Wittenwiler’s Wedding Feast III: Drinking

Another excerpt from the Grobianic wedding feast in Der Ring: How not to drink someone’s health.

Front page of Wittenwiler’s poem Der Ring courtesy of wikimedia commons (and yes, I think Bertschi, the dapper fellow on the left, is doing exactly what it looks like he’s doing. It is that kind of poem)

Else called for the first course to be brought to her. One of the company became her server and brought her in his bare hands apples, pears, nuts, and cheese. His name was Spiegelmäs (mirror tit, as in the bird). He laid down the cheese in one piece. She was happy and ate (frass) it with its rind – why should she have removed it? He bit open the nuts for her with his teeth so that the blood ran out. He began peeling the apples at the stem and the pears at the bottom. A boor who follows his practice! Then he looked into the pitcher and saw there was not enough wine (mosts) in it. That is why he took a heavy serving vessel and shook it to see whether there was anything left in that. The wine sloshed around, which pleased him. He poured it into the pitcher and filled it (understand me how full) so that it ran over on all sides.

But this was nothing compared to what I still have to tell you. Else, not wanting to insult her host, grasped the pitcher with both hands and thrust in her mouth and nose, so much did she enjoy the wine. When she found a morsel of food in it, she picked it out with her bare hands and drank so strongly and long that she was all out of breath in the end. But right after she had caught her breath again, she started again, looking over the rim (of her vessel) like a wild bear. She let her head drop and drank so that her eyes watered and her ears drooped from drinking. But there was still liquid left. That is why she painfully twisted herself to tilt her head backwards with the pitcher – she thought this was good manners. She leaned her back against a tree and cried out as though dreaming: “Woe me, woe! The pitcher is dry and empty! Pour me some more, and bring me the second course, I want it!”

Again, the description of manners is designed to evoke disgust and ridicule. On top of the exaggerated poor behaviour, the fact that a woman is guilty of it increases the titillation factor for upper-class readers. These weird peasant girls… Again, the details of her behaviour, from lifting up a heavy pitcher to letting food get into the drink, making noises, getting out of breath, and looking at others over the vessel are exactly the opposite of refined manners. The Wahre Hoveschheit, a late fifteenth century Westfalian text on manners, prescribes this:

When you want to drink, lift up the cup above the table with both hands, drink, and set it down. If you want to put it down near you, put it so far from you that those who are supposed to have it next can reach it. You must not drink with one hand like a wagoner greasing his cart. You must not drink while the person at the head of the table is drinking, and neither while someone who sits by you is drinking. You must not blow into the cup like a cook blows into his ladle. You must not drink while you have food in your mouth like cattle do. You must not look (at people) over the cup like a cow. You must not drink noisily like an ox. You must not make noises in your throat like a horse. You must not talk over your cup like a drunken innkeeper. You must not stick your thumb into the cup like a woman tapping beer. You must not drink up to the bottom like a sexton (or: cottager? koster). You must not lick your lips afterwards like a bad piper who has spoiled the dance. You must not drink from all along the cup’s rim like a sheep. You must not take overly long draughts like a pigeon. You must not breathe noisily afterwards like a bear. You must not hang your nose into the cup like a pig. You must not drink up the wine like an ox drinks water. You must not drink up the cup entirely or by half like an Estonian. You must not drink before the meal like a Russian. You must not drink in one long draught like a nursemaid. You must not drink on an empty stomach like people who were drunk the night before. If you want to take a drink of mead ‘on an empty stomach’, then know this: the first drink after eating is called a drink ‘on an empty stomach’. You should wipe your nose and mouth after drinking. You must not hold the cup in your hand too long.

Interestingly, the Hoveschheit also addresses the proper way to peel pears and apples, and there really was a rule to it:

If you want to peel a pear, start at the stem, but if you want to peel an apple, start from the head.

We really begin to see how the Ring was written, and it leads us right back to the words of Übelgsmach (evils taste/smell) in the chapter preceding the wedding feast:

But it is said often and much: If you would be a courtier, imagine a peasant and do the opposite of whatever he does in his boorish manner. Thus you become courtly and decorous.

Heinrich Wittenwiler‘s massive poem ‚Der Ring‘ (the ring) is a somewhat puzzling piece of literature. Most likely produced in Constance around 1408-10, it tells a complex story of love, adventure, and deceit set in a peasant environment exploited for comedy value, but seems to have a genuine didactic purpose, though one often enough achieved by satirically describing the very opposite of desired conduct. In this, it resembles later Grobianic literature. I will limit myself to translating the parts that are relevant to food and table manners, but would advise anyone with enough command of German to read it in its entirety.

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