Motifs of Love in the Courtly Love Lyric of Moslem Spain and Hohenstaufen Germany

In Memory of Ernst Behler

Charles M. Barrack


A perennial question in medieval studies concerns the origin of Minnesang, the courtly love lyric of Hohenstaufen Germany. Can Minnesang trace its origins back to the love lyric of Moslem Spain? A related question is the following: Whatever the ultimate genesis of Minnesang, is it at least typologically related to the love lyric of Moslem Spain? This second question, which has been largely ignored to date, is the subject of this analysis. In both traditions the lover is torn between two poles: On the one hand, the lover worships the beloved as a guiding, edifying force which raises the status of the lover in society. On the other hand, the lover is attracted to the beloved for her physical beauty and desires physical “union” with her. But the poles are incompatible: The beloved can only be a quasi-divine guiding light if she remains physically distant from the lover. Let us term this the “Platonic-Erotic Dilemma.” In both traditions the dilemma ultimately resolved itself in favor of the erotic. (CMB)

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