Tracing the Trails in the Medieval World : Epistemological Explorations, Orientation, and Mapping in Medieval Literature book cover
1st Edition

Tracing the Trails in the Medieval World
Epistemological Explorations, Orientation, and Mapping in Medieval Literature

ISBN 9780367459697
Published October 12, 2020 by Routledge
332 Pages 2 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

Every human being knows that we are walking through life following trails, whether we are aware of them or not. Medieval poets, from the anonymous composer of Beowulf to Marie de France, Hartmann von Aue, Gottfried von Strassburg, and Guillaume de Lorris to Petrarch and Heinrich Kaufringer, predicated their works on the notion of the trail and elaborated on its epistemological function. We can grasp here an essential concept that determines much of medieval and early modern European literature and philosophy, addressing the direction which all protagonists pursue, as powerfully illustrated also by the anonymous poets of Herzog Ernst and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Dante’s Divina Commedia, in fact, proves to be one of the most explicit poetic manifestations of the fundamental idea of the trail, but we find strong parallels also in powerful contemporary works such as Guillaume de Deguileville’s Pèlerinage de la vie humaine and in many mystical tracts.

Table of Contents


Epistemological Explorations, Orientations, and Mapping.

Forging Ahead - Trailing and Orientation in Medieval

and Early Modern Literature

1. Beowulf’s Ways to Denmark, to the Monster, Home Again,

and the Path to the Dragon’s Layer

2. Herzog Ernst: A Traveler Explores the Eastern World:

Herzog Ernst and His Efforts to Find Himself Through Travel.

Or: Trails through a Political Jungle and an Exotic World in the East

3. The Lovers in Their Quest for the Right Trail and

the Trail of Love: Marie de France’s Lais

4. Right Paths, Wrong Paths, Circuitous Paths, Dead Ends,

and Religious Epiphany in Hartmann von Aue’s Gregorius.

Crossroads in a Christian Narrative

5. The Passage Toward Happiness: Trailing Through the World

in Search of Love: Gottfried von Straßburg’s Tristan

(together with some comments on Walther von der Vogelweide

and Wolfram von Eschenbach).

Where There is a Trail, There is Love!

6. The Walk Through the Garden of Love in Medieval Literature,

with a Focus on Le Roman de la rose by Guillaume de Lorris.

Dreamful Trailing and Awakening with Surprises

7. Dante and the Infinite Way Down to Hell and Beyond:

Hope or Despair, Just as the Trail Takes Us

8. Petrarch’s Search for His Own Self, Climbing Mont Ventoux

Trails Leading Upwards, not Downwards

9. The Experience of the World in Narrative and Graphic Form

Trailing through a Medieval Depiction of the Entire Earth

Literary Explorations and Medieval Maps (Ebstorf) and Charts


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Dr. Albrecht Classen is a University Distinguished Professor of German Studies at the University of Arizona focusing mostly on medieval and early modern literature and culture.


"Albrecht Classen's Tracing the Trails in the Medieval World does for literature what Albert Einstein did for physics with his General Theory of Relativity. Just as Einstein suggested that spacetime is curved by the mass and acceleration of physical bodies and their gravitational forces, Classen allows us to see the constellation that we call the Middle Ages as an event carved out of spacetime by authorial agencies and literary forces, enduring for a thousand years, and still affecting the ways in which we understand our present and our future. Focused on accounts of travel, journeys and movements in real and imagined spaces, by authors and fictional characters, the book establishes the primacy of stepping forth and venturing out, as the acts by which the world and the traveler come into being. Ontology and epistemology, in that way, are posited as effects of the kinetics and the serendipitous meanderings that make them possible in the first place. The four dimensions of spacetime, however, are not the only realms of interest to this study. Just as post-Einsteinian physics has endeavored to establish the existence of dimensions beyond those of sensory perception, Classen too proposes that the metaphorical effects inherent to literary language become passageways into a spiritual dimension, running as it were parallel to the tracks of our own world. Astrophysics translated into literary scholarship, cosmology rendered as cultural history, Tracing the Trails opens up entirely new ways of understanding how literature not only represents, but shapes, the universe in which we live, in effect pre-scripting and blazing the trails of our destinies and identities, also shedding light on the metaphysical and transcendental dimensions of our journeys."

Fidel Fajardo-Acosta 

Creighton University