13 Pieces of Wisdom from the 13th century

If you are looking for some advice, perhaps it would be good to read the words of wisdom offered by Freidank.

Around the year 1230, a collection of proverbs and thoughts were put together by a German poet named Freidank. He called the work Bescheidenheit, and it became very popular in the Middle Ages, as it can be found in 197 manuscripts from the period.


Freidank wrote about a wide variety of topics, offering thoughts or advice. They have been recently translated by Albrecht Classen, who describes the writer this way: “here we encounter a medieval poet who, certainly a devout Christian, perceptively grasped all the shortcomings in life and dealt with them in a philosophical manner. Little wonder that posterity admired him greatly because his verses contain much obvious and subtle wisdom.”

Here are 13 pieces of wisdom from Bescheidenheit:

On Hunger

Hunger is the best cook
among those who ever existed or ever will be.

On the Soul

Some study the stars
And tell us what soon will happen.
But if they were to tell me also something from near-by,
what herbs are growing in their garden,
and if they then tell it correctly,
I will more easily believe the other things.


On the Rich and the Poor

A dense forest suffers little,
then a man collects wood.
That a rich man loses a little,
makes a poor many happy.

On Worries

He who wants to take care of everything,
will end up with all kinds of worries.

On Praise

No one ought to praise himself;
he who is worthy will be praised by others.

On Wise and Foolish People

Whatever great treasure is found by the fool,
it will quickly fall into the hand of the wise one.


On Friends

Many people have numerous friends,
as long as his life runs smoothly,
but among them are very few
Who will stand by him in an emergency.

On Death

We have all been given a false consolation:
we all believe that we will live a long life.

On Animals

The mouse dislikes raising children
When it knows that cats are nearby.

On Understanding and Love

Many believe that they know me
Who have never learned to understand themselves.
If each person were to learn more about himself,
People would rarely lie to each other.


On Kings and Princes

A lord will never achieve his goal
when his own people are hostile towards him.

On Envy and Jealousy

Who always intends to avenge
what people might say negatively about him,
will rarely be free of experiencing envy,
and a ton of bickering.

On the world

The world strives hard
For goods, smartness, and honor.
I know well that no person of this world
Will ever get enough of those three.

You can read more from this work, and similar ones also from the medieval period, in Wisdom from the European Middle Ages: Literary and Didactic Perspectives: A Study, Anthology, and Commentary, by Albrecht Classen. It was published by Peter Lang in 2022 – click here to buy it on


Top Image: Cologny, Fondation Martin Bodmer, Cod. Bodmer 72  fol. 220r