The Poem

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Heinrich von Aue, a Swabian knight, is a fortunate man. Wealthy and of noble birth, he is known throughout the land for his high standard of honor. His goal is to fulfill his obligations as a knight; nothing but purest virtue and upright truth mark his life. Suddenly, however, his life is blighted by disaster: Heinrich becomes a leper. As in the case of Job in ancient times, his physical appearance deteriorates rapidly, but he does not have the patience of Job. All his life seems a curse to him, and his pride has left him without friends. His cheerfulness vanishes, and he detests even the light of day. Only the hope of a cure for his terrible disease keeps him alive.

Trying to find a cure for his malady, he seeks out the most famous doctors in all Europe. The school of Montpellier is known for its able doctors, but when he goes there, he learns that they know of no medicine to heal him. Disappointed, he travels to Salerno, where he talks to other skilled physicians. At last he meets a master who tells him that there is a cure, yet the cure is of such a nature that it will be impossible to achieve; therefore, the doctor prefers not to talk about it. In desperation, Heinrich begs the doctor to reveal his remedy. After some hesitation the physician yields and tells the knight that he can be cured by the heart’s blood of a virgin who will willingly, out of love for him, submit to a fatal operation.

Heinrich realizes the hopelessness of his situation and returns sadly to Swabia. All his worldly belongings he gives to the poor and to the monks. Of his land and estates, he keeps no more than a clearing in a wood where a poor but contented peasant lives with his family. Heinrich decides to join them in their house in the wood, and the peasant and his family do all they can to ease the suffering of the leprous man. They love the knight and are concerned for his health because they realize that they will never find such a good master again. The peasant’s young daughter, in particular, is deeply moved by Heinrich’s suffering.

One day, the peasant asks why the doctors have been unable to help. Heinrich tells him of the visit to Salerno and describes the impossible cure of which the doctor spoke. The young daughter overhears this tale. That night she awakens her parents with her tears. The next night she decides that she wants to be the virgin who can save their master’s life. Her parents are horrified when they...

(The entire section is 997 words.)

Der arme Heinrich Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Fisher, Rodney W. “Hartmann’s Arme Heinrich: The Classical Mediaeval Dilemma of Ere.” In Die Ehre als literarisches Motiv, edited by August Obermayer. Dunedin, New Zealand: University of Otago, 1986. Fisher suggests metaphorical significance for the scene in Salerno. Compares Heinrich knocking on the door to Christ knocking at the door of the human heart.

Margetts, John. “Observations on the Representation of Female Attractiveness in the Works of Hartmann von Aue with Special Reference to Der arme Heinrich.” In Hartmann von Aue: Changing Perspectives, edited by Timothy McFarland and Silvia Ranawake. Göttingen: Kümmerle, 1988. Draws on research into colloquial German vocabulary to demonstrate double entendre in the scene with the girl awaiting the surgeon’s knife. Concludes that a sadomasochistic element is found in all of Hartmann’s works, perhaps reflective of a repressive society.

Rose, Ernst. “Problems of Medieval Psychology as Presented in the ‘Klein Gemahel’ of Heinrich the Unfortunate.” The Germanic Review 22, no. 3 (October, 1947): 182-187. An excellent article of enduring significance, which portrays the girl as precociously pubescent and afraid of her awakening sexuality. Her desire to be sacrificed is driven by unconscious masochism.

Swinburne, Hilda. “The Miracle in Der arme Heinrich.” German Life and Letters 22, no. 3 (April, 1969): 205-209. A solid summary and analysis of the events surrounding the narrative turning point. Enumerates Heinrich’s temptations and analyzes the situations in which both Heinrich and the maiden are tested by God.

Wallbank, Rosemary E. “The Salernitan Dimension in Hartmann von Aue’s Der arme Heinrich.” German Life and Letters 43, no. 2 (January, 1990): 168-176. Informative research into the respected medical schools in Montpellier and Salerno in the twelfth century and a discussion of their rigorous curricula and surgical practices.