women resisting medieval anti-meninism in Neidhart’s songs

Joy has come to us. May has come to us,
and many kinds of flowers have come.
Now the birds are coming to us with their sweet sound.
The beloved summertime
that gives joy to so many hearts has come.
Let no one remain sad.

{ Chomen ist uns diu wunne,chomen ist uns der maye,
chomen sint diu blumen manger hande laye,
nů choment uns die vogel mit ir suzzen schraye.
chomen ist uns diu lieb sumerzit,
diu vil mangem herzen vroude git.
sin trŏren niemen langer haye. }[1]

They always spoil our joy with hardened hate. Anti-meninism does that. Yes, even in compassionate and passionately loving medieval Europe there was anti-meninism. Consider what a woman said to her girlfriend in one of Neidhart’s early-thirteenth-century German songs:

Dear friend, now be quiet. Don’t waste your preaching.
Even if I help you to increase your joy,
who will increase mine? Men are not honorable
because they desire our love secretly.
I want to abstain from their false love.
Customs are being perverted!

{ Troutgespil, nu swige, niht verlius din leren.
ob ich dir noh hilfe dine vroude meren,
wer meret mir di minen? die man sint niht in eren,
daz si tougen unser minne geren.
ich wil von in valscher minne enberen,
die site welent sich vercheren. }

Her friend was telling her about some dreamy guy and about how great it would be to have him and how she should help her get him. She could have invited them both to a dinner party and a game of twister. Instead she said that men are not honorable. That’s anti-meninism. Not all men are like that:

Then the second one answered, “Men differ from one another.
Let those who serve women and maidens faithfully
be pleasing to you, but let the worthless ones be hateful to you.
If someone heartless courts us,
then copper is dearer to him than gold.
Let him be scorned by them both.”

{ Sa do sprach diu ander: “die man sint underscheiden.
die mit triwen dienen wiben under mayden,
die sælben la dir lieben und die bosen læiden.
istg uns iemen an herze holt,
dem ist chůpher lieber danne golt.
gehoenet werd er von in beiden.” }

Many men are honorable. Many men, while not being self-abasing women-servers, love women faithfully. Anti-meninism hurts men, and hurts women, too. Resist anti-meninism!

peasants assailing Neidhart

Another woman in another of Neidhart’s songs also resisted anti-meninism. Her friend was complaining that she didn’t want to dress up for a spring dance:

“For whom should I dress up?”
said a young woman,
“Those fools are asleep.
I am lost.
All the world despises joy and honor.
Men are fickle.
No man will court a woman who will bring him honor.”

{ “Gein wem solt ich mich zaffen?”
so redet ein maget.
“die tumben sint entslaffen,
ich bin verzagt.
vreud und ere is al der wærld unmære,
die man sint wandelbære:
deheiner wirbet ump ein wip, der er getiwert wære.” }[2]

That’s anti-meninism! Not all men are like that:

“You should keep that talk to yourself,”
said her friend.
“We should enjoy ourselves as we grow older.
There are many men
who still like to serve honorable women.
Don’t say such things.
A man is courting me who can dispel sorrow.”

{ “Die red soltu behalten,”
sprach ir gespil,
“mit vrouden sul wir alten.
der manne ist vil,
die noch gerne dienent guten weiben.
lat solhe red beliben.
ez wirbet einer umbe mich, der trouren chan vertreiben.” }

Love for men ennobles women and makes them more honorable. A woman should dress in compassion, sympathy, generosity, and receptivity to men. Then a man might dispel her sorrow and bring her joy and honor.

Young man, please don’t delay!
I’ll do your bidding —
sleep with me, if you would so wish!
There’s no more to say,
— woe is me! —
and no more to do,
as I’m squandering my life
while I myself
could reclothe it luxuriously.

{ Iuuenis, ne moreris!
Faciam quod precipis.
Dormi mecum, si uelis,
Tedet plura dicere,
— heu misella! —
atque magis facere,
perdens uitam cum
possim recingere
memetipsam. }

Resisting anti-meninism saves lives!

* * * * *

Read more:

Notes:

[1] Neidhart von Reuental, Riedegg Manuscript 10 (R10), “This change in seasons brings great joy {Disiu wandelunge mange vroude bringer},” stanza 2, Middle High German text and English translation (modified slightly) from Starkey & Wenzel (2016). The subsequent two quotes above are similarly from “Disiu wandelunge mange vroude bringer,” stanzas 4 and 5, respectively.

Neidhart and Neidhart von Reuental are merely conventional identifiers. Little is known about the actual thirteenth-century German poet:

Although for decades scholars referred to the author as “Neidhart von Reuental,” this name appears seldom, and only in three so-called Trutzstrophen, strophes appended to songs in later manuscripts redactions that were almost certainly not composed by Neidhart. Since these strophes are first attested in the fifteenth century, they cannot be used as evidence that this was our thirteenth-century poet’s name. … For the sake of brevity in the rest of this book, we will often refer to the author as Neidhart. Yet in reading our words and the poems presented here, it is crucial for the reader to hold in her or his mind that this name is in fact a hollow form, representing not a historical author, but various fictional roles created by a now unknown and unknowable poet, and mediated by medieval scribes and redactors.

Starkey & Wenzel (2016) pp. 10, 12, endnotes omitted.

[2] Neidhart von Reuental, Riedegg Manuscript 15 (R15), “I never saw the meadow {Ine gesah die heide},” stanza 4, Middle High German text and English translation (modified slightly) from Starkey & Wenzel (2016). The subsequent quote is similarly from “Ine gesah die heide,” stanza 5.

[3] “A nun is lamenting with tears {Plangit nonna, fletibus},” vv. 55-63, Latin text (simplified presentation of edited version) from Alturo i Perucho & Alaix i Gimbert (2020) p. 26, my English translation, benefiting from that of Dronke (1965) vol. 2, pp. 358-9. Dronke’s Latin edition is inferior to that Alturo i Perucho & Alaix i Gimbert (2020). Showing the progressive development of knowledge in manuscript study and philology, the newer edition makes significant changes to the text.

“Plangit nonna, fletibus” is now thought to date to the second half of the eleventh century. This poem is found only in MS. Roma, Vat. lat. 3251, folio 178v. For contextual analysis locating the poem’s origin in Fleury, Alturo i Perucho & Alaix i Gimbert (2019).

[images] (1) Peasants assailing Lord Neidhart. Illustration from Codex Manesse, made between 1305 and 1315. Manuscript preserved as UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, folio 273r. Thanks to University of Hiedelberg and Wikimedia Commons. (2) Recording of “Plangit nonna, fletibus” by Flemish Radio Choir (Bo Holten, composer and conductor) in 2013. Via YouTube.

References:

Alturo i Perucho, Jesús and Tània Alaix i Gimbert. 2019. “A new critical edition of the Vatican Planctus monialis and another unknown Planctus monialis from Obarra.” Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch. 54: 299-314.

Alturo i Perucho, Jesús and Tània Alaix i Gimbert. 2020. “El Planctus monialis del Vaticà: novament editat i traduït al català.” Bellaterra Institut d’Estudis Medievals, online.

Dronke, Peter. 1965. Medieval Latin and the Rise of European Love-Lyric. 2 vols. Vol. 1Vol. 2. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Starkey, Kathryn and Edith Wenzel. 2016. Neidhart: selected songs from the Riedegg Manuscript (Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin, mgf 1062). Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University.

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