Academic journal article German Quarterly

Mauritius von Craûn and Otto von Freising's The Two Cities: 12th- and 13th-Century Scepticism about Historical Progress and the Metaphor of the Ship1

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Mauritius von Craûn and Otto von Freising's The Two Cities: 12th- and 13th-Century Scepticism about Historical Progress and the Metaphor of the Ship1

Article excerpt

One of the most enigmatic verse narratives of the entire Middle Ages, the Middle High German novella Mauritius von Craûn, continues to challenge and intrigue modern scholarship.2 Although composed either around 1180 or as late as 1220/1230, the text was copied apparently only once by the Tyrolese toll official Hans Ried in the famous Ambraser Heldenbuch between 1504 and 1515 on behalf of Emperor Maximilian (1486-1519) (Wierschin; Janota). There are no indications that any other author was familiar with this text since there are no references to Mauritius in contemporary and late-medieval German literature.3 However, the anonymous author seems to have been deeply influenced by Andreas Capellanus's Latin treatise on love, De amore (ca. 1190), which would make the early date of Mauritius von Craûn impossible (Thomas 1984; id. 1987). We also know that he based his account of Mauritius to some extent on the short Old French fable "Du chevalier qui recovra l'amor de sa dame" ("The Knight Who Regained his Lady's Love," 254 verses). This almost satirical narrative in turn obviously drew its material from a historically more or less verifiable account of an adulterous love affair between Maurice II of Craon and Isabelle, the wife of his neighbor, Count Richard of Beaumont. Maurice ruled over Maine and Anjou-east of the Bretagne-during the latter half of the 12th century.4 As the historical documents confirm, he was a highly acclaimed knight and also composer of courtly love poetry who had close contacts with the famous troubadour Bertran de Born (Kokott 370). The Middle High German verse narrative adopted the basic account of the illicit love affair, but vastly expanded its philosophical and-if we may use the anachronistic term in this context-psychological content, offering a multiplicity of almost contradictory perspectives regarding courtly love and the course of human history (Harvey 50-52).

Although modern research has often focused on this fascinating narrative,5 a number of critical questions concerning its significance in literary-historical, ethical, philosophical, and aesthetic terms have remained unresolved.6 In the introductory section, for instance, the anonymous author reflects upon the historical development of knighthood and argues that it had experienced dramatic ups and downs in Greece, Rome, and finally in the world of the Carolingians where it experienced a new, but probably also unsteady flowering under the rule of Charlemagne and his Paladins Oliver and Roland (231-46).

One purpose of this paper is to discuss the historical perspective in this verse narrative in light of 12th-century historiography, especially Otto von Freising's Chronicle of the Two Cities, with its profound messages about the consequences of past events for the world of chivalry, and hence to postulate a new possible source for Mauritius von Craûn. In the prologue, for instance, the narrator specifically refers to Emperor Nero and his evil deeds that became symptomatic of the moral decline affecting the entire Roman society. I will argue that the discussion and characterization of Nero, deeply influenced by Otto's account, provide the crucial backdrop to a proper interpretation of Mauritius and his behavior in his love affair. Moreover, the most unusual motif of the ship allows for an innovative interpretation which will take into account the peculiar shape and construction of the ship that may be viewed as a reflection of the protagonist's shallow character.7

Once the actual love story has begun, the protagonist initially gains the promise of his beloved, the Countess of Beamunt,8 that she would soon await him for a night of love. But as a precondition she asks him to organize a tournament for her sake because she has never witnessed one and would like to observe her lover perform his knightly skills in jousts with other knights (598-603). As part of the preparations for the tournament, Mauritius creates one of the most unusual objects in the history of German literature with which he intends to impress the countess. …

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