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  • Ivan Hovorun

The story of Tannhäuser.

Updated: Jan 12, 2019



Tannhäuser as a legend



Once upon the time, Tannhäuser was going to a singing contest in Wartburg and he saw the goddess Venus at Gerzelberg, who lured him to her grotto.


There, he spent seven years in fun and entertainment.

Fearing that he had destroyed his soul prompted him to part with the goddess and seek absolution in Rome, with Pope Urban.


Pope indignantly refused this request, saying that his papal staff would rather give fresh shoots than God would forgive such a great sinner.


With grief, Tannhäuser returned to the divine, beautiful, charming Venus in Gerzelberg.

In the meantime, the staff let out the shoots, and the pope ordered to find the sinner forgiven by God - but he could no longer be found.


Tannhäuser must remain in Gerzelberg until the Last Judgment, when the Lord finally decides his fate.


At the entrance to the cave of Gerzelberg, the kind genius of the German legends, "the faithful Eckart" , who does not allow anyone into the cave, is put in charge.


In this tale, medieval moods are manifested: languor over ancient and native paganism and dissatisfaction with the austere severity of the clergy.


Tannhäuser as a historical character


Tannhäuser’s historical biography is intertwined with legend about German Knight Ministerial, a descent of the Tanhusen family of Imperial ministeriales, with their residence in the area of Neumarkt in the Bavarian Nordgau.


He was born at the beginning of the thirteenth century and died before 1273.

Tannhauser probably did not participate in the minstrel contest, also known as the Wartburgkrieg, as at that time he was a child.

The Wartburg contest was a contest among minstrels at the Wartburg castle in Thuringia, Germany, in 1207.

He might have fought in the Sixth Crusade led by Emperor Frederick II in 1228/29, and as a supporter of the emperor, always quarreling with the popes.


He had an unpleasant encounter with Pope Urban IV, who occupied the Papacy from 1261 to 1264 and played an important role in the legend of Tannhäuser.


The Sixth Crusade started in 1228 as an attempt to regain Jerusalem. It began seven years after the failure of the Fifth Crusade and involved very little actual fighting.


The diplomatic manoeuvring of the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, resulted in the Kingdom of Jerusalem regaining some control over Jerusalem for much of the ensuing fifteen years, as well as over other areas of the Holy Land.


For a while, Tannhäuser was an active courtier at the court of the Austrian duke Frederick the Warlike, who ruled from 1230 to 1246.


Frederick was the last of the Babenberg dukes. In his songs Tannhäuser states that the village and the estate were granted to him by the duke.


Upon the death of Frederick the Warlike in the Battle of the Leitha River, Tannhäuser left the Vienna court.


According to his own songs, “he ate and proclaimed his estate, as beautiful women, good wine and tasty snacks and a bath twice a week cost him dearly”; he fell into need and was forced to wander a wandering knight, and the householders were more pleased with his departure than with the arrival. "


From the songs of Tannhäuser it can be seen that the Emperor Frederick II Hohenstaufen and Otto II the Duke of Bavaria, favoured him.


Tannhäuser proudly states in his songs that, being a staunch supporter of Hohenstaufen, he would not go to seek protection in Thuringia.


Speaking of Thuringia, Tannhäuser obviously implies the descendants of the Landgraf of Thuringian and the Palatine of Saxon Hermann I, the organizer of the Wartburg contest of singers, who died in 1217.


Tannhäuser as a Ministeriale


Tannhäuser was a proponent of the peculiar “leich” style of minnesang and dance-song poetry.


Leich is a round dance song, love song or May song, with frequent changes in tempo and with fast passages up and down, across the whole range of stringed instruments accompanying the song.


These songs are affected by the cheerful and sensual personality of Tannhäuser, who praised dances with beautiful women in a flourishing meadow under the linden and herding pleasures with faithful Kunigunda.


At some times, the historical Tannhäuser is no stranger to sentiments of a sincerely religious nature.


As literature, his poems parody the traditional genre with irony and hyperbole, somewhat similar to later commercium songs.


However, his Bußlied is unusual, given the eroticism of the remaining Codex Manesse.


The magical place of Gerzelberg may be located near Hörselberge, the large ridge near Eisenach in Wartburgkreis, western part of Thuringia.

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