Albrecht Classen

title.none: Huber et al., eds., Geistliches in weltlicher (Classen)

identifier.other: baj9928.0008.008 00.08.08

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Albrecht Classen, University of Arizona,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2000

identifier.citation: Huber, Christoph, Burghart Wachinger and Hans-Joachim Ziegeler, eds. Geistliches in weltlicher und Weltliches in geistlicher Literatur des Mittelalters. Tuebingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 2000. Pp. vi, 348. DM 156.00. ISBN: 3-484-64015-4.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 00.08.08

Huber, Christoph, Burghart Wachinger and Hans-Joachim Ziegeler, eds. Geistliches in weltlicher und Weltliches in geistlicher Literatur des Mittelalters. Tuebingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 2000. Pp. vi, 348. DM 156.00. ISBN: 3-484-64015-4.

Reviewed by:

Albrecht Classen
University of Arizona

It can well count among the commonplaces in literary history that the areas of the religious and secular were not clearly separated in the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, the specific interactions of both areas would require more detailed studies as they represent a highly complex phenomenon which refuses a simple categorization and proves to be challenging in itself. The contributors to a conference of Germanists in Heiligkreuztal near Riedlingen (south of Stuttgart) from November 21 to 23, 1997, attempted to come to terms with this broad issue by focusing on individual cases mostly in the history of German literature, but sometimes also examining texts from the Latin, French, and English tradition. The question at large is of relevance for all medievalists, if not for literary scholars of all periods, as Wachinger comments in his introduction to the proceedings, insofar as there are, for example, only secular words available to express experiences of the ineffable kind. Moreover, the dividing line between both spheres has never been determined for good and always seems to be a matter of subjective negotiations with variable meanings depending on the individual point of view. In particular, the experience of erotic love powerfully illustrates the difficulties of distinguishing between the physical and the spiritual. Admittedly, the Middle Ages represent, more than other cultural-historical periods, a time when worldliness and religion often blended and interlaced with each other, but the implications resulting from the combined studies in the present volume promise to be of relevance for scholars in many different fields within the humanities.

In his introductory article, Benedikt Konrad Vollmann argues that the genre of the religious narrative ("Legende") demonstrates how much elements from worldly narratives have always been of influence, whether we consider such tales from the early or the late Middle Ages. Quite understandably, however, during the early period the Church tried to suppress any of these elements as much as possible, but this was only of limited success, as Vollmann's critical readings reveal. Elke Brueggen argues along the same line, but she focuses on early Middle High German religious literature such as the Rede vom Glauben by Arme Hartmann and Von des todes gehugde which were both composed close to 1170 when the history of the 'classical' Middle High German literature had its starting point and seemingly turned away from religion in order to deal with secular topics. The dating does not matter, however, as Brueggen points out, and as the subsequent authors also will confirm, because the rise of fictionalized literature beginning with Heinrich von Veldeke and soon thereafter Hartmann von Aue does not mean a radical secularization per se. The demarcation line would change depending on the individual text, yet the religious components would not simply go away. In fact, as we are told by Peter Godman in his study on the Archpoet, a "dialectic between the sacred and the profane was integral to the image of Reinald of Dassel" (59), the Archpoet's patron and elect of Cologne, and, as we might add, to most medieval people. In the Archpoet's work, however, this dialectic gained additional ammunition because of his "anti-reformist, anti- ascetic, anti-moralistic, and anti-Roman" positions, subtly blending the religious with the worldly.

In his "Herrscherapotheosen," Eckart Conrad Lutz compares Chretien de Troyes' Erec with Priest Konrad's Rolandslied, both of which he views as attempts to glorify their common patrons, the royal court of England, whereas Hartmann von Aue's Erec took the next step and fully subscribed to the new idea of literary fictionality. It remains unclear how far Chretien collaborated with the English court, and whether he truly intended to adulate the British king as a god-like figure (apotheosis). On the other hand, this tendency has long been recognized as a key feature in Konrad's work. In other words, here we are faced with some interesting ideas about the patronage-relationship between, on the one hand, the English court and, on the other, Chretien and Konrad, but whether Hartmann's Erec really abandoned the spiritual dimension remains highly doubtful, as some of the subsequent papers illustrate.

Peter Strohschneider presents an experiment in interpretation with regard to Hartmann von Aue's religious tale Gregorius with its incest motif. He reads the incest as a factor which threatens to undermine social order of the highest degree. Even though Gregorius at first guiltlessly assumes his parents' guilt of incest, he does not remain innocent either and commits the same crime with his mother, contrary to Strohschneider's reading ("[w]eil er selbst ohne Schuld ist," 128). As the future pope Gregorius subsequently assumes all social guilt--a very questionable position--and also has to cut all links to his genealogical background. (131) But the text does not quite sustain this interpretation, as Gregorius does not, for example, fully forget the table upon which his history has been recorded, and it remains this very table which later demonstrates God's grace as the new pope is able to retrieve it as a divine sign of his newly-gained innocence (129; cf. my study "Spiritual and Existential Meanings of the Word," Seminar 32: 3 [1996], here not consulted). Strohschneider observes, however, that Gregorius' relationship to his mother is eventually transformed from son- mother to father-daughter insofar as he has become the new pope, which finds its parallel in God the Father who had become the son (Christ) of his own daughter, the Virgin Mary. (133)

Sometimes problematic editorial decisions can change the meaning of a whole passage or even an entire text. Two examples for this can be found in Hartmann von Aue's Erec here critically examined by Manfred Guenther Scholz, who points out dangers of some specific conjectures in the establishment of the "authentic" text leading to quite different interpretations of the meaning of one verse, that is, whether Erec is following Lady Fortune's path or his own. Similarly, the entire discussion about the image of God in this text as a "hoevesche got" or courtly god (editorial conjecture) stands in contrast to the gruesome battles which Erec has to fight. Scholz suggests that even here we might be the victim of a textual misreading of the original version, "der hoevesche gebot", which would translate as something like "courtliness required", taking on a very different reading and eliminating serious interpretive difficulties, if not contradictions.

How far does God figure at all in the classical Middle High German epics, wonders Joachim Theisen, who presents a blistering but satirical analysis which indicates that the major fictional writers between 1170 and 1220 had hardly any interest in God, even though they regularly refer to him. Theisen has some good points, and challenges our understanding with his entertaining essay, but his criticism seems more based on deliberate exaggeration and a humorous, because very modern, approach to the texts. In contrast, Annette Gerok-Reiter presents a disturbing picture of Wolfram's Willehalm where the religious and the secular elements curiously mix, especially because the protagonist at the end laments the death of the many killed warriors. It seems inappropriate, however, here to talk of "Schuldeingestaendnis" (189, admittance of guilt) on the part of Willehalm, who allegedly cannot recognize God and deplores this fact in face of the horrendous battle against the Saracens.

Walther Haug takes a very different approach to the conference topic, as he explores the intriguing relationship between worldly love poetry (Minnesang) and mysticism, especially the visions by Mechthild von Magdeburg. It is surprising to notice that Haug primarily quotes Haug to support his observations, which have often been made by researchers in mysticism (see, for example, Peter Dinzelbacher) but here are not mentioned even once. Most curiously, Haug almost seems to revert the relationship, so as if the Minnesang learned from mysticism, and not the other way around. But we can agree with the author that courtly love poetry contains a surprisingly religious element in that here the beloved is transformed into a divine creature--not a new observation, however, even though Haug perceives it in light of Plato's philosophy. This spiritualizing tendency can also be observed in the heretofore little studied love songs by Frauenlob which derive, as Susanne Koebele suggests, much of their poetic quality from the religious background, drawing mostly on the Song of Songs.

Christian Kiening traces the narrative tradition of the fairy tale Maedchen ohne Haende (Girl without Hands), as it was retold by the Brothers Grimm, back to some of its medieval sources, such as Philippe de Beaumanoir's La Manekine from the late fourteenth century. It is a fascinating story of attempted incest, true love, falsified letters, an evil mother- in-law, matricide, expulsion of the heroine, and reunification of the lovers, but it seems doubtful to argue that the attempted incest brings together the origin and end of the aristocratic-feudal culture. (244) Despite clear forms of idealizing the female protagonist, she cannot be identified as a saint, and along the same line the narrative does not fully deal with religious aspects. In this sense Kiening does not properly address the topic raised by all other authors, and mainly discusses structural elements in the narrative. He concludes with the edition of two so far unknown versions of the Maedchen ohne Haende.

Late-medieval narratives (maeren) often contain a moralizing conclusion (epimythion), but Victor Millet's analysis of some of these didactic comments reveals their highly problematic nature in that they stand in clear contrast to fundamental Christian teachings and yet pretend that God approved the protagonists' actions. These actions involve murder, arson, and deception, yet they affect mostly evil people who are justly punished according to secular logic, whereas the clerical viewpoint seems to be only superimposed without full justification. Similarly, as Millet convincingly demonstrates, the legal system also plays no significant role for the analysis of narratives such as those by Heinrich Kaufringer, instead the basic human interaction between lovers, husband and wife, a farmer's wife and the farm maid, etc., determine the course of events. It seems that Millet succeeds in cutting through a lot of speculative interpretations by scholars who have theoretized a constitutional senselessness (Walter Haug), black humor (Haug), or charged the authors for their moral-theological failures (Kurt Ruh). Instead, here we deal with a large body of European verse narratives in which clerical moralization is of only little relevance, whereas the prime intention appears to be directed toward the audience to elicit its sympathy for the literary protagonists and their human dilemmas and concerns.

Niklaus Largier discusses the changing roles of Diogenes in late-medieval moralistic narratives and exempla where he might serve as a representative of spiritual freedom, or as a spokesperson for civic freedom from feudal suppression. In some tales, such as in John Gower's Confessio amantis, Diogenes appears as a true philosopher who contemplates the secrets of the universe, whereas Alexander the Great threatens to interrupt his intellectual freedom. Largier's article is largely based on his monograph Diogenes der Kyniker (1997) where most of his primary sources are fully quoted and analyzed, whereas here he quickly summarizes his findings.

In 1446 the Nuremberg Carthusian Erhart Gross composed a widow's book in which he has himself discuss with the widow Margret Mendel the status of widowhood and explains to her in great detail the clerical perspectives toward widows. The text exists only in one manuscript, today housed in the university library of Debrecen in eastern Hungary, and was edited by two Hungarian scholars in 1936/41. Henrike Lahnemann now makes a highly laudable attempt to alert scholarship to this fascinating literary document and to bring to light its major aspects such as the moral teachings, the clerical dogma, the use of the biblical and patristic sources, and the nature of the dialogue structure. She does not consider the enormously fascinating defense of women and the social-historical aspects of widowhood, but there are many more aspects which deserve a closer analysis (see my study of this text, forthcoming in Journal of English and Germanic Philology), such as the question why a Carthusian would reach out to the public and try to build a bridge between the monastery and the urban population.

Finally, we are confronted with a close reading of Antonius Schorus' play Eusebia from 1550. Cora Dietl examines the strong Protestant criticism contained in this play which was directed against the radical attempts by the Heidelberg university president Keuler to revert the city and the university to Catholicism. The play was performed on Epiphany and aimed at a social satire of the entire society, attacking all classes for their lack of religiosity. Dietl's article nicely sums up this volume with conference proceedings as she concludes with the observation that this Reformation play interweaves the religious with the secular to a point where the difference is no longer visible. This was, however, not unusual for sixteenth-century plays, as the Reformation in itself had eliminated the separation.

Unfortunately, the editors did not provide an index or a list of addresses of the contributors. But the volume impressively takes us from the early Middle Ages to the age of the Reformation in a well balanced chronological sequence.