For the German-speaking peoples under the Carolingians (c. AD 750-950), the dominant literary tongue was Latin, the lingua franca of the Christian West. Before the eighth century only isolated words, legal terms, and proper names from the vernacular dialects had found their way into manuscripts. Cyril Edwards's collection of essays examines the breakthrough into literacy of the dialects known collectively as Old High German in the south and Old Saxon in the north. In an introductory essay, Edwards surveys the recording and survival of the earliest continuous German texts. This leads into seven essays, each inspired by a fresh look at the manuscripts. Two are concerned with the Wessobrunn Prayer, the earliest religious poem in German. A third looks at the destructive application of acids to medieval manuscripts in an attempt to read barely legible letters; it concentrates upon the Hildebrandslied, the only surviving Old High German heroic lay, and the ninth-century eschatalogical poem, the Muspilli. Two studies are devoted to the Merseburg Charms, pagan survivals in a Christian manuscript, invoking gods familiar from the Old Norse pantheon. A study of the earliest traces of the love-lyric follows, poems that slipped through the net of censorship imposed by the Christian church. A final essay is concerned with the Ossian of the period, an ingenious forgery that was a cause célèbre in the nineteenth century, the Old High German Lullaby.
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Cyril Edwards is a Lecturer in German at St. Peter's College, Oxford, and an Honorary Research Fellow of University College London. He has published numerous articles on medieval German literature and co-edited a book on the medieval German lyric. He is currecntly preparing a new translation of Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival and Titurel.Review:
These essays, without exception, contain a wealth of useful information and a rare sense of context that showcase the author's investigative skill and range of knowledge. --German Studies Review
Edwards's book makes for a fascinating, well-researched, and well-written excursion into the background of some works most familiar to those ... who teach Old High German. It will be of interest for everyone who has anything to do with medieval manuscripts, comparative mythology, and earliest attested Germanic literature. --Monatshefte
Offers rewarding reading for any student of Old High German who already knows something about the subject and who wants more information and a broader background. --Medieval Review
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