The Medieval Review 12.01.18

Meyer, Kathleen J. Ulrich von Zatzikhoven, Lanzelet. Arthurian Archives: German Romance, vol. IV. Rochester, NY: D. S. Brewer, 2011. Pp. xx, 507. 99.00. ISBN 978-1-84384-266-8. . .

Reviewed by:

Shami Ghosh
Oxford University
shami.ghosh@magd.ox.ac.uk

Towards the close of his Lanzelet, Ulrich von Zatzikhoven tells us the source for his work: a certain Hugh de Morville, who had been sent to Germany as a hostage to secure the release of Richard the Lionheart, had brought with him daz welschez buoch von Lanzelete, which Ulrich was prevailed on by his vriunde to translate into German. This being around 1194, Ulrich's verse romance is one of the very earliest Arthurian romances in German, and thus an important source for the early reception of French romance in Germany, and for the development of Arthurian romance altogether. But what French romance did Ulrich translate? Possibly the most important aspect of the Lancelot story as it is commonly known is the love affair between Lancelot and Arthur's queen, Guinevere; this features in the earliest extant French work on this character, Chrétien de Troyes's Lancelot (or Le chevalier de la Charrette). In Ulrich's work, however, there is no such affair, and the trajectory of the hero's story is quite different. Modern scholarship has often taken the German text to be a direct representative of a lost, parallel French tradition, with some controversy as to whether this was Anglo-Norman or continental French; some scholars, however, have seen in Hugh de Morville a fictional source, much like Wolfram von Eschenbach's Kyot. Until recently, relatively little attention has been paid to examining Ulrich's text from a literary point of view, not least because it has often been thought to lack any outstanding literary qualities.

Ulrich's Lanzelet is born to a powerful but unpopular king called Pant, who dies shortly after his birth; the hero is then adopted by a fairy queen, who brings him up, but conceals from him his name. He goes forth into the world to learn his name, and along the way learns the arts of knighthood, kills a number of clearly evil characters and has quite explicitly sexual affairs with young women connected to them (the daughter of one, the niece of another), finally marrying the daughter of an unloved king Iweret. At this point, a fairy maiden arrives and tells him his name; shortly afterward, Lanzelet and his wife Iblis encounter a page from the Arthurian court (where the Lanzelet, as the unnamed knight, had already earned a reputation as the best of them all), saying that Guinevere has been claimed by Valerin, who demands that a knight conquer him otherwise he shall take away Arthur's queen; Lanzelet defeats Valerin easily. At this point, he decides that he must avenge an insult suffered early on in his career at a castle called Pluris, but having done so, he is captured by the queen of Pluris and kept imprisoned by her as her lover (not, it must be said, entirely without his own pleasure, much as he misses his wife). At Arthur's court, Lanzelet's absence is lamented, and as the knights lament, a magic robe is brought to the court by a messenger of the fairy queen, who also tells those assembled about Lanzelet's unhappy fate. The cloak is presented in sequence to the great ladies present, but does not fit any of them perfectly, a fact that reveals that each of them has some flaw or other, which is explained to all present by the fairy. Finally Iblis, sorrowful because of her husband's absence and reluctant to take part in any festivities, is prevailed on to try the cloak: it fits her perfectly, for she is, like her husband, perfect. After she has been acclaimed as the epitome of womanhood, four great knights of Arthur's court set off to free Lanzelet, something they achieve without much trouble. Shortly after he has been freed, however, we learn that Guinevere has been abducted by Valerin; the Arthurian knights seek the help of the magician Malduc, an enemy of theirs and Arthur's, who agrees to help if he receives Erec and Gawain as hostages. After Guinevere is freed, these two knights must indeed go into imprisonment, but Lanzelet arranges a campaign against Malduc that goes off without a hitch, and Erec and Gawain are freed easily. Finally, Lanzelet hears of a magical bearded dragon that asks knights for a kiss, but has not yet managed to get one; he goes off and kisses the dragon, which is turned into a beautiful woman. Now Lanzelet returns home to claim his inheritance, the lands ruled by his father; the nobles there are happy to have him as king. He then goes to claim rule over the lands of Iblis's father, and achieves this objective once again without any difficulty. After some festivities with Arthur as a guest, we are told that Lanzelet and Iblis rule happily ever after, and the romance comes to a close.

This is not the place to go into the varying opinions voiced in the scholarship about the qualities of this work; the relative lack of conflict has always been recognized as one of the most important features. Lanzelet is perfect; he has to do almost nothing to attain this perfection; and there are no real obstacles in his way. Nevertheless, he has to go through various stages of accruing ever more perfection, and these can be seen as showing the audience various aspects of knighthood and nobility that need to be acquired. Some scholars have perceived a didactic tone in this narrative, whereas others see it as purely entertainment; it has also been read as providing a moral about the importance of political stability during an unstable time in German history. Regardless of modern evaluations, it is clear from various references in later literature, as well as the modest but by no means insignificant manuscript tradition (two complete witnesses and four fragments), that the text was quite well-known in medieval Germany. This, along with the interest increasingly shown by modern scholarship in Ulrich's work and the results of the sophisticated readings that have been published in recent decades, suggests that, although certainly not as rich in interpretative interest as the better known Arthurian romances in Germany, Lanzelet is nevertheless a text worth a read, and worth bringing to a wider audience through modern editions and translations.

The two complete witnesses (Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Cod. 2698, early fourteenth century: W; Heidelberg, Universitätsbibliothek, cpg 371, 1420: P) present quite different texts, and it is only in 2006 that a proper critical edition was produced, by Florian Kragl. [1] Kragl correctly refrained from trying to harmonize W and P, and instead presented a normalized text from W as the main text, with the varying passages of P and the fragments in a parallel column (without normalisation, but occasionally emended), and an apparatus with notes on emendations, scribal corrections, and so on. In addition, he provided a second apparatus with the variants of earlier edition, and a third apparatus with linguistic notes. All of this is accompanied by a translation, extensive introduction and commentary, and a diplomatic text of the manuscripts. Kragl's two volumes are clearly the text to work with for serious research, but despite the entertainment value of the text, these tomes are equally clearly unsuitable for bedtime reading, or even classroom teaching Aware of this, Kragl soon enough produced a paperback "Studienausgabe," which, apart from being eminently affordable (unlike the full two-volume edition, which costs literally ten times as much), presents the text and apparatus, translation, and greatly condensed introduction and notes, which are nevertheless very useful. [2] For students of Middle High German (or other readers) with modern German, this latter edition of Kragl's is without question the text to use. Lanzelet has also been translated into English before, and indeed quite recently: in 2005, Thomas Kerth brought out his translation of the text in Columbia's "Records of Western Civilization" series. This is published without the German text, and in running prose, but with very extensive introduction and notes. [3]

Meyer's volume is almost three times the price of Kerth's, and without wishing in any way to disparage what is clearly the fruit of a great deal of hard work, I cannot help wondering what this work offers to make it worth the price. The cost of this volume is not Meyer's fault, of course, but, given the alternatives available, it rather seems to defeat the purpose, which one would assume is to bring this text to a wider, Anglophone audience that, despite having little or no modern German, might nevertheless be interested in having a Middle High German text along with the translation. From comparing random passages, I cannot see that Meyer's translation is a noticeable improvement on Kerth's; although she does follow the German closely, and the presence of the text enables us to work back to the original from the translation, Meyer is occasionally a bit too free for my taste, and sometimes (albeit rarely), this freeness veers towards inaccuracy (to be fair, I would not say Kerth's translation is flawless either). To cite some examples: at l. 13, "swer niemen für den andern hât" should be translated "whoever prefers no one over another" (Meyer translates the verb as "distinguish"); at l. 658 "kint" clearly refers to unmarried girls, rather than "children" as Meyer has it; at l. 1410 "bestuonden" must mean "attacked", and is clearly not Meyer's "stood against," which makes little sense. Meyer also provides a briefer introduction and much less in the way of notes than either Kragl's condensed edition, or Kerth's translation. What she does give us that Kerth does not is a Middle High German text--and indeed a text different from that of Kragl; it is debatable whether this is much of an advantage, given that it is unlikely that any serious scholarship would wish to cite Meyer's text over Kragl's. While recognizing Kragl's concerns regarding the difficulties in producing a harmonized critical edition, Meyer nevertheless does precisely that, printing a single normalized text with the sections from P that are missing in W in italics; elsewhere, P's wording is provided as variants in the apparatus, and in the sometimes not insignificant passages (from one to several lines in length) where the P diverges to such an extent from W that a single text cannot be created, Meyer prints P's text in the apparatus, with a translation given in the notes.

What we get, therefore, is a usable text that cannot (and does not intend to) replace that of the standard edition, but will allow us to follow how the manuscripts diverge from each other; a competent line-by-line translation that enables us to work back from the translation to the original; and very little in the way of introductory or interpretative matter to accompany text and translation. All of this comes at higher price than Kerth's English translation and Kragl's paperback "Studienausgabe" put together. While I would like to recommend the purchase of this volume for libraries anyway, in our present cash-strapped times, such an expenditure would seem a little hard to justify.

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Notes:

1. Florian Kragl, ed. and trans., Ulrich von Zatzikhoven: Lanzelet. 2 vols. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2006.

2. Florial Kragl, ed. and trans., Ulrich von Zatzikhoven: Lanzelet: Text, Übersetzung, Kommentar. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2009.

3. Thomas Kerth, trans. Lanzelet. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.