Duke Ernst

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Duke Ernst (von Baiern) is the legendary hero and the title of a Middle High German verse novel (in older research often referred to as the so-called minstrel poem ) of the High Middle Ages , which was probably written around 1180 by a Rhenish poet.

Historical background

The historical background of the work, which is based on a Latin source, forms (among other events) the uprising of Duke Ernst II of Swabia against his stepfather Konrad II in 1030 . It owes its numerous adaptations, especially as a later so-called folk book , both to the descriptions of the adventures of its hero in a fabulous Orient, which refers to a multitude of sources, and to its always up-to-date political background: the problematic relationship between princes and kings, regional and central power. The complex entanglement of different narrative patterns, which the poet cleverly combines, is also striking, primarily in the interweaving of imperial history (Duke Ernst's uprising and deeds after his return) and oriental history (probation abroad). In the history of the Orient there are motifs and scenes that z. B. from the story of St. Brendan , from 1001 Nights ( Sindbad the Navigator ) are known or use medieval knowledge from encyclopedias and ancient descriptions of the world. In particular, the representation of the monstra , that is, the physically deformed miraculous creatures of the Orient, as they are z. B. are shown on the Ebstorf world map , and the miracula of the "East", z. B. the Magnetberg, the gold-digging ants, but also the pygmies , fascinated so much that a rich tradition of tradition was formed.

Only two fragments of the original version by Duke Ernst (A) have survived, published by Karl Bartsch in 1869. Two complete manuscripts (B) date from the 15th century, the text should be from the beginning of the 13th century. have arisen. Also noteworthy is the version attributed to Duke Ernst (D) to Ulrich von Etzenbach . The stylistic and content-related approach of a high court arrangement in relation to Duke Ernst B is easy to read from it.

As is so often the case here, too, the genesis of the text and the context of transmission of medieval literature do not allow easy allocation to a specific epoch, let alone a decade. Literary texts from this period are more likely to be understood as “work in progress”, the shape and horizon of which must be determined anew with the tradition, copies, translations, prints, etc.

Latin translations are available from the 13th century: a version ( Ernestus ) in hexameters by the poet Odo von Magdeburg , which was commissioned by Archbishop Albrecht II of Kefernburg, and two prose versions. The Latin prose version C formed the template for the so-called folk book tradition. The first version was probably made in Augsburg in the 15th century (first printing: Anton Sorg, Augsburg 1476). Another abridged version was handed down to the 19th century. A “song version” in Bernerton , which almost exclusively deals with adventures in the Orient, is also handed down as a printed “people's book” - originally created in the 14th century.

Significant changes in the narrator's and reader's interests, and even in the sociology of the public itself, from the high through the late Middle Ages to the early modern period can be traced in this broad arrangement and tradition.

In 1817, Ludwig Uhland resorted to the subject in his tragedy Duke Ernst von Schwaben , as did Peter Hacks in the play Das Volksbuch von Duke Ernst or The Hero and His Entourage ( 1956 ). The adaptation of Herzog Ernst as an animated film Herzog Ernst by Lutz Dammbeck from 1993 is also remarkable due to the graphic implementation and creative density .

Structure and motifs (version B)

The verse is roughly divided into three sections:

  • Rise and fall in one's own country → escape from the country (as a crusade )
  • Adventure at the border (probation; sin) → repentance
  • Adventure abroad (probation and regaining of reputation) → new crusade, return

The thematic fields and concepts of ere (reputation), triuwe and behavior-oriented concepts relating to chivalric violence, but also experience and reflection, convey narrative and structural depth to the serious figure. The figural and narrative motivational elements of the Knight of the Crusade, which are often seen as formative, and other references to theological concepts that pervade the text, however, form only one level of meaning of the text, albeit possibly authorial. The verse novel, situated in the field of tension between courtly verse novel, travel literature and ethnographic discourse, combines and restricts highly divergent knowledge and narrative elements, whose "inner dialogicity" (Bakhtin) breaks up the simpler scheme of a 'crusade epic'.

In their own country

The Bavarian Duke Ernst is already introduced in the prologue as a guoten knehte (v. 3) and exemplary ruler personality . Due to his origin, his class-appropriate training and his virtues, he corresponds to the ideal courtly role model. Ernst learned Italian and Latin (v. 70f), spent some “years of study” abroad (v. 72-77) and finally received the sword (v. 118f). This required the use of weapons to defend the Church, the Christian faith and the protection of widows and orphans; it provided a religious and ethical justification for the use of weapons. Ernst has earned a reputation in the field of education and physical control (v. 78, 84f., V. 93 and V142ff). He also increased his reputation (ere) through willing giving (milte) (V 152f-158) [f6].

Count Palatine Heinrich slandered Ernst at Emperor Otto and argued with the emperor's erection . The word appears four times in Heinrich's first speech (v. 680 - 716). The emperor rejects these accusations with the reference to the triuwe . This word appears four times in his counter-speech (v. 718 - 743). In Heinrich's second speech (v. 749 - 796) both terms appear three times, and this time he can convince Otto, who starts a campaign against Ernst. Ernst does not resort to violence until the possibilities of speech have been exhausted. He kills the slanderous Count Palatine, the Emperor escapes an attempt to kill him. A vengeance speech by Ernst (v. 1294-1315) clarifies his motivation and argument. Accordingly, the emperor made himself guilty of following an "ungetriuwen rât". The renunciation of force always comes from Ernst (he wants to mediate, suggests Regensburg give up, leaves the country of war). When he does violence, it is done consciously and purposefully.

After his mother's marriage to Emperor Otto, Ernst not only received plenty of fiefs and goods, but also became the emperor's most important advisor and co-regent. Furthermore, there is also an emotional bond between Otto and Ernst, an intimate father-son relationship in which Otto treats his stepson as a few kint (v. 610). Again and again, the narrator emphasizes the years of harmonious connection between Ernst and the emperor, the imperial ruler and his vassal, which is the prerequisite for the stability of the rule of law in the rîche . But Ernst's rise triggers the envy of Count Palatine Heinrich, the emperor's nephew. Through an intrigue in which the latter claims that Ernst wanted to overthrow the emperor, he succeeds in destroying Otto's bond with his stepson. Despite initial doubts, Otto finally believed Heinrich's slander, withdrew Ernst's favor and had the Count Palatine carry out a campaign against Bavaria, against which Ernst, on the advice of his closest confidante and advisor Wetzel, did not defend himself. Both his mother's attempts to mediate and those of the princely community fail. The emperor remains adamant and also denies Ernst the opportunity to defend himself before a public court. Ernst decides to take revenge and takes up vigilante justice by carrying out an attempted murder on Heinrich and the emperor, from which Otto barely escapes. After the murder of Heinrich and the assassination attempt on the emperor in his bower, a peaceful conflict resolution is no longer possible. The emperor imposed the imperial ban, and the princes now distance themselves from Ernst and decide to revoke his fief and inheritance from him. In the now flaming six-year Reich War, Ernst can initially prove himself in the fight against the Reichsheer, but when his material resources are exhausted by the war, he gives up the resistance against the rîche and decides to go on a crusade.

On the border

In Grippia, Ernst and his men only want to commit mouth robberies. A less serious offense, which is also connoted positively by the explicit exclusion of other offenses (v. 2400ff). It was only during a second inspection of the city that Ernst found himself guilty of several offenses: curiosity , superbia and trespassing . Ernst and Wetzel's use of force against the Grippians justify them with the vengeance to which they feel obliged (v. 3438). You take on the task of the clan of the Indian princess to avenge their misfortune.

It is noticeable that the struggles against the Grippians are described in more detail than other violence before or after in the text (e.g. vv. 3605-3839). The different armament of the crusaders and Grippians hurts the sense of honor of the knights, who are used to fighting face to face, while fighting from a distance (with bow and arrow) is not very glorious. Ernst's speech on the motivation of his men (v. 3735-3776) draws a direct line from death to the kingdom of heaven (v. 3744f). The flight for one's own life has turned into an actual crusade, as the references to God underline. The justice of the use of force is thus legitimized by God's will.

After leaving Grippia, the words buoze ( repentance ), sin (e.g. BV 3888f, V. 3940-3944, V. 3970ff, V. 4095) appear. On the onward journey, the cunning (v. 4344) Ernst or his men did not kill the young griffins (v. 4342). The renunciation of force is explained less with his good nature than with "wise consideration".

In the foreign

After his arrival in Arimaspi, Ernst met the inhabitants neutrally; their one-eyedness did not seem remarkable to him, he respected them with Christian humility as God's creatures. His attitude towards the strange creatures is not shaped by superbia as it was in Grippia. He gained a reputation and was eventually given a fiefdom, thus once more fitting himself into feudal society in a middle position. Through knightly riding (v. 4611) he wins the king for himself and receives from him comprehensive care for himself and his men. Ernst soon enjoys a good reputation with the king, who "brings him with triuwen herzeclîchen" (v. 4663).

To protect his country he defeated the flat feet, the "Oren" and the Kanaan (giants). He also supports the Prechami in the fight against the threatening cranes. However, Ernst renounces the offered rule in the land of Prechami. As at the beginning, he restricts himself to what is necessary when exercising violence, just like the text: The Platthuf fights last 57 verses, from v. 4689; he fought against the Ores for 40 verses, from v. 4850; against the cranes in Prechami 17 verses, from v. 4965; against the Canaan 31 verses, from v. 5201.

Ernst takes note of the figurations of the stranger calmly. For the public it can be assumed that strange beings in distant areas were taken for granted. Numerous texts and reports (which were then considered travelogues, but are now classified as fantastic literature) made the existence of mythical creatures seem natural. The foreign is always to be seen against the foil of the known: The social structure is similar to that in Germany ( feudal ), the beings are the same as people (only with a particularly pronounced anatomical deviation).

The story begins in the Occident and then goes to the Orient, with the fantastic creatures.

Minor characters

  • Count Wetzel
    • the only figure (besides Ernst) present in the whole text
    • friendly vassal (concilium et auxilium) Ernsts
    • Ernst's weakness is evident in Ernst's disregard for Wetzel's consilium
    • quasi figurative conscience that helps the audience to judge Ernst's actions morally (or clarify the position / attitude of the text)
  • Count Palatine Heinrich
    • Counter-image to the noble, honorable seriousness (he slandered without basis and only out of envy (v. 658-661) "as imz der tiufel advised" (v. 650) the duke)
  • Emperor Otto
    • initially presented as ideal ruler (vv. 175-228)
    • Blinded by Heinrich's betrayal, he loses positive drawing and mutates from rex iustus to rex iniustus
    • only in the act of forgiveness (v. 5932ff) does he speak seriously for the first time since the slander
    • demonstrates the dependence of a ruler on his advisors (vassals) (analogous to Ernst's disregard of Wetzel's advice)
  • King of Grippia
    • Ernst kills him in his bunker (symbolic catch-up of Otto's unsuccessful killing)
    • Oath of vengeance almost fulfilled, as this ruler also brought misfortune to people (here over India, whose king he killed and his daughter he stole)

Ernst has proven himself as a vassal and liege lord in his own and foreign country. At first he is committed to the ere and gains respect. After the harmony of the social fabric has been destroyed, he gains erection in the struggle in front of his companions and the audience in the second section. After all, he can also acquire the ere in the social fabric of Arimaspi. In the end he returns home after further probation in the fight against the pagans , in order to provide there with additional ere to take up his old position again. Ernst gets out of harmony into a crisis through no fault of his own. In this he behaves wrongly and thereby makes himself complicit, which he has to compensate for in a trial and penance journey in order to finally achieve harmony again with a new quality.

In the first and third sections Ernst acts according to the knightly ideal of a vassal (and liege lord). In the second section, in which he is the highest-ranking, Wetzel is to be regarded as the ideal actor.

The text is increasingly permeated with religious motivation. At first (after the loss of the ere through a third party ) Ernst declares his escape to be a crusade. After regaining his erection, he goes on an actual crusade.



  • German minstrel stories of the Middle Ages , retold and ed. von Gretel and Wolfgang Hecht, Leipzig 1977, pp. 57-101 and 215-218.
  • German folk books, I , retold and ed. by Gertrud Bradatsch and Joachim Schmidt, Leipzig 1986, pp. 25-64 and 533 f.
  • Beyond the golden mist. Duke Ernst's strange adventures in the Orient , retold by Auguste Lechner , Innsbruck 1965.


  • Hans Szklenar and Hans-Joachim Behr: Duke Ernst. In: Author's Lexicon , 2nd ed., III, Sp. 1170–1191.
  • Hans-Joachim Behr: Duke Ernst. In: Lexikon des Mittelalters , IV, 2193 f.
  • Friedrich Michael Dimpel: Valuation transfers and correlative creation of meaning in the 'Duke Ernst B' and in the 'Partonopier'. In: Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift für Literaturwissenschaft and Geistesgeschichte 89 (2015), pp. 41–69.
  • Thomas Ehlen: Hystoria ducis Bauarie Ernesti. Critical edition “Herzog Ernst” C and investigations into the structure and presentation of the material in the vernacular and Latin versions . Script-Oralia, Series A, Classical Studies Series Vol. 96. Narr, Tübingen 1996, also dissertation Freiburg 1996.
  • Jürgen Kühnel: On the structure of Duke Ernst . In: Euphorion, 73 (1979), pp. 248-271.
  • Hans Pelanda-Simon: Appearance, Reality and Utopia. Investigations into the unity of a state novel (Duke Ernst B) . Lang, Frankfurt a. M 1984 (Regensburg contributions to German linguistics and literary studies; Vol. 24).
  • Jasmin Schahram Rühl: Welfish? Staufisch? Babenbergish? For the dating, localization and interpretation of the medieval Duke Ernst versions since Conrad III. based on the word history of "castle" and "city". Vienna 2002 (also philosophical dissertation Frankfurt am Main 2000).
  • Alexandra Stein: The wonderful people of Duke Ernst (B). On the problem of body-bound authenticity in the medium of writing . In: Harms, Wolfgang [u. a.] (Ed.): Perceiving the strange - strange perception. Studies on the history of perception and the encounter between cultures in the Middle Ages and early modern times . Hirzel, Stuttgart / Leipzig 1997, pp. 21-48.
  • Georg Voss: The legend of Duke Ernst under the influence of Wolframs von Eschenbach . Decker, Colmar 1886 ( digitized version )

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Hans-Joachim Behr: Odo (Otto) von Magdeburg. In: Author's Lexicon . 2nd ed., Volume VII, Col. 17-19.