The Gosling

The Gosling | daz genselin

British Library MS Harley 4399 f.37 [Public Domain]
Introduction

The Middle High German Mären, short narrative texts written in rhymed couplets similar to the French fabliaux and the Italian prose novelle, often tell humorous stories spiked with sexual jokes and sideswipes against specific social groups, specifically clerics. The Gosling, composed by an anonymous author probably in the second half of the 13th century, constitutes a rather typical specimen of this literary genre. The text tells the story of a young monk who leaves his monastery for the first time and encounters an outside world that he is completely ignorant of. Never having seen a woman before, he innocently asks his abbot about those that they meet, and the abbot, trying to suppress the monk's instant fascination, answers that these creatures are called "geese". The abbot's plan fails, and the naive monk is seduced by a village girl. Unaware of his wrongdoing, he later on reveals his sexual encounter to the abbot, who recognizes the calamity caused by his white lie.

The motif of the worldly inexperienced young man is widespread in European medieval literature. It is central to the various Christianized versions of the legend of Barlaam and Josaphat (e.g. Rudolf von Ems: Barlaam und Josaphat, c.1220/30) and is frequently used as a moral anecdote in sermons and exemplary literature (e.g. Jacques de Vitry, Exempla, no. 82). Apart from such edifying texts, the motif's humorous potential did not escape medieval authors and audiences. There are a large number of medieval burlesque stories about young men who have never seen women before and yet are instantly attracted to the female sex. For example, both the Italian Novellino (early 14th c., story no. 14) and Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron (1358, fourth day, introduction) tell variants of this story. 

The Gosling is a relatively early example of this narrative tradition. With regards to both to its verse form, brevity, sexual humor, and its mild undertones of anticlericalism, it represents central characteristics of the Märe tradition and might give an introductory impression of this literary genre.

Reception and Transmission

Multiple variants of this text are transmitted in six manuscripts that were written between the early 14th and the mid 15th centuries. We have translated the Gosling according to Klaus Grubmüller's edition of manuscript E (Munich, University Library, 2° Cod. ms. 731, fol. 91v–93v; Würzburg ca. 1350).

Scholarship

Boccaccio, Giovanni: The Decameron, transl. Wayne A. Rebhorn, New York: Norton 2013.

  • See the introduction of the fourth day of stories for a variant of The Gosling.

Chinca, Mark: "The Body in some Middle High German Mären: Taming and Maiming", in: Framing Medieval Bodies, ed. Sarah Kay, Miri Rubin, Manchester: Manchester University Press 1994, pp. 187–210.

Il Novellino. The Hundred Old Tales, transl. Edward Storer, London: George Routledge & Sons 1925.

  • The fourteenth tale is a variant of The Gosling.

The Exempla, or Illustrative Stories from the Sermones Vulgares of Jacques de Vitry, ed. Thomas Frederick Crane, London: Folk-Lore Society 1890.

  • Exemplum no. 84 uses the trope of the inexperienced young man for moral instruction.

Young, Christopher J.: "At the End of the Tale. Didacticism, Ideology and the Medieval German Märe", in: Mittelalterliche Novellistik im europäischen Kontext: Kulturwissenschaftliche Perspektiven, ed. Mark Chinca, Timo Reuvekamp-Felber, Christopher J. Young, Berlin: Erich Schmidt Verlag 2006, pp. 24–47.

Wailes, Stephen L:: "Social Humor in Middle High German Mären", in: ABäG 10 (1976), pp. 119–48.

Wailes, Stephen L.: Art. "Mären", in: Dictionary of the Middle Ages, ed. Joseph Reese Strayer, vol 8, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons 1987, col. 126–33.

  • Short lexicon article on the literary genre.