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The Sängerkrieg, or contest of minstrels, was an event which (supposedly) took place at Wartburg Castle in Germany in the early 13th century. Since its veracity is disputed, I assume there weren't any contemporary written accounts of it, so presumably the story of the Sängerkrieg lasted a long time in purely oral form. My question is: how long, exactly?

In other words, when was the first written version of either 1) the tale of the event itself or 2) the actual songs which were supposedly recited there? I'm especially curious about the latter, to see how long these songs lasted as oral tradition while being linked to a specific event.

  • "Since its veracity is disputed, I assume there weren't any contemporary written accounts of it, so presumably the story of the Sängerkrieg lasted a long time in purely oral form." These aren't the best assumptions to be making here. – user111 Sep 15 '17 at 20:40
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    @Hamlet Originally my question was phrased more like "were there any contemporary written accounts", but then I decided that would be a silly question since if there were any (that had survived), then surely nobody would be doubting that the thing happened at all. – Rand al'Thor Sep 15 '17 at 22:11
  • "then surely nobody would be doubting that the thing happened at all." written accounts are not as reliable as people think. For example, there could be a written account, but the written account could be mixed in with stories that scholars know are fictional. – user111 Sep 15 '17 at 22:36
  • I am finding references that it was actually put down as an event in the Vita S. Elisabeth by Dietrich of Apolda. That leads to a Springer PDF with the following: The first case study is the life of Elisabeth of Thuringia written by Dietrich of. Apolda in Latin prose between 1289 and 1297.31 When describing the situation at the court of Landgrave Hermann I of Thuringia, Dietrich gives the following account of the song contest in book 1, chapter 1 of the Vita: In huius palacio et familia but the Springer PDF is a stub, I don't have acess. – JohnP May 3 '18 at 20:55
  • @JohnP I do have access to the Springer PDF, but not sure how/if I can share that here. Thanks for the tip! – Rand al'Thor May 3 '18 at 21:26
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From what I can find, they existed in written form from quite early in the 13th century, and it wasn't until the 19th century that the veracity of the event was challenged.

From the wiki on Sangerkreig:

The oldest poetic accounts, dating from the 13th century, describe specific episodes of the contest such as the Fürstenlob and the Rätselspiel.

The Fürstenlob ("princely praise") was a contest among six minstrels: Heinrich von Ofterdingen, Walther von der Vogelweide, Biterolf, Reinmar von Zweter, Wolfram von Eschenbach and Heinrich Schreiber. The six singers were placed before the Count and Countess of Thuringia, in order to determine which best understood how to sing praises of a prince. Heinrich von Ofterdingen was the most eloquent, but earned the envy of the other minstrels, who tricked him into earning a death sentence. Heinrich gained the protection of Countess Sophia and a one-year reprieve, during which he went to Hungary and sought the assistance of the sorcerer Klingsor. Heinrich and Klingsor returned to Thuringia to resume the contest.

The Rätselspiel ("mystery game") was the subsequent poetic duel between Wolfram von Eschenbach and the Hungarian sorcerer Klingsor. Wolfram proved himself capable and eloquent, and when Klingsor grew weary he summoned a demon to continue the duel. When Wolfram began to sing of the Christian mysteries, the demon was unable to respond.

The book Kierkegaard Journals also references it as a 1260 work of anonymous poems (Much snipped) and also mentions the Furstenlob and the Ratelspiel:

...the anonymous cycle of poems "Sangerkrieg auf der Wartburg" [Poetic Contest at the Wartburg Castle] from ca. 1260 ...

The Brothers Grimm also describe it in their German Legends from 1816 (emphasis mine):

The original poetry, which is at least partially in almost all medieval song manuscripts, must have been written down in the 50s of the 13th century, the dating of the singer war by the Brothers Grimm is - but if you look at those involved - but sure chosen wisely

So it looks like the legend arises from works in the 1250's, and only relatively recently was the veracity of the events challenged.

  • "must have been written down in the 50s of the 13th century" - good info, but what's their source for that? Indeed, what is that website exactly? Is it a translation of the Grimm stories, or a blogger talking about them, or what? – Rand al'Thor May 3 '18 at 21:19
  • @Randal'Thor - I had assumed when I read the translated page that it was a partial transcript, but on rereading I'm not sure, it might just be a translation of a German blog page which accounts for the language appearance. – JohnP May 7 '18 at 20:58

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