret” (110,10) and “nu seht” (120,24) – but we are now being encouraged to view the Erzähler as as much a part of the fictitious landscape as his alleged “creations”. If the mental and conversational space of the Erzähler takes place within the story, how can he possibly be outside the story?
This concept of “space” is worth exploring here. As Nellmann says, “die von Wolfram ins Leben gerufene Dame Einlaß ins Herz des Erzählers begehrt – was ausdrücklich hervorgehoben wird”. She is specifically invoked as emerging from without and being bidden to enter within. In other words, Wolfram, through the Erzähler, is presenting narrative as something which can only emerge from within once it has been inspired from without. The knottiness of this transliteration is an intriguing parallel to the much-vaunted Bogengleichnis (241, 9-30): Wolfram’s comment on narrative construction seems to be that a narrative must pass through many distortions of form before it reaches its final narrator, let alone its courtly audience.
For much of 433 the narrator is a surrogate audience member, eagerly begging Frau Aventüre to inform him of Parzival’s whereabouts and recent deeds; we can read his to-the-point query of “wie vert der gehiure?” (433,8) as a stand-in for the hypothetical audience’s own interest in the matter, and indeed it becomes explicit with the “uns” in the line “lât hoeren uns diu maere” (433,29). The Erzähler is our interlocutor, asking of a mysterious diegetic force on our behalf what stories are to be told; this section also serves as a kind of “previously…” teaser, reiterating the names of Parzival’s parents (434,3-4) and keeping the audience up to speed with what happened more than two books ago; in the age of oral recitation, such a reminder may well have been necessary. The recollections of Munsalwäsche, Anfortas and so on are coupled with the Erzähler’s request “durch iuwer güete gebt uns trôst/ob der von jâmer sî erlôst” (433,26-7): a thinly veiled reflection of the audience’s intended reception. Wolfram ensures that his Erzähler is presented as innocent, or perhaps ignorant, of the story to come, much as the audience would be, and through persistent queries as to where the narrative will proceed next, the tension is built up concerning a character whose fate has been left hanging in the balance for more than two books.
The classic concept of a Muse, with its roots in female lovers inspiring their poets, emerges here too, in the line “nu erliuhtet mir die vuore sîn” (434,2): Frau Aventüre must literally lift the veil from the Erzähler’s eyes, allowing the light of narrative inspiration in such that he may continue telling his tale. At line 434,11 the Erzähler makes it clear that his knowledge comes direct from Frau Aventüre – “nu tuot uns diu âventiure bekant”, we are told, before the story goes on. All that he is about to report was itself reported to him. We have seen Wolfram toying with his own sources before now, denying that he had any contact with the real-life Chrétien de Troyes, from whom the Parzival story was almost certainly borrowed, and inventing the Provençal writer Kyot and the Arab Flegetanis instead. But those were at least in keeping with the way transliteration functions, whereas Frau Aventüre is of course a flight of fancy. The opening of Book IX categorically seals its Erzähler within its fictional universe – Bumke has elsewhere written how “man ihn [den Erzähler] für die Hauptperson der Dichtung hatten könnte”.
What is so fascinating about this section is the way in which it balances its various layers of fictionality. Not only do we have a fictional narrator recounting the tale of fictional heroes and villains, but our fictional narrator appeals to a fictional “higher power” of narrative discourse for inspiration. Furthermore, even the Rezipienten of this story, the “wir” to which the Erzähler refers, are fictitious, “idealised” constructions of the poet’s: knights who are to learn how to epitomise ideal chivalry and ladies who are to learn how to gift the knights with love and marriage. This meta-textual awareness of Parzival as story is, as Dallapiazza puts it, putting into practice a kind of literary theory long before such a theory had even been posited, making the opening of Book IX particularly remarkable in that regard.
Bumke, Joachim, Wolfram von Eschenbach, Stuttgart Weimar, 1997.
Curschmann, Michael, ‘Das Abenteuer des Erzählens. Über den Erzähler in Wolframs Parzival,’ in Deutsche Vierteljahrschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte 45, 1971.
Dallapiazza, Michael, Wolfram von Eschenbach: Parzival, Berlin, 2009.
Falk, Walter, ‘Wolframs Kyot und die Bedeutung der ‘Quelle’ im Mittelalter,’ in Literaturwissenschaftliches Jahrbuch, Duncker & Humblot, 1968.
Nellmann, Eberhard, Wolframs Erzähltechnik: Untersuchungen zur Funktion des Erzählers, Wiesbaden, Steiner, 1973.
 Falk, Walter, ‘Wolframs Kyot und die Bedeutung der ‘Quelle’ im Mittelalter,’ in Literaturwissenschaftliches Jahrbuch, Duncker & Humblot, 1968.
 Curschmann, Michael, ‘Das Abenteuer des Erzählens. Über den Erzähler in Wolframs Parzival,’ in Deutsche Vierteljahrschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte 45, 1971.
 Nellmann, Eberhard, Wolframs Erzähltechnik: Untersuchungen zur Funktion des Erzählers, Wiesbaden, Steiner, 1973.
 Bumke, Joachim, Wolfram von Eschenbach, Stuttgart Weimar, 1997.
 Dallapiazza, Michael, Wolfram von Eschenbach: Parzival, Berlin, 2009.