Fragment of medieval erotic poetry discovered

Medieval historians searching the library of an Austrian abbey came across a fragment of a manuscript. After detailed research they uncovered it is part of an erotic poem known as The Rose Thorn.

The researchers from Austria and Germany made the spectacular find in the library of Melk Abbey. They came across a thin strip of parchment that had been used to bind another manuscript. Only a few letters per line are recognizable, and these were identified with painstaking patience.


The Rose Thorn (Der Rosendorn) is a medieval German poem that tells the story of a man (the narrator in the poem) who eavesdrops on young virgin lady, who bathes in a garden. With the aid of a magical root, her vulva is able to speak and tells the lady that it is more appreciated by men:

I think it’s too much that you are thriving and yet I am not allowed a share, especially considering that men everywhere adore you only because of me, and if you were to lose me, every single one of them would and you completely worthless. ~ translation by Ann Marie Rasmussen


The woman and her vulva argue over this point, then both separate in an effort to prove to men which is more desired. Neither are successful in this endeavour, and in the end they are reunited.

There have been two other versions of this poem, but dating to 15th century, however, the manuscript fragment discovered at Melk Abbey dates to around the year 1300. This would suggest that this erotic poem was written at least 200 years earlier than previously believed.

Christine Glaßner from the Institute for Medieval Research of the Austrian Academy of Sciences came across the fragment during her research. She finds that the text “at its core is an incredibly clever story, because of the very fact that it demonstrates that you cannot separate a person from their sex”.

The newly disovered fragment measureds 22 centimeters long and just 1.5 centimeters wide. It contains 60 lines, but only a few letters per line can be seen. Photo © Stift Melk

The fragment is now being further examined and described within the framework of the “Manuscript Census” of the Academy of Sciences and Literature Mainz, which is based at the Philipps University of Marburg.


You can learn more about the poem in Ann Marie Rasmussen’s article, “Wandering Genitalia: Sexuality and the Body in German Culture between the Late Middle Ages and Early Modernity

Top Image: Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Cod. Vindobonensis 2762 fol. 86