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King Rother and His Bride

King Rother and His Bride: Quest and Counter-Quests

Thomas Kerth
Volume: 55
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 264
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt81wfn
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  • Book Info
    King Rother and His Bride
    Book Description:

    ‘King Rother’, a twelfth-century bridal-quest epic, occupies an important place in the history of German literature. The earliest surviving and structurally most sophisticated of the so-called minstrel epics, verse narratives once assumed to have been recited by itinerant minstrels before a courtly audience, it has its roots in German folklore and documents the transition from orality to the culture of the book. The text belongs to the subgenre of the perilous bridal quest, in which the disguised wooer deceives the bride's father and abducts her with her consent. This simple quest structure is doubled, if the wooer must win his bride a second time from her father, who has rescued her. The bride is almost always a passive figure in these events, the main conflict being the disparity in status between the wooer and his prospective father-in-law. ‘King Rother’ is structurally complex, as the present study is the first to recognize: the quest structure is doubled not only in the wooer's second quest, but also in the bride's own actions - including her use of deception in a parallel quest for her wooer. This underscores her equality in status, which is her essential qualification to be his wife. The study includes an important English-language summary of scholarship on ‘King Rother’, on the minstrel epics, and on the bridal quest. Thomas Kerth is Associate Professor of German at Stony Brook University.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-709-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)

    The bridal quest in its various forms is one of the major themes of international folklore and world literature. Individual treatments of this theme reflect varying cultural traditions, but their superficial differences reveal themselves to be mere variations on the same basic set of narrative structures and the same constellation of narrative motifs. The overwhelming majority of bridal quests are structured solely from the perspective of the wooer, and logically so, since in most cultures it is, at least officially, the male who initiates the courting ritual. The main conflict in the quest does not concern the willingness of the...

  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. 1: Minstrels and Bridal Quests
    (pp. 1-20)

    König Rother is the earliest of the works that comprise the genre traditionally designated as the minstrel epic, Spielmannsepik, anonymous verse narratives that were once believed to have been recited by a minstrel (Middle High German spil[e]man), either itinerant or resident, before a courtly audience.¹ Alone among contemporary epics of the twelfth century, these works show no hint of French influence, as do, for example, the classically inspired Eneide (Aeneas, ca. 1175–86) by Heinrich von Veldeke or Pfaffe Lamprecht’s Alexander (ca. 1150), or Konrad’s Rolandslied (Song of Roland, ca. 1170), a chanson de geste. They seem to have been...

  6. 2: Sources and History
    (pp. 21-44)

    König Rother was probably composed in its present form around the middle of the twelfth century, between 1150 and 1160,¹ although more recently the later date of 1160–70 has been proposed.² The text is preserved in one nearly complete manuscript, H=Heidelberg, cpg 390, which dates to the end of the twelfth century, and four surviving fragments: M=Munich, cgm 5249; A=Berlin, ms. germ. Fol. 923; B=Nürnberg, Nr. 27744; and E=Ermlitz (in private hands). The plot is divided into two distinct sections,³ the second a doubling of the first, with doubled variations occurring on both the structural and the motivic level.⁴...

  7. 3: Rother
    (pp. 45-62)

    The text of König Rother opens with a requisite element of Schmid-Cadalbert’s bridal-quest narrative structure, a description of the personal characteristics and the political sphere of influence of the royal wooer, as well as the naming of his residence (S.-C. §A.1). Rother is introduced as a mighty and respected king who resides in the city of Bari on the Adriatic Sea. The locating of Rother’s residence in the port city of Bari, in Apulia, supports the view that in the historical development of the plot material there is an important connection to the Langobard kings Authari and Rothari and to...

  8. 4: Constantin and His Queen
    (pp. 63-86)

    The negative role assigned to the bride’s father in the perilous bridal quest results in the portrayal of Constantinople as a negative narrative space, the polar opposite of Rother’s kingdom. König Rother, however, differs significantly from other bridal quests in the minstrel epics — Oswald, Salman und Morolf, Ortnit — in that Constantin is a Christian; this limits to some degree the ways the poet can portray the negative otherness of the East. In constructing his narrative poles, the poet plays on contemporary stereotypes and prejudices, namely, the conflict between the pretensions to superiority of the Byzantine Empire and the claims of...

  9. 5: Rother’s Quest
    (pp. 87-106)

    The messenger’s wooing expedition (S.-C. §B.1) having failed, the wooer must himself undertake the journey (S.-C. §C.2).¹ In Bari King Rother wonders what has become of his messengers: a year has passed with no word. When his courtiers suggest that he must do something to learn their fate, he spends three days and nights sitting silently upon a stone (lines 447–50) in heartsick contemplation. This pose is a symbolic representation of sad reflection reminiscent, for example, of Charlemagne’s contemplation of the bodies of his dead vassals in the contemporary Rolandslied (lines 565–78) and later immortalized by Walther von...

  10. 6: The Active Bride
    (pp. 107-119)

    Once Rother has established his false bona fides through subterfuge and won the praise and loyalty of so many of the exiles and vassals in Constantinople through a display of military might and extravagant generosity, he is in the perfect position of strength to achieve his double goal: the rescue of his messengers and the acquisition of his desired bride. At this point in the narration the bride, who has heretofore been only a nameless object, whose fate is discussed and decided by others, assumes an active role in her own courtship.¹ She begins what amounts to a counter-quest, that...

  11. 7: Merging Quests
    (pp. 120-157)

    The princess comes to hear of “Dietrich”’s extraordinary gesture of generosity from those who witnessed it:

    also der eine inne was,

    der ander vor den turin was,

    wante die magit so vil virnam,

    daz sie den tuginthaftin man

    von aller slachte sinne

    in iren herzen begunde minnen. (lines 1915–20)

    [While the one was in her chamber, the other already stood before the door, until the maiden had heard so much, that she began to love in her heart this excellent and capable man in every regard.]

    This is a doubling of the structural element (S.-C. §A.2) that had previously...

  12. 8: Counter-Quest
    (pp. 158-167)

    When Constantin returns to the city following Rother’s elopement with his daughter, the queen reveals to him with no little pleasure and ample disdain “Dietrich”’s true identity:

    “der sich da nante Dietherich,

    daz was der koninc Rother

    unde hat gevort over mere

    mine tochter unde din.

    wie mochte si baz bestadet sin? . . .

    her hat uns rechte getan,

    wir hetten wonderlichen wan:

    wat reken mochte dar so riche sin?

    ir sit gewarnet, Constantin:

    kome u imer mer gein vetriven man,

    da solit ir uch baz vor warnan! (lines 2998–3012)

    [“He who called himself Dietrich was King Rother...

  13. 9: Doubled Quest
    (pp. 168-181)

    Rother again sets sail for Greece, this time with twenty-two ships, 30,000 men, and the twelve giants, in order to retrieve his bride (S.-C. §C.2.e, as parallel to §B.2). But though he has tremendous military might at his disposal, he will first attempt to achieve his goal through list, a strategy of dealing with his enemies that had proven so successful for him as a wooer. They land a mile from Constantinople, and Rother’s men hide themselves in a wood outside the city. The king disguises himself as a pilgrim (in walleres wise, line 3668)¹ — as before he had disguised...

  14. 10: Reconciliation and Consent
    (pp. 182-191)

    During the narration of the battle against the infidels, there is no mention of Constantin, who does not personally take part in the attempt to execute Rother. This serves to create some narrative distance between him and his infidel allies. The narrator moves the focus from the battlefield to the city by following the path of one of the minstrels, who has escaped death with only a shaved head and a beating at the hands of Grimme, as he returns to the court to report what has transpired. He warns them that Rother will now hang them all, unless they...

  15. 11: Eternal Quest
    (pp. 192-209)

    The final element in the bridal quest structure, the rewarding of those who helped the wooer win his bride (S.-C. §C.2.h), takes on particular significance in König Rother. Rother not only grants great fiefs to his chief vassals — men and giants — to recompense them directly for their aid in his quest, but also provides them with a living guarantee that their futures will be secure for the long term. The depth of Rother’s gratitude to his men for their loyalty is underscored visually when he falls at their feet in the ritual gesture of supplication (line 4806), in order to...

  16. 12: Conclusion
    (pp. 210-222)

    The central conflict of the perilous bridal quest is the rivalry in status between the wooer and the father of the intended bride, with the latter’s realm representing a negative narrative space associated with his negative role in the wooer-father dynamic. The wooer holds the focus of the narration, which is structured according to his progress in the quest; this leads the recipients of the text to view the quest exclusively from the wooer’s perspective. The wooer achieves his goal through cunning ruses that deceive the father and lead to an elopement with the consent of the bride. The narrator...

  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 223-242)
  18. Index
    (pp. 243-252)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 253-253)