PDA

View Full Version : The Germanic Honour ('Ere')



Blutwölfin
Monday, January 9th, 2006, 01:24 PM
At the heart of the comitatus relationship lay the Germanic notion of honour or `ere'. However, one must be careful that contemporary
connotations of honour do not obscure its Old High German (OHG) meaning. Above all, `ere' should not be rendered as `Ehre', except in certain specific contexts, such as in 'show honour to' or 'in honour of.' Jones (51) refers to the Mittelhochdeutsches Wörterbuch for the true meaning of the word `ere', which is defined there as "splendor, glory, the higher standing, partly that which arises from power and wealth (high position, superior feudal rank), partly that which arises from courage and bravery."

The notion of honour in the Germanic Early Middle Ages was focused upon the external approval which one usually merited by courageous acts performed on behalf of one's kin or one's lord. The predominantly external focus of OHG honour, which stemmed from a desire to avoid being publicly shamed, may be contrasted with the predominantly internal focus of the Christian notion of honour as a moral quality stemming primarily from a desire to avoid the feelings of guilt and the fear of punishment associated with sinfulness.

Since the early Germans could not rely upon the protection and assistance of a bureaucratic empire when they were threatened with
attack or famine, it was incumbent upon each man and woman of the community to adhere to the fundamental socio-biological principle of group survival embodied in the bonds of familial and communal solidarity. One's status in society depended upon how closely one adhered to this fundamental principle. Those who behaved honourably, thereby contributing toward the advancement of their community, were materially rewarded and thus increased their wealth, power, and influence.

It is likely that the coalescence of honour, wealth, influence, and power within Germanic society inhibited the spread of status inconsistency and its potentially anomie effects, and served to further reinforce Germanic group solidarity.

To better illustrate the disparity between Germanic and Christian values, it may be helpful to read Jones's Germanic parody of the
Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:3-12: Blessed are the rich, for they possess the earth and its glory.
Blessed are the strong, for they can conquer kingdoms. Blessed are they with strong kinsmen, for they shall find help. Blessed are the warlike, for they shall win wealth and renown. Blessed are they who keep their faith, for they shall be honoured. Blessed are they who are open handed, for they shall have friends and fame.

Blessed are they who wreak vengeance, for they shall be offended no more, and they shall have honour and glory all the days of their life and eternal fame in ages to come.

Source: The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity. A Sociohistorical Approach to Religious Transformation
by James C. Russell, 1994, ISBN 0195104668

51) George Fenwick Jones, Honor in German Literature, Studies in the Germanic Languages and Literatures, no. 25 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1959).