Carmina Burana is the name given to a manuscript of 254 poems and dramatic texts mostly from the 11th or 12th century, although some are from the 13th century. The pieces are mostly bawdy, irreverent, and satirical; they 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.
Twenty-four poems in Carmina Burana were set to music by Carl Orff in 1936; Orff's composition quickly became popular and a staple piece of the classical music repertoire. The opening and closing movement, "O Fortuna", has been used in numerous films.
Older research assumed that the manuscript was written where it was found in Benediktbeuern. Today, however, Carmina Burana scholars have various ideas about the place of origin of the manuscript. It is agreed due to the dialect of the Middle High German phrases in the text that 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 region's south. The two possible locations of its origin are the bishop's seat of Seckau in Styria and Kloster Neustift near Brixen in South Tyrol.
Generally, the works contained in the Carmina Burana can be arranged into four groups according to theme:
55 songs of morals and mockery
131 love songs
40 drinking and gaming songs
two longer spiritual theater pieces
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; lamentations in the form of the planctus, for example about the ebb and flow of human fate or about death; the hymnic celebration of the return of spring; pastourelles about the rape/seduction of shepherdesses by knights, students/clergymen; and the description of love as military service, a topos known from Ovid's elegiac love poems. Ovid and especially his erotic elegies were reproduced, imitated and exaggerated in the Carmina Burana. Following Ovid, depictions of sexual intercourse in the manuscript are frank and sometimes aggressive.
The Carmina Burana contains numerous poetic descriptions of a raucous medieval paradise, for which the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, known for his advocation of the blissful life, is even taken as an authority on the subject. 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 literally and assumed there actually existed such a lazy order of priests. In fact, though, this outspoken reverie 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.