Der Rosendorn (transl. The Rose Thorn) (sometimes Der weiße Rosendorn (transl. The White Rose Thorn)) is a thirteenth-century German poem. It tells the story of a virgin who is separated from her vulva,[note 1] with whom her dialogue forms the structure of the piece. They argue about what it is that men want in a woman: the woman claims it is for herself, whereas the vagina dismisses this, claiming that she is all men really want. The two go different directions to discover the truth; neither is successful, and both are treated badly by the men they meet. To conclude the story, the maid is physically reunited with her vulva with the assistance of a passing young man. Originally thought to have been written in the 15th-century, a recently discovered portion of the text was discovered in an Austrian library, as part of another book's binding; this has been dated to around 200 years earlier.
Poems such as Der Rosendorn were uncommon but not unknown in the middle ages, particularly in German literature, and often-satirical writers were not afraid to use the foulest of language to emphasise their points. Usage words such as zers and zwetzler (slang for penis) and fut (likewise for cunt) went much further than the usual mild emphasise favoured by popular literature, and, indeed, were diametrically the opposite to what would be expected in the Romantic literature of the age. Coxon suggests that their closest relative in ribaldry would have been the Fastnachtsspiele of carnival and shrovetide. Scholar Brono Roy argues that the medieval motif of "the talking cunt" was a pan-European one, as similar fabliaux exist in French also.[note 2] Emma E. L. Rees commented how, in Der Rosendorn, as in other iterations of the motif, "again, it's a man who is responsible for reuniting a woman with her wayward, talking vagina".
The poem begins with the male narrator going for a stroll and finding his way to a locus amoenus, whereby he sees a strange thing: a fenced-off garden, with a rose bush from which the rosewater is being extracted. Every morning, while it is still dark, a young virgin—a lady-in-waiting (jungfrauwe)—showers in the rose water that has collected. The narrator eavesdropps on the woman's argument with her vagina as to which of them provides as much pleasure to men; their conversation is both witty and sharp. With "narratorial licence...pushed to its limit", the poem features an anthropomorphised vagina which has been separated from a woman, and the audience is told how "von ainer wurz fugt sich das,/Das die Fud zu ir frauen sprach" ("As a result of a herb the cunt was able to speak to her lady"). The healing herb is also described as a "manic root". The fut later explains that it ate the root; this has been interpreted as having been used as a tool of penetrative masturbation. The fud spends much of their discussion complaining: for example, that the woman would take care of every part of her body except for it. Emphasising the sexual nature of the fud's demands, it moans that she receives many presents from men, but that it never does. The discussion revolves around the question of whether men generally are more interested in the woman as a person or in her sexual being. The vulva believes that the woman need not pay too great attention to her own appearance, as it is the fut that men are interested in. Conversely, the woman argues that it is her looks which win men over in the first place. In an attempt to discover the truth, they go their separate ways. The woman meets men and offers herself, but causes a stampede and is trampled; her vagina, meanwhile, is used by every man it meets. The independent vulva, suggests Schlechtweg-Jahn, is perceived as a threat by the men.
Both the woman and her vulva, apart, become deeply unhappy with their situation, which has not worked out as they thought it would for either of them, and they decide to become one as one again. The narrator is persuaded to help reunite the two. He does so by the "simple but brutal" method of pushing the one back into the other up against a fence, a process he indulges in gleefully, says Rasmussen. This activity he then proceeds to encourage to all men in the audience. Although at first glance, suggests Sebastian Coxon, it appears to be written with the appreciation of the male gaze in mind, this may not be the case.
The authorship of the poem is unknown, and as Kate Connolly points out, particularly as to whether it was written by a man or a woman. The poem makes liberal use of obscene and foul language, and is intentionally provocative—with its "breaking of social and linguistic taboos"—in doing so. It is not merely the language which is radical, suggests the medievalist Anne Marie Rasmussen: its imagery, too, is "wildly fantastical, aggressive, and misogynist". It is also unusual in having a woman as the primary protagonist; she experiences the same degree of trial and tribulation as the customary male protagonist but tailored to her specific gender. She takes on certain qualities which would have been understood by contemporaries as indicating masculinity, however, such as the emphasis on how she is at liberty to create her own world and live by her own rules, and her masturbation with the root intimates her playing a "male role in sexuality", suggests Ralf Schlechtweg-Jahn. She is effectively self-sufficient in the absence of men, at least until the end says Schlectweg-Jahn, when she is forced to ask a man for assistance. The narrator, explains the poem, proceeds to "nail her cunt back into place". As a consequence of her ravishment in the rose garden—they are both deflowered, says Schlectweg-Jahn—the garden's independence from the rule of man is forever shattered, just as her virtue has been. In doing so, the woman and her body are returned to beneath the "dominating and aggressive sexual force" of masculinity.
The poem, although very distant from the classic chivalric romances of contemporary German literature, does contain elements of the genre, particularly in its "eavesdropping male narrator", and the handmaiden in a rural and rustic sheltered setting.[note 3] Indeed, argues Rasmussen, the main reason for introducing these elements, so familiar to contemporaries, is to reverse them and turn them inside out. The rosegarden motif is a common one in the courtly literature of the day as well as being reminiscent of Mary in the Garden of Gethsemane The poem also examines the theme of fidelity. It was a probably an inspiration for Heinrich Wittenwiler's The Ring of the early fifteenth century, which also features a conversation between a woman and her vagina, but without the separation between them.
It makes no attempt to draw out a moral lesson from the story it tells—indeed, argues Coxon, it deliberately avoids doing so. This is in stark contrast to church-sponsored morality plays. It has been described as an over-the-top "erotic fantasy", "one of the first ever erotic poems". It has been described as illustrating the importance that contemporaries placed upon root medicines, particularly in connection with sexually-transmitted maladies. Der Rosendorn, argue German medievalists Albrecht Classen and Peter Dinzelbacher is, along with Nonnenturnier and Gold und Zers, one many medieval priapeia "in which anthropomorphized genitals talk to their owners, earnestly negotiate with them, get into quarrels, separate from one another, are maltreated and sometimes come together again".[note 4] Der Rosendorn also shares, with Minnerede, elements of personification. The German Linguist, D. H. Green has suggested that works such as Der Rosendorn were actually part of a " widespread reaction to romance fiction" such as Parzifal.
Two versions of the poem were known to have existed, the Dresden and the Karlsruhe Codices; historians believe them to have been composed towards the end of the 16th century.
It was listed as being in the possession of Erhard der Rainer zu Schambach—a member of the niederadligen, or lower nobility of Straubing, Bavaria, who left a large library—in his "book of books" of 1387.[note 5]
The poem was edited in a collection of Old German Tales in 1850, with a reprint in 1961.
In July 2019, Christine Glaßner, from the Austrian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medieval Research, while researching the archives of Melk Abbey, discovered a previously-unknown strip of parchment—measuring 22 centimetres (8.7 inches) by 1.5 centimetres (0.59 inches)—bearing 60 partial lines of the poem. The parchment, which had been subsequently recycled into the binding of a much later book, has been dated to around 1300, nearly 200 years earlier than previously thought. Only a few words were extant on each line, which were transcribed by Nathanael Busch and the AAS. Journalist Kate Connolly, writing in The Guardian, described them as "the earliest form of the Vagina Monologues", while Glaßner has said of the poem that, although it may seem bizarre to modern readers, "at its core is an incredibly clever story, because of the very fact that it demonstrates that you cannot separate a person from their sex”.
- The various terms for women's visible reproductive organs were used interchangeably in the middle ages. This, comments scholar Jane Cartwight, is because "the female body was considered to be similar to the male body in almost all respects, but with inverted genitals, almost like a wax impression of the male genitals. No mention is made of the clitoris, since this did not correspond to any part of the male body and no attempt is made to differentiate between the openings of the female urethra and vagina".
- Roy highlights the 13th-century Du Chevalier du Fist les cons Parler, in which a chivalric knight "received from three fairies a gift: he can force a woman's sex to speak. If it does not answer his questions, the arse is supposed to answer in its place".
- Such as the romances of the 12th- and 13th-century knight-poets Hartmann von Aue, Wolfram von Eschenbach and Gottfried von Strassburg
- The phenomenon was related, say Classen and Dinzelbacher, to the 13th- and 14th-century practice of wearing metal badges in the form of personified genitalia.
- Rainer's collection was eclectic: among others, medievalist Nicole Eichenberger has listed a copy of Trista, a Psalter, a pharmacopoeia, Lives of Jesus and Mary, works by Teichner and Freidank, an interpretation of the Decalogue, a Lucidarius, and a commentary on the Parable of the Ten Virgins, and various calendars.
- Cartwright 2003, p. 72.
- Coxon 2017, p. 95.
- Roy 1998, p. 314.
- Roy 1998, p. 314 n.23.
- Arlima 2015.
- Rees 2013, p. 279 n.84.
- Schlechtweg-Jahn 1999, p. 104.
- Rasmussen 2002, p. 1185.
- Schlechtweg-Jahn 1999, p. 105.
- Schlechtweg-Jahn 1999, p. 105–106.
- Schlechtweg-Jahn 1999, p. 106.
- Connolly 2019.
- Green 1982, p. 485.
- Schlechtweg-Jahn 1999, p. 104 n.37.
- Koldeweij 2005.
- de Boor 1997, p. 242.
- Gerhardt 1981, p. 341.
- Classen & Dinzelbacher 2008, p. 153.
- Green 1994, pp. 247, 401 n.109.
- Eichenberger 2015, p. 287.
- von der Hagen 1850, vol. III, pp. 17–28.
- Arlima (2015). "Du Chevalier Qui Fist Les Cons Parler". Archives de Literature du Moyen Age. Archived from the original on 28 July 2018. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
- Cartwright, J. (2003). "Virginity and Chastity Tests in Medieval Welsh Prose". In Bernau, A.; Evans, R.; Salih, S. (eds.). Medieval Virginities. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. p. 5679. ISBN 978-0-80208-637-2.
- Connolly, K. (2019). "Medievalists Excited at Parchment Fragment of 'Vagina Monologue'". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 28 July 2019. Retrieved 28 July 2019.
- Coxon, S. (2017). Laughter and Narrative in the Later Middle Ages: German Comic Tales C.1350-1525. Oxford: Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-1-35156-082-5.
- de Boor, H. (1997). Die deutsche Literatur im späten Mittelalter: 1250-1350 (in German) (repr. ed.). Munich: C. H. Beck. ISBN 978-3-40640-378-1.
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- Eichenberger, N. (2015). Geistliches Erzählen: Zur deutschsprachigen religiösen Kleinepik des Mittelalters (1st ed.). Berlin: De Gruyter. ISBN 978-3-11040-085-4.
- Gerhardt, C. (1981). "Kröte Und Igel in Schwankhafter Literatur Des Späten Mittelalters". Medizinhistorisches Journal. 16: 340–357. OCLC 797582001.
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- Green, D. H. (1994). Medieval Listening And Reading: The Primary Reception Of German Literature, 800 1300. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-52144-493-4.
- Koldeweij, J. (2005). ""Shameless and Naked Images": Obscene Badges as Parodies of Popular Devotion". In Blick, S.; Tekippe, R. (eds.). Art and Architecture of Late Medieval Pilgrimage in Northern Europe and the British Isles. Leiden: Brill. pp. 493–510. ISBN 978-1-42942-779-1.
- Rasmussen, A. M. (2002). "Gendered Knowledge and Eavesdropping in the Late-Medieval Minnerede". Speculum. 77: 1168–1194. OCLC 67328230.
- Rees, E. L. E. (2013). The Vagina: A Literary and Cultural History. London: Bloomsbury Academic. ISBN 978-1-62356-871-9.
- Roy, B (1998). "Getting to the Bottom of St. Caquette's Cult". In Ziolkowski, J. M. (ed.). Obscenity: Social Control and Artistic Creation in the European Middle Ages. Culture and Traditions IV. Leiden: Brill. pp. 308–318. ISBN 978-9-00410-928-5.
- Schlechtweg-Jahn, R. (1999). "Geschlechtsidentität Und Höfische Kultur: Zur Diskussion von Geschlechtermodellen in den sog. priapeiischen Mären". In Bennewitz I Tervooren H. (ed.). Manlîchiu wîp, wîplîch man: Zur Konstruktion der Kategorien "Körper" und "Geschlecht" in der deutschen Literatur des Mittelalters. Internationales Kolloquium der Oswald von Wolkenstein-Gesellschaft und der Gerhard-Mercator-Universität Duisburg, Xanten 1997 (in German). Berlin: Erich Schmidt Verlag GmbH. pp. 85–109. ISBN 978-3-50304-923-3.
- von der Hagen, F. H., ed. (1850). "LIII. Der weiße Rosendorn". Gesammtabenteuer. Hundert altdeutsche Erzählungen. 3. Stuttgart/Tübingen: J. G. Cotta. pp. 17–28.