Heinrich von Morungen foolishly died from gyno-idolatry

Many medieval men ardently, inordinately loved women. Such love creates grave risk of blinding, deafening gyno-idolatry. The minnesinger Heinrich von Morungen, who lived in the Germanic land of Thuringia about 1150 to 1222, loved a woman gyno-idolatrously. He accused her of cruelty and called her an assassin. He died foolishly from gyno-idolatry. Hebrew scripture that Christians and Muslims also regard as sacred repeatedly warns of idolatry’s dangers. Despite modern literary scholarship celebrating it, the “love-worship” of courtly love is suicidal. That’s what Heinrich von Morungen belatedly learned.

Can a man press fire to his chest yet his clothes not be burned?
Can a man walk on hot coals without scorching his feet?

[1]{ היחתה איש אש בחיקו ובגדיו לא תשרפנה׃
אם־יהלך איש על־הגחלים ורגליו לא תכוינה׃ }

Heinrich von Morungen’s gyno-idolatry began in the ordinary circumstances of young persons singing and dancing in a meadow. Heinrich was a knight. In the pastoral genre, a knight meets a beautiful young woman in the countryside. The troubadour Gavaudan redeemed the pastoral from some of its troubling tendencies. But Heinrich entered the pastoral obsessed with a particular woman:

I heard out on the meadow
bright voices and sweet tones
and was at once
rich in joys, in sorrows poor.
The one toward whom my thoughts have struggled and soared —
I found her in the dance, singing.
Free of sorrows, I danced too.

{ Ich hôrte ûf der heide
lûte stimme und süezen sanc.
dâ von wart ich beide
fröiden rîch und an trûrens kranc.
Nâch der mîn gedanc sêre ranc unde swanc,
die vant ich ze tanze, dâ si sanc.
âne leide ich dô spranc. }[2]

Heinrich could imagine no greater joy than love for his beloved woman:

On such a cloud of joy as this
my soul has never sailed so high before.
I hover as on wings of bliss
with thoughts of only her whom I adore,
because her love unlocked the door
which leads into my inmost heart
and entered there for evermore.

All other raptures that remain
with this great happiness cannot compare.
Let earth and sky and wood and plain
with me a time of soaring gladness share.
For, filled with hope and freed from care,
and thrilled by dreams of ecstasy,
my joy is more than I can bear.

{ In sô hôher swebender wunne
sô gestuont mîn herze ane vröiden nie.
ich var, als ich vliegen kunne,
mit gedanken iemer umbe sie,
sît daz mich ir trôst enpfie,
der mir durch die sêle mîn
mitten in daz herze gie.

Swaz ich wunneclîches schouwe,
daz spile gegen der wunne, die ich hân.
luft und erde, walt und ouwe
suln die zît der vröide mîn enpfân.
Mir ist komen ein hügender wân
und ein wunneclîcher trôst,
des mîn muot sol hôhe stân. }[3]

Heinrich von Morungen’s love for this earthly woman led to extraordinary gender fluidity. Heinrich imagined his beloved woman to be the angel Gabriel, and he himself to be the Virgin Mary:

Praised be the blissful message
whose sound went so sweetly into my ear,
and the swelling that heals all
sank with joy into my heart,
out of which a bliss sprang up
that for utter delight streamed forth
like a dew from my eyes.

Blessed be the sweet hour,
blessed the time, the sublime day,
when from her mouth went out the word
that lay so near my heart
that my body thrilled with the fright of joy,
and indeed for sheer bliss I do not know
what I can say of her.

{ Wol dem wunneclîchem maere,
daz sô suoze durch mîn ôre erklanc,
und der sanfte tuonder swêre,
diu mit fröiden in mîn herze sanc,
dâ von mir ein wunne entspranc,
diu vor liebe alsam ein tou
mir ûz von den ougen dranc.

Sêlic sî diu süeze stunde,
sêlic sî diu zît, der werde tac,
dô daz wort gie von ir munde,
daz dem herzen mîn sô nâhen lac,
daz mîn lîp von fröide erschrac,
un enweiz von wunne joch,
waz ich von ir sprechen mac. }

Heinrich confused health care for men with divine events. According to the New Testament, God sent the angel Gabriel to speak prophetic words to the Virgin Mary. After the words of the angel Gabriel went into Mary’s ear, she swelled with the joy of incarnating Christ. Mary gave birth to the redeemer of all human beings.[4] Heinrich imagined his beloved’s message to him to be like the incarnation of Christ. That’s utter gyno-idolatry.

Happy the parents who gave you birth,
happy the sun that sees you every hour,
happy the earth that you walk white-footed,
happy the breast-wrap that binds my beloved’s body,
happy the beds, Dulcis, on which you lie naked.
As birds are snared by lime, as wild pigs by nets,
so, Dulcis, am I caught in fatal love for you.
I saw you and did not touch you. I see and cannot touch.
I was totally on fire, burned but not consumed.

{ Felices illos qui te genuere parentes,
Felicem solem qui te uidet omnibus horis,
Felicem terram quam tu pede candida calcas,
Felices fascias cingentes corpus amatae,
Felices toros quibus Dulcis, nuda recumbis!
Ut visco capiuntur aves, ut retibus apri,
Sic ego nunc Dulcis diro sum captus amore.
Vidi nec tetigi; video nec tangere possum.
Totus in igne fui; non sum consumptus et arsi. }[5]

Medieval men imagined the burning bush from which God spoke to Moses, and they thought of a beloved woman with whom they yearned to be physically united. With men’s romantic simplicity, Heinrich sought to have sex with his most beautiful beloved woman:

She is my heart’s one joy, the crown
above all women I have seen,
beautiful, more beautiful, beautiful above the most beautiful
is she. That I must affirm.
Now let the whole world beg her, by her beauty:
“It is time now, lady, for you to reward him,
or else he speaks foolishness with his praise.”

{ Diu mînes herzen ein wunne und ein krôn ist
vor allen frouwen, diech noch hân gesên,
schône unde schôner unde schône aller schônist
ist sî, mîn frouwe: des muoz ich ir jên.
al diu werlt sol si durch ir schône gerne flên.
“noch wêre zît daz du, frouwe, im lônist;
er kan mit lobe anders tôrheit begên.” }[6]

Men, like women, should be regarded as sexually entitled, but not with a particular person who isn’t their spouse.

Heinrich eventually recognized the folly of his gyno-idolatry. He declared:

I have said so much in melody and verse,
that I’m hoarse from lamenting and out of breath.
I am driven by nothing but a dream,
for she will not believe what I speak:
how I love her and bear a heart that she commands.
I have not been rewarded as I have deserved.
Had I struggled toward God with half so great a will,
God would have taken me to himself before my death.

{ Ich hân sô vil gesprochen und gesungen,
daz ich bin müede und heis von mîner klage.
ich bin umbe niht wan umb den wân betwungen,
sît si mir niht geloubet, daz ich sage,
wie ich si minne, und ich sô holdez herze ir trage.
deswâr mirn ist nâch werde niht gelungen.
hêt ich nâch gote ie halb sô vil gerungen,
er nême mich hin zim ê mîner tage. }[7]

A man shouldn’t regard his beloved woman as a god or a goddess or a woman-fairy. Women are comically human beings, just as men are.

Heinrich charged his beloved woman with cruelty and murder. In medieval Europe, persons didn’t complain about micro-aggressions. They were concerned with more serious matters. Suffering a recrudescence of gyno-idolatry, Heinrich complained of murder. Nonetheless, he insisted that he would still love his murderer in life after death:

Oh sweetest, tenderest assassin,
why slay your love and me and cast aside
the hopes and gentle ties that fasten
our hearts, so just to please your woman’s pride?
Oh can you dream that, having killed me,
you then will wander free of my design?
No! No, so full your love has filled me
that evermore your soul is wed to mine.
Though here my heart may suffer sorrow
from one who lies so near it,
I tell you, soon, perhaps tomorrow,
my soul will love and serve you there,
a light and laughing spirit.

{ Vil süeziu senftiu tôterinne,
war umbe welt ir tôten mir den lîp,
und i’uch sô herzeclîchen minne,
zwâre, frouwe, gar für elliu wîp?
Wênet ir ob ir mich tôtet,
daz ich iuch danne niemer mê beschouwe?
nein, iuwer minne hât mich des ernôtet,
daz iuwer sêle ist mîner sêle frouwe.
sol mir hie niht guot geschên
von iuwerm werden lîbe,
sô muoz mîn sêle iu des verjên
dazs iuwerr sêle dienet dort als einem reinen wîbe. }[8]

Men’s deaths should be taken seriously. Men’s deaths should matter. Heinrich at least wanted others to know how he had died:

If someone is here
whose reason is clear
in this hour of gloom,
seek her who bereft me
of beauty and left me
to sorrow and doom,
and entreat her to hasten and soothe my grief
while life and breath remain.
For torments of passion and pain
I cannot restrain
are driving me to the tomb.

Then clearly make known
my fate on the stone
that covers my grave.
Tell of beauty adored
and a lover ignored,
that the knight or the knave
as he passes may learn from my woeful tale
of love that burns and rends.
There he may read how she sends
cold death to her friends,
so cruelly does she behave.

{ Ist aber ieman hinne,
der sîne sinne
her behalten habe?
der gê nach der schônen,
diu mit ir krônen
gie von hinnen abe;
Daz si mir ze trôste kome,
ê daz ich verscheide.
diu liebe und diu leide
diu wellen mich beide
vürdern hin ze grabe.

Wan sol schrîben kleine
reht ûf dem steine,
der mîn grap bevât,
wie liep sî mir waere
und ich ir unmaere;
swer danne über mich gât,
Daz der lese dise nôt
und ir gewinne künde,
der vil grôzen sünde
die sî an ir vründe
her begangen hât. }[9]

Women have failed to express sufficient concern for men’s lives. Elite men in medieval Europe suffered a nine-year lifespan shortfall relative to elite women. That was of no more concern than is sexist conscription of men today. Women must show more compassion for men. Women, be like the great medieval woman-leader Radegund of Thuringia or the wonderful medieval queen Eufemie!

minnesinger Heinrich von Morungen looking at a mirror

The gyno-idolator Heinrich von Morungen has been dead for about eight centuries. Yet many men today could look into a mirror and see a similar gyno-idolator.[10] Women can help men to overcome gyno-idolatry. Yet men must not be passive about their fate in relation to women. Men must dare to affirm their dignity as fully human beings whose lives have the same intrinsic worth as women’s lives. O happy day, when God’s creation is so redeemed!

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[1] Proverbs 6:27-28, English translation adapted from widely used translations, Hebrew text of the Westminster Leningrad Codex via Blue Letter Bible.

[2] Heinrich von Morungen, Des Minnesangs Frühling p. 139 (MF 139), “I heard on the meadow {Ich hôrt ûf der heide},” stanza 1, Middle High German text and English translation from Golden (1973) pp. 42-3. Golden’s Middle High German text comes from Des Minnesangs Frühling. See, e.g. Lachmann, Haupt & Voght (1888). Here are an alternate English translation and a modern German translation (Lied 23) of the whole poem. On Heinrich’s songs, Heller (1998).

[3] Heinrich von Morungen, MF 125, “On such a cloud of joy as this {In sô hôher swebender wunne},” stanzas 1-2, Middle High German text from Lied 4, English translation from Thomas (1963) p. 9. The subsequent two stanzas quoted above are similarly from this song, but I quote the more literal English translation of Donke (1965) vol. 1, pp. 129-30.

[4] Luke 1:26-38.

[5] Anthologia Latina 381, “Happy the parents who gave you birth {Felices illos qui te genuere parentes},” whole poem, Latin text of Riese (1894) via Musisque Deoque, English translation (modified) of Dronke (1954) vol. 1, p. 178, n. 2. Poems of the Anthologia Latina date from before the tenth century. “Felices illos qui te genuere parentes” with its Christian allusions and appreciation for men’s sexuality is similar to Ennodius’s poetry in the sixth century.

[6] Heinrich von Morungen, MF 133, “Glances that hurt and overwhelming grief {Leitliche blicke unde grôzliche riuwe},” stanza 3, Middle High German text and English translation from Goldin (1973) pp. 44-5. For a modern German translation, see Lied 13.

[7] Heinrich von Morungen, MF 136, “Alas, why do I follow that childish dream {Owê, war umbe volg ich tumben wâne}, ” stanza 3, Middle High German text and English translation (modified slightly) from Goldin (1973) pp. 46-7. For a modern German translation, see Lied 17.

[8] Heinrich von Morungen, MF 147, “Oh sweetest, tenderest assassin {Vil süeziu senftiu tôterinne}, ” whole poem, Middle High German text from Goldin (1973) p. 56, English translation (modified slightly) from Thomas (1963) p. 8. For a modern German translation, see Lied 34 and this presentation. Here’s a Polish translation.

[9] Heinrich von Morungen, MF 129, “What lady is she {Sach ieman die frouwen}, ” whole poem, Middle High German text from MF, English translation from Thomas (1963) pp. 7-8. For a modern German translation, see Lied 8. Taylor (1825), pp. 151-2, provides an early English translation.

Like Heinrich von Morungen, Leander fell into suicidal gyno-idolatry for his beloved Hero. Leander declared to her:

Therefore I cherish the love that burns me,
and follow you, a young woman more worthy of heaven —
indeed you are a heavenly one. But do delay yet on earth,
or tell me by what way I might to go to the ones above!

{ ipse meos igitur servo, quibus uror, amores
teque, magis caelo digna puella, sequor.
digna quidem caelo es, sed adhuc tellure morare,
aut dic, ad superos et mihi qua sit iter! }

Ovid, Heroines {Heroides} 18, “Leander to Hero {Leander Heroni},” vv. 167-70, Latin text from Ehwald’s edition (Teubner, 1907) via Perseus, English translation (modified) from Dronke (1965) vol. 1, p. 167. Leander, who never asked Hero to swim to him, died in swimming to Hero.

[10] With enormous scholarly learning, Peter Dronke ardently sought out and documented in medieval lyric poetry what he called “love-worship.” Dronke (1965). Love-worship is nothing other than gyno-idolatry. Gyno-idolatry so stultified Dronke’s mind that he couldn’t perceive human and divine love not conflicting unless loving a woman is like worshipping a goddess:

Such feelings imply (and sometimes even prompt the explicit statement) that human and divine love are not in conflict with each other, but on the contrary can become identified. If the beloved reflects divine perfections to the world, she can be a mediatrix or figura of them to her lover, and he can reach them in so far as he comes nearer to her through love-service.

Dronke (1965) vol. 1, p. 5. Medieval Christians who weren’t gyno-idolators believed that human and divine love could differ without necessarily conflicting. Men today should reject love-worship of a beloved woman and enjoy both human and divine love. Cf. Genesis 2:21-25 and John 15:9-11.

[images] (1) Video of Helium Vola’s recording of Heinrich von Morungen “In such high, floating pleasure {In sô hôher swebender wunne},” MF 125, from Helium Vola’s album Für euch, die ihr liebt {For the one whom I love} (Chrom Records, 2009). Via Fliegeraas on YouTube. Here’s this song in a video with subtitled lyrics in English translation. (2) Heinrich von Morungen looking at a mirror. Illustration from p. 80 of the Weingarten Manuscript {Weingartner Liederhandschrift} via Wikimedia Commons. The Weingarten Manuscript was made in the first quarter of the fourteenth century, perhaps in Konstanz (near Lake Constance in the south of present-day Germany). It’s preserved as Württembergische Landesbibliothek, Stuttgart, HB XIII 1, labeled manuscript B in minnesang studies. On Heinrich looking into a mirror, see his poem “It has gone with me as with a child {Mir ist geschehen als einem kindelîne},” MF 145, Goldin (1973) pp. 58-51, online as Lied 32. (3) Video presentation of Aretha Franklin and Mavis Staples singing “Oh Happy Day,” from Aretha Franklin’s album One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, recorded live at New Bethel Baptist Church, Detroit, MI in July, 1987. Via YouTube. “Oh Happy Day” is based on the biblical account of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40). The English clergyman Philip Doddridge in 1755 wrote a hymn “”O happy day, that fixed my choice.” It was subsequently adapted for Christian baptisms and confirmation services. In 1967, the Edwin Hawkins Singers recorded a gospel arrangement of an adapted hymn. Aretha Franklin and Mavis Staples covered Edwin Hawkins’s version.


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

Goldin, Frederick. 1973. German and Italian Lyrics of the Middle Ages: an anthology and a history. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press.

Heller, Christian. 1998. Vil Süeziu Senftiu Toeterinne: Zum Minne- Und Minnesangkonzept Heinrichs Von Morungen. M.A. Thesis, Universität Regensberg, 1994/95. Regensburger Skripten zur Literaturwissenschaft, Herausgegeben von Hans Peter Neureuter, Redaktion Christine Bühler, Band 9. Regensburg.

Lachmann, Karl, Moriz Haupt, and Friedrich Hermann Traugott Vogt, eds. 1888. Des Minnesangs Frühling. Leipzig: S. Hirzel.

Riese, Alexander, ed. 1894. Anthologia Latina sive Poesis Latinae Supplementum. Vol. 1. Lipsiae: Bibliotheca scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana.

Taylor, Edgar, trans. 1825. Lays of the Minnesingers or German Troubadours of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries. London: Longman Hurst Rees Orme Brown and Green.

Thomas, John Wesley. 1963. German Verse from the 12th to the 20th Century in English Translation. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.