Hermann von Sachsenheim’s Die Mörin (The Lady Moor) is one of the most exceptional of late medieval Minnereden, a genre of non-narrative and highly allegorical treatises ostensibly on love. Die Mörin engages with the pressing issue of how Christians and Muslims might profitably interact with one another, in particular whether those encounters should be governed by confrontation and intolerance for different beliefs or by curiosity and respect. Written in the same year that Constantinople fell to the Ottomans, it reflects the mixture of curiosity and anxiety that the renewed expansion of Islam provoked within Christian Europe.
In the tale an old knight has been brought before a court on an oriental island. He is to be judged by Queen Venus on a charge of breaking the rules of love in his youth, and the prosecutor is the eponymous Moor (also identified as “black Brünhild”). As befitting her role, she is aggressive, domineering, mocking, cynical, and generally disrespectful to the old knight because he is of a different faith. She is witty and cutting, at one point teasing the knight with the possibility that she is “sweet” like a woman in another well-known tale, only to cut him down when he takes the bait and begins to hope for gentle treatment. Her demeanor shocks even her male compatriots who sympathize with the knight for being treated so harshly by a woman.
The women, and the Moor in particular, stand for the path of aggression and confrontation. And though Hermann clearly prefers the possibilities offered by a respectful engagement with cultural difference, his Moor is not a demeaning caricature. He created a confident, clever, and cynical woman to prosecute on behalf of a vengeful Venus and to stand against the men who call for sympathy with the accused. The Moor is a far cry from Wolfram’s idealized Belakane but is no less interesting for it.
The illustration is a woodblock print from the 1512 edition. While the Moor herself does not stand out (she stands at left with Queen Venus), the characters’ fantastical costumes and the exotic landscape illustrate the orientalist clichés that were associated with Islam and the Ottomans. We see heralds on camels, one barefoot and wearing an extravagant turban and another with a topknot and a ring in his nose, as well as a sort of monstrous servant to correspond with the headless and one-legged servants mentioned in the text.
Source: Hermann von Sachsenheim, Die Mörin (Strasbourg: Grüninger, 1512), Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel.
Hermann von Sachsenheim, The Lady Moor (1453) by Jeff Bowersox is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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