Although suggestions have been made in regard to the possible means by which the Tannhäuser legend may have reached Swinburne's receptive mind, no one has offered a satisfactory explanation. It is my purpose to offer such an explanation, for the sake of the light it throws upon Laus Veneris as well as upon the development of the legend in English.
A preliminary consideration of possibilities is essential. First, there is Ludwig Tieck's Der getreue Eckart und der Tannenhäuser, which Carlyle translated as “The Trusty Eckart” in German Romance, published in 1827. Since Swinburne in his youth was an admirer of Carlyle, he may have known this translation. With some of its melodramatic absurdities omitted, the relevant portion of Tieck's story, part II, is briefly as follows: After a mysterious disappearance the noble Tannenhäuser returns to tell his friend Friedrich of his experiences. He believes that he has fallen in love with Emma and murdered a rival, causing both Emma and his own parents to die of grief. In darkest night he goes to a lofty hill, where he calls upon the Enemy of God; the latter teaches him a song, which in some strange way leads him to the Mountain of Venus. Passing the trusty Eckart, a superhuman figure who guards the entrance, he resigns himself to sensual pleasures in the company of Lady Venus and her train. From this “pomp of sin” he has now returned. Friedrich, who has been listening patiently to this recital of an apparent madman, assures him that Emma, recently married to Friedrich, is still alive. The Tannenhäuser does not believe this statement, supposing it a deception of Satan, and sets out to Rome to perform penance. Some months later he comes back, tattered and barefoot. Entering Friedrich's chamber, he kisses him, announces thatthe Holy Father cannot forgive, and departs. Friedrich discovers that Emma is murdered, apparently by the Tannenhäuser, and that the kiss draws him towards the mysterious mountain. The absence of any reference to the pope's staff and to the sending of messengers may be noted.