15.06.32, Edwards, ed. and trans., German Romance V: Hartmann von Aue, Erec

Main Article Content

Evelyn Meyer

The Medieval Review 15.06.32

Edwards, Cyril, ed. and trans. German Romance V: Hartmann von Aue, Erec. Arthurian Archives, 19. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2014. pp. xviii, 560. ISBN: 9781843843788 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Evelyn Meyer
Saint Louis University

Cyril Edwards' edition of Hartmann von Aue's Erec with side-by-side English translation certainly fills a void in the Hartmann von Aue scholarship, especially for English-speaking scholars or faculty who teach this text in a non-German-speaking academic environment. While there have been several translations of Erec into English (e.g. by J. W. Thomas in 1982, by Gary W. Crosland in 1986, by Thomas L. Keller in 1987, by Michael Resler in 1987, and by Frank Tobin et.al in 2001), none of them included the original text in Middle High German. [1] This is one of the biggest gains of this edition to me, as it makes it more versatile for teaching and research. It also reaches multiple audiences--students and scholars of other vernacular traditions of the Erec story, in addition to those of Middle High German. Edwards' edition makes the Middle High German Erec accessible to scholars of other vernacular adaptations of the narrative and thus facilitates comparative research across vernacular traditions in general, but also provides easier access to the original text because of the side-by-side layout of text in the vernacular and its translation. Many of us know how difficult it can be to find a quote in the original text when we begin work into a vernacular version from a translation, which often does not contain the line number references of verse romances (or only sparingly so). Additionally, having the original text on the opposite page invites the reader to consult the original language text, which always should be at the center of scholarly investigations.

Like the editions by Resler and Tobin, Vivian & Lawson, Edwards' edition contains a bibliography, which lists editions and translations and facsimiles of the Middle High German text, editions and translations of other works by Hartmann von Aue and the Erec-story in other vernacular traditions, as well as a list of key secondary sources. While Edwards' list of sources is significantly shorter than Resler's, it focuses on key contemporary publications in Erec scholarship since the 1980s while also including some key publications from the earlier scholarship. Thus this is a useful compilation of primary and secondary sources to get a student or scholar started in Erec scholarship. Another useful resource is the index of people and places at the end of the book. The sheer volume of strange and often similar sounding names can be overwhelming and having this resources makes it a lot easier to keep track of the who is who and the where is where. While Resler also contains such an index of names and places, he only refers the reader by page number to where the name is mentioned in his translation, but does not include a brief description of who or what the name refers to, which Edwards does and thus making his index far more useful. Furthermore, Edwards' introduction provides useful information about what is known about the author, the transmission of Erec in manuscripts, and the problems the particular transmission of the Middle High German Erec poses to an editor; the only extant text is found in an early sixteenth-century manuscript, the Ambraser Heldenbuch (Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Cod. ser. nova 2663, fols. 30rb-50vb), whereas the original story was composed around 1180. This section is very readable and accessible to a non-specialist or beginning student of medieval studies, which, for example, the very philological approach taken by Kurt Gärtner in his 2006 edition is not (see esp. his fifty-page introduction), as it is clearly intended for expert scholars and those familiar with the complexity of philology and messy manuscript scripta. [2]

As a medieval scholar who has dealt with editing manuscript texts, I was disappointed by Edwards' lack of clear commentary about how his edition differs from the other three recent editions of Hartmann's Erec, those by Manfred Günter Scholz (2004), [3] Kurt Gärtner (2006), and Volker Mertens (2008), [4] or even why yet another new edition was necessary. Mertens, for example, provides far more details about how his editing practices differ from those of Gärtner and Scholz (580-5), and whether one agrees or disagrees with him, he provides a rationale for why he edits differently than they do and thereby justifies why he created another edition of the text in addition to a new modern German translation of it. Likewise, Gärtner includes an even more extant and more philological explanation of his editing principles (xxiii-xliii). Edwards includes a short overview of how Erec has been edited (xiv-xv) and therein mentions the Scholz, Mertens, and Gärtner editions, but he focuses more on what he has in common with them, namely that they "have all tried to edge away from the dubious idea that the first Arthurian romance in Middle High German might have been written in a 'classical' Middle High German language" (xv). This is an admirable decision and follows slowly emerging trends of editing Middle High German texts, but none of them fully break away either from creating a "reconstruction" (xiv)--as Edwards correctly describes the first Erec edition by Moritz Haupt (1839) --as these four modern editors themselves attempt to reconstruct a version of Hartmann's original Erec out of surviving manuscripts. [5] The transmission of Erec is unusual and complicated by the fact that only a few fragments of the story have survived from the second quarter of the thirteenth century (the Koblenz-fragment: Koblenz, Landshauptarchiv, Best. 701 Nr. 759, 14b) and from the middle of the thirteenth century (the Wolfenbüttler-fragments: Wolfenbüttel, fragments from Cod. Guelf 19.26.9 Aug 40) while the only extant text of the narrative survived in a sixteenth-century manuscript, the Ambraser Heldenbuch. Out of necessity, all editions have to use the text of the Ambraser Heldenbuch as their Leithandschrift, but there has been recent scholarly debate on how to deal with the fragments that contain text that is dated closest to Hartmann's composition of Erec. Gärtner gave them greater importance in his edition and Edwards follows his lead in "giving them priority over A [the Ambraser Heldenbuch, EM] on many occasions" (xv). Yet not consistently so, for when "lines in W [the Wolfenbüttler fragments, EM][...]are clearly overlong, and occasionally rhymes are lacking" (xv), Edwards gives the text of Ms. A [the Ambraser Heldenbuch, EM] priority. It seems that Edwards gives preference to the earlier text, the Wolfenbüttler fragments, and with good reason, because their text is deemed more authentic on account of its proximity in date to the author's composition of the text. When modern assumptions about line length and rhymes do not match up against this otherwise deemed "more authentic" text, however, Edwards does not follow it and instead turns to the later text that does support these modern assumptions about the form of medieval narratives in rhymed couplets. Thus his edited text also is a hybrid reconstruction, just as those of nineteenth-century scholars trained in classical philology were, despite the fact that Edwards moved away from the assumptions of that earlier scholarship that there was a standard Middle High German language that used uniform orthography, grammar and syntax, as well as lines with consistent syllable count and perfect rhymes. Edwards' reconstructions are based on creating a composite text that mostly follows the text of the Ambraser Heldenbuch because it is the only surviving manuscript copy with extant text of Erec, but also works in the text as found in the much earlier surviving fragments. Very much to his credit, Edwards does mark it clearly in the margins of his edited text, when he uses the text of the Wolfenbüttler fragments, especially when it is that text which supplies a section of the narrative that was omitted in the text of the Ambraser Heldenbuch (240-60, even pages only).

As other editors have done before him, Edwards reconstructs the text by rewriting the language found in the Ambraser Heldenbuch from the sixteenth century and adapting it back to a form of thirteenth-century Middle High German assumed to have been used by Hartmann. I do, however, applaud Edwards for his decision to use in this edition "the Koblenz fragment and Iwein B (Gießen, Universitätsbibliothek, Codex 97) [...] as the main guides to orthography and vocabulary, as both date from the second quarter of the thirteenth century" (xv) instead of the standardized form of Middle High German constructed by nineteenth-century philologists. He thus bases his linguistically adapted text on authentic language used in close proximity to the time of original composition. This is a significant difference to the editions of Mertens and Gärtner, who likewise attempt to recreate a text that would correspond to the phonology, grammar and vocabulary of the thirteenth century. Despite this goal, Gärtner and Mertens make many adjustments in the language towards a classical Middle High German (see, for example, a very long list of such editorial interventions in Mertens 582ff, and Gärtner xxviii-xxxii) and do not follow the language provided in an actual thirteenth-century manuscript containing one of Hartmann's narratives as Edwards does here. Breaking away from the notion of a standardized or classical Middle High German in favor of following the language found in manuscripts with minimal emendations is an important, and long overdue move in editing vernacular medieval texts and in that way, Edwards boldly goes where few have gone before. In the section "Principles of this Edition" (xv-xvii), Edwards provides a detailed account of how he reversed the modernizing of language applied by Hans Ried, the scribe of the Ambraser Heldenbuch, that were appropriate for this sixteenth-century text and audience, but which is inconsistent with thirteenth-century Middle High German. Since Edwards rewrites the text to an earlier linguistic state of German and bases it on the language found in the Koblenz fragment and Iwein B, they are far less intrusive than those made by earlier editors based on assumptions of purity of syllable count and rhymes, and a standardized language and grammar.

Edwards' translation of Erec reads beautifully, as all of Edwards' translations always do! Compared to the other translations of Erec into English, the language has been updated to reflect more current terms without sacrificing staying true to the medieval narrative. While at first a reader may expect a non-flowing prose text because of the layout of the translation page, which follows approximately the line length of the rhymed couplets of the Middle High German text, this is not a poetic translation but truly a prose translation. I wondered at first about this layout choice, as I found it alienating initially, because the layout raises genre expectations, but I can see the advantage of this choice not to print the translation in prose text layout, as it more strongly interconnects the edited text in the original language and its translation. My one concern about the translation relates to a very specific passage, namely the passage that is missing in the Ambraser Heldenbuch, which is found in the Wolfenbüttler fragments and which Edwards following Gärtner inserted in this edition. Because of the poor nature of preservation of these fragments, Edwards notes the many textual gaps in the edition by means of ellipses (see esp. 246 & 248), yet the translation on the corresponding pages gives us a fully fleshed out narrative passage, which cannot be gotten from the text as edited on the facing pages. In the absence of an explanation from Edwards what he bases his translation on, one has to wonder if he made up this passage to satisfy a reader's desire to be able to read the entire story without gaps in it, or if perhaps he turned towards Chretién's original to supply the plot from there. A text containing gaps, be that in the original vernacular passage or in the translation, is never satisfactory, but if that is the state in which we find the medieval vernacular text, an editor and translator needs to be transparent about how he generated his or her "gap-free" text, and that Edward does not.

In conclusion, this edition will be useful to multiple scholarly audiences, both students and scholars alike, beginning medievalist to expert scholar, scholars of Middle High German narratives as well as scholars of other medieval vernacular traditions. The elegance of Edwards' translation which stays true to the spirit of the original work while also rendering it elegantly into modern English prose will appeal to many and thus this edition and translation will introduce this fascinating medieval courtly romance to a wider as well as a new audience. I recommend it highly both for its superb English translation, but also for its edition, which, while still reconstructing an Erec as we assume it would have existed in the thirteenth-century, uses a more authentic Middle High German that is based on language of actual manuscript texts of Hartmann's works. Until an actual thirteenth-century manuscript with the complete text of Erec is found, or until someone creates an edition only of the text as found in the Ambraser Heldenbuch--thus accepting the unfortunate state of transmission of Hartmann's Erec that has left us only with a single extant manuscript text from the sixteenth century, an edition that would acknowledge that its Erec is but an early modern adaptation which has undergone a long tradition of changes over the course of three hundred years [6]--Edwards' edition that reconstructs the text backwards in time from this sixteenth century manuscript but models the language after authentic thirteenth-century manuscripts of Hartmann's works is an important scholarly step in editing Hartmann's Erec.



1. J. W. Thomas (trans. and intro.), Hartmann von Aue. Erec (Lincoln & London: University of Nebraska Press, 1982); Gary W. Crosland, "Hartmann von Aue's 'Erec': An Annotated Translation," MA thesis, Rice University, 1986; Thomas L. Keller (trans.), Hartmann von Aue. Erec (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1987); Michael Resler (trans, intro., and commentary), Hartmann von Aue. Erec (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987); Frank Tobin, Kim Vivian, and Richard H. Lawson (eds.), Hartmann von Aue. Arthurian Romances, Tales, and Lyric Poetry: The Complete Works of Hartmann von Aue. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001).

2. Kurt Gärtner, Erec von Hartmann von Aue. Mit einem Abdruck der neuen Wolfenbütteler und Zwettler Erec-Fragmente, 7th edition (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 2006).

3. Manfred Günter Scholz, Hartmann von Aue, Erec, trans. Susanne Held (Frankfurt am Main: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, 2004).

4. Volker Mertens, Hartmann von Aue. Erec. Mittelhochdeutsch/Neuhochdeutsch (Stuttgart: Philipp Reclam, 2008).

5. Moritz Haupt, Erec. Eine Erzählung von Hartmann von Aue (Leipzig, 1839; 2nd ed. 1871; repr. Hildesheim: Georg Ohms, 1979).

6. Andreas Hammer (Universität Köln / Lundwig-Maximilians-Universität München) is currently working on such an edition of Erec based on the text of the Ambraser Heldenbuch that will not reconstruct it backwards to a thirteenth-century form. This forthcoming edition promises to contribute in an entirely new way to Erec scholarship and editions.

Article Details