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  • Transculturality and the Gesta Romanorum in Light of Hartmann von Aue's Gregorius and Heinrich Kaufringer's Verse Narratives
  • Albrecht Classen

We have long recognized the enormous literary productivity of the genre of late medieval verse narratives. Wherever we look, we discover significant processes of reception, translation, adaptation, and modeling of older sources for the own purposes. Marie de France, in her lais (ca. 1180–1190) indicates that she could have drawn from Latin sources, but that she preferred utilizing ancient Breton folk tales. Geoffrey Chaucer in his Canterbury Tales (ca. 1400) drew freely from Boccaccio's Decameron (ca. 1351), among many other sources. Those also included the rich corpus of fabliaux, twelfth- and thirteenth-century Old French ribald verse narratives that enjoyed great popularity all over Europe far into the early modern age. In the middle of the sixteenth century, Marguerite de Navarre explicitly referred to the French translation of Boccaccio's Decameron when she composed her own collection of prose narratives, her Heptaméron. The rich corpus of German mæren from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries, subsequently followed by the vast number of Schwänke (entertaining, but often also didactic prose narratives), was certainly influenced by Boccaccio's work as well, and then by Poggio Bracciolini's Facetiae (ca. 1450) (Clements and Gibaldi).

Major writers in the German-speaking world, such as The Stricker, Heinrich Kaufringer, Johann Pauli (sermon narratives), Jörg Wickram (jest narratives), Hans Wilhelm Kirchhof, and many others document the intriguing literary network determining all of late medieval European literature (Erotic Tales; Classen, Deutsche Schwankliteratur). The Italian novelle by Franco Sacchetti were just as important in that global process of the textual give and take as the somewhat older Latin tradition of religious anecdotes produced by Caesarius of Heisterbach in his Dialogus miraculorum (ca. 1220–ca. 1224) (D' Orient en Occident) and Petrus Alfonsi's Disciplina clericalis (early twelfth century, which was the crucial bridge connecting Oriental and Arabic literature with Jewish and Christian narratives distributed widely in western Europe (Divizia; Szpiech).

Comparative literary analysis meets its richest material, indeed, when we turn to the pan-European world of short verse or prose narratives (The Art of Cistercian [End Page 177] Persuasion). Those, however, were not simply autochthonous, and instead always have to be considered as part of an ever growing, global narrative framework since the influence of the Arabian stories from One Thousand and One Night must not be ignored, even if we still face difficulties in tracing exactly the channels of transmission to Europe—via the crusaders, pilgrims, traders, diplomats, and artisans. Moreover, those stories also did not emerge in isolation, and had probably been influenced in turn by Persian and East Indian material, especially if we think, for instance, of the extensive tradition of the anonymous Barlaam and Josaphat, even though this belonged to a literary genre. Although we can easily recognize here the original accounts related to the life of the founder of Buddhism, Gautama Buddha, they were easily and quickly adapted to Persian, Arabic, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, and then many European vernacular cultures, crossing numerous linguistic, religious, and cultural boundaries (Classen, Barlaam und Josaphat). Despite many religious and military tensions, in the world of story telling, erotic themes constantly dominate, but didactic, moral, religious, and political elements also matter greatly and help to explain the vast popularity of this genre. After all, as we can regularly notice, the plots of many tales are closely associated with traveling, demonstrating how people are faring in extreme situations, which bring out their best and their worst (Kinoshita).

Most intriguingly, the central issues addressed everywhere can be reduced to a small number since the authors regularly returned to the same fundamental concerns and brought them to light by way of applying only slightly different narrative frameworks. Human shortcomings, desires, fears, vices and virtues, sinful behavior, curiosity, and basic experiences in foreign lands, but then, above all, love and sexuality, marriage, adultery, and, ultimately, the experience of God—all those aspects formed the core concerns determining and undergirding late medieval European short narratives at large (Fischer; The Social Function of Short-Form Medieval Narratives; Ziegeler; Grubmüller, Discourses on Love, Marriage). In this...


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