De amore dialogically manipulated men’s protest of women

medieval man and woman playing chess

Discussing injuries that men suffer from women is commonly overtaken by claims that not all women are like that. Andreas Capellanus, writer of the medieval Latin treatise De amore, responded to “not all women are like that” claims with great sophistication. He insistently, categorically declared themes of men’s sexed protest while subtly invoking tedium, insincerity, and lack of reciprocity.

Men’s protest of women is commonly dismissed merely as men showing again and again that all men hate all women and always have. In De amore, Andreas initially demurred from criticizing women:

there is nothing in the world more distasteful or tedious than an over-detailed analysis of the nature or condition of women. Let us therefore pass over this topic at this time, so that we may avoid the reputation of somehow indicting nature because of women, and because the facts are known to any man of sense. [1]

After only a few more pages of text, Andreas then recited at length themes of men’s sexed protest in extreme form.[2] According to Andreas, all women are avaricious, envious, slanderers, fickle, disloyal, vainglorious, lustful, liars, drunkards, etc. Andreas repeatedly insisted that his criticisms apply to all women, without exception. For example, Andreas declared:

no woman is ever joined in such ardent love with a man that she does not devote all her brains to draining away her partner’s wealth. This rule of thumb is never found misleading; there are no exceptions to it. [3]

In a constructed dialogue between a man and woman of higher nobility, the woman protests:

If your ire is roused by my words, you ought to level abusive quotations against me alone; it is inappropriate to rage against all women in general because of the annoyance caused by one. [4]

Andreas warmly engaged as authorities the eminent and powerful near-contemporary women Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, Marie Countess of Champagne, the Countess of Flanders Isobel of Vermandois, Ermengarde Viscountess of Narbonne, Princess Marguérite, and other women. Surely Andreas’s extreme recital of themes of men’s sexed protest would have attracted the concern of friends, family and supporters of these eminent women, along with the women themselves if they were still living. Even if men hating women was so common as to be acceptable, Andreas would have had no interest in showing that he too hated women.

Medieval readers, who were more open and tolerant to diversity of expression than are many readers today, may have perceived in Andreas’s extreme criticism of women issues of sincerity and reciprocity. In disparaging women, Andreas declared:

No man could so rejoice in women’s intimacy or affection as to be able to know the secrets of her heart or the degree of sincerity with which she addresses him, for a woman trusts no man as friend, believing that all are utter deceivers. [5]

The phrase “all are utter deceivers” echoes back to men Andreas’s categorical claims about women. In one of De amore’s exemplary dialogues, a woman of higher nobility said to a common man:

The mere fact of your ascribing to me the cunning of deceit and lying shows that you are pitted with the infection of the same vice, and that the thoughts enclosed in your heart are different from those you speak with a deceitful tongue.

This vicious circle of reciprocal deceit destroys trust and makes communication, friendship, and love impossible.

Classification of persons is one possible response to the deadlock of annihilating, reciprocal deceit. Andreas distinguished honorable, praiseworthy women from other women:

I do not state all this with the intention of detracting from honourable women as a class, but out of eagerness to rebuke the lives of those who do not blush basely to dishonour by their deeds the ranks of the venerable band of women and to debase them under the lying pretext of love. God forfend that we should ever wish or be able to make covert attacks on the deeds of praiseworthy women, or in this treatise detract from them in any sense. [6]

Drouart la Vache, who adapted De amore into French verse in 1290, distinguished between good and bad women. He declared that what he said applied only to bad women. Johann Hartlieb, who translated De amore into German about 1440, similarly distinguished between good and bad women.[7] In promoting his French translation and refutation of the Latin Lamentationes Matheoluli about 1385, Jehan Le Fèvre did likewise.

Men’s distinctions between good and bad women in men’s protest are suspect. Sexed protest shouldn’t be necessary among good women and good men. As for bad women and bad men, few are likely to acknowledge themselves as bad. The distinction between good and bad persons in sexed protest tends to generate disjoint understandings of good men protesting bad women versus good women protesting bad men. In practice, distinguishing between good and bad women tends to be associated with men seeking to gain the good will and support of powerful women.

De amore hints at an alternative to classifying persons as good and bad in responding to men’s sexed protest. Andreas began his recital of women’s vices with lack of reciprocity in love:

You could never find the reciprocal love you look for in a woman. No women ever loved her husband, nor can she ever bind herself to a lover with a reciprocal bond of love. [8]

Andreas ended his recital of themes from the literature of men’s sexed protest with a similar lament for love:

For a woman does not love with feelings from the heart. … no woman could be united in so close a bond of love to a partner that she does not begin to grow cold towards the usual consolations, and soon become a stranger to her partner once she gets no homage of presents to acknowledge. So it seems that no man of sense fittingly binds himself to a woman’s affection, because she never continues to reciprocate anyone’s love

Andreas’s outrageous, extreme recital of themes of men’s protest of women could easily generate hate for hate. At the same time, De amore’s ideology of men’s servitude to women in love is far from reciprocal. Jesus in the Gospels urges Christians to love their enemies.[9] De amore matches men’s love servitude to women with a challenge to women to love men who treat them as enemies.

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[1] De amore 3.52-3, from Latin trans Walsh (1982) p. 303. All subsequent translations of De amore are from id., cited by page number.

[2] De amore 3.65-112, pp. 307-21. Book 3, from which this section comes, has received little serious critical analysis in the voluminous scholarship on De amore. For example, in more than 56 pages (pp. 84-5, 393-448) discussing De amore, Robertson (1962) devotes just over one page (p. 447) to Book 3.

[3] De amore 3.72, p. 309.

[4] De amore 1.6.500, p. 189. The man implicitly directed Genesis 3.6 at the woman:

it was the woman rather than the man who is first said to have served her belly against God’s command, and to have transgressed God’s orders through gluttony. And indeed the man himself would never have entered the service of the belly if he had not chanced first to be compelled to do so by the women’s excessive persuasion, deceived at her prompting.

1.6.499, p. 189. The woman responds that women are naturally “innocent and naive” and the male is “crafty and guileful in all things.” Therefore the devil approached the woman first.  According to the woman, the devil’s recognition of woman’s innocent and man’s guile explains the fall:

If the temptation had begun with the man and had been completely unsuccessful there, the woman’s resolve would have been strengthened by his example.

1.6.502, p. 191. This explanation partially shifts the blame for the fall to (not innocent) men.

[5] De amore 3.86, p. 313. The subsequent quote is 1.6.130, p. 77.

[6] De amore 1.9.19, p. 219.

[7] Wood (2015) pp. 121-3.

[8] De amore 3.65, p. 307. The subsequent quote is 3.110-2, p. 321.

[9] Matthew 5:43-4, Luke 6:27.

[image] King Otto IV of Brandenburg playing chess with a woman. Illustration from Codex Manesse, Zurich, between 1305 and 1340. UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, fol. 13r. Thanks to University of Hiedelberg and Wikimedia Commons.


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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