von Eschenbach's Voice of Mercy During the Merciless Age of
von Eschenbach's Parzival and Willehalm idealize the transformative
power of mercy during an age when crusade propaganda promoted
the redemptive power of merciless slaughter. Although Parzival
and Willehalm are secular works of literature, both narratives
depict a theme of mercy that leads to peace and reconciliation.
The appeal to mercy, which is embodied through Parzival's and
Willehalm's progression from merciless warriors to merciful
knights, is a voice that rises above the prevalent bloodshed
that typified much of the crusades.
Although the crusades were
sanctioned by the church and propagated through the preaching
of contemporary theologians like Bernard of Clairaux, the carnage
of the crusades conflicted with the fundamental message of peace
that many Christians believed their faith embodied. Fulcher
of Chartes's notably violent description of the first crusade
(1095-1127) against Jerusalem illustrates the type of merciless
mass murders that caused many to question the theological motivations
of the crusades:
Nearly ten thousand were beheaded in this Temple.
If you had been there your feet would have been stained to the
ankles in the blood of the slain. What shall I say? None of
them were left alive. Neither women nor children were spared.
Perhaps because of this gruesome reality, two centuries
later the main motivations to go on crusade for many were devoid
of spiritual content. The epic Reinfried von Braunschweig (1300)
lists eight secular motivations for going on a crusade: "durch
frîgen muotgelust, ritterlîchen just, schwouwen, sîner frouwen
wolt dienen umb ir mine, lîden pîn, guot, durch kurzewîle, durch
ruon" ("from a free desire, knightly combat, to see the world,
to serve his lady for her love, suffer pain, profit, for pleasure,
for fame"), and the one religious reason to go on crusade: "daz
er lûterlîchen got diende" ("to serve God with a pure heart")
(Bumke, Courtly Culture 297) appears as an afterthought.
von Eschenbach wrote Parzival and Willehalm between the twelfth
century sermons that lauded crusaders as heroic martyrs for
Christ, and the fourteenth century authors who encouraged the
personal ambitions of crusaders. During Wolfram's lifetime (1170-1230)
romances and epics poured out of France and German-speaking
lands, depicting heroes who secured God's help in battle while
fighting in glorious crusades. Das Rolandslied is a prototypical
German crusade epic, which reinterprets Charlemagne's nephew,
Roland, who had been ambushed by the Saracens, as a holy martyr.
The epic presents Roland and his peers as exemplars of divine
strength, who have divine protection until their final ascent
into martyrdom. For example, when the Saracen Eschermunt spears
Roland's companion, Engelirs, the narrator explains:
Ja stach im Eschermunt
Not only are the literary representatives of the crusaders
divinely aided, but they have divine strength as well. Roland
can slay "mêre denne vir hundert man"(5993) ("more than four
hundred men") in a single battle. Charlemagne is depicted as
so awe-inspiring that the heathens "alle entrunchen und ertwâlen"
(7071) ("all drown themselves and die") rather than fight the
Holy Roman Emperor. When the Saracens did fight, the narrator
proudly asserts that the Christians bravely fought back and
that "sich erbarmte dâ nieman" (5552) ("mercy was given to no
den spiez durch di porte;
daz werc widerstunt dem orte
got in wol bewarte,
daz er im an dem lîbe nîne scadete. (Konrad 4794-4798)
(Yes, Eschermunt stung him
splintering through his armor:
But the armor withstood the point [of Eschermunt's spear]
God protected him well, so that he was not wounded on his body.)
J.W. Thomas maintains that the depictions of Engelirs,
Roland, Charlemagne, and other literary representatives of the
crusades "may well have contributed to the literary concept
of knighthood in the chivalric romances of Germany" (2). The
combination of mercilessly exterminating one's enemy and withstanding
all assault through divine intervention influenced secular romances
of Wolfram von Eschenbach's contemporaries. One such contemporary
was Ulrich von Zatzikhoven, who depicted the Arthurian hero,
Lancelot, as being both merciless in battle and divinely aided
in his romance Lanzelet. One example of Lanzelet's ruthlessness
occurs during his duel with Iweret. Iweret pleads for a truce,
but Lanzelet slays him without hesitation (4542-4546). In another
scene, Lanzelet dishonors Galagandreiz by sleeping with Galagandreiz's
daughter while staying at his castle. Galagandreiz discovers
the shame Lanzelet has brought upon his house and offers to
resolve the conflict of honor by challenging Lanzelet to a knife
throwing match. After Galagandriez honorably hits the mark,
Lanzelet declines his turn to throw his knife. Instead of honoring
the match, Lanzelet savagely stabs Galagandreiz with his knife
and murders him without hesitation (1178-1188). Yet, despite
Lanzelet's merciless behavior towards his opponents, Ulrich
von Zatzikhoven asserts that "Lanzelet dem helde balt die saelde
got gefuogte, der tûsent man genuogte" (6204-6206) ("God gave
the bold hero Lanzelet a blessing, that would have been enough
for a thousand men"). Lanzelet, like the crusaders, is blessed
and supported by God regardless of his merciless actions.
von Eschenbach also portrays heroes who behave mercilessly towards
their opponents in Parzival and Willehalm. The distinction
between Wolfram's heroes and the conventional depiction of heroes
in the literature of the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries
hinges on the premise that both Parzival and Willehalm progress
from merciless warriors to merciful knights. Mercy is the central
lesson that both of Wolfram's heroes have to learn through the
course of their journeys. This article will analyze how the
attainment of mercy is a central theme in both of Wolfram's
narratives and assert that this theme exemplifies a voice of
mercy resounding in a merciless age.
From Merciless to Merciful in Parzival
Joachim Bumke, Frederich Maurer, and Peter Nusser
interpret Parzival's struggle to attain the virtue of mercy
through the theological perspective of sin and redemption (Bumke,
Eschenbach 74-78; Maurer 149; Nusser 222). Parzival's thoughtless
and often ruthless deeds are sins, which need to be redeemed
through an acknowledgement and absolution of them. Parzival
does acknowledge his sins when he requests advice from the hermit
Trevrizent: "nu gebt mit rât / ich bin ein man der sünde hât"
(456, 29-30) ("now give me advice / I am a man who has sinned").
After this confession Parzival becomes a compassionate knight,
who is worthy of ruling the Grail Kingdom. Peter Wapnewski notes
that this premise of sin and redemption echoes the theological
concept of the redemptive power of confession voiced by Augustine
in the fourth century, and that this premise was still a dominant
part of Christian theology in the twelfth century (90). Thus,
both the text and the contemporary theological influences of
the time support the interpretation that Parzival's path to
compassion is based on sin and redemption.
A close reading of
text will reveal that it is not simply sinning that estranges
Parzival from merciful acts, but rather Parzival's misconception
of God. My analysis will point out his misconception prior to
his confession to Trevrizent and show that Parzival shared a
religious expectation of God that mirrors the beliefs of the
crusaders. Then Wolfram's ideal of a merciful Christian God
will be discussed through the lessons Parzival learns after
his confession. Finally, I will demonstrate how the ideal of
God's divine intervention for merciless heroes is replaced with
Wolfram's ideal of heroes who learn to be divinely merciful.
Parzival's religious instruction begins with his mother, who
explains God's loyalty to her son, but not God's mercy (Kindler
7213). Parzival's mother tells him: "sîn triwe der werlde ie
helfe bôt" (199, 24) ("With loyalty to the world, He offers
help"). God is introduced to Parzival as a type of liege lord
who is loyal to his men and is ready to come to their aid. Crusaders,
who saw themselves as sanctified soldiers of God, and Parzival
both expected God's loyalty to come in the form of divine help.
Interestingly the French romance Perceval, upon which Wolfram is
believed to have based his story of Parzival, does not
emphasize the central role of God's loyalty in the young hero's
religious training. When Chretien de Troyes depicts the formative
foundation of faith that Perceval receives from his mother,
God is not portrayed as a helper but as a "prophete sainte"
(579) ("holy prophet") who suffers for mankind. Perceval's mother
further instructs him to "Por oir messes et matines / et por
cel seignor aorer / vos lo gie au mostier aler" (590-592) ("pray
to the lord, as I have said, / at any church that you pass and
hear matins and the mass"). The distinction between Chretien's
focus on faith in a suffering prophet and Wolfram's focus on faith
in a helpful God establishes a link between Parzival's shared
religious expectations and the crusaders' expectations which
doesn't exist in the original French version.
Wolfram may have
altered Parzival's fundamental understanding of God's role to
accommodate the cultural expectations of his German-speaking
audience. According to Frederick Maurer, the Germanic ancestral
virtue of loyalty to one's lord and the Christian virtue of
loyalty to the Lord conflict with each other because Germanic
people were accustomed to following a victorious liege lord,
not a suffering Lord (11). Peter Nusser further explains that
the German people tended to modify Christianity by incorporating
the virtues of Germanic heroism into the religion. Although
the image of the suffering Christian God was intended to illustrate
God's mercy and give Christians hope, the humility that is required
to receive God's mercy was an affront to the Germanic warrior
tradition that was rooted in the concept of honor. The prevalent
literary depictions of the crusades often promoted the honor
of the crusaders, instead of their humility before God. Therefore,
Parzival's image of God as a helper mirrors the image held by
the crusaders and is reinforced by the cultural traditions of
the German speaking audience.
Parzival's journey from merciless
to merciful begins when he leaves his mother to become a knight
after serendipitously meeting a couple of knights from King
Arthur's court. When he arrives at the court, Sir Keye mockingly
informs Parzival that he will gain honor and become a knight
if he defeats Ither, the haughty knight who had just insulted
Queen Ginover. Parzival doesn't realize that all the other knights
have declined to fight Ither because of Ither's prowess and
strength. Ignorant of the situation and the code of combat,
Parzival slays Ither with the same merciless regard that Lanzelet
had towards Galagandriez. Parzival foregoes a duel with Ither
and simply murders him by throwing a javelin into Ither's eye.
The merciless act is mirrored in the French version of the narrative.
Chretien de Troyes renders Perceval's murder of Ither as a praiseworthy
initiation into knighthood. In the French version, King Arthur
scolds Sir Kay for driving away a youth "qui hui cest jor m'a
mout valu" (1240) ("who served me well today"). This indifference
to ruthless violence reflects the militant culture of the crusades.
One would expect Wolfram's German version of the story also to
laud the conquest of Ither, since Parzival did win Ither's armor
and his horse. Yet, Parzival is not praised in Wolfram's version,
instead Ither's death is lamented by the same woman he insulted,
Vrou Ginovêr diu künegin
By presenting Ginover's lament over Ither's death, Wolfram casts
a moral judgment upon Parzival's act. Parzival's victory over
Ither is not glorified or even heroic, it is tragic. The tragic
aspect of Ither's death is not addressed in the French version
of the narrative. Wolfram departs from the original narrative
to voice a criticism of Parzival's merciless deed by presenting
the suffering that is endemic to ruthless aggression.
sprach jaemerlîcher worte sin.
åôwe unde heiâ hei,
der ob der tavelrunder
den hoehsten prîs solde tragn,
daz der vor Nantes lît erslagn. (160, 1-3; 6-8)
(Lady Ginover, the Queen
spoke her words with misery.
Oh pain and woe!
That a knight from the round table
who was held in the highest praise,
before Nantes lies slain.)
a number of exploits as a knight, Parzival turns his aggression
inward: "dem reit sîn manlîchiu zucht kiusch unt erbarmung"
(451, 4-5) ("His maturity as a man leads him to self realization
and compassion"). Parzival reflects on the violence and pain
of the world and questions God's role in his pain. Since Parzival
conceives of God as a helper, not a sufferer, Parzival reasons
that God will help him by taking away the pain he suffers:
Er sprach 'waz ob got helfe phligt
to God is expressed in the language of a proud warrior: "gesigt"
(conquer), "schilt unde swert" (shield and sword), and "manlîchiu"
(brave). In counterpoint to Parzival's proud skepticism about
God, Chretien's Perceval simply "que de Deu ne li sovient mais"
(6011) ("remembered God no more"), received a lengthy lecture
about Christ's suffering on Good Friday, and galloped to the
nearest church because he was "Et Percevax, qui mout se dote
avoir vers Damedeu mespris" (6142-6143) ("in terror of the sin
he thought he had committed"). Wolfram turns the neglected faith
of the French Perceval into the questioned faith of the German
Parzival. According to the image of God that Parzival's mother
instilled in him, God should help Parzival because he is loyal.
God seems utterly disloyal to Parzival, since Parzival has been
a valiant knight and God still allows him to suffer. Parzival
decides that God will not help him to relieve his suffering.
This perceived act of disloyalty provokes Parzival to renounce
God. When he meets the holy hermit Trevrizent, he does not fear
the sins he may have committed, rather he berates God for His
lack of honor:
diu mînem trûren an gesigt?
wart ob er ie ritter holt
ode mac schilt unde swert
sîner helfe sîn sô wert
und rehtiu manlîchiu wer,
daz sîn helfe mich vor sorgen ner
ist hiut sîn helflîcher tac,
sô helfe er, ob er helfen mac.' (451, 13-23)
(He said, "I wonder if God might bring aid
to conquer my pain?
If he ever held a knight dear,
or a shield and sword,
and he is worthy enough help is just combat,
that his aid might free me from my troubles,
today is his day of help,
so let him help me if he can.)
Swâ kirchen ode münster stuont,
Instead of hastening to a church to redeem his sins, like Chretien's
Perceval, Wolfram's Parzival shuns churches and hates God. Parzival
not only besmirches God's honor, but he also asserts that God's
power hasn't helped him at all (461, 13). From Parzival's perspective
God is not the exemplar of honor and strength that he should
be. God has not lived up to Parzival's image of him.
dâ man gotes êre sprach,
kein ouge mich dâ nie geschah
sît den selben zîten
ich suochte niht wan strîten.
ouch trage ich hazzes vil gein gote:
wand er ist mîner sorgen tote. (461, 4-10)
(Wherever a church or cathedral stands,
where man speaks of God's honor,
no attention will I ever give to them,
but on the contrary will I seek
nothing other than battle.
Also, I have a great hate against God:
because He is the source of my troubles.)
expectations of God are based on the crusader ideals of strength
in battle and divine intervention. Trevrizent introduces Parzival
to a new image of God. Parzival's false image of God, who had
a duty to reward him for being a proud warrior, and Trevrizent's
image of a God who grants mercy to his humble servants stand
in direct opposition. Fritz Peter Knapp maintains that only
after Parzival shed his false image of God, does he find God
through the humble recognition of his own culpability and God's
mercy (598). By illustrating that a false interpretation of
God can lead to the disillusionment of one's faith, Wolfram
may be addressing a spiritual void that many Christians may
have experienced during the crusades. Parzival's estrangement
from God may have resonated with audiences in the twelfth and
thirteenth century. Wolfram offers Parzival as an exemplar that
can lead the faithful away from their doubts about a god of
war and towards a new understanding of a god of compassion.
Trevrizent, the holy hermit, embodies the compassionate alternative
Wolfram strives to show his audience. After hearing Parzival's
tirade against God, Trevrizent assures Parzival that God will
help him and tells him: "von dem zwîfel ich iuch nim." (464,
8) ("from your doubt in God I will free you"). He explains to
Parzival that God's power is not in battle prowess, but in mercy.
Since the fall of Adam man has suffered sin. God's strength
is in his ability to forgive those sins through his mercy (465,
1-10). Trevrizent not only corrects Parzival's misguided interpretation
of God, but, after discovering Parzival is his nephew, Trevrizent
elucidates Parzival's naive fiascos that have prevented Parzival
from living out his destiny as the Gral King.
The one deed that
stands between Parzival and his destiny is an act of compassion.
Before meeting Trevrizent, Parzival witnesses the extreme pain
that Anfortas, the Gral King and Parzival's uncle, suffers.
Instead of acting out of compassion and reaching out to his
uncle by asking about his pain, Parzival's pride restrains him
from saying anything. Parzival feigns indifference to the suffering
of Anfortas because he has been told that he would appear unmanly
if he asked too many questions (239, 11-15). Parzival's attempt
to present an honorable appearance prevents him from experiencing
the humility of putting aside his pride. If Parzival had been
humble in the Gral castle, he could have shown compassion to
his uncle, which would have enacted God's mercy upon Anfortas
and healed him. Before this transformation can occur, Parzival
must learn the true nature of God and strive to embody his divine
ideal of mercy. Once Parzival has learned this new value system,
which replaces ruthless pride with merciful humility, he is
ready to begin his life as a merciful knight.
the change in Parzival's orientation from merciless to merciful
by drawing attention to Parzival's horse. After Parzival decides
to stay and learn about God's mercy from Trevrizent, Trevrizent
asks him about his horse. Not only did the horse lead Parzival
to Trevrizent after Parzival let the horse's reins fall freely
around its neck, but Parzival explains that it is a new
horse. The horse he originally acquired when he slayed Ither
was lost in battle. Parzival just recently won the new horse
in a joust with a knight from the Gral castle. According to
Maggie Macary, "Parzival has discarded all remnants of the Red
Knight (Ither)," a symbol of his misguided and merciless past,
in exchange for "a horse marked with the spiritual symbols of
the Gral" (Macary).
The horse symbolizes the change in Parzival,
who will lose his battle-hungry image of God for a new image
won through his discussions with Trevrizent.
Indeed, the next
duel that Parzival encounters while riding this horse does not
end in merciless slaughter but in merciful, brotherly love.
Although Parzival and his opponent are unaware of each other's
identity, Wolfram informs his audience that their duel is lamentable
because: "si wârn doch bêde eins mannes kint" (740, 5) ("they
were both one man's child"). Parzival is actually jousting with
his half brother Feierfizz. Their lances shatter and their fierce
combat continues with a sword fight. Parzival's sword breaks
in the heat of the battle and Feierfizz suggests that they call
a truce until they have recovered enough to continue fighting.
This is Parzival's first humiliation in battle. His pride has
been cast down by the defective sword which Anfortas had given
him. Just as the Gral horse leads Parzival to Trevrizent's teachings
of God's mercy, the Gral sword leads Parzival to experience
humiliation and mercy. If the sword had not broken, it is likely
that Parzival would have never accepted his brother's merciful
truce, which led to their reunion. Parzival has acquired the
knowledge and experience to be a merciful knight.
with his brother, he is ready to reconcile with Anfortas. Parzival
returns to the Gral castle as a merciful knight who humbles
his own pride and honor by announcing that God's glory, instead
of his own, will be seen through the healing of his uncle (795,
22-23). Then Parzival humbles himself before God by kneeing
in front of an icon of the Trinity. Finally, he utters the words
of compassion, which heal his uncle and secure Parzival's ascension
to the throne of the Gral Kingdom: "oeheim, was wirret dier"
(796, 29) ("Uncle, what ails you"). Thus, the merciless warrior
has been transformed into a merciful knight by learning about
God's mercy and experiencing how God's mercy brings peace and
reconciliation through humility and compassion.
From Merciless to Merciful in Willehalm
Wolfram confronts the merciless behavior
of Christians directly in Willehalm by retelling the victorious
legend of Charlemagne's cousin, William of Orange, who defended
the Duchy of Orange from the Saracens, as a tragedy. Frederich
Maurer maintains that Willehalm already recognizes the importance
of God's mercy at the beginning of Wolfram's narrative (171).
James Poag further asserts that "it would be doing violence
to an example of the heroic genre Willehalm to expect significant
religious development in the heart of the central figure" (115).
This paper will read against the grain of genre expectations
and analyze the religious development of Willehalm by expanding
upon Frederich Maurer's theory of developmental suffering in
Willehalm to show how suffering transforms Willehalm from a
merciless warrior into a merciful knight.
in the first battle marks the first stage of suffering according
to Maurer. Not only does Willehalm flee to solicit more troops
to help him recover his duchy from the Saracen siege, but his
favorite nephew Vivianz lies dead on the battlefield. Maurer
asserts that Vivianz's death drowns Willehalm in such pain and
guilt that he falls back into his ancestral bloodlust and seeks
revenge for Vivianz's life (179). This vengeance manifests itself
in a combat scene between Willehalm and the Saracen knight Arofel.
By comparing the depiction of this scene with the depiction
of the same scene in the French epic Aliscans, which was believed
to have been Wolfram's source, Willehalm appears to have very
different motives than his French counterpart William. In the
French version of the story, William sees Aerofles and prays:
"Consent moi, sire, par la toie bonte" (1283) ("By Your good
grace, I ask You and beseech to let me have that Paynim's rapid
steed"). His motivation mirrors Parzival's motivation to slay
Ither. Both warriors consider the acquisition of a horse a worthy
reason to attack their opponent. Despite Aerofles's plea to
surrender to William if William returns his horse, William slices
off the Saracen's head and keeps his armor and horse.
Willehalm has a very different intent for fighting Arofel than
his French counterpart. Willehalm does not espy Arofel's horse
and decide to steal it; instead he charges at both Arofel and
another Saracen King because "er wolde et ze Orangis hin, /
da Gyburc diu künegin / sin herze nahen bi ir trouc" (77, 9-11)
("He was wanting to ride on towards Orange, where the Queen
held his heart in her safe keeping"). After Arofel must admit
his defeat, he offers to surrender not only himself but his
horse and anything in the entire kingdom of Persia if Willehalm
would allow him to live. Wolfram emphasizes the piteous plea
of the crippled King by expanding the pithy dialogue originally
found in Aliscans to include lengthy laments by Arofel. Although
Willehalm still slays the Saracen and takes his horse and armor,
Wolfram provides a different motive for the merciless murder:
Do der marcrave siniu wort
Willehalm murders Arofel not for his horse, but to avenge Vivianz.
His merciless deed is noted by the narrator who mourns that
when Arofel died: "Da erschein der mine ein vlüstic tac. / noch
solden kristenlichiu wip / klagen sinen ungetouften lip" (81,
20-22) ("Thus had dawned a day of loss for Love, and even today
Christian ladies should still be mourning this heathen man").
vernam, daz er so grozen hort
vür sin verschert leben bot,
er dahte an Vivianzes tot,
wie der gerochen würde,
unz daz sin jamers bürde. (79, 25-30)
the Margave [Willehalm] heard what he was saying and realized
that he was offering him immense riches in exchange for his
shattered life, he thought of the death of Vivianz and of how
that might be avenged and his own burden of grief made lighter.)
Arofel's death is described as a tragic event in Willehalm,
just as Ither's death was mourned by Ginover in Parzival. Since
the death of Aerofles is not mourned by anyone in the French
epic Aliscans, Wolfram may have purposely departed from the
original narrative to draw attention to the merciless murder
of Arofel that deserves pity. By placing Willehalm in the role
of a merciless warrior who murders the pitiful Arofel for revenge,
Wolfram depicts the mature Willehalm with the same dearth of
mercy that the immature Parzival had when he murdered Ither.
Thus, Willehalm does not appreciate the role of God's mercy
in relation to his own mercy at the beginning of the epic.
The necessity of leaving his wife in peril to defend the castle
while he seeks support troops to fight the Saracen invasion
of Orange is the second stage of suffering that Maurer points
out in his analysis. All of Willehalm's knights have perished
under Saracen swords. Without additional troops Willehalm will
lose his wife and his duchy. Maurer interprets Willehalm's pain
from the humiliation of defeat and desperation that causes him
to leave his wife in peril as a further source for anger and
vengeance (179). As Willehalm travels towards to court of the
King in Lyon, he rides through the town of Orleans in his bloodied
and tattered armor. Both Aliscans and Willehalm recount the
gruesome tale of how the townsfolk mistook the harassed Duke
for a merchant and insisted that he pay a toll for entering
their town. Willehalm's indignation at the affront escalates
his rage until he mercilessly slaughters countless unarmed men
before riding out of the town. Willehalm's wrath has transformed
him from a merciless opponent on the battlefield to a ruthless
reaper of death among defenseless peasants.
After the insult
Willehalm suffered in Orleans, his rank and status are even
more demeaned by the lack of reception he receives when he arrives
at King Louis's court. When Willehalm is finally given audience
with his sister, the Queen, and her husband, King Louis, Louis
appears receptive to the idea of aiding Willehalm until the
Queen fears that the cost of war will endanger her courtly life
and declares: "mir ist lieber daz er warte her / denne ich siner
genaden ger" (147, 10-11) ("I would rather have him serve us
than seek his favour myself"). Willehalm's own sister has effectively
said that she would prefer Willehalm to lose his wife and duchy
than ever be indebted to him.
Maurer designates the Queen's
disinclination to supply Willehalm with support troops as the
third stage of his suffering. Willehalm cannot restrain his
torment from turning into rage. In both French and German versions
of the epic, Willehalm rips his sister's crown from her head
and is about to slit her neck. Only the intervention of Willehalm's
mother prevents him from brutally murdering his sister, the
Queen of France. Willehalm has devolved from a merciless opponent
in battle, to a ruthless murderer of peasants, to a potentially
treacherous assassin of nobility. Finally, Willehalm's anger
is appeased and he is granted the troops that he needs to defend
The French epic ends with a glorious victory that
is crowned by a royal wedding between the beloved nephew of
William's wife and William's niece. Wolfram's version of the
epic has survived as an unfinished fragment in which the narrative
ends after the presumed death of the beloved nephew, Rennewart.
Whether Wolfram intended to finish the epic with the return
of Rennewart and a happy marriage is not discernable. The surviving
manuscripts of Willehalm depict Willehalm's lament over Rennewart's
Mir ist hie vor jamer als we.
This final stage of suffering is unique to
Wolfram's version of the epic. Willehalm again addresses his
sorrows through rage; this time he directs his anger at the
highest authority: God (456, 2-5). His wrath towards God mirrors
Parzival's denunciation of God. Yet, Willehalm remembers that
his beloved wife is a gift of God's mercy. He reconciles his
anger by recalling that "wan din helfe und ir trost, waere immer
unrelost" (456, 19-20) ("Were it not for Your help and her consolation,
I would be ever unrelieved of the bonds of misery"). In contrast
to Parzival, who had to be taught about God's mercy to assuage
his rage, Willehalm is able to recall God's mercy based on his
love for his wife. Humility leads Parzival to mercy, but it
is Willehalm's understanding and recognition of love which leads
him to mercy.
ei starker lip, clariu jugent
und din pris hoch und breit
dir niht dienen lazen,
so bin ich der verwazen.
hat dich der tot von mir getan? (452, 30-453, 7)
(Oh, strong life, bright youth
and your high renown and fame
have not served you.
So am I damned.
Has death taken you away from me?)
In the final verses, Willehalm recalls that he
was severely wounded after the battle and sought out a tent
where he thought he could receive dressing for his wounds. After
entering the tent, he discovered it was a morgue of dead pagan
kings enshrouded in such a state of honor that: "ich geloube
im wohl, er waere in holt / swer die koste durh si gap" (464,
22-23) ("I am sure whoever provided the rich setting for them
must have loved them"). When Willehalm reflects on the loss
that so many Saracens were also suffering: "mich gerou daz ich
dar under war" (465, 1) ("I was ashamed that I was there").
Willehalm's shame humbles him after he considers the pain of
the people who loved the deceased kings.
Frederich Maurer maintains
that by the end of the epic Willehalm has endured so much suffering
that he learns mercy (181). The suffering certainly provoked
Willehalm's actions throughout the epic. If he had not been suffering
from a fresh wound, he certainly would not have sought out the
tent where he was confronted by those who suffered far more
than a wound. By feeling sorrow for the deceased pagan kings
and those who loved them, Willehalm relates their suffering
through his own experience. This compassion humbles him and
frees him from the cycle of vengeance that previously spiraled
into wrath through his wounded pride. Willehalm has evolved
through suffering to become a merciful knight who compassionately
frees his noble pagan captives to bury and mourn their dead
in their own land. He tells the freed prisoners of the war to
bring the honored dead back to the Saracen Sultan: "des genade
und des hulde / ich gerne gediende, gesterst ichs bitten" (466,
8-9) ("whose grace and favour I would like to earn, if I dared
seek it"). Thus, the final merciful act of Willehalm is to seek
reconciliation with his enemy the Saracen Sultan.
Wolfram von Eschenbach's emphasis on the evolution of Parzival
and Willehalm from merciless warriors to merciful knights illustrates
a Christian ideal of mercy that rises above the bloodshed that
prevailed in the age of the crusades. Parzival behaved like
a merciless warrior because he was ignorant of God's divine
mercy. Willehalm behaved like a ruthless murderer because his
wrath blinded him from perceiving God's mercy. Both knights
suffer humility. Parzival is humbled by his defeat and his brother's
mercy. Willehalm is humbled through the realization of the suffering
shared by the Saracens. In the end, both men are moved to acts
of compassion, which endear them as exemplars of mercy who seek
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