Fortunatus, like Gulliverfs Travels, has with the passage of time been relegated to the status of fairy-tale for children, yet it does not merit the neglect that enshrouds it in the present day. This short essay is a critical appreciation of one of the most interesting literary products – whether read as a delightful story or a revealing socio-historical document – of the Late Mediaeval/ Reformation Age.
Like most 16th C. works, Fortunatus can be read on several levels, and this multi-faceted nature is reflected in its composition: it is an original synthesis of inherited elements ranging from fairy tale (the magic purse, wishing-hat, and horn-producing apples) to travel literature (dating back to the eTravelsf of Sir John de Mandeville, published in 1355, and including the recently published Reißbuch by Tucher) to Schwank (the Rüpert episode is strongly redolent of this genre) to courtly romances, to the Old Testament: Solomon tells the Lord, gGive me now wisdom and knowledgeh (II Chronicles 1:10), to which the Lord replies: gWisdom and knowledge is granted unto thee: and I will give thee riches, and wealth, and honourch For in this synthetical manner did the Renaissance mind work, and this tradition was to distinguish and embellish literature up until the time of Tristram Shandy, after which date – alas! – learning became too specialised, and the tradition of wit was no more.
This tale – proto-novel would be the most apt description – must be placed in its context. The early 16th century witnessed the Age of Discovery and the progression to dominance of the merchant class. It is the relationship of the burgher with the world – with capitalism, with trade, with society – that forms the prevalent theme of this work; a theme which is both international and timeless in its appeal and which, together with the plain and simple fact that this is an excellent story, ensured contemporary fame and subsequent survival for Fortunatus. Its value may not have been fully appreciated by many during the succeeding centuries, who recognised the lack of artistry in the telling but not the power and attraction of what was told, but they were at least acquainted with the text.
But enough of this generalising. Let us turn to the character of Fortunatus and examine what light his development throws on this proto-novel.
the beginning he acts as if he were living in a feudal world. His major strengths are hunting and
jousting, and when he leaves home he seeks a lord to serve. He does not, yet, place any great value
on money; he only wishes to earn what he deserves. The Lord he finds, the Count
of Flanders, is one of the few efeudalf characters in the work. This Count lives according to
old-fashioned values; any violence in which he partakes is controlled by the
ideology of honour, and is not randomly committed or wilfully perpetrated for
his satisfaction or profit, as is the case with the Count of the Wood, the King
and Counts Theodore and Lymosy. Nor
does the thought enter his mind that his servants will regard Fortunatusfs
success in jousts with envy instead of a sense of reflected honour. Fortunatus, like the Count, like Götz von
Berlichingen, is an anachronism; a man of honour and ideals in an age of
deception, robbery and murder.
However, he is a youth, and time is on his side. His naïvety, displayed on several
occasions – when he swallows Rüpertfs tale, believes that the
The learning process begins in the wild wood, a metaphor for the wild society of the time. Among the beasts or among his fellow-men, Fortunatusfs life is equally threatened. This is the turning-point of the tale; in the wood, Fortunatus stops fleeing. Threatened by the bear, there is nowhere to run, and he can only climb a tree, observe the scene below, then fight to save himself. Having killed the bear, he gains strength by drinking its blood, its life-source – a symbolic act, for money is the life-source of the contemporary society. Then, when he awakes – or while he is caught in dream –, the miraculous intrudes for the first time, in the shape of the Goddess Fortune.
Given the choice of wisdom, riches, strength, health, beauty and long life, Fortunatus adopts a short-term approach of which an English government would be proud. Yet his choice of wealth is understandable, considering the circumstances that preceded this encounter: he has been struggling to survive, and so his concerns are materialistic. Having made the choice, it is Fortunatusfs responsibility to protect his Purse, for this money will help to forge his character, to enable his development into a burgher. But this wealth is limitless only in theory; the temporal nature of the Purse needs to be stressed. It loses its magic power with the deaths of Fortunatus and his immediate progeny; it can be lost or stolen, and when this occurs – the unkind cut in Constantinople – Fortunatus faints, for his wealth is now inseparable from his very being; and it must not be used too conspicuously, or suspicion will be aroused (as occurs with the English King and Andolosia). The Counts Lymosy and Theodore know this last lesson, and Fortunatus learns it from his encounter with the Count of the Wood, following which he refrains from using his Purse for a long while. This desire to not stand out in the crowd – if edesiref is the correct term; it is rather a reluctant recognition of the necessity of incongruity, giving us a new strain of hero – leads him to purchase all the necessaries for his return to Cyprus in Venice, where he can merge into the crowd of rich merchants. His recognition, in Constantinople, that he cannot trust anyone with his Purse, and his realisation that outwitting the Venetians, Genoese and Florentines in Alexandria is tantamount to outbribing them, are evidence that Fortunatus is now fully aware that this is a world controlled by money.
would not be entirely correct to say that money dominates the world – there is
a tension between the ancient, impecunious nobility and the eupwardly mobilef
which leads to the death of Fortunatusfs sons, for they did not possess the
wisdom their father evinced when holding separate festivals for the nobility
and the citizens (with a greater monetary prize going to the victor in the
former tournament than in the latter) – but it can safely be said that the
desire for money dominates.
Self-enrichment is the guiding force of the overwhelming majority of
characters in this transitional world, and Fortunatus is unable to resist;
morals and principles are enemies to survival. His theft of his host the Sultanfs magic
hat is one of the final ceremonies of his initiation into the new order. When Ampedo and Andolosia agree to
divide the two inherited magical items, both wish to have the Purse. The King of England refuses to ransom
his nobleman in prison in
concentrate for a while on the relationship between money and social prestige:
the first sign that Fortunatus is becoming a person of note comes when the
innkeeper in Nantes doffs his cap at him and promotes him, giving him a better
quality of room and place at table.
The next step sees him take a companion, the wily but impoverished
nobleman Lupoldus; and the final stage is his marriage into the nobility and
purchase of land and retainers. It
is worth remarking, however, that he marries the daughter of a poor Count; the
King of Cyprus is ensuring that Fortunatusfs wealth does not endanger his own
position, and his subject is perspicacious and willing enough to comply. The two depend on each other, in the
same way that power and wealth enjoy a symbiotic relationship; so the King, an
enlightened absolutist, a development of his English counterpart (who is more a
benighted absolutist – the respective central and peripheral positions of
This brings us on to the theme of travel. Fortunatus embarks on three major journeys. The first is unplanned and partakes of the nature of flight, for he knows what he is running from, but has no idea as to what he is running towards; the second has a definite purpose, namely the acquisition of knowledge and experience to enable his integration into society, with the added benefit that his sudden wealth can be imputed to his travels. Yet this journey should perhaps be regarded as principally a confirmation of personal worth; for example, the gifts which the Kings bestow on Fortunatus are of such value to him not for their material value but for the very fact that he has earned them, he has been there and received them in person. The third journey seems to have no other motive than pure wanderlust – the wish to break out of the narrow confines of his bourgeois life, brought to the surface by the realisation that he will have no more heirs. There seems to be some discrepancy between the image of his character which he has perpetuated for others and his self-image, and one can discern an undertone of repression and renunciation. Fortunatus is an extremely entertaining tale, but it is also profoundly tragic.
It must be reiterated that this proto-novel was written during the Age of Discovery; this fact affords a symbolic interpretation of the magic hat: the wish of long-distance merchants to cover long distances as quickly as possible. And in this world, where a random, uncontrollable and unpreventable occurrence, such as shipwreck or robbery, can result in the sudden loss of onefs livelihood – maybe enormous sums of wealth earned over decades – the danger of a merchantfs lifestyle and the arbitrary nature of success/disaster are represented in the person of the Goddess Fortune. There is a particular symmetry in the geography of Fortunatus. On one hand, we have Europe-Cyprus-The Middle East, the old road for the spice and luxury trades and the Crusades; and on the other hand, we have Europe-Britain-Ireland, with the Celtic world of legend and folk-belief on the very edge. The author exemplifies the joys of travel and discovery with the occasional long list of towns, copied faithfully from his sources.
So Fortunatus can be viewed in the light of a novel of self-development through travel, somewhere in between Parzival and Wilhelm Meister – yet the hero of this tale dies half-way through. And the scene shifts to his sons. What will they make of his legacy? A proper pigfs ear, it has to be said. Let us turn to Ampedo first of all, for he can be quickly dismissed and we can then deal with the more interesting Andolosia. Both sons represent an extreme of their fatherfs character; where Andolosia sees only the possibilities of money, Ampedo sees only the dangers – and flees them. This monk-like figure is ill-at-ease among society, yet the individual has to belong, the bourgeois must be an active member of the community; wealth is of no use if it cannot be spent, for money must circulate. But Ampedo is miserly, solitary and idle, and so fails in the three major duties of a bourgeois, and so dies. His death is lonely and not followed by the ceremony that accompanies his father and his younger brother to the grave.
had always been getwas frecherh (grather more forwardh) than his brother. With this character, we have a shining
example of wealth without wisdom.
Perhaps he takes his riches for granted, having inherited them rather
than having had to work to earn them, which is understandable; but the fact
remains that a) he ignores his
fatherfs advice (to keep the two magical items together, and never to disclose
to anyone the secret of the purse) and b)
he does not learn from experience, in direct contrast to Fortunatus. Being deceived by a French noblewoman
does not teach him caution, for he is subsequently duped by Agrippina; and
after this painful lesson, he is
every bit as ostentatious as previously, taking the same number (40) of
servants in his retinue. Moreover,
his experiences are in the main unpleasant ones – the most instructive kind –
and result from his selfishness and vanity. Fortunatus had to renounce from time to
time; Andolosia is unable to do this.
Like his brother, he is too much of an individual; but whereas Ampedo
shunned society, for Andolosia, contact with his fellow men (and close contact
with his fellow and fellowsf women) will invariably mean conflict. He had the opportunity to be integrated
into a social system by marrying the daughter of a
importance of family values is evident throughout this tale. The author complains of those sons who
ruin their fathers, and he states that a fatherfs advice should be followed;
Fortunatus is criticised for not taking leave of his parents when departing
with the Count of Flanders; the daughter whose dowry he pays is dutiful, being
willing to marry whomsoever her parents choose; and Agrippina is less pliable,
but learns from bitter experience to obey her parents. Moral comment is also present in the
criticism of Rüpertfs falsity and admonishment of those who keep silent about a
murder (both Jeronimus Roberti and his household, and Count Lymosyfs servants);
the case of Fortunatus in the inn at
how exactly is Fortunatus a moral
work? Firstly, it is a tragedy and
an allegory – the characters are types, we have a special guest appearance by
the Goddess Fortune, and there is the not inconsiderable matter of the lead
characterfs name. And tragedies and
allegories do tend towards morality.
To find where the moral lies, we must first find where it does not lie –
and it is certainly not to be found in a religious context. There may be a hermit appearing in the
wilderness when Andolosia invokes the help of God and the Virgin Mary, and
Fortunatus may be displeased with the number of renegade Christians at the
Turkish Emperorfs Court, but too much should not be read into these isolated
occurrences. When Fortunatus builds
a church in
It is in this very choice that the moral can be found. The epilogue states that if Fortunatus had followed Solomon and chosen wisdom, this would have lead to riches: the ideal. It is no surprise that he made the choice he did, because he left home in search of gGlück" and his experience up to that point had taught him that gGlückh equals money; moreover, he had had to rely on expediency, on instinctive action, for self-survival (whether fleeing from Flanders or England, or killing the bear); there had been no opportunity to make long-term plans for the future. So he would naturally believe that money would offer him instant relief in a manner which wisdom would not.
Afterwards, Fortunatus openly laments his choice on three occasions: when imprisoned by the Count of the Wood; when he loses it in Constantinople – an event which brings home to him the need for unremitting care and vigilance, that same need which will cause him constant distress, as we learn from Ampedo; and he wishes for wisdom to escape a dangerous situation – a wish he was not mature enough to have made in the wood. It may be said that disaster falls on the heads of the sons, who did not make the choice; but a) they did have several choices, such as to become part of their community, and they alone must bear the responsibility for their failure to comply, and b) the constant anxiety that plagued Fortunatus must not be forgotten, although it is only mentioned in passing after his death and events appear to work out well for him. The fact remains that he is miserable on his death-bed, and this misery is not solely attributable to grief at his wifefs death. It is as if he realises that he made the wrong choice and is fearful of the consequences. His plea to his sons to keep and take care of the purse and the hat has something of desperation about it.
Let us borrow a passage from Rabelais – Ifm sure he wonft mind – written within 40 years of the publication of Fortunatus: gcill-acquired gains split violently apart; and even if he [the ill-acquiring gainer] has enjoyed the peaceful enjoyment of his conquests for the whole of his life, should they fall apart in the hands of his heirs the same reproach will fall on him after his deathc For, as the common proverb runs: Ill-gotten gains die with the grandson.h This needs only a slight modification. In a world of greed, of chance, where purses can be misplaced, or helped out of pockets, and ships can be wrecked, where no one can trust because no one can be trusted, caught between the jealousy of a dying breed and the energy of a rising new class, wisdom is the only possession which can be relied on, which one can build on. Fortunatus made a short-term choice, and so enjoyed short-term success. He possessed the virtues of being a family man, a traveller, a generous and active citizen, and of learning from his mistakes; but there was one mistake he could do nothing to rectify. Yet he was driven to this by the force of circumstance; and the image remains of a loving son, loyal servant and generous companion going on one final journey to break the bounds of a world which denies the individual self-expression and brings him down to her cosy, safe, bland, suffocating level.
However, the author does not criticise this world; he is a realist. Fortunatus is no flesh-and-blood character for us to sympathise with; he is an example to learn from. And nothing is more conducive to instruction – nothing remains in the mind more forcefully or for a longer time – than a wonderful story.
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