Motif Index of German Secular Narratives                 
Published by the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna
 Introduction   Matière de Bretagne   Chansons de Geste   Miscellaneous Romances   Oriental Romances   Heroic Epic   Maere and Novellas   Romances of Antiquity   Index 


Preface (PDF)
Introduction (PDF)
How to (PDF)
Bibliography (PDF)


This Motif-Index presents a comprehensive catalogue of motifs of the German secular narrative literature from the beginning to 1400, based on the method of Stith Thompson’s “Motif Index of Folk Literature”, Kopenhagen 1955–58. The genre-based catalogues of motifs are arranged by work in alphabetical order:

  1. Matière de Bretagne Part 1, 2 (MdB I, MdB II)
  2. Chansons de Geste (CdG)
  3. Miscellaneous Romances (MR)
  4. Oriental Romances (OR)
  5. Heroic Epic (HR)
  6. Maere and Novellas (MN)
  7. Romances of Antiquity (RoA)

This index has been prepared to classify narrative material of the German secular narrative literature from the beginning to 1400. The historical period concerned – between the beginning of German literature in the 9th century and 1400 – has been chosen for pragmatic reasons essentially. The year of 1400 however marks a clear line between medieval and early new High German literature, clearer than the usual mark of 1500 would do. The 15th century brings the prose versions of medieval romances (e.g. Tristrant, Wilhelm von Österreich, Wigalois), their style being closer related to the prose traductions of Elisabeth von Nassau Saarbrücken and to the chap-books than to the verse romances of the Middle Ages. Moreover the invention of the printing press changes the literary landscape deeply at that time. This justifies the historical limit of 1400.

Only German secular texts that have been published have been analyzed. Neither legends, nor biblical epic nor writings of predominantly religious content (as autobiographical mystic literature like Seuse’s biography or writings of religious didactic like Der Große Seelentrost) have been included. “Legend” means legend of saints: saints officially canonized by the Catholic church of the Middle Ages celebrated with a special feast and included in the Acta Sanctorum. Acting upon this principle the legends of Tundalus, Gregorius, Armer Heinrich, Orendel a.o. belong to our material, whereas the legend of Oswald is not part of it (St. Oswald, August 5th or 9th).

Biblical epic has been excluded as well (e.g. Wiener Genesis). Stories telling the tales of the Old or New Testament that may be found in our material have not been classified. Narrative literature that is neither legend nor biblical epic is considered as secular although there might be religious, allegorical or devotional accents to be found in it (like e.g. in the Grail romances) as well as holy persons or objects (the grey coat in Orendel, the Grail and so on).

Only narrative texts have been included, that means texts of predominantly epic character. There is no interference with the dramatic and lyric genre, although a romance might contain lyric passages (as Ulrich’s von Liechtenstein Frauendienst). In such a case, the lyric passages are not classified.

Some difficulties arise from the tone of a text. Even if its “character” is mainly narrative, in the Middle Ages the text will always be more or less didactic as well. If this didactic attitude becomes predominant, the text belongs to the separate genre of didactic. Didactic also can “in eine Erzählung eingekleidet sein, also didaktische Epik oder epische Didaktik” (EHRISMANN). The latter will comprise bîspel and its special form, the animal fable. The difference between didactic epic and epic didactic is not easily to be defined. Didactic texts that are predominantly narrative are part of our corpus: among them the fables of Boner, the bîspels of the Stricker, and the maere.

Allegorical as well as panegyrical works might tell a story but nevertheless their allegorical and symbolic content is so specific that it is more appropriate to exclude those texts. Historiography has been excluded for pragmatic reasons.