Assess the relationship between sexual love, self-love and love for God in works by at least two authors studied during the course.
Varying types of ‘love’ are present in every type of literature. Love for oneself, love for God and love for another person are the most common denominations and all three are present in the works of Middle High German author Hartmann von Aue and medieval mystic Mechthild von Magdeburg. The relationship between the interrelating types of love differs from text to text but each enriches the other and results in an interesting experience for the reader. Hartmann’s Der Arme Heinrich may have been written out of love for God, as is suggested in the introduction (Von Aue, line 25) but the titular Heinrich’s sexual love is at the heart of the plot. Equally, Mechthild’s works may aim to distance itself from such expression of sexual love as its author was a nun. However, through the exploration of her own love for God, as will be discussed, she cannot entirely avoid it.
Primarily, the outline of the sexual love featured in Arme Heinrich seems simple and predictable, not in a way which detracts from the work but which suggests it is not the main issue. On the other hand, the differences between the unnamed peasant girl’s supposed sexual love for Heinrich and his love for her develop differently and are closely linked with the presentations of the other forms of love found in the work.
Heinrich has an instant connection with the Peasant’s daughter and lavishes her with attention and gifts: “er gewan ir, swaz er veile vant:/Spiegel unde hârbant,/und sawz kinden liep solte sîn,/gürtel unde vingerlîn.” (335) The gifts are reminiscent of a courtship. They all have to do with appearance and may at first appear childish but they lead to Heinrich affectionately labelling the girl his gemahel, or bride. Cormeau and Strömer (1993, p. 153) agree that the gifts also envoke “erotischer Annäherung” and state that the items in question were, in medieval times, typical Werbungsgeschenke. The reader has to question Heinrich’s intentions – is he grooming her for the task she later intends to perform, or does he wish to marry her because he desires her? The girl may be the cure he has been searching for; given leprosy by God, Heinrich requires the blood of a willing virgin of marriageable age. The text describes how the girl comes to love him and is happy when he is around: “mit süezer unmuoze/wonte sî ir herren bî.” (326) By using the presents and affection, Heinrich may be forcing or encouraging an attachment in order to gain the trust and love needed for her to sacrifice herself. Nevertheless, he has no need to treat her as a bride-to-be specifically if the cure is indeed his only interest, therefore he may have come to care for the girl after all.
Heinrich implores her to reconsider when he learns of the girl’s intention to sacrifice herself, after having overheard the nature of the cure. He tells her “dîn wille ist reine unde guot,/ich ensol ouch niht mê an dich gern./dû maht mich des niht wol gewern,/daz dû dâ gesprochen hâst.“ (938) Though not overly convincing, he does state that she is good and pure and that she cannot sacrifice herself for him, rather than accepting such a sacrifice gratefully, as he may well have done when first searching for his cure.
As far as the girl’s love for Heinrich is concerned, it is arguably purer: she loves him throughout her childhood despite his leprosy and intends to give up her life to save him. Whether or not she has other motives for doing so will be discussed in detail later. The reader is lead to think that she loves him as a woman loves a man and Heinrich certainly seems to bring about her sexual awakening (Adamson: 2005, 131) but it is the scene in which the cure is to be carried out that confirms his own desires. It is abundant with sexual metaphors, most notably the phallic symbol present in the knife, sharpened to ironically, or perhaps fittingly, cause the girl less pain. As Heinrich looks through a hole in the wall “ersach sî durch die schrunden/nacket und gebunden” (1231). Here the contrast between them is clear: the girl has no shame in her nakedness (Yeandle: 1994, 205), which is thought to be unusual for a maiden. Despite this, her being naked and bound reflects her purity (as will be seen), but Heinrich is portrayed as having somewhat immoral desires; their love is not equal.
The contrast apparent in Mechthild’ s Das fließende Licht der Gottheit is that the ‘sexual’ love described is not the conventional type between a man and a woman. It is, in fact, a description of her visions of God and how he appears to her, which in some instances borders on the sexual. In her second section, titled Von drei Personen und drei Graben, the language used to describe the spirtual union is sensual and she describes the Holy Spirit as a man of class, who comes to court a maiden. “Er grüßt sie in höfischer Sprache, die man in der Küche niemals vernimmt, und kleidet sie mit Kleidern, die man im Palast tragen soll...“ (Mechthild von Magdeburg (course handout), page 96). The fact that he speaks as one of the upper class and dresses her as a princess suggests that this is the treatment she desires from a suitor and that in the absence of such a courtship she projects her desires onto God, appearing here as the Holy Spirit.