LOHENGRIN, the hero of the German version of the legend of the knight of the swan. The story of Lohengrin as we know it is based on two principal motives common enough in folklore: the metamorphosis of human beings into swans, and the curious wife whose question brings disaster. Lohengrin’s guide (the swan) was originally the little brother who, in one version of “the Seven Swans,” was compelled through the destruction of his golden chain to remain in swan form and attached himself to the fortunes of one of his brothers. The swan played a part in classical mythology as the bird of Apollo, and in Scandinavian lore the swan maidens, who have the gift of prophecy and are sometimes confused with the Valkyries, reappear again and again. The wife’s desire to know her husband’s origin is a parallel of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, and bore in medieval times a similar mystical interpretation. The Lohengrin legend is localized on the Lower Rhine, and its incidents take place at Antwerp, Nijmwegen, Cologne and Mainz. In its application it falls into sharp division in the hands of German and French poets. By the Germans it was turned to mystical use by being attached loosely to the Grail legend (see Grail and Perceval); in France it was adapted to glorify the family of Godfrey de Bouillon.

The German story makes its appearance in the last stanzas of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival, where it is related how Parzival’s son, Loherangrîn,[1] was sent from the castle of the Grail to the help of the young duchess of Brabant. Guided by the swan he reached Antwerp, and married the lady on condition that she should not ask his origin. On the breach of this condition years afterwards Loherangrîn departed, leaving sword, horn and ring behind him. Between 1283 and 1290, a Bavarian disciple of Wolfram’s[2] adopted the story and developed it into an epic poem of nearly 8000 lines, incorporating episodes of Lohengrin’s prowess in tournament, his wars with Henry I. against the heathen Hungarians and the Saracens,[3] and incidentally providing a detailed picture of the everyday life of people of high condition. The epic of Lohengrin is put by the anonymous writer into the mouth of Wolfram, who is made to relate it during the Contest of the Singers at the Wartburg in proof of his superiority in knowledge of sacred things over Klingsor the magician, and the poem is thus linked on to German tradition. Its connexion with Parzival implies a mystic application. The consecrated wafer shared by Lohengrin and the swan on their voyage is one of the more obvious means taken by the poet to give the tale the character of an allegory of the relations between Christ, the Church and the human soul. The story was followed closely in its main outlines by Richard Wagner in his opera Lohengrin.

The French legend of the knight of the swan is attached to the house of Bouillon, and although William of Tyre refers to it about 1170 as fable, it was incorporated without question by later annalists. It forms part of the cycle of the chansons de geste dealing with the Crusade, and relates how Helyas, knight of the swan, is guided by the swan to the help of the duchess of Bouillon and marries her daughter Ida or Beatrix in circumstances exactly parallel to the adventures of Lohengrin and Elsa of Brabant, and with the like result. Their daughter marries Eustache, count of Boulogne, and had three sons, the eldest of whom, Godefroid (Godfrey), is the future king of Jerusalem. But in French story Helyas is not the son of Parzival, but of the king and queen of Lillefort, and the story of his birth, of himself, his five brothers and one sister is, with variations, that of “the seven swans” persecuted by the wicked grandmother, which figures in the pages of Grimm and Hans Andersen. The house of Bouillon was not alone in claiming the knight of the swan as an ancestor, and the tradition probably originally belonged to the house of Cleves.

German Versions.—See Lohengrin, ed. Rückert (Quedlinburg and Leipzig, 1858); another version of the tale, Lorengel, is edited in the Zeitschr. für deutsches Altertum (vol. 15); modern German translation of Lohengrin, by H. A. Junghaus (Leipzig, 1878); Conrad von Würzburg’s fragmentary Schwanritter, ed. F. Roth (Frankfurt, 1861). Cf. Elster, Beiträge zur Kritik des Lohengrin (Halle, 1884), and R. Heinrichs, Die Lohengrindichtung und ihre Deutung (Hamm i. West., 1905).

French Versions.—Baron de Reiffenberg, Le Chevalier au cygne et Godfrey de Bouillon (Brussels, 2 vols., 1846–1848), in Mon. pour servir à l’hist. de la province de Namur; C. Hippeau, La Chanson du chevalier au cygne (1874); H. A. Todd, La Naissance du chevalier au cygne, an inedited French poem of the 12th cent. (Mod. Lang. Assoc., Baltimore, 1889); cf. the Latin tale by Jean de Haute Seille (Johannes de Alta Silva) in his Dolopathos (ed. Oesterley, Strassburg, 1873).

English Versions.—In England the story first appears in a short poem preserved among the Cotton MSS. of the British Museum and entitled Chevelere assigne. This was edited by G. E. V. Utterson in 1820 for the Roxburghe Club, and again by H. H. Gibbs in 1868 for the Early English Text Society. The E.E.T.S. edition is accompanied by a set of photographs of a 14th-century ivory casket, on which the story is depicted in 36 compartments. An English prose romance, Helyas Knight of the Swan, translated by Robert Copland, and printed by W. Copland about 1550, is founded on a French romance La Génealogie . . . de Godeffroy de Boulin (printed 1504) and is reprinted by W. J. Thoms in Early Prose Romances, vol. iii. It was also printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1512. A modern edition was issued in 1901 from the Grolier Club, New York.

  1. i.e. Garin le Loherin (q.v.), or Garin of Lorraine.
  2. Elster (Beiträge) says that the poem is the work of two poets: the first part by a Thuringian wandering minstrel, the second—which differs in style and dialect—by a Bavarian official.
  3. Based on material borrowed from the Sächsische Weltchronik (formerly called Repgowische Chronik from its dubious assignment to Eime von Repgow), the oldest prose chronicle of the world in German (c. 1248 or 1260).