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Litanic Verse II

Britannia, Germania et Scandinavia


Witold Sadowski, Magdalena Kowalska and Magdalena Maria Kubas

The book contains comparative analyses of the development of litanic verse in European poetry, from medieval to modern times. Litanic verse is based on different syntactic devices, such as enumeration, parallelism, anaphora and epiphora. However, it is not to be seen merely as a convention of versification as the popularity of different variants of the verse in Europe reflects the religious, intellectual, social and political history of various European regions. The essays in the second volume focus on litanic verse in the Germanic languages. They discuss predominantly the literatures of Protestant countries (Great Britain, Denmark, Germany, Norway), but also Austrian poetry.

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From Merseburger Charms to Minnesang: The German Middle Ages


After a brief investigation into the German definitions of litany, one may contend that most of them emphasize — perhaps surprisingly — the versatility of the phenomenon (it is present in the German synonym of litany, Wechselgebet), as well as the significance of the invocation (Anrufung) and the responsory (Responsorium).1 Whereas the usual associations are connected with enumerations typical of litany, which have their origins in the ektenial, chairetismic (the responsory) or polyonymic genes (the invocation), German litanic verse in the Middle Ages, as discussed in this paper, makes greater use of the last one.

Theodor Kliefoth, a famous nineteenth century Neo-Lutheran and church reformer, describes the litany (die Litanei) as the “expanded kyrie.”2 However, he does not deny that it has its origins and that it imitates pagan rituals.3 German writers produced new litanies both in Latin and German as a result of the influence of the canonical forms of the genre, but only until the Reformation when the German litany became more political: the subsequent template was the famous work by Martin Luther, Deutsche Litanei (1529). Luther removed from the litany the enumeration of the saints and martyrs, replacing this with a new element: invocations for peace within Christianity and supplications to God to annihilate its most threatening enemy — the Turks. These alterations led to a greater emphasis on the political aspect of litanies, which were later known as “litanies praying for public ← 135 | 136 → benefits.”4 In his work Zur Geschichte der Litanei...

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