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The Lay of Ludwig | Das Ludwigslied

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Introduction to the Text

Das Ludwigslied (or the Lay of Ludwig) is a historical narrative poem consisting of 59 rhyming couplets. It chronicles the life of Ludwig (Louis III of France), and his personal relationship with God, culminating in the victory of the Franks over the Vikings at the Battle of Saucourt-en-Vimeu, which took place in August of 881 CE. The poem has prominent Christian themes, and portrays God as playing an active role in human events, both sending the Vikings to punish the Franks and convincing Ludwig to lead the Frankish army against the invaders. The author of the text is unknown, but was likely a monk at the Frankish monastery of Saint-Amand, in what is now Belgium. Another text in the same manuscript was written by the same scribe in Old French, implying that he may have come from Germany and been multilingual. Ludwig died only one year after the battle chronicled in the poem, yet the poem makes no mention of his death and refers to him as though he is still alive, leading many scholars to conclude that the poem was written in the intervening year (881-882 CE).

The poem is written in Old High German, and scholars speculate that it may be the only surviving text written in West Franconian dialect that was spoken by the Carolingian Court. It was transmitted in only one manuscript, and has been of interest to scholars since its discovery in the 18th century, before it was lost and rediscovered in the 19th century, making it one of the first Old High German texts to be studied by scholars of medieval vernacular literature.

Scholars have been fascinated by the poem’s portrayal of God, as he plays a much more active role than in most medieval Christian texts. Some have argued that his personal guardianship of Ludwig is a trace of pagan polytheism in an otherwise Christian context.

Further Reading

Murdoch, Brian. Old High German Literature. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1983. Print.

Bostock, John K, K C. King, and D R. McLintock. A Handbook on Old High German Literature. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976. Print.

Schwarz, W. “The ‘Ludwigslied’, a Ninth-Century Poem.” The Modern Language Review, vol. 42, no. 4, 1947, pp. 467–473. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3716800.

Credits

Transcription by Hannah Frakes (from edition)Translation by Hannah FrakesEncoded in TEI P5 XML by Hannah Frakes