The Heliand is an epic poem in Old Saxon that was first written down in around 830–840. The poem, whose title means “savior,” recounts the life of Jesus in the alliterative verse style of a Germanic saga. At about 6,000 lines, the Heliand is the largest known work written in Old Saxon, the precursor of modern Low German. The name of the poet is unknown, but some information about him and the origins of the poem can be gleaned from a Latin preface printed by Matthias Flacius Illyricus in 1562 from a manuscript that has since been lost. The Heliand is considered one of the finest religious epics of the Middle Ages, a work that combines the pre-Christian Germanic poetic tradition with an affirmation of Christian belief. This manuscript, written in the script of Carolingian minuscule, was the work of two scribes at the Abbey of Corvey in the middle of the ninth century. It has some lacunae, but it is the only Heliand manuscript that preserves part of the story of the Ascension, which may have been the ending of the original work. One other later, nearly complete manuscript of the Heliand survives, along with four fragmentary versions.

Last updated: November 15, 2013