The Northern Way

Honor in German Literature

CHAPTER FIVE: KNIGHTLY HONOR - REFINING INFLUENCES

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In Wolfram's Willehalm, Henry of Narbonne sends his sons out into the world without any inheritance but the advice; "In case you wish to prove yourselves, esteemed women have high rewards, and you will also find a man somewhere who can reward service well with fiefs and other wealth."1 In this epic the Christians, and the Saracens to an even greater degree, fight for women's rewards, which are often no more than a gracious greeting.2 Whereas Henry had joined women's favor with feudal rewards as compatible incentives, Wolfram also associated it with God's love; for his Christians fought "for two kinds of love, for women's reward here on earth and for the angels' chorus in heaven."3 Many thousands of verses later they are still fighting "for God and women's reward".4 Perhaps the pagans fight so exclusively for women's rewards because they cannot fight for God. .

By inspiring her knight-errant to deeds of valor, his lady con­tributed to his morale, or, as Wolfram states, "women give hôher muot ".5 Even the Lay of the Nibelungs follows this courtly convention by letting Ortwin ask, "What would be man's delight, and what would give him joy, if beautiful maids and splendid ladies did not do so?"6 Rudolf of Ems expressed this thought by saying that the world values no one unless he bears "high spirits" and "dignity" from woman's love.7 One of the chief motifs of the courtly love lyrics was the joy or despair felt by the singer according to the favor or lack of favor shown by his lady. Goethe was but one of many poets who realized that fame and women's favor are the two chief incentives to masculine endeavor.8

1 "welt ir urborn den lîp, hôhen lôn hant werdiu wîp: ir vindet ouch etswâ den man, der wol dienstes lônen kan mit lêhen und mit anderm guote" (Willehalm, 6,1-5).

2 Willehalm's men earned "women's love and their hearts' favor (wîbe minne und ir herzen gunst, 7, 4). The heathen Tibalt sought after love and lands (nâch minne und nâch dem lande, 11, 9). Noupatrîs was sent to battle by women's love, and his heart and senses strove for women's reward (dar gesant hete in der wîbe minne: sîn herze und des sinne ranc nâch wîbe lône, 22,22-25). Many heathens had risked their lives for praise and women's reward (durch prîs und durch der wîbe lôn, 25, 9). Margot's troops strove for women's greetings or other praise (wîbe gruoz oder sus nâch anderm prîse, 36, 2-3), etc., etc. Likewise, Lanzelet was ready to risk all "urn ere ald limb wîp" (Lanzelet, v. 546).

3 "durch der zweier slahte minne, ûf erde hie durch der wîbe lôn und ze himele durch der engel dôn': (Willehalm, 16,30-17,2).

4 "durch got und durch der wîbe lôn" (Willehalm, 381,21).

5 "sô gebent diu wîp den hôhen muot" (Willehalm, 83, 11). Cf. "Diu minne condewierte in sîn manlîch herze hôhen muot" (Parzival, 736,6-7).

6 "waz waere mannes wünne, des vreute sich sîn lîp, ez entaeten scoene megede und hêrlichîu wip?" (Nibelungenlied, 274,1-2). Jousting is equal to "dienen schoenen wîben" (559,3).

7 "der welte ist wênec iemen wert wan der von wîbes minne treit hôhge­müete und werdekeit" (Barlaam, 291, 12-14).

8 In Tasso (III.4) Antonio says of the two chief rewards for service: "Der Lorbeer ist es und die Gunst der Frauen." Castiglione gives a compelling picture of the good influence of women upon men's courage and other virtues (Cortegiano, III, 51).

Wace, whose Brut influenced the courtly tradition of all Europe, said that amours and amorous conversation made cavaliers chivalrous.1

Not only could a scornful woman shame a man into action, but also the love of or to a woman could inspire him to virtue. Gottfried, the rhapsodist of love, claimed that no one can have virtue or honor without love's teaching, and Walther expressed the same idea by saying, "He who has a good woman's love is ashamed of any misdeed."2 This topos, which lasted unbroken for centuries, appeared about the year 1400 in the Plowman from Bohemia as, "If anyone is in a woman's service, he must refrain from all misdeeds." Elsewhere this work says that a disapproving shake of a pure wom­an's finger rebukes and disciplines a worthy man more than any weapon.3 Goethe expressed this belief in his Tasso, when the princess says that, to learn what is proper, one should ask noble women. It also appears in his Iphigenie, when Arkas says that a noble man can be led far by the good word of a woman.4

This mystical faith in the purifying power of a woman may have been influenced by St. Paul's dictum to the Corinthians: "For the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife".5 As we have seen, Tacitus tells how the Teutons ascribed mystic powers to their women. The ennobling influence of women has been praised until modern times, finding classic utterance in the closing lines of Goethe's Faust : "Das Ewig-Weibliche zieht uns hinan".

1 "Mult sunt bones les gaberies E bones sunt les drüeries. Pur amistié e pur amies Funt chevaliers chevaleries" (Brut, vv. 10,769-71).­

2 "daz niemen âne ir lêre noch tugende hât noch êre" (Tristan, v. 190). "swer guotes wîbes minne hât, der schamt sich aller missetât" (Walther, 93,17-18). "Wer in frauen dienste ist, der muss sich aller missetat anen" (Ackerman, 29).

3 "Einer reinen frauen fingirdroen strafet and züchtiget vür alle waffen einen frumen man" (Ackerman, v. 29). For other examples of this topos, see ibid., p. 211.

4 "Willst du genau erfahren was sich ziemt, So frage nur bei edlen Frauen an" (Tasso, II, 1); "Ein edler Mann wird durch ein gutes Wort Der Frauen weit geführt" (Ipliigenie, I, 2).

5 "sanctificatus est enim vir infidelis per mulierem fidelem" (I Cor. 7, 14).

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