By pursuing an ecocritical reading, The Forest in Medieval German Literature examines passages in medieval German texts where protagonists operated in the forest and found themselves either in conflictual situations or in refuge. By probing the way the individual authors dealt with the forest, illustrating how their characters fared in this sylvan space, the role of the forest proved to be of supreme importance in understanding the fundamental relationship between humans and nature. The medieval forest almost always introduced an epistemological challenge: how to cope in life, or how to find one's way in this natural maze. By approaching these narratives through modern ecocritical issues that are paired with premodern perspectives, we gain a solid and far-reaching understanding of how medieval concepts can aid in a better understanding of human society and nature in its historical context. This book revisits some of the best and lesser-known examples of medieval German literature, and the critical approach used here will allow us to recognize the importance of medieval literature for a profound reassessment of our modern existence with respect to our own forests.
Introduction and Theoretical Reflections: The Forest as an Epistemological Challenge in the Middle Ages
Chapter One: Hartmann von Aue’s Concept of the Forest: The Arthurian Adventure in the Forest and the Consequences
Chapter Two: The Forest as Staging Ground for the Heroic Protagonist: Glory and Demise in the Nibelungenlied
Chapter Three: The Forest in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Works: The Passage from the Arthurian Court to the Grail Kingdom Through the Forest
Chapter Four: The Forest in Gottfried von Straßburg’s Tristan and in Alternative Tristan Versions
Chapter Five: The Forest in Der Melerantz von Frankreich by The Pleier
Chapter Six: The Forest as the Transitional and Transformative Space in Konrad von Würzburg’s Partonopier und Meliur
Chapter Seven: The Ambivalence of the Forest: Exile or Safe Haven? The Destiny of the Female Protagonist Refracted in the Forest: Elisabeth von Nassau-Saarbrücken’s Königin Sibille
Chapter Eight: Forest in Thüring von Ringoltingen’s Melusine: Dark Spaces, Mysterious Origins, Meaningful Connections: The Forest and the Establishment of Dynasties
Albrecht Classen is University Distinguished Professor of German studies at the University of Arizona.
"Classen explores a hitherto understudied motif in medieval and early modern German literature: the forest. He provides an intensive study of noteworthy texts by seven authors and of the anonymously authored Nibelungenlied and offers an extensive survey that covers some 300 years. Classen points out the forest is used to portray adventure, heroic or dastardly deeds, passages both physical and metaphysical, transformation, and often mystery. Classen's [...] ecocritical approach seeks to balance the imaginative nature of literary works with the realities of the environments in which the protagonists act. As a place outside of yet accessible to those in traditional society (as presented in the literary canon), the forest represents Utopian refuge or mortal danger (and in some cases both at the same time), always reflecting on the status of the 'other' locale. There, nature and culture interact in sometimes surprising configurations. This richly annotated investigation reveals that other texts and authors might fruitfully be subjected to scrutiny similar to that Classen devotes to Hartmann von Aue, Wolfram von Eschenbach, Gottfried von Strassburg, et al. With its impressive bibliography and index, this is a valuable resource for those interested in German literature and history. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty."
"Genesis divides the natural world into two parts: the Garden and the wilderness. Eden is the natural space that is under direct oversight of the Creator, where Adam and Eve live in a paradisiac state in harmony with God's will. In opposition to this space stands the wilderness, the space into which post-lapsarian man is born, and the space in which he must struggle to find the way back to God's grace [...] The Forest in Medieval German Literature by Albrecht Classen is both a fascinating and illuminating book that breaks with this simple binary configuration. Classen recasts the wilderness into a space that reflects the sophisticated relationship medieval people had with their own environment. This excellent study effectively shifts the focus of the landscape away from civilization and onto the wilderness [...] This fresh perspective adds a fascinating layer of social, environmental, and psychological complexity to these already rich texts [...] The Forest in Medieval German Literature reveals an important literary space that powerfully structures the narrative and interacts with the characters in ways that are unique to each work of literature."
– The Medieval Review
"The contextual materials and the summary of the scholarship on each work make the volume accessible to nonspecialists, and the book will be of interest to medievalists interested in the representation of the forest in German literature as well as, potentially, to scholars with ecocritical interests from other fields [...] Classen's survey of woodlands is more descriptive than analytical and will provide a good starting point for scholars looking for an overview of descriptions of forested areas in canonical German literature, a good resource for students or for scholars in other disciplines interested in seeing how medieval German literary texts reference forests."
– Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies
"Albrecht Classen's study of the forest in medieval and early Modern German literature (c. 1170-1500) challenges previous scholarly notions of the medieval forest as a consistently inhospitable space. Following an eco-centric approach, Classen examines the forest both as metaphor and as a natural resource with important economic potential in pre-modern Europe. Although many poets, theologians, and philosophers of the period portray the forest in allegorical terms, they also understood and appreciated sylvan space. Classen rebuffs earlier critics who see portrayals of the forests as mere stereotypical projections in which authors show little if any environmental awareness. He discusses a wide of range of Middle High German literary texts (and two fifteenth-century novels) to discern how various characters in these works interact with the forest, how they viewed it, whether it proved hostile or inviting. Classen's nature-oriented perspective will help contemporary readers to understand how medieval authors and their audiences understood their natural environment and what the forest meant for the development and maintenance of their value system."
– Connie L. Scarborough, Texas Tech University
"In this very readable volume, Albrecht Classen takes his readers for a rewarding trek through the woods as found in medieval German literature. He points out the many analogous uses of the forest, whether vital, metaphorical, idyllic, or transformational, and even dangerous, not omitting the poignant role of the linden tree under which Siegfried dies, in which Sigune sits and mourns, and from whose branches King Mark spies on his nephew and wife. The reader will enjoy following the path."
– Ronald Murphy, Georgetown Univesity
"In this volume Classen treats an important group of key works from the Medieval and Early Modern period in German literature, from Hartmann von Aue to Thüring von Ringoltingen, through the lens of ecocriticism. Bringing to bear a vast storehouse of knowledge regarding not only primary texts and authors but also the enormous body of critical literature on Medieval and Early Modern writing, Classen sensitively and authoritatively reads these texts and reveals how each of them evinces great reverence for the forest environment, a space that for centuries provided human beings with the means of survival but which was also a source of great fear and wonder. The result of Classen's efforts is a remarkably accessible, provocative and interesting investigation, which will contribute to Medieval literary and cultural studies, both in terms of its theoretical framework and its cogent and coherent analyses of the specific works."
– Christopher R. Clason, Oakland University