Wolfram von Eschenbach, (born c. 1170—died c. 1220), German poet whose epic Parzival, distinguished alike by its moral elevation and its imaginative power, is one of the most profound literary works of the Middle Ages.
An impoverished Bavarian knight, Wolfram apparently served a succession of Franconian lords. Though a self-styled illiterate, Wolfram shows an extensive acquaintance with French and German literature, and it is probable that he knew how to read, if not how to write. Wolfram’s surviving literary works, all bearing the stamp of his unusually original personality, consist of eight lyric poems, chiefly Tagelieder; the epic Parzival; the unfinished epic Willehalm, telling the history of the Crusader Guillaume d’Orange; and short fragments of a further epic, the so-called Titurel, which elaborates the tragic love story of Sigune from Parzival. Parzival, probably written between 1200 and 1210, is a poem of 25,000 lines in 16 books. Likely based on an unfinished romance of Chrétien de Troyes, introduced the theme of the Holy Grail into German literature. Its beginning and end are new material, probably of Wolfram’s own invention, although he attributes it to an unidentified and probably fictitious Provençal poet, Guiot.
Wolfram uses Parzival’s dramatic progress from folk-tale dunce to wise and responsible keeper of the Grail to present a subtle allegory of man’s spiritual education and development. The complexity of Wolfram’s theme is matched by his eccentric style, which is characterized by rhetorical flourishes, ambiguous syntax, and the free use of dialect.