Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival.
A New Critical Electronic Edition


Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival ranks as one of the most significant narrative works to emerge from medieval Europe. Composed between 1200 and 1210, it combines the Arthurian material of Celtic origin with the religious subject-matter of the Holy Grail. The central question in the work is how a world torn apart by contradictions and conflicts can again be rendered whole.
Within the fictitious garb of the Parzival-romance Wolfram confers upon this question a shape that transcends time, which has given rise to intense interest on the part of listeners and readers. The sheer number of medieval manuscripts preserving the poem today speaks for itself (16 medieval manuscripts, more than 70 fragments, and a print dating from 1477).
Ever since the late eighteenth-century revival of interest in the vernacular poetry of the Middle Ages, modern literary scholarship has concerned itself with Wolfram’s Grail romance. The interpretations that have been arrived at are as varied as they are controversial. Exegesis has, however, been based upon an edition which, although a masterpiece of its time, can no longer meet today’s expectations. Karl Lachmann’s Parzival edition of 1833 formed the standard basis for interpretation for generations of Germanists, but recent scholarship is agreed upon the necessity for a new edition, and has become increasingly discontented with working with a text that is generally acknowledged to be in need of revision.

Methodological context

The challenge presented to the editor of Parzival also relates to central problems in the theory of medieval philology today. Worthy of note in this context are phenomena such as the relationship between oral performance and its literary codification, the ensuing variability of medieval texts, as well as concepts of authorship and transmission, and their effects upon the way in which a text is presented.
To put it in its simplest terms, scholarly debate hinges upon two pivotal positions, which may be denoted by the keywords New Philology and New Phylogeny: New Philology emphasises the variety in transmission and the ensuing instability of medieval texts. Its tendency is to undermine the hierarchy of individual manuscript sources in the interest of the fundamentally variable, unstable status of medieval manuscript culture. New phylogeny, by contrast, clings to manuscript interrelations and groupings as the basis for the critical determination of the text. The term "phylogeny", which derives from evolutionary biology, denotes the race-history of breeds. Recently it has been applied to questions of manuscript interrelations. Research on Chaucer, for example, has attempted, in an article published in the magazine Nature to establish The Phylogeny of the Canterbury Tales (vol. 394, issue 6696, 27-8-1998, p. 839).
A new critical edition of Parzival will have to come to terms with the abundance of variant readings and the not inconsiderable problems of establishing a text against the methodological background of the polarity of New Philology and New Phylogeny. A challenge that was voiced in the Parzival scholarship of the 1960s now seems more relevant than ever before. It was then argued that it was necessary „to publish all the material that was collected for critical assessment before the question of manuscript interrelation could be clarified” (E. Nellmann). Perhaps the idea, when it was voiced in 1968, had an Utopian ring. Today, however, it can be put into practice, step by step, with the aid of computer technology, and at reasonable expense. A critical electronic edition will constitute a work-base that would be an indispensable prerequisite for any new edition of Parzival.

The Parzival-project

In a project sponsored by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF) and the German Research Council (DFG) currently three research team (based at Bern, Berlin, and Erlangen) are preparing the ground for a new electronic edition of Wolfram’s Parzival. Following the concept of ‚Fassungen‘ developped by Joachim Bumke, the team members work on an edition of four versions: *D (based on ms. D a.o.), *m (based on mss. mno a.o.), *G (based on ms. GI LM a.o.), and *T (based on mss. TU a.o.). The books I, II, IV, VIII, XV, and XVI have been edited following this method. At present the editions in four versions of the books IX, X, and XI is in preparation.

Sample edition

The possibilities offered by the synoptic representation of the manuscript sources on screen are shown on the site Editionsproben, which contains two edition types: editions of textual versions and editions of a single text (following the main ms. D, St-Gall, Abbey library, cod. 857). The latter shows in the upper left window a normalised text, based on the main manuscript D. In the lower left window is the apparatus of variants relating to this text. The windows on the right contain the transcriptions and facsimiles of the various manuscript sources. All the windows are internetted by hypertext-links and permit users an interactive interchange between base-text, apparatus of variants, transcriptions and facsimiles.
There is no doubt that, on the screen, the variability postulated by New Philology can be presented in much more lucid, visual terms than in conventional editions of texts. The critical apparatus of the traditional kind generally only present readings in punctual fashion, reproducing word-for-word variants. On the screen, however, the variety of readings in the manuscripts, in context, can be encompassed. The second important advantage of electronic display lies, however, in the presentation of manuscript groupings advocated by New Phylogeny. In this context, computer programmes open new fields of experiment and accelerate analytical processes. They facilitate the flexible disposition of manuscript groupings and enable the rapid revision of philological judgements concerning base manuscripts and stemmatic interrelations. Aided by this approach, even the question of the determination of parallel versions of early date, close to the author's original and their codification in the process of transmission could be tackled.
Thus electronic display enables a synthesis of philological positions, which might at first sight appear contradictory. Such a synthesis offers a work-tool, and an indispensable prerequisite for any future critical edition of Parzival. At the same time, the electronic display amounts to a form of edition which has its own peculiar nature and justification. It thus draws conclusions from the discussion concerning New Philology in the last decade, and leads this discussion towards a pragmatic editorial solution. From this a new Parzival-edition can emerge, which to some extent enables its users to participate in the editorial process, leaving to them the freedom to decide between different textual variants and the form in which they are transmitted in the manuscripts. The manuscript data produced by this process would be of interest to both literary and linguistic historians.
In employing this electronic medium, users are embedded in a century-old process of transmission - from the post-Gutenberg era they go back to the age before Gutenberg. Here the relevance of electronic editions of medieval texts in terms of cultural historiography becomes evident. These editions tally with developments in historiographical scholarship, which is devoting itself increasingly to mediality, to the history of transmission, to discourse analysis, and to anthropological problems. Political historiography, oriented towards great historical events, has given way to social historiography, history defined in terms of human labour, but that is now in turn being succeded by a focus upon mediality, transmission, and the preservation of historical data. Homo laborans is making way for homo tradens of historical anthropology.
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Zuletzt geändert am 28. Oktober 2013.
© Parzival-Projekt Universität Bern