The experience of and attitude toward time in medieval German literature from the early middle ages to the fifteenth centuries

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The present article explores the way how medieval people thought about time and organized their lives in light of the constant passing of time. Whereas modern philosophers and historians have generally credited the Middle Ages with a radically different time concept in contrast to the modern world, here I will argue that occasionally the differences were considerably less stringent and perhaps not even existent. Often, quite naturally, the mental-historical framework was deeply influenced by the Catholic Church which perceived human life within the extremes of life and death, or of secular time and eternity. The analysis will take us from Old High German heroic epic poetry represented by the "Hildebiandslied" with its noteworthy emphasis on the many years in which the father did not see his son, to the late Middle Ages when Oswald von Wolkenstein, through his poetry, and Helene Kottannerin, through her unique diary, indicated their full awareness of the meaning of time in its measurable quality. Not every author reflected the same concept of time, and many of them simply took their readers to the timeless world of King Arthur. Other authors, however, such as the Stricker, expressed a clear idea of time almost in the modern sense of the word by way of positioning their protagonists in problematic situations when they are suddenly pressed for time and need to reach painful decisions. The article does not intend to blur the differences between the Middle Ages and our own cultural period, but it wants to deconstruct the romantic sentiment that the consciousness of time prevalent in the Middle Ages was completely different to the modern concept of time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)135-154
Number of pages20
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Law


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