Wolfram von Eschenbach, Gyburc, and Tolerance

  • Jerold C. Frakes
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Important aspects of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Willehalm.have already been treated in some detail in chapter four. After the catastrophic first battle, Willehalm fetches reinforcements to replace his annihilated Christian army in order to offer battle a second time to the invading Muslim force. At a war council preceding that second battle, his wife, Gyburc, the former Muslim queen and now Christian countess of Provence, makes a speech to the Christian troops that will be the primary analytical focus of the present chapter.1 Her medial or liminal position as a hybrid liaison between the two cultures, while not having full membership in either, focuses attention on this speech and her role in the narrative’s prevailing political discourse in a way that a speech by any other countess in crusader epic might otherwise not have done. It is in fact Gyburc’s interculturally liminal position in the narrative that is the focus of the defining tension and narrative interest in the text, for one of her character’s obvious narrative purposes is to function as a mediatrix between the representatives of the Christian and Muslim communities in the text. Claudia Brinker-von der Heyde thus provides her with a conventional characterization as

female, motherly, tender, affectionate and simultaneously strong, courageous, brave, and combat-ready; she loves and suffers, is burdened with guilt and redeemable; in short: she is officina omnium [source of all things], a human being in the broadest sense: a homo medietas [mediating human].2


Humanistic Tolerance Medieval Text Extant Text Scholarly Interpretation Muslim Land 
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  1. 12.
    Werner Schröder, “Christliche Paradoxa in Wolframs Willehalm,” Euphorion 55 (1961): 90 [85–90]: “Auch Giburc ist nur Sprachrohr des Dichters”; Walter Haug, “Parzivals zwivel und Willehalms zorn Zu Wolframs Wende vom Höfischen Roman zur Chanson de geste,” Wolfram-Studien 3 (1975): 217 [217–31]: “die sogenannte Toleranzrede Gyburgs vermittelt—darüber besteht weitgehend Einigkeit—die Position des Dichters”; see also Klaus Kirchert, “Heidenkrieg,” pp. 258–9. John Greenfield and Lydia Miklautsch provide an overview of the scholarship on Gyburc’s speech (as unacknowledged advocates of the tolerance thesis), in Der “Willehalm” Wolframs von Eschenbach (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1998), pp. 133–7.Google Scholar
  2. 17.
    Alois Haas, “Aspekte der Kreuzzüge in Geschichte und Geistesleben des mittelalterlichen Deutschlands,” Archiv für Kulturgeschichte 46 (1964): 200–201 [185–202]: “Die Rede von mittelalterlicher ‘Toleranz’, die sich immer wieder an diese deutsche Chanson de geste knüpft, verwässert eher den Sachverhalt als daß sie ihn klärt.… Aber auch das ist nicht Toleranz, sondern ‘theologische’ Reflexion eines ritterlichen Laien. …”CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 23.
    Cathrynke Dijkstra and Martin Gosman, “Poetic Fiction and Poetic Reality: The Case of the Romance Crusade Lyrics,” Neophilologus 79 (1995): 20 [13–24]; see also M. Gosman, “La propagande de la croisade et le rôle de la chanson de geste comme porte-partole d’une idéologie non officielle,” Actes du XIe Congrés International de la Société Rencesvals (Barcelona 1990), 1:291–306; see also Wentzlaff-Eggebert, Kreuzzugsdichtung, pp. 4, 10, 215–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Jerold C. Frakes 2011

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