The Tannhauser myth has existed since the high middle ages throughout Europe, though it is typically thought of as a Germanic myth. It is partially based on the travels of an actual German knight named Tannhauser who served Pope Urban IV in the 1200s. The myth is more fiction than fact, as we shall see. The most cited and accepted telling of the myth comes from Antoine de La Sale. It has been translated into English several times.
(Note: This is a guest post from Jared at Legends of Men. Because we live in an age of mass hysteria, I’m obligated to say that his opinion need not necessarily reflect my own. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.)
The creation of the myth is interesting on its own. It tells of a time when Paganism still occurred in Europe and was a rival of Christianity to common people. The chief representation of evil is Queen Sybil, sometimes Venus. She is a Pagan goddess of sex, love, beauty, lust, etc. The protagonist is Tannhauser, a knight who is, at times, a faithful Catholic. Deciphering the moral of the myth is equally interesting as its primary message is hidden behind an ending that seems, at first, anti-climactic.
In the mountains somewhere in Germany near the Italian border, there is a mountain often called the Venusberg. For those who choose, one can climb to a summit and enter a small opening that leads to a cave and to larger halls within the cave system. From there, certain fears and obstacles can be overcome that will lead one to a large doorway. Behind the doorway is Queen Sybil’s court.
Our knight, Tannhauser, and his squire, journey into the Venusberg and enter the doorway into Queen Sybil’s Kingdom. There, they are greeted by beautiful women who prepare them to see the queen. The kingdom is beautiful, decadent, and filled with gorgeous women and other knights. The duo is given fine clothes, as befits a knight and his squire. When Queen Sybil sees them, she treats them as royalty should treat a traveling knight.
The queen asked Tannhauser of his quest. He says that he came to the innermost cave of the Venusberg in order to see the marvels of the world, as his condition obliged him to do if he would acquire the honor and glory of chivalry. The queen then explains the rules of her kingdom. Tannhauser can leave on the third day, but if he doesn’t leave on the third day he must stay until the thirtieth day, and if he doesn’t leave on the thirtieth day he must stay until the three-hundredth day, and if he doesn’t leave on that day he must stay with Queen Sibyl for eternity.
The queen gives him and his squire each beautiful women to satisfy them. Tannhauser ends up staying until the 300th day. By that time, his conscience has come back to him and he regrets reveling in lust and giving-in to temptation. He leaves the kingdom with the squire, even though the squire wants to stay, and seeks redemption from the pope.
The pope had already warned travelers about the mountain and decreed that no one should enter it. When Tannhauser begs for forgiveness, the pope decides to make an example out of him. The pope will not forgive him, saying that a vine will grow on his scepter before Tannhauser is forgiven. The next day, he begs a cardinal to plead with the pope on his behalf. The cardinal leaves to do so but is gone awhile. Tannhauser’s squire then spreads the rumor that the pope will not forgive him, and suggests that the two of them return to Queen Sibyl. They do just that.
Meanwhile, the pope refuses to forgive Tannhauser. Suddenly, his scepter starts to grow a vine. The pope understands the sign and calls for Tannhauser to be forgiven, but it was already too late. He returned to the Venusberg to nourish his body since his soul could not be nourished. Tannhauser lost his faith too quickly.
From this story, several prominent morals can be discerned. One is the difference between the nourishment of the body and the nourishment of the soul. Tannhauser seeks bodily satisfaction in the mountain. After 300 days of doing so, he realizes how empty his soul has become. He learns which is more important and wishes to be forgiven so that he may replenish his soul. He teaches us that the soul is more important than the body.
Another moral relates to those who wish to redeem themselves. Tannhauser knows he failed, but he wants to do the right things for the right reasons after leaving the mountain. He needs a path to redemption. The pope denies him that path. He is left with an easy choice; since his soul is lost he may as well return to bodily pleasure.
This moral reminds me of the way loose women are treated in society. Many young women are encouraged to sleep around or date around when they are young, and they do. They realize after a while that their souls are empty. They stop sleeping around and wish to find some path to redemption. Yet, there are none for these women. Men consider their change of heart as a result of losing physical beauty. Men mistrust these women for having treated their bodies the way they have. Men have good reasons for thinking these ways, but they do not offer a path to redemption for women. What choice then, do women have, but to return to promiscuity and bodily pleasure when their souls cannot be nourished, thus exacerbating their woes?
The main moral I have taken from the Tannhauser myth is what happens when ego validation leads to bodily pleasure. He seeks Queen Sibyl for no good reason. He says it is to earn honor and chivalry, yet none of his peers have sought the Venusberg. There were several ways a knight could demonstrate his chivalry; Tannhauser chose this route because it satisfied his body as much as his ego. Only too late did he learn that he sacrificed his honor for lust fulfillment.
Tannhauser’s story reminded me very much of Roosh V, the world-famous pick-up artist who renounced his life of promiscuity to serve Christ as an Orthodox Christian. His ego validation compelled him to sleep with beautiful women from around the world. He got much bodily pleasure from it, yet he realized so late that his soul was empty. Fortunately for Roosh, he has found a path to redemption. Tannhauser did not.
Beware what ego validation can compel you to do. It can drive one to good ends or bad, to soul nourishment or bodily nourishment. Choose soul nourishment every time, while you still can, because for some there may not be a path to redemption if the wrong choice is made.
Aim higher by reading Stumped.