Frits van Oostrom, Stemmen op Schrift (2006)

Frits van Oostrom, Stemmen op Schrift, Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse Literatuur vanaf het begin tot 1300 (2006) 550p.

The Dutch Language Union (Nederlandse Taalunie) has endeavored on a unique project in the field of literary history, rewriting the complete history of Dutch literature from its very beginning in the 12th century to our time. The first of many tomes covers the era of earliest works in Dutch spoken language to 1300. Frits van Oostrom is not only an internationally renowned scholar in Medieval linguistics but also an acclaimed scientist, among other being the president of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). But in my humble opinion his greatest achievement is being a small part to this fantastic effort to compile an encyclopedic overview of Dutch literature.

Van Oostrom’s contribution culminates in his closing argument for Jacob van Maerlant. Van Maerlant is one of the great names of the early era of literature written in the popular languages in Europe. What Dante is to Italian language and literature, Shakespeare to English language and literature, there the Netherlands and Belgium have Van Maerlant, at least Van Oostrom ends his majestic part. No doubt, he expresses and emphasizes the importance of a man, whom Van Oostrom has made it his life’s work to study, thereby placing some of his idleness in the same scale as his subject of study is weighed with. But we should not hold this against Van Oostrom, but to praise is heartfelt devotion to this cause, a cause that rises above the minor shortcoming of a single man.

Dutch literature starts at the courts of the nobility in the periphery of Carolingian power in present day Limburg. Courtly literature of the 12th century was read for entertainment at court meetings, glorifying battle, heroicism, and love. Hendrik van Veldeke is the best and earliest example that remains to us, and is considered by both German and Dutch linguistics as a founding father of their respective national literary histories. As most of the early popular language stories, they were translations and elaborations of either Latin or French sources. One of Van Veldeke’s main works, the Eneas discussed a popular theme at the knightly gathering, the story of Eneas. A second work was a so-called vita of the saint Servas, Sente Servas, who according to legend had received the key from Saint Peter, who on his turn had received the key from Christ. The story thus confirmed the contemporary claim of the Carolingian empire to both secular as spiritual power.

Minor translations; Tristan, Saint Brandais, Charlemagne, King Arthur (Moriaen, Lancelot)

Lives of the saints (local saints: Lutgard, Christina de Wonderbare, Beatrijs van Nazareth, Hadewijch), translations of the Gospels

Willem, Van Den Vos Reynaerde
Jacob van Maerlant, Alexanders Geesten, Historie van den Grale/Merlijns Boec, Historie van Troyen, Heimelijkheid der heimelijkheden, Der naturen bloeme, Spiegel historiael (1271), Rijmbijbel

Frits van Oostrom
Stemmen op Schrift
Nederlandse Taalunie
Instituut voor Nederlandse Lexicologie
Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW)
Hendrik van Veldeke @wikipedia

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