Der Guote Gêrhart: The Power of Mobility in the Medieval Mediterranean

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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.