1902 Encyclopedia > Germany > [German Literature] Ancient Period

(Part 31)


Ancient Period

There is a deep vein of poetry in the Teutonic nature, and it appears to have revealed itself in the earliest ages. According to Tacitus, the Germans of his time had ancient songs relating to the god Tuisco, his son Mannus, and the three forefathers of the Teutonic race. They had also poems in honour of Arminius, the original subject of which was probably the god Irmin, whose pillar Charles the which was probably the god Irmin, whose pillar Charles the Great overthrew long afterwards in his first campaign against the Saxons. A song called "barditus," celebrating the greatness of the war-god whom Tacitus calls Hercules, was sung or chanted by the freemen as they advanced to battle. The name "barditus" led some ingenious writers of the 18th century to speculate respecting an order of bards among the ancient Germans ; but there is no evidence that any such order existed. "Barditus" meant in the first instance a shield, and was transferred to the song because, while the singing went on, the shield was held to the mouth to make the sound more terrible. It is the opinion of many critics that the stories of "Reynard the Fox" and "Isengrim the Wolf" may be traded back to these remote times. If so, the probability is that they were brought by the Teutons From Asia, and were originally common to the Aryan family. There is every reason to believe that some elements of the Nibelungenlied belong to the prehistoric age. The legend of Siegfried has all the marks of extreme antiquity, and it seems to have had at first a purely mythological character. Of the rhythm in which these primitive conceptions were embodied we have no certain knowledge ; but as the most ancient poems which have been preserved are in alliterative verse, it is reasonable to assume that this had grown up long before writing came into use.

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