The mortification of the flesh in the Middle Ages evokes images of flagellation, penitents, bodies in pain and various ascetic practices of fasting, praying and corporal punishment which were directly related to the concepts of martyrdom, sanctity and redemption. The present study seeks to demonstrate that such an ideal was propagated not only through religious discourse, but also through its incorporation in courtly romances. In this context, the body functions as a ritual space, the portrayal of which is achieved through speech acts.
The research presented here argues that the concepts of ‘body’ and ‘ritual’ as analytical categories play an important role in literary productions of the mortification of the flesh. Therefore, this work discusses the interplay between literature and ritual theories from a cultural perspective. Basing itself upon the category of the ‘body’, this study proposes a comparative analysis of selected figures to create a typology of mortification with recourse to the works of Hartmann von Aue (Der arme Heinrich, Gregorius) and Wolfram von Eschenbach (Parzival). The emphasis of the analysis is on the liminal conceptualization and representation of mortification as well as on the analogous treatment of courtly bodies and religious discourse in these literary works.