New Philology and New Phylogeny. Aspects of a critical electronic edition of Wolfram's 'Parzival'

  1. 1. Michael Stolz

    Universität Basel (University of Basel), Universität Bern (University of Bern)

Work text
This plain text was ingested for the purpose of full-text search, not to preserve original formatting or readability. For the most complete copy, refer to the original conference program.

New Philology and New Phylogeny. Aspects of a critical
electronic edition of Wolfram's 'Parzival'


University of Basle


University of Tübingen







Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival ranks as one of the
most significant narrative works to emerge from medieval Europe. Composed
between 1200 and 1210, it combines the Arthurian material of Celtic origin with
the religious subject- matter of the Holy Grail. The central question that
hereby emerges is how a world torn apart by contradictions and conflicts can
again be rendered whole. Within the fictitious garb of the Parzival-romance
Wolfram confers upon this question a shape that transcends time, which gave rise
to intense interest on the part of listeners and readers. The sheer number of
medieval manuscripts preserving Parzival today speaks
for itself (16 manuscripts that have preserved the entire text, 70 fragments,
and a print dating from 1477).
Ever since the late eighteenth-century revival of interest in the vernacular
poetry of the Middle Ages, modern literary scholarship has concerned itself with
Wolfram's Grail romance. The interpretations that have been arrived at are as
varied as they are controversial. Exegesis has, however, been based upon an
edition which, although a masterpiece of its time, can no longer meet today's
expectations. Karl Lachmann's Parzival edition of 1833
formed the standard basis for interpretation for generations of Germanists, but
recent scholarship is agreed upon the necessity for a new edition, and has
become increasingly discontented with working with a text that is generally
acknowledged to be in need of revision.
The challenge presented to the editor of Parzival also
affects central problems in the theory of medieval philology today. Worthy of
note in this context are phenomena such as the relationship between oral
performance and its literary codification, the ensuing variability of medieval
texts, as well as concepts of authorship and transmission, and their effects
upon the way in which a text is presented. To put it in its simplest terms,
scholarly debate hinges upon two pivotal positions, which may be denoted by the
keywords New Philology and New Phylogeny: New Philology emphasises the variety
in transmission and the ensuing instability of medieval texts. Its tendency is
to undermine the hierarchy of individual manuscript sources in the interest of
the fundamentally variable, unstable status of medieval manuscript culture. New
phylogeny, by contrast, clings to manuscript interrelations and groupings as the
basis for the critical determination of the text. The concept of "phylogeny",
which derives from evolutionary biology, denotes the race-history of breeds.
Recently it has been applied to questions of manuscript interrelations. Research
on Chaucer, for example, has attempted, in an article published in the magazine
'Nature' which attracted great attention, to establish the 'Phylogeny of the
A new critical edition of Parzival will have to come to
terms with the abundance of variant readings and the not inconsiderable problems
of establishing a text against the methodological background of the polarity of
New Philology and New Phylogeny. A challenge voiced in the Parzival scholarship of the 1960s now seems more relevant than ever
before. It was then argued that it was necessary "to publish all the material
that was collected for critical assessment before the question of manuscript
interrelation could be clarified" (E. Nellmann). Perhaps the idea, when it was
voiced in 1968, had a Utopian ring. Today, however, it can be put into practice,
step by step, with the aid of computer technology, and at reasonable expense. A
critical electronic edition of the manuscript sources would constitute a
work-base that would be an indispensable prerequisite for any new edition of
The possibilities offered by the synoptic representation of the manuscript
sources on screen can be illustrated by reference to a short extract from the
Parzival prologue (see illustration below). The
screen presentation created by an internet browser shows above, in the left
window, a normalised text, based on the main manuscript D. In the window on the
left below is the apparatus of variants relating to this text. The windows on
the right contain the transcriptions and facsimiles of the various manuscript
sources. All the windows are internetted by hypertext-links and permit users an
interactive interchange between base-text, apparatus of variants, transcriptions
and facsimiles.

There is no doubt that, on the screen, the variability postulated by New
Philology can be presented in much more lucid, visual terms than in conventional
editions of texts. The critical apparata of the traditional kind generally only
present readings in punctual fashion, reproducing word-for-word variants. On the
screen, however, the variety of readings in the manuscripts, in context, can be
encompassed. The second important advantage of electronic display lies, however,
in the presentation of manuscript groupings advocated by New Phylogeny. In this
context, computer programmes open new fields of experiment and accelerate
analytical processes. They facilitate the flexible disposition of manuscript
groupings and enable the rapid revision of philological judgements concerning
base manuscripts and stemmatological interrelations.
Thus electronic display enables a synthesis of philological positions, which at first
sight appear contradictory. Such a synthesis offers a work-tool, and an
indispensable prerequisite for any future critical edition of Parzival. At the same
time, the electronic display amounts to a form of edition which has its own peculiar
nature and justification. Its concept results from the discussion concerning New
Philology in the last decade, and leads this discussion towards a pragmatic
editorial solution. From this a new Parzival edition can emerge, which, up to a
point, enables its users to participate in the editorial process, and leaves them
the freedom to decide between different textual variants and the form in which they
are transmitted in the manuscripts. The manuscript data produced by this process
would be of interest to both literary and linguistic historians.
In employing this electronic medium, users are embedded in a century-old process of
transmission - from the post-Gutenberg era they go back to the age before Gutenberg.
Here the cultural and scholarly relevance of electronic editions of medieval texts
becomes evident: they merge with a development in historical scholarship which is
increasingly concerned with the mediality of manuscript transmission, as well as
with questions of discourse analysis and anthropology. Political historiography,
concerned with the great events of history, and social history, defined in relation
to human labour, has yielded place to aspects of mediation, transmission and the
preservation of historical data. The 'homo laborans' thus yields his place to the
'homo tradens' of historical anthropology. This new trend may in turn favour a
culturally based 'rephilologisation' of linguistic and literary scholarship.

If this content appears in violation of your intellectual property rights, or you see errors or omissions, please reach out to Scott B. Weingart to discuss removing or amending the materials.

Conference Info

In review

"New Directions in Humanities Computing"

Hosted at Universität Tübingen (University of Tubingen / Tuebingen)

Tübingen, Germany

July 23, 2002 - July 28, 2008

72 works by 136 authors indexed

Affiliations need to be double-checked.

Conference website:

Series: ALLC/EADH (29), ACH/ICCH (22), ACH/ALLC (14)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None