Der guote Gêrhart: The power of mobility in the medieval Mediterranean

  • William Crooke


This essay revisits Rudolf von Ems's extraordinary thirteenth-century Middle High German romance. Where most readers see a moral exemplum focused on the piety of the titular protagonist, this essay brings out the importance of the merchant's Mediterranean adventures and cross-cultural know-how: his traffic in silk from Middle Eastern centers, his knowledge of French as Mediterranean lingua franca, his cordial relations with the ‘heathen’ burgrave of Morocco. When Gêrhart is shipwrecked on the North African coast, his ability to cross multiple geographical and cultural spaces results in a momentary recoding of ‘good’ from the noble and, above all, spiritual values of the German imperial court to ‘movable goods’ [varnde guot] – the precious cargo that the merchant uses to ransom the burgrave's noble Christian captives. In Rudolf von Ems's artful language, Gêrhart is ‘good’ in multiple, potentially incompatible ways.



My thanks to the organizers and members of the 2010 NEH Summer Institute in Medieval Mediterranean Studies for their interest in this project. Special thanks to Peregrine Horden for his encouragement.


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • William Crooke
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Literature and LanguageEast Tennessee State UniversityJohnson City

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