Sea Voyages in Medieval Romances: Symbolic Trails through Existential Experiences and Female Suffering on the Water

Document Type : Original Article


Professor of German Studies, Department of German Studies, University of Arizona, Tucson, United States



In a considerable number of medieval narratives we encounter the shared theme of sea voyage, either undertaken for the purpose of marriage, or imposed on the suffering female protagonist who is persecuted by evil-minded people. Considering that most medieval audiences were not that much familiar with travel across big bodies of water, the literary motif emerges as highly significant because the voyage itself, mostly without any crew of sailors, carried out almost automatically, with the protagonist all by her/himself, transforms the traveler and has also a major impact on the countries or people where the ship arrives. The voyage emerges as an enterprise brought upon by God, who helps the individual to survive this most dangerous experience, which then brings about significant change in the people who live in the new country. At the same time, this theme also represents a kind of horizontal catabasis and regularly has a deep transformative impact on everyone involved.


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