The ring parable is a central part of the ideendrama Nathan the sage of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. The parabola is an instructive text, which must be decrypted by the receiver (reader, listener). Lessing took over the essential contents of the ring parable by the poet Giovanni Boccaccio, who formulated the idea in a narrative in the 13th century. However, similar ideas can also be found in the work of Jans of the Enlightenment and in the Gesta Romanorum, a medieval collection of texts, although a similar history was already circulating in the Iberian Peninsula (Spain, Portugal) among local Jews (see Wandersage).
As a matter of principle, Lessing and his main sources are always concerned about a family tradition in which the father is given a ring to the dearest son, explaining who can claim the father’s legacy. However, this tradition always comes to an end, as there is a father who loves all his sons alike and entrusts them with a simulated ring.
In Lessing, this story is now found in modified form in the seventh performance of the third act in the drama Nathan the Wise. Nathan is summoned to the sultan, and asked by him who of the three world religions is the only true one. Nathan answers the sultan with the familiar ring parable.
Content of the ring parabola
Text of the ring parabola
Interpretation of the ring parabola
The contents of the ring parable are quickly told. However, since the text is to be interpreted as a parable or parable, it allows an interpretation. The key feature of a parabola is the subdivision into a matter plane as well as an image plane. The image plane is what is actually represented in the text, that is, the subject matter is what the text actually means.
The image plane of a parabola is therefore the story that tells it. The task of the reader is now to find the so-called Tertium comparationis. This Tertium comparationis is the element of a narrated story which can be applied to a different situation. This other situation is referred to as the parabola of the parable, and is, consequently, what is actually meant with it. The meaning and construction of a parabola
The above diagram illustrates the principle. The left parabola is the image plane. This image plane is what is actually told in the text. The task of the reader is to find the Tertium comparationis. So the point, the image plane and the common cause have in common, which thus connects them with each other. This allows the reader to see and understand the meaning of the parable.
If this approach is now transferred to the ring parable from Lessing’s drama, the story of the father, who has three sons, is inherited from the ring on the left side, that is, on the image plane. What is actually meant here is explained in the drama itself, since at least this story is Nathan’s answer to the question of which of the three religions is the true one. Consequently, there is a link.
The parable can now be interpreted as meaning that these three rings stand for the three monotheistic world religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and the father for a loving God. The sons would be the followers of the respective religions, and Nathan the judge, who can not give any preference to any religion. God (father), therefore, loves all men (sons), no matter what religion (ring) they belong to, no religion being correct, since they resemble each other in their fundamental features.
Interpretation of the ring parabola
Ringparable and Enlightenment
The ring parable, as it was processed by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing in Nathan the way, is regarded as a key text of the Enlightenment, since it pointedly points to the tolerance ideal, when different beliefs with regard to religion are admissible. Let’s look at the details.
The essential feature of the Enlightenment is the demand to use one’s own understanding, as the philosopher Immanuel Kant in his essay What is Enlightenment? quite aptly. What is meant is that the thinking and actions of man are not determined by others, but should be guided by quite reasonable decisions. Important ideas of the Enlightenment were, moreover, the turn to the natural sciences and the demand for religious tolerance (see Sapere aude!).
This religious tolerance is the one which Lessing takes up in his work and above all in the Ringparable. For there, on the one hand, one is referred to a prejudice-free thinking when the judge calls on the three brothers to pursue their prejudice-free love and, on the other hand, demand the correctness of all other rings (religions). For if [himself] loves himself, then all three are deceived.