Dante’s Folquet de Marseille praised Rahab in paradise

Yet we don’t feel remorse, we laugh in ease —
not for the sin we have no memory of,
but for that power that orders and forsees.
We gaze on the adorning art of love,
the good that makes creation beautiful,
that turns the world below by the world above.
But that you’ll leaved fulfilled in every will
risen in you to know about this sphere,
I must go on a little longer still.

{ Non però qui si pente, ma si ride,
non de la colpa, ch’a mente non torna,
ma del valor ch’ordinò e provide.
Qui si rimira ne l’arte ch’addorna
cotanto affetto, e discernesi ‘l bene
per che ‘l mondo di sù quel di giù torna.
Ma perché tutte le tue voglie piene
ten porti che son nate in questa spera,
procedere ancor oltre mi convene. } [1]

Rahab helping Joshua's spies

In twelfth-century southern France, the man trobairitz (troubadour) Folquet de Marseille wrote love songs to the wife of Raymond Geoffrey, Viscount of Marseille. Loving another’s wife was illicit in Christian Europe. Folquet prudently struggled to conceal his love:

I wish to show you the pain that I feel,
and to others, hide and conceal
that I cannot ever secretly speak my heart to you.
If then I know not how to cover myself, who will cover for me?
Who will be faithful to me, if I am a traitor to myself?
If one cannot hide himself, there is no reason
for others to hide him, for they do not benefit.

{ A vos volgra mostrar lo mal qu’ieu sen
et als autres celar et escondire;
qu’anc no.us puec dir mon cor celadamen;
donc, s’ieu no.m sai cobrir, qui m’er cubrir?
Ni qui m’er fis, s’ieu eis mi sui traire?
Qui si no sap celar non es razos
que.l celon cil a cui non es nuls pros. } [2]

A foolishly courtly lover, Folquet couldn’t resist writing love songs to another’s wife. After marrying and having two children, Folquet had a change of heart and entered a monastery. Medieval European Christianity was tolerant and forgiving, quite unlike the denounce-and-banish canceling culture of today. Folquet subsequent become Bishop of Toulouse and played a leading role in high politics of early-thirteenth-century southern France. Dante in his great Comedy {Comedia} placed Folquet, more justly called called Folc, in the third sphere of paradise, that of Venus and lovers.

Another man trobairitz subsequently ridiculed Folquet of Marseilles’s unworldliness. Taking advantage of the broad latitude of medieval freedom of speech, this troubadour parodied Folquet’s stanza concerned with covering up love:

I wish to show you the dick that hangs from me,
and to sit my balls above your ass;
and I say that only for the sake of banging you often,
because I have focused all my thoughts on fucking,
such that the dick sings, when it sees the cunt laugh.
And for fear that the jealous one will return,
I put my dick in and retain my balls.

{ A vos volgra metre lo veit qe·m pent
e mos coillos de sobre·l cul assire:
eu non o dic mais per ferir sovent
car en fotre ai mes tot mon albire;
qe·l veit chanta qan el ve lo con rire,
e per paor qe no i venga·l gelos
li met mon veit e rete‹nc› los coillos. } [3]

With earthy description of human bodily anatomy, this song emphasizes mutual sexual joy in singing and laughing. It indicates the man’s concern not to ejaculate, and thus to avoid cuckolding the jealous one, probably meaning the woman’s husband. Support for cuckolding men is characteristic of gynocentric culture. Christianity, in contrast, centers on God incarnated as a fully masculine man, Jesus. Medieval Christianity affirmed conjugal partnership, not men’s abasement in the courtly love that shaped the young Folquet’s songs.

The idea that men are naturally able to sing and please with their penises challenges men’s labor to acquire worth under gynocentrism. Men trobairitz, who were often materially poor, commonly sang songs to please elite, highly privileged women.[4] Yet such labor isn’t necessary and isn’t always fully rewarding. A poetic exchange between two men trobairitz brings out this reality of men’s labor:

Sir Peire, by my beautiful singing
I have from my lady gloves and a ring,
and many others have similar things
from ladies by their song.
And so those who speak against singing
seem to be merely full of nonsense.

Hugh, if you have from her jewelry,
another has her meat and skin,
and while you sing, he’s in her nest,
and while you fill her glove,
the other is filling the lark’s skin
that you seek with your bird calls.

{ En Peire, per mon chantar bèl
Ai de mi dons gans et anèl,
E mant autre n’an atressi
Agut de donnas per lur chan;
E cel que contra chantar di
Sembla ben c’ane rebuzan.

Hugo, si vos n’aves joèl,
Autre n’a la carn e la pèl,
E chantas cant el es el ni.
E cant vos enformas son gan,
Autre enforma l’alauzi
Dont vos anas brezanejan. } [5]

Like all human beings, men, who certainly are human beings, have a human right to sexual intimacy. Men should not feel compelled to labor to earn sex like they labor to acquire material goods. Love ultimately cannot be earned.

Love isn’t equivalent to sex. An under-appreciated medieval trobairitz song poignantly highlighted lacking satisfaction in sex without love:

A fucker who was not in love
with any woman, but wanted to fuck,
always had a boner and was eager
to fuck any woman he could fuck.
He was all so eager to fuck that

he was called Sir Fucker,
a fucker, alas! unhappy and sad,
and he said one dies badly and lives worse
who doesn’t fuck the one he loves.

This fucker was so anxious to fuck
that the stronger he fucked, the more he fucked dying of sadness
that he wasn’t fucking more. He would have fucked as two
of the best fuckers in Lombardy,
for in fucking he said, “I would be happy if I were fucking!”

He was called Sir Fucker,
a fucker, alas! unhappy and sad,
and he said one lives badly who doesn’t fuck
night and day the one he loves.

{ Us fotaires que non fo amorós
De neguna, mais que fotre volria,
Està totjorn areis e voluntós
De fotre celas que fotre poria.
Tal volontat a de fotre tot dia

Qu’En Esfotanz se clama,
Fotaire las dolens chaitiu,
E ditz que mal mòr e peiz viu
Qui non fot la qui ama.

Lo fotaire es tant de fotre angoissós,
Com plus fòrt fot, mòr fotant de felnia
Que plus non fot, qu’el fotria per dos
De fotedors melhors de Lombardia,
Qu’en fotant ditz : “Garitz som, se fotria!”

En Esfotanz se clama,
Fotaire las dolens chaitiu,
E ditz qui non fot que mal viu
Nòit e jorn la que ama. } [6]

This song ostentatiously uses an early form of the quite unusual and interesting word “fuck.” Its refrain clearly declares the misery of he who doesn’t have sex with the one he loves. More subtly, the song doesn’t merely advocate for more sex. The man having much sex with women was “unhappy and sad,” even to the point of “dying of sadness.” He wanted to have sex as vigorously as “two of the best fuckers,” not just a single sexual champion. Sex without sadness is a coupled activity. Most astonishing of all, “Sir Fucker” while fucking subjunctively declared, “I would be happy if I were fucking!” He wasn’t experiencing the true act. He wasn’t experiencing love. Far too many men and women are similarly deprived.

Rahab earned her living as a prostitute in the ancient Canaanite city of Jericho. Two Israelite spies came and spent the night with her at her inn. Those spies didn’t come to her as Abraham did for his niece Mary. On her own Rahab turned to know the true God and sought to help those whom God favored. She helped the two spies to escape from the city and thus helped Joshua to lead God’s chosen people to conquer Jericho in the Promised Land. Christians from the early church Fathers have regarded Rahab as a blessed woman.[7] In Christian understanding, the prostitute Rahab is a figure of the Christian church. She foreshadowed the coming of the church, just as Joshua did his namesake Jesus. Her choice to do great good wiped away her sinful acts as a prostitute.

In the third sphere of paradise of Dante’s Divine Comedy, Folquet de Marseille praised Rahab. Both Folquet and Rahab were converts from foolish, adulterous love. Rahab was a woman who risked her life to save men’s lives. She defied gynocentrism with godly love. Rahab thus played a larger, better role than Folquet in salvation history, as Christians understand it. Folquet rightly regarded Rahab as greater than he:

You’d like to know who shines beside me here
as scintillating in her lamping fire
as rays of sunlight when the lake is clear.
Know that within it Rahab finds her peace.
The highest of our saints, she seals her light
on every rank of spirits in our choir.

{ Tu vuo’ saper chi è in questa lumera
che qui appresso me così scintilla
come raggio di sole in acqua mera.
Or sappi che là entro si tranquilla
Raab; e a nostr’ ordine congiunta,
di lei nel sommo grado si sigilla. } [8]

Ovid sought to teach men the art of love. Medieval Europe recognized Ovid as a master teacher of love. As a courtly lover, Folquet was ignorant of vitally important Ovidian teaching. The prostitute Rahab understood better Ovid’s classical learning about love than did Folquet. Yet Ovidian learning alone wasn’t sufficient to make Rahab a star scintillating in the firmament of paradise. She needed to learn a further art of love.

We gaze on the adorning art of love,
the good that makes creation beautiful,
that turns the world below by the world above.

{ Qui si rimira ne l’arte ch’addorna
cotanto affetto, e discernesi ‘l bene
per che ‘l mondo di sù quel di giù torna. }

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[1] Dante, Comedy {Comedia}, Paradise {Paradiso} 9.103-11, medieval Italian text of Petrocchi via the Princeton Dante Project, English translation (adapted slightly) from Esolen (2004). Boccaccio was the first to refer to Dante’s Comedia as the Divine Comedy {Divina Comedia}. Dante’s work might better be called the Earthy and Divine Comedy.

For si ride in the quote above, I’ve replaced “smile at ease” in Esolen’s translation with “laugh in ease.” The latter translation is consistent with the Latin root verb rideo. That’s also the root for the Occitan verb rire used subsequently above. Laughter is an under-appreciated aspect of the true Christian sense of redemption and salvation.

[2] Folquet de Marseilles, “Love, have mercy! Don’t let me die so often! {Amors, merce!: no mueira tan soven!}” st. 5 (ll. 29-35), Old Occitan text from Stroński 1910 (Song 9), via Rialto, English translation (adapted) from Schulman (2001), Appendix, Song 9. Textual variants exist across surviving manuscripts, but they matter little to the meaning of this stanza.

This song survives with a melody. For a transcription, Washer (2002) pp. 301-2. The Troubadours Art Ensemble recorded it on Troubadour songs: music in a courtly world, an album from their concert in Tartu, Estonia, in 2003. Here’s a complete discography of recordings of Folquet’s songs.

Schulman carefully reviewed the different names used for Folquet, and judged Folc, the non-dimunitive Occitan nominative form, to be the most appropriate. Id. pp. xvii-xx. I use Folquet de Marseille because it’s the most popular form of his name today, and more relevant to his career as a troubadour. The corresponding Occitan form is Folquet de Marselha.

Folquet de Marseille lived in Occitania from about 1150 to 1231. He probably became a Cistercian monk about 1195. He was elected Bishop of Toulouse in 1205. On Folquet’s biography, id.

About twenty-seven of Folquet’s songs have survived. His songs were widely known, and he apparently interacted with leading trobairitz and troubadours. “Amors, merce!: no mueira tan soven!” survives in twenty-three manuscripts. Moreover, parts of it are re-used in different ways in ten different works. Washer (2007) p. 566.

In lines 4-5 of st. 5 (above), Folquet echoes the first part of a famous aphorism from Hillel the Elder (florished from about 30 BGC to 10 GC), preserved in Pirkei Avot 1:14: “If I am not for myself, who is for me? But if I am only for my own self, what am I? And if not now, when? { הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, אִם אֵין אֲנִי לִי, מִי לִי. וּכְשֶׁאֲנִי לְעַצְמִי, מָה אֲנִי. וְאִם לֹא }” Here’s some analysis of that aphorism.

[3] Anonymous cobla, Occitan text from the critical edition of Francesco Carapezza (2002), via Rialto, my English translation benefiting from the French translation of Bec (1984) p. 171 and the partial English translation of Lazar (1989) pp. 267-8. Here’s Bec’s similar Occitan text.

The Occitan verb ferir, which I’ve translated as “banging,” uses a metaphor historically associated with disparagement of men’s sexuality. Cf. Bec (1984) p. 171, note to v. 3. Bec perceives in v. 7 the practice of coitus interruptus and suggests “à cause de la menace du gelos (mari) {as a result of fear of the gelos (husband)}.” Id. p. 172. Men have long been concerned to practice birth control to avoid the burdens of pregnancies that they don’t want. Those burdens today are primarily associated with large financial obligations (“child support” payments) that governments impose on men solely because a man had sex of reproductive type. By deliberate state legal construction, men are thus deprived of reproductive choice. The only way a man can escape the risk of that sex penalty is by having sex with another man’s wife. A man seeking to avoid cuckolding a husband thus shows love for the husband, not fear of him.

Washer throughly discusses transformations of Folquet’s “Amors, merce!: no mueira tan soven!” On this particular transformation, she comments: “the author reveals the hidden truth of fin’amour {courtly love}, the real way to cure the pain of love.” The author of this cobla closely read and adapted Folquet’s song. Washer (2007) pp. 579-80.

[4] In the tenson between Uguet and Reculaire, “I would like to challenge you, Reculaire {Scometre·us vuoill, Reculaire},” Uguet describes Reculaire as destitute and wearing old clothes. Uguet has been identified as the troubadour Uc de Saint-Circ and Reculaire as the troubadour Sordel. Guida (2006), as discussed in Mathias (2014) pp. 174-6.

[5] “Sir Peire, by my beautiful singing {En Peire, per mon chantar bel},” Occitan text as emended by Poe (2000) p. 211 (Bec’s Occitan text; Meyer’s Occitan text), my English translation, benefiting from that of id., and the French translation of Bec (1984) p. 45 and that of the Peire Cardenal website.

“En Peire, per mon chantar bel” survives in only one manuscript, MS f (BnF 12472), called the Giraud chansonnier. That manuscript dates to the first half of the fourteenth century. Poe (2000) pp. 207, 216, n. 2. In that manuscript, the song is attributed to Uc de Maensac and Peire Cardenal. Poe argues convincing that the named Peire is Peire de Maensac, and the named Uc is an unidentified troubadour. Id. pp. 213-5. She suggests that, based on its theme, this song dates to the first quarter of the thirteenth century.

Poe recognized that “En Peire, per mon chantar bel” took its metrical pattern from “From the sweetness of the new season {Ab lo dolchor del temps novel},” a famous song of Guilhem IX, Duke of Aquitaine. The fourth stanza (ll. 19-24) of that song describes Guilhem’s desire:

I still remember one morning
when we stopped quarreling,
and she gave to me so great a gift,
her loving and her ring.
God let me live until again
I put my hands beneath her cloak.

{ Enquer me menbra d’un mati
que nos fezem de guera fi,
e que.m donet un don tan gran:
sa drudari’ e son anel.
Enquer me lais Dieus viure tan
qu’aia mas mans soz so mantel! }

Occitan text and English translation from Poe (2000) p. 212, adapted with the help of the translation of Paden & Paden (2007) p. 25. “En Peire, per mon chantar bel” makes more explicit and more intensive the carnal theme in Guilhem’s song.

[6] “A fucker who was not in love {Us fotaires que non fo amorós},” Occitan text from Bec (1984), via Corpus des Troubadours, English translation (modified) from Paden & Paden (2007) p. 238. Trobar has an alternate English translation. Here’s an Italian translation.

For the English translation above, I’ve changed the layout slightly relative to that of Paden & Paden so as to highlight the distinctive refrain. In addition, I’ve associated the extra word “that {Qu’}” in the first refrain with the prior stanza. That catch word is less noticeable and doesn’t add an extra syllable in the Occitan original.

“Us fotaires que non fo amorós” survives only in MS. G (Biblioteca Ambrosiana (Milan), MS. R 71 sup.), where it is grouped with parodies of other troubadour songs. A marginal annotation in that manuscript apparently attributes the song to the troubadour Tribolet. Tribolet is otherwise unknown.

Both Bec and Paden & Paden under-appreciate this song. Bec implies that it isn’t serious, and that “c’est bien une parodie graveleuse de la fin’amor {it is indeed a smutty parody of courtly love}.” Bec (1984) p. 167. According to Paden & Paden, it’s an “exercise in obscenity …. The repetition of the sexual verb expresses the strength of desire in an exaggerated and comical way.” Paden & Paden (2007) p. 238. The last lines of both refrains are open to the possibility of homosexual desire. Whether the unsatisfied desire involves homosexual or heterosexual love seems to me less important than the song’s poignant sense of sexual frustration.

[7] On Rahab, Joshua 2:1-24, Hebrews 11:31, James 2:25. Rahab may be in the genealogy of Jesus. Matthew 1:5.

[8] Dante, Paradiso 9.112-7, medieval Italian text of Petrocchi via the Princeton Dante Project, English translation from Esolen (2004). The subsequent quote is similarly from Paradiso 9.106-8.

[image] Rahab helping Joshua’s spies. 17th century oil on canvas painting by unknown artist. Preserved in Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nimes (France). Via Wikimedia Commons.


Bec, Pierre. 1984. Burlesque et Obscénité chez les Troubadours: pour une approche du contre-texte médiéval. Paris: Stock.

Esolen, Anthony M., trans. 2004. Dante Alighieri. Paradise. New York: Modern Library.

Guida, Saverio. 2006. “Sulla tenzone tra Uget e Reculaire.” Studi mediolatini e volgari. 52: 98-130.

Lazar, Moshe. 1989. “Carmina Erotica, Carmina Iocosa: The Body and the Bawdy in Medieval Love Songs.” Pp. 249-276 in Lazar, Moshe, and Norris J. Lacy, eds. Poetics of Love in the Middle Ages: texts and contexts. Fairfax, Va: George Mason University Press.

Matheis, Eric. 2014. Capital, Value, and Exchange in the Old Occitan and Old French Tenson (Including the Partimen and the Jeu-Parti). Ph.D. Thesis, Columbia University.

Paden, William D., and Frances Freeman Paden, trans. 2007. Troubadour Poems from the South of France. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer.

Poe, Elizabeth W. 2000. “A Bird in the Hand: Toward an Informed Reading of En Peire, per mon chantar bel (PC 335,23 = PC 453,1).” Pp. 207-219 in Uitti, Karl D., Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski, Kevin Brownlee, and Mary B. Speer. Translatio Studii: Essays by His Students in Honor of Karl D. Uitti for His Sixty-Fifth Birthday. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Schulman, Nicole M. 2001. Where Troubadours were Bishops: the Occitania of Folc of Marseille (1150-1231). New York: Routledge (based closely on dissertation).

Stroński, Stanisław. 1910. Le Troubadour Folquet de Marseille. Cracovie: Académie des Sciences.

Washer, Nancy. 2002. “Los motz e.l so”: words, melody, and their interaction in the songs of Folquet de Marseille. Ph.D. Thesis. Louisiana State University.

Washer, Nancy. 2007. “Paraphrased and parodied, extracted and inserted: the changing meaning of Folquet de Marseille’s ‘Amors, Merce!’Neophilologus : An International Journal of Modern and Mediaeval Language and Literature. 91 (4): 565-581.

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