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Project D3

Knights, Rulers and Heroes: Warrior-Elites as Heroes in the European High Middle Ages


Prof. Dr. Stefan Tilg
Dr. Anna Novokhatko
Dennis Pulina

Department of Romance Languages and Literature

From the writings of Homer to the early modern period, what society considers to be "heroic" has been characterized in European literature in the form of carmen heroicum epos. This project examines the burgeoning, but often neglected, tradition of Latin epos in the early modern period by analyzing the epic portrayal of Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor (1459-1519).

This example lends itself to study for various reasons: Maximilian was not only an extraordinary figure of European history; he was also the focus of the discourse about heroes during his time. We only need to remember his collection of Middle High German epics in his Ambras Book of Heroes or his self-dramatization as a knightly hero in Theuerdank. Part of the larger discourse about heroes originates from the literary epics in Maximilian's courtly milieu: for instance, R. Sbrulio adapted Theuerdank into Latin hexameter, G. S. Emiliano "Cimbriacus" wrote of Maximilian's youth and early reign in Enconmiastica and R. Bartolini recounted the emperor's role in the War of the Succession of Landshut in Austrias. Outside his court, parties that were hostile to Maximilian also penned epic texts such as S. Lemnius's Raeteis, the modern Swiss national epic, as well as a number of short French epics. Because a few of the texts that are analyzed in this project also served as models for later epics north of the Alps, Maximilian can also be seen as model for epic heroes in general.

The texts selected for this project will be analyzed in various ways: as elements of an epic tradition that stretches back to antiquity, in the context of a political and literary propaganda war, and as a template for the heroization (and demonization) of a ruler. As a part of his dissertation project, Dennis Pulina is writing about the epic discourse surrounding Maximilian, while contextualizing his depiction with regard to a changing heroic model (such as those in tales about knights) and contemporary political ideologies. He also explores how heroism is constructed through epic narrative. Beyond this central theme, this project additionally analyzes the later reception of the Maximilian epics (for example in a number of further Austrias epics). Finally, a conference will be organized that will be devoted to the topic of the heroization of Maximilian in the literature and art of his time.