- Muslim Alterity in Konrad Fleck’s Flôre und Blanscheflûr
Flôre was ein heiden, Blanscheflûr cristæne. iedoch niemen wæne, daz ir leben wære misselich.(Fleck v. 324–27)
[Flôre was heathen, Blanscheflûr was Christian. / But nobody should surmise / that their lives were dissimilar.]
In 2002 John Tolan writes in reference to the Chanson de Roland: “The goal of the poet here is the same as that of the filmmaker portraying quintessential bad guys: to allow the reader (or viewer) to enjoy the violence, to revel in the blood and killing, without remorse. Only by dehumanizing the adversary, making him sufficiently ‘other,’ is this possible” (126). The adversary Tolan invokes here is, of course, a Muslim adversary. The German version of the Chanson, the Rolandslied des Pfaffen Konrad follows a similar route. The text does not tarry long before introducing Charlemagne’s adversaries, the “grimmige [...] heiden” (1, 20), as living “unkusclichen” (2, 4; “immoderately,” especially with regard to sexual acitivity), praying to false deities/idols (2, 5), and belonging to the devil (2, 17). In the Rolandslied, Charlemagne’s Muslim adversaries are children of the devil who draw the wrath of God and are doomed to live in hell eternally (2, 31–35).
The early thirteenth-century love and adventure tale Flôre und Blanscheflûr by Konrad Fleck presents a stark contrast to the Rolandslied in this regard – or so it would seem. To begin with, in Fleck’s text the most prominent Islamic character, the boy Flôre, is not an adversary at all. Instead, he is the tale’s protagonist and the audience’s point of identification, a composite of only the most admirable of courtly characteristics and virtues. Indeed, at first sight, the story of the two child lovers, Flôre and Blanscheflûr, looks charmingly sweet: Born on the same day – Flôre to a Muslim queen, Blanscheflûr to her Christian lady-in-waiting – the two children begin loving each other while still in their cradles. The decision of Flôre’s father to separate the innocent lovers is hardly perturbing, since the audience has already been informed that Flôre and Blanscheflûr will live happily ever after and will one day be grandparents to Charlemagne. Flôre’s quest to find Blanscheflûr after she has been sold to Babylonian merchants ends with the young couple happily united in the tower [End Page 276] of the Babylonian amiral (the kalif, prince, or commander) who desires to make Blanscheflûr his bride. The amiral is initially eager to kill the two traitors, but on seeing the unshakable love of the children, he pardons both, knights Flôre, and betroths the two. Shortly thereafter, messengers arrive informing Flôre that his father has died and that the kingdom awaits the boy’s return, so that he may become ruler of the country in his father’s place. Surely, a classification of Flôre und Blanscheflûr as roman idyllique, to borrow the term first applied by Myrrha Lot-Borodine in reference to the tale’s French version, seems justified for the story told so far. The perceived overly idyllic nature of the text in combination with the author’s relatively low artistic profile has contributed to the modest response the text has received among critics. We know little about Konrad Fleck, who has not been identified with certainty to have written any other works. The connection of author and text is tenuous even for Flôre und Blanscheflûr. Fleck may have lived in Basel, and the text is thought to have been composed around 1220. Two complete manuscripts have survived, both produced in the first half of the fifteenth century in the workshop of Diebold Lauber. With extant versions in Spanish, Italian, Greek, French, Dutch, English, Norwegian, Icelandic, Danish, Swedish, Middle High and Low German, the tale of Flôre and Blanscheflûr belongs among the most popular literary motifs in medieval and early modern Europe and its adaptation history extends almost uninterrupted from the late twelfth into the twentieth century. Fleck’s text has recently experienced something of a renaissance, as...