Sunday, 16 February 2014

The Wonders of the WWW

or How to Spend a Profitable Afternoon. (It’s still raining)

What started me off I no longer know.  I remember I was idly looking for poetry by Wilhelm Busch, to enliven a meeting of the German Conversation Group next week.  Heinrich Christian Wilhelm Busch (1832-1908) was a German humorist, poet, illustrator and painter. He published comic illustrated cautionary tales from 1859; the one most people know is the tale of Max Und Moritz, a Rascals’ History in Seven Tricks:

Ah, how oft we read or hear of
boys we almost stand in fear of.
For example, take these stories
of two youths, named Max and Moritz
. . . . . . .

Busch was a wise old bird and I enjoyed my trip down memory lane. How Busch led to Tannhauser I have no idea now, but Tannhauser was the next port of call. I am frequently surprised that the obscure subjects which interest me can be found on the internet at all;  I am duly grateful, nevertheless.

Wagner’s Opera Tannhauser is well-known; I wasn’t after Wagner, I was after the legend on which Wagner based his libretto. Tannhauser was a knight who,  based on his Bußlied, (song of atonement) became the subject of legend. The story makes Tannhäuser a knight and poet who found the Venusberg, the subterranean home of Venus, and spent a year there worshipping the goddess. Not from afar, either. As these things go, he duly became aware of his sinful behaviour, left the Venusberg, asked Pope Urban for forgiveness but was told that forgiveness was as likely as it would be for the papal staff to burst into blossom. Which it promptly did, it’s a legend, after all. But Tannhauser had already gone back to ground with Venus and was never seen again.

Tannhauser wasn’t only a legendary figure, he was an active courtier at the court of Frederic II in the 13th century,as I found when I clicked on a learned text, the Codex Manesse, the single most comprehensive source of Middle High German Minnesang poetry. The manuscript is famous for its colourful full-page miniatures, one each for 137 minnesingers.The Codex was compiled in the first half of the 14th century and lists the names of Minnesingers of the mid 12th to early 14th century, Tannhauser among them. (How he became the stuff of legend is not immediately apparent. I expect somebody somewhere knows but I’d have to go on clicking for a lot longer to find out.) The Codex itself has had a very turbulent destiny, having changed ownership in many wars, disputes, a succession of rulers and even for filthy lucre at times. Now it’s back in its spiritual home of the University Library of Heidelberg.

The www is a wonderful tool, but rather lonely. Beloved and I used to do this sort of journey of exploration via books in the old days; ending up with piles of them, each reference leading to another, until books and time ran out. So, come suppertime, I told him of my researches and we instantly fell into the old habit, minus the pile of books. Wagner’s Tannhauser came first, Beloved being knowledgable about opera, but then we went off at a tangent, confusing Tannhauser with Lohengrin, who is a character in German Arthurian literature. The son of Parzival (Percival), he is a knight of the Holy Grail sent in a boat pulled by swans to rescue a maiden who can never ask his identity. His story, which first appears in Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival, is a version of the Knight of the Swan legend known from a variety of medieval sources. Wolfram was a German knight and poet, regarded as one of the greatest epic poets of his time. As a Minnesinger, he also wrote lyric poetry. (The miniature is taken from the Codex Manesse, as is the one of Tannhauser above.)

Naturally Elsa, the maiden whom Lohengrin rescued and who became his wife, asked after his origin, which made Lohengrin take up boat and swan and disappear back down the Rhine, never to return.

We hadn’t quite finished with our exploration; having been to Kleve (Cleves) and the Schwanenburg with the tower from which the legendary Elsa espied her knight in shining armour floating down the Rhine to rescue her, we briefly revisited our memories of the trip but soon got back to more ancient times, i.e, Anne of Clevesthe Flanders Mare, who became Henry VIII 4th wife from January to July 1540. They clearly didn’t hit it off and the marriage was speedily annulled. Holbein’s painting of her is said to be more flattering than realistic.

Having arrived at Henry VIII, about whom we know far too much to feel the slightest interest in exploring him further than in theatrical plays on the stage, we finally gave up.

I had a lovely time, we both did. I even enjoyed writing this post.


  1. the www can be a cool place to get lost in...though it can def be lonely....
    you had a fun journey though...some really intriguing stuff on the codex..
    and venus and tannehauser...i dont know that i would have thought to go there
    but you took me there...smiles.

  2. I don't need to explore the WWW to learn something new, Friko - I have only to visit you. I like seeing how your mind works. Agile as ever, I see...

  3. Hallo Friko,
    schön, dass Du an unsere deutsche Geschichte erinnerst. Es ist sehr lange her, dass ich an der Schwanenburg in Kleve war. Ich habe sie nur von außen gesehen, und ich habe sie in einer sehr imposanten Erinnerung. Ist mit dem Venusberg, auf dem Tannhäuser war, unser Bonner Venusberg gemeint ? Mit der genauen Wortherkunft habe ich mich jedenfalls noch nicht genauer beschäftigt.

    Gruß Dieter

  4. I think Rosemary Crutchly played Anne in one of the early BBC/PBS renditions of the Six Wives of Henry VIII. Great actress, but very unmare-like. As for the trip down memory lane, when I saw the two faces of Max und Moritz, I immediately thought of the Raggedy Anne and Annie dolls.

  5. And I greatly enjoyed reading this post! A lovely journey for sure through WWW!

  6. Exploration with the minds. Always good to share with a Beloved.

  7. I absolutely Love this post, everything about it ... what fun and a great read.

  8. What a WONDERFUL way to spend the afternoon. Thank you, for sharing your wanders.

  9. You show the joy of scholarship for it's own sake! Lovely post that should be widely read.

    ALOHA from Honolulu
    Comfort Spiral

    =^..^= <3

  10. That was quite a journey that you traveled via the WWW. I learned a lot from you today. I still have a lot to learn.

  11. Well that has opened up a door I thought long closed!
    A friend - now dead many years - showed me Max und Moritz...
    The Venusberg and the Emperor Frederick I owe to my was the history of the minnesingers.
    And as for the Flanders mare..well, the aftermath got rid of Thomas Cromwell!

  12. This was a great post for me, Friko - I have loved "Die Manesse" from the first time I ever saw pictures of it, which must have been in my early teens. Your mentioning Friedrich II. has reminded me of two posts I have written about him; he is one of my "heroes"; not that I have posters of him tacked all over my bedroom walls or anything. One of these posts is this one:
    Your excursion into the world of medieval (and older) legends across the web shows one of the aspects I like so much about the whole thing. Like you, I loved surrounding myself with piles of books when going from one reference to the other, but it had to be done at the library. And now I can do it all from my desk at home, have a cup of coffee along with it (something unthinkable of at the library), and make it less lonely by writing about what I have found, just like you did with this post.
    Vielen Dank!

    1. Forgot to mention who much I enjoy Wilhelm Busch. He certainly was a very clever man. I seem to remember having read that he started out as a teacher and wrote his first language-play pieces to help his students develop a love for the language and to teach them how language can work.

  13. Good Day Friko - I use the internet a lot for research, however I still have my overwhelming Library here at home. It is wonderful to have so much knowledge at ones fingertips - it just delights me that I have such easy access and on the other hand, its wonderful friends like you who virtually present such great blogs. You are a source of wealth dear Friko, for I enjoy everything I have learned and read in your posts - I also enjoy your sense of humour. Have a wonderful day.

  14. I do not know enough about European history to have a decent conversation, but I am always intrigued when I visit the museums. One can find anything on the internet, but knowing its validity---provenance is another challenge.

  15. Dear Friko – You know how to spend a rainy afternoon. There is a time when I lose sight of what I really search for while doing Website hopping because there are inexhaustible links connected to one another.

    Looks like England has experienced the wettest and unusually warm weather and I’ve read about the flooding. I hope you are not affected..., at least by the floods.


  16. "The www is a wonderful tool, but rather lonely. Beloved and I used to do this sort of journey of exploration via books in the old days; ending up with piles of them, each reference leading to another, until books and time ran out. So, come suppertime, I told him of my researches and we instantly fell into the old habit, minus the pile of books." I'm going to remember that as a strategy. We've been housebound by snow all too much these past few days (J's vacation time, plus snow days) each with our laptop in hand, each silently following our chosen trail. J's has been WWI, as an archive, quite phenomenal, of millions of mss, like signal notes, is now available online. I'm on another music trail, and our paths rarely meet. I'd rather the shared pile of books and story swaps. Must give that a try, even if minus the books.

  17. I have spend many an hour on the WWW exploring things that I never knew and filling my mind with knowledge and wonderment.

  18. I was completely lost without the www last week and I mean seriously stressed! Lovely informative post....thank you!

  19. Wandering through the WWW is a marvelous thing, with trails leading off in every direction. The best part of your meander is the sharing of what you discovered with your beloved. I can just imagine the conversation, or our version of it.
    It's pouring rain here again. I need to run some errands, so the WWW will have to wait.

  20. the internet can suck away more time in the blink of an eye. one thing leading to another.

  21. Friko, I thank you so much for sharing these fruits of your recent www wandering. I found the trail quite fascinating. Sometimes when I have gone on similar twisting, turning investigations, I am so delighted with the results that I will make sure I share them with some of my like-minded work colleagues. It seems a great way to strengthen that sense of community a bit.

    My recent example of this is not at all scholarly. It was recently NYC Fashion Week when the major designers held runway shows to display the fall/winter 2014 collections. has an excellent site that can show you much more than you'd ever think you desired knowing about the shows. I really couldn't keep my reactions to some of these collections to myself!

    Best wishes. xo

  22. LIke you, Friko, I've meandered forth and got wonderfully lost. Most notably, recently, in the lost regiments of WW1 and thence to Dresden and WW2 and the horrific and highly suspect bombing of civilians and then to soldiers uniforms, often supplied by themselves and then....
    It's a marvellous tool and I see I am referenced sometimes in my blogposts when I write of my witnessing a bombing in my hometown, the only one so far who has written about it.
    I enjoyed your trek.

  23. Friko, not for the first time you have me and my tears welling up. Not because of the world wide web which sometimes is enough to drive one insane. But because of all those reference points you made in your post. It's late. I'll get my original Wilhelm Busch out now and reminisce.

    Apropos 'Parzival': May I recommend Adolf Muschg "Der Rote Ritter". To read the two in parallel is quite an experience. Auch auf meinem Buecherregal stehen sie nebeneinander.


  24. Im Nachlass Buschs gibt es eine Notiz „Durch die Kinderjahre hindurchgeprügelt“
    In den meisten der Bildergeschichten Wilhelm Buschs wird geprügelt, gepeinigt, verletzt und geschlagen:

    Für mich gibt es bei Wilhelm Busch keine erfreulichen Erinnerungen.

  25. I have read a bit about Anne of Cleeves. She's very interesting and kind of an enigma.


  26. Fascinating virtual travels -- I need to learn more about Tannhauser... As for the weather . . . there's only so much I can do in my own back yard. If I could I would send your rain to California which needs it badly.

  27. I too enjoy the Internet immensely! Using it the right way it is the greatest gift ever! :-)

  28. Dick and I sometimes get into a long afternoon of looking up one thing and another, and it really is fun, because one subject leads to the next, or maybe not...
    But this really reminded me of my youth, when my brother Clint and I used to haul out the encyclopedia in searches that went first one way and then another.
    As long as we are wondering, and looking, and gaining knowledge, I guess the vehicle doesn't really matter, but I do miss those days of lying on the floor with my brother, each of us with several volumes of the encyclopedia, tracking those elusive butterflies.

  29. Dear Friko, I don't know whether you follow or know about Kate Shrewsday's blog. She lives in England and is a gifted writer. In each post she explores some intriguing facet of history, just as you did in this posting. I think you might really enjoy her travels through the ages. The URL is as follows:

    When I was young--at home--we'd have conversations at supper and Mom and Dad would say, "Let's look that up after dishes." Then when supper was eaten and the dishes washed, rinsed, and put away, we'd all gather in the living room and begin to explore whatever the topic was that came up during supper. We'd start with one World Book Encyclopedia and that would lead us to another and often as not we'd have the entire set of 24 books strewn around the living room floor by the time Mom said, "Time for bed!" Such a good memory you brought back to me. Thank you. Peace.

  30. What a fun way to spend a raining day. I like the drawings by Busch; new to me, and very lively.

  31. Thank you for visiting and following my blog. I'm happy to 'know' you too.
    With Bush, and Brothers I must agree. Some memories are very painful, (for me.)

    Just today I received four new books by Mascha Kaléko,
    who is very close to my heart.

  32. Oh, the serendipity of the internet! I can spend (waste?) an awful lot of time on it if I'm not careful. Your mention of Wolfram von Eschenbach took me straight back to my university days when I studied mediaeval literature as part of my degree in German. Old High German, Middle High German, the Minnesingers - I even read Parzival in the original. I certainly couldn't do that now!

  33. Hi Friko - I think I should utilise this for my friends in Hamburg - but that might be a bridge too far! Cheers Hilary


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