The earliest known Spielmannsepos
König Rother
King Rother
Translated from the Middle High German
by Heidi Graw
© 2007

King Rother's Journey by Sea
 from "Illustrierte Literaturgeschichte" (1880)

King Rother
Translated by Heidi Graw

By the western sea
ruled a king named Rother
in the city of Bare;
where he lived wise and
with very great honour. 5
Other lords served him,
seventy-two kings,
brave and strong;
they were all subject to him.
He was the most noble of all men, 10
who had ever in Rome
received the crown.

Rother was a lord,
who ruled with honour
and with great success at his court, 15
and if the books have not lied,
then he lacked for nothing,
except for a wife.
Then spoke the young earls,
who were in the court, 20
how they should build
their inheritance without a lady.
So they rightly thought,
as they were such good grooms,
because the wealthy understood, 25
and so many well born men,
that he take a wife,
who would be a suitable lady;
and he decides an inheritance
so when he dies they know 30
to whom they should give
the crown of Rome.
Thus spoke the lord:
"I fear very much,
that I marry a king's daughter, 35

and it is so badly made,
that she takes revenge upon my life;
much would I like a well-born wife,
who of all nobles
would be a suitable queen 40
as lady over the wealthy dukes.
I do not know of one anywhere in this land,
who would please me so well
that all would praise her."

Then he had an earl, 45
who gave him good advise,
with artful great honour:
thus he served his lord --
which later came to his great grief --
the good hero was called Lupolt. 50
With great eagerness
he came to Rother's court:
he was his man and of his blood,
whose advice was also sought out.
He was the most loyal man 55
of any a Roman king could have.
To discuss this, the knights
gathered together,
and the wise old lords;
with great honourable effort 60
and a deep search from among them,
they named a maiden.

Lupolt was the first to speak:
"Wise Christ! I know
east over the sea 65
of a rich king's noble daughter,
there in Constantinople
with the many castles.
Her father is called Constantin;
his daughter is beautiful. 70
She shines among the heroes,
like a star does from heaven;
she out-shines other women,
as gold does on silk.
Her waist is small, 75
She is well suited to a lord.
And because of her nobility,
she would be a suitable queen.
Serve her, all you courageous men.
But Mighty God knows 80
the effort will be troublesome,
because every man who made a bid for her,
had lost his life."

Thus the king listened to
the advice what was given, 85
a margrave who is called Herman
was the first to speak,
about who the messenger would like to be,
who would gain that girl for him.
Then spoke the margrave: 90
"I assure you,
Lord, Lipolt will do it.
He is with all his heart loyal
and knows also well how it is
in regards to that woman
Trust my advice: 95
kindly accept
this advice,
that he would like to be your trustworthy
who will gain for you that maiden."

Rother right away sent messengers 100
to Lupolt's chambers.
As he came before the king,
he was well received.
The margrave sat upon a chair;
as his lord bid him to. 105
When Lupolt had sat down,
the king spoke with dignity:
"I have in great need
sent for you, good hero,
that you gain for me that maiden, 110
who is so wonderously beautiful
and to help me increase my honour;
yes, spoke these lords,
you are of all the best for it.
Hero, with your own abilities,
should you now do it." 115

Thus spoke Lupolt --
to King Rother was he loyal --
"Lord, you need not remind me further;
your Lordship is to me very dear,
that I will enlist into your service, 120
and I will bring to bear all my influence,
for that very beautiful woman,
or I will lose my life.
Now call upon your lords,
who you with your honour 125

would like to send
away from these lands:
eleven wealthy earls;
the twelfth am I, of course.
I will that each of the earls have 130
twelve splendid knights,
who are all so very well dressed,
that we can appear without
shame before a king."

The king ordered his court.
This is how his princes had gathered: 135
seventy-two crowns,
who served him well;
then he spoke his will.
Then quickly spoke the many heroes:
"Lord, if you would send me 140
away to the end of the earth,
then I will not ever disobey this man;
we all will be subject to you."
Eleven earls swore to him,
that they would venture forth for this maiden; 145
they were all loyal to the king.
The king gave them
silver and gold.
The lords accepted the commission.

As the voyage was promised, 150
so at once was accepted into the court
a very young hero --
both sable and chalice --
an earl who is called Erwin
who, with those, graced his knights. 155
The other lords did the same,
very hale were their men.
Their horses were all white.
Never had come into any land
so many messengers well done up. 160
A very wise man led them,
who was very dear to the king
and who had never betrayed a trust.

The ships were filled with provisions;
Lupolt, the hero, wanted to leave the shore. 165
Then the king called him to wait
and requested his harp be brought.
He had thought of a sign,
that would be full-filled.
He let all the lords go 170
to stand aboard the ship:
three songs did he sing for them,
which they were to remember.
Then spoke the very good lord:
"If you are ever in dire need, 175
be sure you remember these three songs,
so you will know I am with you."
Then the many men were happy,
who had still felt in great need.
Their call they then raised: 180
from the shore they left.
Hey! How the sails billowed,
as they sailed away with the current!

[Lines 184 to 1925 are missing from the German
retelling and have been replaced with a short

The messengers were imprisoned by Konstantin,
and Rother himself went to Konstantinopel, using
the pseudonym Dieterich, an earl, who was exiled
by King Rother. His wealth and his exotic
followers make quite an impression which gained
him supporters. Because of the astonished
and vast crowd which had gathered around him,
Konstantin's daughter fails to meet Dieterich face
to face at the banquet.]

When it became quiet in the chamber;
the queen spoke:
"Oh, woe is me! Lady Herlint,
how great my sorrows are
because of Lord Dietherich; 1930
who I surely would have liked
to meet in private,
and would it kindly happen
with this virtuous man,
five praiseworthy rings, 1935
those would a messenger
quickly earn from me,
who would bring the hero
right away to my chambers."
"In all confidence," spoke Herlint, 1940
"I will do this task;
if it be shameful or not,
I will go to his inn.
Yet, he cares for his own upbringing,
that we would be with him without burden." 1945

Herlint went right away
to a chamber
and dressed herself with care,
as in the manner of ladies;
so she decorated herself. 1950
Then went the cunning woman
to the Lord Dietherich.
He received her with courtesy;
she sat very near to him,
into his ear she spoke and recounted: 1955
"To you is offered sweet love,
from my lady the queen
and it is given in friendship;
you should go to her.
There will the maiden herself 1960
receive you,
not to the loss of your honour,
most loyal of all lords;
that you may well know that
from my maiden." 1965

Thus spoke Dietherich:
"Lady you commit a sin
against me...a miserable man;
I also went to the chamber
earlier when it was still possible. 1970
Why do you mock me?
Sadly, is it always so with embraces;
your lady never thought to speak of it.
Here are so many dukes
and princes in this court, 1975
that you could choose any other man
to engage in such unworthy vanity,
that would have been my advice;
You deserve that on the ground,
that you would be so foolish with me. 1980
I am also not such a poor man,
I was in truth
back home a wealthy earl."
Herlint spoke to the lord --
she knew well how to choose her speech: 1985
"No, Lord Dietherich,
do not think that of me.
God knows I have not done that;
My lady called for me to come here.
She is full of wonder, 1990
that you were for so
many hours in the court
and that you did not want to see her;
this is but seldom done
by such a stately man. 1995
Now do not reproach my speech;
it would please and
greatly honour the queen,
if you do not bow out;
but would you go to see her, 2000
you will not do evil by that."

Dietherich spoke to the lady --
he knew well that she was serious:
"Here are so many attendents,
difficult will it be to keep one's honour, 2005
who should go so well bred.
Even an unlucky and miserable man,
would never do it,
that they all take it for cheap
and tawdry who are in this court. 2010
Now tell your maiden
of my duty, if she is agreeable.
I will not visit her
in front of this jumble;
I fear that is for us both
a detrimental burden. 2015
Then will the lord Constantin
forbid to me his realm:
so that I must flee
ever further from Rother 2020
and nowhere will I find refuge."

When Herlint wanted to go;
the lord bid her to wait
and he called for his goldsmiths
to quickly pour
two silver shoes 2025
-- how they rushed to do it --
and two from gold,
as he had wanted to give them to her.
Then he bid Asprian, 2030
that they fit only to one foot,
then he took both
and gave them to the lady
and one very good cloak,
twelve red gold rings; 2035
So should one mind
a queen's messenger.
Then she sprang happily
away from the Lord Dietherich .

Herlint went right away 2040
to her lady's chambers
and spoke to her of the lord:
he cares for his own honour
struggling with difficulty,
"Value this knowledge, 2045
to him is the king's favor dear,
he will not see you,
not under any circumstances.
Now look at these shoes,
which the good hero gave to me 2050
and did me kindness enough,
and a well made cloak --
good that I went to him --
and twelve rings, that I have,
which the praiseworthy hero gave to me. 2055
There is no handsomer knight
on earth than Dietherich.
It denies me the love of God,
I am forsaken and an ungrateful one 2060
that I will always feel ashamed."


King Rother by Arthur Kampf (1938)

"It seems to me," spoke the queen,
"that I am not lucky,
that he will not see me.
Give me the shoes 2065
from this favored lord,
those I will fill for you with gold. --
Quickly was the barter made:
she stepped into the golden one
and then took the silver one; 2070
this one belonged to the same foot.
"Oh, woe is me," spoke the beautiful queen,
"How now! We have been mocked!
These praiseworthy shoes
were mixed up; 2075
I cannot wear them.
In truth you must go there again.
And very courteously
bid Dietherich
that he give you the other one 2080
and for him to come and see me,
if he, among his kindred, had been
raised good with beatings he deserved."
"Oh, woe is me!" spoke Herlint,
"How completely shameful it will then be 2085
for both us women.
Now you know in truth,
regardless of the risk of shame,
I must but go again."
Then the well done up maid raised herself. 2090
She was praiseworthy
down to the knees.
She thought not at all about her good upbringing,
and forgot her lady-like gait.
How quickly she ran across the court 2095
to the Lord Dietherich!
He received her in a friendly manner
in all bearing,
as if he had never seen her before.
But the lord well knew, 2100
why she had come again.
Herlint spoke to the lord:
"I must yet again
be that messenger.
The shoes were mixed up; 2105
by your will
they were given to the queen;
we should like to have the other one.
My lady is reminded,
that you wanted to give her the other shoe 2110
and to see her for yourself,
if you and your kindred
are of good character."
"I would like to do that," spoke Dietherich,
"but the chamberlains would report me." 2115
"Surely not," spoke Herlint,
with joy they are in the courtyard;
the knights are throwing the spear,
there are many games of strength .
I will go ahead; 2120
now, take two of your men
and very quickly follow behind
me to the chambers.
With all that great noise
no one will miss you. 2125
I will see to privacy
for the queen."

Herlint then wanted to go;
the wise man spoke:
"Now wait for the chamberlain, 2130
I want to ask about the shoe."
Quickly came Asprian;
he spoke: "Oh, woe is me! What have I done!
The things I can not get finished,
you chase me the whole day 2135
with more new demands
than you have ever done before.
It was here that a lot were made,
which the grooms have carried;
if some are missing, 2140
I will bring them all."
Asprian then took
the other praiseworthy shoes
and a very good cloak
and twelve red gold armrings 2145
and gave them all to the lady.
Then she went unnoticed
quickly and very happily
away from lord Dietherich
and told her lady also in truth 2150
the good news.
The maiden anxiously awaited him;
Lord Dietherich informed himself
with the old man Berker,
how it looks that it could be done. 2155
"Very well," spoke the duke,
"In the Poderamus court
will I make a great noise;
that will attract the people from all over.
So no one will take notice of you." 2160
He let the giant go there,
and saddled his own horse.
The people gathered in the courtyard.
Then led the old hero
a thousand young knights. 2165
Widolt with the rod
came springing forth,
in all bearing,
as if he were a stag.
Then Asprian tumbled, 2170
as if he were the giant's minstral.
Grinme sprang twelve fathoms,
and all the others did the same.
He grasped a monstrous stone,
so that the attendents did not 2175
notice Dietherich
as they began to walk about.

The young queen stood by the window.
Quickly the young hero came
running across the courtyard; 2180
there was he well received
by two honourable knights.
There went the hero Dietherich.
When the chamber was opened,
the well done up hero went in. 2185
The young queen herself
bid him welcome
and spoke to him about her wish
that she would like to do that
what both their honour allows. 2190
"I have well wanted to see
you, Lord, on account of your fame;
otherwise this would not have happened.
These praiseworthy shoes,
you shall put on me." 2195
"Very well," spoke Dietherich,
if you demand it of me."
The lord sat down by her feet,
very handsome in his bearing.
He placed her foot on top of his leg; 2200
no lady was better dressed in shoes.
Then spoke the wise man:
"Now tell me, praiseworthy lady,
according to your own truth,
as you want to be a Christian, 2205
many men have asked for you,
if it should be your will,
which one of them all
pleased you the best.

"That I can say to you," spoke the lady, 2210
"earnestly and in truth,
Lord, upon my soul,
as I am baptised:
that if out of all the lands
the noble warriors 2215
were called to come together,
there would never be a man,
who would be your equal;
take that as my truth,
that not ever had a mother 2220
raised a son so praiseworthy,
who could sit next to you, Dietherich.
From all the numerous men
you are the most worthy one.
Should I, however, have a choice, 2225
then I take a hero good and bold,
whose messengers had come here into this land
and who are laying here in truth
in my father's prison;
he is called Rother 2230
and is seated in the west over the sea.
I will remain forever a maiden,
if I can not have that praiseworthy hero."

As Dietherich considered it,
the wise man spoke: 2235
"If you love Rother,
then I can quickly bring him to you.
There lives no one in this world,
who had done me so much good.
That he should still enjoy, 2240
before he loses all courage;
he overcame my greatest need,
this lends to him still God.
We happily make use of that land
and live happily together. 2245
He was to me always gracious and good,
though the good hero has exiled me."

"In truth," spoke the young queen,
"I understand what you say,
Rother is such a dear, 2250
he did not have you exiled.
From where you came, bold hero,
you were sent here as a messenger,
and you are dearly favored by the king.
Now do not withhold from me the message: 2255
whatever will be spoken to me today,
that will ever be well defended
until the earliest day ."
The lord spoke to the lady:
"Now I will place all 2260
at God's mercy and yours.
Your feet are resting
in Rother's lap."

The lady was very schocked,
She lifted her foot 2265
and spoke to Dietherich
very much confused:
"Now, I have never been so rude;
as to border on wantonness,
that I placed my feet 2270
into your lap.
And be you the noble Rother,
then I have never beheld a king
of greater earned virtue.
Among numerous things 2275
you are masterly clever,
of whatever kindred you are;
my heart is singing
and would have that God sent you here,
that would be to me inherently dear. 2280
Yet, I cannot really believe it,
that you are telling me the truth.
And were the whole world against it
I would surely leave behind
this realm to be with you. 2285
But, so it is that it can never be.
Yet, if you are the King Rother,
no man has ever lived who is
as handsome as the one standing
before me."

Then thus spoke Dietherich 2290
-- he was altogether very clever --
"I still have here some friends,
the poor lords
in the prison;
as soon as they will see me, 2295
then you will understand,
that I have spoken the truth."
"In all confidence," spoke the queen,
"I will work on it with my father,
by using all sorts of artfulness, 2300
that I can have them brought out.
He never grants it, not to any man,
unless on his life he answers for it
that not one escapes,
until they can be brought again 2305
into the prison ,
where they suffer with great need."

Then answered Dietherich:
"I will answer for them
before the wealthy Constantine; 2310
surely tomorrow
shall I go to his court."
The praiseworthy lady
kissed the lord.
Then with great honours he took his leave 2315
out of the chamber
and rushed to the inn.
When Berker saw that,
he quickly left the arena.
Then the Lord Dietherich told 2320
the happy story
to the thoughtful duke;
and both began to praise God.

The maiden laid the whole night;
how great were her thoughts! 2325
When daybreak came,
she took a staff
and slipped into a black garment,
in the manner of a pilgrim.
She laid a palmbranch over her shoulders. 2330
She left the land
and hurried right away
to her father's chambers
and knocked at the door.
Constantin opened it; 2335
as he saw the maiden,
she cleverly spoke to him;
"Now allow me, my Lord Father,
Mother, I hope is well.
I had such a dream, 2340
that if the Almighty God will not send to me
his messenger down from above,
I must go into the abyss
with my living body;
there is no doubt about it. 2345
No one can undo it,
I do not wish to add more
to that misery,
for the comfort of my soul."

Constantin sadly spoke: 2350
"No, no, my dear daughter,
tell me what you want ;
surely, I will move you to the light."
"Father that is impossible; unless
you give me the praiseworthy messengers; 2355
these I want to bathe and dress,
that they receive mercy
upon their poor lives
for a short while.
I want them no more than for three days: 2360
then they will go again back
into the prison."
The great Constantin
spoke that he would like to do that,
if they would post bail, 2365
on one whose life can be waged,
and who they would like again returned,
so that not one will escape.
Then spoke the young maiden:
"I will bid the many men today, 2370
that among several one must stand,
whose life is greatly virtuous,
to whom you can give your trust."
Then spoke Constantin:
"That I will gladly do, my daughter!" 2375

The time came near,
very great was the need,
that Constantin went to the table.
Dietherich did not avoid it,
he came with his men 2380
to stand before the king.
Then as one drank the water,
the young praiseworthy lady
went around the table,
hot tears she cried, 2385
if there is anyone at all,
who for the praiseworthy messengers
would wager his life for a surety.
Not one dared to take up her wager;
the wealthy dukes 2390
equally declined,
until she came to the right one,
with whom this scheme was made.
Then spoke the honourable maiden:
"Hero Dieterich, now think about 2395
all your goodness
and help me out of this difficulty;
offer surety with your life for the messengers,
which the king has demanded.
My father's men declined, 2400
they dare not stand in,
yet shall your nobility
be shared together with mine,
for that I am glad.
How well you would like to refuse, 2405
were it not for your virtuous courage,
you should grant it to me, good hero."
"Gladly," spoke Dietherich,
"if you wish it of me.
It matters not about my loss of life, 2410
still will I be your surety, beautiful maiden."

Constantin gave up the messengers
on surety of Dietherich's life.
The lord accepted them.
Then the king's men followed him 2415
to the prison,
where they were in great need.
The hidden prisoners
laid in weakness
and pitifully cried out. 2420
The wealthy Berker
stood up and cried,
when he heard them coming.
The prison was opened up;
The daylight shone in, 2425
brilliant was the light,
they were not used to it.
Erwin was the first man,
who came out of the prison.
When the father looked at him, 2430
how great his heartache was:
he turned around
and wrung his hands.
he dared not to cry
and he was never so hurt, 2435
from the time his mother bore him.
Erwin, the good hero
was as thin in body
as a real poor man.
They took the twelve earls 2440
out of the prison
and their own men.
The praiseworthy knights,
were all black and dirty,
from the most dire mishandling. 2445
Master Lupolt
wore nothing more
than a meager apron;
that was wrapped around his body.
Otherwise the tearful man was 2450
completely naked,
injured and swollen.
Dietherich the good hero
stood saddened from sorrow
and yet he did not want to cry 2455
over the praiseworthy messengers.
Berker, the old man,
went all around to look
at the prisoners.
There was nothing that hurt deeper
than to see the state of his sons. 2460

Dietherich the lord
called for the noble messengers
to be led to his inn,
except for Lupolt and Erwin, 2465
who were let go one by one,
and no one took notice.
Then spoke the worthy Erwin:
"Lupolt, dear lord,
do you see the gray man 2470
standing there with the beautiful beard,
who looked at me with
particular concern?
He had turned himself around
and wrung his hands; 2475
he dared not to cry
and he stood with such sorrow.
What if the good Lord [in heaven]
through his kindness
will have given us a great sign 2480
that we come away from here?"
"That is true, my brother,
he could well be our father."
Then they both laughed
from joy and sorrow. 2485

The miserable guests
had their hands tied
until the next day.
The maiden bade her father
that he let her go there: 2490
she wanted to serve them herself;
the king gave his permission.
How quickly she ran across the court
to the Lord Dietherich!
Then all the foreign knights 2495
were told to leave.
There remained not one man
who was not related to the ones
who had fared over the sea.
The praiseworthy messengers, 2500
they put on very good clothing
and went about it diligently;
as Dietherich had wanted them to do.
The table was prepared and set;
Berker, the good hero, 2505
did the serving himself
as he watched his children eat.

As the lords sat,
their sorrow was in part forgotten.
Then took the esteemed Dietherich 2510
a beautiful harp
and slipped behind a curtain.
How quickly a melody rang out!
Whoever had begun to drink,
dropped it down 2515
so that it poured all over the table.
Whoever but sliced the bread,
let the knife fall down.
They became insanely happy;
as many their sorrows lost. 2520
They all sat and listened,
from where the sound was coming.
Loud the melody rang.
Lupolt sprang over the table
and the Earl Erwin; 2525
they heartily welcomed
the wealthy harpist
and kissed him truly.
How rightly the lady had seen,
that it was the King Rother. 2550

When the maiden had left,
the messengers were let go
all over the city,
and no one paid them attention.
The king's men noticed that 2555
and reported it to their lord.
"Now, don't rage," spoke Constantin,
"I gave them to him upon his life.
He sees to his good sense,
they will not escape from him." 2560
The prison was cleaned,
as the maiden ordered.
When three days went by,
the messengers were caught,
and were put truly 2565
back again into the prison.
Much bedding
and other good things
were carried in.
So they received mercy. 2570
Rolls and white bread,
all what the heroes needed.
The maiden called one man
to go to Dietherich's inn;
He dug a tunnel to the hills 2575
from the prison,
so they could leave from there.
The prisoners laid
in soft ease;
All the messengers laid there 2580
for a full twenty days
and had a great time of it;
and they regained their strength.

[...lines 2585 to the end are missing and are replaced
with the following narrative...

This secret agreement made it possible for the cunning
abduction of the princess. Her father succeeded in an
equally wise manner to regain her. However, Rother wins
her again for good through a second series of adventures.]


Reference used to create this translation:
"Fruehmittlehochdeutsche Dichtung" - 23. Koenig Rother, p. 368-416.

Also by Heidi Graw

"Dukus Haurant" is a 14th-century narrative poem written in the Middle High German language using Hebrew characters. It is a heroic epic with a theme similar to the German poem Kudrun. It exists among a collection of works which survive in the Cambridge Codex T.-S.10.K.22. This manuscript was discovered in the Cairo Geniza in 1896. The other works in the manuscript contain traditional Jewish material.

The purpose of this book is to make this Germanic epic accessible to English speakers. It is not my intention to delve into, nor discuss, nor debate the scholarly merits of this poem. I will leave these matters to the scholars, members of academia, and other interested parties.
As for me? I just love a good story!"
—Heidi Graw, Translator

Translator of "Dukus Haurant," Lulu Publications,

  Also see Orentel, a Spielmannsepos, translated by Heidi Graw.

King Rother or König Rother, the earliest recorded Spielmannsepos, exists in only one complete Middle High German manuscript from the twelfth century (Heidelberg Cpg 390, c. 1190 AD).

German Language Texts:
Deutsch Dichtungen des Mittelalters by Karl Bartsch
König Rother by Karl von Bahder