Ger 278 Lecture Notes

Ger 278 (Spring 2010)

Jan. 12:

Let’s begin with some discussion about the following points:

A. What is the meaning and relevance of history and historical literature for us today?

B. What are some of the critical points in human life that continue to evade simple answers and solutions?

C. How can a course like ours, in the Humanities, address some of those issues?

D. Are the Middle Ages attractive to us today, and if so, why? Give some examples of bad and good cases.

E. Why would opinions, ideas, concepts, and thoughts by previous thinkers matter for us today?

F. Do you agree or disagree with the requirements stated in the Pledge for this course?

G. Personally, why did you chose this course over any number of others? What attracts you to this course in particular?

Basic information about the historical time frame of the Middle Ages:

The European Middle Ages: past and present

   1. With the Fall of Western Rome, a world disappeared
   2. With Charlemagne, a new world emerged, north of the Alps
   3. a world disappeared around 1500
   4. a world was rediscovered around 1800
   5. the fascination with the Middle Ages continue until today
   6. Romanticism
   7. New Nationalism and Fascism
   8. Escapism
   9. Fantasy movement (games, cards, video games, films): Medieval War
  10. Movie trailer: The Name of the Rose (orig. by Umberto Eco)
  11. Medieval Scholarship: art history, history of literature, history, history of medicine, women’s history, history of minorities, religion, history of foodstuff, history of architecture, philosophy, history of everyday life, history of mentality, history of travel and geography, history of sciences, etc.
  12. The Middle Ages as a world that continues to speak to us and appeals to us.
  13. It might also be a world that still confounds us in the postmodern world of computers: Danish video on youtube
  14. Folk festivals, simple entertainment and fun
  15. What have the Romans ever done for us?


Roman Empire

Germanic tribes – Age of Migration

Missionary activities

The Frankish Empire

External threats


History of individual countries: France, England, Germany, Spain, Italy, Norway, Poland, Hungary, Greece

Jan. 18, 2012:

In groups, quickly discuss, on the basis of our introductory text:

   1. early Middle Ages
   2. high Middle Ages
   3. late Middle Ages
   (4. ca. 1000 years)
   5. one intellectual language
   6. many vernaculars developing rapidly and producing literary texts
   7. differentiation of social classes, leading to feudalism in wake of external threats
   8. role of the Catholic Church
   9. Crusades
  10. Conquest of the East (Slavic lands)
  11. Mysticism
  12. Reconquista
  13. Norman conquest of England
  14. Feudalism
  15. Cities
  16. Johann Gutenberg
  17. Protestant Reformation
  18. What was the contractual society in the high Middle Ages?
  19. minimum of 5 major medieval writers and texts (2 groups)
  20. minimum of 5 major philosophers/theologians (2 groups)
  21. what was mysticism?
  22. minimum of 5 major writers of the late Middle Ages (2 groups)

Next, let’s turn to Boethius!

a. Introduction

b. Book I

Book III.

Let’s form groups and discuss, roughly, one more time what we have learned in book III:

Each group (4 people max) takes ca. 1 1/2 pages:




















Jan. 31: Instead of a detailed analysis of Boethius, let’s form small groups, max 4, and each formulate a short paragraph about what B. had to say, how he explained fortune/misfortune, and what true happiness means. Also, add a sentence or two as to why there is no real evil in this world.

Feb. 2:

The Lay of Hildebrand – Hildebrandslied

  • Oral poetry

  • names of the two heroes

  • relationship

  • how do they meet each other?

  • Hildebrand’s character

  • What does he want to know from the opponent?

  • What kind of person is Hildebrand? Do we have respect for him?

  • Experience of exile

  • Why did Hildebrand leave home?

  • Honor, feudal bondage, vassallage

  • What kind of warrior was this old man?

  • Is his old age any negative feature?

  • What was his relationship with Dietrich

  • Why does Hildebrand not fight with Hadubrand?

  • How does he try to express that he is the father?

  • Why does Hadubrand reject him?

  • What does the gold signify for Hadubrand?

  • What is the meaning of gift giving?

  • Who gives what kinds of gifts to whom under what circumstances?

  • How does Hadubrand reject the ring?

  • What does Hadubrand charge Hildebrand with?

  • What is Hadubrand afraid of?

  • What does he charge Hildebrand with?

  • What does he know about his father’s destiny?

  • Who has told him that?

  • Tension between authorities

  • How does the exchange between these two warriors end?

  • What does Hildebrand say about his own life in the past?

  • To whom does he appeal? Is this a Christian poem?

  • What is he worried about?

  • Is there a good reason for him to worry?

  • How does Hildebrand mock his opponent?

  • He raises the issue of cowardice? Why?

  • What is the principle concept determining these two men?

  • How does this epic poem conclude?

Feb. 7:

  • What is honor?

  • Why do these two men fight each other?

  • How does this epic poem end? And why does it end that way?Why would Christian monks have had interest in this poem?


    What message might the monks have wanted to convey?


  • What does this epic poem reveal about human failure and shortcomings?

  • Why is this lay a message for us today and the future?


On to the Nibelungenlied

  • Ca. 1200

  • Middle High German Heroic Epic Poem

  • Large reception (ca. 30 manuscripts)

  • Known until the middle of the 16th c.

  • Rediscovery in 1755

National Heroic Epic ever since (in competition with Homer’s Iliad


Feb. 9: Actually, what is a heroic epic? What makes a hero?




A. Family structure

B. Siegfried and his family

C. What does Hagen know about Siegfried, and how does he know that? What does that tell us about their future relationship?

D. How does the relationship between Siegfried and Kriemhild develop? What does that tell us about different value systems here at play?

E. Who and what is Brunhild?

F. Why does Hagen argue for Siegfried to be their leader to Iceland? Why does S. agree?

G. What was B’s and S’s relationship in the past, and how do they both perform upon his arrival?

H. What do the Burgundians have to do in Iceland, and why does this cause them problems?

I. Joust for Brunhild’s hand

J. How does G. win the joust? What does that outcome forebode?

K. Siegfried and Kriemhild (p. 37-39)

L. Bedroom scene, G + B (39-40). Evaluate it

M. How does S. overcome B’s? Any problems there?

N. Symbolism of the objects S. takes from B.? Why does he take them? Whom does he give them to?

O. Quarrel between B and K (p. 41-42)

P. How does K. shame B?

Q. How do S. and G. handle the situation? Evaluate!

R. Hagen and K. (p. 44

S. Hunt instead of war (p. 45)

T. False bet (46)

U. S.’s death (47)

V.  What does H. do with S.’s corpse (48)

W. The Nibelungen treasure, K vs. Hagen (48-50)

X. Rudiger (50-51)

Y. K. and Etzel (52-53)

Z. Invitation of the Burgundians, Hagen’s opposition? (53-54)


Feb. 14:

Let’s approach our task differently: Let’s look at the big topics.


A. Is Siegfried a hero or not?

B. Do you like Hagen or not?

C. What do you think about Kriemhilt and Brunhild?

D. What does Siegfried’s murder mean for the entire narrative development?

E. Let us compare Kriemhilt’s dream with Siegfried’s hunt and subsequent murder

F. What does Kriemhilt’s marriage to Etzel mean for Gunther and for Hagen? Difference of Opinions!

G. Why does K. accept the wedding proposal? How has Rudiger achieved that goal?

H. Hagen and the maids: Life vs. death

I. Hagen and the chaplain

J. Hagen destroys the boat

K. The Burgundians at Rudiger’s court: Exchange of gifts, betrothal

L. Hagen and Volker vs. the Huns

M. Is Kriemhilt justified in pursuing her revenge?

N. Etzel’s illusion: entrusting his son to the Burgundians (p. 63)

O. The beginning of the battle (p. 64)

P. Who is Dietrich of Bern?

Q. How does the poet project the racial difference between Burgundians and Huns? (p. 66-67)

R. The burning of the hall, and the survival of the Burgundians (p. 68)


Feb. 21: Sample questions for the 1st exam (questions will include some comparisons and issues reg. genre, dates, authors, etc.:

1. Why did Philosophy chase away the muses in Boethius’s text?

2. What is the nature of fortune according to Philosophy?

3. What is the nature of evil or of evil people according to Philosophy?

4. When and where was the Hildebrandslied composed, and by whom?

5. Why does Hadubrand not recognize Hildebrand?

6. Why does Hildebrand not reveal more of his identity, and instead stands rady to fight?

7. Why does Rudiger in the NL enter the final fray and dies?

8. What is the relationship between Hagen and Rudiger?

9. How does Dietrich overcome the final fighting? Does he represent any hope?

10. Why does Kriemhild at the end demand the hord back from Hagen, and what does that mean for our interpretation of that figure?

11. What is the role of women in The Tumbler and Lanval?

12. How do the two authors present the pathway to happiness for their protagonists?


Sample exam questions for Marie de France:


1. When did she live and where?

2. What texts and genres did she write?

3. What are some of the critical themes which she develops?

4. What is the name of the utopia mentioned in Lanval?



Feb. 21:

Benedictine Monastery

Gregorian Chant


Spanish monastery

Vault: Wurzburg