Stephen Carey

title.none: Ziegler, Trial by Fire and Battle in Medieval German Literature (Stephen Carey)

identifier.other: baj9928.0508.006 05.08.06

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Stephen Carey, Georgia State University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2005

identifier.citation: Ziegler, Vickie L. Trial by Fire and Battle in Medieval German Literature. Series: Studies in Medieval German Literature, Linguistics, and Culture. Rochester: Camden House, 2004. Pp. xiii, 234. 1-57113-291-0. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 05.08.06

Ziegler, Vickie L. Trial by Fire and Battle in Medieval German Literature. Series: Studies in Medieval German Literature, Linguistics, and Culture. Rochester: Camden House, 2004. Pp. xiii, 234. 1-57113-291-0. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Stephen Carey
Georgia State University

This book delivers exactly what the title promises. Professor Vickie L. Ziegler provides a detailed treatment of bilateral and unilateral ordeals hitherto afforded only isolated or cursory treatment. In the preface, the author explains the goal to make the dramatic medieval legal issues like trial by fire or battle more understandable to a modern audience so that a greater appreciation of these practices in medieval literary texts may be gained. The study is divided into three main chapters but also includes an introduction with historical background, a coda with a treatment of Stricker's novella "Das heisse Eisen" and appendices with plot summaries of all the major works treated, including a full translation of the aforementioned novella. Each chapter is completed with copious endnotes and the volume concludes with an extensive bibliography and an index. In her introduction, Ziegler gives an overview of the role of ordeals, which were not the proof of choice in medieval law and culture. A glance at the shift, particularly in clerical attitudes, over the course of the three centuries (the twelfth to the fourteenth) covered in this volume sets the stage for the discussion that follows.

In chapter one, "Decoding the Codes: Treason in the Late Medieval Karlsepik-Der Stricker's Karl der Grosse and the Karlmeinet," Ziegler engages the issue of treason and the bilateral judicial duels that accompany such charges, in the case of the Roland material, those against Ganelon/Gunelun/Wellis. Stricker's Karl der Grosse dates from the first half of the Thirteenth century and the Karlmeinet from the first half of the fourteenth century. Until recently, both works, relegated to epigone status or worse, have been largely ignored in the critical literature. Ziegler has found a perfect space for unpacking the richness of these texts outside of the strictures of generic bias. The chapter contains several side-by-side comparisons of the text and initially devotes considerable attention to the older and more famous Rolandslied of the Pfaffe Konrad. This allows Ziegler to chart changes in attitudes towards legal practice over time. She is also careful to make distinctions based on patronage and the probable political circumstances of the various authors and how this may have affected the presentation of the material. This chapter, by far the longest, places these three Middle High German Charlemagne epics on equal footing and provides a context for comparison and distinction, which particularly in the case of the Karlmeinet, has been something relatively lacking in the secondary literature.

Chapter two, entitled "The Ordeals of Tristan and Isolde," discusses Gottfried's Tristan and the famous ordeal of the hot irons in the context of preceding Tristan romances in both the French and German traditions. On the intra-textual level, Ziegeler compares the role of law in Gottfried's treatment of the bilateral judicial duel with Morolt and Isolde's unilateral ordeal with hot irons. The treatment of these two episodes ties the first and third chapters together and amply supports assertions made throughout the text regarding variant social and political attitudes towards the bilateral and unilateral ordeals. The unilateral ordeal is almost always reserved for sexual offences and this is borne out in almost all of the literature. The general attitude towards the two types of ordeals differed drastically as the comparison of these two scenes in Tristan demonstrates. The relative legal prestige of the judicial dual is underscored by attention to legal terminology and procedure in the depiction of the Morolt-episode. This concern for legal realities wanes considerably in the episode of Isolde's unilateral ordeal. In her treatment of these two episodes both intra-textually and inter-textually, in the context of this study as a whole, Ziegler points the way to some roads less traveled among the well-worn paths of Tristan scholarship.

The third chapter, "Saintly Queens under Fire in the Kaiserchronik and in Heinrich und Kunegunde," considers the episode of Richardis and Karl from the Twelfth century Kaiserchronik and the similar and relatively obscure early Thirteenth century tale of Kunegunde as related in Middle High German by Ebernand von Erfurt. Both tales involve a chaste empress, who despite the maintenance of her virginity in a sexless marriages, is nonetheless accused of infidelities by jealous courtiers. Both women prove their innocence in trials by fire. Richardis wears a burning wax shirt and Kunigunde walks over glowing hot plowshares. Both emerge unscathed. These texts allow Ziegler to further explore issues of sexual transgression and the unilateral ordeal touched upon earlier. It also gives her the opportunity to explore two representations of the ordeal by fire that chronologically encapsulate Gottfried's Tristan, which is preceded by the Kaiserchronik and most likely followed by Heinrich und Kundegunde. Both texts contain relatively positive presentations of the unilateral ordeal pointing to a residual faith in the institution that persisted in face of clerical and literary critique.

The final chapter or "Coda: Der Stricker's 'Das heisse Eisen' and Conclusion," presents a thirteenth-century farce of trial by hot irons and yet also relies on the notion that a considerable group still believed in it. The action is dislocated from the political and courtly arenas and unfolds in a simple peasant household between a woman and her husband. The woman demands that her husband prove his marital fidelity by undergoing the ordeal of the hot irons in the comfort of their own home. He cheats by placing a piece of wood between his hands and irons. He then insists his wife undergo the ordeal as well and she is badly burned. Thus, although the ordeal maintained a role in saintly legends like that of Kunigunde, it also, in the decades following Gottfried's Tristan became a stock comic element that persisted well into the early Modern period. The bilateral judicial dual, on the other hand, remained a viable legal option well into the same era. Both ordeals, Ziegler argues, were gradually superceded by the use of torture as a means for gathering proof. With that in mind, this reader gained further insight into the ordeal, understood as torture-all medieval superstitions and religious beliefs aside, or perhaps not-as an institution that unfortunately endures today in self-proclaimed modern or even post modern and "enlightened" societies like the United States of America.

Ziegler touches on topics that are of broad interest to students of every epoch and has gone to extra-ordinary lengths to make this volume accessible to those well outside the field of German Studies. (The appendices, as mentioned above, include plot summaries and/or translations of all of the major works treated.) Yet, she includes a good deal of often overlooked material and provides new insights that make this volume of interest to specialists in the field as well. I am, therefore, able to recommend this book to beginners and experts alike, both in and outside of the field of German Studies.