Faith Unfaithful--The German Reaction
to Courtly Love
THE LITERATURE OF GERMANY in the High Middle Ages is largely a reaction to contemporary literature in France. Some French critics--Jeanroy is a good example--prefer to regard it as a mere continuation, an imitation or adaptation of French literature, but this is not so. It is a reaction, sometimes little more than a feeble reworking but more often an attempt to express the thought and style of French literature in new terms. It must be borne in mind that the reaction was to French literature as the German poets understood it, and this understanding was sometimes faulty. Just as for an understanding of classicism it is important to know what an eighteenth-century European believed the Greeks to be, rather than what they actually were, so we must recognize that many German authors failed to perceive the ironical overtones in French literature and reacted to a system of values which they believed to be there. It is interesting that many of their more recent countrymen have done the same.
There is little point in reviving the controversy started by Ehrismann in 1919 and continued by Curtius and Neumann, 1 except to point out that they all assume some consistency of attitude in the German authors they are discussing. Most people would agree with Curtius that there is little evidence to link Aristotle with an assumed moral philosophy which is present in the "courtly code." Yet it must be remarked that even Curtius seems to believe that there was such a code, even if it was not formal or written. Ehrismann had advanced the thesis that the German authors derived their code from Wernher von Elmendorf, that is, from philosophi-