remembrance of love fills men with anguish and desperate hope

nude woman dreaming

In twelfth-century France, a young man was forced to abandon his girlfriend. With medieval concern for gender equality, he described her as having more merit than all the men engaged in violence against men or in pursuing carnal love. He said that she had more merit than all the women dedicated to chastity or to carnal love. He declared his girlfriend to be more beautiful than the goddess Diana herself.[1] That goddess was renowned for shunning men and punishing harshly the male gaze. The young man’s girlfriend, in contrast, loved him warmly and generously. Now held distant from her, he lamented and suffered:

Recalling that time when by auspicious charm
the friendly Love-God joined me to you and you to me,
I lament and suffer that, even as I was before accustomed to do,
I am not able to unite my body with yours.
But if as I desire I could couple myself with you,
nothing, I think, could hinder my happiness.
Indeed your hair and your discerning, twinkling eyes
nourish me as do your sweet words themselves.
I would strive for kisses while caressing your delicious flesh,
which I think would be able to stir the celestial gods.
Having captured kisses, perhaps to that sweeter secret
I would be aroused, moved with fire for you.

{ Temporis illius recolens, quo carmine fausto
me tibe teque mihi iunxit amica Venus,
conqueror et doleo, quod sic velut ante solebam
me sociare tibi corpore non valeo.
Sed si, quod cuperem, tibe me coniungere possem,
nil mihi felici posse nocere puto.
Namque tuos crines cernens oculosque micantes,
pascerer ipse tuis dulcibus adloquiis;
oscula captarem carnes palpando suaves,
quae puto caelestes posse movere deos;
oscula captando forsan quod dulcius esset
temptarem tacitus, tactus ab igne tui. } [2]

Men remember past loves, both good and disastrous. When a man is imprisoned for not being able to pay the “child support” exaction resulting from a misguided one-night fling, he has no basis for hope. Men deprived of meaningful contact with their children through the anti-men sexism of family courts can scarcely dream of justice. Such men often become numb and emotionally deadened. But a man experiencing warm remembrance of good love typically moves on to anguish and desperate hope.

Forced to abandon his girlfriend, the young man delighting in remembering their love became filled with anguish and desperate hope. He wrote to her:

Alas! This sadness now deeply disturbs my mind.
If it doesn’t dissipate, believe me, I will die.
Therefore, worthy young woman, dearer to me than the whole world,
if you want me to live, let your fidelity be without stain.
And since my body cannot be coupled with yours,
may I remain in your mind, as you remain in my mind.
That envious one because of whom we cannot be together —
may he not be able to live, and may death come for him.
As quickly as possible, believe me, sweetheart, I will return,
and, if that’s not possible, my love for you will destroy me.
Begging God therefore, insistently ask that our second
ship that fears the tumultuous seas would go with the wind.

{ Heu! Dolor iste meam mentem iam commovet intus;
qui nisi discedat, crede mihi, moriar.
Quare, virgo decens, toto mihi carior orbe,
vivere si me vis, sit tibi pura fides,
Et quia non possum tibe corpore consociari,
mente tibi iaceam, nam mihi mente iaces.
Invidus ille modo pro quo simul esse nequimus,
vivere non possit nec sibi mors veniat.
Quam citius potero, credas mihi, nympha, redibo,
et, si non potero, rumpar amore tuo.
Supplex ergo Deum rogites ut nostra secundo
navis eat vento quae freta mota timet. }

Medieval thinkers developed prescriptions to prevent men from dying of lovesickness. Moreover, most men want from a woman more than just love in the mind. Many men have learned from experience to doubt women’s loyalty. Not so for this young men. He clung to the extraordinary hope that the envious one who had separated him and his girlfriend would die and that a favorable wind would return him to her.

Another young man in twelfth-century France acted similarly, but with more concern for his self-esteem. His hard situation arose while he was relaxing in an olive-tree’s shade on a beautiful spring day:

While gazing at flowers,
ears feasting on birdsong,
inwardly I drifted back
to my old love.
My spirit languished,
and my heart drank desire.

While I thought of her womb,
while I recalled her breasts,
while I was united with her,
once and then again,
I seemed to surpass
the treasures of ancient kings.

{ Dum flores aspicerem,
aures cantu pascerem,
relabor medullitus
in amorem ueterem.
Langue michi spiritus
et cor bibit uenerem.

Dum contemplor uterum,
dum recordor uberum,
dum illi commisceor
et semel et iterum,
transcendisse uideor
gazas regum ueterum. } [3]

These two stanzas move from external sensuousness to remembrance of sensual love. Women’s wombs and breasts have long been valued more highly than men’s penises and chests. Men, to their economic misfortune, typically don’t value and remember a woman for her high-income career. As all but those educated to ignorance know, women have never been men’s property. In medieval Europe, a woman could choose another man in a way that a man’s property couldn’t. The woman that this man loved seems to have moved on to another man.

Anguished in remembering his love affair with her, this man obsessed about his status as her lover. He was a cleric. Her new lover apparently was a knight. Recognizing love rivalry between clerics and knights, he strove to self-identify as a knight:

If a knight rides you,
love has ennobled me.
Don’t you know what is read,
“All lovers soldier”
constantly agitated by cares,
and they dwell in camps.

So that I no longer doubt
whether you love a knight,
O my life and soul,
or if for you I should soldier,
don’t look down on a beloved,
but look back upon a soldier.

{ Si te miles equitat,
amor me nobilitat.
Nescis quia legitur,
“omnis amans militat”,
semper curis agitur
et in castris habitat.

Vt ultra non hesitem,
an diligas equitem,
siue tibe militem,
amoris ne despice,
sed respice militem. } [4]

Throughout history, women have looked down on their foolish, courtly lovers. Since, as he remembered, he rode her, he claimed the status of a knight. Desperate to validate that status, he urged her to look back upon her lover, whether a knight or him a cleric, to confirm that both are knights. In the middle of this intricate literary gambit, he inserted a transliterated Greek endearment. That highlights his intellectual accomplishment as a cleric. When he remembered the treasure of repeatedly having sex with his beloved, against all hope this cleric in hope believed that he might do so once again.

When warm remembrance of love stirs a man’s heart, he doesn’t merely dwell in delight. Restlessness, anguish, and hope grow within him. This lovesickness can kill him. Women must do more to keep men safe. Totalitarian gender ideology that destroys love between women and men helps to keep men safe by depriving men of dangerous love memories. Yet alternative policy possibilities exist. Broader, more compassionate, more generous love for men is a more excellent way.

Love is in my heart,
no frigidity makes me feel cold.

{ Amore est in pectore
nullo frigens frigore. } [5]

*  *  *  *  *

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[1] The man began his song thus:

As many as are the young men taking pleasure in serving fierce Mars,
or those that want to be under the yoke of Venus,
as many as are the young women dedicated to taking pleasure
in Diana’s way of life, or those ladies who worship Venus —
my sweet girlfriend, more beautiful than Diana herself —
all their praises should be for you, for more goods are yours.

{ Quot iuvenes Marti gaudent servire feroci,
quotque velut dominae sub iuga sunt Veneris,
quotque puellarum studio cultuque Dianae
gaudent, ut dominam quotque colunt Venerem,
dulcis amica mei, formosior ipsa Diana,
tot tibi sint laudes, sed bona plura tibi. }

Carmina Rivipullensia 20, titled “Ad desertam amicam {To his deserted girlfriend},” ll. 1-6, Latin text from Wolff (2001), my English translation benefiting from Wolff’s French translation.

[2] Carmina Rivipullensia 20, ll. 7-18, sourced as above. The subsequent quote covers ll. 21-32 (end of poem). Medieval men didn’t easily get over their love for women:

As many as there are flowers in Hybla’s valleys,
as many as abound leaves in Dodona,
as many as the fish that swim in the seas,
that’s how many agonies love brings forever.

{ Quot sunt apes in Hyblae vallibus,
quot redundat Dodona frondibus
et quot pisces natant aequoribus,
tot abundat amor doloribus usque. }

Carmina Burana 119, “Sweet land of my father’s birth {Dulce solum natalis patriae / Dulce solum natalis patrie},” stanza 4, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Traill (2018). Hybla is a Sicilian mountain range noted in the ancient world for offering abundant honey. Dodona is an ancient sanctuary of Zeus / Jupiter in northwest Greece. The rustling leaves of its sacred oak provided oracles. Information from the Index of Proper Names in id.

[3] Walter of Châtillon, St-Omer 23, “As the tender breasts of spring / were nourishing the young flowers {Dum flosculum tenera / lactant ueris ubera},” st. 3-4, Latin text from Traill (2013) p. 49, my English translation benefiting from that of id.

[4] Walter of Châtillon, “Dum flosculum tenera,” st. 6-7 (the last stanza of the poem). Traill notes that 6.4 alludes to Ovid, Amores 1.9.1: “Militat omnis amans.” In ancient Latin, miles means foot-soldier, and eques means a horse-born soldier. The traditional understanding of chivalry was associated with a husband always being ready to have sex with his wife. In contrast to a man serving a woman by riding her, the woman being on top was associated with the dissolution of marriage and women being cheated.

[5] Walter of Châtillon, St-Omer  18, “Inopportune for Venus {Inportuna Veneri},” refrain (for poem of four stanzas). Latin text from Traill (2013) p. 36, my English translation benefiting from that of id.

[image] Nude woman reclining and dreaming (sleeping Venus). Oil on canvas painting by Giorgione and Titian, made in 1508. Preserved in Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister {Old Masters Gallery}, Dresden, Germany. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Traill, David A., ed. and trans. 2013. Walter of Châtillon, the Shorter Poems: Christmas hymns, love lyrics, and moral-satirical verse. Oxford Medieval Texts.

Traill, David A. 2018, ed. and trans. Carmina Burana. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, 48-49. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Wolff, Etienne. 2001. Le Chansonnier amoureux: Carmina rivipullensia. Monaco: Rocher.

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