File:CarminaBurana wheel.jpg

Carmina Burana (11px /ˈkɑrmɨnə bʊˈrɑːnə/), Latin for "Songs from Beuern" (short for: Benediktbeuern), is the name given to a manuscript of 254[1] poems and dramatic texts mostly from the 11th or 12th century, although some are from the 13th century. The pieces were written principally in Medieval Latin; a few in Middle High German, and some with traces of Old French or Provençal. Some are macaronic, a mixture of Latin and German or French vernacular.

They were written by students and clergy when the Latin idiom was the lingua franca across Italy and western Europe for travelling scholars, universities and theologians. Most of the poems and songs appear to be the work of Goliards, clergy (mostly students) who set up and satirized the Catholic Church. The collection preserves the works of a number of poets, including Peter of Blois, Walter of Châtillon and an anonymous poet, referred to as the Archpoet.

The collection was found in 1803 in the Benedictine monastery of Benediktbeuern, Bavaria, and is now housed in the Bavarian State Library in Munich. Along with the Carmina Cantabrigiensia, the Carmina Burana is the most important collection of Goliard and vagabond songs.

The manuscripts reflect an "international" European movement, with songs originating from Occitania, France, England, Scotland, Aragon, Castile and the Holy Roman Empire.[2]

Twenty-four poems in Carmina Burana were set to music by Carl Orff in 1936; Orff's composition quickly became a staple piece of the classical music repertoire. The opening and closing movement, O Fortuna, has been used in countless films and has become a symbol of the "epic" song in popular culture. Carmina Burana remains one of the most popular pieces of music ever written.


The Carmina Burana (abbreviated CB) is a manuscript written in 1230 by two different scribes in an early gothic minuscule (minuscule = small letters: what we would today call lower-case, as opposed to majuscule (large, capital, upper-case, used in Roman MSS)) on 119 sheets of parchment. In the 14th century, a number of free pages, cut of a slightly different size, was attached at the end of the text.[3] The handwritten pages were bound into a small folder, called the Codex Buranus, in the Late Middle Ages.[4] However, in the process of binding, the text was placed partially out of order, and some pages were most likely lost as well. The manuscript contains eight miniatures: the wheel of fortune (which actually is an illustration from the songs CB 14–18, but was placed by the book binder as the cover), an imaginative forest, a pair of lovers, scenes from the story of Dido and Aeneas, a scene of drinking beer, and three scenes of playing games – dice, ludus duodecim scriptorum, and chess.[5]


Older research took it to be the case that the manuscript was written where it was found in Benediktbeuern.[6] Today, however, there is disagreement in the community of Carmina Burana scholars over the birthplace of the manuscript. What is agreed upon is that, because of the dialect of the Middle High German phrases in the text, the manuscript must be from the region of central Europe that speaks the Bavarian dialect of German, which includes parts of southern Germany, western Austria, and northern Italy, and, because of the Italian peculiarities of the text, it must be from the southern region thereof. The two possible locations of its origin are either the bishop's seat of Seckau in Styria, or Kloster Neustift near Brixen in South Tyrol.

In support of the first theory: a bishop Heinrich, who was provost there from 1232 to 1243, was mentioned as provost of Maria Saal in Kärnten in CB 6* of the added folio (* denotes the song is in the added folio) and it is possible that he funded the creation of the Carmina Burana; the marchiones (people from Steiermark) were mentioned in CB 219,3 before the Bavarians, Saxons or Austrians, presumably indicating that Steiermark was the closest location to the writers; also most of the hymns were dedicated to Saint Katharina von Alexandrien (CB 12* and 19* – 22*), who was venerated in Seckau.[7]

The other hypothesis claims that Kloster Neustift near Brixen in South Tirol is the birthplace of the Carmina Burana. In support of this argument, the text's open mindedness is characteristic of the reform-minded Augustine Canons Regular of the time, as is the spoken quality of the writing. Also, Brixen is mentioned in CB 95, and the beginning to a story unique to Tirol called the Eckenlied about the mythic hero Dietrich von Bern appears in CB 203a.[8][9][10]

Less clear is how the Carmina Burana traveled to Benediktbeuren.[11] The Germanist Fritz Peter Knapp suggested that, if the manuscript were written in Neustift, it could have traveled in 1350 by way of the Wittelsbacher family, who were Vögte of both Tirol and Bavaria.[10]


Generally, the works contained in the Carmina Burana can be arranged into four groups according to theme:[4]

  1. 55 songs of morals and mockery (CB 1–55),
  2. 131 love songs (CB 56–186),
  3. 40 drinking and gaming songs (CB 187–226), and
  4. two longer spiritual theater pieces (CB 227 and 228).

This outline, however, has many exceptions. CB 122–134, which are categorized as love songs, actually are not: they contain a song for mourning the dead, a satire, and two educational stories about the names of animals. There also likely was another group of spiritual poems included in the Carmina Burana, but they have since been lost.[12] The attached folio contains a mix of 21 generally spiritual songs: a prose-prayer to Saint Erasmus and four more spiritual plays, some of which have only survived as fragments. These larger thematic groups can also be further subdivided, for example, the end of the world (CB 24–31), songs about the crusades (CB 46–52) or reworkings of writings from antiquity (CB 97–102).

Other frequently recurring themes include: critiques of simony and greed in the church, that, with the advent of the monetary economy in the 12th century, rapidly became an important issue (CB 1–11, 39, 41–45); lamentations in the form of the planctus, for example about the ebb and flow of human fate (CB 14–18) or about death (CB 122–131); the hymnic celebration of the return of spring (CB 132, 135, 137, 138, 161 and others); pastourelles about the rape/seduction of shepherdesses by knights, students/clergymen (CB 79, 90, 157–158); and the description of love as military service (CB 60, 62, and 166), a topos known from Ovid's elegiac love poems. Ovid and especially his erotic elegies were reproduced, imitated and exaggerated in the Carmina Burana.[13] In other words, for those unfamiliar with Ovid's work, depictions of sexual intercourse in the manuscript are frank and even sometimes aggressive. CB 76, for example, makes use of the first-person narrative to describe a ten hour love act with the goddess of love herself, Venus (ternens eam lectulo / fere decem horis).[14]


The Carmina Burana contains numerous poetic descriptions of a raucous medieval paradise (CB 195–207, 211, 217, 219), for which the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, known for his advocation of the blissful life, is even taken as an authority on the subject (CB 211). CB 219 describes, for example, an ordo vagorum (vagrant order) to which people from every land and clerics of all rankings were invited—even presbyter cum sua matrona, or "priests and their wives" (humorous because Catholic priests must swear an oath of celibacy). In this parody world, the rules of priesthood include sleeping in, eating heavy food and drinking rich wine, and regularly playing dice games. These rules were described in such detail that older research on the Carmina Burana took these descriptions for their word and assumed there actually existed such a lazy order of priests.[15] In fact, though, this outspoken revery of living delights and freedom from moral obligations shows "an attitude towards life and the world that stands in stark contrast to the firmly established expectations of life in the Middle Ages."[16] The literary researcher Christine Kasper considers this description of a bawdy paradise as part of the early history of the European story of the land of Cockaigne: in CB 222 the abbas Cucaniensis, or Abbot of Cockaigne, is said to have presided over a group of dice players.[17]

Musical settingsEdit

Between 1935 and 1936, German composer Carl Orff set 24 of the poems to new music, also called Carmina Burana. The most notable movement is "Fortuna, Imperatrix Mundi (O Fortuna)" (Fortuna meaning Fortune in Latin, as well as a Roman goddess). Orff's composition has been performed by countless ensembles (see Carl Orff's O Fortuna in popular culture).

Other musical settings include:

  • Pieces by German/Norwegian doom/gothic metal band Theatre of Tragedy, such as Amor Volat Undique and Circa Mea Pectora in the song "Venus" on their 1998 album Aégis
  • Synth/Medieval, French band Era recorded a mix called The Mass featuring pieces of O Fortuna from the original Carmina Burana.
  • Composer John Paul used a portion of the lyrics of Fas et nefas ambulant in the musical score of the video game Gauntlet Legends.[18]
  • Philip Pickett and the New London Consort issued a 4-volume set of Carmina Burana settings using medieval instrumentation and performance techniques.
  • Pieces by the Norwegian gothic metal musical group Tristania ("Wormwood" from their 2001 album World of Glass)
  • German band Qntal set several hymns of Carmina Burana to electro-medieval music.
  • German band Corvus Corax recorded Cantus Buranus, a full-length opera set to the original Carmina Burana manuscript in 2005, and released Cantus Buranus Werk II in 2008.
  • Japanese composer Nobuo Uematsu used portions of O Fortuna, Estuans Interius, and Veni Veni Venias for the final boss theme "One-Winged Angel" in Square Enix's Final Fantasy VII.
  • The Trans-Siberian Orchestra included the song "Carmina Burana" on their 2009 album Night Castle.

See alsoEdit


  • Diemer, Peter and Dorothee. "Die Carmina Burana" in: Carmina Burana. Text und Übersetzung, Benedikt Konrad Vollmann (ed.), Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1987
  • Knapp, Fritz Peter. "Die Literatur des Früh- und Hochmittelalters in den Bistümern Passau, Salzburg, Brixen und Trient von den Anfängen bis 1273" in Geschichte der Literatur in Österreich von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart, ed. by Herbert Zemann, vol. 1), Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt, Graz 1994
  • Schaller, Dieter. "Carmina Burana" in: Lexikon des Mittelalters, vol. 2, Artemis, Munich and Zurich 1983


  1. Carmina Burana. Die Lieder der Benediktbeurer Handschrift. Zweisprachige Ausgabe, ed. and translated by Carl Fischer and Hugo Kuhn, dtv, Munich 1991; if however e. g. CB 211 and 211a are counted as two different songs, one obtains the collection consisting of 315 texts, see e.g. Schaller, col. 1513
  2. Carmina Burana, Version originale & Integrale, 2 Volumes (HMU 335, HMU 336), Clemencic Consort, Direction René Clemencic, Harmonia Mundi
  3. Diemer, p. 898
  4. 4.0 4.1 Schaller, col. 1513
  5. Joachim M. Plotzek, Carmina Burana, in: Lexikon des Mittelalters, vol. 2, Artemis, Munich and Zurich 1983, col. 1513
  6. Max Manitius, Geschichte der lateinischen Literatur des Mittelalters, vol. 3: Vom Ausbruch des Kirchenstreites bis zum Ende des 12. Jahrhunderts, (= Handbuch der Altertumswissenschaft, newly ed. by Walter Otto, Abt. IX, Part 2, vol. 3), C. H. Beck, Munich 1931, p. 966
  7. Walter Bischoff (ed.), Carmina Burana I/3, Heidelberg 1970, p. XII;
    Walther Lipphardt, Zur Herkunft der Carmina Burana, in: Egon Kühebacher (ed.), Literatur und Bildende Kunst im Tiroler Mittelalter, Innsbruck 1982, 209–223.
  8. Georg Steer, "Carmina Burana in Südtirol. Zur Herkunft des clm 4660", in: Zeitschrift für deutsches Altertum 112 (1983), p. 1–37
  9. Olive Sayce, Plurilingualism in the Carmina Burana. A Study of the Linguistic and Literary Influence on the Codex, Kümmerle, Göttingen 1992
  10. 10.0 10.1 Knapp, p. 410f.
  11. Carmina Burana. Die Lieder der Benediktbeurer Handschrift. Zweisprachige Ausgabe, ed. and transl. by Carl Fischer and Hugo Kuhn, dtv, München 1991, p. 838
  12. Diemer, p. 898; this assumption is doubted at: Burghart Wachinger, Liebeslieder vom späten 12. bis zum frühen 16. Jahrhundert, in: Walter Haug (ed.), Mittelalter und Frühe Neuzeit. Übergänge, Umbrüche und Neuansätze (= Fortuna vitrea, vol. 16), Tübingen 1999, p. 10f.
  13. Hermann Unger, De Ovidiana in carminibus Buranis quae dicuntur imitatione, Straßburg 1914
  14. Knapp, p. 416.
  15. Helga Schüppert, Kirchenkritik in der lateinischen Lyrik des 12. und 13. Jahrhunderts, Wilhelm Fink Verlag, München 1972, p. 185.
  16. Rainer Nickel: Carmina Burana. In: Wilhelm Höhn und Norbert Zink (eds.): Handbuch für den Lateinunterricht. Sekundarstufe II. Diesterweg, Frankfurt am Main 1979, p. 342, quote translated by wikipedia contributor
  17. Christine Kasper, Das Schlaraffenland zieht in die Stadt. Vom Land des Überflusses zum Paradies für Sozialschmarotzer, in: Jahrbuch der Oswald von Wolkenstein-Gesellschaft 7 (1992/93), p. 255–291
  18. Gauntlet Legends Designer Diary

External linksEdit

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