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Love and its Critics

 | 
Michael Bryson
, 
Arpi Movsesian

4. The Troubadours and Fin’amor: Love, Choice, and the Individual

Texte intégral

  • 1 “[f]ür die Provenzalen und die Dichter des Neuen Stils war die hohe Minne das einzige große Thema” (...)

1In Erich Auerbach’s view, “for the Provençal poets and the [Italian] poets of the new style [dolce stil novo], ‘high love’ was the only major theme”.1 Speaking of die hohe Minne (what French scholars call amour courtois, and English scholars “courtly love”), Auerbach gives voice to a critical consensus that over the last century-and-a half has dominated our understanding of the origins and development of western love poetry. Both the consensus, and Auerbach, are wrong.

I. Why “Courtly Love” Is Not Love

2Start with adultery. Start, at least, with the idea of adultery. Breaking the rules, doing something you are not supposed to do. Doing someone you are not supposed to do. This is the key idea that allows us to understand a literary tradition that stretches from the troubadours through Petrarch to Shakespeare, Milton, and beyond. Illicit desire—whether celebrated in the passionate poems of medieval Occitania, or sublimated in the poetic tradition of idealized females worshiped by abject males in Dante, Petrarch and Sidney—is central to the energy of Shakespeare and the poetic tradition that follows in his wake. Love, will, desire, and the willingness (even determination) to risk everything, up to and including death—these are the passions that draw readers and audiences back again and again.

  • 2 Appearing as amour courtois in his article “Études sur les romans de la Table Ronde” in Romania, 10 (...)
  • 3 Even so recent an analysis as that of William M. Reddy relies on this term. Reddy defines the troub (...)

3Centuries of transformation have left many of us ill-equipped to recognize the frankness and passion of troubadour verse. Some of this change was wrought merely by time and changing customs, but some of it was brought about by the best efforts of historians and literary critics to understand and interpret the past through the expectations, reverences, and distastes of later eras. Perversely, we often approach these poems through the lens of late nineteenth-century notions of propriety and decency that are alien to our own time, and to the time of the troubadours. The dangerous, even life-risking, desires expressed in these poems have been carefully tamed, hidden behind the ill-fitting phrase “courtly love”. This term, invented by Gaston Paris in 1881,2 has become commonplace in critical analyses of troubadour poetry.3 Paris argues that

  • 4 l’amour est un art, une science, une vertu, qui a ses règles tout comme la chevalerie ou la courtoi (...)

love is an art, a science, a virtue, which has its rules as chivalry and courtesy […]. In no French work, as it seems to me, does this courtly love appear before the Knight of the Cart. The love of Tristran and Isolde is a different thing: it is a simple passion, ardent, natural, which does not know the subtleties and refinements of that between Lancelot and Guinevere. In the poems of Benoit de Sainte-Maure, we find gallantry, but not this exalted, almost mystical, yet still sensual, love.4

  • 5 Moshe Lazar. “Cupid, the Lady, and the Poet: Modes of Love at Eleanor of Aquitaine’s Court”. In Ele (...)
  • 6 A common shorthand term for The Knight of the Cart.
  • 7 Lazar, 43.
  • 8 Ibid.

4Tellingly, Paris bases his notion of amour courtois on the only tale by the northern trouvére Chrétien de Troyes that differs from his normal pattern: the Knight of the Cart, a story about the adulterous relationship between Lancelot and Guinevere. Ordinarily, Chrétien opposes the “new mode of love and the central theme of the Provençal Troubadours poetry”, by “refusing the adulterous relationship […] and the idolatrous passion which binds the lovers”.5 This refusal is “exemplified in all of Chrétien’s romances except Lancelot”,6 and in all of his other work, Chrétien “proclaims a mode of love which, dominated by the rules of reason and the code of courtliness, should lead to marriage and exist only inside of marriage”.7 This bears repeating, for there is something odd and contradictory at work in the way Paris comes to define his most famous term: the critical definition of “courtly love” as a chaste and rule-bound mode of relationship is based on the only one of Chrétien’s romances that breaks those rules, illustrating a love that “fell outside Christian teaching and was the exact opposite of the traditional view on marriage”,8 while at the same time, the critic comes to his definition by underplaying these transgressive features of the poem.

5The effect of Paris’ misbegotten definition can be seen by looking at Andreas Capellanus’ twelfth-century treatise, De amore (Of Love), which is now (mis) leadingly translated as The Art of Courtly Love. Capellanus’ text begins by addressing itself to a young man named Walter, and by defining what love is:

  • 9 “Amor est passio quedam innata procedens ex vision et immoderate cogitatione formae alterius sexus, (...)

Love is some kind of an inborn passion that proceeds from looking and thinking immoderately on the form of the opposite sex, a passion that makes one wish more than anything to embrace the other, and by mutual desire accomplish all of love’s precepts in the other’s embrace.9

  • 10 Andreas Capellanus. The Art of Courtly Love. Trans. by John Jay Perry (New York: W. W. Norton & Co. (...)
  • 11 Ibid. The original is as follows: “Quod amor sit passio facile est videre. Nam antequam amor sit ex (...)

6Paris’ idea of amour courtois has affected the way Capellanus’ text is understood by rewriting it after the fact. The widely-used English translation by John Jay Parry reads as a courtly love treatise that often incorporates the main characteristic of this ethos—suffering. By translating the text in a way that supports this pre-existing interpretation, Parry has created a kind of circular argument. The word passio is translated as “suffering”, although it can also be translated as “passion”. If passio stood by itself, then either translation might suffice; however, an “inborn passion” makes more sense with what follows, even as Parry renders it: “[love] causes each one to wish above all things the embraces of the other”.10 In the following lines, Parry continues his translation in the same circular manner: “That love is suffering is easy to see, for before the love becomes equally balanced on both sides there is no torment greater”.11 The word “torment” is meant to stand in for the Latin angustia, which means narrowness, want, or perplexity. By far the better choice for translation is want (in the sense of desire and lack). The lover wants, more than anything else in the world, to gain the object of his desire. Capellanus makes this clear in a later protion of his work when he refers to the passion he is discussing as pure love:

  • 12 “Et purus quidem amor est, qui omnimoda directonis affection duorum amantium corda coniungit. Hic a (...)

Pure love is that which joins and unites the hearts of the two lovers with the affection of love. This, however, consists in the contemplation of the mind and the affection of the heart; it proceeds as far as a kiss, the arms’ embrace, and modestly touching the nude lover.12

  • 13 “extremo praetermisso solatio” (ibid.).
  • 14 “Non enim poterat diei vel noctis hora pertransire continua, qua Deum non exorarem attentius, ut co (...)

7The “pure love” spoken of is both of the body and of the mind, only “the final consolation is omitted”,13 though that, too, is allowed in what Capellanus calls amor mixtus, mixed, or compounded love. The flesh in De amore is not marginalized as it is in the later spiritualized poetry of the Dantean and Petrarchan traditions. The man in De amore prays to God, not for wisdom, not for piety, but for the opportunity to see his lover again. The manner in which he makes this supplication resembles the open passions of troubadour poetry: “For not an hour of the day or night could pass that I did not beg God to allow me the bounty of seeing you close to me in the flesh”.14 Amor purus is both emotional and physical. It is not the stylized “courtly love” of the later scholarly tradition.

  • 15 C. S. Lewis. The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition (London: Oxford University Press, (...)
  • 16 Ibid., 14.
  • 17 The idea that a lover’s admiration for a beloved serves the lover as the first step on a ladder, in (...)

8Perhaps C. S. Lewis did the most to popularize this term, as he traced “courtly love” in twelfth-century poetry from the southern troubadours to the northern trouvére Chrétien de Troyes. In so doing, Lewis identifies four marks—Humility, Courtesy, Adultery, and the Religion of Love15—that he claims characterize the “new feeling” that arose in the poets and the time and place in which they lived. However, though Lewis acknowledges that “courtly love necessitates adultery”, he also insists that “adultery hardly necessitates courtly love”.16 This revealing turn of phrase captures the ambiguity, the division in feelings between excitement and disapproval that characterizes the long poetic tradition that springs from troubadour roots. Poems of desire that would be fulfilled, no matter the cost—if only the opportunity manifested itself—gave rise to later poems of decorous and often tormented sublimations of desire, using such Neoplatonic metaphors as the ladder of love.17 Desire became worship, as flesh became once again an object of shame.

  • 18 Ibid., 4.
  • 19 Ibid.
  • 20 Ibid., 19. The name translates as Ovid the Peerless [or Excellent] Doctor.
  • 21 Ibid., 37.
  • 22 Ibid., 28.

9Lewis’s ambivalent refusal to credit fully the significance of the troubadours and their poetry is exceedingly odd, given that he describes their work as “momentous” and “revolutionary” and “the background of European literature for eight hundred years”.18 For Lewis, “French poets, in the eleventh century, discovered or invented, or were the first to express, that romantic species of passion which English poets were still writing about in the nineteenth”.19 But his use of French rather than Provençal or Occitan is telling—Lewis spends as little time with the troubadours as possible, referencing none of their poetry specifically, preferring to spend his time with Ovid, the anonymous author of the twelfth-century Concilium Romarici Montis (a mock-council on love which references the classical poet as Ovidii Doctoris egregii20), Chrétien de Troyes, and Andreas Capellanus. As Lewis reads them, each of these sources are fixated on rules, codes, official judgments, and elaborate enactments of dominance and submission that parody the rituals of Catholicism. In his reading of Chrétien’s Lancelot, for example, the issue is not “love [as] a noble form of experience [and] a theory of adultery”,21 but obedience given too slowly: “The Queen has heard of his [Lancelot’s] momentary hesitation in stepping on to the tumbril, and this lukewarmness in the service of love has been held by her sufficient to annihilate all the merit of his subsequent labours and humiliations”.22

10Lancelot is momentarily ashamed to ride a cart whose driver promises to take him to the kidnapped Queen Guenivere, because the cart is used to carry prisoners, and any knight seen on such a transport will be shamed, and his reputation for honor destroyed. But though he hesitates, he climbs aboard, and willingly suffers the resulting shame (described in several following scenes), in order to be led to the Queen:

  • 23 Chrétien de Troyes. Le Chevalier de la Charrette, ed. by Alfred Foulet and Karl D. Uitti (Paris: Cl (...)

Et li chevaliers dit au nain:
«Nains, fet il, por Deu, car me di
Se tu as veü par ici
Passer ma dame la reïne».
Li nains cuiverz de pute orine
Ne l’an vost noveles conter,
Einz li dist: «Se tu viax monter
Sor la charrete que je main,
Savoir porras jusqu’a demain
Que la reïne est devenue».
Tantost a sa voie tenue
Qu’il ne l’atant ne pas ne ore.
Tant solemant deus pas demore
Li chevaliers que il n’i monte.
Mar le fist et mar en ot honte
Que maintenant sus ne sailli,
Qu’il s’an tendra por mal bailli!23

And the Knight told the dwarf:
Dwarf, for God’s sake, tell me right away
If you have seen here
Pass by my lady the queen.
The perfidious low-born dwarf
Would not tell him the news,
But merely said: If you want to ride
On the cart that I drive,
By tomorrow you’ll be able to know
What happened to the queen.
With that, he maintained his way forward
Without waiting for the other for a moment.
For only the time of two steps
The Knight hesitated to get in.
What a pity he hesitated, ashamed to go,
And he failed to jump without delay,
For this will cause him great suffering!

11The momentary delay earns him the displeasure of the Queen, who berates him for failing to immediately obey Love’s promptings:

  • 24 Ibid., ll. 4501–07.

Et la reïne li reconte:
«Comant? Don n’eüstes vos honte
De la charrete et si dotastes?
Molt a grant enviz i montastes
Quant vos demorastes deus pas.
Por ce, voir, ne vos vos je pas
Ne aresnier ne esgarder.24

And the Queen replied:
What? Were you not ashamed
Of the cart and its lowly endowments?
With much hesitation you mounted,
Since you delayed two steps.
For this, I did not want to see you,
Nor speak to you, nor look at you.

12And though Chrétien eventually brings the knight and the queen together physically, he remains somewhat coy (though not as purely “courtly” as Gaston Paris might suggest):

  • 25 Ibid., ll. 4687–99.

Or a Lanceloz quanqu’il vialt
Qant la reïne an gré requialt
Sa conpaignie et son solaz,
Qant il la tient antre ses braz
Et ele lui antre les suens.
Tant li est ses jeus dolz et buens
Et del beisier et del santir
Que il lor avint sanz mantir
Une joie et une mervoille
Tel c’onques encore sa paroille
Ne fu oïe ne seüe;
Mes toz jorz iert par moi teüe,
Qu’an conte ne doit estre dite.25

Lancelot now has everything he wants,
Because the Queen accepts with joy
His company and solace,
Since he holds her in his arms
And she holds him between hers.
Their pleasure is so sweet and good,
And the kisses and the caresses,
What happened to them, without lying,
Was a joy and a marvel
As has never before been spoken
Nor heard of, nor known;
But still, I maintain the most perfect silence
About what not to say in a story.

  • 26 Matilda Tomaryn Bruckner. “‘Redefining the Center’ Verse and Prose Charrette”. In A Companion to th (...)

13Despite this scene, however, there remains throughout the poem an ever-present sense that the issue is one of knightly obedience rather than human passion, that the knight and the queen of the tale are less individual than archetypal, less fully human than artfully allegorical. As Matilda Tomaryn Bruckner notes, the figure of Lancelot in Chrétien and the later prose romancers serves primarily as an object lesson in the relative inferiority and impurity of human desire, when compared to the purity of a love directed toward the heavens: “Across the large canvas of the Lancelot-Grail Cycle, the Cart episode remains at the center of Lancelot’s story, even as it marks an important shift in Lancelot as hero, still the best of Arthurian chivalry, but not ‘the good knight’ who will achieve the Grail”.26

  • 27 C. S. Lewis, 1.
  • 28 “Bernart de Ventadorn provides one context in which to read the Lancelot—and with it, modern discus (...)
  • 29 C. S. Lewis, 15–16.

14Despite the note of desire in their story, Chrétien’s knight and the queen he “serves” are ultimately, as Lewis highlights, more allegorical than human—high examples of what Lewis calls the “allegorical love poetry of the Middle Ages”27 He is correct to call it so, but he is in a hurry to move past the troubadours for such authors as Chrétien precisely because the latter is writing allegory and the former are not. There is nothing allegorical about the passionate poems of Bernart de Ventadorn,28 Guilhem IX, or the Comtessa de Dia, nor is there an emphasis on rules, ceremonies, mock judgments in high-church style, or demands for obedience—whether instantly or otherwise delivered. What Lewis finds discomfiting in the troubadour poetry is precisely that element of adultery that he repeatedly mentions, but consistently refuses to illustrate with quotation. He is much happier to tell us the opinions of Peter Lombard, Albertus Magnus, and Thomas Aquinas on love and passion29 than he is to give the Occitan poets their voice.

  • 30 “un exercice poétique, une façon de jouer avec un certain nombre de thèmes de convention idealisant (...)

15Of course, Lewis is not the only figure at whose feet can be laid the blame for the oddly misbegotten notion of “courtly love”, a notion all too often applied to the troubadours without actually being derived from their poetry or from an analysis of their poetry. This latter trend can also be seen in twentieth-century French psychoanalysis, in Jacques Lacan’s use of the troubadours to develop his own ideas about desire. The effect of Gaston Paris’s nineteenth-century recasting of fin’amor as amour courtois is evident in Lacan’s work. Consistently using the term amour courtois in his own analysis, Lacan dismisses the work of the troubadours as anything other than “a poetic exercise, a fashion of playing with a certain number of idealizing and conventional themes, which could have no actual concrete reality”.30 What intrigues him is what he regards as a contradiction between the “idealizing and conventional themes” and the obviously non-idealizing behavior of a poet like Guilhem IX:

  • 31 Le premier des troubadours est un nommé Guillaume de Poitiers, septième comte de Poitiers, neuvième (...)

The first of the troubadours is named Guilhem IX, seventh Earl of Poitiers, ninth Duke of Aquitaine, who appears to have been, before he devoted his inaugural poetic activities to courtly poetry, a most redoubtable bandit, the type that, my God, all nobleman could be expected to be at this time. In many historical circumstances that I will not pass on to you, we see him behave according to the standards of the most iniquitous shakedowns. These are the services that could be expected of him. Then at a certain point, he became a poet of this singular love.31

  • 32 Lacan is engaged in a project that is less exegetic (reading out of) than it is eisegetic (reading (...)

16But there is no contradiction at all between the poet of passion and the faintly criminal nobleman who practiced rançonnage (shakedowns for ransom) in order to fill his coffers, because the “idealizing and conventional themes” Lacan speaks of are largely a post-troubadour invention.32 Lacan imposes an entirely extrinsic logic on the poetry of the troubadours, derived from his own concepts and those borrowed from Gaston Paris. The irony inherent in the positions of these two French intellectuals is that each imposes an interpretive violence on the southern poets from the perspectives of northern Parisian culture—and as we will see, such impositions, and such violence, reflect the pattern of a long and shockingly bloody history.

  • 33 David F. Hult suggests that Paris’ invention of the term amour courtois had much less to do with an (...)
  • 34 “le domaine propre de la poésie carolingienne avait été le nord de la France, l’Ile-de-France, l’Or (...)
  • 35 “Tout ce qui se trouvait au sud de la Loire appartenait en réalité à une autre civilisation, où l’é (...)
  • 36 The terms langue d’oil and langue d’oc refer to the way northerners and southerners, respectively, (...)
  • 37 “la littérature, comme la langue française, appartient à la France du nord” (Paris, La Poesie du Mo (...)

17That “courtly love” has very little to do with the troubadours33 can be seen not only in the way that Paris derives the concept from the northern poet Chrétien, but also because he slights the influence of the southern poets at every turn. In La Poésie du Moyen Âge, Paris tips his hand. First, only the literature of the north counts as properly “French” poetry: “the proper domain of Carolingian [eighth-to-twelfth-century] poetry was the north of France, the Ile-de-France, Orleans, Anjou, Maine, Champagne, the Vermandois, Picardy”.34 The literature produced south of the Loire river valley, was that of an entirely different civilization: “all that was south of the Loire actually belonged to another civilization, where the Germanic element had penetrated less deeply, and where the language remained nearer the Latin”,35 and that which can be referred to as truly “French” was produced only in lands of the langue d’oil36 in the north: “literature, like the French language, belongs to northern France”.37

  • 38 “le premier maître du style français” (ibid., 18, https://books.google.com/books?id=LdHs-jMItRQC ).(...)
  • 39 “Le sud de l’Italie et la Sicile avaient aussi pour rois des Normands, et là aussi la littérature f (...)
  • 40 “en Sicile, et elle y détermina peut-être, au XIIIe siècle, autant que la poésie provençale, l’éclo (...)
  • 41 “Les provinces du Midi avaient une langue et une littérature à elles, qui s’étaient développées dan (...)

18For Paris, Chrétien de Troyes was “the first master of French style”,38 and French literature was the premier vernacular expression in Europe, reaching even into southern Italy and the court of Sicily: “Southern Italy and Sicily also had Norman kings, and there again French literature found a homeland”.39 Paris credits French poetry with the flourishing of the poetic culture in the thirteenth-century Sicilian court of Frederick II, though he is forced to acknowledge the influence of that “autre civilisation” of the south, as he quickly, if reluctantly, mentions the poetry of Provençe. French poetry flourished “in Sicily, and it influenced in the thirteenth-century, as much as Provençal poetry, the birth of Italian poetry”.40 Paris further argues that the poetry of the north influenced the poetry of the south, setting up a hierarchy by which French poetry could be seen as the original high literary form in any of the European vernaculars, influencing even the troubadour poets: “the southern provinces had a language and a literature of their own, which had grown under conditions and with a quite different character. It is true, however, that the first effect our literature had on a foreign literature was that it had on the poetry of the troubadours”.41

  • 42 “ce sont nos poèmes dont les troubadours se nourrissaient et auxquels ils font de fréquentes allusi (...)
  • 43 “les nations romanes […] devinrent pour ainsi dire des succursales de la grande école française” (i (...)

19Paris’ preference is always for the trouvère poets of the north. He claimed that the troubadours were nourished by French poetry—“it is our poetry which the troubadours fed themselves on, and to which they made frequent allusions”42—and all the Romance lands fell under the influence of French literature, to which Paris subtly subordinates the poetry of the south: “the Romance nations […] became as it were branches of the great French school”.43 The term amour courtois, or “courtly love”, refers to the literature its inventor preferred, his much-favored poetry of the north, rather than the lyrics of that “autre civilisation” in the troubadour south. Paris’ dismissive attitude reflects a long history of northern contempt for, and violence against the south (le Midi), its culture, languages, and poetry. This history stretches back to the tensions leading up to the Albigensian Crusade of the thirteenth century, in which the domination of the northern Franks was established with sword, fire, and blood. The imposition of the term amour courtois on a poetry that has nothing whatsoever to do with the concept is another in a long line of acts of domination and erasure. In such ways, often unnoticed, literary critics reiterate and support the violence of power and authority by denying poetry its voice.

20Many modern scholars have questioned the idea of “courtly love”. D. W. Robertson, for example, spent years waging war against the whole notion. Robertson’s view is that the discussion of De amore through this concept is not only inaccurate, but confusing. Robertson argues that Capellanus does not reject “worldly delights”, but looks on them as an unfortunate, if necessary, “malady”. This idea is loosely based on the twelfth-century philosopher Bernardi Silvestris’ notion that worldly love is acceptable as long as it contributes to procreation. Silvestris, however, expresses this view in a fairly genial fashion:

  • 44 Bernardi Silvestris. De Mundi Universitate, ed. by Carl Sigmund Barach and Johann Wrobel (Innsbruck (...)

Corporis extremum lascivum terminat inguen,
Pressa sub occidua parte pudenda latent.
Iocundus que tamen et eorum commodus usus,
Si quando, qualis quantus oportet, erit.
[…]
Cum morte invicti pugnamt genialibus armis,
Naturam reparant perpetuant que genus.
44

The body ends in the lascivious groin,
Where the use of these private parts, hidden away,
Is pleasant and comfortable, so long as their use
Is in quality, quantity, and opportunity, as it should be.
[…]
Against death they fight invincibly with nuptial arms,
Repair our nature, and perpetuate our kind.

  • 45 D. W. Robertson. “The Subject of the ‘De Amore’ of Andreas Capellanus”. Modern Philology, 50: 3 (Fe (...)
  • 46 Ibid., 155.

21Robertson maintains that Capellanus does not fully embrace the sublimation and spiritualization of earthly love; in fact, Capellanus shows inclination for the “natural” Venus.45 Cupidity, lust, and sensuality are only seen as maladies because these are “inborn”, and they often go against reason. As Robertson puts it, “If ‘Walter’ becomes a lover by virtue of prolonged lascivious thought, his resulting uneasiness will be entirely self-engendered”.46

  • 47 D. W. Robertson. “The Concept of Courtly Love”. In The Meaning of Courtly Love, ed. by F. X. Newman (...)
  • 48 Ibid.
  • 49 Roger Boase. The Origin and Meaning of Courtly Love (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1977) (...)

22In his famous essay “The Concept of Courtly Love”, Robertson goes on to deny that the whole concept has any validity whatsoever, except as “an aspect of nineteenth and twentieth century cultural history”. He insists that “[t]he subject has nothing to do with the Middle Ages, and its use as a governing concept can only be an impediment to our understanding of medieval texts”.47 Robertson’s is a powerful argument—so far as it goes. But it performs an even more powerful surgical excision of the Occitan poets than had the arguments of Lewis and Paris. Robertson builds the “courtly love” concept that he then mockingly tears down, using the building blocks of French poetry (the Roman de la rose), Latin prose (Andreas Capellanus’ De amore), and English poetry (Chaucer’s Troilus and Crysede). The troubadours appear not at all, except in the faint echoes of their world glancingly referenced by Robertson’s mocking of “pseudo-Albigensian heresies”, and “pseudo-Arabic doctrines”.48 Robertson is partially right, but for the wrong reasons. “Courtly love” is an invention of “nineteenth and twentieth century cultural history”, but the term describes a complicated phenomenon with roots that go back as far as the thirteenth-century writings of Matfré Ermengaud, whose work serves a very specific ideological purpose: to tame love and desire (by persuasion if possible, or violence if necessary) into service and obedience, to reduce the most powerfully anarchic part of the human spirit into quiescence and tractability. Robertson pursues this agenda by tacitly and through omission denying that any such love (or any such poetry) exists at all, except as irony; for Robertson, “if a poet appears to extol sexual passion his intentions will prove, on a closer inspection, to be ironical and moralistic”.49 This then allows Robertson to bludgeon “courtly love” into submission in service of a worldview in which the troubadours are defined out of the very possibility of existence.

  • 50 Moshe Lazar. “Fin’amor”. In A Handbook of the Troubadours, ed. by F. R. P. Akehurst and Judith M. D (...)
  • 51 For Jennifer Wollock, “courtly love” reflects the experience of Gaston Paris more than it does medi (...)

23Moshe Lazar, examining the stark differences between the terms most often used to describe and analyze love in this period— courtoise, amour courtois, and finamor—scoffs at the idea that these terms are interchangeable: “[These words] are used as though it were possible to lump together all the periods of the Middle Ages and to interchange the order of authors and works”.50 The invented phenomenon of “courtly love”, in which a young man feels passionate love for an unavailable woman to whose service he dedicates himself in the absence of any possibility of sexual union,51 is at best a parody of a love that does exist, a love called fin’amor, written about by the eleventh-and twelfth-century troubadours. Calling it “the direct ancestor of romantic love as we know it today”, Jennifer Wollock describes fin’amor as a radically subversive cultural force:

  • 52 Ibid., 6.

[Fin’amor] gave medieval men and women a vent for their dissatisfaction with the institution of marriage as it then existed, holding up a different, much more exciting, and dangerous model of the male-female relationship. Its socially subversive force can still be felt today not just in the West but in cultures all across the world where traditional models of marriage as arranged by parents are still maintained.52

24The frankly passionate, erotic, and embodied poetry of the troubadours is transformed into something decorous, pious, and bloodless by a later tradition of critics and poets. The work of the troubadours has been subjected to a systematic distortion, one that reflects the values of the distorters, but does violence to the poetry.

II. The Troubadours and their Critics

25To begin seeing this in the poetry, let’s linger for a moment with Paris’ beloved trouvères, and consider a short snippet of an anonymous late twelfth-century song:

  • 53 Eglal Doss-Quinby. Songs of the Women Trouvères (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 184–86.

Soufrés maris, et si ne vous anuit,
Demain m’arés et mes amis anuit.
Je vous deffenc k’un seul mot n’en parlés
Soufrés, maris, et si ne vous mouvés.—
La nuis est courte, aparmains me rarés,
Quant mes amis ara fait sen deduit.
Soufrés maris, et si ne vous anuit,
Demain m’arés et mes amis anuit.53

Suffer in silence husband, be not vexed tonight,
Tomorrow I will be yours, but I am my lover’s tonight.
I forbid you to speak a single word.
—Suffer in silence husband, and do not move.—
The night is short, soon I will be yours again,
When my lover has had his senses’ share.
Suffer in silence husband, be not vexed tonight,
Tomorrow I will be yours, but I am my lover’s tonight.

26These lines are not about rules and codes of “courtly” behavior, a disembodied love, or a sacramentalized eros given to ethereally disembodied devotion, as one might see in the works of Petrarch, for example. They do not reflect an ethos which is anti-body, anti-sex, anti-female. Even in the north, the spirit of a love that is neither courtly nor sacred is thriving.

27Among the southern poets during this period there are a number of female writers, or trobairitz, though the majority are male. Many of the poets are famous for writing love poems (called cansos), though there are others who write often caustic verses of war and political conflict (called sirventes). Bertran de Born is the most exultant example of the latter:

  • 54 Bertran de Born. The Poems of the Troubadour Bertran de Born, ed. by William D. Paden, Tilde Sankov (...)

Be m platz lo gais temps de pascor,
que fai fuoillas e flors venir;
e plai me qand auch la baudor
dels auzels que fant retintir
lo chant per lo boscatge;
e plai me qand vei per los pratz
tendas e pavaillons fermatz;
qan vei per campaignas rengatz
cavalliers e cavals armatz.
54

I am pleased by the gay season of Spring,
that makes the leaves and the flowers come;
and it pleases me when I overhear
the birds’ faint echoes
of song through the woods;
and it pleases me when I see on the meadow
tents and pavillions well-built;
when I see the fields filled with ranks
of armed knights and horses.

  • 55 Ronald Martinez. “Italy”. In A Handbook of the Troubadours, ed. by F. R. P. Akehurst and Judith M. (...)

28Bertran’s love for war was such that Dante puts him into the Inferno as a sower of discord for his “persistence in dividing [King] Henry [II] from the jove rei Engles”, Prince Henry.55 Dante has Bertan accuse himself, as the warrior-troubadour stands amidst the flames:

  • 56 Inferno. Canto 28.118–23, 133–42. In La Divina Commedia. Inferno, ed. by Ettore Zolesi (Rome: Arman (...)

Io vidi certo, e ancor par ch’io ‘l veggia,
un busto sanza capo andar sì come
andavan li altri de la trista greggia;
e‘l capo tronco tenea per le chiome,
pesol con mano a guisa di lanterna:
e quel mirava noi e dicea: “Oh me!”.
[…]
“E perché tu di me novella porti,
sappi ch’i’son Bertram dal Bornio, quelli
che diedi al re giovane i ma’ conforti.
Io feci il padre e‘l figlio in sé ribelli;
Achitofèl non fé più d’Absalone
e di Davìd coi malvagi punzelli.
Perch’io parti’così giunte persone,
partito porto il mio cerebro, lasso!,
dal suo principio ch’è in questo troncone.
Così s’osserva in me lo contrapasso”.56

I truly saw, and still seem to see it,
a body without a head, walking just like
the others in its dismal herd;
the body carried its severed head by the hair,
swaying in its hand, in the fashion of a lantern;
and it looked at us and said: “Oh me!”
[…]
“And because you will carry news of me,
know that I am Bertran de Born, he
who gave comfort to the young King.
I made father and son turn against each other;
Achitophel did not do more with Absalom
and David, through his malevolent provocations.
Because I severed people so joined,
severed now I bear my brain, alas!,
from its origin, which is in this body.
In this can be seen my retribution”.

29But many of the troubadour and trobairitz poems come from, and represent, the female perspective, and some break boundaries one might not initially expect. For example, consider a piece called Na Maria, attributed to a poet named Bietris (or Bieris) de Romans.

  • 57 Bietris de Romans. “Na Maria, prètz e fina valors”. In The Women Troubadours, ed. by Meg Bogin (New (...)

Na Maria, pretz e fina valors,
e·l joi e·l sen e la fina beutatz,
e l’aculhir e·l pretz e las onors,
e·l gen parlar e l’avinen solatz,
e la dous car’ e la gaja cuendansa,
e·l dous esgart e l’amoros semblan
que son en vos, don non avetz engansa,
me fan traire vas vos ses cor truan.
Per que vos prec, si·us platz que fin’ amors
e gausiment e dous umilitatz
me posca far ab vos tan de socors,
que mi donetz, bella domna, si us platz,
so don plus ai d’aver joi e’speransa;
car en vos ai mon cor e mon talan,
e per vos ai tot so qu’ai d’alegransa
e per vos vauc mantas vetz sospiran.
E car beutatz e valors vos enansa
sobre totas, qu’una no · us es denan,
vos prec, si us platz, per so que us es onransa,
que non ametz entendidor truan.
Bella domna, cui pretz e joi enansa,
e gen parlar, a vos mas coblas man,
car en vos es gajess’e alegranssa
e tot lo ben qu’om en domna deman.
57

Lady Maria, for your esteem and pure worthiness,
joy, wisdom, and pure beauty,
graciousness and praise and distinction,
noble speech and delightful company,
sweet face and lively charm,
the sweet glance and the amorous appearance
that are in you without deception,
I am drawn to you with nothing false in my heart.
For this, I pray, please, let true love
delight and sweet humility
give me, with you, the relief I need,
so you will grant me, beautiful lady, please,
what I most hope to enjoy.
Because in you, alas, are my heart and desire
and for you, alas, are all my joys
and for you, I go, freely sighing many sighs.
And since beauty and merit advances you,
superior to all others, for there is no one before you,
I pray you, please, by all that brings you honor,
do not love those false suitors.
Beautiful Lady, whom praise and joy advances,
and noble speech, my verses are for you,
for in you is merriment and all delight,
and every good thing one could want in a woman.

  • 58 ταὶς κάλαισ᾿ ὔμμιν <τὸ> νόημμα τὦμον / οὐ διάμειπτον” (Sappho, Greek Lyric, Vol. I: Sappho and Alc (...)

30On an initial reading, this poem seems to be an erotic poem written by a woman to a woman. Though there are no explicitly sexual details, it appears to portray a jealous lover trying to fend off rivals, a poem in the tradition of Sappho, the ancient Greek poet who wrote much of her verse describing her erotic longings for beautiful women: “Toward you bare-shouldered beauties my mind / surely never changes”.58 Thus, Na Maria is not poetically unprecedented, nor in any way to be considered outside the realm of human erotic experience.

31And yet, there is no shortage of claims that this poem is not what it seems. The apparent lesbian eroticism is explained away through the use of two arguments, which we will see again and again with only minor variations. Firstly, the religious or spiritualizing argument that sublimates love into worship:

This is a metaphor for the Virgin Mary.

  • 59 “Na Maria: Courtliness and Marian Devotion in Old Occitan Lyric”. In Shaping Courtliness in Medieva (...)
  • 60 Ibid., 195.
  • 61 Ibid.
  • 62 Ibid.

32This is Daniel E. O’Sullivan’s argument.59 He suggests that the line “so you will grant me, beautiful lady, please / what I most hope to enjoy” (“qe mi donetz, bella dompna, si∙ us platz, / so don plus ai d’aver esperansa”) should be interpreted in the context of “Marian songs, [in which] the singer makes similar requests of the Virgin where the hopedfor reward is eternal salvation”.60 Though the critic acknowledges that “the question of asking Mary to shun deceitful lovers or suitors (entendidor) may seem odd given the Virgin’s role in helping to save all of mankind”,61 he does not let that difficulty discourage him, and argues that the poet’s entreaty has to do with prayer: “such requests for divine intercession must be made sincerely, thus the qualification that such people must not be deceitful (truan)”.62 Thus the critic erases the eroticism that seems evident on the text’s surface, and allegorizes that eroticism in the traditional way (as seen in the case of the Song of Songs), by transforming its energy into an expression of divine love.

  • 63 As Rita Felski has complained, historicism of this stripe has bound us into “a remarkably static vi (...)

33If that line of argument fails to convince, another line of attack comes in the form of an historicism that assumes every human expression of a particular time and place can necessarily be explained by and reduced to the majority standards of that time and place. Such a position leaves no room for dissent or “non-normative” desires and points of view, thus dismissing the possibility of any such dissent or desires:63

  • 64 This is a varation of the amicitia argument we have already seen used to explain away the apparent (...)

This poem is merely expressing the contemporary reality of an affectionate, but non-sexual regard between women.64

34This is the argument of Angelica Rieger, who attempts to bury the passion of the poem through a series of remarks on its rhetorical reversals:

  • 65 Angelica Rieger. “Was Bieiris de Romans Lesbian? Women’s Relations with Each Other in the World of (...)

[c]omposed by a woman and addressed to another, it acquires a special position not only within the works of the trobairitz but within the entire Occitan literature of the thirteenth century. Since the troubadour typically speaks to the domna, it is clear that the inversion of this configuration in the poems of the trobairitz may be regarded as a marginal phenomenon; that the masculine element should be eliminated, however, so that the lyrical dialogue takes place exclusively between one woman and another, is an extraordinary rarity.65

35Rare though its female address to another female may be, and as apparently erotic as its language is, Rieger argues that we misread the poem if we see it as expressing sexual desire:

  • 66 Ibid., 82. This is a variation of the amicitia argument we have already seen applied to Alcuin.

The poem is indeed by a woman, addressed to another, but nevertheless does not concern a lesbian relationship. In addition to the […] rejection of homosexuality within troubadour poetry, which makes a public, positive depiction of such a relationship very improbable, the poem does not contain any indecent passages either. Bieiris addresses Maria only in a manner customary for her time and her world; she expresses her sympathy for her in a conventionally codified form—which the choice of genre would also support—just as one, or better, a woman, speaks with a female acquaintance, friend, confidante, or close relative. In short, the colloquial tone used between women differed from that used today, and what modern readers deem erotic was simply tender.66

  • 67 “Jupiter enim adolescentem Ganymedem transferens ad superna, […] et quem in mensa per diem propinan (...)
  • 68 Barbara Newman. Gods and the Goddesses: Vision, Poetry, and Belief in the Middle Ages (Philadelphia (...)
  • 69 Alain de Lille only scratches the surface of the possibilities. For other examples, see the discuss (...)
  • 70 Stehling, 161.

36As Rieger would have it, the poem “does not concern a lesbian relationship” because that would be “improbable”, and therefore evidently impossible. But to speak of a “rejection of homosexuality within troubadour poetry” is a very careful circumscribing of the argument, since troubadour poetry exists within the context of a wider cultural and poetic practice in which same-sex desire is very much part of the picture. One need only look at Alain de Lille (Alanus ab Insulis), and his twelfth-century De Planctu Naturae for confirmation. Herein, Alain questions Nature about love and sexuality, and explains the prevalence of same-sex relations through a reference to the gods of Antiquity: “Jupiter, for the adolescent Ganymede, transferred him to the heavens, […] and while he made him the governor of his drinks on the table by day, he made him the subject of his bed by night”.67 Though Alain portrays this state of affairs as the result of a fallen Nature who has “betrayed her God-given responsibility by placing sexuality in the hands of Venus [and her] moral licentiousness”,68 the very existence of the discussion makes Rieger’s immediate dismissal of the possibility of homosexuality in Na Maria problematic.69 Further evidence appears in the poetry of Hilarius, or Hilary the Englishman, four of whose five surviving love poems are written to boys.70 Ad Puerum Anglicum makes the idea fairly clear:

  • 71 Hilarius, “Ad Puerum Anglicum II”. ll. 1–4. Hilarii Aurelianensis Versus et Ludi Epistolae. Mittell (...)

Puer decens, decor floris,
Genma micans, velim noris
Quia tui decus oris
Fuit mihi fax amoris.
71

Demure boy, beautiful as a flower,
Sparkling jewel, if only you knew
That the glory of your eyes
Has set my love on fire.

37Such poetry makes plain that Na Maria exists in a context in which same-sex desires exist, and are expressed in powerful verse. But Rieger will have none of it. By trying to erase the very possibility of non-majority desires, she struggles mightily to force this female-voiced poem to revolve around a man, not as rival for the poet’s sexual desires and affections (which would apparently require “indecent passages”), but as the wrong choice of man among what are presumably better choices of men. Thus the critic redefines the expressions of desire in the poem in terms of a wish that Lady Maria make the right choice among male suitors:

  • 72 Rieger, 92.

Does Maria have a choice between several admirers, and is she to decide on the “right one”, and are Bieiris’s words spoken out of a sort of maternal concern that this young, beautiful, and intelligent woman might choose the wrong one? Or does the man in question stand between the two women, and is Bieiris’s poem an appeal to Maria not to take him, thereby making herself and Bieiris unhappy? The list of possible situations could certainly go on, but the two cited may suffice to demonstrate that Bieiris’s canso—following the feminine lyrical tradition—revolves around the absent third party, the man.72

38But both O’Sullivan’s and Rieger’s decorous explanations get strained by the second stanza:

  • 73 Bietris de Romans, ll. 9–16.

Per que vos prec, si ∙us platz que fin’amors
e gausiment e dous umilitatz
me posca far ab vos tan de socors,
que mi donetz, bella domna, si·us platz,
so don plus ai d’aver joi e’speransa;
car en vos ai mon cor e mon talan,
e per vos ai tot so qu’ai d’alegransa
e per vos vauc mantas vetz sospiran.
73

For this, I pray, please, let true love
delight and sweet humility
give me, with you, the relief I need,
so you will grant me, beautiful lady, please,
what I most hope to enjoy.
Because in you, alas, are my heart and desire
and for you, alas, are all my joys
and for you, I go, freely sighing many sighs.

  • 74 Meg Bogin. The Women Troubadours (New York: Norton & Co., 1980), 176.

39These lines are practically drenched in anxious longing—the voice we hear begs for relief, and the fulfilment of desire. In the meantime, she sighs as she walks abroad, praying that “fin’ amors” will give her the heart of the woman she so desperately admires. It is tenuous, at best, to argue that what she prays her bella domna will grant her is to choose the right man. As the poem concludes, the feminine voice praises Maria as the embodiment of all that is desirable: “for in you is merriment and all delight, / and every good thing one could want in a woman”. This, along with the warning “do not love those false suitors”, especially when paired with the claim “I am drawn to you with nothing false in my heart”—sets the female voice of the poem directly in opposition to, and rivalry with those “entendidor”, the (grammatically, at least) male wooers who will betray and lie to Maria. As Meg Bogin has observed, “Scholars have resorted to the most ingenious arguments to avoid concluding that [Bietris] is a woman writing a love poem to another woman”,74 and this, perhaps, is the best indication that Bietris is in fact writing a love poem to another woman: the scholar doth protest too much, methinks.

  • 75 Rieger, 92.
  • 76 Alison Ganze. “‘Na Maria, pretz e fina valors’: A New Argument for Female Authorship”. Romance Note (...)
  • 77 William E. Burgwinkle. Love for Sale: Materialist Readings of the Troubadour Razo Corpus (New York: (...)

40Rieger hedges her bets, admitting that “[t]he possibility of an element of female jealousy (which might even bear lightly homoerotic characteristics) need not be ruled out entirely”. Nevertheless, she is determined to “substantiate that [Bietris’s] poetic motivation does not spring from a lesbian relationship”.75 Alison Ganze, however, argues undauntedly in the familiar and predictable what appears to be X is actually Y style of the hermeneutics of suspicion, that it is a “faulty assumption […] that the erotic language in the poem must be taken as a literal expression of sexual desire”, before she goes on to assert that “‘Na Maria’ fits within the conventional mode expressing friendship between women”.76 Note how Ganze’s gesture makes the poem safe, orthodox, predictable, and not at all disturbing to conservative sensibilities. It’s just about women being friends. What appears to be erotic longing is actually just friendship. What appears to be [fill in the blank] is actually [fill in the blank differently]. William Burgwinkle argues along similar lines when he suggests that the poem Tanz salutz e tantas amors, perhaps by the mid-thirteenth century troubadour Uc de Saint Circ, “mocks all future discussions of whether ladies writing to ladies might be lesbians by simply pulling the linguistic rug from beneath the supposed signs of sentiment, the words in question77 Once a critic is in the habit of suspicion, regarding words as always or even usually meaning something other than they merely seem to mean, it appears that the habit is never broken. Thus Burgwinkle argues that love poems are not actually love poems, because they are really something else, in this case, a currency for exchange:

  • 78 Ibid., 100–01.

love songs should probably be seen more as a sort of currency in these Southern courts than as personal love missives. […]. The “Lady” in such songs is often more an empty signifier than a flesh-and-blood woman. As in much of classical literature, the woman is an allegorical stand-in for something else. [This could be] an actual woman at court, the court itself, a fiefdom or castle, a male patron, or an empty category.78

41With the inclusion of the “empty category”, the critic claims that what appears to be X is not only not X, but is potentially anything in the world other than X. Burgwinkle decries the fact that troubadour love poems “continue to be read as personal love missives […] rather than as musings on language”, repeating the familiar critical move that reduces poetry only to language, or to a meta-discourse in which it always and only speaks of itself. He then declares that his argument will “show just how deeply representation, even of what seems to be the most personal nature, is imbued with issues of profit, marketing, and self-promotion”.79 Everything that comes after “seems” is the not-X of the formula. Troubadour love poems seem to be personal, but are actually [fill in the blank]. This same basic argument is made so often, about so many different poems, plays, novels, etc., that one begins to wonder if it is hard-wired into the academic psyche. What Harold Rosenberg once called “The Herd of Independent Minds”80 is alive and well and publishing books and journal articles.

42What we encounter in troubadour poetry, if we allow ourselves to see it, is a crossing of boundaries, love as resistance to, or rejection of, the ordinarily assigned categories or roles. It challenges the idea of faithfulness in marriage and questions the heteronormativity of our typical approaches to sex and desire.

  • 81 Joseph Campbell. Creative Mythology (New York: Viking, 1968), 177.
  • 82 Ibid.

43In the spirit of crossing boundaries, let’s look at the troubadours for a moment from outside the perspective of specialist scholars in the field. The popular myth and religion scholar Joseph Campbell wrote perceptively about the troubadours, and his analysis is acute: all too often writers, thinkers, theologians, poets, and academics treat love and desire as if they are definable only in terms of absolute antithesis, “writing of agape and eros and their radical opposition, as though these two were the final terms of the principle of ‘love’”.81 It is as if love must be regarded in terms of extremes: “whatever is at hand, one loves—either in the angelic way of charity or in the orgiastic, demonic way of a Dionysian orgy; but in either case, religiously: in renunciation of ego, ego judgment, and ego choice”.82 Such thinking supports either the idea that impersonal principle is more important than personal choice, or that the drives of the body are more important than individual judgment. Campbell suggests that the primary poetic, philosophical, and cultural importance of this period, of the troubadour movement itself, is the elevation of the perspectives and choices of the individual over the impersonal claims of law and dogma and the body’s claims of lust and desire. This stance often set the troubadours at odds with the theological ideas of their time:

  • 83 Ibid., 176.

According to the Gnostic-Manichean view nature is corrupt […] in the poetry of the troubadours […] nature […] is an end and glory in itself. […] Hence, if the courtly cult of amor is to be catalogued according to heresy, it should be indexed rather as Pelagian than as Gnostic or Manichean, for […] Pelagius and his followers absolutely rejected the doctrine of our inheritance of the sin of Adam and Eve, and taught that we have finally no need of supernatural grace, since our nature itself is full of grace; no need of a miraculous redemption, but only of awakening and maturation.83

  • 84 Linda M. Paterson. The World of the Troubadours: Medieval Occitan Society c. 1100-c. 1300 (Cambridg (...)

44This tension between worldviews, between the insistence that the world is corrupt, and the celebration of the world as full of its own grace, is reflected in the simultaneous existence of two groups that the twelfth-and thirteenth-century church regarded as heretical and dangerous: the troubadours—who celebrated the body—and the Cathars—who rejected that body as corrupt and fallen. The name Cathar comes from a Greek root meaning “purged” or “pure”, and for them, the flesh needed to be “purged” and the entire physical world was a prison from which to escape. But the troubadours’ “heresy” was not the more Gnostic, flesh-and world-denying belief characteristic of the Cathars who were the primary target of the Albigensian Crusade of the early thirteenth century: “there is little sign of Cathar influence on [troubadour] poetry. The delight in the senses found in much of the love-lyric is hardly compatible with the Cathar notion of the evil of matter”.84 If the troubadours were heretics, theirs was the more life-and world-affirming heresy (at its root, the word merely means “opinion”) of Pelagius, a British monk who was a contemporary of the now-famous Augustine of Hippo. This obscure monk thought the doctrine of original sin was the single most pernicious thing he had ever heard of, and he devoted a great deal of his time and energy to arguing against the idea.

45Imagine this: from the moment you are conceived, you are flawed, broken, and sick, while at the same time you are commanded to be well and denied the medicine that would cure you:

  • 85 Fulke Greville. The Tragedy of Mustapha (London: Printed for Nathaniel Butler, 1609), “Chorus Sacer (...)

O wearisome condition of humanity,
Borne under one law, to an other bound,
Vainely begot, and yet forbidden vanity,
Created sicke, commanded to be sound.
85

  • 86 Jean de Meun’s thirteenth-century reaction to this problem takes 625 lines of the Roman de la Rose (...)
  • 87 Brinley Roderick Rees. Pelagius: Life and Letters (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1998), 54.

46You are denied this medicine (unless you are one of a lucky few) by the will of a perfect, just, and unbending deity—and this denial comes as a result of no action or inaction, no deserving or failing of your own—in fact, you have not done, and cannot do anything either to elicit or forestall the pleasure or displeasure of this deity. Judgment was rendered upon you before the founding of the world into which you would one day be born as a helpless, broken, and already-condemned infant. Since you are fatally flawed from the very beginning, the only possibility that you have of salvation, joy, and fulfillment is the forcible manipulation of your sin-infected will by God (through a power known as grace), because you are entirely unable to take any positive responsibility for your life.86 Pelagius opposed all of this in the name of human freedom: “the relationship of human freedom to divine grace was the crucial issue on which Augustine and Pelagius differed. […] Augustine [refused] to admit that the debate was between freedom and determinism. Pelagius, on the other hand, was just as adamant in insisting that it was”.87

  • 88 Ibid., 76.
  • 89 John Toews. The Story of Original Sin (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2013), 76.

47For Pelagius, Augustine’s doctrine of original sin contributes to the decay of society, and to the breakdown of the ordinary restraints that our sense of responsibility for our actions puts on our baser impulses. Pelagius regards “man’s sin as the result not of an inheritance from Adam but of imitation of his example”.88 Pelagius believes that “each soul was created by God at the time of conception […] and thus could not come into the world tainted by original sin transmitted from Adam. […] Adam’s sin did have disastrous consequences for humanity; it introduced death and the habit of disobedience. But the latter was propagated by example, not by physical descent”.89

48Pelagius argues that Augustine’s doctrine acts as a carte blanche, a cosmic get-out-of-jail-free card that gives people perverse permission to abandon themselves to their baser, more aggressive and violent impulses, resulting in the chaos that Thomas Hobbes describes as the war of all against all, in which life is “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short”.90 In a letter to a follower named Demetrias, Pelagius argues that “the ignorant vulgar are at fault”91 for allowing themselves to be persuaded “that mankind has not, in truth, been created good, because it is able to do evil”,92 insisting that we are “capable of both good and evil”,93 but that either involves an exercise of will: “neither good nor evil is done without the will”.94 And the will can be trained; it is not hopelessly corrupt as the result of an inherent fault, a fundamental brokenness or wickedness in human nature, but weakened as a result of “being instructed in evil”,95 in no small part by those, like Augustine, who preach that human nature is fundamentally evil due to inherited sin. Pelagius, like Rousseau, thinks people are basically good and need only a little development, maturation, and guidance. In the words of the seventeenth-century English Pelagian, John Milton, they require education. Milton’s belief that human beings are not irretrievably wicked is made clear in his 1644 treatise Of Education, where he outlines the ultimate purpose of human education: “The end of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him, as we may the nearest by possessing our souls of true virtue”.96

  • 97 The more recognizably orthodox point of view is memorably expressed in the sixteenth-century Englis (...)
  • 98 Campbell, Creative Mythology, 183.

49The troubadours are more closely aligned to this Pelagian (and Miltonic) point of view that the world and its people are basically good. This is the heritage that the troubadours passed down to the Renaissance and eventually to our own time: the idea that nature is good and love is an end in itself, not something to be denied or escaped from, not a trap, not an object of shame, but a source of joy.97 It contains a hint of later ideas to come, like the carpe diem motif of so much English Renaissance poetry. From this point of view, the claims of this life, and this world, rather than the airy promises of a future existence, take on an urgency that is otherwise denied them. In the view of the troubadours, “not heaven but this blossoming earth was to be recognized as the true domain of love, as it is of life”.98 Hand-in-hand with this immediacy of earthly life and love, goes a concept of individualism that is vital for understanding the troubadours and their poetry:

  • 99 Elizabeth Fay. Romantic Medievalism: History and the Romantic Literary Ideal (New York: Palgrave, 2 (...)

The troubadour’s new time expresses a new individualism. […] It is the Occitan troubadour, with his self-promoting songs of desperate love for the wife of his patron, who ignores war and nation to disguise a revolutionary individualist intent (whether as illicit desire or as social gain) behind the spiritual quality of true love. He is a figure who is from our perspective recognizably Keatsian, certainly Romantic, and therefore perceptively modern and out of his time.99

  • 100 “Une première évidence éclate aux yeux: l’éloignement du moyen âge, la distance irrécupérable qui n (...)

50There is, of course, no shortage of critics who will deny such a proposition, arguing instead for the near-inaccessibility of medieval poetry. One such critic is Paul Zumthor, who insists that “A first obvious piece of evidence becomes clear to our eyes: the remoteness of the Middle Ages, and the irrecoverable distance that separates us […]. Medieval poetry belongs to a universe that has become foreign to us”.100 For Zumthor:

  • 101 Lorsqu’un homme de notre siècle affronte une œuvre du XIIe siècle, la durée qui les sépare l’un de (...)

When a man of our century confronts a work of the twelfth century, the time that separates one from the other distorts, or even erases the relationship that ordinarily develops between the author and the reader through the mediation of the text: such a relationship can hardly be spoken of any more. What indeed is a true reading, if not an effort that involves both the reader and the culture in which the reader participates, an effort corresponding to that textual production involving the author and his own universe? In respect to a medieval text, the correspondence no longer occurs spontaneously. The perception of form becomes ambiguous. Metaphors are darkened, comparisons no longer make sense. The reader remains embedded within his own time; while the text, through an effect produced by the passage of time, seems timeless, which is a contradictory situation.101

  • 102 See Michael Bryson, The Atheist Milton (London: Routledge, 2012), 36–50.
  • 103 Lucien Febvre. The Problem of Unbelief in the Sixteenth Century: The Religion of Rabelais. Trans. b (...)

51But to give in to an idea like this, is to give in to an absolute and unprovable claim which is structurally identical to the mentalités idea of Lucien Febvre, who argued in 1947 that there was no such thing as an atheist in the Renaissance (despite the fact that many were accused of atheism, and even executed on the charge102) because “the mental equipment available in the sixteenth century made it as good as impossible for anyone to be an atheist, and, perhaps more important, […] an atheist could only have been a solitary figure to whom nobody would have paid any significant attention”.103 Febvre’s claim, in turn, has its roots in the work of Wilhelm Dilthey (1910), for whom

  • 104 [S]pricht man vom Geist einer Zeit, vom Geist des Mittelalters, der Aufklärung. Damit ist zugleich (...)

one speaks of the spirit of a time, of the spirit of the Middle Ages, or the Enlightenment. At the same time, it is a fact that in such epochs limitations are met with in the form of a life-horizon. By that, I mean the limit on the people of a time in terms of their life’s thinking, feeling, and will. There is a proportion of life, lifestyle, experience, and ability to form concepts, which tightly binds the individual within a certain range of modifications of opinions, value formation, and purposes. Inevitabilities rule herein over particular individuals.104

  • 105 “Dans une culture et à un moment donné, il n’y a jamais qu’une épistémè, qui définit les conditions (...)
  • 106 Rita Felski describes this impulse as one in which “the critic feels impelled to beat off the barba (...)

52Foucault makes a similar argument, insisting that “in a given culture and time, there is never more than one episteme that defines the conditions of possibility of all knowledge”.105 Such claims, if taken seriously, render it almost futile to read the poetry of any era or any culture that is separated from one’s own by enough time, and geographic and/or linguistic difference, because of the differences between the mentalités and life-horizons (Lebenshorizont) and epistemes of the past and the present. Claims like this (commonly made, though rarely substantiated) allow the scholar to put up “No Trespassing” signs, warning away interested—though non-specialist—readers, and creating what amount to obscure literary fiefdoms ruled over by critics who have blanketed their subject areas in a forbidding darkness.106

  • 107 “Le chanson et ainsi son propre sujet, sans prédicat […] Le poèmee est miroir de soi” (Zumthor, 218 (...)
  • 108 Simon Gaunt. “The Châtelain de Couci”. In The Cambridge Companion to Medieval French Literature, ed (...)
  • 109 “On ne prétend pas en cela geler le texte” (Zumthor, 20).
  • 110 This is a curious reworking of what Holmes calls a “Burckhardtian opposition of medieval conformism (...)
  • 111 “des analogies simplifiantes et des justifications mythiques” (Zumthor, 20).
  • 112 See Tilde Sankovitch, “The Trobairitz”. In The Troubadours: An Introduction, ed. by Simon Gaunt and (...)
  • 113 See Simon Gaunt, “Poetry of Exclusion: A Feminist Reading of Some Troubadour Lyrics”. The Modern La (...)
  • 114 “Das beharrende Element der esoterischen Haltung, der Feudaladel, wird sich mehr und mehr der Inter (...)
  • 115 Simon Gaunt and Sarah Kay. “Introduction”. In The Troubadours: An Introduction, ed. by Simon Gaunt (...)

53Zumthor insists that “the song is its own proper subject, without a predicate. […] The poem is its own mirror”.107 From this point of view, Zumthor sees all poetry as “self-referential”, a structure “in which the ‘I’ who speaks has a purely grammatical function, devoid of reference to anything other than the act of singing which it performs, records, re-enacts, and anticipates”.108 Though Zumthor says that “this is not a claim for the freezing of the text”,109 that is, in effect, what has happened to a great deal of troubadour criticism. Zumthor’s assertion that there is an unbridgeable gap between the medieval era and our own was followed by the insistence that the poems must not be understood as being about love and desire in any real and still-understandable sense, but about language and performance.110 This tendency has been exacerbated by Zumthor’s concomitant claim that any attempt by a modern reader to read twelfth-century work is doomed because “the period that separates one from the other distorts, or even erases the relationship” necessary for understanding. Despite the caveat Zumthor adds about not applying “simplified analogies and mythical justifications”111 this is precisely what a number of critics of the last few decades have done, applying French feminist thought,112 or making accusations of troubadour misogyny and narcissism,113 or arguing that what appear to be love poems are actually disguised representations of political struggles. The latter is argued by Erich Köhler, for whom the more esoteric style of troubadour poetry (the closed song or trobar clus) indicates a class struggle between higher and lower levels of nobility: “the persistent element of esotericism in the attitude of the feudal nobility, becomes more and more a deliberate stance that crucially separates it from the lower nobility”.114 Köhler not only “argued vigorously that the troubadour lyric mediated the tension between the different sections of the nobility” but he also maintained that “the erotic love to which the songs were ostensibly devoted was invariably a metaphor for other desires, other drives”.115 As E. Jane Burns explains it, the passions expressed in the troubadour poems are merely masks, disguising the desire for wealth, status, and power:

  • 116 E. Jane Burns. “Courtly Love: Who Needs It? Recent Feminist Work in the Medieval French Tradition”.(...)

[T]roubadour poets’ professed love of the domna actually masked a concerted social aspiration to be elevated to the status of her husband. Thus could poor, landless knights of the lower nobility attempt to attain higher standing (Köhler 1964). […] Provencal love songs [have] less to do with eroticism, passion, or desire than with class conflict between the disenfranchised squirine and the established nobility (Köhler 1970).116

  • 117 Longxi, 207.
  • 118 Burns, 40.
  • 119 Frederick Goldin. The Mirror of Narcissus and the Courtly Love Lyric (Ithaca: Cornell University Pr (...)
  • 120 Jane E. Burns. Courtly Love Undressed: Reading through Clothes in Medieval French Culture (Philadel (...)
  • 121 Daniel O’Sullivan. “The Man Backing Down from the Lady in Trobairitz Tensos”. In Founding Feminisms (...)
  • 122 Tilde Sankovitch. “Lombarda’s Reluctant Mirror: Speculum of Another Poet”. In The Voice of the Trob (...)

54One has to marvel at the lengths to which scholars will go to rewrite poetry in order to “consistently read love songs as about anything but love”.117 And as one follows Burns’ explanation a little further, the idea at work becomes clear—what is aimed at is nothing less than the dissolving of the text in the solvent of criticism: “The courtly lady dissolves further in Lacanian analyses of lyric and romance where she becomes a textualized object of masculine desire, a metaphor for the enigma of femininity and a cipher for male poetic practice”.118 This argument has long been a paradigm in studies of troubadour poetry. Frederick Goldin argues that the women being addressed in troubadour poems are essentially mirrors that reflect the troubadour back to himself, showing him what he “wants to become” but also “what he can never be”.119 Burns argues that the apparent passions of the troubadour poems are actually “a misreading of the feminine in terms of the masculine”,120 while O’Sullivan states the case baldly, openly using the what appears to be X is really Y formula: “[t] he male-authored canso is narcissistic in nature: while it may be ostensibly about the praiseworthy Other, it’s really about praising the Self”.121 Tilde Sankovitch turns the troubadours into auto-eroticists, claiming that Narcissus serves as a model for “the troubadours’ self-referential erotic quest for beauty and perfection” while the poetry refers not to “the domna’s intimate Otherness but to the poet’s wish to penetrate into his own perfection’s space”.122 All of these arguments follow Paris in furthering the trend of violent ideological impositions tracing back to the early thirteenth century, by subordinating the troubadours and their poetry to the concepts and dictates of outside authority. The pen and the sword are merely different means to the same end.

55What is especially noteworthy is how closely the critics adhere to a basic paradigm, essentially repeating each other’s arguments with some minor changes in terminology and theory. The effect is like listening to a chorus singing a song with only one verse, each singer replicating the others, with minor variations available only in the register and timbre of the voices, whose individuality is otherwise lost in the repetitiveness of the musical theme. And it has to be asked, if this is truly all that troubadour poetry is, why read any of it, much less any of the criticism which shows so much disdain for it? This kind of argument, despite its theoretical and secular sheen, is fundamentally religious in nature, reflecting the assumptions of the Akibas and Origens of the world for whom a text must be forced to obey, forced to yield a morally (or theoretically) edifying sense or be righteously and roundly accused, before being abandoned altogether. As Longxi points out, for such readers, this has long meant systematically turning away from the literal meanings of words and texts:

  • 123 Longxi, 200.

As allegory etymologically means “speaking of the other”, in reading this we should then understand it as that. Of the four levels (or the fourfold scheme) of meaning, which constitute the theoretical foundation of biblical allegory, the least important or relevant to true understanding, according to the allegorists, is the literal sense. The revelation of the Spirit must be at the cost of the suppression of the Letter. For Origen and his followers, the written word should be cast off and forgotten in order to free the spirit of the Logos from the shell of human language.123

56Along similar lines, and with similar goals in mind, Gregory Stone uses what he calls a “grammatical” argument—similar to that of Zumthor, but based on categories from Dante’s De Vulgari Eloquentia—to erase the individuality of the troubadour poets by claiming that it never existed in the first place. His argument is based on the notion of a “mature rejection of the new Renaissance model of the self-determining singular ego, a model with which the late Middle Ages is already quite familiar yet regards as a lie”.124 While one wonders how such notably retiring, self-effacing personalities as Guilhem IX and his famous granddaughter Eleanor of Aquitaine would react to such an idea, Stone goes on to maintain that “[t] he Middle Ages consciously insists that I am they: that the individual subject is never singular, is always in some essential sense general, collective, objective”.125 Miraculously, an entire era and all of its people can be described as insisting that “I am they”, as if the scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian where Graham Chapman’s Brian insists to the crowd “You are all individuals”, while they respond in unison, “Yes. We are all individuals” has been inverted and turned into an interpretive principle.126

57As Daniel Heller-Roazen demonstrates, critics frequently claim that the “I” in medieval texts testifies to the absence of poetic individuality:

  • 127 Daniel Heller-Roazen. Fortune’s Faces: The Roman de la Rose and the Poetics of Contingency (Baltimo (...)

[t]he critical works on the problem of the medieval poetic “I” concur precisely in their uncertainty about the referential status of the first-person pronoun; and in many instances they deny, implicitly or explicitly, the possibility of attributing the “I” of a medieval author to a historical individual. […] the “I” is not the name of an actual individual but essentially the product of a rhetorical operation, [and] the significatum of the first-person pronoun in medieval poetry cannot be presupposed by criticism. […] The “I”, which for many recent critics of “literary subjectivity” is what names an actual being, is precisely what, for many medieval authors, appears to express a fundamental anonymity: something without any determined nature or properties, a work of artifice and fiction in every sense. The definition of the “I” as the sign of an existing subject, which appears almost self-evident today, is therefore foreign to the texts of medieval literature.127

  • 128 Lee Patterson. “On the Margin: Postmodernism, Ironic History, and Medieval Studies”. Speculum, 65: (...)
  • 129 In Burckhardt’s formulation, the condescension is nearly overwhelming:
    In the Middle Ages the two si
    (...)
  • 130 Greenblatt bases his case on the notion that the Renaissance is responsible for establishing a sens (...)

58The syllogistic argument here is as familiar as it is threadbare: 1) Critics concur about their “uncertainty” over the meaning of “I” in medieval poetry. 2) The “I” appears to such critics to “express a fundamental anonymity”. 3) Therefore the “I” (as “the sign of an existing subject” or actual person) is “foreign to medieval texts”. The conclusion simply does not follow from the premises, but in arguments of this type that is almost irrelevant; the authoritative tone is intended to carry the day. The “I” is simply asserted to be “the product of a rhetorical operation”, without any argument or evidence being put forward to support this, and successive critics perform essentially this same maneuver in analyses of medieval poetry. Their thinking is is “governed to a remarkable degree by [Jacob] Burckhardt’s apparently ineradicable [nineteenth-century] assumption that in the Middle Ages ‘man was conscious of himself only as a member of a race, people, party, family, or corporation’”,128 a case that critics like Zumthor, Heller-Roazen, and Stone repeat practically word-for-word,129 and which forms one of the governing assumptions for Stephen Greenblatt’s much-contested book The Swerve.130 This repetition from one critic to the next functions as a kind of groupthink by which modern critics who mimic one another’s voices deny the individuality of medieval men and women:

  • 131 Patterson, 97.

What this fashionable prose produces is of course that most reactionary of accounts, a hierarchical Middle Ages in which not merely alternative modes of thought but thought per se is proscribed—an account that at one stroke wipes out not merely the complexity of medieval society but the centuries of struggle by which medieval men and women sought to remake their society.131

  • 132 G. B. Stone, 4.

59Following obediently along with his scholarly tribe, Stone then takes from Dante the idea that “Grammar, which is nothing else but a kind of unchangeable identity of speech in different times and places […] [has] been settled by the common consent of many peoples, [and] seems exposed to the arbitrary will of none in particular”132 before going on to make the crucial gesture of erasure:

  • 133 Ibid., 5.

The language of troubadour song is “grammatical” in the sense that it is universal: troubadour song, says Dante, “suffuses its perfume in every city, yet it has its lair in none”. The locus of song is everywhere in general and nowhere in particular, its place is no place. […] The language of troubadour love poetry does not permit the identification of its speaker as a certain historical and singular individual: the time and place of the I is no particular time and no particular place. Grammar or the language of song transcends the concrete historical situation; in Heideggerian terms, it is an ontological rather than an ontic language; it expresses Being in general rather than a certain particular being.133

60And thus, rather neatly, individual poets can be erased, and the passions their poems expressed can be transformed from those of living men and women to generalized expressions of “Being”, and love a passion between individuals who have been lifted clean out of time and existence no longer exists except as a function of “grammar”.

  • 134 William Blake. The Works of William Blake, Vol. 2, ed. by Edwin John Ellis and William Butler Yeats (...)
  • 135 G. B. Stone, 6.
  • 136 Ibid.
  • 137 An infinitely expandable and flexible principle whereby anything can be defined into or out of exis (...)
  • 138 G. B. Stone, 6.

61Such arguments, reducing individuality to generality, bring to mind William Blake’s statement that “[t]o generalize is to be an Idiot”.134 But to be fair, what is on display here is not so much idiocy as it is a carefully-constructed limiting of poetry’s ability to reach potential readers. Readings like those of Zumthor or Stone cannot erase the existence of the poems, and cannot prevent readers from reading the poems, but they do attempt to dictate the terms on which readers can understand those poems. This is one of the primary problems readers encounter in much of the literary scholarship and criticism of the last several decades—an insistence, exercised through analytical terms that seek to make disagreement either impossible or easily-dismissible as “naive” or “uninformed”, that poetry must be read against its apparent grain, that its human life and light must be drained out of it as it is transformed into an allegory for whatever the critic seeks to impose on readers. In Stone’s case, readers, if they are to avoid being naive, must understand these poems as mere artifacts of “an anonymous or universal language, as essentially identical to the language of others”,135 lifeless items that are “always repeating the same rather than saying something different, repeating the topoi, the conventions of courtly love poetry”.136 It comes as no surprise, then, that from this critical point of view, the expression of genuine human emotion is impossible, because for such a critic it seems that there is no genuine human emotion to be expressed in the first place. Making an argument that sounds like a distillation of Kafka’s nightmare scenarios of bureaucratic imprisonment and Joseph Heller’s Catch-22,137 Stone argues that the attempt to express individual emotions makes one precisely not individual. Citing Jonathan Culler’s work On Deconstruction as his authority, Stone delivers what he fancies is the death blow: “Saying ‘I love you’, […] is always a convention, a citation; it does not so much distinguish an individual as it makes him resemble everyone else”.138

  • 139 Lewis Carroll. Through the Looking Glass: And what Alice Found There (Philadelphia: Henry Altemus C (...)
  • 140 This idea can be seen, among other places, in Paul de Man’s assertion that language ultimately refe (...)

62Such a critical position takes a for thee but not for me stance, exempting itself as the special case to which its own reductive principles do not apply. My language, says the critic, signifies what I mean it to signify; as Humpty-Dumpty would have it: “When I use a word […] it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less”.139 The poet’s language, however, is merely “conventional”, a series of “tropes” that refer, not to any extra-linguistic reality, but to language itself.140 Thus, poetry always and only refers to poetry, revealing the inherent impossibility of its doing otherwise. But the work of the critic is never conceived as being subject to the same limitations— criticism does not refer only to itself, but claims authority over any and all other forms of discourse, including—and especially—the discourse of poetry. And like Plato, it seems that critics would deny poetry a place in their carefully-wrought Republic.

63There has been some resistance to this trend, notably from Sarah Kay, whose argument in Subjectivity in Troubadour Poetry tries to recover the notion that the “I” of troubadour lyric may, in fact, refer to actual persons:

  • 141 Sarah Kay. Subjectivity in Troubadour Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 212–13.

There is evidence of a relationship between the lyric first person and the characters of other medieval genres, which suggests that medieval readers were prepared to take the first person as referring to an ontological entity (a person). […] The subject then, can be read not just as a grammatical position, but as articulating a self.141

  • 142 Simon Gaunt and Sarah Kay. “Introduction”. In The Troubadours: An Introduction, ed. by Simon Gaunt (...)
  • 143 Ibid.
  • 144 L. T. Topsfield. Troubadours and Love (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), 39.

64Truly, a dizzyingly radical notion. Simon Gaunt and Sarah Kay have suggested that “perhaps the time has come now to reassess the nature of love in troubadour poetry and to take what the troubadours said about themselves seriously again”.142 The fact that such a statement needs to be made at all is remarkable. The critics here admit that they have dismissed the troubadours’ testimony about themselves, and confess that the trend has gone too far and gone on for too long: “[s]ince 1945 […] concerted efforts have been made to downplay (or at the very least to reinterpret) the significance of what made troubadour poetry famous in the first place: love”.143 Such efforts have a lengthy history, long preceding the period the critics here refer to, and a clear agenda in service of “the power which demands submission”.144

65But if the critics are set aside, it is easy to see that the troubadours celebrate love, often with a frank eroticism that is reminiscent of the Song of Songs. The troubadours celebrate love and desire in a way that is true to immediate experience, true to the life that men and women of flesh actually inhabit, an attitude that may have been an unexpected side-effect of the first Crusades:

  • 145 Lazar, 62.

[T]he crusaders had discovered the marvels across the seas with their own eyes. A new world had revealed itself to them: a civilization that was not Christian, that accorded a positive attitude to life on earth, that gave free expression to love and sensual pleasures rather than dwelling on sin, contrition, and penitence.145

  • 146 Ibid., 71.
  • 147 Ibid., 71–72.
  • 148 Ibid., 74.

66The troubadours are dedicated to an ethos that is “a secular unchristian idea of love […] a love dominated by a strong expression of sensuality and eroticism, free from any principle of sin and guilt, achristian and amoral in the context of prevalent church standards”.146 And though, as Lazar bemusedly notes, “[a] good number of scholars have attempted to allegorize it and represent it as essentially religious and mystical in nature” these arguments are little more than “a wishful denial of the adulterous tenor of fin’amor and an exercise in literary exorcism”.147 The troubadours do not—as Dante and Petrarch will do—climb a Neoplatonic ladder of love in search of God. In fact, “[i] n the fin’amor tradition of the twelfth century, one might say that God is always on the side of the adulterous lovers and never on that of the deceived husband”.148

67The troubadours and trobairitz write a poetry that insists love and life is to be experienced now, here, without unnecessary delay and needless obstacles. The beauty they celebrate is here, in living and breathing never-to-be-replicated individuals. In a sense, these poems illustrate the dynamic of the central scene in Raphael’s painting The School of Athens, where Plato and Aristotle walk together, while Plato points up to the heavens and Aristotle points down to the Earth to indicate where each man saw truth, beauty, and reality as having its origin. Unlike so many of the Italian and English poets who will follow them, the troubadours point—with Aristotle—to the Earth beneath their feet. In these poems, you are invited to see, not through an allegory or the doctrines of a philosophical position, but through a pair of eyes; and what these eyes are gazing into is not a gateway to a soul, or a vision of the love that moves the sun and the other stars—they are gazing with rapture and delight into the eyes of another person just like you.

III. The Troubadours and Love

68The roots of the troubadour poetic tradition are obscure. One prominent argument suggests that it is indebted to Spanish-Arabic poetry of the eleventh century in terms of its themes and motifs:

  • 149 Robert S. Briffault. The Troubadours (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1965), 25.

Spanish-Arabian poetry […] celebrates love as the highest form of happiness and the noblest source of inspiration; it sings of the beloved’s beauty, the sorrow of the rejected lover and the cruelty of the lady. It introduces new fashions in composition, as in its hymns to Spring. Anticipating Provençal lyrics by close on two centuries, Hispano-Moorish poetry was the only one, in Europe, to cultivate those themes and to exhibit those characteristics.149

  • 150 Elizabeth Salter. “Courts and Courtly Love”. In The Medieval World, ed. by David Daiches and Anthon (...)
  • 151 The translation used here is that of Michael Sells, in Maria Rosa Menocal, Shards of Love: Exile an (...)

69According to this interpretation, it was through “contacts with the courts of Aragon and Castile, […] intermarriage such as that of Guilhem of Poitou with Philippa of Aragon in 1094, and [ongoing] political dealings that knowledge of Hispano-Arabic love philosophies and love poetry of the tenth and eleventh centuries came to the courts and poets”150 of Occitania. We can see, if not direct influence, at least shared poetic genes, by looking at a Spanish Arabic poem contemporary to those of the troubadours. This twelfth-century work, “Gentle Now, Doves of the Thornberry and Moringa Thicket”, by a poet named Ibn Arabi,151 demonstrates many of the same themes of yearning and devotion to human, embodied love.

  • 152 Ibid., l. 6.
  • 153 Ibid., ll. 7–8
  • 154 Ibid., ll. 13–18.

70The poet fears the “sad cooing”152 of the doves will betray him, and asks them not to “reveal the love I hide/the sorrow I hide away”.153 This love, and its sorrow, leads to thoughts of “a grove of tamarisks” where “spirits wrestled, / bending the limbs down over me, / passing me away”, bringing him “yearning”, and “breaking of the heart”.154 The tamarisks may reference the story of Abraham, or as the Qur’án refers to him, Ibrahim, who plants a tamarisk grove in Genesis 21 as a recognition of the struggle, negotiation, and coming to peace in a property dispute between Abraham and Abimelech. The wrestling of the spirits could be those of the two ancient patriarchs, or it could be something more like the struggle captured in the story of Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, who wrestles, not with an angel, but with El (God) himself, reflected in the name he is given in Genesis 32:28 after the dusk-to-dawn wrestling match, “Israel”, or, “he struggled with God”. Perhaps this captures part of Arabi’s suggestion, but references to “yearning” and “breaking of the heart”, raise the possibility that something more intimate and personal is happening. Is it more of an internal struggle, the spirit who took me and forced me to struggle with and confront my own yearning? Perhaps the spirit Arabi is wrestling with is the difficulty he experiences in discovering the meaning of his own yearnings, the desires that dogmatic religion would tell him to reject.

  • 155 Ibid., ll. 39–40.
  • 156 Ibid., ll. 35–36.
  • 157 Ibid., ll. 57–60.

71This wrestling leads Arabi through images of a “faithless” woman “who dyes herself red with henna”,155 a person (perhaps a tradition) practiced in taking the devotion of another, soaking it up, and then throwing that other away. The image evokes a woman who soaks up a dying man’s blood with her own hair, draining the life of a fool who gave it in return for nothing. Finally, Arabi comes to the extremity of saying that “the house of stone” (a house of worship blessed by the Prophet of Islam) pales in comparison to “a man or a woman”.156 The Ka’bah, the cubic building in Mecca that is circled seven times counterclockwise—what does that mean, what significance does that hold, when compared to the living reality of the man or woman standing in front of you? Even the sacred books, the Torah, the Qur’án, are held lightly next to what Arabi calls “the religion of love”, pledging that “wherever its caravan turns along the way, / that is the belief, / the faith I keep”.157 What the poem suggests is the necessity of struggling with and accepting one’s own yearnings before coming to a place of peace. We are not sinful because we desire; we are not broken because we want. This is an emphatically humane vision.

  • 158 Menocal, 75.
  • 159 William Blake. “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”. In The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake(...)

72While this poem is not exactly the same in its emphasis as the troubadour poems, it makes precisely the same kinds of people uncomfortable: “the poem is the ‘yes and no’ that makes the Averroist—and all other priests—blanch […] [due to its] intractable and purposeful blurring of sacred and profane love”.158 The power in this work is that of the individual perspective, of singular passion, of the realization that there is something more important in this world than can be found in the traditional symbols and institutions of law, religion, state, and family. Each of these speak a language that essentially boils down to the same demand: “obey”. But the “religion of love” is not about obeying. It is about being led where passion, insight, and desire lead you—the path Blake called “the road of excess” which “leads to the palace of wisdom”.159

  • 160 Topsfield, 12–13.

73The road of excess was the favored highway of the first troubadour poet, Guilhem IX, the duke of Aquitaine and Count of Poitou (modern Poitiers). He was a man who did not care for any authority other than his own—twice excommunicated from the Church, on the first occasion he threatened to behead the bishop who pronounced the sentence, only to think better of it and tell the cleric whose neck was already extended for the sword’s blow: “you shall never enter Heaven with the help of my hand”. The second time, Guilhem was excommunicated for refusing to give up his mistress, the Viscountess of Châtellraut, telling the bald bishop of Angoulême that “the comb shall curl your wayward hair before I give up the Viscountess”.160

  • 161 Helen Castor. She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth (London: Faber and Faber, 20 (...)

74Guilhem was a man of action and of words, who had a “sardonic wit: he ordered that his mistress’s portrait should be painted on his shield […] declaring that ‘it was his will to bear her in battle as she had borne him in bed’”.161 His poems combine frank enjoyment of sex with longing for love, but the clearest indication of his preference for love in deeds rather than merely in words can be seen in the final lines of his poem Ab la dolchor del temps novel (In the sweetness of the new times):

  • 162 Guillaume IX. Les Chansons de Guillaume IX, Duc d’Aquitaine, ed. by Alfred Jeanroy (Paris: Honoré C (...)

Que tal se van d’ amor gaban
Nos n’avem la pessa e · l coutel.
162
Those others vainly talk of love
But we have a piece [of bread], and a knife.

75Love was not sublimated in worship for Guilhem—its passions were raw, and its excitements were those of the heart, the eyes, and the senses. In Farai chansoneta nueva (I will write a new song), Guilhem asks what the use could possibly be in withdrawing from the world of life, love, and pleasure:

Qal pro y auretz, s’ieu m’enclostre
E no · m retenetz per vostre?
Totz lo joys del mon es nostre,
Dompna, s’amduy nos amam.
163

What can it bring you if I cloister myself
And you do not keep me for your own?
All the joys of the world are ours
Lady, if we love each other in turn.

76This idea of lovers loving each other in turn is one of the first and most basic elements of the concept that will come to be called fin’amor. As the later poet Bernart de Ventadorn argues, love must be mutual in order for it to be true.

77Though Guilhem wishes for a mutual love, he also wishes for a physical love, and the physicality of his desire is made clear in a number of places. In Ben vuelh que sapchon li pluzor (I want everyone to know), he writes of “a bawdy game” (“un joc grossier”)—in which, after being told “your dice are too small” (“vostre dat som menudier”), he “raised the table” (“levat lo taulier”) and then “tossed the dice” (“empeis los datz”), upon which toss “two of them rolled and the third plumbed the depths” (“duy foron cairavallier / e∙l terz plombatz”).164 A poem in which a man attempts to prove that two of his “dice” are not too small for that third one to plombatz is not a poem with any great allegorical potential. Neither is Companho faray un vers… convinen (I will make a poem as it should be), in which Guilhem compares two mistresses to horses he greatly enjoys riding:165

Dos cavalhs ai a ma selha ben e gen;
Bon son e adreg per armas e valen;
Mas no ls puesc amdos tener que l’us l’autre non cossen.
Si ls pogues adomesjar e mon talen,
Ja no volgra alhors mudar mon guarnimen,
Que miels for’ encavalguatz de nuill [autr’] ome viven.
166

I have two horses, noble and good for my saddle:
Good and strong in combat and valor;
But I can’t keep both, because they hate each other.
If I could tame them to my desire,
I would not move my equipment anywhere else,
For I would be mounted better than any man alive.

78In Ab la dolchor del temps novel, Guilhem prays for nothing so much as the gift of more life, and more erotic love—not in words, but in the deeds forbidden by the churchmen who speak in “foreign Latin”:

Enquer me lais Dieus viure tan
C’aja mas manz soz so mantel.
Qu’eu non ai soing d’estraing lati
Que · m parta de mon Bon Vezi.167

God give me a life long enough
To get my hands beneath her dress.
For I have no fear that foreign Latin
Will part me from my Good Neighbor.

79This is not “courtly love”. This is the expression of frankly physical desire. The first troubadour was not a man who regarded love as a path to the divine, or the woman right in front of him as a window through which he should learn to see God. For the passionate and sometimes violent Guilhem, love was a crucial part of a life here and now that is to be celebrated without apology and without genuflection to gods above or devils below. Love—in all its emotional and physical glories—needed no justification. Guilhem was a man many modern academics would not like, and the feeling would probably be mutual.

  • 168 Topsfield, 27.
  • 169 Ibid.
  • 170 Sarah Spence, for example, insists that “the lady here is presented as a Christ figure” (Texts and (...)
  • 171 “Per lo cor dedins refrescar / E per la carn renovellar” (Guillaume IX, 23, ll. 34–35, https://arch (...)
  • 172 Topsfield, 36.

80Ab la dolchor del temps novel is a poem that openly praises “the physical love which can be desired, hoped for, shared and enjoyed”.168 The poem’s “switch from delicacy” to “rough desire” is “characteristic of Guilhem and intentional”—especially in the “jest at those who talk and never do”,169 where Guilhem anticipated at least a few of his later critics. In Mout jauzens me prenc en amar (I take a great joy in love), a favorite of those commentators who try to squeeze Guilhem into the category of “courtly love”,170 he writes of keeping love for himself, “to refresh the heart / and renew the flesh”,171 in verses that present “all excellence in physical reality”.172 And yet, Guilhem had something of the sceptic of Ecclesiastes about him, as if desire’s fulfillment would never really bring him what he hoped for. In Pus vezem de novel florir (Since we see new blossoms), Guilhem complains:

Per tal n’ai meyns de bon saber
Quar vuelh so que no puesc aver
173

So I know less than any what is good
Because I want what I cannot get.

81This scepticism leads him to the position (adopted perhaps, only in his more reflective of moments) that Tot is niens—all is nothing, rather in the fashion of Koheleth, from Ecclesiastes 1:14:

רָאִ֙יתִי֙ אֶת־ כָּל־ הַֽמַּעֲשִׂ֔ים שֶֽׁנַּעֲשׂ֖וּ תַּ֣חַת הַשָּׁ֑מֶשׁ וְהִנֵּ֥ה הַכֹּ֛ל הֶ֖בֶל וּרְע֥וּת רֽוּחַ׃

I have seen all the works done beneath the sun; behold, all are vanity, a striving after the wind.

  • 174 Topsfield, 30.
  • 175 Ibid. Reddy repeats this distinction throughout his discussion of Guilhem’s poetry (92–104).
  • 176 Ibid., 39.

82In Topsfield’s view, “Guilhem appears to reject Amors as an embryonic regulated system of courtly wooing. He is dissatisfied with it and the small amount of Jois it affords. He stands to one side and looks for the Jois which is the reward of each individual man”,174 an individual man who loves, wholly and physically, an individual woman, but not in accordance with anyone’s expected code of behavior, courtly or otherwise. Discussion of this poem has long been divided over whether it is “a burlesque” or “a serious love lyric”.175 The dichotomy is a false one, reflecting a Neoplatonic, anti-body, anti-sex bias. For Guilhem, the so-called burlesques (a term imposed by scholars) and the so-called serious love lyrics (another imposition) are expressions of different aspects of the same desire: “He desires the joys of shared love, and that the lady shall belong to him, and he to her”.176

  • 177 Ibid.

83Guilhem was a man who bristled at restrictions, found the claims of those who would tell him what to do intolerable and absurd, and wanted to find a way to achieve and maintain Jois, an “individual happiness” in a world in which Amor was constantly threatened with extinction.177 In that way, Guilhem embodies both the troubadours’ distinctiveness and that which made them a threat to be eliminated by thirteenth-century Crusaders and Inquisitors, or an embarrassing excess to be allegorized away by the Akibas and Origens of the modern academy. These poets sought for a way to find Jois in a world of rules, laws, and demands for obedience; they sought—even in what many scholars insist on describing as “conventional” language—to find a way to express a new (or long-suppressed) desire, not for stability or order, not for matrimony and fidelity, but for love: mutual, embodied, and not to be abandoned at the commands of any bishop, bald or otherwise.

84The mutuality of fin’amor, the love sought and celebrated by the troubadours, is wonderfully expressed by Marcabru, a poet often described as a moralist who condemned the excesses of court life. But in Per savil tenc ses doptanssa (Doubtless, I think him wise), he defines what he calls bon’Amors (good love, or the best love) as “two desires in a single longing” (“dos desirs d’un enveia”),178 and further identifies Jois as one of the benefits of fin’amor or bon’Amors, which itself is “the assured happiness of a love which does not deceive”, a love that is wholly “without deceit and cannot be degraded”.179 What Marcabru rails against is what he calls “false love against true” (“Falss’ Amor encontra fina”), condemning “the group of liars” (“la gen frairina”) who slander love, and the man “whose love lives by rape and pillage” (“car s’Amors viu de rapina”).180 Marcabru finally curses all such liars and defamers of fin’amor:

La cuida per qu’el bobanssa
li sia malaventura.
181

Let the ideas they are so proud of
bring them to bad ends.

  • 182 Charles Camproux argues that mutuality and equality are the primary characteristics of fin’amor: “C (...)

85From the troubadours themselves, we see emerging at this point a definition of fin’amor that is comprised of mutual desire between lovers, honesty, and a refusal to let love be defined by social convention, or become a vehicle of self-interest and rapina.182 As Topsfield explains:

  • 183 Topsfield, 103.

[B]ehind Marcabru’s Fin’amors there is also the idea of man as part of the nature which was created by God, and able to respond entirely to this nature that has been given to him […]. His merit is that he […] can assimilate his carnal desire, which is his God-given natura, to a higher concept of love, Fin’amors, which is constant and free from deceit.183

86Here we have a poet for whom human natura is not inherently wicked, for whom carnal sexuality is not fallen, and the body is not shameful. If there is a “heresy” here, it is not the “Gnostic” view of the Cathars, but the rather gentler “Pelagian” view—a belief that human nature is not fallen and that the world is a good and beautiful place. The fact that this is a “heresy” speaks volumes about the perversity of “orthodoxy”.

87From Marcabru, then, we can add another element to our definition of fin’amor: the mutuality of bodily and sexual desire between equal partners. The mutual desire between lovers is both physical and emotional. It is not merely a repressed or sublimated eros; it is the fully and powerfully physical expression of love and desire, combined with mutual choice and honesty. It is a love which does not live by rapina, by taking, forcing, pillaging, raping. It is a love in which we can see dos desirs d’un’ enveia, one longing formed from two desires, one heart formed from two.

  • 184 Colin Morris. The Discovery of the Individual, 1050–1200 (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), 113.

88One reason that Marcabru is often referred to as a moralist may be because of his oft-made distinction between fin’amor and fals’amor (or Amar). He is angry with those who would turn love into a tool of rapina, those for whom the pairings between lovers are either merely about lust (Amar), or for whom money and power are the primary motivations for their pairings (a dynamic that will become all too familiar in Shakespeare’s plays). For Marcabru, such people see the world as fragmented, frait, rather than whole, entier. To adopt the path of wholeness requires both body and mind, sexual desire and honesty, a synthesis of the physical and spiritual that subordinates neither, an intermingling we will see best exemplified by the centuries-later poetry of John Donne, in a dynamic he calls a “dialogue of one”. This search for wholeness and Jois was not a disguised religious quest. The troubadours wrote “a poetry of desire, telling of the poet’s joy or sorrow as he waits for his [earthly and embodied] reward”, a point perpetually—and it seems deliberately—misconstrued by critics who argue for “the conclusion that the poets, amid their perpetual longing, did not desire physical intercourse with the beloved. Most of them […] frankly said that they did. The love of which they spoke was a physical one”.184

89Bernart de Ventadorn, perhaps the most passionate of all the troubadour poets, even regards love as a necessity for survival: in Non es meravelha s’eu chan (It is no marvel if I sing), Bernart writes that one who does not know love is already dead:

  • 185 Bernart de Ventadorn. Bernart von Ventadorn, seine Lieder, mit Einleitung und Glossar, ed. by Carl (...)

Ben es mortz qui d’amor no sen
al cor cal que dousa sabor.
185

He is truly dead who has no sense of love
or its sweet savor in his heart.

90Bernart further develops the theme of mutual love and desire that we have seen in Guilhem and Marcabru. In Chantars no pot gaire valer (A song can have no value), Bernart defines fin’amor as agreement and wanting between two lovers:

En agradar et en voler
es l’amors de dos fis amans.
nula res no i pot pro tener,
si∙lh voluntatz non es egaus.
186

In pleasing and in wanting
is the love of two noble lovers.
Nothing in it can be good
If the will is not mutual.

  • 187 Morris, 115.
  • 188 Charles Homer Haskins. The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Pr (...)
  • 189 Ibid.
  • 190 Morris, 113.

91For Bernart, “[i]t was love which gave purpose to life.,187 and for him, as for other vernacular poets of the twelfth century, the love poetry of Ovid had a tremendous influence, serving as “the highest authority in matters pertaining to love”.188 This poetic ethos differs from that of the later Italian poets, in whom one finds “the usual attempt to allegorize and point a moral”.189 Bernart, who “goes far outside the conventional into the language of passion”,190 is perhaps the best example among the troubadours of this passionate and non-allegorical ethos.

92To see how Bernart both uses and transcends the “conventional”, look at the first stanza of his poem Can l’erba fresch’elh folha par:

Can l’erba fresch’e∙lh folha par
e la flors boton’el verjan,
e∙l rossinhols autet e clar
leva sa votz e mou so chan,
joi ai de lui, e joi ai de la flor
e joi de me e de midons major;
daus totas partz sui de joi claus e sens,
mas sel es jois que totz autres jois vens.
191

When fresh grass and leaves appear
And flowers bloom among the orchards,
And the nightingales, high and clear,
Lift their voices, pouring out their songs;
Joy to them and joy to the flowers,
And joy to me, and to my Lady even more,
Joy is all around me; Joy enfolds my mind,
But here my joy quite overwhelms the rest.

93By the time Bernart is writing this, in the mid to late twelfth-century, this is already a familiar opening. We see it reflected later in Chaucer: the opening reference to springtime, the budding of growth, and the reawakening of nature. Chaucer writes his famous opening lines to the Canterbury Tales, “Whan that April, with his shoures soote, / The drought of March hath perced to the roote”, some two hundred and forty years after Bernart, but Bernart has already perfected the metaphor. The difference is that Bernart, unlike Chaucer, powerfully places himself (pace Zumthor and the “no-medieval-I” chorus) into the love narrative of his poems. The main theme is the repeated expression of the painful effect of the passion he feels, the desire that he has for a woman, the lady Aliu Anor, better known as Eleanor of Aquitaine. According to the vida (the later biography of Bernart, ostensibly written by Uc de Saint Circ), the love was mutual:

  • 192 William D. Paden and Frances Freeman Paden, trans. Troubadour Poems from the South of France (Cambr (...)

Bernart de Ventadorn […] went to the duchess of Normandy, who was young and of great merit, and devoted herself to reputation and honor and praise. And the songs and verses of Sir Bernart pleased her very much, and she received him and welcomed him warmly. He stayed in her court a long time, and fell in love with her and she with him, and he made many good songs about her. And while he was with her, King Henry of England took her as his wife and took her from Normandy and led her to England. Sir Bernart remained on this side [of the Channel], sad and grieving, and went to the good Count Raymond of Toulouse, and stayed with him until the count died. And because of that grief, Sir Bernart entered the order of Dalon, and there he died.192

  • 193 Ibid.

94The vidas are later and often fanciful accounts of the poets’ lives, but “some elements of the vida may be true”.193 If true, Bernart finds himself in an impossible situation. He has developed an urgent passion for a woman of wealth, nobility, and power, a woman whose station far exceeds either his reach or his grasp. And though the poems suggest that perhaps this passion was requited at some point, Bernart often appears to berate himself over the ridiculous inequality in terms of rank, wealth, influence, and power between himself and his beloved.

95The passion that is gently suggested in Arabi’s poem is frank and open in Bernart’s work. In Can l’erba fresch’e∙lh folha par, Bernart fervently wishes for the opportunity to find his lover alone:

Be la volgra sola trobar,
que dormis, o∙n fezes semblan,
per qu’e∙lh embles un doutz baizar,
pus no valh tan qu’eu lo∙lh deman.
per Deu, domna, pauc esplecham d’amor!
194

I yearn to find her all alone,
Asleep, or merely seeming so,
Because I’d steal the sweet kiss
That I am not worthy to ask for.
By God, my Lady, we have little success in love!

96Bernart cannot act on his desires because of the difference in station between himself and his love:

Tan am midons e la tenh char,
e tan la dopt’e la reblan
c’anc de me no∙lh auzei parlar,
ni re no∙lh quer ni re no · lh man.
195

I so love and cherish my lady,
That I am afraid and draw back;
I do not speak of myself in her hearing,
Nor do I ask for anything from her.

97This poem is both sexually and socially transgressive. While many of the troubadours are knights and minor nobles, a number of them are referred to as Joglars (from which we get our word juggler), mere performers, like Bernart, who have nothing else to fall back on. Such performers, because of their art, are invited into circles to which they would normally have no access. In Bernart’s case, the singer/poet has fallen in love with the epitome of the unattainable woman. And yet, desire cannot and will not be reasoned with:

S’eu saubes la gen enchantar,
mei enemic foran efan,
que ja us no saubra triar
ni dir re que∙ns tornes a dan.
adoncs sai eu que vira la gensor
e sos bels olhs e sa frescha color,
e baizera∙lh la bocha en totz sens,
si que d’un mes i paregra lo sens.
196

If I knew how to cast a spell;
I’d turn my enemies into infants,
So none of them could understand
Gossip, or play its hurtful games.
Then I could see how nobly she turned
Her beautiful eyes, with their vibrant color,
I’d kiss her mouth so sensually,
The mark would show for a month.

98Though one is tempted to paraphrase Rosalind from As You Like It try the day, without the month— that final image is fascinating. How hard would you have to kiss someone for the effects to show after an hour, much less a month?

99Such foolishness as Bernart’s could have serious—even life and death—consequences. The most famous story that illustrates the high stakes of the loves the troubadour poets celebrate comes from the vida of Guilhem de Cabestanh:

  • 197 Paden, 186.

Guilhem de Cabestanh [loved] a lady who was called My Lady Sermonda, the wife of Sir Raimon del Castel de Roussillon, who was very rich and noble and wicked and cruel and proud. […] And the lady, who was young and noble and beautiful and pleasing, loved him more than anything else in the world. And this was told to Raimon del Castel de Roussillon, and he, like a wrathful and jealous man, investigated the story and learned that it was true and had his wife guarded closely. And one day, Raimon del Castel de Roussillon found Guillem eating without much company and killed him and drew his heart from his body and had a squire carry it to his lodging and had it roasted and prepared with a pepper sauce and had it given to his wife to eat. And when the lady had eaten it, the heart of Sir Guilhem de Cabestanh, Sir Raimon told her what it was. When she heard this, the lady lost sight and hearing. And when she came around, she said, “Lord, you have given me such a good meal that I will never eat another”. And when he heard what she said, he ran to his sword and tried to strike her on the head, and she went to the balcony and let herself fall, and she died.197

  • 198 Barbara Smythe. Trobador Poets: Selections from the Poems of Eight Trobadors (New York: Cooper Squa (...)

100This story is difficult to credit as anything like literal truth, but it does go hand in hand with other stories of the risks taken by troubadour poets in their declarations of adulterous love. Another poet, Peire Vidal, is said to have had his tongue cut out by the husband of his love: “a knight of Saint Gili cut out his tongue because he gave out that he was his wife’s lover”.198

  • 199 [In] the dawn song (Middle High German tagelied, Old Provençal alba, Old French aube) […] two lover (...)

101The poetic evidence for the danger of the adulterous passions the troubadours celebrated comes through most strongly from the alba, the dawn song, in which two adulterous lovers are guarded by a watchman whose job it is to warn them of the coming of the first rays of morning.199 The night, which has been the lovers’ shelter and given them opportunity to act on their mutual desire, is too short, and the dawn, which comes all too soon, threatens to expose the lovers to the jealousy and violent reprisals of the angry husband. The most famous example is the anonymous poem, En un vergier sotz fuella d’albespi:

  • 200 Matilda Tomaryn Bruckner, Laurie Shepard, and Sarah White, eds. Songs of the Women Troubadours (New (...)

En un vergier sotz fuella d’albespi
tenc la dompna son amic costa si
tro la gayta crida que l’alba vi,
Oy Dieus! Oy Dieus! de l’alba tan tost ve.
“Plagues a Dieu ia la nueitz non falhis
ni∙l mieus amicx lonc de mi no∙s partis
ni la gayta iorn ni alba no vis,
Bels dous amicx, baizem nos yeu e vos
aval e∙ls pratz on chanto∙ls auzellos
tot o fassam en despieg de gilos,
Oy Dieus! Oy Dieus! de l’alba tan tost ve.
Bels dous amicx, fassam un ioc novel
yns el iardi on chanton li auzel
tro la gaita toque son caramelh,
Oy Dieus! Oy Dieus! de l’alba tan tost ve.
Per la doss’aura qu’es venguda de lay
del mieu amic belh e cortes e gay
del sieu alen ai begut un dous ray,
Oy Dieus! Oy Dieus! de l’alba tan tost ve”.
La dompna es agradans e plazens
per sa beutat la gardon mantas gens
et a son cor en amar leyalmens,
Oy Dieus!
Oy Dieus! de l’alba tan tost ve.200

In an orchard under leaves of hawthorn
the lady holds her lover beside her
until the watchman cries out the coming of dawn,
O God! O God! the dawn, it comes too soon.
Please God, do not let the night end already
nor let my lover part from my side
nor let the watchman see the dawn,
Fair sweet friend, let us kiss, you and I,
down in the meadow where the songbirds sing,
let us do all this in spite of that jealous man.
O God! O God! the dawn, it comes too soon.
Fair sweet friend, let us play a new game
in the garden where the songbirds sing
until the watchman plays his pipe.
O God! O God! the dawn, it comes too soon.
For the gentle breeze which comes from there
from my lover, beautiful, and courteous, and merry,
of his breath I have drunk a sweet ray of sun.
O God! O God! the dawn, it comes too soon.
The lady is delightful and pleasing
And many admire her for her beauty,
and for her heart which is true in love.
O God! O God! the dawn, it comes too soon.

102The pathos of this poem is haunting, nearly nine centuries later. Two lovers, who choose each other in the face of law, arranged marriages, social convention, church doctrine, and the very real possibility of getting caught and punished, wish the night could last just a few moments longer. Only in the darkness is their freedom possible, only at night can they feel the one they love next to them, hear the rise and fall of breath, and know themselves as one and at peace. But with light comes the law, with light come the claims of ownership and property, church and state. The watchman cries out the coming of dawn so that the lovers can escape undetected, and hopefully, live to love again another night. The evident frustration in these poems is fueled by the absurdity of being unable to love the one of your choice except under the cover of darkness and lies. This poem expresses an idea we can see as early as the Song of Songs: the right to decide for oneself, and the insistence that love is a personal choice, a potentially risky enterprise engaged with, and embarked upon, by two partners.

103The same constellation of ideas is powerfully expressed in the tagelieder (dawn songs) of the Minnesingers (love singers) from Germany, perhaps most memorably by the late-twelfth and early-thirteenth-century poet Wolfram von Eschenbach in his Den morgenblic bî wahtaeres sange erkôs:

  • 201 Wolfram von Eschenbach. Werke, ed. by Karl Lachmann (Berlin: G. Reimer, 1879), 3–4, https://books.g (...)

Den morgenblic bî wahtaeres sange erkôs
ein froue, dâ si tougen
an ir werden friundes arme lac;
dâ von si… freuden vil verlôs.
des muosen liehtiu ougen
aver nazzen. sî sprach ‘ôwê tac!
wilde und zam daz frewet sich dîn
und siht dich gerne,
wan ich ein. wie sol iz mir ergên!
nu enmac niht langer hie bî mir bestên
mîn vriunt: den jaget von mir dîn schîn’.
Der tac mit kraft al durh diu venster dranc.
vil slôze si besluzzen:
daz half niht: des wart in sorge kunt.
diu friundîn den vriunt vast an sich dwanc:
ir ougen diu beguzzen
ir beider wangel. sus sprach zim ir munt.
‘Zwei herze und ein lip hân wir
gar ungescheiden:
unser triuwe mit ein ander vert.
der grôzen liebe der bin ich gar vil verhert,
wan sô du kumest und ich zuo dir’.
Der trûric man nam urloup balde alsus.
ir liehten vel diu slehten
kômen nâher. sus der tac erschein.
weindiu ougen, süezer frouen kus.
sus kunden sî dô vlehten
ir munde, ir brüste, ir arme, ir blankiu bein:
swelch schiltaer entwurfe daz
geselleclîche
als si lâgn, des waere ouch dem genuoc.
ir beider liebe doch vil sorgen truoc.
si pflâgen minne ân allen haz.
201

The morning light shone, and the Watchman sang,
while a lady secretly
lay in the arms of her lover.
Because of this, she lost all her joy,
and her moist though beaming eyes
filled with tears. She said, ‘Alas, day!
everything that lives, wild and tame, rejoices over you
and longs to see you,
except for me. What will become of me?
Now my beloved can no longer stay here with me,
for your light chases my lover away.
The day shone powerfully through the windows,
and though they bolted many locks,
they were of no use against sorrow.
The lady pressed her lover tight,
and her eye’s flowing tears
made both cheeks wet. She spoke to him with her lips:
“Two hearts and only one body we have.
Inseparable,
we remain truly connected to each other.
My whole happiness in love is destroyed,
unless you come back to me and I to you”.
The sorrowful man would soon have departed,
but their bright, smooth bodies
came close again, although the day already shone.
With weeping eyes, and the sweet lady’s kiss,
they intertwined themselves,
mouths, breasts, arms and their bright white legs.
Any painter who wanted to represent
their companionship
as they lay beside each other, would be overwhelmed.
Although their love caused them great care,
they gave themselves entirely to each other.

  • 202 “The type first appears in a poem by Dietmar von Aist […], the earliest Minnesinger who seems to ha (...)
  • 203 Dietmar von Aist and Wolfram von Eschenbach were two of the most crucial figures in the development (...)

104In what may well be the earliest example of a tagelied poem,202 Slâfest du, friedel ziere, Dietmar von Aist203 powerfully expresses the pain of separation at dawn:

  • 204 Dietmar von Aist. “Slâfest du, friedel ziere”. In Des minnesangs frühling, ed. by Friedrich Vogt (L (...)

“Slâfest du, friedel ziere
man wecket uns leider schiere:
ein vogellîn sô wol getân
daz ist der linden an daz zwî gegân”.
“Ich was vil sanfte entslâfen:
nu rüefestu kint Wâfen.
liep âne leit mac niht gesîn.
swaz du gebiutest, daz leiste ich, friundîn mîn”.
Diu frouwe begunde weinen.
“Du rîtest und lâst mich einen.
wenne wilt du wider her zuo mir?
ôwê, du füerest mîn fröude sament dir!”
204

“Do you sleep still, my dearest love?
Unfortunately, we will both soon awake.
A most beautiful songbird
Has flown into the branches of the tree”.
“I slept gently in your arms,
until you called:
child, awake!
Love without suffering cannot be:
what you command, I will do, my love”.
The Lady began to cry:
“You ride away and leave me alone.
When will you return to me again?
Alas, you take my joy away with you!”

105In the alba and the tagelied, the lady and her lover are opposed by the entire structure of the European world in which marriage is a contractual arrangement of property, while at the lower social and economic levels it finds its raison d’etre in the pretense of avoiding the “sin” of fornication.

Codex Manesse, UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, fol. 314v Herr Günther von dem Vorste (between 1305 and 1315).205

  • 206 Catholic theologians are referring to marriage as a sacrament as early as the twelfth century, thou (...)
  • 207 οὖν Θεὸς συνέζευξεν, ἄνθρωπος μὴ χωριζέτω”.
  • 208 Though they are a minority, within the Church there are voices at this time beginning to speak up f (...)

106It becomes a sacrament of the church, controlled by religion, government, and God.206 As Matthew 19:6, written during the height of the Roman Imperial era, puts it, “What, therefore, God has joined together, let no man tear apart”.207 Where is the choice for those who are married? In the dawn songs like En un vergier sotz fuella d’albespi, and Den morgenblic bî wahtaeres sange erkôs, we see the awareness that there can be a choice.208 But the awareness is painful because it comes with the knowledge of being profoundly trapped. Two hearts and only one body we have, but O God, the dawn! It comes too soon! The dawn comes, demands a return to obedience and conformity and custom, and the “one body” of the lovers torn back in two by the harsh light of day.

107None of this is the “courtly love” of Victorian scholarly invention. Neither are the poems written by the two poets below, who each found love famously vexing. The twelfth-century troubadour, Raimbaut d’Aurenga writes with frank and playful passion. In Non chant per auzel ni per flor (I do not sing for bird or flower), Raimbaut references the conventional vernal opening to Troubadour poetry by renouncing it. He then writes directly and openly of his physical desire for his lover, and the joy he takes in her:

  • 209 Victoria Cirlot, ed. Antología de textos románicos medievales: siglos XII–XIII (Barcelona: Edicions (...)

Ben aurai, dompna, grand honor
Si ja de vos m’ es jutgada
Honranssa que sotz cobertor
Vos tenga nud’ embrassada;
Car vos valetz las meillors cen!
Q’ieu non sui sobregabaire –
Sol del pes ai mon cor gauzen
Plus que s’era emperaire!209

It shall be, Lady, a great honor
if you will grant me
the benefit under the covers
Of having you in naked embrace;
for you are worth more than a hundred;
And though I do not boast:
At this thought alone my heart joys
more than were I the emperor.

108The trobairitz Comtessa de Dia writes in much the same frankly erotic fashion in the poem Estat ai en greu cossirier, in which she is explicit about her desire to replace her husband with her lover:

  • 210 Bruckner, et al., 10.

Estat ai en greu cossirier
per un cavallier qu’ai agut,
e vuoil sia totz temps saubut
cum ieu l’ai amat a sobrier.
Ara vei qu’ieu sui trahida
car ieu non li donei m’amor,
don ai estat en gran error
en lieig e quan sui vestida.
Ben volria mon cavallier
tener un ser en mos bratz nut,
qu’el s’en tengra per ereubut
sol qu’a lui fezes cosseillier;
car plus m’en sui abellida
no fetz Floris de Blancheflor;
ieu l’autrei mon cor e m’amor,
mon sen, mos huoills e ma vida.
Bels amics avinens e bos,
cora∙us tenrai en mos poder,
e que iagues ab vos un ser,
e que∙us des un bais amoros?
Sapchatz, gran talan n’auria
qu∙us tengues en luoc del marit
ab so que m’aguessetz plevit
de far tot so qu’eu volria.210

I have been in great distress
about a knight I once had,
I want it known for all time
how much I loved him
but now, I feel betrayed
because I did not tell him of my love
and I am in great torment
naked in my bed or fully dressed.
If only I could hold my knight
naked in my arms until the dawn,
drunk with my beauty
he’d feel like he was in paradise;
for I am more in love with him
than Floris was with Blancheflor;
I give him my heart and my love,
my mind, my eyes, and my life.
Sweet lover, so charming and so good,
when will I have you in my power
to lie with you at night
and give you all my passionate kisses?
Know this for certain, I greatly desire
to have you in my husband's place
as soon as you will promise me
to do everything I desire.

109This isn’t spiritualized adoration. These two poets do not sing for birds or flowers, and in this breaking away from the conventional opening of lyric poetry, these poets also break away from sexual, social, and even psychological convention. These poets write of lovers who choose. What else can those last lines mean, “as soon as you will promise me / to do everything I desire”, except come take me, especially after the euphemistic line “to have you in my husband's place” (quus tengues en luoc del marit)? The poets express the anxiety that they may not get the opportunity to act on their desires. For Raimbaut:

  • 211 Cirlot, 151–52, ll. 46–48.

Qu’il fetz a son marit crezen
C’anc hom que nasques de maire
Non toques en lieis.—Mantenen
Atrestal podetz vos faire!211

She made her husband believe
That no man born of woman
Could say he had touched her. Soon
You will be able to prove the same thing of me!

110In Raimbaut’s poem, thinking of his lover, and comparing her situation to that of the legendary Isolde, he bases his hopes on a deception that may or may not succeed. In the Comtessa de Dia’s poem, she has been “in great distress”, feels “betrayed”, and suffers “in bed or fully dressed”.

111The poems by the troubadours, even the myths that surround them, belie any notion that the love of which they write is a decorous matter of rules and codes, of obedience demanded and given. Their poems are filled with desire, frustration, joy, despair, and the tantalizing possibility of freedom, of choice, of life lived, not spent in mechanical compliance with the expectations of others. These are poems of rebellion, not obedience, of chaos, not conformity. Perhaps this can best be illustrated by returning briefly to Bertran de Born, the warrior troubadour more famous for poems of war than for poems of love and desire. Even Bertran reflects something of the larger troubadour ethos in Be∙m platz lo gais temps de pascor (I Am Pleased by the Gay Season of Spring), a celebration of war and love in which he mocks the entire notion of sin:

  • 212 Betran de Born, 343, ll. 51–60.

Amors vol drut cavalgador
bon d’armas e larc de servir,
gen parlan e gran donador
e tal qi sapcha far e dir
fors e dinz son estatge
segon lo poder qi l’es datz.
E sia d’avinen solatz,
cortes e d’ agradatge.
E domna c’ab aital drut jaz
es monda de totz sos pechatz.
212

Love wants a knightly rider for a lover,
good with arms and generous in service,
noble in speech and a lavish giver
one who knows what to
say and what to do
outside and inside his realm
according to the ability he has been given.
Let him be attractive, a good fit,
elegant and pleasing,
and the lady who lies with such a lover
is cleansed of all her sins.

  • 213 Zumthor, 170.
  • 214 G. B. Stone, 4.
  • 215 Ibid., 5.

112For Bertran, love is not a sin; he laughs at the idea. Love is physical and vigorous—like war. Clearly, he doesn’t think war is a sin; it’s his favorite thing on earth, the very reason for living. For Bertran, the lover should be a great warrior. The lady who is herself a great warrior in love, who “wins” her love the way a warrior defeats an honorable enemy, is cleansed of any foolishly-imagined “sin” of love to begin within. If there is “sin” here, it is in the attempt to reduce this poem (and the troubadour/trobairitz corpus in its entirety) to “a mirror of itself”,213 a “mature rejection of the new Renaissance model of the self-determining singular ego”,214 or “an ontological rather than an ontic language [which] expresses Being in general rather than a certain particular being”.215 With such formulations, scholars attempt to erase a soldier, poet, and lover who lived more fully than most of us ever will.

113The young singer of the anonymous ballad Coindeta Sui would no doubt concur with Bertran. Though the song is playful, it expresses serious determination about a serious dilemma. The singer is caught in an arranged, loveless, and passionless marriage to a much older man. She is stewing in her own actively hostile emotions, as she is repulsed by her husband:

  • 216 Bruckner et al., 130, ll. 1–15.

Coindeta sui! si cum n’ai greu cossire
per mon marit, quar ne∙l voil ne∙l desire.
Q’eu be∙us dirai per que son aisi drusa,
Coindeta sui!
qar pauca son, ioveneta e tosa,
Coindeta sui!
e degr’aver marit dunt fos ioiosa,
ab cui toz temps pogues iogar e rire:
Coindeta sui!
Ia Deus mi∙n sal se ia sui amorosa,
Coindeta sui!
de lui amar mia sui cubitosa,
Coindeta sui!
anz quant lo vei ne son tant vergoignosa
qu’e prec la mort qe∙l venga tost aucire.216

I’m pretty, and yet my heart’s in distress
for I have no desire for my husband.
I’ll tell you all of my longing for love:
I’m pretty!
I’m small, young and well-groomed,
I’m pretty!
and should have a husband who gives me joy
with whom I climb, play and laugh all the time.
I’m pretty!
Now God save me if I ever loved him:
I’m pretty!
I have not the least passion for him,
I’m pretty!
yet seeing his age, I feel so ashamed,
I pray Death will come kill him, and soon.

  • 217 “chant tota domna ensegnada, / del meu amic q’eu tant am e desire” (ibid., ll. 28–29).
  • 218 Even those “who divorced because of adultery by the other party” were forced to “remain unmarried s (...)

114The song is about what she desires, how she will get it, and what others should learn from her getting it. After all, she sings so that “every lady will learn to sing / about my friend whom I so love and desire”.217 It is very much in the spirit of Bertran de Born. Imagine a girl of fifteen married to a man who is fifty. Imagine that they have nothing in common (unsurprisingly), that he is a tyrant, and that his body has decayed into undesirability, while his libido still tells him that he is a young man, so that he is a thoroughgoing combination of all things that would likely be considered disgusting and oppressive by a young girl. All too often, marriages in the medieval and early modern eras were arrangements of contentment, at best. At worst, they were hellish traps of jealousy, disgust, lack of desire, and differences in age or temperament. In the world of the troubadours, divorce was no longer the practical possibility it had once been in the Roman world. For most, the only way out of a failed marriage was through the death of the marriage partner.218 Thus the young girl of Coindeta Sui sings the line “I pray Death will come kill him and soon”. In such circumstances of lifelong passionless entrapment, one wonders how often death was willing and able to oblige.

115Passion must and will have an out, especially in this period when a new way of thinking about life and the individual was emerging. But the movement these poems participated in was destroyed, as the troubadour culture and the courts that supported it were crushed in the Albigensian crusade (1209–29 CE). Due in large part to pressures applied after the establishment of the Inquisition in 1232, the emphasis changed in much of the poetry that followed:

  • 219 Lazar, 92.

[A]fter the crusade against the Albigensians (the heretic Cathars), […] there begins a process of psychological inhibition and repression in the domain of love songs, a trend toward spiritualization and allegorization that would eventually lead to the Roman de la Rose, to the dolce stil novo of Guido Guinizelli or Cavalcanti, and to the Vita Nuova of Dante.219

116However, despite the fact that the spirit of poetry was changed and softened by a later tradition, the troubadour poems and their spirit survived, though in dormancy. The basic assumptions of the modern Western world have long rested on the foundational idea of individual choice that the troubadours fought for bravely, but unsuccessfully. We, through Shakespeare and the poets who followed him, now live, for better or worse, in the world of the troubadour ethos—a spirit which Shakespeare makes his own in his most powerful plays, and around which Milton centers his crucial scene of human choice in Paradise Lost. By the seventeenth century in England, the troubadours have won a victory more complete than the Crusaders of thirteenth-century France could ever have imagined.

  • 220 Topsfield, 39.
  • 221 James J. Wilhelm. Seven Troubadours: The Creators of Modern Verse (University Park: Pennsylvania St (...)
  • 222 Rafëu Sichel-Bazin, Carolin Buthke and Trudel Meisenburg. “Prosody in Language Contact: Occitan and (...)
  • 223 “probablement, au lieu de la langue des Trouvères, nous parlerions celle des Troubadours, si Paris, (...)

117Perhaps it should come as no surprise that a movement so radical as that of the troubadours was crushed. Perhaps it should be even less surprising that so many contemporary scholars have worked so hard to insist that there was nothing particularly remarkable about this poetry. Authority often has its way both by force and by deception, and those who stand against “the power which demands submission”220 are often defeated. Though “Ovid defended love against the vulgar material Roman capitalists, [and] Bernart and his fellows seem to have faced down the Church”,221 each suffered the consequences. Ovid was banished for life, never to see his beloved Rome again. And the troubadours, their way of life, and even their language, were all quite nearly removed from the Earth: “In 1539, the Ordonnance de Villers-Cotterêts established French as the only authorized language for official documents [while] Occitan was progressively banned from public and high-prestige contexts and relegated to private use”.222 This denigration of all non langue d’oil forms reached new levels of intensity with the release of Abbé Grégoire’s Rapport sur la nécessité et les moyens d’anéantir le patois, et d’universaliser l’usage de la langue française (Report on the Need and Means to Annihilate the Patois and to Universalize the Use of the French Language) to the French National Convention in 1794. There, Gregoire argues that the question of language use is properly to be determined by the winners of the centuries-long struggle between north and south in France, while acknowledging that the contest could have turned out differently: “probably, instead of the language of Trouvères, we would now be speaking the language of the Troubadours, if Paris, the center of government, had been located on the left bank of the Loire”.223

  • 224 William Burgwinkle. “The Troubadours: The Occitan Model”. In The Cambridge History of French Litera (...)
  • 225 12–13.
  • 226 See R. Anthony Lodge. French: From Dialect to Standard (London: Routledge, 1993), 219.

118Even today, while “Italian and Catalan scholars” are commonly taught Occitan because the language “remains a necessary step in the acquisition of philological expertise”, in France the attitude is different: “The northern French academy […] has gradually backed away from medieval Occitan studies […] as something that either does not really concern it, or as a phenomenon that can simply be alluded to—a stepping stone to something better that replaced it’.224 This dismissive attitude is hardly new, as demonstrated by Antoine de Rivarol’s Discours de l’Universalité de la langue Française (1784), where he writes approvingly of “la Langue Latine”, and “la Langue Toscane”, while referring dismissively to “le patois des Troubadours”.225 With the educational reforms of Jules Ferry in 1881–82 came measures designed to prevent schoolchildren from speaking anything other than “standard” Parisian French.226 Visitors to le Midi can still encounter evidence of this in a sign in an abandoned schoolhouse in Ayguatébia which says Parlez Français, Soyez Propres—“Speak French, Be Clean”—marking what locals call la vergonha, a policy of shaming people who speak one of the Occitanian languages. Such words illustrate how far the enemies of troubadour culture have been willing to go in order to “channel, reformulate, and control” its ideas, the language(s) in which they were expressed, and the human joys and freedoms they tried to convey. And yet, despite a history of theological, governmental, and critical disdain and erasure, the poetry survives.

Notes

1 “[f]ür die Provenzalen und die Dichter des Neuen Stils war die hohe Minne das einzige große Thema” (Erich Auerbach. Mimesis: Dargestellte Wirklichkeit in der abendländischen Literatur. 2nd ed. [Bern: Francke, 1959], 180).

2 Appearing as amour courtois in his article “Études sur les romans de la Table Ronde” in Romania, 10: 40 (October 1881), 465–96, and in “Études sur les romans de la Table Ronde. Lancelot du Lac, I. Le Lanzelet d’Ulrich de Zatzikhoven; Lancelot du Lac, II. Le Conte de la charrette”, Romania, 12: 48 (October 1883), 459–534.

3 Even so recent an analysis as that of William M. Reddy relies on this term. Reddy defines the troubadour conception of fin’amor in terms of “an opposition between love and desire” (The Making of Romantic Love: Longing and Sexuality in Europe, South Asia, and Japan, 900–1200 CE [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012], 2), even aligning the troubadour concept with what he calls the “‘courtly love’ phenomenon [that] is well known to medievalists” (2). Reddy, does, however, note that the literature of so-called “courtly love”, can “represent a kind of resistance”, and an “escaping [from the mid twelfth-century Church’s] blanket condemnation of all sexual partnerships as sinful and polluting” (26).

4 l’amour est un art, une science, une vertu, qui a ses règles tout comme la chevalerie ou la courtoisie […] Dans aucun ouvrage français, autant qu’il me semble, cet amour courtois n’apparaît avant le Chevalier de la Charrette. L’amour de Tristran et d’Iseut est autre chose: c’est une passion simple, ardente, naturelle, qui ne connaît pas les subtilités et les raffinements de celui de Lancelot et de Guenièvre. Dans les poèmes de Benoit de Sainte-More, nous trouvons la galanterie, mais non cet amour exalté et presque mystique, sans cesser pourtant d’être sensual. Gaston Paris, “Études sur les romans de la Table Ronde” (1883), 519, http://www.persee.fr/doc/roma_0035–8029_1883_num_12_48_6277

5 Moshe Lazar. “Cupid, the Lady, and the Poet: Modes of Love at Eleanor of Aquitaine’s Court”. In Eleanor of Aquitaine: Patron and Politician, ed. by William W. Kibler (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1976), 42.

6 A common shorthand term for The Knight of the Cart.

7 Lazar, 43.

8 Ibid.

9 “Amor est passio quedam innata procedens ex vision et immoderate cogitatione formae alterius sexus, ob quam aliquis super Omnia cupit alterius potiri amplexibus et Omnia de ultriusque voluntate in ipsius amplexu amoris praecepta compleri” (Andreas Capellanus. De amore libri tres: Von der Liebe. Drei Bücher [Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter, 2006], 6).

10 Andreas Capellanus. The Art of Courtly Love. Trans. by John Jay Perry (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1941), 28.

11 Ibid. The original is as follows: “Quod amor sit passio facile est videre. Nam antequam amor sit ex utraque parte libratus, nulla est angustia maior” (Capellanus, De amore libri tres: Von der Liebe, 6).

12 “Et purus quidem amor est, qui omnimoda directonis affection duorum amantium corda coniungit. Hic autem in mentis contemplation cordisque consistit affect; procedit autem usque ad oris osculum lacertique amplexum et verecundum amantis nudae contactum” (Andreas Capellanus. De amore libri tres: Von der Liebe, 282).

13 “extremo praetermisso solatio” (ibid.).

14 “Non enim poterat diei vel noctis hora pertransire continua, qua Deum non exorarem attentius, ut corporaliter vos ex propinquo videndi mihi concederet largitatem” (ibid., 192).

15 C. S. Lewis. The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition (London: Oxford University Press, 1936), 2.

16 Ibid., 14.

17 The idea that a lover’s admiration for a beloved serves the lover as the first step on a ladder, in which each successive rung represents an increasingly refined notion of love, until by the top, the lover has left earthly love behind in favor of divine love.

18 Ibid., 4.

19 Ibid.

20 Ibid., 19. The name translates as Ovid the Peerless [or Excellent] Doctor.

21 Ibid., 37.

22 Ibid., 28.

23 Chrétien de Troyes. Le Chevalier de la Charrette, ed. by Alfred Foulet and Karl D. Uitti (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 1989), ll. 352–68.

24 Ibid., ll. 4501–07.

25 Ibid., ll. 4687–99.

26 Matilda Tomaryn Bruckner. “‘Redefining the Center’ Verse and Prose Charrette”. In A Companion to the Lancelot-Grail Cycle, ed. by Carol Dover (Cambridge, UK: Brewer, 2003), 95.

27 C. S. Lewis, 1.

28 “Bernart de Ventadorn provides one context in which to read the Lancelot—and with it, modern discussions of courtly love—since he and Chrétien appear to have known one another: they exchanged lyric poems in which they debate the passionate versus the rational aspects of love” (Sarah Kay. “Courts, Clerks, and Courtly Love”. In The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Romance, ed. by Roberta L. Krueger [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000], 86.

29 C. S. Lewis, 15–16.

30 “un exercice poétique, une façon de jouer avec un certain nombre de thèmes de convention idealisants, qui ne pouvaient avoir aucun repondant concret reel” (Le Seminiare de Jacques Lacan. Livre VII. L’Éthique de la Psychanalyse [1959–60] [Paris: Seuil, 1986], 177–78).

31 Le premier des troubadours est un nommé Guillaume de Poitiers, septième comte de Poitiers, neuvième duc d’Aquitaine, qui paraît avoir été, avant qu’il se consacrât à ses activités poétiques inaugurales dans la poésie courtoise, un fort redoutable bandit, du type de ce que, mon Dieu, tout grand seigneur qui se respectait pouvait être à cette époque. En maintes circonstances historiques que je vous passe, nous le voyons se comporter selon les normes du rançonnage le plus inique. Voilà les services qu’on pouvait attendre de lui. Puis, à partir d’un certain moment, il devient poète de cet amour singulier.
Ibid., 177.

32 Lacan is engaged in a project that is less exegetic (reading out of) than it is eisegetic (reading on to) where his engagement with troubadour poetry is concerned. For Lacan “[t] he arbitrary Lady, who is coterminous with privation and inaccessibility […] represents both negation and signification and […] is not just a symbolic function, but a representaton of the rules and limits of the Symbolic” (Nancy Frelick. “Lacan, Courtly Love and Anamorphosis”. In The Court Reconvenes: Courtly Literature Across the Disciplines: Selected Papers from the Ninth Triennial Congress of the International Courtly Literature Society, University of British Columbia, 25–31 July 1998 [Cambridge, UK: Brewer, 2003], 110). Rather than using his psychoanalytical categories to shed light on the poetry, Lacan is using the poetry to shed light on his categories. He is certainly not alone in approaching troubadour poetry (or any other poetry) in this way.

33 David F. Hult suggests that Paris’ invention of the term amour courtois had much less to do with analysis of poetry than it did with “a personal and professional dilemma in Paris’ career”, arguing that the term’s curious appeal to later generations can be explained by the “suggestions of a continuity between […] academic life, its founding disjunction between pleasure and science, and the ideal scheme of an eroticism grounded in rules and progressive mastery” (David F. Hult. “Gaston Paris and the Invention of Courtly Love”. In Medievalism and the Modernist Temper, ed. by R. Howard Bloch and Stephen G. Nichols [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996], 216). In other words, Hult implies that “courtly love” is a notion only an academic could love.

34 “le domaine propre de la poésie carolingienne avait été le nord de la France, l’Ile-de-France, l’Orléanais, l’Anjou, le Maine, la Champagne, le Vermandois, la Picardie” (Gaston Paris. La Poesie du Moyen Age [Paris: Librarie Hachette, 1895], 8). Paris does not mention, however, that the vast majority of this period’s poetry was written in Latin, not the vernacular, https://books.google.com/books?id=LdHs-jMItRQC&pg=PA8

35 “Tout ce qui se trouvait au sud de la Loire appartenait en réalité à une autre civilisation, où l’élément germanique avait moins profondément pénétré, et où la langue était restée plus voisine du latin” (ibid., 9, https://books.google.com/books?id=LdHs-jMItRQC&pg=PA9).

36 The terms langue d’oil and langue d’oc refer to the way northerners and southerners, respectively, pronounced the word “yes”.

37 “la littérature, comme la langue française, appartient à la France du nord” (Paris, La Poesie du Moyen Age, 9).

38 “le premier maître du style français” (ibid., 18, https://books.google.com/books?id=LdHs-jMItRQC&pg=PA18).

39 “Le sud de l’Italie et la Sicile avaient aussi pour rois des Normands, et là aussi la littérature française retrouva une patrie” (ibid., 36, https://books.google.com/books?id=LdHs-jMItRQC&pg=PA36).

40 “en Sicile, et elle y détermina peut-être, au XIIIe siècle, autant que la poésie provençale, l’éclosion de la poésie italienne” (ibid.).

41 “Les provinces du Midi avaient une langue et une littérature à elles, qui s’étaient développées dans des conditions et avec des caractères assez différents. C’est donc, à vrai dire, la première action de notre littérature sur une littérature étrangère que celle qu’elle exerça sur la poésie des troubadours” (ibid., 38, https://books.google.com/books?id=LdHs-jMItRQC&pg=PA38).

42 “ce sont nos poèmes dont les troubadours se nourrissaient et auxquels ils font de fréquentes allusions” (ibid., 39, https://books.google.com/books?id=LdHs-jMItRQC&pg=PA39).

43 “les nations romanes […] devinrent pour ainsi dire des succursales de la grande école française” (ibid., 41, https://books.google.com/books?id=LdHs-jMItRQC&pg=PA41).

44 Bernardi Silvestris. De Mundi Universitate, ed. by Carl Sigmund Barach and Johann Wrobel (Innsbruck: Verlag der Wagnerschen Universitaets-Buchandlung, 1876), 14.153–56, 161–62, https://archive.org/stream/bernardisilvest00silvgoog#page/n66

45 D. W. Robertson. “The Subject of the ‘De Amore’ of Andreas Capellanus”. Modern Philology, 50: 3 (February 1953), 146–48, https://doi.org/10.1086/388953

46 Ibid., 155.

47 D. W. Robertson. “The Concept of Courtly Love”. In The Meaning of Courtly Love, ed. by F. X. Newman (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1968), 17. Emphasis added.

48 Ibid.

49 Roger Boase. The Origin and Meaning of Courtly Love (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1977), 122.

50 Moshe Lazar. “Fin’amor”. In A Handbook of the Troubadours, ed. by F. R. P. Akehurst and Judith M. Davis (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 64.

51 For Jennifer Wollock, “courtly love” reflects the experience of Gaston Paris more than it does medieval social mores:
For Gaston Paris, courtly love was defined by the lover’s worship of an idealized lady. His love was an ennobling discipline, not necessarily consummated, but based on sexual attraction. Hult and Bloch have analyzed the psychology of Gaston Paris and his circle as it affected their understanding of medieval love literature, suggesting that the scholars’ own experiences with unattainable ladies of the nineteenth century may have led them to stress the unattainability of the troubadours’ objects of affection.
Jennifer G. Wollock.
Rethinking Chivalry and Courtly Love (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2011), 31.

52 Ibid., 6.

53 Eglal Doss-Quinby. Songs of the Women Trouvères (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 184–86.

54 Bertran de Born. The Poems of the Troubadour Bertran de Born, ed. by William D. Paden, Tilde Sankovitch, and Patricia H. Stablein (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), 339, ll. 1–9.

55 Ronald Martinez. “Italy”. In A Handbook of the Troubadours, ed. by F. R. P. Akehurst and Judith M. Davis (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 285.

56 Inferno. Canto 28.118–23, 133–42. In La Divina Commedia. Inferno, ed. by Ettore Zolesi (Rome: Armando, 2009), 470–71.

57 Bietris de Romans. “Na Maria, prètz e fina valors”. In The Women Troubadours, ed. by Meg Bogin (New York: Norton & Co., 1980), 132.

58 ταὶς κάλαισ᾿ ὔμμιν <τὸ> νόημμα τὦμον / οὐ διάμειπτον” (Sappho, Greek Lyric, Vol. I: Sappho and Alcaeus, ed. by David A. Campbell [Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982], Fragment 41, 86).

59 “Na Maria: Courtliness and Marian Devotion in Old Occitan Lyric”. In Shaping Courtliness in Medieval France: Essays in Honor of Matilda Tomaryn Bruckner, ed. by Daniel E. O’Sullivan and Laurie Shepard (Cambridge, UK: Brewer, 2013), 184.

60 Ibid., 195.

61 Ibid.

62 Ibid.

63 As Rita Felski has complained, historicism of this stripe has bound us into “a remarkably static view of meaning, where texts are corralled amidst long-gone contexts and obsolete intertexts, incarcerated in the past, with no hope of parole” (The Limits of Critique, 157).

64 This is a varation of the amicitia argument we have already seen used to explain away the apparent eroticism in Alcuin’s poetry.

65 Angelica Rieger. “Was Bieiris de Romans Lesbian? Women’s Relations with Each Other in the World of the Troubadours”. In The Voice of the Trobairitz: Perspectives on the Women Troubadours, ed. by William D. Paden (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989), 73.

66 Ibid., 82. This is a variation of the amicitia argument we have already seen applied to Alcuin.

67 “Jupiter enim adolescentem Ganymedem transferens ad superna, […] et quem in mensa per diem propinandi sibi statuit praepositum, in toro per noctem sibi fecit suppositum” (Alain de Lille. Alani de Insulis doctoris universalis opera omnia. In Patrologiae Cursus Completus, ed. by Jacques Paul Migne [Paris: Apud Garnier Fratres, 1855], Vol. 210, col. 451B, https://books.google.com/books?id=c10k8WCYMBoC&pg=RA1-PA470).

68 Barbara Newman. Gods and the Goddesses: Vision, Poetry, and Belief in the Middle Ages (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), 87.

69 Alain de Lille only scratches the surface of the possibilities. For other examples, see the discussions of the anonymous twelfth-century poem “Altercatio Ganimedes et Helene” in Newman (2003), as well as in John Boswell’s Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), and Rolf Lenzen, “Altercatio Ganimedis et Helene”. Kritische Edition mit Kommentar. In Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch, 7 (1972), 161–86. As Thomas Stehling argues,
[t]he recurrent reference to classical literature in medieval homosexual poetry represents more than just an appeal to a shared education; it may also be interpreted as an attempt to place homosexual love in a respectable context. […] Engaged like other poets in this great revival of classical learning, poets writing homosexual verse learned to employ this respect in a particular way.
Thomas Stehling. “To Love a Medieval Boy”. In
Literary Versions of Homosexuality, ed. by Stuart Kellogg (New York: Haworth Press, 1983), 167. Reddy insists, however, that “recent scholarship on courtly love has accurately characterized the strict heterosexuality” (25) of the Occitan poetry.

70 Stehling, 161.

71 Hilarius, “Ad Puerum Anglicum II”. ll. 1–4. Hilarii Aurelianensis Versus et Ludi Epistolae. Mittellateinische Studien und Texte, ed. by Walther Bulst and M. L. Bulst-Thiele (Leiden and New York: Brill, 1989), Vol. 16, 46.

72 Rieger, 92.

73 Bietris de Romans, ll. 9–16.

74 Meg Bogin. The Women Troubadours (New York: Norton & Co., 1980), 176.

75 Rieger, 92.

76 Alison Ganze. “‘Na Maria, pretz e fina valors’: A New Argument for Female Authorship”. Romance Notes, 49: [1] (2009), 25–26, https://doi.org/10.1353/rmc.2009.0010

77 William E. Burgwinkle. Love for Sale: Materialist Readings of the Troubadour Razo Corpus (New York: Garland, 1997), 100. Emphasis added.

78 Ibid., 100–01.

79 Ibid., 11. Emphasis added.

80 Commentary, 6 (1 Jan 1948), 244–52, https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/the-herd-of-independent-mindshas-the-avant-garde-its-own-mass-culture/

81 Joseph Campbell. Creative Mythology (New York: Viking, 1968), 177.

82 Ibid.

83 Ibid., 176.

84 Linda M. Paterson. The World of the Troubadours: Medieval Occitan Society c. 1100-c. 1300 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 342–43.

85 Fulke Greville. The Tragedy of Mustapha (London: Printed for Nathaniel Butler, 1609), “Chorus Sacerdotum”, Sig. B2r, https://archive.org/stream/tragedyofmustaph00grev#page/n16

86 Jean de Meun’s thirteenth-century reaction to this problem takes 625 lines of the Roman de la Rose to work through what might be called a semi-Pelagian solution, ending a discussion of free will with the idea that “It is above all destiny / no matter what will or will not be destined” (“Il est seur toutes destinees, / ja si ne seront destinees”) (Lorris and de Meun [1965], v. 3. ll. 17695–96). Robert Musil’s modern reaction to this dilemma is fully Pelagian:
If God predetermined and foreknew everything, how can a man sin? Yes, this is an early question, but you can see that it is still a very modern question as well. This has created an extremely intriguing representation of God. We offend him by his own consent; he even forces us to transgressions for which he will blame us. He not only knows about it beforehand […], but he caused it!
Wenn Gott alles vorher bestimmt und weiß, wie kann der Mensch sündigen? So wurde ja früher gefragt, und sehen Sie, es ist noch immer eine ganz moderne Fragestellung. Eine ungemein intrigante Vorstellung von Gott hatte man sich da gemacht. Man beleidigt ihn mit seinem Einverständnis, er zwingt den Menschen zu einer Verfehlung, die er ihm übelnehmen wird; er weiß es ja nicht nur vorher […], sondern er veranlaßt es!
Der Mann Ohne Eigenschaften [The Man Without Qualities] (Berlin: Rowohlt Verlag, 1957), 485–86.

87 Brinley Roderick Rees. Pelagius: Life and Letters (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1998), 54.

88 Ibid., 76.

89 John Toews. The Story of Original Sin (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2013), 76.

90 Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan: Or, The Matter, Forme & Power of a Commonwealth, Ecclesiasticall and Civill (London: Andrew Crooke, 1651), 62, https://books.google.com/books?id=L3FgBpvIWRkC&pg=PA62

91 “imperitum vulgus offendit” (Pelagius. Pelagii Sancti et eruditi monachi Epistola ad Demetriadem, ed. by Johann Salomo Semler [Halae Magdeburgicae: Carol Herman Hemmerde, 1775], 14, https://books.google.com/books?id=uw5qbOfGtgoC&pg=PA14).

92 “non vere bonum factum hominem putes, quia is facere malum potest” (ibid.).

93 “boni et mali capacem etiam” (ibid., 32, https://books.google.com/books?id=uw5qbOfGtgoC&pg=PA32).

94 “nec bonum sine voluntate faciamus, nec malum” (ibid.).

95 “mali etiam esse studuimus” (ibid., 34, https://books.google.com/books?id=uw5qbOfGtgoC&pg=PA34).

96 John Milton. Of Education (London: 1644), Sig. A1v, https://books.google.com/books?id=7rJDAAAAcAAJ&pg=PP4

97 The more recognizably orthodox point of view is memorably expressed in the sixteenth-century English poet George Gascoigne’s poem “Gascoigne’s Good Morrow”, where readers are informed that we must “deeme our days on earth, / But hell to heavenly joye” (The Complete Works of George Gascoigne: Vol. 1, The Posies, ed. by John W. Cunliffe [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1907], 57, https://archive.org/stream/cu31924013121292#page/n68).

98 Campbell, Creative Mythology, 183.

99 Elizabeth Fay. Romantic Medievalism: History and the Romantic Literary Ideal (New York: Palgrave, 2002), 15.

100 “Une première évidence éclate aux yeux: l’éloignement du moyen âge, la distance irrécupérable qui nous en sépare […] la poésie médiévale relève d’un univers qui nous est devenu étranger” (Paul Zumthor. Essai de Poétique Médiévale [Paris: Seuil, 1972], 19).

101 Lorsqu’un homme de notre siècle affronte une œuvre du XIIe siècle, la durée qui les sépare l’un de l’autre dénature jusqu’à l’effacer la relation qui, ordinairement, s’établit entre l’auteur et le lecteur par la médiation du texte: c’est à peine si l’on peut parler encore de relation. Qu’est-ce en effet qu’un lecture vraie, sinon un travail où se trouvent à la fois impliqués le lecteur et la culture à laquelle il participe? Travail correspondant à celui qui produsuit le texte et où furent impliqués le auteur et son propre univers. A l’égard d’un texte médiéval, la correspndance ne se produit plus spontanément. La perception même de la forme devient équivoque. Les métaphores s’obscurcissent, le comparant s’écarte du comparé. Le lecteur reste engagé dans son temps; le texte, par un effet tenant à l’accumulation des durées intermédiaires, apparaît comme hors du temps, ce qui est une situation contradictoire.
Ibid., 20.

102 See Michael Bryson, The Atheist Milton (London: Routledge, 2012), 36–50.

103 Lucien Febvre. The Problem of Unbelief in the Sixteenth Century: The Religion of Rabelais. Trans. by Beatrice Gottlieb (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985), Translator’s Introduction, xxviii.

104 [S]pricht man vom Geist einer Zeit, vom Geist des Mittelalters, der Aufklärung. Damit ist zugleich gegeben, daß jede solcher Epochen eine Begrenzung findet in einem Lebenshorizont. Ich verstehe darunter die Begrenzung, in welcher die Menschen einer Zeit in bezug auf ihr Denken, Fühlen und Wollen leben. Es besteht in ihr ein Verhältnis von Leben, Lebensbezügen, Lebenserfahrung und Gedankenbildung, welche die Einzelnen in einem bestimmten Kreis von Modifikationen der Auffassung, Wertbildung und Zwecksetzung festhält und bindet. Unvermeidlichkeiten regieren hierin über den einzelnen Individuen.
Wilhelm Dilthey.
Der Aufbau der geschichtlichen Welt in den Geisteswissenschaften (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1970), 217.

105 “Dans une culture et à un moment donné, il n’y a jamais qu’une épistémè, qui définit les conditions de possibilité de tout savoir” (Les mots et les choses: Une archéologie des sciences humaines [Paris: Gallimard, 1966], 179).

106 Rita Felski describes this impulse as one in which “the critic feels impelled to beat off the barbarians by raising the drawbridge—a too-drastic response that cuts off the text from the moral, affective, and cognitive bonds that infuse it with energy and life. Thus the literary work is treated as a fragile and exotic artifact of language, to be handled only by curators kitted out in kid gloves” (The Limits of Critique, 28). She then notes that “[s]uch a vision of reading remains notably silent on the question of how literature enters life” (28–29). R. Howard Bloch and Stephen G. Nichols describe a similar attitude, decrying what they see as the use of “philological expertise […] not as a tool to make medieval literature accessible, but as a cordon sanitaire to prevent the reading of such works” (“Introduction”. In Medievalism and the Modern Temper, ed. by R. Howard Bloch and Stephen G. Nichols [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996], 3).

107 “Le chanson et ainsi son propre sujet, sans prédicat […] Le poèmee est miroir de soi” (Zumthor, 218).

108 Simon Gaunt. “The Châtelain de Couci”. In The Cambridge Companion to Medieval French Literature, ed. by Simon Gaunt and Sarah Kay (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 96.

109 “On ne prétend pas en cela geler le texte” (Zumthor, 20).

110 This is a curious reworking of what Holmes calls a “Burckhardtian opposition of medieval conformism, or community values, and Renaissance individualism” (Olivia Holmes. Assembling the Lyric Self: Authorship from Troubadour Song to Italian Poetry [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000], 3).

111 “des analogies simplifiantes et des justifications mythiques” (Zumthor, 20).

112 See Tilde Sankovitch, “The Trobairitz”. In The Troubadours: An Introduction, ed. by Simon Gaunt and Sarah Kay (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 113–26.

113 See Simon Gaunt, “Poetry of Exclusion: A Feminist Reading of Some Troubadour Lyrics”. The Modern Language Review, 85: 2 (April 1990), 310–29.

114 “Das beharrende Element der esoterischen Haltung, der Feudaladel, wird sich mehr und mehr der Interessenverschiebung bewußt, die ihn vom Kleinadel immer entscheidender trennt” (Erich Köhler. “Zum ‘Trobar Clus’ Der Trobadors”. Romanische Forschungen, 64: 1–2 [1952], 101). Köhler goes on to argue that the “trobar clus” serves as as “deepening of the conscious sense of one’s own existence”, and “as a mystical recovery and concealment of the sense of being” (“Vertiefenwollen des bewußt werdenden Sinns der eigenen Existenz, als ein mystisches Bergen und gleichzeitiges Verbergen der vom standischen Sein”) (98).

115 Simon Gaunt and Sarah Kay. “Introduction”. In The Troubadours: An Introduction, ed. by Simon Gaunt and Sarah Kay (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 4. Emphasis added.

116 E. Jane Burns. “Courtly Love: Who Needs It? Recent Feminist Work in the Medieval French Tradition”. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 27: 1 (Autumn 2001), 40. It is important to note, however, that for Köhler, this is not necessarily true of the troubadours who write in the “trobar leu” or open style. Speaking of the poet Guirat de Bornelh, Köhler argues for the importance of recognizing desire and joy in this style of troubadour poetry: “Whoever knows the meaning of “joy” in the troubadors, […] in the interrelationship with the woman as the source, […] who knows this notion as the dominant motif of Provençal poetry, is able to measure what the light style [or trobar leu] must mean for Guiraut” (“Wer um den Sinn des ‘joy’ bei den Trobadors weiẞ, […] in der Wechselbeziehung zur Frau als ihrer Quelle […] wer diese Vorstellung als das beherrschende Motiv der provenzalischen Dichtung erkennt, vermag zu ermessen, was der leichte Stil für Guiraut bedeuten muẞ”) (Köhler, 91–92). In a later article, Köhler makes a clear distinction between the two styles, arguing that for the high nobility, obscurity served as an insiders’ code from which the lower nobility (to say nothing of the common people) were excluded: “the obscure and difficult style, the trobar clus, is suitable for the high nobility, who speak an esoteric language to set up a barrier between the profane and the treasure of true love, to which they [the high nobility] alone must have access” (“le style obscur et difficile, le trobar clus, convient à la haute noblesse, qui parle une langue ésotérique pour mettre à l’abri des profanes le trésor du vrai amour, auquel elle seule doit avoir accès”) (“Observations historiques et sociologiques sur la poésie des troubadours”. Cahiers de civilisation médiévale, 7: 25 [1964], 31, http://www.persee.fr/doc/ccmed_0007–9731_1964_num_7_25_1296).

117 Longxi, 207.

118 Burns, 40.

119 Frederick Goldin. The Mirror of Narcissus and the Courtly Love Lyric (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1967), 75.

120 Jane E. Burns. Courtly Love Undressed: Reading through Clothes in Medieval French Culture (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), 252, n. 14.

121 Daniel O’Sullivan. “The Man Backing Down from the Lady in Trobairitz Tensos”. In Founding Feminisms in Medieval Studies: Essays in Honor of E. Jane Burns, ed. by Laine E. Doggett and Daniel E. O’Sullivan (Cambridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2016), 45.

122 Tilde Sankovitch. “Lombarda’s Reluctant Mirror: Speculum of Another Poet”. In The Voice of the Trobairitz: Perspectives on the Women Troubadours, ed. by William Paden (Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press, 1989), 184, 185.

123 Longxi, 200.

124 Gregory B. Stone. The Death of the Troubadour: The Late Medieval Resistance to the Renaissance (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994), 4.

125 Ibid.

126 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QereR0CViMY

127 Daniel Heller-Roazen. Fortune’s Faces: The Roman de la Rose and the Poetics of Contingency (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), 30, 33. And so Heller-Roazen essentially repeats Stone’s repetition of Zumthor. With such repetition careers are made. And so it continues…

128 Lee Patterson. “On the Margin: Postmodernism, Ironic History, and Medieval Studies”. Speculum, 65: 1 (January 1990), 95.

129 In Burckhardt’s formulation, the condescension is nearly overwhelming:
In the Middle Ages the two sides of consciousness—that turned toward the world and that turned toward the inner self of man—were dreaming or half awake under a common veil. The veil was woven of faith, childish partiality, and delusion, through which the world and its history appeared in miraculous hues, but Man recognized himself only as a race, a people, a party, a corporation, a family, or otherwise in any general or common form.
Im Mittelalter lagen die beiden Seiten des Bewußtseins—nach der Welt hin und nach dem Innern des Menschen selbst—wie unter einem gemeinsamen Schleier träumend oder halbwach. Der Schleier war gewoben aus Glauben, Kindesbefangenheit und Wahn; durch ihn hindurch gesehen erschienen Welt und Geschichte wundersam gefärbt, der Mensch aber erkannte sich nur als Race, Volk, Partei, Corporation. Familie oder sonst in irgend einer Form des Allgemeinen.
Jacob Burckhardt.
Die Cultur der Renaissance in Italien: Ein Versuch (Basel: Schweighauser, 1860), 131, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=gri.ark:/13960/t7fr4fg3z;view=1up;seq=137

130 Greenblatt bases his case on the notion that the Renaissance is responsible for establishing a sense of individuality of which earlier periods were incapable: “Something happened in the Renaissance, something that surged up against the constraints that centuries had constructed around curiosity, desire, individuality, sustained attention to the material world, the claims of the body” (The Swerve: How the World Became Modern [New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2011], pp. 9–10). But such expressions of “desire, individuality, sustained attention to the material world, [and] the claims of the body” are readily evident in the poetry of the troubadours, trobairitz, and Minnesingers, as well as the earlier work of the Greek erotici, Ovid, and the writer(s) of the Song of Songs. The historian John Monfasani describes Greenblatt’s book as a “Burckhardtian, or, perhaps more accurately, Voltairean view of the Renaissance as an outburst of light after a long medieval darkness”, and calls it an echo of Burckhardt’s “caricature of the poor benighted medievals as incapable of conceiving of themselves other than as part of some corporate structure (as opposed to us liberated modern individualists)” (“The Swerve: How the Renaissance Began”. Reviews in History, 1283, http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/1283). Marjorie Curry Woods argues that Greenblatt “reinforces a tired old master-narrative, in which one or another renaissance man changes the world” (“Where’s the Manuscript”. Exemplaria, 25: 4 [Winter 2013], 322), while John Parker calls Greenblatt’s account “a venerable and familiar story” (“The Epicurean Middle Ages”. Exemplaria, 25: 4 [Winter 2013], 325), and Lee Morrissey and Will Stockton refer to it as a kind of monstrosity or caricature: “New Historicism on steroids (all anecdotes, all the time)” (“What Swirls around The Swerve”. Exemplaria, 25: 4 [Winter 2013], 334, https://doi.org/10.1179/1041257313Z.00000000036).

131 Patterson, 97.

132 G. B. Stone, 4.

133 Ibid., 5.

134 William Blake. The Works of William Blake, Vol. 2, ed. by Edwin John Ellis and William Butler Yeats (London: Benard Quartich, 1893), 323, https://archive.org/stream/worksofwilliambl02blakrich#page/323

135 G. B. Stone, 6.

136 Ibid.

137 An infinitely expandable and flexible principle whereby anything can be defined into or out of existence at the whim of authority.

138 G. B. Stone, 6.

139 Lewis Carroll. Through the Looking Glass: And what Alice Found There (Philadelphia: Henry Altemus Company, 1897), 123.

140 This idea can be seen, among other places, in Paul de Man’s assertion that language ultimately refers only to itself, because of a “discrepancy between the power of words as acts and their power to produce other words” (The Rhetoric of Romanticism [New York: Columbia University Press, 1984], 101), though he complicates his argument with the assertion that literature and criticism are one and the same, equally unreliable: “[l]iterature as well as criticism—the difference between them being delusive—is condemned (or privileged) to be forever the most rigorous and, consequently, the most unreliable language in terms of which man names and transforms himself” (Allegories of Reading, 19).

141 Sarah Kay. Subjectivity in Troubadour Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 212–13.

142 Simon Gaunt and Sarah Kay. “Introduction”. In The Troubadours: An Introduction, ed. by Simon Gaunt and Sarah Kay (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 6.

143 Ibid.

144 L. T. Topsfield. Troubadours and Love (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), 39.

145 Lazar, 62.

146 Ibid., 71.

147 Ibid., 71–72.

148 Ibid., 74.

149 Robert S. Briffault. The Troubadours (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1965), 25.

150 Elizabeth Salter. “Courts and Courtly Love”. In The Medieval World, ed. by David Daiches and Anthony Thorlby (London: Aldus Books, 1973), 424.

151 The translation used here is that of Michael Sells, in Maria Rosa Menocal, Shards of Love: Exile and the Origins of the Lyric (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994), 70–71.

152 Ibid., l. 6.

153 Ibid., ll. 7–8

154 Ibid., ll. 13–18.

155 Ibid., ll. 39–40.

156 Ibid., ll. 35–36.

157 Ibid., ll. 57–60.

158 Menocal, 75.

159 William Blake. “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”. In The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, ed. by David V. Erdman (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2008), 35.

160 Topsfield, 12–13.

161 Helen Castor. She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth (London: Faber and Faber, 2010), 133–34.

162 Guillaume IX. Les Chansons de Guillaume IX, Duc d’Aquitaine, ed. by Alfred Jeanroy (Paris: Honoré Champion, 1913), 26, ll. 29–30, https://archive.org/stream/leschansonsdegui00willuoft#page/26

163 Ibid., 21, ll. 25–28, https://archive.org/stream/leschansonsdegui00willuoft#page/21

164 Ibid., 15–16, ll. 45, 51, 57–60, https://archive.org/stream/leschansonsdegui00willuoft#page/15

165 As Peter Dronke asks, “would it ever have occurred to any reader or listener to interpret” such poems as this, or many other troubadour verses, “in any other than a sexual way if scholars had not invented the troubadours’ ‘platonic’ love?” (Dronke, 242, n. 3).

166 Guillaume IX, 1, ll. 7–12, https://archive.org/stream/leschansonsdegui00willuoft#page/n24

167 Ibid., 26, ll. 23–26, https://archive.org/stream/leschansonsdegui00willuoft#page/26

168 Topsfield, 27.

169 Ibid.

170 Sarah Spence, for example, insists that “the lady here is presented as a Christ figure” (Texts and the Self in the Twelfth Century [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996], 91), basing this on the lines “And since I wish to return to joy / It is right, that I seek for the best” (“E pus en joy vuelh revertir / Ben dey, si puesc, al mielhs anar”) (Guillaume IX, 21–22, ll. 3–4). The lenses of “courtly love”, once donned, appear to make it impossible to see otherwise.

171 “Per lo cor dedins refrescar / E per la carn renovellar” (Guillaume IX, 23, ll. 34–35, https://archive.org/stream/leschansonsdegui00willuoft#page/23).

172 Topsfield, 36.

173 Guillaume IX, 17, ll. 19–20, https://archive.org/stream/leschansonsdegui00willuoft#page/17

174 Topsfield, 30.

175 Ibid. Reddy repeats this distinction throughout his discussion of Guilhem’s poetry (92–104).

176 Ibid., 39.

177 Ibid.

178 Marcabru., ed. by Jean Dejeanne (Toulouse: Édouard Privat, 1909), XXXVII, 178–83, l. 28, http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k4240c/f191.image

179 Topsfield, 83–84.

180 Marcabru, ll. 14, 20, 51, http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k4240c/f191.image and http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k4240c/f193.image

181 Ibid., ll. 61–62, http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k4240c/f194.image

182 Charles Camproux argues that mutuality and equality are the primary characteristics of fin’amor: “Cette notion d’égalité entre les partenaires est une des plus importantes qui entrent dans la conception de l’amour chez les troubadours” [This notion of equality between partners is one of the most important that go into the concept of love in the troubadours] (Charles Camproux. Lejoy d’amor des troubadours. Jeu et joie d’amour [Montpellier: Causse et Castelnau], 1965, 179).

183 Topsfield, 103.

184 Colin Morris. The Discovery of the Individual, 1050–1200 (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), 113.

185 Bernart de Ventadorn. Bernart von Ventadorn, seine Lieder, mit Einleitung und Glossar, ed. by Carl Appel (Halle: Max Niemeyer, 1915), 188, ll. 9–10, https://archive.org/stream/bernartvonventad00bern#page/188

186 Ibid., 86, ll. 29–32, https://archive.org/stream/bernartvonventad00bern#page/86

187 Morris, 115.

188 Charles Homer Haskins. The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1927), 108.

189 Ibid.

190 Morris, 113.

191 Bernart de Ventadorn, 220, ll. 1–8, https://archive.org/stream/bernartvonventad00bern#page/220

192 William D. Paden and Frances Freeman Paden, trans. Troubadour Poems from the South of France (Cambridge, UK: Brewer, 2007), 184.

193 Ibid.

194 Bernart de Ventadorn, 222, ll. 41–45, https://archive.org/stream/bernartvonventad00bern#page/222

195 Ibid., 221, ll. 25–28, https://archive.org/stream/bernartvonventad00bern#page/221

196 Ibid., 221–22, ll. 33–40, https://archive.org/stream/bernartvonventad00bern#page/221

197 Paden, 186.

198 Barbara Smythe. Trobador Poets: Selections from the Poems of Eight Trobadors (New York: Cooper Square Publishers, 1966), 149.

199 [In] the dawn song (Middle High German tagelied, Old Provençal alba, Old French aube) […] two lovers embrace in the secrecy of the night before their necessary parting at the arrival of dawn. A watchman or a little bird may take the role of an ally warning the two of the encroaching daybreak, with dawn signalling the need for the reluctant lovers to separate in order to avoid discovery by the spies of courtly society. It is in this moment of anguish that joy and sorrow intermingle, and the lovers lament their impending separation by desperately embracing one last time. Then the man leaves his beloved while she expresses her longing to see him again soon. […] In the forbidden nature of the tryst, the relationship is adulterous since the lady is married. Because the lovers possess no power to change their predicament, their desire for each other may be fulfilled only in secret.
Rasma Lazda-Cazers. “Oral Sex in the Songs of Oswald von Wolkenstein: Did it Really Happen?” In
Sexuality in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Times: New Approaches to a Fundamental Cultural-Historical and Literary-Anthropological Theme, ed. by Albrecht Classen (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2008), 581–82.

200 Matilda Tomaryn Bruckner, Laurie Shepard, and Sarah White, eds. Songs of the Women Troubadours (New York: Garland Publishing, 2000), 134.

201 Wolfram von Eschenbach. Werke, ed. by Karl Lachmann (Berlin: G. Reimer, 1879), 3–4, https://books.google.com/books?id=-rwFAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA3

202 “The type first appears in a poem by Dietmar von Aist […], the earliest Minnesinger who seems to have an acquaintance with troubadour lyrics” (“Tagelied”. In Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, ed. by Alex Preminger, Frank J. Warnke, and O. B. Hardison Jr. [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972], 841).

203 Dietmar von Aist and Wolfram von Eschenbach were two of the most crucial figures in the development of the tagelied in German poetry: “[a]round 1170 Dietmar von Aist cultivated the Tagelied as a genre already well known; about 1200 Wolfram von Eschenbach turned its conventions upside down” (William D. Paden. “Introduction”. In Medieval Lyric: Genres in Historical Context, ed. by William D. Paden [Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2000], 11).

204 Dietmar von Aist. “Slâfest du, friedel ziere”. In Des minnesangs frühling, ed. by Friedrich Vogt (Leipzig: Verlag von S. Hirzel, 1920), 37, https://books.google.com/books?id=DcQPAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA37

205 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Codex_Manesse_314v_Günther_von_dem_Vorste.jpg

206 Catholic theologians are referring to marriage as a sacrament as early as the twelfth century, though it will not be until the Council of Trent in 1563 that this arrangement is formalized.

207 οὖν Θεὸς συνέζευξεν, ἄνθρωπος μὴ χωριζέτω”.

208 Though they are a minority, within the Church there are voices at this time beginning to speak up for individual choice in marriage. In the Decretum Gratiani (c. 1140 CE), a Benedictine monk named Gratian argues that “mutual consent makes a marriage” (“consensus utiusque matrimonium facit”) (Corpus Iuris Canonici, Vol. 1: Decretum Magistri Gratiani [Leipzig: Bernhard Tauchnitz, 1879. Reprint Graz: Akademische Druck-u. Verlagsanstalt, 1959], 1091, http://www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/digital/collections/cul/texts/ldpd_6029936_001/pages/ldpd_6029936_001_00000604.html).

209 Victoria Cirlot, ed. Antología de textos románicos medievales: siglos XII–XIII (Barcelona: Edicions Universitat Barcelona, 1984), 151–52, ll. 17–24.

210 Bruckner, et al., 10.

211 Cirlot, 151–52, ll. 46–48.

212 Betran de Born, 343, ll. 51–60.

213 Zumthor, 170.

214 G. B. Stone, 4.

215 Ibid., 5.

216 Bruckner et al., 130, ll. 1–15.

217 “chant tota domna ensegnada, / del meu amic q’eu tant am e desire” (ibid., ll. 28–29).

218 Even those “who divorced because of adultery by the other party” were forced to “remain unmarried so long as the first spouse lived” (James A. Brundage. Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009], 244).

219 Lazar, 92.

220 Topsfield, 39.

221 James J. Wilhelm. Seven Troubadours: The Creators of Modern Verse (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1970), 113.

222 Rafëu Sichel-Bazin, Carolin Buthke and Trudel Meisenburg. “Prosody in Language Contact: Occitan and French”. Prosody and Language in Contact: L2 Acquisition, Attrition and Languages in Multilingual Situations, ed. by Elisabeth Delais-Roussarie, Mathieu Avanzi, and Sophie Herment (Berlin: Springer, 2015), 73–74.

223 “probablement, au lieu de la langue des Trouvères, nous parlerions celle des Troubadours, si Paris, le centre du gouvernement, avoit été situé sur la rive gauche de la Loire” (Henri Grégoire. Rapport sur la nécessité et les moyens d’anéantir le patois, et d’universaliser l’usage de la langue française [Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1794], 8, https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=8PB2RBNrLZYC&pg=PA8).

224 William Burgwinkle. “The Troubadours: The Occitan Model”. In The Cambridge History of French Literature, ed. by William E. Burgwinkle, Nicholas Hammond, and Emma Wilson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 21.

225 12–13.

226 See R. Anthony Lodge. French: From Dialect to Standard (London: Routledge, 1993), 219.

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Légende Codex Manesse, UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, fol. 314v Herr Günther von dem Vorste (between 1305 and 1315).205
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