Albrecht Classen

title.none: Leben und Offenbarungen der Wiener Begine Agnes Blannbekin

identifier.other: baj9928.9411.006 94.11.06

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Albrecht Classen, University of Arizona

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1994

identifier.citation: Dinzelbacher, Peter. Vogeler, Renate, edd. and transs. Leben und Offenbarungen der Wiener Begine Agnes Blannbekin (+1315). Goeppinger Arbeiten zur Germanistik, 419. Goeppingen: Kuemmerle-Verlag, 1994. Pp. 506. ISBN: ISBN 3-87452-643-7.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 94.11.06

Dinzelbacher, Peter. Vogeler, Renate, edd. and transs. Leben und Offenbarungen der Wiener Begine Agnes Blannbekin (+1315). Goeppinger Arbeiten zur Germanistik, 419. Goeppingen: Kuemmerle-Verlag, 1994. Pp. 506. ISBN: ISBN 3-87452-643-7.

Reviewed by:

Albrecht Classen
University of Arizona

This edition by one of the leading European researcher on medieval mysticism, Peter Dinzelbacher, demonstrates the intricate problems feminists face when they approach the Middle Ages. More often than not our knowledge about medieval women writers is simply hampered by the lack of editions, since male scholars have traditionally looked at male writers exclusively, and discarded any text, and for that matter any genre, which was representative of female literacy. A good example is the romance Frau Tugentreich from ca. 1520/21 which was discovered by Kurt Ruh about fifteen years ago in the Stiftsbibliothek of St. Gallen, and which has since then been published by Elisabeth Lienert (Munich-Zurich: Artemis, 1988). The text is extant in one manuscript only (ms. 958), and never found its way into the printing press until 1988. The way how the woman protagonist is portrayed, the peculiar angle in the description of her destiny, and the curious circumstances of the manuscript might indicate that the author was a woman (see my article in Germanic Notes and Reviews 22, 3/4 [1991]). Be that as it may—the editor Lienert would disagree with me strongly—, we still face the problem that often texts which stand on the margin of the literary canon and which were or might have been written by women are often not available to us in modern prints. Once we understand this situation more fully, feminist studies will become much more productive and can also embark on a philological exploration of the past.

A model case for this dilemma represents the mystical account given by the Austrian Agnes Blannbekin (died 1315). She is practically the only mystic woman produced by Austria, and yet she has suffered the fate of being deliberately ignored and denigrated by the Church officials (see my article in An Encyclopedia of Continental Women Writers, ed. K. Wilson, 1991, I, 138f.). All we know about her has to be taken from her mystical accounts, which were composed by her confessor under the title Vita et Revelationes. According to a note in the now lost Neresheim ms. she was a peasant's daughter from Plambacheck near Vienna. In the age of seven or eight she began a rigid fasting period extending for ten years, and after that refused to eat meat for thirty years. Taking these two statements into account, we can assume that she must have been born not later than 1244. When she was sixteen she joined the "devotae beginae" and thereby gained a social and religious status which permitted her to live by herself in Vienna, and still dedicate her life to God. Obviously, she was financially well off, and must also have received some degree of education since she claims to be literate.

Her Vita et Revelationes were preserved in several mss. N, the Neresheim ms., had been used by Bernardus Pez as a basis for his edition, Vienna 1731, but it is lost today. Peter Dinzelbacher used ms. Z in the library of the Cistercian convent of Zwettl, cod. 384, from the first half of the 14th c. and the text published by Pez to prepare a modern edition. In 1990 two further ms. were discovered by G. List and G. Powitz ( Die Handschriften der Stadtbibliothek Mainz, 1990), that is M and M1, but these contain only a censored version of Blannbekin's text. In addition, Joseph von Goerres seems to have found a Middle High German version and published an abstract from it in his Die christliche Mystik, 1836-1842. This manuscript was probably destroyed in the fire of the Strassburg Library in 1870.

After Petz had published the Vita et Revelationes, the Jesuits protested vehemently against this work which they considered to be blasphemous and pornographic—pornographic because Agnes reports of a vision in which she swallows Christ's foreskin, feeling a strong sense of sweetness, and because she claimed to have seen Christ as a nude man in a river (138). Moreover, Agnes' open criticism of the Pope and other representatives of the Church was considered to be highly objectionable still in the 18th c. by the conservative clergy. Apparently, however, Pez' edition was not destroyed entirely, but the book disappeared in the library stacks.

Dinzelbacher prepared his edition using ms. N in Pez' edition, but compared it with the incomplete ms. Z, which is reflected in the scholarly apparatus. In addition Dinzelbacher also composed a translation in modern German, but he offers the disclaimer not to have aspired to improve the style of the original. In a few cases idiosyncratic Austrian terms have made their way into the text (151, "gefascht"), but otherwise Dinzelbacher has carried out his task quite meticulously. The translation is only thought to be a help for the reader, and therefore does not avoid repetitions in and other shortcomings of the text. Renate Vogeler's contribution to this edition consists in the collation of mss. M and M1, the preparation of the apparatus with variants, the comparison of the edition with ms. Z (microfilm) and, to some extent, with the translation.

Because Agnes Blannbekin has been shunned both by the clergy and most scholars from the time when the Jesuits condemned her text as blasphemous, she has hardly attracted any attention at all (see the bibliography by G. Jaron Lewis, Bibliographie zur deutschen Frauenmystik des Mittelalters, 1989, 234f.). Dinzelbacher's new edition should pave the way towards a renewed investigation of Agnes' significant work. It is, as Dinzelbacher rightly points out, not more abstruse or obscene than the visions by many canonized mystical writers such as Gertrud of Helfta, Mechthild of Hackeborn or Angela of Foligno. The Vita et Revelationes are, on the contrary, highly intriguing documents about a religious woman's life and a document of her literary skills. In many respects Agnes appears to be of a similar social and intellectual background as Margery Kempe. Thanks to Dinzelbacher's edition, her visions are available to us again, and thereby also another voice can be heard in the choir of female writers in the Middle Ages.