TANNHAUSER, or Tanhuser, German Minnesinger of the 13th century, who lived for a time at the court of Frederick II., duke of Austria. After Duke Frederick's death he was received at the court of Otto II., duke of Bavaria; but, being of a restless disposition, and having wasted his fortune, he spent much time in wandering about Germany. He also went as a Crusader to the Holy Land. His poems belong to the decadence of the Minnesang, and combine a didactic display of learning with descriptions of peasant-life in a somewhat coarse tone. His adventurous life led him to be identified, in the popular imagination, with the knight Tannhauser who, after many wanderings, comes to the Venusberg, or Hdrselberg, near Eisenach. He enters the cave where the Lady Venus - the Frau Hulda of German folk-lore - holds her court, and abandons himself to a life of sensual pleasure. By and by he is overcome by remorse, and, invoking the aid of the Virgin Mary, he obtains permission to return for a while to the outer world. He then goes as a pilgrim to Rome, and entreats Pope Urban to secure for him the forgiveness of his sins. The pope declares it is as impossible for him to be pardoned as for the staff he has in his hand to blossom. Tannhauser departs in despair, and returns to the Venusberg. In three days the staff begins to put forth green leaves, and the pope sends messengers in all directions in search of the penitent, but he is never seen again. This legend was at one time widely known in Germany, and as late as 1830 it survived in a popular song at Entlebuch in Switzerland, a version of which was given by Uhland in his Alte hochand niederdeutsche Volkslieder. Among the attendants of Hulda was the faithful Eckhart, and in the preface to the Heldenbuch he is said to sit before the Venusberg, and to warn passers-by of the dangers to which they may be exposed if they linger in the neighbourhood. The legend has been reproduced by several modern German poets, and by R. Wagner in an opera.
For Tannhauser's lyric poetry, see F. H. von der Hagen's Minnesinger, ii. (1838); K. Bartsch, Deutsche Liederdichter des 12. bis 14. Jahrhunderts (3rd ed. 1893), No. 47. See also F. Zander, Die Tannhausersage and der Minnesinger Tannhauser (1858); J. G. T. Grasse, Die Sage von Tannhciuser (1846; 2nd ed. 1861); A. Ohlke Zu Tannhausers Leben and Dichten (1890); J. Siebert, Tannhciuser, Inhalt and Form seiner Gedichte (1894).
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