The Northern Way

Honor in German Literature


Page 2

The most typical, and the best, German literary product of this theocentric age was Grimmelshausen's Simplicissimus of 1668, which described the brutality and violence of the Thirty Year's War. Although it poses initially as an autobiographical picaresque novel, this work is really a sermon in disguise, a sermon against the vanities of life - one might even say against life itself. Simplicissimus, a war orphan, lives first with a peasant and then, after his home has been destroyed by pillagers, with a hermit who teaches him to see the vanity of life. Carried away by soldiers, he experiences all the horrors of war, forgets the hermit's teaching, and lives a wicked and worldly life as a soldier. At last, upon reading a religious tract by a Spanish Franciscan named Guevara, he sees the vanity of the world and retires to the Black Forest as a hermit.

Such a plot naturally leaves little room for honor. Whereas Simplicissimus does not read Guevara's other-worldly tractate until the end of the book, it is apparent that the author had read it before hand; because his whole book stresses the emptiness of worldly joys, including wealth and honor. Grimmelshausen used the word Ehre almost exclusively in its objective sense, as, for example, in the formula Ehre und Reputation and in the statement that a fallen girl regains her Ehren when married and is entunehrt when raped.1 Although it might appear that subjective value is intended in the expression "incapable of honor", this is not likely the case, for this is said of Simplicissimus while he is playing the role of a calf.2 As we have seen, it had been conventional since Xenophon to say that animals are incapable of honor, in the sense of timê .3 On the other hand, when reflecting about his wasted life, Simplicissimus once regrets that he has not paid attention to his honor for its own sake but only for his own exaltation;4 and this suggests that honor is used here in the sense of honorable behavior. Also, the pair Ehre und Tugend appears in its old sense of female chastity;5 but Ehre is used objectively in nearly all other cases.

1 "Ehre und Reputation" (Simplicissimus, II, p. 48; III, 310); "ehrbar und reputierlich" (II, p. 237); "Ehren" (II, p. 227); "entunehrt:' (II, p. 242).

2 "keiner menschlichen Ehre würdig noch fähig" (I, p. 172); "keiner Ehre fähig" (I, p. 177).

3 Cassio alludes to this belief when he exclaims: "I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial." (Othello, II, 3).

4 "Ich nahm meine Ehre in acht, nicht ihrer selbsten, sondern meiner Er­höhung wegen" (III, p. 129).

5 "Ehre und Tugend" (II, p. 209).

Whereas Grimmelshausen usually uses Ehre in the sense of Latin honor rather than honestum, the adjectives ehrlich and ehrbar always mean honestus, in either its objective or subjective meaning. Natu­rally they always have objective meaning when applied to objects,l in which case Grimmelshausen often uses them facetiously. In some cases, however, the words are used in their moral sense, as when it is said that an honorable (ehrlicher) man keeps his word.2 Both ehrlich and ehrbar appear often as standing epithets for clergymen and good Christians in general;3 and, as in medieval didactic verse, virtues are ehrlich and vices are schändlich .4 As heir to a clerical tradition, Grimmelshausen thinks the stars show honor to God, as the old hermit sings in one of his hymns.5 Grimmelshausen himself was honestus, or invested with civil rights, if we may trust the notice of his death made in his parish register.6

Following clerical tradition, Grimmelshausen lets his hero sing a song in praise of the peasantry, its ten strophes summarizing all the arguments presented in Farmer Helmbrecht in very much the same language and. sequence. Even though this poem praises the peasant for nourishing Christendom, it still reveals some upper-class ration­alization by saying that God puts an especial cross on the peasants to protect them from pride and lets the soldiers despoil them to protect them from arrogance.7 These last two thoughts had often appeared in satirical poems directed against the peasantry and justifying the status quo.8 Grimmelshausen also praises the ancient artisans and inventors just as highly as ancient conquerors,9 and thus he evinces clerical-bourgeois rather than aristocratic tendencies.

1 "der ehrliche Tanz" (I, p. 135); "ehrlicher Ort" (I, 136); "ehrbare Früchte" (I, p. 137); "ehrliches Stier" (I, p. 158); "ehrliche Übungen" (III, p. 174); "ehrbarer Bart" (III, p. 81), et passim .

2 "ein ehrlicher Mann hält sein Wort" (I, p. 124).

3 "ehrbarer Domine" (II, p. 234); "ehrlicher Christenmensch" (III, p 44); "ehrliche Christen" (III, p. 282); "ehrliche Christenmenschen" (III, p. 283);

"ehrbares christliches Tun" (III, p. 108); "ehrliche Übungen" (III, p, 174);

et passim .

4 "ehrlichen Tugenden, schändlichen Lastern" (III, p. 178).

5 "Ehre ihm beweisen" (I, p. 26).

6 The notice of Grimmelshausen's death in his parish register states that he was honestus (cited in Simplicissimus the Vagabond, ed. A. T. S. Goodrich, London, 1912, p. xxii).

7 Simplicissimus, I, p. 12.

8 Hugo von Trimberg states: "Der maniger vil trazmüetic wêre: Wêren in die herren niht ze swêre, Sô möhte man ir vil manigen vinde Bî der hôchferte ingesinde" (Renner, vv. 1311-1314). In a satire of the Reformation period St. Peter says: "Denn wo kein straf an den baurn geschicht, So wirt fürwar kein bauer selig nicht" (O. Schade, Satiren und Pasquille aus der Reformations­zeit, Hannover, 1856-58, I, p. 167, vv. 474-475),

9 Simplicissimus, 1, pp. 176-177.

In spite of such praise for productive work, he nevertheless reveals some of the current prejudices against the "dishonorable" people and common laborers by ridiculing people who try to win nobility even though their ancestors were day-laborers, carters, carriers, washerwomen, jugglers, bailiffs, constables, and other scorned people.l On another occasion, he lets Simplicissimus say that no recruiting officer would take him because he looks shabbier than a linen weaver.2

Grimmelshausen also follows clerical tradition in preferring nobility of behavior to nobility of birth. A young nobleman and a sergeant have a long argument in which numerous biblical and classical commonplaces are mustered to prove or disprove the military superiority of better-born people. The nobleman, in agree­ment with Castiglione, argues that wellborn people are more re­spected and therefore can be better leaders and that they are by nature more avid for glory. The sergeant, on the other hand, argues that no army can fight well unless its common soldiers have some hope of rising through their own merits.3 It is not difficult to see that Grimmelshausen favors the more democratic view, especially since he knows that children do not always resemble their parents and therefore do not deserve their titles.4 Nevertheless, he follows the time-worn tradition of letting his well-endowed hero be a person of gentle birth, like Paris, Siegfried, Gregorius, and many other foundling heroes. Later, while pretending to believe himself a calf, Simplicissimus preaches his master, the military governor of Hanau, a sermon on the vanity of titles and honor. This lecture, which lasts a whole chapter, argues that a man who holds titles, authority, and honor suffers many trials and tribulations and is in constant danger of losing all his treasures in this world, to say nothing of those in the next. Simplicissimus then cites numerous Greek and Roman writers to prove that great men always suffer from envy, enmity, and backbiting.5 It is to be remembered that seventeenth­-century writers like Grimmelshausen did not have to be widely read in the classics in order to flaunt classical knowledge. This was readily available in commonplace books, for instance in Tobias Magirus's Polymnemon, which was printed in Frankfurt in 1661 and included numerous classical quotations on the subject of honor.

Naturally Grimmelshausen, who considers forgiveness better than revenge, cannot appreciate the "point of honor".6

1 op. cit., I, p. 3.

2 "Leineweber" (op. cit., II, p. 174).

3 op. cit., I, pp. 63-68.

4 op. cit ., I, p.173.

5 op. cit., I, pp. 178-184.

6 The older Herzbruder is clearly expressing Grimmelshausen's views when he preaches against revenge. (op. cit., I, p. 240).

Simplicissimus's only affair of honor is not an honorable affair, for it begins in drunken boasting and ends in deceit. Incited by wine and esprit de corps, Simplicissimus challenges a cavalryman who has spoken dispar­agingly of the musketeers. The cavalryman takes up the gauntlet. and agrees to meet him in an open field where each will use his own weapons. Seeing Simplicissimus's musket misfire, he charges down upon him, only to be shot down. The apparent misfire was a ruse. Simplicissimus had merely touched off a little powder on top of his powder pan.l Unlike his courtly predecessors, Grimmelshausen considered duels both stupid and sinful. Like the virtuous heroes of the courtly epics, Simplicissimus resolves to win esteem and praise through liberality; yet Grimmelshausen makes it clear that he does not consider this a virtuous resolve.2 As he often stresses, thirst for fame is a vice rather than a virtue.3

1 op. cit., II, p. 48.

2 "Ansehen und guter Lob" (op. cit., II, p. 91).

3 "Ehre und Ruhm zu erjagen" (op. cit., II, p. 3).

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