Imagining Iberia in Medieval German literature

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Medieval Iberia, through its complex history intertwining Islam, Christianity and Judaism in a dialectic between Reconquista and convivencia, has been appropriated by writers and scholars as a figure of thought that throws into relief the inherent intricacy of social forms and their construction. At once a barrier and a gateway between Europe, Africa and Asia, medieval Iberia presents a geographical and ideological challenge to post-medieval notions of “East,” “West,” “nationhood” and “Europe”. This study analyses depictions of Iberia in medieval German literature, examining the ideological implications of real and fictional travels to the Peninsula for the construction of individual and collective identities, religious, cultural and political. I consider Iberia as a Foucauldian heterotopia, an imaginative space that stages a host of ideological problems and sheds light on the contingency of identities. Following recent trends in using network theory throws into relief the “Europeanization of Europe” as defined by Robert Bartlett, from a literary perspective. A network approach sheds light on the ongoing processes through which any cultural entity characterised as “European” is constantly renegotiated, rather than defined in a fixed form. 
Chapter one considers two German adaptations of the Roland story: the twelfth-century Rolandslied and Der Stricker’s Karl der Große from the thirteenth-century. The Songs of Roland project a homogeneous Frankish identity embodied by Charlemagne on the Iberian space, that is challenged and asserted by the heterogeneity of a Muslim enemy that involves all part of the known world. Chapter two looks at the fifteenth-century prose epic Herzog Herpin, in which the city of Toledo forms intra- and extra-textual connections. In the narrative, Toledo reconnects characters that had been separated and allows the resolution of the initial conflict. Yet to the audience Toledo triggers a multilingual “European” cultural memory through references to multilingual traditions. Chapter three analyses the construction of a poetic identity by Oswald von Wolkenstein (1376–1445) in four songs dealing with his journey to Iberia. Oswald makes use of Iberia as a plural space, between familiarity and estrangement, which becomes a stage upon which Oswald plays with innovation and conventions, to perform a plural poetic identity. Finally, chapter four investigates the travelogue Reisen nach der Ritterschaft by Georg von Ehingen (1428–1508), in which Georg defines his knightly identity and mediates his depiction of the Peninsula through crusading motifs inherited from literary discourses that do not conform to Iberian historical accounts. The transmission of the text by Georg’s descendants, in turn, places the Peninsula at the heart of a family myth of origin. Finally, my conclusion briefly surveys the role of Iberia in post-medieval examples, to shed light on the ongoing use of the Peninsula as an ideologically loaded space on which to think through identities.
Date of Award1 Sept 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorSarah Bowden (Supervisor) & Julian Weiss (Supervisor)

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