Frogs, crime and power in the Middle Ages

Jans von Wien was one of the first authors of urban German. He lived in Vienna in the thirteenth century and wanted not only to educate his urban audience, but also to entertain them. His tales of emperors, kings, and popes are surprising and outrageous. German specialist in German and medieval expert Jessen Merck at the Academy of Sciences explains how this unusual work is classified.

Anyone who knows Vienna’s Ottakring district may have walked along Enenkelstrasse. There is also Enenkelstrasse in Linz. It is named after the poet Jans Enkel, who is also called Jan von Wen in research. He lived in Vienna in the late 13th century and wrote for an urban audience. His surviving works are “Chronicle of the World” and “Book of Princes”, which also contains the oldest mention of the red, white and red Austrian flag.

Vom 7. bis zum 9. September 2022 findet in der Wiener Hofburg eine vom Institut für Mittelalterforschung der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (ÖAW) veranstaltete internationale Tagung statt, die sich die mit dem ungewöhnöterstürz haltwert veranstalte internationale Tagung statt, die sich mit dem dem ungewöhnöterstürz haltsürk he is. German Jessen Merke, who studies in Chemnitz, will give a lecture on the topic “Unheard of with Jans von Wien. The novel in “Chronicle of the World” and “The Prince’s Book.” In an interview, Mierke explains exactly what this outrageous.

Stories from Vienna

Who was this Jan von Wen actually?

Jessen Merck: Austrian historian and storyteller. We know that he came from a wealthy Viennese family who could read and write, which of course was not the case at the time. In one of his texts he says that he is the grandson of Jan and owns a house in Vienna. Perhaps he also had a writer who could dictate his texts to him. His main themes were world history, as well as the history of Vienna.

Jans von Wien wanted to tell amusing and gruesome stories.

The writing wasn’t very formal at the time, how realistically could he talk about Vienna at all?

Merck: He was, of course, in a certain educational tradition, and used rhetorical themes, literary patterns and motifs, and made reference to other works. At the same time, in the “Book of Princes” he spoke in a very entertaining way about specific rulers, while “Chronicles of the World” talked more about salvation and world history.

Can one speak of early entertainment literature?

Merck: This is certainly a question that occupies the search: Why does he write in such an amusing tone? At that time, it was interesting to tell a lot of what was entertaining, even stories. He is also repeatedly described as a talkative. Other world records contain stories about good and bad rulers – and follow a clear concept. Jans von Wien was more interested in telling amusing and outrageous stories. In research, he is also referred to as a novelist.

cues from the story

Was Jans von Wien an early gossip columnist?

Merck: This is certainly an exaggeration, but it poses a mystery to researchers: What is the meaning of his stories? For example, he tells of Charlemagne, who was generally seen as an ideal ruler, that after the death of his wife he continued to have sex with her. An emperor practicing necrophilia was a story that was sure to astound his audience. Emperor Nero, who is considered an example of a bad ruler in his own right, gives birth to a frog in Jans.

Emperor Nero, who is considered an example of a bad ruler in his own right, gives birth to a frog in Jans.

Do these stories have morals?

Merck: It is certainly about coexistence between man and woman, marriage, desire and control. In general, one could say that sex, crime and power were his central themes to describe human coexistence. What is important is that he writes for a newly established urban Vienna audience that affirms or even questions certain norms and values. Literature is an ideal medium through which this can be negotiated.

Falsehood and truth

So did he take the liberty of a certain mutt?

Merck: Certainly, that is what is innovative in his work. It oscillates between poetry and historiography, frequently mentioning oral informants, but also taking a few things from court novels and chats in a sometimes very amusing way. He was familiar with Latin in one form or another, but also with vernacular poetry, and recompiled the well-known narrative motifs, and he clearly had a lot to tell.

Sex, crime, and power were his central themes to describe human coexistence.

Were his texts presented orally or were handwritten copies in circulation?

Merck: This is a central question regarding the reception of medieval literature. For the court period and his novels, we know that literature was widely read. However, Chronicles of the World are very dense texts, and there are many copies that were certainly more intended for a reading audience. In addition, some manuscripts are artistically designed and some episodes are fitted with miniatures. Supposedly, Jan from Vienna had access to the Vienna Schottenkloster Library. But there are also stories in which he used Jewish motifs and sources. Therefore, he must have been in close contact with the Jewish community in Vienna.

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