Wednesday, 16 November 2016

On the significance of the Vorau prologue to the "Ezzolied" (c.1064/5; 1115)


The 11th century Old High German poem Cantilena de miraculis Christi (Song of the Miracles of Christ) that has come to be known as the Ezzolied exists in two recensions; the one from Strasbourg which dates from around 1065 (the Straßburger Handschrift) and the other from Vorau (the Vorauer Handschrift). The latter is both about fifty years younger and, at thirty-four strophes to the Straßburger’s seven, considerably longer and more developed (setting aside the introductory preamble, its 33 strophes reflect Christ’s 33 years of life on Earth). Though there are numerous differences between the two which could be, and have been, examined, one of the most intriguing is the prologue stanza or Prologstrophe (also sometimes called an Einleitungsstrophe) which appears in the Vorauer Handschrift but is absent in the earlier manuscript.

The prologue is of particular interest because of the level of detail it gives regarding the Ezzolied’s inception and provenance, providing more information than was necessarily usual at the time. From a mere twelve lines we learn the name of the author of the lyric (Ezzo, a canon and teacher at the diocesan chapter in Bamberg), the composer of the melody that accompanied the words (Wille), and the man who commissioned the work, Bishop Gunther von Bamberg (or rather ‘der guote biscoph guntere uone babenberch’).
In almost every detail the prologue is corroborated by the Vita Altmanni, described by Kössinger as “der älteren, um 1130 in Göttweig entstandenen Lebensbeschreibung Bischof Altmanns von Passau”[1]. Both the prologue and the Vita Altmanni specifically name Bishop Gunther von Bamberg and the “goodness” of his character (in the prologue simply the word ‘guot’ (l.1); in the Vita Altmanni he is a ‘vir tam corporis elegantia quam animi sapientia conspicuus’), while the Vita Altmanni’s reference to Ezzo as a ‘vir omni sapientia et eloquentia praeditus’ seems a natural fit with the prologue’s specifying ‘want si di buoch chunden’ (l.6). The earlier document refers to a cantilena which Bishop Gunther had commissioned, a word which perfectly maps onto the ‘guot liet’ (l.4) in the prologue. Both texts specify that the work is about miracula Christi, although the Ezzolied does not confirm this so much in the prologue as in the self-evident material with which the later strophes are concerned. Even that the Ezzolied is in Old High German would obviously bear out the patria lingua mentioned in the Vita Altmanni, which is otherwise the only detail not given in the prologue.
Above and beyond these matters of more basic interest, however, the prologue to the Vorauer Handschrift contains some tantalising hints about the provenance of the Ezzolied. Most fascinating of all is the way the prologue ends with a particular detail, barring its fairly standard parting gesture of good will: ‘duo er die wise duo gewan,/duo ilten si sich alle munechen’ (l.9-10). This last verb - ‘sich munechen’, which seems at first to fairly obviously mean ‘to make oneself a monk’ - has proven to be a source of exegetic difficulty. Karl Bertau, in his Deutsche Literatur im europäischen Mittelalter (1972), renders it in modern German as “nach der Mönchsregel zu leben”[2] - that is to say, that Ezzo and Wille went on to become monks after the composition of the lyrics and the melody. Bertau goes on to write that canons of the cathedral at Bamberg were trained there from 1063 and lived according to the Aachener Chorherrenregel, suggesting that Ezzo wrote the ‘liet’ for an Einweisungsfeierlichkeit - something akin to modern-day confirmation or receving of holy orders.
But Bertau’s is by no means the only translation of ‘sich munechen’, and furthermore it explicitly contradicts the suggestions made in the Vita Altmanni as to the Ezzolied’s provenance. In his essay Neuanfang oder Kontinuität? Das Ezzolied im Kontext der deutschsprachigen Überlieferung des Frümittelalters Norbert Kössinger cites Hugo Kuhn as suggesting that ‘sich munechen’ in fact meant merely the donning of monk-like clothing, specifically that which one would wear for a Pilgerfahrt or pilgrimage[3]. Although no pilgrimage is referenced directly in the prologue, it is central to the Vita Altmanni, which refers to a pilgrimage to the holy city of Jerusalem made in 1064-5 and led by the bishops Siegfried von Mainz, Otto von Regensburg, Wilhelm von Utrecht and (most pertinently for our purposes) Gunther von Bamberg. The specific occasion of the pilgrimage, it appears, was the belief that Christ’s second coming was nigh, and as this eschatologically significant date approached scholars and monks and bishops of all kinds wanted to be there in the city that was so essential to the gospel story. We know from the Vita Altmanni that the scholar Ezzo composed a poem on this occasion, that it was for Bishop Gunther, and that it dealt with the miracles of Christ; it does not therefore seem too far a leap to assume that the two poems are one and the same, and that the Ezzolied was indeed composed as part of the context of this pilgrimage (indeed, Kössinger asserts “wenn man annimmt - und es gibt keinen Grund, das nicht zu tun - dass mit dieser cantilena das Ezzolied gemeint ist, kann man sogar so weit gehen, seine „Uraufführung“ auf den Tag genau, nämlich auf das Osterfest, den 27. März 1065, das Datum der Ankunft des Pilgerzuges am Heiligen Grab in Jerusalem, zu datieren”[4]).
One of the more striking differences between the opening strophe of the Straßburger Handschrift and the corresponding second strophe of Vorauer Handschrift following the prologue potentially strengthens this case: where the former begins ‘nu wil ih iv herron’ (l.1), that is to say with a direct apostrophe addressing ‘edle Herren’ or noble lords, the later version simplifies this to ‘ich wil iv eben allen’ (l.13): you, who are all the same, should all hear this equally. We might surmise, then, that the earlier was composed with a specific instance of lordly bishops making up its audience, whilst the latter’s alteration reflects the growth in general readership and the profound impact the Ezzolied had on Southern German poetry, such that it stood as a monument to 11th century poetic literature.
A further fascinating element of the Ezzolied which can be seen as supporting an inception fundamentally bound up with pilgrimage - akin to Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales - is the uniqueness of the Vorauer Handschrift’s Strophe 33, which, though a mere twelve lines, has caused widespread scholarly debate. Thought by some of inferior quality and even athetized or tampered with for not seeming to fit the rest of the Ezzolied[5], the strophe describes Christian life as being like an ongoing sea voyage, in which the world is compared to the ‘meri’ (l.397) or sea, true faith to the ‘segel’ or sail (l.401), the cross on which Christ was crucified to the ‘segelgerte’, the mast (l.396), and the breath of Christ to the ‘wint’ (l.403) that blows through the sails. Marchand discusses how the idea of life as a great voyage was one of the commonest allegorical realms in the Middle Ages, with such a proliferation of usages that we can isolate no one obvious source or precedent: man as pilgrim stranger, in a foreign land, seeking to return home[6]. The allegory usually develops into an extended metaphor of a ship ploughing through alien seas towards some safe haven. Marchand notes the trope’s presence in Dante, Old English, medieval sermon literature and the sagas of Egill Skallagrimsson; we may be tempted to take it right the way back to Odysseus (the “altgriechische Topos von der Seefahrt des Lebens”[7]), but the parallels no doubt go back further still, since a nomadic existence and the concept of Heimweh are hardly copyrighted by any one nation in particular. If, then, the Ezzolied concludes in a manner so befitting a pilgrim, perhaps it is no surprise that the Vita Altmanni suggests it was written for a pilgrimage.
A scenario which may fit this idea of a pilgrim stranger in a foreign land is suggested in the book German Orientalisms by Todd Curtis Kontje, who reads the Ezzolied as a “theological justification for the Crusades based on a typological understanding of history”[8]. Conceding that the Straßburger Handschrift was composed before the First Crusade (1095-99), Kontje turns to the longer Vorauer recension, with a likely composition date of around 1115, and argues that Ezzo - or, since Ezzo died in around 1100, the scribe who came after him and developed his theme further - is illustrating a poetic journey of some difficulty that is nonetheless undertaken in God’s name, not unlike the Crusades. Strophe 31, in which the Israelites are in exile and hoping to return to their homeland, is particularly key to Kontje’s reading, especially the line ‘mit im [God, i.e. with God’s help] besizze wir diu lant’ (l.370): the land will be theirs. Kontje writes, “figuratively speaking, the author writes of the Christian’s spiritual journey, yet the same passage could easily be used quite literally to justify a crusade to capture the Holy Lands”[9]. Since he provides no other circumstantial evidence, however, we may have to lay Kontje’s theory aside for the time being.
In conclusion, we have identified the Ezzolied as being inextricably linked with notions of pilgrimage and journey, with the ‘great voyage’ of life. The longer recension of the Vorauer Handschrift, with its strophic structure reflecting Christ’s years of life, and its more or less chronological retelling of events, seems merely to strengthen this argument. The Prologstrophe, then, serves as both metatextual statement of provenance and also Exhibit A of the ‘ware geloube’ (l.401) so extolled by the poet in Strophe 33: just as a sailor relies on a good sail to navigate the seas, so too does Bishop Gunther call upon his most devout and talented priest to set into lyric the gospel story.
  
Bibliography.
  1. Bertau, Karl, Deutsche Literatur im europäischen Mittelalter: Band I, C.H. Beck, 1972.
  2. Braune, Wilhelm (ed.), Althochdeutsches Lesebuch, Max Niemeyer, 1994.
  3. Kontje, Todd Curtis, German Orientalisms, University of Michigan Press, 2004.
  4. Kössinger, Norbert, “Neuanfang oder Kontinuität? Das Ezzolied im Kontext der deutschsprachigen Überlieferung des Frümittelalters” in Müller, Stephan (ed.), Deutsche Texte der Salierzeit - Neuanfänge und Kontinuitäten im 11. Jahrhundert, Fink, 2010.
  5. Marchand, James W., “The Ship Allegory in the “Ezzolied” and in Old Icelandic,” in Neophilologus 60.2, 1976.
  6. Müller, Stephan (ed.), Althochdeutsche Literatur: Eine kommentierte Anthologie (Zweisprachig), Reclam, 2007.
  7. Neumann, Hans, Die Schiffsallegorie im Ezzoliede, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1960.
  8. Sonderegger, Stefan, Althochdeutsche Sprache und Literatur (3. Auflage), de Gruyter, 2003.



[1]Kössinger, Norbert, “Neuanfang oder Kontinuität? Das Ezzolied im Kontext der deutschsprachigen Überlieferung des Frümittelalters” in Müller, Stephan (ed.), Deutsche Texte der Salierzeit - Neuanfänge und Kontinuitäten im 11. Jahrhundert, Fink, 2010.
[2]Bertau, Karl, Deutsche Literatur im europäischen Mittelalter: Band I, C.H. Beck, 1972.
[3]Kuhn, Hugo, cited in Kössinger, Norbert, “Neuanfang oder Kontinuität? Das Ezzolied im Kontext der deutschsprachigen Überlieferung des Frümittelalters” in Müller, Stephan (ed.), Deutsche Texte der Salierzeit - Neuanfänge und Kontinuitäten im 11. Jahrhundert, Fink, 2010.
[4]Kössinger, Norbert, “Neuanfang oder Kontinuität? Das Ezzolied im Kontext der deutschsprachigen Überlieferung des Frümittelalters” in Müller, Stephan (ed.), Deutsche Texte der Salierzeit - Neuanfänge und Kontinuitäten im 11. Jahrhundert, Fink, 2010.
[5]The reasons for this are explored in detail in the two works referenced in the bibliography which deal with the ship allegory (by James Marchand and Hans Neumann) but suffice to say the debate over line 398, ‘min trehtin segel unte uere’, would only prove a digression in this essay, despite being of immense interest. In brief, though, the author is not unreceptive to Neumann’s notion that ‘segel unte uere’, rather than meaning “sail and ferry-man/boatman” is in fact an orthographical error in place of ‘selbe unser uere’, i.e. the Lord himself is the captain of my ship. Strong evidence in favour is provided by the continued repetition of “unser” in Strophe 33, which would make this look much more deliberate than it otherwise would. On the other hand, Marchand’s rebuttal that allegories do not always have a one to one correspondence of items and that Christ can just as easily perform the role of both the sail and the boatman - especially if the cross is the mast, then it would make little sense for Christ not to be the sail - is arguably the more convincing. Before them, Edward Schröder tried to replace ‘segel’ with ‘ruoder’ (rudder), which would fit the pre-existing Icelandic symbolism of Christ as rudder, man as sailor (stýrimaðr) and tongue(?) as steering wheel (stýri).
[6]Marchand, James W., “The Ship Allegory in the “Ezzolied” and in Old Icelandic,” in Neophilologus 60.2, 1976.
[7]Neumann, Hans, Die Schiffsallegorie im Ezzoliede, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1960.
[8]Kontje, Todd Curtis, German Orientalisms, University of Michigan Press, 2004.
[9]Ibid.

No comments:

Post a Comment