The Wessobrunn Prayer (German: Wessobrunner Gebet, also Wessobrunner Schöpfungsgedicht, "Wessobrunn Creation Poem") is among the earliest known poetic works in Old High German, believed to date from the end of the 8th century.
Provenance and reception
The poem is named after Wessobrunn Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Bavaria, where the sole manuscript containing the text was formerly kept. The abbey was dissolved in 1803 and its library incorporated into the Bavarian Royal Library in Munich, under the signature Clm 22053. The script of the Latin title is uncial, that of the text Caroline minuscule. Paleographic characteristics of the script support production in Bavaria, with some Swabian influence, consistent with an origin in southern Bavaria, likely in the Diocese of Augsburg. The manuscript was probably not written at Wessobrunn, however (original monastery at Wessobrunn was destroyed in a Magyar raid in 955). Suggestions for the origin of the manuscript include Regensburg, Benediktbeuern, Staffelsee and Augsburg itself.
The manuscript is a convolution of five parts, with a total of 98 folia (numbered to 99, fol. 8 missing). The poem is contained at the end of the second fascicle (foll. 22-66), on foll. 65v/66r, following a collection of Latin excerpts on theology, geography and metrology. The date of composition is put in the reign of Charlemagne, roughly in the 790s (estimates range from "shortly after 772" to "shortly after 800"). The manuscript itself was written in the early 800s, most likely the years just predating 814.
The language has some Bavarian characteristics (cootlîh, paum, pereg) besides traces of Low German or Anglo-Saxon influence, specifically in the first line (dat is Low German; gafregin ih parallels OS gifragn ik and AS ȝefraeȝn ic). Anglo-Saxon influence is further suggested the scribe's representation of the word enti "and" (with one exception) by Tironian et (⁊), and by the use of a "star-rune" 🞵 (a bindrune combining g and i) to represent the syllable ga- shared by only one other manuscript, also Bavarian, viz., Arundel MS 393 in the British Library. This rune is analogous to the gilch rune in the so-called "Marcomannic runes" of Hrabanus Maurus (De Inventione Litterarum); also comparable in shape is the Old English io rune (ᛡ) and the Younger Futhark h rune (ᚼ). Perrett (1938) went as far as attempting the reconstruction of an Anglo-Saxon original of the poem.
The text was printed, without attempts at an interpretation, by Bernhard Pez in 1721, again in Monumenta Boica in 1767, under the title De Poeta * Kazungali, and again by Johann Wilhelm Petersen, Veränderungen und Epochen der deutschen Hauptsprache (1787).
The first edition of the text with philological commentary and translation is due to F. D. Gräter (1797). Gräter also included a facsimile of a copy by Wessobrunn librarian Anselm Ellinger (1758–1816). Gräter's edition was improved upon by the Brothers Grimm in 1812.
The word Kazungali printed in the 1767 transcription was interpreted as the name of the poem's author, but this was recognized as mistaken by Docen (1809). Rather, the word kazungali (equivalent to modern German Gezüngel) is a gloss for "poetry".
It is not found on the page of the poem, but four pages earlier (fol. 63r), where [ars] poetica is glossed with "
x kazungali" (with an "asterisk" symbol reminiscent of the "star-rune" but with horizontal bar). The editors of Mon. Boi. were thus inspired to transfer the Old High German gloss for "poetry" to the poem's Latin header.
The poem is in two sections: the first is a praise of creation in nine lines of alliterative verse. This is followed by a prayer in prose: Grimm (1812) and Massmann (1824) made attempts at the reconstruction of alliterating verses in the second part, but following Wilhelm Wackernagel (1827:9), the second part is now mostly thought to be intended as prose with occasional alliteration.
Some features in the first section reflect the language and idiom of Germanic epic poetry, using alliteration and poetic formulae known from the Anglo-Saxon and Old Saxon traditions (manno miltisto, dat gafregin ih).
The cosmological passages in the poem have frequently been compared to similar material in the Voluspa, and in the Rigvedic Nasadiya Sukta. Against this, Wackernagel (1827:17ff) holds that the emphasis of a creatio ex nihilo is genuinely Christian and not found in ancient cosmogonies.
|Close transcription||Normalized text||English translation|
Grimm (1812) and Massmann (1824) agree in the analysis of the first six verses, as shown above. They differ in their analysis of verses seven to nine, and they attempt to restitute an alliterative structure in the "prose" portion (for a total of 15 and 17 verses, respectively), as follows:
|Grimm (1812)||Massmann (1824)|
enti do was der |eino |almahtico cot,
|enti do uuas der |eino |almahtico cot,
The poem has been set to music many times in the 20th century. Arrangements include those by Heinrich Kaminski as part of the work Triptychon for voice and organ (1931), and by his pupil Carl Orff, published as part of the series Schulwerk (1950–54). Other settings include those by Hans Josef Wedig, op. 11, (Version 1) (1937), for male choir and organ, and a 1951 motet by Leopold Katt (1917–1965), Mir gestand der Sterblichen Staunen als der Wunder grösstes... (a free translation of the opening line based on the translation by Karl Wolfskehl).
One of the most unusual settings is by the German composer Helmut Lachenmann in his Consolation II (1968), in which component phonetic parts of the words of the prayer are vocalised separately by the 16 solo voices in a texture of vocal 'musique concrète'. More recent interpretations by composers in the classical tradition include those by Felix Werder in 1975 for voice and small orchestra, and by Michael Radulescu in two works: De Poëta in 1988 for four choirs and bells, and in another arrangement of 1991 re-worked in 1998 for soprano and organ.
- online facsimile (digitale-sammlungen.de)
- Katharina Bierbrauer, Die vorkarolingischen und karolingischen Handschriften der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek vol. 1 (1990), 83f.; München, Staatsbibl., Clm 22053 (handschriftencensus.de): "Erwogen wurden Regensburg, Benediktbeuern, Staffelsee und Augsburg (Steinhoff, Sp. 962)."
- München, Staatsbibl., Clm 22053 (handschriftencensus.de): 21rv excerpts of Beda; 22r-35v Theodosius, De locis sanctis; 35v-47v theological excerpts; 47v-65r glosses for Isidore's Etymologies, geographical and metrological terminology; 65v-66r Wessobrunn Prayer; 66v manumission certificate from Hesilinloh (Hessellohe, Neuburg an der Donau). Library catalogue: Karl Halm, Catalogus codicum latinorum Bibliothecae Regiae Monacensis. Tomi 2 Pars 4.: Codices latinos (Clm) 21406-27268 complectens / secundum Andreae Schmelleri indices composuerunt Carolus Halm et Gulielmus Meyer (1881).
- München, Staatsbibl., Clm 22053 (handschriftencensus.de): "bald nach 772 verfasst (Petzet/Glauning), um oder bald nach 800 (Steinhoff, Sp. 961)"
- The year number 814 (death of Charlemagne) is mentioned on the final page (fol. 99v). Bernhard Bischoff, Die südostdeutschen Schreibschulen und Bibliotheken in der Karolingerzeit, Teil I: Die bayrischen Diözesen (3rd ed. 1974), 18–21.
- Kartschoke (1975:21)
- Wackernagel (1827:47) insists on the value ga; Grimm (1812), following Docen (1809), had rendered the sign as chi, supposing a ligature of Greek chi and iota.
- "Dass dasselbe Zeichen, welches im nordischen Runenalphabete unter dem Namen hagol den Laut h (ch) ausdrückte, ᚼ, auch in unserm Gebete vorkömmt und zwar nicht in Bedeutung eines einzelnen Buchstaben, sondern gleich einer ganzen Sylbe, ga (und nicht chi noch cha[...)] beiläufig als Merkmal und Überbleibsel des Heidenthumes angeführt." Wackernagel (1827:30), disapprovingly of Massmann's view of a pagan character of the poem.
- "On the Wessobrunner Gebet, II" LMS i (1938).
- Thesaurus Anecdotorum Novissimus t. i (1721), col 418 (Ex Cod. Biblioth. Wessobrunens. O.B. exarato saec. IX. in 8.)
- Monumenta Boica 7 (1767), p. 377.
- F. D. Gräter in Bragur (1797), 118–155.
- Das Lied von Hildebrand und Hadubrand und das Wessobrunner Gebet (1812). Hans Ferdinand Massmann, Erläuterungen zum Wessobrunner Gebet (1824).
- Fortsetzung und Ergänzungen zu Christian Gottlieb Joechers allgemeinem Gelehrten-Lexicon ... Dritter Band [K bis Lub] (1810), 143f.
- Johann Christoph Freiherr von Aretin, Beyträge zur Geschichte und Literatur: vorzüglich aus den schätzen der pfalzbaierschen Centralbibliothek zu München (1806), p. 137.
- Krogmann (1937:129); represents letters marked with dots in red ink.
- The normalization follows Wackernagel (1927:11f). The vertical bars | indicate alliterating words.
- Karl Blind, "An Old German Poem and a Vedic Hymn", Fraser's Magazine for Town and Country 15 (1877), p. 726.
- The Latin header is most likely to be understood in the sense of announcing the following as "from a poem", or "from the works of a poet". Wilhelm Wackernagel, Wessobrunner Gebet und die Wessobrunner Glossen (1827), 14ff.; Dieter Kartschoke, Altdeutsche Bibeldichtung (1974), p. 23.
- pereg was corrected from perec by the scribe
- A word alliterating in s- was omitted by the scribe; the substitution of sterro "star" is a conjecture.
- scein is emendated from stein.
- Grimm (1812) excises dar uuarun auh as a spurious addition, grouping the verses as enti do was der eino almahtico cot / manno miltisto, manake mit inan.
- Massmann (1824:21) defends the reading mitman (Engel — Gottes Mitmannen), or "fellow-men" (Blind 1877:726). Wackernagel (1827:59) refers to this as a locus vexatissimus. Grimm (1812) simply emended the plural pronoun inan with singular imo.
- The phrase enti cot heilac is taken by Wackernagel as the beginning of the prose portion, but by most other editors as the end of the poem.
- dino emended to dinero by Grimm (1812) for a reading of "in your mercy [secundum tuam clementiam], give me right belief", but Wackernagel (1827:65) insists on the reading dino as accusative plural, for a reading "give me right belief in your mercies".
- Grimm (1812) conjectured tugida "virtue" following spahida, for alliteration with tiuflun (Massmann 1824:12).
- mit firahum — ab, cum hominibus (Wackenagel 1827:48), cognate with OS firihos, AS firas, ON fírar "men, people".
- Wackenagel (1827:48): sapientiarum maximam, viz. "the greatest of knowledges", "the sum of all wisdom" (d.i. die Summe aller Weisheit).
- mareo-sêo is read as a compound, as it were "mere-sea" (Gothic marisaivs); sometimes also read as marjô sêo "the great sea".
- Wackenagel (1827:57): finium nec terminorum "without end or limit".
- Many have commented on God being referred to as a "man" in this passage. Grimm disliked the passage and attempted emendations for a reading of "mildest towards men". Massmann (1824:21f) adduces parallels where God is referred to as a "man" in German poetry (often in reference to the incarnation, e.g. Jesus being called manno liobosta "dearest man" by Mary in Otfrid). For Blind (1877:726) both the reference to God as "man" and the use of the plural pronoun in mit inan is "evidently a pagan phrase". Wackenagel (1827:58) argues that the proper translation of OHG milti is "generous" (freygebig).
- usually rendered "goodly" ("good spirits", OHG cuatlîh) not "godly" ("divine spirits"), as the scribe exceptionally marks the long vowel (cootlihhe) to avoid the reading of "godly" (Wackernagel 1827:60f: gloriosi spiritus).
- coot read as substantive, "so many goods" (so viele Güter, tam multa bona) by Wackernagel (1827:61).
- dar uuarun auh excised as a filler not present in the original verse.
- Leopold Katt, "Das Wessobrunner Gebet: Kanonische Motette nach e. Hs. d. Klosters Wessobrunn aus d. 8. Jh.", Kantorei 41 (1951), OCLC Nr. 724118201.
- K. Wolfskehl, F. von der Leyen, Älteste Deutsche Dichtungen (1908), c.f. Insel-Almanach auf das Jahr 1909 (1908), p. 17. See: Margarete Susman, "Karls Wolfskehl", Neue Schweizer Rundschau 16 (1948/9), p. 556.
- Steinhoff, H-H, 1999. Wessobrunner Gebet, in: Verfasserlexikon, vol. 10, cols. 961-965.
- Willy Krogmann, "Die Mundart der Wessobrunner Schöpfung", Zeitschrift für Mundartforschung 13 (1937), 129-149.
- Heinrich Tiefenbach, "Wessobrunner Schöpfungsgedicht" in: Heinrich Beck, Dieter Geuenich, Heiko Steuer (eds.), Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde 33 (2006), 513–516.
- Horst Dieter Schlosser, Althochdeutsche Literatur (1970), p. 28 (online transcription: fh-augsburg.de).