De amore: Andreas Capellanus’s second-sophistic rhetoric

Andreas Capellanus, De amore

Amid scholastics engaging in dialectic and courtiers entertaining with romance in France about the year 1180, Andreas Capellanus created a work of attention-seeking rhetoric. He wrote a formally scholastic Latin treatise De amore (On love).[1] He leavened it with romance, parable, fabliau, and wisdom. Rhetoric in medieval Europe typically meant eloquence and sense of decorum. Andreas Capellanus’s De amore is ponderous and morally mixed.[2] Superficially learned and provocative, De amore is a brilliant work of second-sophistic rhetoric in high-medieval Europe.[3]

Consider, for example, De amore’s teaching concerning a common man seeking sexual love with a common woman. In this, the first of eight class-distinguished sections on approaching women, Andreas warns against greeting women in a way appropriate for harlots. That’s best interpreted as an in-joke among elite men with some Ovidian learning.[4] Andreas instructs men to allow the woman to speak first. Medieval literature recognized that women tend to be more socially talkative than men. Apart from harlots in the street, women are also less likely than men to initiate conversation with unknown, opposite-sex adults. Andreas’s teaching makes sense as amusing rhetoric, not literal teaching of scientific or practical knowledge.

Andreas deploys scholastic language as amusing rhetoric. He explains that, upon accosting a woman:

some men so lose their power of speech under the eyes of ladies that they forget those carefully devised remarks which they have arranged in the proper order of their minds, and they cannot develop the topic in its due order. [5]

Andreas thus describes trying to chat up a common woman with scholastic terms for an orator’s tasks. Underscoring learned distance from reality, Andreas further and inconsistently counsels:

only a bold, sagely instructed man should present himself for conversations with ladies

Andreas’s teaching plays on the surface of scholasticism in the incongruous field of heterosexual seduction.

Andreas also plays on the surface of courtly eloquence in the speech he prescribes for the common man. Imagine the common medieval man declaiming this speech to the common medieval woman:

When the divine Being fashioned you, he left himself with no further tasks. I see that your beauty is flawless, your wisdom also. No single quality in you remains imperfect, except that it seems to me that you enriched no man with your love. But I am most surprised that Love allows a woman so beautiful and so adorned with wisdom to soldier so long outside his camp. If only you begin to serve under Love’s banner, how happy above all others will he be whom you crown with your love! And if by my merits I were to deserve this great honour, no lover alive in the world could rightly be ranked with me. [6]

Men as different as the Roman lawyer Pliny the Younger and the nineteenth-century American philosopher William James addressed beloved women with solipsistic, self-degrading monologues. Andreas, in contrast, constructed a speech completely inconceivable and inappropriate for a commoner addressing a commoner. Andreas wasn’t writing in Latin for commoners. He wasn’t writing a systematic treatise of true knowledge or artful practice on how to chat up women. He was seeking the attention of clerical and courtly elites in their own languages.[7]

The distinction between pure and compounded love in De amore is matter of rhetoric rather than philosophy or ideology. De amore presents that distinction in the style of scholastic thought:

There exists such a thing as pure love, and that which is called compounded love. Pure love is that which joins the hearts of two lovers with universal feelings of affection. It embraces the contemplation of the mind and the feeling of the heart. It goes as far as kissing on the mouth, embracing with the arms, and chaste contact with the unclothed lover, but the final consolation is avoided …. By compounded love is meant that which affords its outlet to every pleasure of the flesh, ending in the final act of love. [8]

A man utters this love distinction in his wooing of a woman. Pretending that this distinction encompasses all possibilities for love, the man says to the woman:

I approve of both pure and compounded love, but the performance of acts of pure love pleases me more. So you should utterly shrug off empty fear, and choose one or other of the two loves.

The unstated love object for both types of love is the man. Moreover, engaging in “chaste contact with the unclothed lover” could easily lead to the compounding of sexual intercourse. Recognizing this obvious physiological reality, the woman states:

You utter words strange and unknown, words which one can scarcely account credible. I am startled that in any person such abstinence of the flesh has been observed, that a man was ever able to curb the onset of pleasure, and repress the motions of his body.

The woman works through the man’s rhetorical tactic in scholastic discourse. Modern readers have tended to interpret De amore’s distinction between “pure love” and “compounded love” as having great theoretical and practical significance.[9]  That’s a misunderstanding. Like “chaste contact with the unclothed lover,” the whole of De amore is rhetoric intended to attract attention.

Seeking attention differs from being funny or ironic. In addition to the apparent contrast between its first two books and its third, De amore has “a great many smaller, more local discrepancies and inconsistencies.”[10] Many are neither funny nor plausibly ironic. Some seem too obvious to be unintentional mistakes.[11] Andreas seems to create for readers opportunities to gain self-esteem through perceiving wrongs in his text. Such perceptions would prompt social communication about the work. That’s a shrewd strategy for attracting attention.

De amore takes for granted men’s subordination to women while angling for attention. Among Andreas’s “chief precepts of love” is this:

Be obedient to mistresses’ commands in all things, and always be eager to join the service of Love. [12]

That teaching is appropriate only for masochists and slave-men. While medieval misunderstanding of chivalry normalized men’s love servitude, some men rejected servitude and gender abasement. Andreas also gave voice to their view:

The lover {the man who loves a woman} is in the bonds of arduous serfdom … The lover fears to do or to say anything which could result in his co-lover {coamantis} being roused to anger for some reason, or being enraged on some pretext. Who, then, reveals himself such a fool and madman as to try to obtain what forces him with oppressive serfdom to subject himself to another’s dominion, and to be wholly tied to another’s will in all things? [13]

Andreas playfully obscures that love serfdom is, in current academic cant, “highly gendered.” Among the “co-lovers,” the man is the serf and the woman is the lord. In medieval times, just as today, some persons accepted love servitude, and some didn’t. The individual books of De amore are unified in Andreas’s intention to attract the attention of love slaves and love masters, clerics and courtiers, elite men and elite women.

In constructing a case concerning men’s love servitude, Andreas created a controversia that Seneca the Elder would have appreciated. Here’s the hypothetical case:

A certain man was head over heels in love with a lady, and began to concern himself with her obsessively. When the woman saw him so anxious for her love, she utterly refused it to him. But seeing him none the less preoccupied with longing for her love, one day she made this proposal to him: “I am truly aware that you have toiled for my love for quite a long time. But you will never be able to obtain it unless you are first willing to bind yourself with a firm promise to obey all my commands for ever, and to consent to be utterly deprived of my love if you contravene them in any way.” [14]

The man, acting as the woman-serving lover of European romance, agreed to do whatever the woman commanded:

My lady, God forfend that I should ever stray so far as to be found opposing your commands in any way. So I gladly comply with your request as a task most congenial to me.

The woman cleverly responded with a blow-off command:

Then the woman at once commanded him not to toil further for her love, nor to presume to sing her praises in the company of others.

The abject soldier of love soldiered on:

Though this was a most heavy blow, the lover patiently endured it.

He was rewarded for this blow with an opportunity to act as a white knight and champion of his lady:

One day, when this lover was sitting with other knights in the sight of some ladies, he heard his comrades speak very disparagingly of his lady, unjustly slandering her reputation in their gossip, quite unfairly and improperly. At first the lover reluctantly forbore as he observed them lingering further in depreciating the reputation of that lady, but then he attacked them harshly with words of rebuke. He began to to refute their insults as a man should and to defend the reputation of his lady.

The woman repulsed the white-knighting omega-man:

When this reached the ears of the lady concerned, she said that he should be wholly deprived of her love because by harping on her praises he had contravened her commands.

That’s the case set-up in De Amore. It’s the first of twenty-one vignettes setting up “various judgments on love.” These aren’t substantial matters for courts of love, real or imaginary.[15] They are cases like the cases of Seneca the Elder’s Controversiae. They indicate sophistic attention-seeking.

The case question is about the woman. The question or quarrel is always about women in gynocentric society. Did the woman act rightly? Because women are the most important judges in society, that’s for a woman to decide.[16] The Countess of Champagne decided:

She said that such a lady was too harsh in her command …. This lover committed no sin by trying to refute by proper correction those who blasphemed against his lady.

Even when men are falsely stereotyped as rapists, imprisoned for doing nothing more than having sex and being poor, deprived by design in concern for gender equality in lifespans, and designated under law as a class to die for their country, men should attack harshly those who “blaspheme” women. That’s a lesson in rhetoric, not teaching about love.

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[1] De amore can with good reason be regarded as having been written in the 1180s in Marie de Champagne’s court in Troyes, France. Walsh (1982) pp. 2-3. Dronke argues that composition in the 1230s is “far more probable than the 1180s.” He also argues that De amore was composed in the royal court in Paris. Dronke (1994) pp. 55-6.

De amore 1.6.385 refers to its author as “the lover Andreas, chaplain {capellanus} to the royal court.” A character named Andreas of Paris apparently was the hero of a lost vernacular romance know about the time De amore was written. Moreover, capellanus may mean “votary” rather than “chaplain.” The name Andreas Capallenus may thus be a clever reference to the lost vernacular romance of Andreas of Paris and the Queen of France. Dronke (1994) p. 55. I refer to the author as Andreas Capellanus only conventionally.

De amore has influentially been described as “one of those capital works which reflect the thought of a great epoch, which explains the secret of a civilization.” Parry (1941) p. 2, quoting in translation Robert Bossuat. That’s closer to true for De amore for the second sophistic (intellectual culture of the early Roman Empire) than for high medieval Europe. The idea that Andreas Capellanus codified the principles of courtly love continues to be taught today.

[2] De amore is famous for its rule that marriage is no excuse for not having an extramarital love affair. It also claims that sexual love cannot occur in marriage. Of equal significance is a noblewoman’s astonishingly indecorous statement to a love-seeking commoner:

Knights should be naturally endowed with slim, long calves and neat feet whose length exceeds their width as if moulded by a craftsman. I observe that your calves are on the contrary podgy, bulging, round and stunted, and your feet are as broad as long, and also gigantic.

De amore 1.6.140, from Latin trans. Walsh (1982) p. 79. For the last clause (et in immensum protractos), id. has “and gigantic to boot.” That jarring pun captures a stylistic aspect of the text, but it isn’t in the Latin.

[3] Monson (2005), Ch. 2, discusses medieval rhetoric versus dialectic with respect to De amore. In the influential definition of Boethius, dialectic seeks concessions from an adversary to establish shared understanding of truth. Rhetoric seeks to persuade a judge. In medieval European culture, rhetoric was subordinate to dialectic. Rhetorical concern focused on speaking eloquently. Id. pp. 44, 47-9, 66, 70.

In broader historical perspective, rhetoric can be a means for seeking attention from an impersonal public that “judges” by its allocation of attention. Here’s an insightful discussion of the difference between competition for acclaim and competition for attention. Andreas seems to me to have been engaged in rhetoric directed towards competition for attention.

Judging by surviving documents, De amore was successful in attracting attention over the long term. The first surviving reference to it is by Albertanus da Brescia in 1238. De amore was translated into French as the Livre d’Enanchet in 1252 or earlier. It had attracted enough attention to be condemned by Etienne Tempier, Bishop of Paris, in 1277. Drouart la Vache translated De amore again into French in 1290. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Andreas Capellanus through De amore became a well-known authority on courtly love. De amore has attracted a large amount of modern scholarly attention.

In his preface to Walsh (1982), Walsh describes Andreas Capellanus as “a priest of mediocre talents” and a “dilettante author.” That evaluation vastly under-estimates Andreas.

[4] Ovid, Ars amatoria, 1.343-450 (all women sexually eager); Amores 1.8.43 (the only chaste woman is one that hasn’t been propositioned). The Jealous Husband in the Romance of the Rose misandristically suggests that all men must pay for sex: “all you women are, will be, and have been whores, in fact or in desire.” Romance of the Rose, l. 9155-6, from French trans. Dahlberg (1995) p. 165.

[5] De amore 1.6.23 (including subsequent quote), from Latin trans. Walsh (1982) p. 47. “bene concepta recteque disposita denotes inventio and dispositio, the first two of the orator’s tasks. See Quintilian, Inst. Or. 3.3.1.” Id p. 46, n. 36. See also Monson (2005) pp. 54-5. Walsh (1982) provides the Latin text on facing pages to the English translation. All subsequent translations from De amore are from id., cited by page number. I’ve made some minor changes to the translations for clarity. The Latin text of De amore is available online. For an alternate English translation, Parry (1941). Some excerpts of De amore in English translation are available online. The excerpts and associated paratext obscure De amore’s overall rhetorical intention.

[6] De amore 1.6.26-7, pp. 47, 49.  The commoner is subsequently described as a tradesmen. De amore 1.11 shows contempt for farmers / peasants. It analogizes farmers to horses and mules. It tells men seeking sex with peasant women to use “rough embraces” and “some compulsion.” That doesn’t mean that men commonly raped peasant women, or that men weren’t punished for raping peasant women. Medieval scholars have understood rape in medieval literature no better than they have understood rape in the U.S. today.

Andreas seems to ridicule his own love teaching in describing love of peasants:

it is not appropriate to instruct them in love’s teaching, in case we find that men’s estates which are normally harvested by their toil tuns out unfruitful for us through negligence of the cultivator.

De amore 1.11.2, p. 223. In other words, if Andreas instructed peasants, they would become so engaged in having sex that they would neglect their field work. That’s ludicrous. The second level of humor is that field work, cultivating, and plowing is a medieval metaphor for having sex. The text also suggest that the peasants would stop having children if they sought love according to Andreas’s teaching. If Andreas actually taught peasants courtly love, peasant men probably would fail to have sex much more often.

[7] Robertson (1962), pp. 403-7, insightfully describes the sophistic quality of the first dialogue. That quality prevails throughout all three books of De amore. Monson (2005) suggests that Andreas Capellanus was a broadly learned cleric who failed to realize fully and consistently his enormous intellectual ambition in writing De amore. From my perspective, Andreas Capellanus’s intellectual ambition was that of a learned sophist seeking attention among diverse elites. He greatly succeeded in that intellectual ambition.

Cherniss (1975) states that De amore “was written as a comic mock treatise.” All three of its books are unified through “inflated, overdone, essentially comic treatments of literary materials which Andreas found ready to his hand.” Id. pp. 224, 237. Attempts to attract attention often appear comic from an external perspective. At the same time, being outrageous and even clownish, if done in a sophisticated way, can be a successful means for attracting attention. See note [15] below.

Drouart la Vache described himself as laughing with “enjoyment and approval” upon reading De amore. Wood (2015) p. 116, including relevant Drouart text, with English translation. Drouart also became interested enough in De amore to translate it into French verse. His claim that he can’t help but write verse doesn’t provide a credible explanation for him translating specifically De amore. Wood (2015) shows that Drouart rendered De amore “more univocally didactic” in support of clerics’ chaste love of worldly women. Id. p. 115. De amore effectively attracted Drouart’s attention. He, however, translated it with much less concern for attracting attention from diverse elites.

[8] De amore 1.6.470-1, p. 181 (from the eighth dialogue between a man of higher nobility and a woman of higher nobility). The subsequent two quotes are from 1.6.475, 476, p. 181. Walsh translates amor quidam est purus as “such a thing as chaste love,” and mixes use of “pure love” and “chaste love” for the same type of love. I’ve consistently used the terms “pure {purus} love” and “compounded {mixtus} love.” For “compounded love,” many scholars use the term “mixed love.” “Compounded love” seems to me a clearer and more witty translation.

[9] Monson (2005) pp. 62-3, 307-10, observes that the relevant exchange is highly rhetorical, but gives relatively little significance to rhetoric in interpreting De amore. Wood describes the man as a “seductive sophist” and a “lecherous sophist.” Wood (2015) pp. 136, 137. Wood insightfully observes:

the nobilior suitor is presented as an immensely resourceful rhetorician who turns verbal somersaults in an ultimately inconclusive effort to coax his interlocutor into bed.

Wood (2015) p. 135.  Drouart la Vache eliminated nearly all of the eighth dialogue in his more narrowly directed, more substantive adaptation of De amore. Id. pp. 136-7. Andreas Capellanus throughout De amore worked much like the suitor in the eight dialogue, but with the objective of bringing his text to the attention of diverse elites.

[10] Monson (2005) p. 161. Id. pp. 161-3 discusses some of these inconsistencies. Monson observes:

if he {Andreas} was trying to be funny or ironic, he went about it so clumsily that a great many people, from Bishop Tempier {condemning De amore in 1277} in to Donaldson {Professor E. Talbot Donaldson, writing about De amore in 1965}, have not got the joke.

Id. p. 164.

[11] Some examples: in the eight dialogue, the man inexplicable shifts from being a married man to being a cleric. Compare De amore 1.6.44 to 1.6.478, 481. In the enumeration of dialogues, Andreas inexplicably excludes a dialogue between a noble man and a woman of higher nobility. Andreas’s tripartite class structure is later revealed to exclude peasants and nuns. These “mistakes” seem to me too obvious to be unintentional. Andreas’s love for a nun (De amore 1.8.4-5) similarly seems like a mistake declared for rhetorical effect.

[12] De amore 1.6.269 (precept 7), p. 117. The woman of higher nobility advises the common man that as a lover:

He must not be a lover of several ladies simultaneously, but must be the dedicated slave of all women in the service of one.

De amore 1.6.155-6, p. 85. That assertion, which relatively few have questioned, is an astonishing testament to gynocentrism.

[13] De amore 3.14,17, p. 291. Showing unity across books, a noblewoman in Book 1 declared that men’s love service appears to her to be “the worst possible slavery, and a course to be avoided in all circumstances.” De amore 1.5.218, p. 103.

[14] De amore 2.7.1 (Case 1), p. 251. Subsequent quotes are also from Case 1, pp. 251, 253.

[15] Discussing at length De amore, an article in the Stanford Law Review declared:

While there is considerable controversy within the predominantly male professions of legal and literary history as to the reality of women’s courts and the jurisdiction of love, there is no doubt that the courts of love captured the medieval literary imagination. … Law has always produced and promoted legal fictions, and I contend that the courts of love, whether real or imagined, produced judgments as jurisprudentially relevant, and useful, as more traditional legal fictions.

Goodrich (1996) p. 636. Id. then incorporated in his discussion of De amore’s courts of love Jacques Lacan, Slavoj Žižek, Freud, Luce Irigaray, Hélène Cixous, Niklas Luhmanns, Jacque Derrida, recent French feminist jurisprudence, Anglo-American feminist legal theory, jurist Francine Demichel’s advocacy of sexually explicit rights, Jane Larson’s proposal for a tort of sexual deceit, the psychoanalytically informed jurisprudence of American theorist Drucilla Cornell, and a variety of other tokens of elite interest. Read with understanding, id. provides considerable insight into what Andreas Capellanus was doing in De Amore.

[16] On two key questions of love, a man of higher nobility declared:

I should like to abide by the judgment of a woman, not a man.

De Amore 1.6.388, p. 153. The noble lady agreed and selected as judge the Countess of Champagne.

[image] Poet-knight serving lady. Der Schenk von Limpurg (either Walther I, fl. 1230s-1240s, or one of his sons, Walther II or Konrad I). Illustration from Codex Manesse, Zurich, between 1305 and 1315. UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, fol. 82v. Thanks to University of Hiedelberg and Wikimedia Commons.


Cherniss, Michael D. 1975. “The Literary Comedy of Andreas Capellanus.” Modern Philology. 72(3): 223-237.

Dahlberg, Charles, trans. 1995.  Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun. The Romance of the Rose. 3rd ed. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Dronke, Peter. 2008. “‘Andreas Capellanus.'” The Journal of Medieval Latin. 4(1): 51-63.

Goodrich, Peter. 1996. “Law in the Courts of Love: Andreas Capellanus and the Judgments of Love.” Stanford Law Review. 48 (3): 633-675.

Monson, Don A. 2005. Andreas Capellanus, scholasticism, & the courtly tradition. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press.

Parry, John Jay. 1941. The Art of courtly love {De amore}: with introduction, translation, and notes. New York: Ungar.

Robertson, D. W. 1962. A preface to Chaucer; studies in medieval perspectives. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Walsh, P.G., trans. 1982. Andreas Capellanus on love {De amore}. London: Duckworth.

Wood, Lucas. 2015. “The Art of Clerkly Love: Drouart la Vache Translates Andreas Capellanus.” Pp. 113-49 iu Glei, Reinhold and Wolfgang Polleichtner, eds. 2015. Medievalia et humanistica: studies in medieval and renaissance culture. New series, number 40.

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