Depiction and Development of the Knight Hero in Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival

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Wolfram von Eschenbach’s epic poem Parzival stands as one of the richest and most profound literary works to have survived from the middle ages. Lost in obscurity for centuries until rediscovered and republished by Karl Lachmann in 1833, the poem enjoyed at least as great a popularity when it was first composed as it does among today’s readers: Some eighty manuscripts have been preserved, in whole or in part, from Wolfram’s era (Poag 40). Among the more intriguing aspects of the work is
Wolfram’s handling of the depiction and development of two of the story’s primary characters, the knights Gahmuret and Parzival, father and son. Central to the action of the text from its inception, yet never sharing a scene, these men
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Background and General Characteristics of the Poem
Little is known of Wolfram’s life; even the dates of his birth and death are uncertain (Hasty ix). Perhaps for this reason, Poag begins his biographical discussion of
Wolfram with an extended description of life under the reign of Frederic Barbarossa
(13). Due to the paucity of reliable sources (outside the scant information given by
Wolfram in Parzival itself), scholars are left largely to surmise and suppose what kind of man Wolfram was and how he lived. André Lefevere recognizes that Wolfram was himself a knight, as the poet reminds his audience on several occasions (vii). He was, furthermore, a ministeriale—one of the poorer class of knights without significant land holdings or an important title—in a society and era in which knights were, for various political reasons, being increasingly denied the influential duties and responsibilities which were their raison d’etre (vii-viii). The intensifying societal disadvantages with which knights of his day had to contend may help explain why Wolfram depicts his fictional knights as nobler, essentially, than members of the nobility of his day. Lefevre goes on to assert convincingly that much of Parzival’s action and plot stems from the marginalization of honor and loyalty which Wolfram must have experienced; that is to say that, in order to respond to a world in which

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