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Otfrid of Weissenburg

Otfrid of Weissenburg

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Otfrid of Weissenburg (c. 800 - after 870) was a monk at the abbey of Weissenburg
St. Peter and St. Paul's Church, Wissembourg
St. Peter and St. Paul's Church of Wissembourg is frequently, but incorrectly, referred to as the second largest Gothic church of Alsace after Strasbourg Cathedral. However, the building, with its interior ground surface area of 1320 m² most probably is the second largest Gothic church in...

 (modern-day Wissembourg
Wissembourg is a commune in the Bas-Rhin department in Alsace in northeastern France.It is situated on the little River Lauter close to the border between France and Germany approximately north of Strasbourg and west of Karlsruhe. Wissembourg is a sub-prefecture of the department...

 in Alsace
Alsace is the fifth-smallest of the 27 regions of France in land area , and the smallest in metropolitan France. It is also the seventh-most densely populated region in France and third most densely populated region in metropolitan France, with ca. 220 inhabitants per km²...

) and the author of a gospel harmony
The Diatessaron is the most prominent Gospel harmony created by Tatian, an early Christian apologist and ascetic. The term "diatessaron" is from Middle English by way of Latin, diatessarōn , and ultimately Greek, διὰ τεσσάρων The Diatessaron (c 160 - 175) is the most prominent Gospel harmony...

 in rhyming couplets
A couplet is a pair of lines of meter in poetry. It usually consists of two lines that rhyme and have the same meter.While traditionally couplets rhyme, not all do. A poem may use white space to mark out couplets if they do not rhyme. Couplets with a meter of iambic pentameter are called heroic...

 now called the Evangelienbuch. It is written in the South Rhine Franconian
Rhine Franconian
Rhine Franconian , or Rhenish Franconian, is a dialect family of West Central German. It comprises the German dialects spoken across the western regions of the states of Saarland, Rhineland-Palatinate, and Hesse in Germany...

 dialect of Old High German
Old High German
The term Old High German refers to the earliest stage of the German language and it conventionally covers the period from around 500 to 1050. Coherent written texts do not appear until the second half of the 8th century, and some treat the period before 750 as 'prehistoric' and date the start of...

. The poem is thought to have been completed between 863
Year 863 was a common year starting on Friday of the Julian calendar.- Europe :* Constantine I succeeds as king of Scotland ....

 and 871
Year 871 was a common year starting on Monday of the Julian calendar.- Europe :* Nine battles are fought between the Danes and Wessex...

. Otfrid is the first German poet whose name we know from his work. He studied under Hrabanus Maurus at Fulda
Fulda is a city in Hesse, Germany; it is located on the river Fulda and is the administrative seat of the Fulda district .- Early Middle Ages :...

 and had moved to Weissenburg by 830. Apart from the Evangelienbuch, he is the author of a number of works in Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, including biblical commentary and glossaries
A glossary, also known as an idioticon, vocabulary, or clavis, is an alphabetical list of terms in a particular domain of knowledge with the definitions for those terms...


With 7104 couplets, the Evangelienbuch is the first substantial literary work and the first use of rhyme in German literature
German literature
German literature comprises those literary texts written in the German language. This includes literature written in Germany, Austria, the German part of Switzerland, and to a lesser extent works of the German diaspora. German literature of the modern period is mostly in Standard German, but there...

 - surviving earlier German poetry is alliterative
Alliterative verse
In prosody, alliterative verse is a form of verse that uses alliteration as the principal structuring device to unify lines of poetry, as opposed to other devices such as rhyme. The most commonly studied traditions of alliterative verse are those found in the oldest literature of many Germanic...

. It is not certain whether Otfrid's choice of form was inspired by Latin models or by vernacular
A vernacular is the native language or native dialect of a specific population, as opposed to a language of wider communication that is not native to the population, such as a national language or lingua franca.- Etymology :The term is not a recent one...

 verse which has not survived - Otfrid himself mentions laicorum cantus obscenus ("obscene song of the laiety"), of which there are no survivals.

Otfrid was fully aware of the novelty of his undertaking: the work starts with a section headed 'Cur scriptor hunc librum theotisce dictaverit' ('Why the author has written this book in the vernacular') explaining the reasons for writing in his native dialect rather than in the Latin one would expect for a religious work.

There are three dedications:
  • To Louis the German
    Louis the German
    Louis the German , also known as Louis II or Louis the Bavarian, was a grandson of Charlemagne and the third son of the succeeding Frankish Emperor Louis the Pious and his first wife, Ermengarde of Hesbaye.He received the appellation 'Germanicus' shortly after his death in recognition of the fact...

  • To Solomon I, Bishop of Constance
    Solomon I, Bishop of Constance
    Solomon I was the Bishop of Constance from an unknown date between 835 and 847 until his death. He was the first of an "episcopal dynasty" which ruled Constance until 919 and briefly held the Diocese of Freising from 884 until 906 and that of Chur from 913 until 949.In 847, his diocese was the...

  • At the end of the work, to his friends Hartmuat and Werinbert, monks at the Abbey of St. Gall
    Abbey of St. Gall
    The Abbey of Saint Gall is a religious complex in the city of St. Gallen in present-day Switzerland. The Carolingian-era Abbey has existed since 719 and became an independent principality during the 13th century, and was for many centuries one of the chief Benedictine abbeys in Europe. It was...

The dedication to Louis is followed by a letter in Latin prose to Luitbert, Archbishop of Mainz, in which Otfried explains the purpose of the work and discusses some of the problems, both orthgraphic and grammatical, of writing in German. He also gives the following outline of the structure of the Evangelienbuch:

I have, then, divided this book into five books. Of them the first
commemorates the birth of Christ; it ends with the baptism and the teaching
of John. The second, His disciples already having been called together,
tells how He revealed Himself to the world both by certain signs and by
His most brilliant teaching. The third tells a little about the brilliance
of the signs and the teaching to the Jews. The fourth tells then how,
approaching His passion, He willingly suffered death for us. The fifth
calls to memory His resurrection, His conversation afterwards with His
disciples, His ascension and the Day of Judgment. (Translation by James Marchand)

The poem is preserved in four manuscripts, one of which is fragmentary. All the manuscripts are contemporary, and the Vienna
Vienna is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Austria and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primary city, with a population of about 1.723 million , and is by far the largest city in Austria, as well as its cultural, economic, and political centre...

 manuscript (V) carries corrections which are generally considered to have been made by Otfrid himself. The Heidelberg
-Early history:Between 600,000 and 200,000 years ago, "Heidelberg Man" died at nearby Mauer. His jaw bone was discovered in 1907; with scientific dating, his remains were determined to be the earliest evidence of human life in Europe. In the 5th century BC, a Celtic fortress of refuge and place of...

 manuscript (P) also includes the Georgslied
The Georgslied is a set of poems and hymns to Saint George in Old High German.Its likely origin is Saint George's Abbey on the Reichenau monastic island on Lake Constance in Germany which was founded in 888 and was an important center for the veneration of Saint George...


External links


  • Otfrid von Weißenburg, Evangelienbuch Band I: Edition nach dem Wiener Codex 2687, Niemeyer 2004. (Edition of manuscript V) ISBN 3-484-64051-0.
  • Otfrids Evangelienbuch, 6th edn, ed. Ludwig Wolff, Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1973. (Altdeutsche Textbibliothek 49.)
  • Otfrid von Weißenburg, Evangelienbuch. Auswahl. Althochdeutsch/Neuhochdeutsch, Reclam 1987. (Selections with modern German translation) ISBN 3-15-008384-2.


  • J. Knight Bostock, A Handbook on Old High German Literature, 2nd edn, revised by K.C.King and D.R.McLintock, Oxford 1976.
  • W. Schröder "Otfrid von Weißenburg" in Die deutsche Literatur des Mittelalters. Verfasserlexikon (de Gruyter, 1989), Vol. 7.