Submission for April Issue, 2022 (Vol. 3, Issue 1) is going on. The last date for submission is 31st March, 2022.

Royal Arrogance and Human Humility: Political and Ethical Lessons from the Past: Herrand of Wildonie’s “The Naked Emperor”


Royal Arrogance and Human Humility: Political and Ethical Lessons from the Past: Herrand of Wildonie’s “The Naked Emperor”

Dr. Albrecht Classen

University Distinguished Professor

Dept. of German Studies
The University of Arizona

Tucson, Arizona, U.S.A.


In the present time, we seem to have assumed a myopic perspective of ourselves and the future. We are in the odd situation, maybe brought about by the radical paradigm shift triggered by the internet, of looking only forward and ignoring the lessons from the past. Pure pastism would be equally bad, but paying solid respect to previous experiences regarding human affairs can have considerably good outcomes. In light of the current dangers to democracy, this article explores the relevance of some medieval literary sources concerning good rulers, presidents, or chancellors. Concretely, the example provided by the Austrian poet Herrand of Wildonie (late thirteenth century) will serve as a model case of how political leaders should view themselves and perform as representatives of people, not as dictators or tyrants.

Keywords: ethical principles for rulers; good kings; medieval examples for modern cases; Herrand of Wildonie; the doppelgänger; political teachings; mirror for princes

Although we commonly observe that presentism dominates much of our modern life, that is, an exclusive focus on current conditions and then on efforts to blaze a path into the future, the attention to the past, carefully directed and meticulously oriented, promises to yield many powerful insights into fundamental aspects of all of human life, both today and tomorrow. We do not need to examine here the philosophical and practical approaches to history as a valuable study subject once again, since so much has been written on this topic most recently. Both literary scholars and historians have extensively discussed the relevance of the past and how we can, or rather why we should turn to the Middle Ages, for instance, as a treasury of human behavior, ideas, experiences, conflicts, tragedies, happy outcomes, hopefulness, or despair.1 This is not to say that we could expect to find perfect solutions for our modern problems simply in the chronicles or literary works created in the past. Also, we cannot naively rely on such intellectual giants, such as St. Augustine, Boethius, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, or William Ockham when we try to figure out problems in our day and age.

            Pragmatic issues and specific conflicts need modern responses, of course, since we must move forward, not backward, rely on current and developing technologies. So, why would we want to reflect backward? One of the simple answers to this challenge can be found by looking at any road map. While we drive toward a goal, we rely critically on our awareness where we have come from, particularly if we get lost on the way toward the future but then might be required to return much of the distance covered so far in order to retrace our errors and correct them with the advantage of past knowledge. In short, past and future constitute the essential framework for all of human existence, and cutting out one of them, or ignoring particularly the previous world, endangers the other.

            A dramatic example for this from the very recent past can be found in the decision by the German government to end its entire nuclear energy program and to replace it primarily with renewable energy based on the terrible experiences in Japan with the nuclear power plant Fukushima Daiishi Ni, which had been hit by a tsunami, which led to its breakdown and meltdown in 2011. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel, herself a scientist with a degree in quantum chemistry, ordered the phasing out of all nuclear power plants in Germany in the immediate aftermath of that catastrophe, and the plan is to reach that goal in 2022. A previous experience has thus led to a subsequent development – a rational consequence with a huge impact on the entire energy industry globally.2

            Despite people’s tendency to turn a blind eye to the past, humankind has always been challenged by many different, yet mostly very similar problems, such as the response to death, the quest for God, the search for love, the fairness and justice of a political system, and the proper relationship with the natural environment, to list just a few of the major topics that intellectuals and writers have always pondered on. We can easily discover that many of those timeless issues require from us to return to them over and over again, as if each generation has to go through the same struggle. After all, they all pertain to the normal growth of an individual or a society, irrespective of the cultural or political context, and we might go so far as to identify life itself as the constant engagement with those larger and minor aspects which ultimately define ourselves as human beings.

            The purpose of this paper consists of focusing on one major conflict which has troubled people throughout time, that is, the attempt by some individuals to assume absolute political power and to accumulate a maximum of resources to the disadvantage of everyone else. Differently put, throughout time, we can observe an ongoing quest for freedom and the search for a fair, just, and equal political system in opposition to political, military, or economic subjugation.3 Even though most of the western world today assumes that they live in democracies, there is good reason to warn ourselves that this belief rests on a very thin veneer that can be easily lost, as the recent development in the United States of America has demonstrated where former President Donald Trump was apparently trying with all of his might and personal appeal to the right-wing masses to install himself as a virtual dictator and to remove the principles of freedom as outlined in the American Constitution on January 6, 2021.4

            Fortunately, we are well equipped to deal with many such challenges and have much ammunition to defend our freedom both by legal, philosophical, economical, and political means. Nevertheless, if we consider the ever-growing populism worldwide, most ominously expressed by the QAnon movement, there is great urgency to remind ourselves once again of the true meaning of freedom, of democracy, of our individual privileges and obligations, all of which are the result of long-term struggles and will never be guaranteed.

            Democracy did not arise simply overnight, and the current political systems predicated on justice and equality of all are the result of countless efforts throughout time. But as much as we enjoy today the fruits of those efforts, can express our opinion freely, practice the right to vote, assemble without being hampered, and pursue our religious faith without any hindrance, as much we begin to see particularly today that there are growing political forces in many western countries, not even to speak of the rest of the world, which would like to limit people’s right to vote, to secure, above all, the hegemony of Christian male whites of the middle and the upper classes, and remove many of the traditional rights inscribed in the American constitution or other fundamental texts. The current situation in present-day Poland, Hungary, Serbia, maybe also Italy, and possibly France, does not look good for democracy, and we all thus face the great need to revisit the old struggles and to remind ourselves what power really means, how individual rulers gained their position, and in what way they have tried throughout time to justify and legitimize their dictatorial office.5 In short, we are in great need of examples of good and bad leaders in order to evaluate the current situation and to remind ourselves of how to move forward without losing out to radical, right-wing, if not fascist groups which would like to establish a new dictatorship. Only if we understand why and how some individuals in the past were able to grab power and to abuse the majority of people will we be in a constructive position to defend ourselves against future threats resulting from potential dictators and tyrants.

            Literature can surprisingly enter the picture in this regard and help us understand some of the older discourses regarding a legitimate kingship or rulership. My intention here is to focus on a verse narrative by a Styrian-Austrian poet, Herrand of Wildonie (second half of the thirteenth century), 6 who offered one of multiple versions about an emperor who had to learn a hard lesson about the central need especially for rulers like him to be mindful of their religious, moral, and ethical obligations, their duties concerning their subjects, and their requirement to exert justice for all. Although medieval poets hardly ever expressed any concrete desire for individual ‘freedom’ in the modern sense of the word, we can easily identify a powerful discourse regarding evil kings or rulers and hence also significant expressions concerning personal freedom from external control.7

            In Herrand’smære (verse narrative), “Der nackte Kaiser” (ca. 1270; The Naked Emperor), 8 we are not confronted with reflections on how to democratize a country. This is, after all, a story deeply steeped in medieval mentality and culture. Instead, we hear about an emperor who suddenly loses all of his power to a doppelgänger and has to learn that he as a human being is just as much dependent on God’s grace and his subjects’ love as all others within his society.9 Although not a pedagogical account, that is, a “Mirror for Princes,” Herrand’s story addresses central concerns regarding a ruler’s values and ideals and warns the audience about the consequences of an emperor’s or a king’s wrongful behavior.10

            This late medieval Austrian poet reworked a highly popular narrative motif that might have entered Europe via Arabic translations from the Indian subcontinent sometime in late antiquity.11 We find important early sources in the collection Gesta Romanorum12 and in the famous Old Spanish El Conde Lucanor by Don Juan Manuel, 13 so Herrand’s version represents simply the German branch of an international narrative motif, appealing to audiences throughout times and in many different cultures.

            In essence, as I want to demonstrate, this medieval tale can easily serve as a teaching lesson for modern rulers, especially those who are overly anxious to assume all the power for themselves and soon turn into tyrants, certainly a topic of significant relevance already in the Middle Ages,14 but unfortunately also today, once again. As we will observe, Herrand, like his predecessors, formulated a strong opinion regarding the ethics and principles of good behavior relevant for a king or emperor. He was neither the first nor the last to do so; many philosophers such as Manegold of Lautenbach, Siegebert of Gembloux, Hugues of Fleury, Honorius of Autun, John of Salisbury, Marsilius of Padua, Jean Gerson, and poets such as Marie de France and Ulrich Bonerius had already expressed highly negative criticism of dangerous tyrants who abused their power to the disadvantage of all people.15 The fear of tyranny was palpable also in the Middle Ages, as many literary and philosophical texts reveal quite impressively.16

            Herrand’s short verse narrative carries considerable significance for us today because, just as its various earlier sources, the poet here voices a strong warning to all rulers to guard themselves against the danger of abusing their own power, neglecting justice, and turning into a dictator. While the poet does not call at all for ‘freedom’ or a democratic system, hence does not even consider any changes of the feudal system with its rigid social class structure, he presents a highly meaningful literary example that promises to convey a timeless lesson for all rulers throughout time and across the world.

            The Middle Ages knew already of many efforts by individuals and entire peoples to fight for their freedom, such as in Iceland, Switzerland, Frisia, Pommerania, Bohemia, or Lithuania, but kingship was, grosso modo, the overarching political system, basically unquestioned by the general population.17 However, there is a huge difference between a king and a dictator, not to speak of a tyrant, because the entire feudal system was predicated on a global concept of a give and take, of mutual dependency in economic and political terms, and hence of respect, at least in ideal terms, which entailed that the king had also to submit under many different obligations and duties in return for his privileges.18 He was a servant of God here on earth, at least in quasi-secular terms, and despite many miserable representatives, there were generally high expectations of the king as a role model in military, administrative, spiritual, and ethical terms.19 King Arthur, as a literary manifestation, generally incorporated this ideal, but many courtly romances and heroic epics also supply painful cases of negative examples.

            This is also the situation in Herrand’s “Der blôzekeiser” where we hear about the Roman emperor Gornêus – the name is mentioned only very late, v. 303 – who wields more power and possesses more wealth than any other ruler before him (20-21). However, particularly because of his almost infinite resources he soon enough loses his ethical principles and turns into an unjust, selfish, greedy, and dictatorial person who is firmly convinced that he would never experience any suffering or pain (28-40). His arrogance flies, of course, in the face of everything people have learned throughout time, and the emperor is quickly realizing how much he himself was caught in a terrible illusion. But the narrator at first injects a religious teaching, warning everyone that Christ is the absolute lord and controls all of human life. No material power would ever be enough to overcome God’s rule, so the narrative immediately sets the tone of a spiritual message of global relevance. Thus, it does not come as a surprise that the poet calls this emperor “der rîche, der tumbe” (42; the rich one, the stupid one; that is: though rich, really stupid).

            This Roman emperor attends a Christian church service, so the poet translates the account into his own time and thus performs the same task as we do today by looking backward in order to learn an important lesson for the own future. The emperor inquires with a cleric about the meaning of the gospel, here Luke, and is told that according to that biblical text those who rise to the top level within society would one day fall down, whereas those who humble themselves and are at the bottom will rise to the top in the future (63-65), and all this without fail. This proves to be also the fundamental teaching contained in the philosophical treatise by Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy (ca. 524), according to which all life is determined by the Wheel of Fortune (Fortuna), meaning that no one can rely on stability here in the worldly existence and that everyone is subject to universal contingency.20

            However, for the emperor, this message is unacceptable, and he vehemently protests against this interpretation, demanding to be told that those who are rich and powerful here on earth will also enjoy the same privilege in the other world. He naively asks the priest what good all of his own efforts to gain wealth and honor during his lifetime would be if he could not carry those with him to the afterlife. He would actually be ashamed if a poor person would gain more respect and power in heaven than he himself (73-75). In other words, the emperor protests against the highest textual authority in the Christian Church, the Gospel itself, charging it of lying or not telling the truth.21

            The poor priest is at a loss what to do, being afraid of the power differential between them, but he insists on the absolute truth of the biblical words and underscores the supreme value of spiritual purity and the horrors of lying. The outcome of the debate consists of both men not deviating from their position, so the emperor, on his own volition, turns away from God and then rules for ten years without observing any obligations to exact justice and to call for a legal court on a regular basis to hear cases brought by people suffering from cruelty, crime, and violence. Injustice thus begins to dominate the empire, with the ruler himself being the worst culprit in terms of the abuse of power. Consequently, crime, such as robbery and arson, is no longer persecuted, and the empire threatens to fall apart.

            Finally, the emperor grants that a great court hearing is organized, although he is already certain himself that God would not be on his side (115-16). The situation has obviously become so dire in the country that countless people assemble to bring their complaints to the court. The narrator emphasizes that many women also arrived at the court because of their great suffering at home and in the hope of finding justice for their cases. The poet thus highlights a universal truth about rulers whose essential task would consist of guaranteeing justice and helping their people by offering protection against wrongdoings, or simply crimes. Details are not listed here, but the fact alone that a legal court is assembled after ten years of neglect already speaks volumes about this ruler and the decline of his empire.

            To add to this ominous evaluation of the emperor’s character, we also learn that he prepares himself for the court proceedings not by studying the law books, for instance, or by consulting with his lords; instead, he is only interested in the women who have arrived as plaintiffs, and in order to appeal to them erotically, the emperor decides to take a bath at first in a distant building somewhere in the city. However, at that moment when he is relaxing, resting on a bench, a doppelgänger appears, whose identity is not yet explained, and who assumes the role of the emperor, returning to the court with his entire retinue, leaving behind the protagonist who does not realize what is happening to him at first.

            Everyone accepts the new person, who looks and speaks just like the emperor, whereas the true person suddenly finds himself in a very uncomfortable, in fact most painful situation, being rejected, despised, mocked at, even persecuted, and mistreated in the worst possible manner. In fact, the emperor is called “schandenflec” (204; shameful spot) and has no way of proving his true identity. Although he is intent on punishing his servants badly once he has regained his previous authority, there is no use in trying to convince anyone that he is the true emperor (232). Worst proves to be that he has no clothing and faces the world as a naked person; not even the employees in the bathhouse are willing to help him and ridicule him, telling him that he should have complained about this terrible case to the emperor (263-64).

            The narrator dramatically calls him “der ellende” (273; the miserable one, or: the outcast), implying that he has no more any house, identity, clothing, support, or family. In his desperation, he seeks help from a knight to whom he had entrusted an entire castle as his administrative post, but he has to realize quickly that no one recognizes him, that everyone rejects him and threatens him with a beating. Ironically, the knight actually admits to himself that this naked man looks exactly like the emperor, but since he himself had accompanied his lord from the bathhouse to his court, he cannot accept this other man as the real ruler despite all of his insistence. Although he gives him some rags to dress himself, he still chases him away, which makes Gornêus’s situation only worse since not even his most trusted knight is willing to come to his rescue.

            Once he has reached the town and tries to beg for food, the people despise him and refuse to help him even with some alms because he looks too well-fed to be an authentic beggar, so he has to content himself with poor scraps. The next day, however, the emperor witnesses a shocking scenery, with many noble people having been harshly punished or even executed as a result of their evil deeds. A just ruler in the appearance of the emperor has started to make his authority work again, whereas Gornêus’s had neglected for many years to consider any of those misdeeds. Corruption and deception had taken over his court, and justice was entirely lacking under his rule, as he has to realize now in face of the changed situation (400-05).

            The emperor suddenly feels great shame and acknowledges that his doppelgänger deserves all the honor, whereas he himself would not be worthy of any respect (416). Before, he had greedily amassed all of his wealth without sharing it with anyone, lacking in basic generosity which was obviously highly expected particularly from the ruler (418-20). Having suddenly learned his basic lesson, the emperor acknowledges that he deserves to be “der werlte spot” (426; object of the world’s mockery). This proves to be the critical juncture, both here in Herrand’s version and in other medieval texts (Gesta Romanorum et al.), and so also in the modern re-telling by Werner Bergengruen in his “Der KaiserimElend” (The Emperor in Misery, 1946; contained in his Die Sultansrose).22

            Gonêrius realizes that the other emperor is carrying out his duties as he was supposed to, whereas he himself had neglected them terribly because he had not lived up to his duties as a ruler out of greed, selfishness, and arrogance, and had refused to protect and support his people. Consequently, having been denied their rights, they had turned to God and had appealed to Him, which has finally helped them: “swazsîgeklagethân, dazistwâr” (429; what they have complained about was only true). Gonêrius thus suddenly understands how far away from God he himself has turned, and thus he begins with his long process of repentance (434).

            The story itself, however, has not reached its conclusion at that point because Gonêrius is still about to experience his redemption, which then leads over to the general teachings for all future rulers. When the doppelgänger decides to leave the court for a short while, being replaced by one of his princes, those all praise him for the extraordinary justice which he has suddenly issued, helping all of his people in an unprecedented manner to get their cases heard (481-84). On his way back to his private chambers, the stranger recognizes the true emperor and forces him to come along. Gonêrius falls to his feet, begs for mercy, and acknowledges the veracity of the teaching as conveyed by the cleric at the beginning of the verse narrative. God has the absolute power to raise those at the bottom and to lower those at the top of society, and if people strive for honor, God would help them to achieve it (505-06). Whereas the emperor had originally believed that he enjoyed his power through his own efforts, now he has to recognize that everything depends on God: “du sihstwol, dîngewaltistklein, / ezwelledanne got al ein” (513-14; now you can clearly see that your power is small, unless God grants it to you). Reprimanding Gonêrius severely, the other person points out that all of the emperor’s honor, wealth, and his life originate from God (521-22), which implies that his imperial glory would be nothing without divine support. The penitent recognizes this, accepts the teachings, and asks for help.

            This then leads over to the denouement, as the doppelgänger then reveals himself as God’s angel who had been sent to test the emperor and to make him change his mindset. In fact, as the angel points out, Gonêrius was privileged by God for having received this punishment and lesson which then allows him to improve himself and avoid his previous misdeeds (543-45).

            The angel concludes with a strong warning that the emperor from now on should look out for his honor and ought to perform as a virtuous and loving person: “bis biderbeundeherzenhaft / an allediu, dazsînâch got” (556-57; be honorable and loving to all, which would be God’s wish). The angel then disappears and Gonêrius assumes his seat as a judge for all the outstanding cases. Subsequently, he encourages everyone whom he might have ever done something wrong to come forward, promising that he would restitute their losses and pain. The princes warmly welcome the emperor as a changed man and praise him for his new devotion to God. He goes so far as to turn over all of his treasures to the people which he had never received in a legitimate manner (619), and promises not to take any taxes beyond what he could rightly claim for himself. The narrator thus extols him exceedingly and portrays him now as an ideal ruler who works for his people and does not think of himself in the first place. In fact, he is now regarded as a holy man whom everyone loves and admires as the best possible ruler (642).

            The narrator concludes with general words of praise for Christ, requesting from him to allow him to gain a similar saintly position here in this life. Addressing the Virgin Mary, the poet begs that God remove all of his sins from him and thus allow him to enter the eternal afterlife (664-65). Finally, Herrand names himself and uses, to round off his verse narrative, a humility topos.

            The previous or contemporary versions of this tale had also aimed for a religious message, but the emphasis there had rested more intensively on the experience of suffering and the emperor’s spiritual transformation, such as in “Of Excessive Pride, and How the Proud are Often Brought to Extreme Humility: A Notable Tale” (no. 59) in the Gesta Romanorum. Leaving those spiritual and allegorical differences aside, we can now conclude with some rather powerful reflections both on this tale by Herrand and on the usefulness of medieval literary texts at large for the current political discourse in our own time.

            In the present context, there are no more emperors and kings, and if so, they serve only nominal functions. The Roman emperor presented in this verse narrative stands in for any arrogant ruler who demonstrates utter greed and hunger for power and wealth. Once he had reached a point of no return and wanted to abuse his influence even further, God’s angel came to his ‘rescue’ by removing him from his office, replacing him, and demonstrating to him how a good ruler would have to perform. Herrand had certainly in mind to criticize contemporary kings and presented this well-established literary theme as a warning for them not to forget God, not to ignore the instability of this life, the working of the Wheel of Fortune, and the constant impact of contingency as the universal mechanism of all life here on earth.

            Gonêrius displayed many evils as a ruler, proving to be greedy and arrogant, pride- and boastful. His only concern was to increase his power and wealth, and so he tolerated in return that individual princes and others committed ever more crimes. Since he did not hold a legal court, things became worse and worse, and corruption entered his empire, as we would say today.

            A good ruler, whether someone enthroned as a king or elected as a president, would have to pursue justice, generosity, virtues, and fairness in his country. Lacking all those aspects, both the country and the ruler himself were in danger of collapsing. But in this story, the protagonist was actually privileged by God because this angel doppelgänger appeared in time to help him realize the dramatic and traumatic malaise in the country. By way of forcing him to step back, to watch from the distance how a good ruler performs, and, above all, experiencing the utmost suffering as a naked person without any resources and support, the angel granted him the advantage to perceive himself in a kind of mirror. Thus, Gonêrius was privileged, despite the most painful humiliation and misery, to learn about himself and to transform into a truly good ruler.

            Herrand’s verse narrative was only one of numerous other versions dealing with the same issue. This notably underscores the great weight which medieval poets placed on a good and virtuous king or emperor. We can also perceive the possibility to apply the teachings of this story to many other situations in life, always aiming at the constant struggle to establish virtues and to achieve true honor. Politically speaking, however, Herrand’s tale allows us to recognize how much medieval literature could serve exceedingly well to reflect on the current leadership in the world.

            Former President Trump embarrassingly lost the election in 2020 and he continues foolishly to claim that he was cheated out of a second presidency; President Erdogan of Turkey seems to steer his country to global ruin, and President Putin of Russia might not do much better, maybe, to speak with tongue-in-cheek, because none of them has read the Gesta Romanorum or Herrand of Wildonie’s narratives with their strong comments on what makes a good king versus a dictator.

            There are many other rulers in the world who operate the same way as Emperor Gonêrius did in the first part of Herrand’s story. Once thrown out of his previous position by his doppelgänger, reality began to dawn upon this emperor. Watching the other person perform as an ideal ruler, Gonêrius suddenly felt shame, humiliation, and embarrassment, and the contrast to the other emperor made him rethink everything in his life. Of course, the angel was not supposed to stay for long, and once the original emperor had learned his lesson, had demonstrated his new-found humility, virtue, respect, and piety, he was allowed to resume his previous role.       

            Undoubtedly, this literary ‘mirror for princes’ would serve exceedingly well in the present context as well, as a warning for any aspirant for a high political position, whether we want to embrace the religious message, or simply accept the ethical warning contained in the text. The present world has actually much to learn from the Middle Ages, even though that period was certainly not ideal at all either.23If we want to build further on our present democracy, it seems to behoove us to reflect backward and consider some of the political messages from the past. Herrand of Wildonie was certainly not the least important voice in that regard. Granted, he was primarily driven by religious ideals, but behind this insightful and virtually timeless tale we recognize clearly the strongly ethical and political ideals that can surely serve today as models for all rulers in the present world.


1.      I myself have contributed intensively to this debate; see, for instance, my study “Die Antwort auf die Frage nach der Zukunft liegt auch in der Vergangenheit: Neue Ansätze zu einer europäisch konzipierten Mediävistik. Oder: Wohin mit der national-geprägten Philologie in Anbetracht von St. Augustin, Martianus Capella, Boethius, Thomas von Aquin oder Christine de Pizan?,” to appear in Zeitschrift für deutsche Philologie. Most recently, the issue was also addressed once again by a historian, John H. Arnold, What is Medieval History?. 2nd ed., rev. and updated (2008; Cambridge and Medford, MA: Polity Press, 2021); see also the contributions to The Relevance of The Humanities in the Twenty-First Century: Past and Present, ed. Albrecht Classen. Special issue of Humanities Open Access, June 2020-

2.      Most recently, see the contributions to Deutschland: Globalgeschichteeiner Nation, ed. Andreas Fahrmeir (Munich: C. H. Beck, 2020). See also; (both last accessed on March 15, 2021).

3.      Albrecht Classen, Freedom, Imprisonment, and Slavery in the Pre-Modern World: Cultural-Historical, Social-Literary, and Theoretical Reflections. Fundamentals in Medieval and Early Modern Culture, 25 (Berlin and Boston: Walter de Gruyter, 2021).

4.      Can It Happen Here? Authoritarianism in America, ed. Cass R. Sunstein (New York: Dey St., an Imprint of William Morrow, 2018); Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes, The Light that Failed Why the West is Losing the Fight for Democracy (New York and London: Pegasus Books, 2019); Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2020); Sarah Kendzior, Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America (New York: Flatiron Books, 2020); Mapping Populism: Approaches and Methods, ed. Amit Ron and Majia Nadesan (London and New York: Routledge, 2020). The list of relevant studies warning about the steady decline of democracy today is staggering and alerts us to the actual crisis the West finds itself in.

5.      William E. Connolly, Aspirational Fascism: The Struggle for Multifaceted Democracy Under Trumpism. Forerunners (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2017); Madeleine Albright, with Bill Woodward, Fascism: A Warning (New York: Harper, 2018).

6.      Michael Curschmann, “Herrand von Wildonie,” Die deutsche Literatur des Mittelalters: Verfasserlexikon, ed. Kurt Ruh. Vol. 3 (Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1981), 1144–47; for an update, see Volker Zapf, “Herrand von Wildonie,” Deutsches Literatur-Lexikon: Das Mittelalter. Vol. 5: Epik (Vers – Strophe – Prosa) und Kleinformen, ed. Wolfgang Achnitz (Berlin and Boston: Walter de Gruyter 2013), 679–84.

7.      Making the Medieval Relevant: How Medieval Studies Contribute to Improving Our Understanding of the Present, ed. Chris Jones, Conor Kostick, and Klaus Oschema. Das Mittelalter: Perspektiven mediävistischer Forschung, 6 (Berlin and Boston: Walther de Gruyter, 2020). For a critical evaluation, however, see my review to appear in Mediaevistik 34 (2021). See also The Middle Ages in the Modern World: Twenty-First Century Perspectives, ed. Bettina Bildhauer and Chris Jones. Proceedings of the British Academy, 208 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).

8.      Hanns Fischer, ed. Herrand von Wildonie. Vier Erzählungen. 2nd ed. Altdeutsche Textbibliothek, 52 (1959; Tübingen: Max Niemeyer, 1969); J. W. Thomas, The Tales and Songs of Herrand von Wildonie. Translated into English Verse with an Introduction. Studies in the Germanic Languages and Literatures, 4 (Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 1972); .

9.      Ingrid Fichtner, ed. Doppelgänger: von endlosen Spielarten eines Phänomens. Facetten der Literatur, 7 (Bern: Haupt, 1999).

10.  Cristian Batu, “Mirror for Princes (Western).” Handbook of Medieval Studies: Terms – Methods – Trends, ed. Albrecht Classen. Vol. 3 (Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2010), 1921-49.

11.  Hermann Varnhagen, Ein indisches Märchen auf seiner Wanderung durch die asiatischen und europäischen Litteraturen (Berlin: Weidmann, 1882).

12.  Christopher Stace, Gesta Romanorum: A New Translation. Manchester Medieval Literature and Culture (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2016); Gesta Romanorum: “exempla” europeos del siglo XIV, ed. de Ventura de la Torre and Jacinto Lozano Escribano. Clásicos latinos medievales y renacentistas, 16 (Madrid: Tres Cantos, 2004).

13.  Juan Manuel, El Conde Lucanor: A Collection of Mediaeval Spanish Stories, ed. with an Intro., Trans. and Notes by John England (Warminster: Aris & Phillips, 1987); Daniel Devoto, Introducción al estudio de don Juan Manuel y en particular de El Conde Lucanor: Una bibliografía (Paris: Ediciones Hispano-americanas, 1972).

14.  Albrecht Classen, “The People Rise Up against the Tyrants in the Courtly World: John of Salisbury’s Policraticus, the Fables by Marie de France and the Anonymous Mai und Beaflor,” Neohelicon 35.1 (2008): 17-29; Cary J. Nederman, “Tyranny.” Encyclopedia of Medieval Philosophy Between 500 and 1500, ed. Henrik Lagerlund (2011; Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands, 2020), 1986-1988; online at: file:///C:/Users/aclassen/Downloads/Nederman2020_ReferenceWorkEntry_Tyranny.pdf; Cary J. Nederman, “Three Concepts of Tyranny in Western Medieval Political Thought,” Contributions to the History of Concepts 14.2 (2019): 1-22.

15.  Grischa Vercamer, Hochmittelalterliche Herrschaftspraxis im Spiegel der Geschichtsschreibung: Verstellungen von “guter” und “schlechter”Herrschaft in England, Polen und dem Reich im 12./13. Jahrhundert. Deutsches Historisches Institut Warschau, Quellen und Studien, 37 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2020); Mario Turchetti, Tyranie et tyrannicide de l’Antiquité à nos jours. Bibliothèque de la Renaissance, 11 (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2013).

16.  Albrecht Classen, “The People Rise Up against the Tyrants in the Courtly World: John of Salisbury’s Policraticus, the Fables by Marie de France and the Anonymous Mai und Beaflor,” Neohelicon 35.1 (2008): 17–29; Hans-Joachim Schmid, HerrschaftdurchSchrecken und Liebe: Vorstellungen und Begründungen im Mittelalter. Orbis mediaevalis, 17 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2019); see also the anthology of relevant texts regarding tyrannicide: Tyrannentötung: eineTextsammlung, ed. Wilhelm Blum (Munich: Herbert Utz Verlag, 2017).

17.  See the contributions to Die abendländische Freiheit vom 10. zum 14. Jahrhundert: der Wirkungszusammenhang von Idee und Wirklichkeit im europäischen Vergleich, ed. Johannes Fried. Vorträge und Forschungen / Konstanzer Arbeitskreis für Mittelalterliche Geschichte, 39 (Sigmaringen: Thorbecke, 1991).

18.  Scott L. Taylor, “Feudalism in Literature and Society,” Handbook of Medieval Culture: Fundamental Aspects and Conditions of the European Middle Ages, ed. Albrecht Classen (Berlin and Boston: Walter de Gruyter, 2015), vol. 1, 465–76.

19.  Hans K. Schulze, Grundstrukturen der Verfassung im Mittelalter. Vol. 4: Das Königtum(Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2011); The Routledge History of Monarchy, ed. Elena Woodacre, Lucinda H.S. Dean, Chris Jones, Russell E. Martin, and Zita Eva Rohr. The Routledge Histories (London and New York: Routledge, 2019).

20.  Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy, trans., with intro. and notes, by Joel C. Relihan (Indianapolis, IN, and Cambridge: Hackett Publishing, 2001); cf., for instance, John Marenbon, Boethius (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); cf. also the contributions to The Cambridge Companion to Boethius, ed. John Marenbon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009); Boethius Christianus? Transformationen der “ConsolatioPhilosophiae“ in Mittelalter und FrüherNeuzeit, ed. Reinhold Glei (Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2010); Joachim Gruber, Boethius: eineEinführung. Standorte in Antike und Christentum, 2 (Stuttgart: Anton Hiersemann, 2011); The Legacy of Boethius in Medieval England: The Consolation and Its Afterlives, ed. A. Joseph McMillan and Erica Weaver. Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 525 (Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2018). The literature on Boethius is, of course, legion.

21.  We find a similar case in the somewhat earlier romance, Der guoteGêrhart (ca. 1220) by Rudolf von Ems; see my translation: An English Translation of Rudolf von Ems’s Der guoteGêrhart (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2016). There, Emperor Otto orders the erection of the cathedral of Magdeburg in the assumption that this would garner him God’s highest praise, but then he has to learn that a simple merchant in Cologne, Gêrhart, enjoys a much higher reputation and divine esteem because of his deeply good character.

22.  Werner Bergengruen, Die Sultansrose und andere Erzählungen. Sammlung Klosterberg. Europäische Reihe (Klosterberg and Basel: Benno Schwabe, 1946), 78–95; cf. Gerhard H. Weiss, “Werner Bergengruen,” German Fiction Writers, 1914-1945, ed. James Hardin. Dictionary of Literary Biography, 56 (Detroit, MI: Thomson Gale, 1987), 27–38; Albrecht Classen, “Werner Bergengruen,” Literary Encyclopedia, online, first published on Jan. 25, 2021 (

23.  See the contributions to Princely Virtues in the Middle Ages 1200-1500, ed. István P. Bejczy and Cary J. Nederman. Disputatio, 9 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2007).