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Love and its Critics

 | 
Michael Bryson
, 
Arpi Movsesian

7. The Ladder of Love in Italian Poetry and Prose, and the Reactions of the Sixteenth-Century Sonneteers

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I. The Platonic Ladder of Love

1Despite the changes that are beginning to appear in fourteenth-century England, by the same time in Italy the sublimation and spiritualization of love has long established itself as the dominant theme of European poetry, a theme that is exported to England in the sixteenth century, briefly sweeping aside much of the spirit we have seen developing in Chaucer. To understand how and why this happened, we will have to circle back and spend a little time with Plato.

2Perhaps the single most basic element of Platonic metaphysical thought is the separation between the world we see and the world we do not see, a temporal world of motion and change, and an eternal realm of stasis. This idea stems from earlier Greek philosophers, such pre-Socratics as Heraclitus, for example, who is most famous for trying to illustrate the difference between the two realms, as well as their interdependence, with the image of a river (stasis) in which new waters continually flow (motion). But in Plato, this theme of the relation between the eternal and the temporal reaches its most powerfully articulated form, and his ideas are traceable through the history of thought in literature and art in the Western world.

3In the Symposium this theme takes shape in an argument that posits an idea of Forms and Copies—not merely the idea of a realm of eternal Forms or Ideas which are the templates for the individual and ephemeral Copies we see here in the world of flux and change, but the idea that there are higher and lower, nobler and baser ways of using those Copies as ways to understand those eternal Forms. The Symposium regards the baser ways of understanding with suspicion, because they are stuck within the changing conditions of a world in which, as Shakespeare says, “everything that grows holds in perfection but a little moment”, but they are also necessary, a means to an end. In what becomes the well-worn image of a “ladder of love”, the dialogue pictures such baser understandings as the lower rung on a ladder that leads to higher understandings, a progression in which lower forms of love lead to higher loves, and eventually the highest love of all—the love of the Forms.

  • 1 “ἔφη, οὐ τοῦ καλοῦ ὁ ἔρως, ὡς σὺ οἴει” (Plato. Symposium, ed. by W. R. M. Lamb [Loeb Classical Libr (...)
  • 2 γεννήσεως καὶ τοῦ τόκου ἐν τῷ καλῷ” (ibid.).

4Organized around a series of speeches offering competing definitions of love, the Symposium reaches its philosophical climax when Socrates tells the story of his conversation with the prophetess Diotima. Diotima first defines what love is, then moves on to an elaborate description of how love may be realized or achieved: “think not that love is of the beautiful”,1 rather, love “is for the engendering and producing offspring upon beauty”.2 Why?

  • 3 ὅτι ἀειγενές ἐστι καὶ ἀθάνατον ὡς θνητῷ γέννησις. ἀθανασίας δὲ ἀναγκαῖον ἐπιθυμεῖν μετὰ ἀγαθοῦ ἐκ(...)

That is because it is an undying thing in our mortal life. Immortality constrains us to set our hearts upon it even as we pursue the good, and so it comes about that love always exists as one’s highest good. Necessarily then, from this reckoning, love is of immortality.3

  • 4 θνητὴ φύσις ζητεῖ κατὰ τὸ δυνατὸν ἀεὶ τὸ εἶναι ἀθάνατος. δύναται δὲ ταύτῃ μόνον, τῇ γενέσει, ὅτι (...)
  • 5 ἐγκύμονες […] κατὰ σώματα” (ibid., 209a).
  • 6 πρὸς τὰς γυναῖκας” (ibid.).
  • 7 διὰ παιδογονίας ἀθανασίαν” (ibid.).
  • 8 δὲ κατὰ τὴν ψυχήν” (ibid.).
  • 9 φρόνησίν τε καὶ τὴν ἄλλην ἀρετήν · ὧν δή εἰσι καὶ οἱ ποιηταὶ πάντες γεννήτορες καὶ τῶν δημιουργῶν (...)

5But how can we fulfill such longing for immortality? In Diotima’s conception, we do so through generation. As Diotima puts it, “the mortal condition always desires to enter an immortal existence. This is possible only through engendering, so that in the future, a young generation can take the place of the old one”.4 But the generation—or “increase”—being referred to is of two different kinds, a lower and higher. There is the physical generation engaged in by those who are “pregnant in the body”.5 These “turn toward women”6 and “through begetting children they achieve immortality”.7 The higher example, however, is a spiritual generation, engaged in by those with “the pregnancy of the spirit”.8 It is to these that wisdom truly belongs, and their realm is that of Beauty itself: they have “prudence and goodness, which exist in all poets and creators and skilled craftsmen who are called inventors”.9

  • 10 ἑνὸς αὐτὸν σώματος ἐρᾶν καὶ ἐνταῦθα γεννᾶν Bλόγους καλούς” (ibid., 210b).

6This splitting of “pregnancy” into attempts to achieve immortality through the flesh and through the spirit leads Diotima to describe—using the metaphor of a ladder—a pedagogical process by which a student of Love and Beauty may move from first lessons to a final revelation. This process starts at the lowest rung of the ladder, where the student needs “to devote himself to the beautiful and good in the body”.10 The student then must

  • 11 ἔπειτα δὲ αὐτὸν κατανοῆσαι, ὅτι τὸ κάλλος τὸ ἐπὶ ὁτῳοῦν σώματι τῷ ἐπὶ ἑτέρῳ σώματι ἀδελφόν ἐστι, κα (...)

thereupon in his true self understand that the beauty of that body is that of many associated bodies that exist, and he if means to pursue the idea and form of beauty, it would be great foolishness not to consider and establish for himself the whole, how the beauty of one body is like the the beauty of all bodies.11

  • 12 μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα τὸ ἐν ταῖς ψυχαῖς κάλλος τιμιώτερον ἡγήσασθαι τοῦ ἐν τῷ σώματι” (ibid., 210c).
  • 13 τοῖς νόμοις καλὸν” (ibid.).
  • 14 παιδαρίου κάλλος ἀνθρώπου” (ibid., 210d).
  • 15 ἐπὶ τὸ πολὺ πέλαγος τετραμμένος τοῦ καλοῦ” (ibid.).
  • 16 μὲν ἀεὶ ὂν καὶ οὔτε γιγνόμενον οὔτε ἀπολλύμενον” (ibid., 211a).

7Stepping from the first rung to the second rung of the ladder involves moving from individual example to collective examples—but it does not yet involve moving from example to concept, from concrete to abstract. That is the work of the third and fourth steps. Step three demands that “besides this, in the meantime he must understand what is the soul’s beauty, worthiness, and value over that of the body”,12 and learn to see “beauty in the laws”.13 This definitively moves the student’s focus beyond the individual and toward the collective and conceptual: no longer will he direct his love toward “beauty in a boy or a man”,14 but he will instead turn “toward the mighty sea of beauty”.15 Here, at last, the student is ready to climb to the top of the ladder, ready for the final revelation of the true nature of beauty as eternity: “indeed it always existed, and neither comes into being nor is destroyed”.16 Finally, Diotima gives a summary description of how the student learns to move from lower to higher forms of devotion:

  • 17 τῶνδε τῶν καλῶν ἐκείνου ἕνεκα τοῦ καλοῦ ἀεὶ ἐπανιέναι, ὥσπερ ἐπαναβαθμοῖς χρώμενον, ἀπὸ ἑνὸς ἐπὶ δύ (...)

Beginning with the beauty of the individual, the quest for beauty always rises, even as it were using the steps of a ladder, from one to two, and from two to all beautiful bodies, and from the beauty in all bodies to the beauty of of customs and observances, and from the customs and observances to the beauty of knowledge and mathematics, and from such knowledge to the individual learning that has its end solely in the knowledge of the existence of beauty itself.17

8From Plato we come to the later Neoplatonist philosopher, Plotinus. The modification Plotinus makes to Platonic thought pushes it to the point of religiosity, transforming Platonic philosophy into a theology in all but name that is first cousin to Christianity. Plotinus describes the reality of everything that exists in a layered or structured form, like that presented in the Symposium, but with an extra twist. There is an ultimate level of reality, beyond all description, conception, idea, and imagination. Plotinus calls this level τὸ ἕν, or the One:

  • 18 Ὅτι δὲ οὕτω χρὴ νομίζειν ἔχειν, ὡς ἔστι μὲν τὸ ἐπέκεινα ὄντος τὸ ἕν, […] ἔστι δὲ ἐφεξῆς τὸ ὂν καὶ (...)

In this manner we can proclaim a Principle, which exists beyond Being—the One. […] Existing next in order to the One is Mind. Third is Spirit, and then physical Nature, which by this procession is shown and brought to light.18

9All things proceed from the One. From this indescribable source the next level emanates, in what Plotinus describes as an unwilled process of creation in which lower levels come from higher levels, but not due to any purpose held by those higher levels. This next level is called Nous, or Mind. Here is where all thought, reason, ideas exist. Nous, for Plotinus, is the level Plato described as the realm of the Forms. Nous then produces Psyche or Spirit, the level of soul, engagement, and (willed) creative activity. Finally, from Psyche, comes the physical world of matter. Everything emanates from the one ultimate, indescribable, non-understandable source. Emanation proceeds downward, but is part of a cyclical process, conducted within a self-contained environment.

10How? Because, according to Plotinus, the proper motion of emotional, intellectual, and spiritual life is never a focus here, on the world in which we live as physical and mortal beings, but above, to the realms from which matter emanated. Plotinus paints a picture of yearning and desire, though not of bodies for other bodies. The yearning Plotinus describes is of the mortal for the immortal, the temporary for the permanent, the changing for the changeless. As Plotinus describes it, this yearning is for one’s origin:

  • 19 Ποθεῖ δὲ πᾶν τὸ γεννῆσαν καὶ τοῦτο ἀγαπᾷ, καὶ μάλιστα ὅταν ὦσι μόνοι τὸ γεννῆσαν καὶ τὸ γεγεννημέν (...)

Everything longs for, and in this way loves its engenderer, and especially whenever they are solitary the engendered seeks the engenderer; but when the engenderer is the highest good, the engendered does so out of necessity, divided, existing alone in its otherness and distinction.19

  • 20 “The highest and final thing that a man may leave is this: that he leaves God for God” (“Daz hœhste (...)

11We desire, if properly oriented and instructed, that level of existence that exceeds our own, and this upward-focus is reflected in the process of emanation (non-willed creation that descends from higher to lower levels) and return (a willed focus that ascends from lower to higher levels). For the Neoplatonists who follow Plotinus, love is properly understood as an ascent through higher levels of experience, thought, and awareness, with a corresponding move away from a focus on or attachment to the here and now. According to this way of thinking, love is not love for an individual. It seeks to leave behind the embodied physical experiences of life. This movement away from the individual and physical, and toward the eternal and ethereal leads to something divine. In the Symposium it leads to the finest sense of knowledge. In Plotinus—and in the Christian thinkers and writers who incorporate his thought into their own—it becomes something like a God beyond God, what the thirteenth-century German mystic Meister Eckhart called the God that you must leave for God’s sake.20 Where Plato stops a step short of that, Plotinus’s structure puts an unknowable “divine” principle at the top. This idea of love as a yearning for the divine and immortal, a yearning which must be shaped and trained away from individuals, is taken up by Dante, Petrarch, and other Italian poets, and passed down through them to English sixteenth-century authors. This idea works against the destabilizing effect of individual choice in love (which itself undermines the force of Church, State, and marital and social conventions) that is so powerfully emphasized in troubadour poetry.

II. Post-Fin’amor Italian Poetry: The Sicilian School to Dante and Petrarch

12Among the earliest poetry in the Italian tradition was the work of the Sicilian poets in the court of Frederick II (1194–1250). Frederick’s was a court that anticipated many of the great aesthetic and academic achievements of the Renaissance:

  • 21 Michael R. G. Spiller. The Development of the Sonnet: An Introduction (London: Routledge, 1992), 14

The Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, who ruled from 1208 to 1250 […], was an absolute ruler, but an enlightened and (for those days) tolerant one […]; the philosophy and literature of the Arabs, of the Sicilian and Byzantine Greeks, of classical and neo-Latin Italy, and of southern France and Spain, all flowed into Frederick’s realm […]. [A] patron of scholars, translators, poets and musicians, as he moved about among his various cities and castles, […] he required the centralised control of the imperium to be administered by a highly loyal staff of professional legal administrators […]. It was to this secular corps that the inventor of the sonnet belonged.21

  • 22 Ffiona Swabey. Eleanor of Aquitaine, Courtly Love, and the Troubadours (Westport: Greenwood Press, (...)
  • 23 Ibid.
  • 24 Olive Sayce. Exemplary Comparison from Homer to Petrarch (Cambridge, UK: Brewer, 2008), 289.

13This new poetry was written in a style heavily influenced by the troubadours, as the poets “modeled their songs on the Occitan […] themes, but composed in the Sicilian dialect”.22 However, these poets added three crucial elements: first, their radically enhanced “descriptions of the pain and sorrow of love, which had enormous emotional power”, and second, their “invention of the sonnet, which became the dominant form for love poetry, not only in renaissance Italy but all over Europe”.23 The third element, however, is the most important: the Sicilian poets wrote in service and deference to imperial authority: “It was probably Frederick II […] who encouraged the composition of poetry on the model of that of the troubadours at his Sicilian court. […] Thus the foundations of the Italian lyric were laid”.24 In this more deferential poetry, something new appears—the tendency, which grows more pronounced in the poetry that follows, to turn love into worship and women into divine objects of adoration:

  • 25 John Addington Symonds. Renaissance in Italy, Vol. 4, part 1 (London: Mith, Elder & Co., 1881), 59– (...)

The Sicilians followed closely in the track of the Provençal poets […]. The subject matter of this imitative poetry was love—but love that bore a peculiar relation to ordinary human feeling. Woman was regarded as an ideal being, to be approached with worship bordering on adoration. The lover derived personal force, virtue, elevation, energy, from his enthusiastic passion. […] Love was the consummation of spiritual felicity, which surpassed all other modes of happiness in its beatitude.25

  • 26 Sayce 290. See also Martin J. Duffell’s brief outlining of the history of the sonnet form in A New (...)
  • 27 Swabey, 67–68.

14One of the best examples of the Sicilian style survives in the work of the man usually credited with the invention of the sonnet form, Giacomo da Lentini.26 Working at the court of Frederick in the early thirteenth century, Giacomo’s lyrics straddle the line between troubadour sensuality, and the later spiritualization of the poets of the dolce stil novo, a style that “owed much to the Sicilian school, [but most of whose practitioners] were from Florence and wrote in the Tuscan dialect”.27 In perhaps his most famous poem, Io m’aggio posto in core a Dio servire, Giacomo writes of being torn between love of God and love of his Lady, and is not at all sure that the former outweighs the latter:

  • 28 Giacomo da Lentini. A Critical Edition of the Poetry of Giacomo da Lentini, ed. by Stephen Popolizi (...)

Io m’aggio posto in core a Dio servire
com’io potesse gire in paradiso,
al santo loco c’aggio audito dire
si mantien sollazo, gioco, e riso.
Sanza mia donna non vi voria gire
(quella c’a blonda testa e claro viso)
che sanza lei non poteria gaudire,
estando da la mia donna diriso.
Ma non lo dico a tale intendimento
perch’io pecato ci volesse fare,
se non veder lo suo bel portamento,
lo bel viso, e l[o] morbido aguardare:
che lo mi teria in gran consolamento,
vegiendo la mia donna in ghiora stare.
28

I have it deeply in my heart to serve God,
so that I will come into paradise,
The holy place I hear everywhere spoken of,
where always is solace, joy and laughter.
Without my lady I would not want to go,
she with the blond hair and bright face,
for without her, I could take no pleasure,
being separated from my lady.
Although I do not intend to say
that I would sin with her there;
if I did not see her beautiful bearing,
and her beautiful face and soft look,
I could not have great consolation
unless I saw my lady standing there in glory.

15The poet bargains with God over the love he has for his lady—assuring heaven’s monarch, or trying to, that he means not to “sin”, but insisting that if she were not in heaven, he “would not want to go”, and would “take no pleasure”. The sentiments of Giacomo’s poem and those of Aucassin in Aucassin et Nicolette seem to have rather more in common than might appear at a first glance. While Aucassin speaks harshly of the corruption of heaven and of those who are ticketed for that particularly joyless destination, a place of “naked folks and shoeless, and covered with sores, perishing of hunger and thirst, and of cold, and of little ease”, Giacomo’s lover speaks more quietly, perhaps a bit timorously, but no less determinedly of his distaste for a heaven in which his lady might not be found.

16Elsewhere, however, the developing tendency to idealize the lady, to both raise and reduce her by comparing her to jewels, the stars, the sun, can be seen in Giacomo’s sonnet Diamante, né smeraldo, né zaffino. The lady is worth more than any jewel, and is like the stars themselves:

  • 29 Ibid., 193.

[D]iamante, nè smiraldo, nè zaffino,
nè vernul’altra gemma prezïosa,
topazo, nè giaquinto, nè rubino,
nè l’aritropia, ch’è sì vertudiosa,
nè l’amatisto, nè’l carbonchio fino,
lo qual è molto risprendente cosa,
non àno tanta beleze in domino,
quant’a in se la mia donna amorosa.
E di vertute tutte l’altre avanza,
somigliante [a stella è] di splendore
co la sua conta e gaia innamoranza;
e più bellè[sti] che rose e che frore.
Cristo le doni vita ed alegranza,
e sì l’acresca in gran pregio ed onore.
29

Diamonds, nor emeralds, nor sapphires,
nor any other precious gems,
topaz, nor pearl, nor rubies,
neither heliotrope, so great in power,
nor amethyst, nor the finest stones,
the things which are most resplendent,
none have beauty and power,
so much as is in my beloved lady.
And her virtue advances beyond all others,
it shines like the stars in its splendor
through her cheerful and charming face.
She is more beautiful than a rose, or a flower.
Christ give her the gifts of life and joy,
and may she grow great in praise and honor.

17At the same time, she exceeds the stars in brilliance; indeed, she is the sun itself in Giacomo’s Dolce cominciamento:

  • 30 Ibid., 107.

Dolce cominciamento
canto per la più fina
che sia, al mio parimento
d’Agri infino in Messina,
ciòe la più avenente,
‘O stella rilucente,
che levi la maitina.
quando m’apar davanti,
li tuo’ dolzi sembianti
mi’ncendon la corina’.
30

Sweet beginning,
I sing for the finest
there is, in my opinion,
from Agri, all the way to Messina,
that is the most charming and fair.
“Oh shining star,
that rises at dawn!
When you appear before me,
your sweet face
sets fire to my heart”.

  • 31 “L’amore divenne un’arte, col suo codice di leggi e costumi. Non ci fu più questa o quella donna, m (...)
  • 32 Paul Oppenheimer. “The Origin of the Sonnet”. Comparative Literature, 34: 4 (Autumn 1982), 297, htt (...)
  • 33 Ibid., 304.

18As beautiful as this is, what has gone missing, even at this early stage, is precisely what goes missing from the poetry of a post-Crusade troubadour like Guilhem Montanhagol: the open description and celebration of physical passion and sexual desire as an element of love. Even in Giacomo’s verse, whose lover seems on the precipice of refusing heaven if his lady is not to be there, the ideas of God and heaven and future punishment and reward are working their way prominently into the poetry. Here, we are entering a period in which poetry withdraws from individual passions, taking refuge in idealized descriptions: “Love became an art, with its code of laws and customs. There was no longer this or that particular woman, but a woman with fixed shapes and features, as conceived in books of chivalry. All women were alike”.31 This is a distinct departure from the work of the Occitan poets: Giacomo is “deliberately turning away from the kinds of songs made and sung by the troubadours”.32 His poems are not expressions of person-to-person love, but “lyric[s] sung by the soul to the soul, in the silent music of the soul”, songs that “echo those celestial and silent proportions and ratios described by Plato”, constructed “according to the architecture of the soul and of heaven”.33 One can imagine Guilhem IX snorting at such ideas, but such was the change from the late eleventh to the early thirteenth centuries, as the Church grew more powerful, and learned to exert more control over the lives of those under its sway, even dictating what would, and would not, be appropriate in the realm of art and poetry:

The Church proscribed the poets of antiquity; and it had become an axiom that poetry was the art of lies. Poetry was hardly suffered to exist except as a veil to cloak some hidden doctrine; and allegory presented a middle way of escape, whereby the pleasure of art could be enjoyed with a safe conscience.34

19The effects of this increasing control can be seen as we move from the Sicilians to the practitioners of what Dante calls the dolce stil novo. Guido Guinizelli (c. 1230–1276) is writing at about the same time as Montanhagol, while the last of the old troubadour spirit in Occitania is dying. In Guinizelli’s poems, a transition between the embodied love of the troubadours and the spiritualized love of the emerging allegorical and Neoplatonist tradition is evident. There is still a powerful sense of bodily desire, but in Chi vedesse a Lucia un var cappuzzo (Who sees Lucia in her fur hat) something has gone wrong, and become twisted into the foul deformity of a rape fantasy:

  • 35 Guido Guinizelli. The Poetry of Guido Guinizelli, ed. by Robert Edwards (New York: Garland Publishi (...)

Ah, prender lei a forza, ultra a su’grato
e bagiarli la bocca e‘l bel visaggio
e li occhi suoi, ch’èn due fiamme de foco!
Ma, pentomi, però che m’ho pensato,
ch’esto fatto poria portar dannaggio
ch’altrui despiaceria forse non poco.
35

Oh, to take her by force, even against her will,
And kiss her mouth and beautiful face
And her eyes, like two flames of fire!
But I repent that thought,
For this would cause harm and sorrow,
And displease her not a little.

  • 36 “Au chant XXVI, parmi une bande de luxurieux, sodomites et autres, Dante rencontre Guido Guinicelli (...)

20The violent lust of this poem may partly explain why Dante puts Guinizelli in hell: “In canto XXVI, amidst a band of the lustful, sodomites and others, Dante meets Guido Guinizelli. He salutes him by the name of the ‘father’, because he was both the initiator and [Dante’s] master in the [dolce stil novo’s] third way, sensual and scholarly”.36 Alongside the hellish note, there is a ring of the future in Guinizelli’s poem, a hint of the poetry that will follow a Neoplatonic path, with the increasingly intense sublimation of the physical into the spiritual, the rhetorical excesses of the comparisons of the beloved’s eyes to the stars of heaven, the beloved’s voice to the music of angels, or the beloved’s eyelids to flame. The women of these poems will be described in ways that separate them from the realm of physically identifiable human beings. The woman is light, a star, radiant; she is not embodied, but a spiritual figure who draws the male poet toward heaven. In the above example, we can clearly see that the “Lucia” of the poem is not regarded by the narrator as a fully human woman; rather, she is an object—either of rape fantasies, or of worship—not a desired and desiring subject. The change in the lady’s status in Guinizelli (as opposed to Marcabru or Bernart de Ventadorn) is already obvious.

21The sublimation and spiritualization that is merely hinted at elsewhere is openly expressed in Guinizelli’s Al cor gentil (Of the gentle heart):

  • 37 Guinizelli, 22, ll. 41–50.

Splende ‘n la ‘ntelligenzïa del cielo
Deo Crïator più che ‘n nostr’ occhi ‘l sole:
ella intende suo fattor oltra ‘l cielo,
e ‘l ciel volgiando, a lui obedir tole,
e con’segue al primero
del giusto Deo beato compimento,
così dar dovria, al vero,
la bella donna, poi che ‘n gli occhi splende
del suo gentil, talento
che mai di lei obedir non si disprende.
37

So shines in the Intelligence of heaven
God the creator, more than sun in our eyes;
She understands her maker beyond heaven,
And turning to heaven, prepares to obey;
And in first consequence thereof,
As God blesses the just
So in her true duty
The beautiful lady, whose eyes shine
On the gentle, and talented,
Blesses those who do not cease to obey her.

22Here, the lady is a conduit between the poet and God, a spiritual figure in whose eyes truth is glorified, and to whose service the poet is dedicated. In this poem, the beloved is barely a woman at all; instead, she is something more like a saint, an object of devotion and praise whose main purpose is to bring the poet to God. The shift—even as early as Guinizelli—is evident and profound: rather than being regarded as an individual (as a subject) who is desired by the male for her own beauties and merits, as in the troubadour poems, this woman is portrayed as the personification of an abstract principle—truth—and is desired primarily for her function or utility (as an object) in bringing the poet to God.

23This is an idea we can trace to an Inquisition-era troubadour, Uc de Saint Circ, who was writing in northern Italy in the mid-thirteenth century, perhaps a generation before Guinizelli. Uc writes of aspiring to heaven through a lady:

  • 38 “Servit aurai longamen”, ll. 46–49. In Alfred Jeanroy, ed. Poesies de Uc de Saint-Circ (Toulouse: É (...)

De ma vida · m faitz esmenda,
Bella de dura merce,
Ab sol que soffratz de me
Qu’eu per vos al cel entenda.
38

Take my life in homage,
Beautiful unmerciful one,
As long as you suffer me
To aspire through you to heaven.

  • 39 William J. Kennedy. “European Beginnings and Transmissions: Dante Petrarch, and the Sonnet Sequence (...)
  • 40 “non me fu fallo, s’in lei posi amanza” (Guinizelli, 22, l. 60).

24This is the point at which the emphasis of love poetry clearly changes, shifting its focus from here to the hereafter. Though it may well be true that “Guinizelli […] refuses to define sacred and profane love as mutually exclusive”, this merely leads us back to Diotima’s notion that human love is nothing more than a transitional stage in the seeking of divine love, especially since Guinizelli appeals to “a subtle Augustinian philosophical sense of love as a continuum from human to divine”, and “treats the amatory situation as an inward and high-mindedly ethical event, connected with the larger process of order and purpose in God’s universe”.39 In Guinizelli’s poetry, the woman praised by the poet is not an end in herself, but a glorified means to an end. In fact, Guinizelli expresses anxiety lest he had at any point slipped up and paid too much regard to the woman, and therefore not enough to God: “It was not my fault, to fall in love with her”.40

25God is portrayed here as jealous because not all praise and love is going to him. Part of it may have, in quiet moments, gone too directly to the unnamed “her” of Guinizelli’s song, making that “her” a rival to God, another deity. Such a gesture makes clear that this woman is not a woman, or at the very least is not treated so by the poem. This woman is a paragon, no mere fleshly mortal, and the poem goes to great lengths to give love a Christian doctrinal basis:

  • 41 Lowry Nelson. Poetic Configurations: Essays in Literary History and Criticism (University Park: Pen (...)

The dramatized self-justification leaves the lady still enhanced and angel-like and at the same time allows a distant analogy to the Virgin. Thus [Guinizelli] by his mode of argument puts the love situation on an inward ethical basis, connects it with the macro-cosmic process of God’s universe, and gives it a Christian justification.41

26Guinizelli’s sonnet Io vogl’del ver la mia donna laudare is less blatant in its treatment of the “lady” as a means rather than an end than is Al cor gentil. But even here, the reader encounters a meditation on a subject that serves to ennoble the meditator, and represents the woman as a glorious means to a higher and even more glorious end:

  • 42 Guinizelli, 40, ll. 1–4.

Io vogl’del ver la mia donna laudare
ed asembrarli la rosa e lo giglio:
più che stella dïana splende e pare,
e ciò, ch’è lassù è bello a lei somiglio.
42

I will in truth praise my lady,
Comparing her to the rose and the lily.
She shines brighter than Diana’s star;
And so, all that is beautiful, resembles her.

27Again, we see the comparison of the woman to heaven, to “Diana’s star” (Venus, or the “morning star”) which the unnamed lady exceeds. It’s lovely. The poetry of this period and place is aesthetically at least equal to, and arguably an advance beyond, much of the earlier troubadour poetry. But it also represents a significant shift in point of view and philosophical orientation. Far from being desirable for beauty, from passion, and through disregard for the consequences attending a nearly-always adulterous inclination and arousal, the woman is treated as an exemplar, a spiritual guide for the righteous man, and a transcendent agent of shame and reproach for the unrighteous man:

  • 43 Ibid., ll. 11–14.

e fa ‘l di nostra fè se non la crede.
e non la pò appressare om che sia vile;
ancor ve dirò c’ha maggior virtute;
null’uom pò mal pensar fin che la vede.
43

She makes you of our faith, if you do not believe.
For no man can be near her, if he is vile:
I tell you, she has an even greater strength;
No man can think evil who has seen her.

  • 44 Marianne Shapiro. Woman Earthly and Divine in the Comedy of Dante (Lexington: University Press of K (...)

28All of this eloquence is put into the service of an argument which is essentially this: love is only that which leads to, and is finally revealed as having always been, love of God: “To Guido Guinizelli love, always guided by reason, is a pure form of man’s aspiration toward God. Originating largely in the aesthetic admiration of physical beauty, love thereafter turns to the moral beauty which is its true goal. In the cor gentil the beautiful lady may induce a blessedness that is the image of the beatitude of heaven”.44 The love of another, the love of a freely chosen individual, a flesh and blood man or woman, is next door to idolatry. Such love of another is only excusable if it leads you to the love of God. And while the veils between idolatry and love of God here might seem thin, that is only because they are thin. The early Italian poets, much like the late troubadour Montanhagol, are trying to shoehorn notions of eros (from a tradition that spans from Ovid through the high-period troubadours) into the new dispensation, the rules set down by the post-Albigensian-Crusade Church (in which the theological and military powers-that-be demonstrated that they were ready and willing to turn against Europeans, not just a distant Muslim “other”). How far, at this point, we have come from the letters of Héloïse, and the poems of the troubadours.

  • 45 “Ed infra l’altre par lucente sole” (Guinizelli, 2, l. 23).

29One final poem from Guinizelli brings a number of ideas together in one place. In Tegno di folle ‘mpres’, a lo ver dire, the poet distinguishes his love from other women by resorting to the now familiar comparison to the sun: “Among others she is a shining sun”.45 The woman of this canzone, however, is also proud, perhaps a touch too proud, in the poet’s view:

  • 46 Ibid., ll. 18–22.

ella non mette cura di neente
ma vassen disdegnosa,
ché si vede alta, bella, e avvenente.
Ben si pò tener alta quanto vòle;
ché la plu bella donna è che si trove
46

She does not care about a single thing,
But walks away disdainfully,
Seeing herself as beautiful and fair.
Well, she can have all the pride she wants,
For she is the most beautiful woman anywhere.

30The implication is that because the lover loves, the beloved is supposed to have mercy on, extend favor to, and in some cases reciprocate the love of the lover. When she does not, she is described as haughty, even imperious, while the man who loves her is a helpless fool:

  • 47 Ibid., 11.1–7

Tegno di folle ‘mpres’, a lo ver dire,
chi s’abandona
inver’ troppo possente,
si como gli occhi miei che fér esmire
nincontr’a quelli de la più avenente.
che sol per lor è vinti
senza ch’altre bellezze li dian forza,
ché a ciò far son pinti.
47

I think him foolish, truthfully,
who abandons himself to a power too strong,
like I, with my eyes, have done in this sort
to the power of those eyes most fair,
and by them are overcome.
No need for other beauties to lend their force,
To what had gone before.

31This idea of the proud and unmerciful lady who refuses her love to the young male who pines for it is one that appears often in the later poetry of Petrarch, and in the verses of English poets like Philip Sidney. In Guinizelli, we can see an early example of what will become a well-worn pairing: the ladder of love, and the pride or intractability of the beloved. This pairing strongly suggests that the female is responsible for the spiritual life and death of the male. If the woman is the conduit through which the man is to learn to ascend to heaven on the ladder of his own increasingly refined, and upward-directed thoughts and emotions, and the woman is too proud to be as affable and obedient as the male would have her be, then the man will fail to ascend, suffer spiritual death, and end up in a hell of eternal judgment and torment. From this develops the idea that love is something you die for, or die of, rather than live for. In his work, Petrarch makes frequent use of this idea, and Shakespeare will often mock characters who give voice to such weeping and gnashing of teeth.

32Guinizelli’s contemporary, Guido delle Colonne, develops the idea of the lady’s pride and failure to be “affable” in Amor, che lungiamente m’hai menato (Love, which so long has driven me):

  • 48 Piero Cudini, ed. Poesia Italiana. Il Duecento (Milan: Lampi di Stampa, 1999), 27, ll. 27–39.

Non dico c’a la vostra gran bellezza
orgoglio non convegna e stiale bene,
c’a bella donna orgoglio ben convene,
che si mantene—in pregio ed in grandezza.
Troppa alterezza—è quella che sconvene;
di grande orgoglio mai ben non avene.
Però, madonna, la vostra durezza
convertasi in pietanza e si rinfreni:
non si distenda tanto ch’io ne pèra.
Lo sole è alto, e sì face lumera,
e tanto più quanto ‘n altura pare:
vostr’argogliare—donqua e vostra altezze
facciami prode e tornimi in dolcezze.
48

I do not say, that with your great beauty
Pride does not agree, it serves you well;
That pride in a beautiful woman is fitting
Which maintains esteem and grandeur.
But too much pride, that is not fitting;
A great and haughty pride is never attractive.
But my lady, your harshness
Convert to pity, and restraint;
Do not stretch so much, to seem so posh.
The sun is high, and brilliantly lighted,
And even more so, the higher it seems:
So let your pride and your haughtiness
Turn its face to me in sweetness and delight.

  • 49 Jane E. Everson. The Italian Romance Epic in the Age of Humanism: The Matter of Italy and the World (...)

33In the terms of these lines, if the poet does not gain the love of the figure he refers to possessively as “my lady”, then he will rail at length about her “haughty pride” and “harshness”, berating her for her lack of “pity”, while never considering her desires even for a moment. Nowhere is it clearer than in these lines that the beloved is a means, not an end in herself. In the troubadour poems, what is different is the idea of individual value and mutual desire. In those poems, the will is mutual, as is the choice. Where is the volition of the women being spoken of in the poems of Guinizelli and Colonne? Where is the voice of the female? She has become a beautifully spoken-of but slightly-regarded object, a consistent feature of Colonne’s larger body of work, where “[h]is tone is overtly moralizing and didactic [and] he muses on the instability of human affairs, the unpredictable workings of Fortune, and […] the fickleness of women and their dangerous and corrupting influence”.49 This crucial shift in perspective lays down the foundations of ideas and imagery that work their way through a developing poetic tradition that has enormous influence on the poetry of later centuries. Colonne’s final lines bring this point home:

  • 50 Cudini, 28, ll. 54–60.

Gli occi a lo core sono gli messaggi
de’suoi incominciamenti per natura.
Dunqua. madonna, gli occhi e lo meo core
avete in vostra mano, entro e di fore,
c’Amor me sbatte e smena, che no abento,
sì come vento—smena nava in onda:
voi siete meo pennel che non affonda.
50

The eyes bring messages to the heart
Of all that begins by nature.
Therefore, my lady, my eyes and my heart
You have in your hand, inside and out;
That love leads my life into battle,
And beats, as the winds against a ship,
But you are my banner, which will not sink.

34And yet where is this lady in those gorgeous lines? She is a thing that exists in his emotions, in his head, in his thoughts, in his language, in his verse. She is given no detailed description, no voice or validity or ability to speak back except as an adjunct to his desires or an aid to what he would have. If we look at the poem as a powerful expression of what the poet most desires, aesthetically it is beautiful. But when we consider how that desire is spoken, what use the poems make of the idea of the beloved, that desire, and that poem, become dark and troubling things.

35By the time we come to the poetry of Dante, written in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, we are on ground that is more familiar to many readers. His collection La Vita Nuova (The new life) contains even clearer alterations of troubadour themes than do the works of his predecessors. These verses describe the effect on the poet that is wrought by seeing a young girl named Beatrice, who will become the muse of La Divina Commedia, or The Divine Comedy. The sonnet Negli occhi porta la mia donna Amore makes the effect especially clear:

  • 51 Dante. The Canzoniere of Dante Alighieri, ed. by Charles Lyell (London: James Bohn, 1840), 36, http (...)

Negli occhi porta la mia donna Amore;
Per che si fa gentil ciò ch’ella mira:
Ov’ella passa ogni uom ver lei si gira:
E cui saluta fa tremar lo core;
Sì che bassando il viso tutto smore,
E d’ogni suo difetto allor sospira:
Fugge davanti a lei superbia, ed ira.
Aitatemi voi, donne, a farle onore.
Ogni dolcezza, ogni pensiero umile
Nasce nel core a chi parlar la sente;
Ond’è beato chi prima la vide.
Quel ch’ella par quando un poco sorride
Non si può dicer, nè tenere a mente,
Si è nuovo miracolo e gentile.
51

The door to love is in my lady’s eyes,
So where she looks all things grow gentle;
And where she passes all men turn to her,
And those she blesses tremble to their core,
Cast their faces down in shame, wholly pale,
And instantly confess their every sin in sighs.
Pride and anger flee before her,
Help me honor her, noble ladies.
All sweetness, all humble thoughts
Be born in the hearts that hear her speak;
And blessed be they who have once known
How she appeared with a little smile;
Nor words nor thoughts can describe her,
She is so new and noble a miracle.

36Dante describes this young girl as a “miracle” more than she is a flesh-and-blood human being; her value is not in her humanity, but in her function. Beatrice transforms (“where she looks all things grow gentle”) the wicked hearts of evil men, who, as they “[c]ast their faces down in shame, wholly pale, / And instantly confess their every fault in sighs”, become suddenly aware of their insufficiency in the face, not of a girl, but of a goddess. This sacramental function that Dante assigns to Beatrice is even clearer in the following lines from Io mi sentii svegliar dentro a lo core:

Io mi sentii svegliar dentro a lo core
Un spirito amoroso che dormia,
E poi vidi venir di lungi Amore,
Allegro sì che appena il conoscìa,
Dicendo: or pensa pur di farmi onore;
E ciascuna parola sua ridia:
E, poco stando, meco il mio signore,
Guardando in quella parte ond’ei venia,
Io vidi monna Vanna e monna Bice
Venire in verso il loco
dov’ io era,
L’una appresso dell’altra meraviglia.
E sì, come la mente mi ridice,
Amor mi disse: questa è Primavera,
E quella ha nome Amor, sì mi somiglia.
52

I felt awakening in my inmost heart
Love’s spirit, sleeping there.
And I saw Love himself approach from afar,
So cheerfully, I scarcely recognized him,
He said, think now to give me honor;
And with every word he laughed.
And, when my Lord had stayed a little while,
I gazed in the direction from which he came
And saw lady Vanna and lady Beatrice
Coming to the place where I stood,
The one surpassing the other as a marvel,
And now, as memory brings back their words
Love said to me, this lady is the Springtime,
But this one is called Love, she so resembles me.

37Beatrice, as were the various “ladies” of the Guinizelli and Colonne poems, is made an abstraction, stripped of humanity in order better to serve to stir the poet’s heart, and work him into an attitude of worship.

  • 53 Hagstrum, 236.

38In the sonnet Di donne io vidi una gentile schiera, Dante takes the deifying and sacralizing of Beatrice even further. Here, Beatrice is not merely Love itself, no mere miracle—rather, she is “an angel through whom man reaches God”,53 accompanied by Love as by an attendant, a lady birthed in Heaven itself:

Di donne io vidi una gentile schiera
Quest’ Ognissanti prossimo passato;
Ed una ne venia quasi primiera,
Seco menando Amor dal destro lato.
Dagli occhi suoi gittava una lumiera,
La qual pareva un spirito infiammato;
Ed i’ebbi tanto ardir, che la sua cera
Guardando, vidi un angiol figurato.
A chi era degno poi dava salute
Con gli occhi suoi quella benigna e piana,
Empiendo il core a ciascun di virtute.
Credo che in ciel nascesse esta soprana,
E venne in terra per nostra salute:
Dunque beata chi l’è prossimana.
54

I saw a group of gentle ladies
On All Saint’s Day just past;
And one, without apology, as if the prime,
Led Love along at her right hand.
From her eyes shone forth a light,
That seemed a spirit burning in flame;
With great daring, at her form
I gazed, and saw an angel’s figure.
Then with dignity and calm she blessed
With her eyes, kindly and simply, all those
Wicked at heart, filling them all with virtue.
I believe she was born in highest heaven,
And came to earth to be our blessing,
So blissful are those who are close to her.

  • 55 Nelson, 100.

39Here again, love for the “woman” is not love of a human being, but worship of an angel, and a conduit for salvation: “Beatrice gradually becomes a bearer not only of health and of salutation […] but of salvation. Dante’s overwhelming experience of love […] for Beatrice becomes transformed into a sacred spiritual force”.55

40At this point, we have long since left behind the idea of love as a radically destabilizing force, between two people who have no business choosing each other, yet do, despite all the boundaries that separate them. We have moved from that, to a poetry that describes love in sacred terms, a love that is amenable to being channeled within the Church, a love that is not an anarchic threat. The love described by Guinizelli and Colonne, and even more powerfully by Dante, is not a two-way choice, but something that begins to reflect increasingly a single point of view: the desires of the male heart, the male voice, and the male passions, while the female heart, voice, and passions are set aside, and the female herself is increasingly dehumanized, dematerialized, and deified:

Dante may be said to have rediscovered the Platonic mystery, whereby love is an initiation into the secrets of the spiritual world. […] In proportion as Beatrice personified abstractions, she ceased to be a woman even for her lover; nor was it possible except by diminishing her individuality, to regard her as a symbol, of the universal. She passed from the sphere of the human into the divine.57

41One of the most outstanding examples of Dante’s sublimation of love into a spiritual value is found, not in his sonnets, but in his epic. In Inferno, Dante rehearses the then-already-famous story of the lovers Paolo and Francesca. Brought together by the circumstances of an arranged marriage between Francesca da Rimini and Paolo’s brother Gianciotto de Malatesta, the lovers carried on an affair for years before getting caught in the bedroom by Gianciotto, who stabs them to death, affixing them both on his sword at the same time. As Dante’s pilgrim is guided through Hell by Virgil, he encounters Francesca, who tells her story:

  • 58 Dante. Inferno, Canto 5.127–42. In La Divina Commedia. Inferno, ed. by Ettore Zolesi (Rome: Armando (...)

“Noi leggiavamo un giorno per diletto
di Lancialotto come amor lo strinse;
soli eravamo e sanza alcun sospetto.
Per più fiate li occhi ci sospinse
quella lettura, e scolorocci il viso;
ma solo un punto fu quel che ci vinse.
Quando leggemmo il disiato riso
esser basciato da cotanto amante,
questi, che mai da me non fia diviso,
la bocca mi basciò tutto tremante.
Galeotto fu ‘l libro e chi lo scrisse:
quel giorno più non vi leggemmo avante”.
Mentre che l’uno spirto questo disse,
l’altro piangea; sì che di pietade
io venni men così com’io morisse.
E caddi come corpo morto cade.
58

“We were reading, one day, to our delight,
Of Lancelot, held tightly by love;
We were alone, without doubt or suspicion.
Many times, our eyes were drawn together
By that reading, and the color left our faces:
But one point only had defeated us.
When we read of the longed-for lips
Being kissed by the happy lover,
He, from whom may I never be parted,
Kissed me, trembling, on the mouth.
A Galahad was the book and its author,
But that day we read no further”.
While the one spirit said this,
The other wept, and from pity
I grew sick, as if to die,
And I fell as a dead body falls.

42Dante is playing a sly game of poetic sleight-of-hand here. As so often in the vidas, the imaginative biographies of the troubadours, the costs of passion between two people who choose each other in the face of law, marriage, church, and other institutional impediments, can be enormous. Viewed from that perspective, Dante has written, in this scene with Francesca, the most devastatingly romantic vida of them all. But from the perspective of those Dantean poems which regard love as a vehicle for disembodied sublimation and worship, Dante has given Paolo and Francesca the most lasting of punishments for having dared to love each other rather than God, for having dared to be devoted to each other rather than to the laws, codes, and expectations of their time and place. They will spend an eternity in Hell, suffering infinite punishment for a finite period of human sin, at the hands of a God who also arranges for them to regret and weep eternally over the love they had shared.

  • 59 Barbara Reynolds. Dante: The Poet, the Political Thinker, the Man (London: I. B. Tauris, 2007), 135
  • 60 “una Bovary del Duecento, che sogna i baci di Lancillotto, e fruisce, in tragica riduzione, degli a (...)
  • 61 Elspeth Kennedy. “The Rewriting and Re-reading of a Text: The Evolution of the Prose Lancelot”. In (...)
  • 62 “questa donna libresca, questa creatura cartecea, che proietta sul pellegrino le ombre della propri (...)

43As far as some literary critics are concerned, this is all to the good, for such lovers, in the eyes of our rigid moralists, deserve to be punished, and tormented for eternity: Barbara Reynolds argues that Dante puts Francesca in hell “for a reason; [her words] are a key to her character, as is her use of poetry to justify her adultery and of Arthurian romance to blame for its influence”.59 Edoardo Sanguineti condemns Francesca as “a [Madame] Bovary of the thirteenth century, who dreams of kissing Lancelot, and who enjoys, in tragic reduction, the embraces of her brother-in-law”.60 Elspeth Kennedy blames not only poor moral choices but also faulty reading habits for Paolo and Francesca’s consignment to an eternity of torment: “If Paolo and Francesca had read the whole of the cyclic romance, they too might have seen the kiss of Lancelot and Guinevere in a different way and resisted their own desire to imitate it”.61 Antonio Enzo Quaglio dismisses Francesca as an immoral dilettante, who should have left reading to her moral betters, sneering at “this bookish woman, this creature of print, [who,] projecting shadows on the pilgrim’s own moral ambivalence, seems drawn as an ancient cartoon […] from the poetic prehistory of the Commedia”.62 And in a move so dismissive it reads as high comedy, Mary Kay-Gamel reduces Francesca and her eternal torment to the (apparently deserved) agonies of a failed graduate student:

  • 63 Mary-Kay Gamel. “This Day We Read Further: Feminist Interpretation and the Study of Literature”. Pa (...)

Francesca is not a well-trained student of literature. She doesn’t finish the work, she misremembers an important detail (Guinevere kisses Lancelot, not vice versa), she is guilty of the intentional fallacy, and her interpretation is entirely too mimetic. If she had read further, she would have discovered how grave, in emotional and spiritual terms, were the consequences of Lancelot and Guinevere’s illicit love, and she might have acted differently. Francesca is a female reader who does not adequately question the object of her reading, the method she uses to read, and the use to which she puts her reading.63

44But far from being the conventionally moral tale that satisfies the instincts of the moral scolds within academia (or the moral scold within Dante himself), the speech of Francesca da Rimini powerfully illustrates the immorality at the heart of the Christian myth, and the shocking cruelty of the “moral” codes that take their inspiration from it. Greater than all the Inferno’s scenes of torture and pain, greater even than the agony of Count Ugolino, who will spend eternity chewing on the bloody skull of his most hated rival, the passion and punishment of Paolo and Francesca walks a tightrope between fascination and condemnation, between the old attitudes of the troubadours, and the new dispensation in which love will be disembodied, tamed, and turned toward the very God who sentences human beings to an eternity of agony for a finite lifetime of human “error”, a God whom Dante describes in the final line of Paradiso, as l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle, the love that moves the sun and the other stars. From fin’amor, we have now come to the kind of amor that consigns lovers to Hell and torment forever.

  • 64 “Arnaut se vante de réaliser l’impossible” (René Lavaud, in Daniel, 134).

45Less famously, but perhaps even more astoundingly, the forced Christianizing of the poetic tradition, and the shoehorning of the troubadours into the new, spiritualized poetry of love, is nowhere made more evident than in Dante’s treatment of Arnaut Daniel, the poet among the troubadours whom he most admired. In Purgatorio, “Arnaut boasts of achieving the impossible”,64 while Dante has the troubadour speak as though he regrets his life and work, and looks forward only to being fully purged of his sin as he ascends toward God:

  • 65 Dante. Purgatorio, Canto 26.139–48. In La Divina Commedia. Purgatorio, ed. by Ettore Zolesi (Rome: (...)

Tan mabellis vostre cortes deman,
qu’ieu no me puesc ni voill a vos cobrire.
Ieu sui Arnaut, que plor e vau cantan;
consiros vei la passada folor,
e vei jausen lo joi qu’esper, denan.
Ara vos prec, per aquella valor
que vos guida al som de l’escalina,
sovenha vos a temps de ma dolor!
65

I am so pleased by your courteous question,
That I am not able or willing to hide from you.
I am Arnaut, who goes weeping in song;
Grieving, I look back on my past folly,
And I foresee with joy the hope before me.
So now I beg you, by that brave merit
That guides you to the summit of the stairway,
Remember, when the time comes, my sorrow.

46In the eloquence and economy of this gesture, and in the pathos of the scene, a reader may miss the enormity of what Dante has just done. He has reduced an entire world, an entire language, an entire way of life, an entire experience of love and delight to the status of benighted sin. And though he could not bring himself to condemn to Hell the poet he so admired (whom he has another of his heroes, Guinizelli, describe as “the greater maker” (“il miglior fabbro”), he reduces him to a mouthpiece for the newly-ascendant orthodoxy of an Inquisition-era Roman Church. In this moment, and through this gesture, Dante—among the greatest poets our world has ever seen, or will ever see—climbs his mountain of Purgatory, and the new literary mountain of the dolce stil novo, as a traitor to poetry.

  • 66 Neal L. Goldstien. “Love’s Labour’s Lost and the Renaissance Vision of Love”. In Stephen Orgel and (...)

47At the peak of this new literary mountain, we find the later figure of Petrarch. Though he is one of the towering figures in the Western literary tradition, Petrarch is not a solitary genius who establishes a new poetic point of view, creating ex nihilo a poetic form that had not existed before. His original contribution is more evident in terms of emphasis than form: it is not the choice to write about love, sublimated into a passion for heaven, but rather to make the subject of sublimated, spiritualized love the dominant focus of his verse, and to change the vocabulary of love poetry. “Petrarch effected the first major stage in the spiritualization of love and beauty through his insistence upon the spiritual nature of womanly beauty—he contributed, as well, a unique vocabulary which permeates most of the love poetry which follows his: the beloved as tormenter, [and] the lover as sufferer”.66

  • 67 “vostr’ occhi, Donna, mi legaro” (Francesco Petrarca. Il Canzoniere, ed. by Paola Vecchi Galli [Mil (...)
  • 68 “Trovommi Amor del tutto disarmato, / et aperta la via per gli occhi al core, / che di lagrime son (...)

48Much of the imagery and point of view in Petrarch’s poetry is similar to what we have already seen. The idea of personified love appears first in Sonnet 3: captured and unable to defend himself because “your eyes, lady, had bound me”,67 Petrarch’s narrator complains that “Love found me altogether disarmed / and opened the way to the heart through my eyes / which have become the doors and gates of tears”.68 Captured by Love, and bound by the eyes of the “lady” the reader will soon know as Laura, Petrarch’s poetic voice grows increasingly pained and desperate. In Sonnet 11 it begins to appear evident this love is not returned. In fact his expression of love gets in the way and makes the beloved weary of him:

  • 69 Ibid., 11.5–11.

Mentr’io portava i be’ pensier celati,
ch’ànno la mente desïando morta,
vidivi di pietate ornare il volto;
ma poi ch’Amor di me vi fece accorta,
fuor i biondi capelli allor velati
et l’amoroso sguardo in sé raccolto.
Quel ch’i’piú desiava in voi m’è tolto.
69

While I kept my loving thoughts hidden,
that brought my mind to wish for death,
I beheld Pity’s face adorned;
but when Love made you notice me,
you hid your blond hair behind a veil,
and drew back your loving gaze.
What I wanted most in you, he took from me.

  • 70 Ibid., 12.1.

49Sonnet 12 describes his life as one of “bitter torment” (“l’aspro tormento”)70 that might yet afford him the opportunity to gaze once more upon:

  • 71 Ibid., 12.5–8.

cape’ d’oro fin farsi d’argento,
et lassar le ghirlande e i verdi panni,
e ‘l viso scolorir che ne’ miei danni
a llamentar mi fa pauroso et lento
71

a head of golden hair spun like silver,
and the garlands laid by and green cloth,
and your pale face that wounds me
making my lamentations slow and fearful.

  • 72 “I’ benedico il loco e ‘l tempo et l’ora / che sí alto miraron gli occhi mei” (ibid., 13.5–6).

50At other, more optimistic moments, Petrarch’s narrator is less pained by than grateful for the opportunity to worship his beloved from afar: “I bless the place, the time and the hour / that brought so high the gazing of my eyes”.72 But more often, it is pain that characterizes love in Petrarch’s verse. Sonnet 36 meditates on the possibility of escaping this agony by dying:

  • 73 Ibid., 36.1–4.

S’io credesse per morte essere scarco
del pensiero amoroso che m’ atterra,
colle mie mani avrei già posto in terra
queste mie membra noiose, et quello incarco.
73

If I believed that by death I could be released
from amorous thoughts that bind me to earth,
with my hands I would already have buried
these my tiresome limbs, and that burden

51But by Sonnet 90, Petrarch is reliably trading on the imagery of earlier poets like Guinizelli, Colonne, and Dante, including the kinds of objectification and idealisation that will be a staple of the English poets who model themselves after Petrarch in the sixteenth century:

  • 74 Ibid., 90.9–14.

Non era l’andar suo cosa mortale,
ma d’angelica forma; et le parole
sonavan altro che pur voce humana:
uno spirito celeste, un vivo sole
fu quel ch’i’ vidi; et se non fosse or tale,
piagha per allentar d’arco non sana.
74

The way she moved was not a mortal thing,
but in the form of the angels, and her speech
soared higher than any human voice.
A celestial spirit, a living sun
was what I saw there; if she is no longer so,
my wound, though the bow be slack, will not heal.

52Like his predecessors, Petrarch does not write of love for a woman. He writes of passion incited by an object in female form, whose embodied reality he is all too ready to transform into a living goddess.

  • 76 “Nova angeletta sovra l’ale accorta” (ibid. 106.1).
  • 77 “un laccio che di seta ordiva” (ibid., 106.5).
  • 78 “sí dolce lume uscia degli occhi suoi” (ibid., 106.8).

53The same transformation is evident in Sonnet 106, where the poet’s beloved is “a new little angel on graceful wings”,76 who captures the poet in “a silk-woven net”,77 while “a sweet light issued forth from her eyes”.78 In Sonnet 121 we see the now-familiar idea that the beloved is haughty for not returning love. In this case, the beloved should be punished by Love for this failure:

  • 79 Ibid., 121.1–9.

Or vedi, Amor, che giovenetta donna
tuo regno sprezza e del mio mal non cura,
e tra duo ta’ nemici è sì secura.
Tu se’ armato, et ella in treccie e ‘n gonna
si siede, e scalza, in mezzo i fiori e l’erba,
vèr’ me spietata, e ‘n contra te superba.
I’ son pregion; ma se pietà ancor serba
l’arco tuo saldo, e qualcuna saetta,
fa di te, e di me, signor, vendetta.
79

Now see, Love, how this young lady
despises your rule, cares not for my pain,
and between two enemies is so secure.
You are in arms, and she in tresses and gown
sits barefoot amidst flowers and the grass,
without pity for me, set against you in pride.
I am in prison, but if some mercy still keeps
your bow strong, with a few arrows,
for yourself and me, my Lord, take revenge.

54The popular image of Petrarch is that of the long-suffering lover who pines with desire, but a recurring feature of his poetry is resentment. The lover in his poems expresses resentment over the refusal of the beloved to love in return, and expresses the desire that the beloved be made to pay for this.

55Sonnets 133 and 183 are similar expressions of another common idea: the lover is wounded by the experience of love and by the mere glance of the beloved. In Sonnet 133, the beloved is blamed for failing to have mercy:

  • 80 Ibid., 133.3–8.

[…] son già roco,
donna, mercé chiamando, e voi non cale.
Da gli occhi vostri uscìo ‘l colpo mortale,
contra cui non mi val tempo né loco;
da voi sola procede, e parvi un gioco,
il sole e ‘l foco e ‘l vento ond’ io son tale.80

[…] I am already hoarse,
lady, from begging mercy, and you disregard me.
From your eyes issued the mortal blow
from which I’ve no help, not time or place;
from you all proceeds, and you think it a joke,
the sun, fire, and wind that make me so.

  • 81 This idea of the woman’s ability to kill her lover by failing to return his affections is already p (...)
  • 82 “‘l dolce sguardo di costei m’ ancide / et le soavi parolette accorte” (Francesco Petrarca. Il Canz (...)

56In Sonnet 183, the beloved can kill the poet with the merest look,81 for “that sweet glance of hers can kill me, / and her gentle shrewd little words”,82 and women in general are berated for being unreliable and fickle in love:

  • 83 Ibid., 183.12–14.

Femina è cosa mobil per natura;
ond’io so ben ch’un amoroso stato
in cor di donna picciol tempo dura.
83

A woman is changeable by nature;
And I know well that love’s state
in the heart of a lady lasts but a short time.

57As Petrarch’s sequence of poems nears its end, it becomes evident that the beloved Laura is now dead. Sonnet 364 makes reference to having been held, “burning”, for “twenty-one years” before her death:

  • 84 Ibid., 364.1–4.

Tennemi Amor anni vent’uno ardendo,
lieto nel foco, e nel duol pien di speme;
poi che madonna e ‘l mio cor seco inseme
saliro al ciel, dieci altri anni piangendo.
84

Love held me burning twenty-one years,
happy in the fire, in my grief, full of hope;
then, when my lady took my heart with her
rising to Heaven, another ten years crying.

58As the lover asks to be released by God, it is distressingly clear that the thirty-one years of focus testified to by the poems were not spent meditating upon an individual in a relationship of mutual choice, passion, and regard. Those years were spent instead in something like worship, not of an individual, but of a paragon, an idol, or a goddess. By the end of Petrarch’s less-famous collection, the Triunfi, the poet looks to Laura as a promise of heaven itself:

  • 85 “Trionfo della Divinita, Capitolo Unico”. ll. 140–45. In Triunfi, ed. by Cristoforo Pasqualigo (Ven (...)

Amor mi diè per lei sì lunga guerra
che la memoria ancora il cor accenna.
Felice sasso che ‘l bel viso serra!
ché, poi ch’avrà ripreso il suo bel velo,
se fu beato chi la vide in terra,
or che fia dunque a rivederla in cielo?
85

Love gave to me for her so long a war
that the memory still marks my heart.
Happy the stone that covers her face!
For now that she has resumed her beautiful veil,
if he was blessed who saw her on Earth,
What will it be to see her again in heaven?

59Beautiful but unattainable, the beloved Laura of Petrarch’s poems serves as a passion-drenched metaphor, a stairway to heaven, salvation, and God. She was never loved as a woman, at least not by Petrarch. She was an object, not a subject, a means, not an end. She was merely a rung on the ladder of love for the poet to climb.

III. Post-Fin’amor Italian Prose: Il Libro del Cortegiano (The Book of the Courtier)

60As we can see in Il Libro del Cortegiano, by the Italian courtier and author Baldassarre Castiglione, Diotima’s ladder of love becomes a powerful inspiration to the thinking of the Italian literati. Written some time after 1507 (the year during which its conversations take place), and first published in 1528, it is a relatively late, though still useful, encapsulation of Neoplatonic thought in the Italian Renaissance. For the English Renaissance, however, it arrived right on time. First translated into English by Thomas Hoby in 1561, The Book of the Courtier became enormously influential on English literature. In the work’s famous final section, the main speaker is an actual Italian courtier named Pietro Bembo, who was thirty-seven years old at the time of the writing. When Bembo describes the difference between the young and old courtiers, it is important to remember that the old Courtier is still relatively young, and that he is speaking from the perspective of high Neoplatonism.

61Bembo is at pains to define love as a spiritual and idealized force corrupted by its association with human bodies and physical beauty. Already, we can see how forceful is the retreat from the frank eroticism and individualism of troubadour poetry:

  • 86 Hagstrum, 300.

[A]fter a steady dialectical movement that respects man and woman, soul and body, the humanist and Neoplatonist Pietro Bembo’s climactically placed hymn to love turns out to be another grand evasion of the human and an exaltation of angelic beauty and virtue in the tradition of Dante [and] Petrarch.86

  • 87 “i vecchi possano non solamente amar senza biasimo, ma talor più felicemente che i giovani” (Baldas (...)

62For Bembo’s ideal courtier, sexual passion and the love of an individual woman is dangerous, something that needs to be tightly reined in by the firm hand of philosophy, and this is why he says of courtiers that “the old can not only love without blame, but more happily than the young”.87 By “the young”, he means boys of an age with Shakespearean teenagers such as Romeo, Lysander, and Valentine. For Bembo, a man in his mid-thirties can love more happily than a boy in his mid-teens because young men lack the capacity Bembo assumes he has—a capacity to resist physical and emotional desires and redirect them onto something like a sacred path.

63What the Romeos of the world have to do (according to Bembo) is learn how to transcend the love engaged in by ordinary people who adore what is right in front of them. This will enable foolish young men to become wise courtiers, who know how “to love outside the custom of the profane [and] vulgar”,88 by turning their attention away from beautiful individuals to Beauty itself:

  • 89 il Cortegiano, sentendosi preso, deliberarsi totalmente di fuggir ogni bruttezza dell’amor vulgare, (...)

The Courtier, feeling caught, must get rid of every ugliness and totally escape vulgar love, and so enter into the divine way of love with the guidance of reason; and first consider that the body in which that beauty shines, is not the source from which it is born; indeed that beauty is an incorporeal thing, and (as we have said) a divine ray, and it loses much of its dignity being combined with that vile and corruptible subject, because it is the more perfect, the less it participates in matter, and it is most perfect, when entirely separate.89

  • 90 “Rimovasi adunque dal cieco giudizio del senso […] e in lei ami non meno la bellezza dell’animo, ch (...)
  • 91 “pascerà di dolcissimo cibo l’anima […] senza passar col desiderio verso il corpo ad appetito alcun (...)

64With this sense of the vileness of the flesh established, the rest of the Courtier’s mental and emotional journey is a sequential and upward bound chain: “remove from yourself the blind judgment of sense […] and love her no less for the beauty of her soul than of her body”.90 The point is to “devour sweet food for his soul […] without going to the body with appetites anything less than honest”.91 And while loving the beauty of the soul is a wonderful thing, that love takes on an oddly pedagogical tone, for the Courtier must become the moral instructor of the woman who has inspired him with the passion he is trying to deny in himself by turning it to “higher” purposes:

  • 92 però tenga cura di non lasciarla incorrere in errore alcuno, ma con le ammonizioni e buoni ricordi (...)

But let him be careful not to let her run into some error, but with admonitions and good reminders always try to induce in her modesty, temperance, true honesty; and be sure that in her mind there come to be no thoughts but those that are candid and alien to all ugliness and vice; and thus spreading virtue in the garden of her soul, he will reap beautiful fruits, and taste them with wonder and delight; and this will be the true generation and expression of beauty in beauty, which is said by some to be the purpose and purity of love.92

65This directly echoes Pausanius’ speech on the Heavenly and Earthly Aphrodites in the Symposium. For Pausanius, as for Bembo, the higher love revolves around education and development of the capacities—moral, intellectual, ethical—of the beloved (though for Pausanius, the beloved is a young male rather than Bembo’s young female). While the male is to be the patient, reason-driven teacher, the female is to be the pliant and willing pupil:

  • 93 “essa sempre se gli mostrerà ossequente, dolce e affabile, e così desiderosa di compiacergli, come (...)

she always will show herself obedient and respectful, sweet and affable, and as eager to please him, as to be loved by him; and the desires of each will be in harmony with those of the other; and consequently they will both be happy.93

66A great deal of Italian and English poetry plays with this notion of the male who expects the female to be both “obedient” and “affable” where the pedagogical efforts of his love are concerned, although he is often disappointed in this regard. Bembo suggests that even kissing should be regarded as part of this drive toward the spiritual and moral education of both the male and the “obedient” female. The reasonable lover knows that mouths are where speech comes from, which reflects rational thoughts and interprets the soul. Kissing as an erotic act is, for Bembo, something to be feared, but kissing as a spiritual act is something very much to be desired:

  • 94 perchè per essere il bacio congiungimento e dei corpo e dell’anima, pericolo è che l’amante sensual (...)

Because a kiss is the conjoining of body and soul, the danger is that the sensual lover may be more inclined to the body, than to the soul, but the rational lover knows that though the mouth is part of the body, it is the source of words, which are interpreters of souls, […] and because of this a man delights in bringing his mouth to the mouth of his beloved lady, not for dishonest desires, but because he feels that the bond is a transfusion of souls from one body to another […] the kiss, you could say, is the union of souls instead of bodies; because it has so much force, that it pulls the soul, and almost separates it from the body; which is why all chaste lovers want a kiss, as a union of souls.94

67Any physically-based passion is described as dishonest, filthy, a distraction, so a kiss isn’t engaged for desire, nor does it raise any. The kiss, when properly understood by the Courtier, does not take place at the level of flesh, but points lovers upward on the ladder of love.

  • 95 There are voices that oppose this notion at the time. One especially notable example can be found i (...)

68Through Peter Bembo’s speech, Castiglione repeatedly makes the point that love of an individual, appreciation for human beauty and erotic attraction are impure and degraded forms of love,95 which the Courtier is wise to reject in favor of Beauty itself:

  • 96 Per fuggir adunque il tormento di questa assenza, e goder la bellezza senza passione, bisogna che l (...)

To escape torment, then, and enjoy beauty without passion, it is necessary that the Courtier, with the help of reason, revokes entirely his desire to enjoy beauty in the body, and, as much as he can, meditates on beauty as something simple and pure, and in the imagination abstract its form from matter, making it friendly and dear to his soul, and there enjoy it, keeping it day and night, in any time and place without ever losing it; always remembering that the body is something very different from beauty, and not only does not increase it, but decreases its perfection.96

69For the Courtier who is well-instructed and who governs his passions appropriately, love leads beyond the mortal and fleshly beloved, directly to God:

  • 97 Indrizziamo adunque tutti i pensieri e le forze dell’anima nostra a questo santissimo lume che ci m (...)

Therefore, we must direct all the thoughts and powers of our souls to this most holy light that shows us the way that leads to heaven, and following it, strip off the affects in which we were dressed as we fell, and by the lowest rung on the ladder that bears the image of sensual beauty, ascend to the sublime rooms where the heavenly, lovable, and real beauty lives, secreted in the hidden chambers of God, so that the profane eye cannot see it.97

70In such thought the individual is valuable only in terms of its connection to the universal. The beauty of an individual person is only of any significance in that it points beyond that individual, serving as a symbol for the universal concept of beauty.

71From this point of view, the body is a prison to be escaped from. For Bembo, a focus on the body distracts lovers from the holy way of love dependent on reason, which leads them from the world of matter, through the higher contemplative stages, on a spiritual approach to the divine. As Agnolo Firenzuola expressed it in 1548:

  • 98 “la donna bella, è il piu bello obietto che si rimiri: et la belleza è il maggior dono che faceβe I (...)

a beautiful woman is the most beautiful object you will ever see, and beauty is the greatest gift God has given all human creatures; and through its virtue, the soul is guided to contemplation, and through contemplation to the desire of all the things of heaven.98

72From this point of view, love is reason coupled with informed desire for the highest beauty, the highest reality, for God himself. In short, for the wise older Courtier, love is a spiritual exercise that is approached through bodies that are left behind as soon as possible.

IV. The Sixteenth-Century: Post-Fin’amor Transitions in Petrarchan-Influenced Poetry

73It was eventually in England that the troubadour spirit—quite nearly destroyed by the ascendancy of the Inquisition in Europe—once again found rich soil in which to take root and thrive. In a nation of “heretics” the idea of human love was resurrected from the pious grave into which Innocent III had tried to have it eternally immured. Ironically, the Occitan poets disappeared quite nearly without a trace in France, where Neopetrarchism took hold in the sixteenth-century work of, among others, Maurice Scève and Louise Labé. Scève’s work, in ten-line units called dizains, is thematically modeled after Petrarch’s Canzoniere, and faithful to the traditions of Plato and Diotima:

  • 99 Maurice Scève. “Délie 439”. In I. D. McFarlane, ed. The Délie of Maurice Scève (Cambridge: Cambridg (...)

Bien que raison soit nourrice de l’ame,
Alimenté est le sens du doulx songe
De vain plaisir, qui en tous lieux m’ entame,
Me penetrant, comme l’eau en l’esponge.
Dedans lequel il m’abysme, & me plonge
Me suffocquant toute vigueur intime.
Dont pour excuse, & cause legitime
Je ne me doibs grandement esbahir,
Si ma tressaincte, & sage Dyotime
Tousjours m’enseigne a aymer, & hair.99

Though reason is nursemaid to the soul,
The sweet power of my sensuous dreams
Of vain pleasure, follows me everywhere,
Penetrating me, like water in a sponge,
Thrusting and plunging me into the abyss,
Suffocating me in my inmost heart.
This for excuse, although legitimate
Cannot amaze me or leave me in shock,
If my holy and wise Diotima
Still teaches me to love, and how to hate.

74Labé, on the other hand, writes a Petrarchan style of verse that reverses the typical gender roles of the genre: the voice of the lover who burns unrequitedly is female, while the cruel and unforthcoming beloved is male. In her sixteenth sonnet, Apres qu’un tems la gresle et le tonnere, she laments what appears to be her lover’s sexual impotence:

  • 100 Louise Labé. “Sonnet 16”. Oeuvres de Louise Labé, ed. by Prosper Blancheman (Paris: Librarie des Bi (...)

Après qu’un tems la gresle et le tonnerre
Ont le haut mont de Caucase batu,
Le beau jour vient, de lueur revêtu.
Quand Phebus ha son cerne fait en terre,
Et l’Ocean il regaigne à grand erre,
Sa seur se montre avec son chef pointu.
Quand quelque tems le Parthe ha combatu,
Il prent la fuite et son arc il desserre.
Un tems fay vù et consolé pleintif,
Et defiant de mon feu peu hatif;
Mais, maintenant que tu m’ as embrasée
Et suis au point auquel tu me voulois,
Tu as ta flame en quelque eau arrosée,
Et es plus froit qu’estre je ne soulois.100

After a time in which hail and thunder
Have beaten the top of Mount Caucasus,
A beautiful day comes, clothed again in light.
When Phoebus encircles his land again,
And dives into the sea, his pale sister
Moves back into our view with pointed crown.
When for too long the Parthian warrior fights,
He turns from his arc and loosens his bow.
I consoled you once when I saw you sad,
And that aroused my long slow-burning fire;
But now that you have brought me to a burn
And brought me to the point you wished,
You’ve doused your flame with flowing drink,
And yours is colder than mine can ever be.

75Here, the woman pines in vain desire for the man, and must, like poor Petrarch, rest in unrest, and abide in perpetual frustration. Still, despite the change of gender roles, the song remains the same—the beloved remains just as inaccessible in the sixteenth-century Lyonaisse poetry of Labé as in the fourteenth-century Tuscan poetry of Petrarch. Even in her famous eighteenth sonnet, Baise m’encor, rebaise moy et baise, a reworking of Catullus’fifth ode Let Us Live, My Lesbia, and Let Us Love (Vivamus, mea Lesbia, atque amemus), Labé writes of a love that is passionate, but frustrated and impossible to encompass fully:

Baise m’encor, rebaise moy et baise;
Donne m’en un de tes plus savoureus,
Donne m’en un de tes plus amoureus:
Je t’en rendray quatre plus chaus que braise.
Las! te pleins tu? Ça, que ce mal j’apaise,
En t’en donnant dix autres doucereus.
Ainsi meslans nos baisers tant heureus,
Jouissons nous l’un de l’autre à notre aise.
Lors double vie à chacun en suivra;
Chacun en soy et son ami vivra.
Permets m’Amour penser quelque folie:
Tousjours suis mal, vivant discrettement,
Et ne me puis donner contentement
Si hors de moy ne fay quelque saillie.101

Kiss me again, kiss and kiss me once more;
Give me one of your most savory,
Give me one of your most amorous,
I’ll return them four times hotter than coals.
Does sadness fill you? I’ll appease that pain,
By giving you ten other sweets;
Thus mixing our happy kisses
We may enjoy each other at our ease.
Then we will live twice:
Each ourselves, and each in the other’s love.
Love, let me dream about such foolish things:
It hurts me, living so discreetly, And nothing will give me contentment
Unless I break outside myself.

76Despite the open eroticism of this sonnet, with the double meaning of “baise” (kiss and/or fuck—make the latter choice and the poem feels somewhat different), the troubadour notes are overwhelmed by the Petrarchan score: “Permets m’Amour penser quelque folie”—human love will only be a dream, and a foolish one at that. There will be no kisses, and no contentment. Compare this to Catullus’ poem, in which there is no dominant note of frustration, though condemnation is reserved for the old moralists who would prevent lovers from enjoying each other:

  • 102 Gaius Valerius Catullus. Catullus. Tibullus. Pervigilium Veneris, ed. by F. W. Cornish (Loeb Classi (...)

Vivamus mea Lesbia, atque amemus,
rumoresque senum severiorum
omnes unius aestimemus assis!
soles occidere et redire possunt:
nobis cum semel occidit brevis lux,
nox est perpetua una dormienda.
da mi basia mille, deinde centum,
dein mille altera, dein secunda centum,
deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum.
dein, cum milia multa fecerimus,
conturbabimus illa, ne sciamus,
aut ne quis malus invidere possit,
cum tantum sciat esse basiorum.
102

Let us live, my Lesbia, and let us love,
and the rumors of the old and strict
all value as a single penny!
The sun sets and dies but will return again:
But for us, when our brief light has died,
The night is eternal sleep.
Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred,
then another thousand, then a second hundred,
then yet another thousand, then a hundred.
Then, when we have made many thousands,
jumble the count, refuse to know the total,
lest anyone judge with an evil eye,
when he knows how many have been our kisses.

  • 103 “About 1370 Gregory XI appointed the Dominican Friar John Gallus as inquisitor in the East, who in (...)

77By way of contrast, in a distant area of the continent where the Inquisition had been relatively weak,103 and the urge to transform the passion of love poetry into the piety of worship had not found expression in a dolce stil novo, love poetry has much of the passionate essence found in troubadour verse, without the note of frustration and failure often found in Labé. The sixteenth-century Armenian poet Nahaphet Quchak, known for his short lyric poems of love, or hayren, writes in a frankly passionate and physical manner that is reminiscent of Guilhem IX:

  • 104 Hayren 20. Nahaphet Quchak, Haryur u mek hayren, ed. by Arshak Madoyan and Irina Karumyan (Yerevan: (...)

Իմ սիրծ ի qո վար սիրւդ
զետ աշնան խազել կւ դոխայ։
Արծւնq ի յերեսս Ի վեր
զետ գարնան անձրեվ կւ ծոխայ։
Հոգիս ի յիսնե ելավ՝
մեկ մի qո ծոծոյդ ճար արա։
Ծոծիկս ե ծոծիդ սովոր՝
այլ ւհնդ վոր յերտայ՝ մեկ ասա’.104

From your burning love,
my heart trembles like an autumnal leaf:
My tears streaming down my face:
as if a spring rain drizzles.
My soul is being tortured,
Give me the cure of your bosom.
My breast is used to your breasts,
Tell me, how will I live if they leave?

78For Quchak, love is physical and joyful, not something to be sublimated into spiritual devotion, or made to serve as a means to an end, the merest first rung on a ladder of love leading from Earth to Heaven. For Quchak, as for the troubadours, heaven is here, and its temple is the body of his beloved:

  • 105 Ibid., Hayren 65.

Qանի մարն զիս բերեր՝
q
ահանի ճեմ խոստովաներ։
Ւրտեխ qահանայ տեսեր՝
նայ ծրեր ճամպւս ւ յելեր։
Վորտեխ մեկ ախվոր տեսել
գիրկ ւ ծոծ վի դեմ գնածեր։
Ծոծիկն եմ ձամպտւն արել՝
ծւհծերւն եմ խոստովաներ.105

How many faults are born,
I haven’t confessed to the priest:
Wherever a priest I’ve seen,
I’ve changed my route and left:
Wherever a beauty I’ve seen,
I’ve straight gone to her bosom and embrace,
Made her bosom my altar,
To her tits I’ve made my confessions.

79In the final line, the refusal of euphemism drives home the point: love is its own justification, and needn’t apologize to anyone or pretend its desires are in any way shameful. Quite the opposite, in fact; love is to be celebrated in wine and song:

  • 106 Ibid., Hayren 81.

Իմ բարծրագնած լւսին՝
շատ բարեվ տար իմ կիվսելին:
Զ բարեվդ յես Ի ւր տանեմ՝
ճեմ գիտեր ւհզտւնն կիվզելին:
Գնա Ի վերայ տախին՝
բարձր պատ ւ ծարն Ի միձին։
Նստեր Ի ծարի շqին՝
կ խմե իր լւրձ ապիկին՝
Խմե ւ հայրեն կասե։
տ’«Ինճ անւշ ե սերն ւ գինին».106

My high and noble moon,
Take many greetings to my beauty
—Where should I take your greeting?
I don’t know the house of your beauty.
—Go to the upper neighborhood
Where she sits between high wall and tree:
Sitting in the shadow of the tree,
Drinking with seriousness,
Drinking and singing hayrens:
As “How sweet are love and wine!”

  • 107 Briffault, 193–94.

80It is this spirit—this unapologetic celebration of passion and desire, so like that of the troubadours—that French and Italian poetry lost, and English poetry would successfully struggle to recover: “the Provençal tradition was much more continuous and lasting in England than in France. […] The manner, style, metrical models, and the very themes and conceits of the troubadour tradition, [were] transported bodily one might say, into England”.107 For decades, however, the influence of Petrarch, and not the troubadours, was the dominant force in the English poetry of the sixteenth century before Shakespeare. Such early Tudor sonneteers as Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey, and later Elizabethan figures like Philip Sidney both borrow from and struggle against Petrarch, creating a new vocabulary of poetry in English. These poems often reveal their Petrarchan roots, as they treat such subjects as the impossibility of being loved in return by the chosen object of the poet’s love. Wyatt made extensive use of Petrarch in his own poetry:

  • 108 E. M. W. Tillyard. In E. M. W. Tillyard, ed. The Poetry of Sir Thomas Wyatt (London: The Scholartis (...)

Of the Italian poets it was Petrarch whom Wyatt copied most freely. From Petrarch he derived the sonnet and certain conventional sentiments, which, once introduced into English love poetry, formed its staple subject-matter, with certain interruptions and revolts, for about a century and a half.108

81For example, Wyatt’s famous 1557 sonnet, “Whoso List to Hunt”, makes clear the poet’s painful longing, his extensive borrowings from Petrarch, and his acute awareness of how love and desire are affected by rank and station:

  • 109 Thomas Wyatt. Sir Thomas Wyatt: The Complete Poems, ed. by R. A. Rebholz (New Haven: Yale Universit (...)

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, helas, I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,
Sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I may spend his time in vain.
And graven with diamonds in letters plain
There is written, her fair neck round about:
‘Noli me tangere for Caesar’ s I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame’.
109

82Wyatt’s sonnet, a loose adaptation of Petrarch’s Sonnet 190, borrows the Petrarchan model while changing its terms:

  • 110 Rachel Falconer. “A Reading of Wyatt’s ‘Who so list to hunt’”. In Michael Hattaway, ed. A Companion (...)

Wyatt’s [Caesar] is secular, possessive and tyrannous, but his Diere is also secular and arguably powerful herself. Wyatt’s added description of her as “wylde for to hold: though I seme tame” hints at a powerful duplicity not present in Petrarch. There is a suggestion that this duplicity might equally be exercised against the speaker, his rivals, or [Caesar] himself.110

  • 111 Though the question of whether or not Wyatt had an affair with Anne Boylen has been long debated, i (...)

83The “hind” in all likelihood was Anne Boleyn, the paramour, later the wife, of Henry VIII, and Wyatt’s poem captures the angst of a man who desires a high-placed woman whom he can never have, in much the same way that Bernart de Ventadorn’s twelfth-century poem, When Fresh Leaves and Shoots Appear (Can l’erba fresch’elh folha par), describes the passionate devotion of Bernart for Eleanor of Aquitaine. Just as Bernart’s poem describes the impossibility of loving the Queen of Henry II, Wyatt’s poem recognizes the futility and danger of crossing the power of Henry VIII, the “Caesar” of the poem.111

  • 112 Wyatt (1978), 84, l. 4.
  • 113 Ibid., ll. 5–8.

84Wyatt’s sonnets often feature the kinds of woman-as-cruel-angel imagery seen in Petrarch, including the comparisons of the beloved’s eyes with fire, or sparks, or the stars and sun. In “Such Vain Thought as Wonted to Mislead Me”, the beloved is described as “her whom reason bids me flee”112 before the poet cries out in resignation, “She fleeth as fast by gentle cruelty / And after her my heart would fain be gone, / But armed sighs my way do stop anon, / ‘Twixt hope and dread locking my liberty”.113 In another sonnet, “The Lively Sparks that Issue from those Eyes”, Wyatt’s lines bemoan the power of the beloved’s gaze:

  • 114 Ibid., 84, ll. 5–10.

Was never man could any thing devise
Sunbeams to turn with so great vehemence
To daze man’s sight, as by their bright presence
Dazed am I; much like unto the guise
Of one stricken with dint of lightning,
Blind with the stroke, and crying here and there.
114

85Wyatt’s poems also work the theme of the lady who cruelly fails to be “tractable” and “willing” where a man’s professions of love are concerned. In “Behold, Love, Thy Power How She Despiseth” (a loose translation of Petrarch’s Sonnet 121), the beloved who refuses love in return is to be punished:

  • 115 Ibid., 71, ll. 9–13.

Behold, Love.
I am in hold. If thee pity moveth,
Go bend thy bow that stony hearts breaketh
And with some stroke revenge the displeasure
Of thee and him that sorrow doth endure
And, as his lord, thee lowly entreateth.
115

  • 116 Raimie Targoff. Posthumous Love: Eros and the Afterlife in Renaissance England (Chicago: University (...)

86At times, however, Wyatt will depart from his Petrarchan model in serious and purposeful ways: “Wyatt was writing from within a culture in which erotic love was not a celebrated subject of contemplation”, and that fact “needs to be fully accounted for when we consider the changes he made to Petrarch’s poems”.116 One of the most striking differences is the attitude taken toward the woman in the works:

  • 117 Ibid.

Whereas Petrarch famously idealizes Laura’s virtues in a manner comparable to Dante’s depiction of the heavenly Beatrice in La Vita Nuova, Wyatt is reluctant to praise his mistress, either physically or spiritually. There are almost no descriptions of Wyatt’s mistress in any of his poems—no blazons or paeans to her beauty—and she is certainly not treated as a flawless angelic creature.117

  • 118 Ibid., 66.
  • 119 Ibid., 78.

87Another major difference is that “Wyatt conspicuously avoids […] Petrarch’s notion that dying of love is the desired end. […] Thus in the sonnet that begins, ‘Eche man me telleth I chaunge moost my devise’, Wyatt informs his mistress that he shall remain steadfast in his affection so long as his body and soul remain together”, but no longer.118 Nor does Wyatt write of human love as a ladder or pathway to divine love: “When Wyatt wants to write about love of God, he does not move through the vehicle of loving an earthly woman. Instead, in a pattern that becomes typical of sixteenth-and seventeenth-century English poets, he shifts decisively from erotic to devotional poetry”.119 Wyatt’s verse will also turn to bitter humor, as it casts a cynical eye on the subject of truth and lies in a poem written to his tongue, “Because I have thee still kept from lies and blame”, in which Wyatt berates that often-speechless organ for failing to keep faith with him, like an intractable and unwilling beloved:

  • 120 Wyatt (1978), 79, ll. 3–4, 11–14.

Unkind tongue, right ill hast thou me rendered,
For such desert to do me wreak and shame.
[…]
Then are ye gone when I should make my moan.
And you so ready sighs to make me shright,
Then are ye slack when that ye should outstart,
And only my look declareth my heart.
120

88Where Wyatt both uses and resists Petrarch, altering his themes in critical ways, the Earl of Surrey, Henry Howard, is at once more faithful and more whimsical an imitator of his Italian model, often letting flights of fancy loose while expressing the familiar themes of the cruel lady, the blazing power of her eyes, and the pain of the rejected lover. In “Each Beast can Choose his Fere According to his Mind”, first published in Tottel’s Miscellany in 1557, Howard creates a beast fable to dramatize the cruelty of a lady who refused to dance with a man who asked her. The man is described as a noble lion, while the woman is a coy wolf:

  • 121 Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. The Poetical Works of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, ed. by Robert Bel (...)

A lion saw I late, as white as any snow,
Which seemed well to lead the race, his port the same did show.
Upon the gentle beast to gaze it pleased me,
For still methought he seemed well of noble blood to be.
And as he pranced before, still seeking for a make,
As who would say, ‘There is none here, I trow, will me forsake’,
I might perceive a Wolf as white as whalèsbone,
A fairer beast of fresher hue, beheld I never none;
Save that her looks were coy, and froward eke her grace.
121

89On asking her to dance, the lion is repulsed by the wolf in no uncertain terms:

‘Lion’, she said, ‘if thou hadst known my mind before,
Thou hadst not spent thy travail thus, nor all thy pain for-lore.
Do way! I let thee weet, thou shalt not play with me:
Go range about, where thou mayst find some meeter fere for thee’.
122

90The lion’s response is at once indignant and impotent, filled with the rage of the lover who expects the beloved to be compliant and responsive to his advances:

‘Cruel! you do me wrong, to set me thus so light;
Without desert for my good will to shew me such despite.
[…]
And thus farewell, Unkind, to whom I bent and bow;
I would you wist, the ship is safe that bare his sails so low.
Sith that a Lion’s heart is for a Wolf no prey,
With bloody mouth go slake your thirst on simple sheep, I say’.
123

91Elsewhere, Howard is more typically Petrarchan, as in a poem that bemoans a young woman’s refusal to show her face or hair to a man who has declared his love for her. In “I Never Saw my Lady Lay Apart” (a translation of Petrarch’s Sonnet 11, Lassare il velo per sole o per ombra), the poet writes of the pain of being refused the sight for which he longs:

Yet since she knew I did her love and serve,
Her golden tresses clad alway with black,
Her smiling looks that hid thus evermore,
And that restrains which I desire so sore.
124

92Here, the reader is at home in the familiar language and imagery of the Italian sonnets of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The lover is denied access to even the sight of his beloved; the lady is described as cruel—denying the lover specifically because he loves, the ultimate in intractable and unwilling behavior. Love is described as painful, dangerous, and next door to fatal in these poems, and as Howard ends his poem “When summer took in hand the winter to assail”, the poet warns readers away from love: “A mirror let me be unto ye lovers all; / Strive not with love; for if ye do, it will ye thus befall”.125

  • 126 Michael Drayton. “To the Reader of these Sonnets”, l. 13. Idea. In Arundell Esdaile, ed. Daniel’s D (...)

93But though Wyatt and Howard are important, by far the more famous, and still more widely-read poet is Philip Sidney. Soldier, courtier, diplomat, and poet, Sidney packed more into his not-quite thirty-two years than many of us do into a span of seventy or eighty. He defended poetry, in The Defence of Poesie, against anti-theatricalists and moralists like Stephen Gosson (himself a failed playwright). He wrote one of the most popular and influential prose romances in the English language— The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia— which exists in multiple forms due to his death mid-revision. But most famously, he is the author of the first of the so-called sonnet sequences in English. Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella (first printed in 1591, five years after his death), took the passion and pain, the devotion and loneliness, the hope and despair of Petrarch’s poetry and made them English. However, what Michael Drayton would, in 1619, call a “Muse […] rightly of the English strain”,126 is not quite what we see in Sidney. Though he was—along with Spenser—the most brilliant lyric poet of his time, he was heavily in debt to his Petrarchan model, no matter how powerfully he reworked it into English verse.

  • 127 Philip Sidney. The Poems of Sir Philip Sidney, ed. by William A. Ringler, Jr. (Oxford: Clarendon Pr (...)
  • 128 Ibid., ll. 7–8.
  • 129 Ibid., 171, ll. 12–14.

94The physical imagery with which Sidney has Astrophil (star-lover) describe Stella (star) demonstrates the debt. Right away, we see the focus on the eyes of the beloved, in sonnet 7: “When Nature made her chiefe worke, Stella’s eyes, / In colour blacke why wrapt she beames so bright?”127 Stella’s eyes are so bright, in fact, that if “if no vaile those brave gleames did disguise, / They sun-like should more dazle than delight”.128 Sonnet 12 describes Stella in terms that fit squarely within the tradition seen in Bembo’s speech and Petrarch’s poetry of regarding the beloved as cruel and intractable for refusing to return the love of the young man who worships her: “O no, her heart is such a Cittadell, / So fortified with wit, stor’d with disdaine, / That to win it, is all the skill and paine”.129

  • 130 Ibid., 189, ll. 12–14.

95The “cruelty” of the beloved who rejects the lover leads, in Sonnet 48, to a declaration that the lover will die from his wounds, and a plea for the beloved to kill him quickly if she cannot love him: “Yet since my death-wound is already got, / Deare Killer, spare not thy sweet cruell shot: / A kind of grace it is to kill with speed”.130 We can hear echos of Petrarch’s Sonnets 133 and 183 in these lines, in which the lady can kill with a look.

96Perhaps the most famous of Sidney’s sonnets, Sonnet 71, appears initially to be a sublime mix of Petrarchan ingredients: Stella’s eyes are like the sun (“inward sun in thine eyes shineth”); love for Stella is soon turned toward away from physical desire and toward love for the spiritual good (“So while thy beauty draws the heart to love, / As fast thy virtue bends that love to good”:); and Astrophil is in pain for the lack of Stella, the physical absence of Stella metaphorized as food (“‘But ah’, Desire still cries, ‘give me some food’”.):

  • 131 Ibid., 201, ll. 1–14.

Who will in fairest booke of Nature know
How Vertue may best lodg’d in beauty be;
Let him but learne of
Love to reade in thee,
Stella, those faire lines which true goodnesse show.
There shall he find all vices’ overthrow,
Not by rude force, but sweetest soveraigntie
Of reason, from whose light those night-birds flie;
That inward sunne in thine eyes shineth so.
And not content to be Perfection’s heire
Thy selfe, doest strive all minds that way to move,
Who marke in thee what is in thee most faire.
So while thy beautie drawes the heart to love,
As fast thy Vertue bends that love to good:
“But ah”, Desire still cries, “give me some food”.
131

97But in this poem, one can hear a touch of the troubadour melody mixed into the Petrarchan score. While Astrophil extravagantly praises his beloved, he does not necessarily idealize her, describing Stella’s virtues as impediments to his desire. This conflict is clearly evident in Sonnet 72:

  • 132 Ibid., 202, ll. 1–14.

Desire, though thou my old companion art,
And oft so clings to my pure Love, that I
One from the other scarcely can descrie,
While each doth blow the fier of my hart;
Now from thy fellowship I needs must part,
Venus is taught with Dian’s wings to flie:
I must no more in thy sweet passions lie;
Vertue’s gold now must head my Cupid’s dart.
Service and Honor, wonder with delight,
Feare to offend, will worthie to appeare,
Care shining in mine eyes, faith in my sprite,
These things are left me by my only Deare;
But thou Desire, because thou wouldst have all,
Now banisht art, but yet alas how shall?
132

  • 133 Katona Gábor. “The Lover’s Education: Psychic Development in Sidney’s ‘Astrophil and Stella’”. Hung (...)

98Sidney makes his Astrophil suffer from unsatisfied desire, no matter how purifying his love for Stella should be from the Neoplatonist or Petrarchan point of view. In the tension between Astrophil’s often-Petrarchan attitudes and his powerful desire, we can also see the influence of Dante, for whom Beatrice’s beauty was figured as a solemn promise of heavenly reward. Astrophil’s contemplation of Stella’s beauty educates him as a lover, but it also spurs his will and desire: “No matter how fallen Astrophil’s will becomes, he remains valiant and ready for self-sacrifice, although he cannot resolve the psychic tension resulting from the opposing demands of love and virtue in his mind”.133

99It is in Sidney’s later sonnets where the carefully-constructed Neoplatonic balance between “love and virtue” topples to the ground. Sidney does this by changing the poems’ focus from the divine powers of the beloved’s beauty to the human anguish of the lover’s emotional conflict. The poems of Sidney’s sequence read like a painful exercise in a young man’s trying (and failing) to tamp down physical desire—a desire that will never be sated, consummated, or satisfied—while attempting to convince himself that it is acceptable to sublimate or spiritualize that desire for a woman he will never have, against whom he now and then breaks out into resentful accusation, and for whom his physical and emotional desires never slacken even in the slightest. The orthodox Neoplatonist position outlined by Peter Bembo in The Book of the Courtier insists that such a resolution is not only acceptable, but decidedly preferable. But as Astrophil bids farewell to the world, at the end of the sequence, the stated preference for “Eternal Love”, the love of heaven, seems forced: “Then farewell world; thy uttermost I see: / Eternal Love, maintain thy life in me”. One cannot help but hear, if faintly, the earlier plea of Desire: “give me some food”.

Notes

1 “ἔφη, οὐ τοῦ καλοῦ ὁ ἔρως, ὡς σὺ οἴει” (Plato. Symposium, ed. by W. R. M. Lamb [Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1925], 206e).

2 γεννήσεως καὶ τοῦ τόκου ἐν τῷ καλῷ” (ibid.).

3 ὅτι ἀειγενές ἐστι καὶ ἀθάνατον ὡς θνητῷ γέννησις. ἀθανασίας δὲ ἀναγκαῖον ἐπιθυμεῖν μετὰ ἀγαθοῦ ἐκ τῶν ὡμολογημένων, εἴπερ τοῦ ἀγαθὸν1 ἑαυτῷ εἶναι ἀεὶ ἔρως ἐστίν. ἀναγκαῖον δὴ ἐκ τούτου τοῦ λόγου καὶ τῆς ἀθανασίας τὸν ἔρωτα εἶναι.
Ibid., 206e-207a.

4 θνητὴ φύσις ζητεῖ κατὰ τὸ δυνατὸν ἀεὶ τὸ εἶναι ἀθάνατος. δύναται δὲ ταύτῃ μόνον, τῇ γενέσει, ὅτι ἀεὶ καταλείπει ἕτερον νέον ἀντὶ τοῦ παλαιοῦ” (ibid., 207d).

5 ἐγκύμονες […] κατὰ σώματα” (ibid., 209a).

6 πρὸς τὰς γυναῖκας” (ibid.).

7 διὰ παιδογονίας ἀθανασίαν” (ibid.).

8 δὲ κατὰ τὴν ψυχήν” (ibid.).

9 φρόνησίν τε καὶ τὴν ἄλλην ἀρετήν · ὧν δή εἰσι καὶ οἱ ποιηταὶ πάντες γεννήτορες καὶ τῶν δημιουργῶν ὅσοι λέγονται εὑρετικοὶ” (ibid.).

10 ἑνὸς αὐτὸν σώματος ἐρᾶν καὶ ἐνταῦθα γεννᾶν Bλόγους καλούς” (ibid., 210b).

11 ἔπειτα δὲ αὐτὸν κατανοῆσαι, ὅτι τὸ κάλλος τὸ ἐπὶ ὁτῳοῦν σώματι τῷ ἐπὶ ἑτέρῳ σώματι ἀδελφόν ἐστι, καὶ εἰ δεῖ διώκειν τὸ ἐπ᾿ εἴδει καλόν, πολλὴ ἄνοια μὴ οὐχ ἕν τε καὶ ταὐτὸν ἡγεῖσθαι τὸ ἐπὶ πᾶσι τοῖς σώμασι κάλλος · τοῦτο δ᾿ ἐννοήσαντα καταστῆναι πάντων τῶν καλῶν σωμάτων ἐραστήν.
Ibid.

12 μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα τὸ ἐν ταῖς ψυχαῖς κάλλος τιμιώτερον ἡγήσασθαι τοῦ ἐν τῷ σώματι” (ibid., 210c).

13 τοῖς νόμοις καλὸν” (ibid.).

14 παιδαρίου κάλλος ἀνθρώπου” (ibid., 210d).

15 ἐπὶ τὸ πολὺ πέλαγος τετραμμένος τοῦ καλοῦ” (ibid.).

16 μὲν ἀεὶ ὂν καὶ οὔτε γιγνόμενον οὔτε ἀπολλύμενον” (ibid., 211a).

17 τῶνδε τῶν καλῶν ἐκείνου ἕνεκα τοῦ καλοῦ ἀεὶ ἐπανιέναι, ὥσπερ ἐπαναβαθμοῖς χρώμενον, ἀπὸ ἑνὸς ἐπὶ δύο καὶ ἀπὸ δυοῖν ἐπὶ πάντα τὰ καλὰ σώματα, καὶ ἀπὸ τῶν καλῶν σωμάτων ἐπὶ τὰ καλὰ ἐπιτηδεύματα, καὶ ἀπὸ τῶν ἐπιτηδευμάτων ἐπὶ τὰ καλὰ μαθήματα, καὶ ἀπὸ τῶν μαθημάτων ἐπ᾿ ἐκεῖνο τὸ μάθημα τελευτῆσαι, ἐστιν οὐκ ἄλλου αὐτοῦ ἐκείνου τοῦ καλοῦ μάθημα.
Ibid., 211c.

18 Ὅτι δὲ οὕτω χρὴ νομίζειν ἔχειν, ὡς ἔστι μὲν τὸ ἐπέκεινα ὄντος τὸ ἕν, […] ἔστι δὲ ἐφεξῆς τὸ ὂν καὶ νοῦς, τρίτη δὲ τῆς ψυχῆς φύσις, ἤδη δέδεικται” (Plotinus. Ennead, Vol. V, ed. by A. H. Armstrong [Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984], 5.1.10, 44, 46).

19 Ποθεῖ δὲ πᾶν τὸ γεννῆσαν καὶ τοῦτο ἀγαπᾷ, καὶ μάλιστα ὅταν ὦσι μόνοι τὸ γεννῆσαν καὶ τὸ γεγεννημένον · ὅταν δὲ καὶ τὸ ἄριστον τὸ γεννῆσαν, ἐξ ἀνάγκης σύνεστιν αὐτῷ, ὡς τῇ ἑτερότητι μόνον κεχωρίσθαι” (ibid., 5.1.6, 32).

20 “The highest and final thing that a man may leave is this: that he leaves God for God” (“Daz hœhste unde daz nêhste, daz der mensche gelàzen mac, daz ist, daz er got dur got làze” [“Qui audit me, non confundetur”]). Franz Pfeiffer, ed. Deutsche Mystiker des Vierzehnten Jahrhunderts: Bd. Meister Eckhart. Erste Abtheilung (Leipzig: G. J. Göschen, 1857), 310, ll. 34–35, https://books.google.com/books?id=-78FAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA310

21 Michael R. G. Spiller. The Development of the Sonnet: An Introduction (London: Routledge, 1992), 14.

22 Ffiona Swabey. Eleanor of Aquitaine, Courtly Love, and the Troubadours (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2004), 67.

23 Ibid.

24 Olive Sayce. Exemplary Comparison from Homer to Petrarch (Cambridge, UK: Brewer, 2008), 289.

25 John Addington Symonds. Renaissance in Italy, Vol. 4, part 1 (London: Mith, Elder & Co., 1881), 59–60, https://books.google.com/books?id=K4sTAQAAIAAJ&dq=Symonds+Renaissance+in+Italy+1881&pg=PA59

26 Sayce 290. See also Martin J. Duffell’s brief outlining of the history of the sonnet form in A New History of English Metre (London: Modern Humanities Research Association and Maney Publishing, 2008), 117–18, and Ernest Hatch Wilkins’account in The Invention of the Sonnet and Other Studies in Italian Literature (Rome: Edizioni de Storia e Letteratura, 1959), 14–17, as well as Pierre Blanc’s account of the cultural and political forces that shaped the sonnet in the court of Frederick II, in “Sonnet des origines, origine du sonnet: Giacomo da Lentini”. Yvonne Bellenger, ed. Le Sonnet a la Renaissance: Des Origenes au XVIIe Siecle (Paris: Aux Amateurs de Livres, 1998), 9–18. Finally, and most importantly, see Paul Oppenheimer’s account of the origin of the sonnet in The Birth of the Modern Mind: Self, Consciousness, and the Invention of the Sonnet (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), and his earlier article “The Origin of the Sonnet”, Comparative Literature, 34: 4 (Autumn 1982), 289–304.

27 Swabey, 67–68.

28 Giacomo da Lentini. A Critical Edition of the Poetry of Giacomo da Lentini, ed. by Stephen Popolizio (Ph.D. dissertation, Indiana University, 1975; Ann Arbor Michigan: University Microfilms, 1980), 156.

29 Ibid., 193.

30 Ibid., 107.

31 “L’amore divenne un’arte, col suo codice di leggi e costumi. Non ci fu più questa o quella donna, ma la donna con forme e lineamenti fissati, così come era concepita ne’libri di cavalleria. Tutte le donne sono simili” (Francesco De Sanctis. Storia della letteratura italiana, Vol. 1 [Neaples: Morano, 1870], 11, https://books.google.com/books?id=VtuDUIv5cvUC&pg=PA11).

32 Paul Oppenheimer. “The Origin of the Sonnet”. Comparative Literature, 34: 4 (Autumn 1982), 297, https://doi.org/10.2307/1771151

33 Ibid., 304.

34 Symonds, 81, https://books.google.com/books?id=K4sTAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA81

35 Guido Guinizelli. The Poetry of Guido Guinizelli, ed. by Robert Edwards (New York: Garland Publishing, 1987), 54, ll. 9–14.

36 “Au chant XXVI, parmi une bande de luxurieux, sodomites et autres, Dante rencontre Guido Guinicelli. Il le salue du nom de ‘père’, lui qui fut son initiateur et son maître dans sa 3 e manière, sensuelle et savante” (René Lavaud, in Daniel, 133, https://archive.org/stream/lesposiesdarna00arna#page/133).

37 Guinizelli, 22, ll. 41–50.

38 “Servit aurai longamen”, ll. 46–49. In Alfred Jeanroy, ed. Poesies de Uc de Saint-Circ (Toulouse: Édouard Privat, 1913), 30–34, https://archive.org/stream/posiesdeucdesa00ucde#page/32

39 William J. Kennedy. “European Beginnings and Transmissions: Dante Petrarch, and the Sonnet Sequence”. In A. D. Cousins and Peter Horwarth, eds. The Cambridge Companion to the Sonnet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 87.

40 “non me fu fallo, s’in lei posi amanza” (Guinizelli, 22, l. 60).

41 Lowry Nelson. Poetic Configurations: Essays in Literary History and Criticism (University Park: Penn State University Press, 1992), 100.

42 Guinizelli, 40, ll. 1–4.

43 Ibid., ll. 11–14.

44 Marianne Shapiro. Woman Earthly and Divine in the Comedy of Dante (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2015), 28.

45 “Ed infra l’altre par lucente sole” (Guinizelli, 2, l. 23).

46 Ibid., ll. 18–22.

47 Ibid., 11.1–7

48 Piero Cudini, ed. Poesia Italiana. Il Duecento (Milan: Lampi di Stampa, 1999), 27, ll. 27–39.

49 Jane E. Everson. The Italian Romance Epic in the Age of Humanism: The Matter of Italy and the World of Rome (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 44.

50 Cudini, 28, ll. 54–60.

51 Dante. The Canzoniere of Dante Alighieri, ed. by Charles Lyell (London: James Bohn, 1840), 36, https://books.google.com/books?id=E6JWAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA36

52 Ibid., 50, https://books.google.com/books?id=E6JWAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA36

53 Hagstrum, 236.

54 Dante, Canzoniere, 378, https://books.google.com/books?id=E6JWAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA378

55 Nelson, 100.

56 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ary_Scheffer_-_Dante_and_Beatrice.jpg?uselang=en-gb

57 Symonds, 90, https://books.google.com/books?id=K4sTAQAAIAAJ&dq=SymondsRenaissanceinItaly1881&pg=PA90

58 Dante. Inferno, Canto 5.127–42. In La Divina Commedia. Inferno, ed. by Ettore Zolesi (Rome: Armando, 2009), 124–25.

59 Barbara Reynolds. Dante: The Poet, the Political Thinker, the Man (London: I. B. Tauris, 2007), 135.

60 “una Bovary del Duecento, che sogna i baci di Lancillotto, e fruisce, in tragica riduzione, degli abbracciamenti del cognate” (Edoardo Sanguineti. Il Realismo di Dante [Florence: Sansoni, 1966], 28).

61 Elspeth Kennedy. “The Rewriting and Re-reading of a Text: The Evolution of the Prose Lancelot”. In Alison Adams, Armel H. Diverres, and Karen Stern, eds. The Changing Face of Arthurian Romance: Essays on Arthurian Prose Romance in Memory of Cedric E. Pickford (Cambridge, UK: Brewer, 1986), 9.

62 “questa donna libresca, questa creatura cartecea, che proietta sul pellegrino le ombre della propria ambivalenza morale, sembra disegnata su antichi cartoni […] nella preistoria poetica della Commedia” (Antonio Enzo Quaglio. Al di là di Francesca e Laura [Padova: Liviana Editrice, 1973], 29).

63 Mary-Kay Gamel. “This Day We Read Further: Feminist Interpretation and the Study of Literature”. Pacific Coast Philology, 22: 1–2 (November 1987), 8.

64 “Arnaut se vante de réaliser l’impossible” (René Lavaud, in Daniel, 134).

65 Dante. Purgatorio, Canto 26.139–48. In La Divina Commedia. Purgatorio, ed. by Ettore Zolesi (Rome: Armando, 2003), 428–29.

66 Neal L. Goldstien. “Love’s Labour’s Lost and the Renaissance Vision of Love”. In Stephen Orgel and Sean Kellen, eds. Shakespeare and the Literary Tradition (London: Routledge, 1999), 205.

67 “vostr’ occhi, Donna, mi legaro” (Francesco Petrarca. Il Canzoniere, ed. by Paola Vecchi Galli [Milan: Rizzoli, 1954], 3.4). All further references to Petrarch’s Canzionere will be to this volume.

68 “Trovommi Amor del tutto disarmato, / et aperta la via per gli occhi al core, / che di lagrime son fatti uscio et varco” (ibid., 3.9–11).

69 Ibid., 11.5–11.

70 Ibid., 12.1.

71 Ibid., 12.5–8.

72 “I’ benedico il loco e ‘l tempo et l’ora / che sí alto miraron gli occhi mei” (ibid., 13.5–6).

73 Ibid., 36.1–4.

74 Ibid., 90.9–14.

75 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Affresco_di_Petrarca_e_Laura,_Casa_del_Petrarca_(Arquà_Petrarca).JPG?uselang=en-gb

76 “Nova angeletta sovra l’ale accorta” (ibid. 106.1).

77 “un laccio che di seta ordiva” (ibid., 106.5).

78 “sí dolce lume uscia degli occhi suoi” (ibid., 106.8).

79 Ibid., 121.1–9.

80 Ibid., 133.3–8.

81 This idea of the woman’s ability to kill her lover by failing to return his affections is already present in Le Roman de la Rose, where they are warned that God will punish them for cruelty: “Ladies, learn from this example, / those of you who mistreat your lovers, / for if you let them die, / God will know well how to repay you” (“Dames, cest essample aprenez, / qui vers vos amis mesprenez; / car se vos les lessiez morir, / Dex le vos savra bien merir”) (Vol. 1, l. 1505–08).

82 “‘l dolce sguardo di costei m’ ancide / et le soavi parolette accorte” (Francesco Petrarca. Il Canzoniere. 183.1–2).

83 Ibid., 183.12–14.

84 Ibid., 364.1–4.

85 “Trionfo della Divinita, Capitolo Unico”. ll. 140–45. In Triunfi, ed. by Cristoforo Pasqualigo (Venezia: Giuseppe Bresciani, 1874), 116, https://books.google.com/books?id=5_0FAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA115

86 Hagstrum, 300.

87 “i vecchi possano non solamente amar senza biasimo, ma talor più felicemente che i giovani” (Baldassarre Castiglione. Il Libro del Cortegiano [Milano: Giovanni Silvestri, 1822], 448, https://archive.org/stream/illibrodelcorteg00cast#page/448

88 “amar fuor della consuetudine del profano vulgo” (ibid., 462, https://archive.org/stream/illibrodelcorteg00cast#page/462).

89 il Cortegiano, sentendosi preso, deliberarsi totalmente di fuggir ogni bruttezza dell’amor vulgare, e così entrar nella divina strada amorosa con la guida della ragione; e prima considerar che’l corpo, ove quella bellezza risplende, non è il fonte ond’ella nasce; anzi che la bellezza, per esser cosa incorporea, e (come avemo detto) un raggio divino, perde molto della sua dignità trovandosi congiunta con quel subietto vile e corruttibile perchè tanto più è perfetta, quanto men di lui participa e da quello in tutto separata è perfettissima.
Ibid., 463, https://archive.org/stream/illibrodelcorteg00cast#page/463

90 “Rimovasi adunque dal cieco giudizio del senso […] e in lei ami non meno la bellezza dell’animo, che quella del corpo” (ibid., 463–64, https://archive.org/stream/illibrodelcorteg00cast#page/463).

91 “pascerà di dolcissimo cibo l’anima […] senza passar col desiderio verso il corpo ad appetito alcuno men che onesto” (ibid., 464, https://archive.org/stream/illibrodelcorteg00cast#page/464).

92 però tenga cura di non lasciarla incorrere in errore alcuno, ma con le ammonizioni e buoni ricordi cerchi sempre d’indurla alla modestia, alla temperanza, alla vera onestà; e faccia che in lei non abbian mai luogo se non pensieri candidi e alieni da ogni bruttezza di vizi; e cosi seminando virtù nel giardìn di quel bell’animo, raccorrà ancora frutti di bellissimi costumi, e gusteragli con mirabil diletto; e questo sarà il vero generare, ed esprimere la bellezza nella bellezza, il che da alcuni si dice esser il fin d’amore.
Ibid., 464, https://archive.org/stream/illibrodelcorteg00cast#page/464

93 “essa sempre se gli mostrerà ossequente, dolce e affabile, e così desiderosa di compiacergli, come d’esser da lui amata; e le voglie dell un e dell’altro saranno onestissime e concordi; ed essi conseguentemente saranno felicissimi” (ibid., 464, https://archive.org/stream/illibrodelcorteg00cast#page/464).

94 perchè per essere il bacio congiungimento e dei corpo e dell’anima, pericolo è che l’amante sensuale non inclini più alla parte dei corpo, che a quella dell’anima, ma l’a mante razionale conosce che ancora che la bocca sia parte del corpo, nientedimeno per quella si dà esito alle parole, che sono interpreti dell’anima, […] e perciò si diletta d’unir la sua bocca con quella della donna amata col bacio, non per moversi a desiderio alcuno disonesto, ma perchè sente che quello legame è un aprir l’adito alle anime, che tratte dal desiderio l’una dell’altra si trasfondono alternamente ancor l’una nel corpo dell’altra […] il bacio si può più presto dir congiungimento d’anima, che di corpo; perchè in quella ha tanta forza, che la tira a sé, e quasi ìa separa dal corpo; per questo tutti gì’innamorati casti desiderano il bacio, come congiungimento d’anima.
Ibid., 466–67, https://archive.org/stream/illibrodelcorteg00cast#page/466

95 There are voices that oppose this notion at the time. One especially notable example can be found in the work of Tullia d’Aragona, in her Dialogo dell’infinità d’amore of 1547, where the eponymous character claims that erotic love is not to be blamed, since it arises wholly from nature:
At first I say, that I know well that of those things that we are by nature, we can be neither blamed nor praised; and therefore, neither plants nor animals can be blamed or praised for such love; neither should it be called lascivious, or dishonest in them, nor even in men.
Al primo dico, che io so bene che di quelle cose, che ci vengono dalla natura, non possiamo essere biasmati, né lodati; e perciò né nelle piante, né negli animali non si può biasmar cotale amore; né in loro si chiama lascivo, o disonesto, né negli uomini ancora.
Tullia d’Aragona.
Dialogo della infinità d’amore (1547). In Della infinita d’amore dialogo di Tullia D’Aragona (Milan: G. Daelli & Co., 1864), 67, https://archive.org/stream/bub_gb_1FOekK6PUbsC#page/n103

96 Per fuggir adunque il tormento di questa assenza, e goder la bellezza senza passione, bisogna che l Cortegiano con l’aiuto della ragione, revochi in tutto il desiderio dal corpo alla bellezza sola, e, quanto più può, la contempli in sé stessa semplice e pura, e dentro nella im imaginazione la formi astratta da ogni materia e così la faccia amica e cara all’anima sua, ed ivi la goda, e seco l’abbia giorno e notte, in ogni tempo e luogo senza dubbio di perderla mai; tornandosi sempre a memoria che l corpo è cosa diversissima dalia bellezza, e non solamente non le accresce, ma le diminuisce la sua perfezione.
Castiglione, 469,
https://archive.org/stream/illibrodelcorteg00cast#page/469

97 Indrizziamo adunque tutti i pensieri e le forze dell’anima nostra a questo santissimo lume che ci mostra la via che al ciel conduce, e drieto a quello, spogliandoci gli affetti che nei descendere ci eravamo vestiti, per la scala che neìl’infimo grado tiene l’ombra di bellezza sensuale, ascendiamo alla sublime stanza ove abita la celeste, amabile e vera bellezza che nei secreti penetrali di Dio sta nascosta, acciocché gli occhi profani veder non la possano.
Ibid., 474, https://archive.org/stream/illibrodelcorteg00cast#page/474

98 “la donna bella, è il piu bello obietto che si rimiri: et la belleza è il maggior dono che faceβe Iddio all humana creatura. Concio sia che per la di lei uirtù, noi ne indiriziamo l’animo alla contemplatione, et per la contemplatione al desiderio delle cose del Cielo” (Agnolo Firenzuola. “Belleza delle Donne”. In Prose di M. Agnolo Firenzuola Fiorentino [Florence: Bernardo Guinta, 1548], 62, https://archive.org/stream/bub_gb_hdGH5df6NxIC#page/n127).

99 Maurice Scève. “Délie 439”. In I. D. McFarlane, ed. The Délie of Maurice Scève (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1966), 360.

100 Louise Labé. “Sonnet 16”. Oeuvres de Louise Labé, ed. by Prosper Blancheman (Paris: Librarie des Bibliophiles, 1875), 124, https://books.google.com/books?id=w_fl8BM3_SUC&pg=PA124

101 Labé. “Sonnet 18”, 126, https://books.google.com/books?id=w_fl8BM3_SUC&pg=PA126

102 Gaius Valerius Catullus. Catullus. Tibullus. Pervigilium Veneris, ed. by F. W. Cornish (Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1913), 6,8.

103 “About 1370 Gregory XI appointed the Dominican Friar John Gallus as inquisitor in the East, who in conjunction with Friar Elias Petit planted the institution […] in Armenia” (Henry Charles Lea. A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, Vol. 1 [New York: Macmillan, 1906], 355). Gregory “regarded the members of the Armenian Church in Cilicia as schismatics” (Krzysztof Stopka. Armenia Christiana: Armenian Religious Identity and the Churches of Constantinople and Rome [Krakow: Jagiellonian University Press, 2016], 270), but the fall of the Cilician Kingdom in 1375 placed the area under Muslim rule, and beyond the reach of any Pope.

104 Hayren 20. Nahaphet Quchak, Haryur u mek hayren, ed. by Arshak Madoyan and Irina Karumyan (Yerevan: Sovetakan Grokh, 1976).

105 Ibid., Hayren 65.

106 Ibid., Hayren 81.

107 Briffault, 193–94.

108 E. M. W. Tillyard. In E. M. W. Tillyard, ed. The Poetry of Sir Thomas Wyatt (London: The Scholartis Press, 1929), 23.

109 Thomas Wyatt. Sir Thomas Wyatt: The Complete Poems, ed. by R. A. Rebholz (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978), 77.

110 Rachel Falconer. “A Reading of Wyatt’s ‘Who so list to hunt’”. In Michael Hattaway, ed. A Companion to English Renaissance Literature and Culture (London: Blackwell, 2003), 181.

111 Though the question of whether or not Wyatt had an affair with Anne Boylen has been long debated, it does not seem likely ever to be proven on the positive side. “There is no evidence that Wyatt’s verses or his attention ever deeply moved Anne, for she played for higher stakes, with the crown as her goal” (Retha M. Warnicke. “The Eternal Triangle and Court Politics: Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, and Sir Thomas Wyatt”. Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies, 18: 4 [Winter, 1986], 578, https://doi.org/10.2307/4050130). There is also “no record linking Anne’s name to Wyatt’s […] prior to the date of his imprisonment in 1536 when five other men were executed for committing adultery and incest with her” (Retha M. Warnicke. The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn: Family Politics at the Court of Henry VIII [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991], 65). Modern scholarship denies the latter charges, seeing them as part of the vicious push and pull of Tudor politics, as illustrated in Adam Blackwood’s pamphlet broadside: “The marriage of the King with Anne Boleyn could not stand by any law in the world, Anne being his natural daughter. [It is] an illegitimate marriage, and that which it begot a bastard […], Elizabeth” (“Le mariage du Roy avec Anne Boullen ne pouvoit subsister par aucune loy du monde, estant icelle Anne sa filie naturelle, [c’est un] mariage illegitime, & celle qui en estoit procree bastarde […], Elizabet”) (Martyre de la Royne d’Escosse. Edimbourg, 1587, Sig. C3v, 37 [misprinted as 73], https://books.google.com/books?id=_mZUAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA37).

112 Wyatt (1978), 84, l. 4.

113 Ibid., ll. 5–8.

114 Ibid., 84, ll. 5–10.

115 Ibid., 71, ll. 9–13.

116 Raimie Targoff. Posthumous Love: Eros and the Afterlife in Renaissance England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014), 50.

117 Ibid.

118 Ibid., 66.

119 Ibid., 78.

120 Wyatt (1978), 79, ll. 3–4, 11–14.

121 Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. The Poetical Works of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, ed. by Robert Bell (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1854), 79, ll. 3–11, https://archive.org/stream/poeticalworkshe00vauxgoog#page/n89

122 Ibid., 80, ll. 18–21, https://archive.org/stream/poeticalworkshe00vauxgoog#page/n90

123 Ibid., 81–82, ll. 26–27, 68–71, https://archive.org/stream/poeticalworkshe00vauxgoog#page/n91

124 Ibid., 52–53, ll. 8–11, https://archive.org/stream/poeticalworkshe00vauxgoog#page/n62

125 Ibid., 47, ll. 47–48, https://archive.org/stream/poeticalworkshe00vauxgoog#page/n57

126 Michael Drayton. “To the Reader of these Sonnets”, l. 13. Idea. In Arundell Esdaile, ed. Daniel’s Delia and Drayton’s Idea (London: Chatto & Windus, 1908), 67, https://books.google.com/books?id=mOiobc0PmsgC&pg=PA67

127 Philip Sidney. The Poems of Sir Philip Sidney, ed. by William A. Ringler, Jr. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962), 168, ll. 1–2.

128 Ibid., ll. 7–8.

129 Ibid., 171, ll. 12–14.

130 Ibid., 189, ll. 12–14.

131 Ibid., 201, ll. 1–14.

132 Ibid., 202, ll. 1–14.

133 Katona Gábor. “The Lover’s Education: Psychic Development in Sidney’s ‘Astrophil and Stella’”. Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies, 1: 2 (1995), 4.

Table des illustrations

Légende Ary Scheffer, Dante and Beatrice (1851). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.56
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Légende Petrarch and Laura. Fresco in Petrarch’s house in Arquà Petrarca.75
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