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Rudolf von Ems
(Hohenems in Switzerland).
A Middle High German epic poet of the thirteenth century. Almost nothing is known of his life. He himself tells us that he was in the service of the Counts of Montfort and from the anonymous continuator of the "Weltchronik" we learn that the poet died "in welschen richen", i.e. in Italy, whither he had probably gone with King Konrad IV, about 1254. He professes himself a follower of Gottfried von Strassburg, for whom he entertains the greatest admiration, but his moralizing and didactic tendency differs strikingly from Gottfried's joyous sensualism, and he is prone to diffuseness and redundancy. In the choice of subjects he shows a predilection for those that are learned, and he generally draws from Latin sources. The earliest of his extant poems and one of the best is "Der gute Gerhard" in which the simple piety of an humble merchant of Cologne puts to shame the pharisaical ostentation of the Emperor Otto. The didactic tendency is very conspicuous in the poem "Barlaam und Josaphat", which treats a well-known Christian legend that seems to have its root in Buddhist sources and which on account of its glorification of the ascetic life and its defense of Christianity against Paganism was a favorite subject with medieval poets. Another poem on a legendary subject, the conversion of St. Eustace, which Rudolf mentions among his works, has not been preserved. "Wilhelm von Orlens", a courtly epic with a conventional love story, is based on a French original and was written for one Konrad von Winterstetten (d. 1241). Rudolf's most ambitious efforts were the historical epics "Alexander" and "Weltchronik". For the former the chief sources are the "historia de preliis" and the work of Curtius Rufus. The "Weltchronik" was undertaken at the request of King Konrad IV and was to be a complete history of the world from the beginning to the poet's own time. But death intervened and the story breaks off with King Solomon's reign. An anonymous poet then took up the subject and, making free use of Rudolf's material as well as drawing on Godfrey of Viterbo's "Pantheon", he gave a version that carried the story as far as the Book of Judges. This second recension, usually called the "Christ-Herre-Chronik", from its opening words, was subsequently still further amalgamated with Rudolf's version and amplified by various continuators, notably one Heinrich von München (fourteenth century). In this form the work became very popular and was finally resolved into prose.
"Der gute Gerhard" was edited by Haupt (Leipzig, 1840); "Barlaam und Josaphat" by Pfeiffer (Leipzig, 1843). Of the other works there are as yet no critical editions. A MS. reprint of a "Willehalm von Orlens" was given by Victor Junk in "Deutsche Texte des Mittelalters" (Berlin, 1905), II; selections from "Alexander" by Junk in "Beitrage zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache" (1904), 29, 369-469; from "Weltchronik", by Vilmar, "Die zwei Rezensionen und die Handschriftenfamilien der Weltchronik Rudolfs v. E." (Marburg, 1839).
KRUGER, Stilistische Untersuchungen uber R. v. E. als Nachahmer Gottfrieds (Lubeck, 1896); ZINGERLE, Die Quellen zum Alex. des R. v. E. in WEINHOLD AND VOGT, Germanistische Abhandlungen IV (Breslau, 1885); ZEIDLER, Die Quellen von Rudolfs v. E. Wilhelm von Orlens (Berlin, 1894); JUNK, Die Epigonen des hofischen Epos in Sammlung Goschen, no. 289 (Leipzig, 1906), 16-62.
ARTHUR F.J. REMY