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Abstract  

Although the mediaval church preached that happiness was possible only in the afterlife if one pursued a virtuous and pious existence on earth, both a number of poets and of philosophers outlined avenues for the opposite approach. John Buridan strongly defended the idea that human life should be based on happiness, and Marie de France outlined clear strategies for her literary protagonists to realize this dream during their earthly existence. In this article both their testimonies, but also those of Hartmann von Aue, Walther von der Vogelweide, Giovanni Boccaccio, and Albertanus da Brescia are considered as support for the thesis that medieval people did accept, at least under special circumstances, a very secular position with respect to human happiness. The literary and philosophical documents do not belittle or undermine the theological arguments, instead they simply open new perspectives which demonstrate considerable anthropological similarities between people in medieval and modern Europe.

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Abstract  

The present article explores the way how medieval people thought about time and organized their lives in light of the constant passing of time. Whereas modern philosophers and historians have generally credited the Middle Ages with a radically different time concept in contrast to the modern world, here I will argue that occasionally the differences were considerably less stringent and perhaps not even existent. Often, quite naturally, the mental-historical framework was deeply influenced by the Catholic Church which perceived human life within the extremes of life and death, or of secular time and eternity. The analysis will take us from Old High German heroic epic poetry represented by the “Hildebrandslied” with its noteworthy emphasis on the many years in which the father did not see his son, to the late Middle Ages when Oswald von Wolkenstein, through his poetry, and Helene Kottannerin, through her unique diary, indicated their full awareness of the meaning of time in its measurable quality. Not every author reflected the same concept of time, and many of them simply took their readers to the timeless world of King Arthur. Other authors, however, such as the Stricker, expressed a clear idea of time almost in the modern sense of the word by way of positioning their protagonists in problematic situations when they are suddenly pressed for time and need to reach painful decisions. The article does not intend to blur the differences between the Middle Ages and our own cultural period, but it wants to deconstruct the romantic sentiment that the consciousness of time prevalent in the Middle Ages was completely different to the modern concept of time.

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Abstract  

While the theme of friendship in the Middle Ages has traditionally been associated with the world of courtly literature and the Renaissance of the Twelfth Century, deeply influenced by Cicero, there are also other strands of friendship that determine, contrary to our expectations, the world of heroic epics. As much as the heroic individuals often seem to be wood-cut like figures with no or little feelings, a closer analysis of Beowulf, Le Chanson de Roland, the Nibelungenlied, and Njal’s Saga demonstrates that some of the true tragic elements contained in them are the conflicts among friends or the inability of friendship to avoid the massive killing. This friendship often comes to the surface only in the ultimate situation of death and dying, but the poets of those heroic epics were apparently deeply inspired to elaborate on the profound value of friendship in a bellicose and catastrophic world where human existence was at great risk. One of the greatest strengths of these heroes proves to be their deeply moving effort to reach out to their friends even in the most deadly situations.

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Abstract  

In Georgius of Hungary’s Tractatus (ca. 1480) we learn of a slave’s long-term experience in Turkey, reflected upon after his eventual escape. While Georgius provides extensive details about the culture and religion in the Ottoman Empire, he ultimately utilized his account to overcome the trauma that he had suffered when he was taken prisoner and made into a slave. The term ‘life-writing’ fits the Tractatus well because despite the brevity of the autobiographical references the author outlines to an impressive degree how much his later condemnation of Islam provided him with the necessary narrative framework to reconstitute his own identity as a Christian. Radical rejection thus becomes the epistemological tool for the rebuilding of the own self after slavery.

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The people rise up against the tyrants in the courtly world

John of Salisbury’s policraticus, the fables by Marie de France, and the anonymous Mai und Beaflor

Neohelicon
Author: Albrecht Classen

Abstract  

Whereas historical research has often pointed toward severe criticism of medieval kings and other rulers, the present paper unearths a number of vernacular texts where the poets express explicit opposition to an absolutist ruler and rise against his abuse of power. Whereas John of Salisbury provided the broad theoretical framework for this public discourse, Marie de France in her Fables and the anonymous author of the Middle High German verse romance Mai und Beaflor (late 13th c.) formulated surprisingly harsh and unmitigated comments on tyrannical rulers and condemned those in power who utilize their economic and military influence for personal goals to the disadvantage of the lower classes. In Mai und Beaflor we even observe a popular uprising against Duke Mai because the people falsely assume that he had ordered the murder of his wife and his child. This paper hence suggests that the political discourse in the Middle Ages was considerably more diversified and not at all muted by supreme rulers, or tyrants.

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