, Volume 94, Issue 3, pp 477–497

The Carmina Burana: A Mirror of Latin and Vernacular Literary Traditions from a Cultural-Historical Perspective: Transgression is the Name of the Game


DOI: 10.1007/s11061-009-9188-2

Cite this article as:
Classen, A. Neophilologus (2010) 94: 477. doi:10.1007/s11061-009-9188-2


The Carmina Burana have too easily fallen into stifling categories of interpretation, treating them as exclusively poems by students, by learned scholars, or by minstrels who demand our respect. In reality, as this paper illustrates, they represent a very dense corpus of songs in Latin and in a mixtures of Latin and Middle High German in which highly educated intellects reflect upon the wide range of everyday themes, interests, concerns, and desires common at that time, including sexuality, drinking, entertainment, and music. But at closer analysis we also discover a plethora of critical songs in which the loss of ethics, morality, and social norms both at court and in the church are sardonically attacked and ridiculed. Although the poets usually resort to the norms and models of ancient-classical and medieval courtly poetry, they regularly transgress those and present drastically opposite perspectives. In this process they also reveal the extent to which they actually closely interacted with vernacular literature. Laughter is often the name of the game, but it is not simply light and untroubled comic that finds expression here. This article demonstrates the extent to which the poets of the Carmina Burana actually interacted in a very intensive fashion with the learned literary traditions and the standard ideals of courtly love, undermining the common pretenses of a peaceful, harmonious, and honorable courtly society and of a reputable clergy.


Carmina Burana Transgression Social criticism Drinking Sexual violence Eroticism Court criticism Popular culture Interaction with courtly literature 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of German StudiesThe University of ArizonaTucsonUSA

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