ennobling love for men made medieval women worthy of men’s love

In this time of a new plague, the longstanding plague of lovelessness continues to grind souls to death. Ignorance and bigotry in our benighted age of gynocentrism contributes to lovelessness. Life wasn’t always like this. Medieval literature guided women to become worthy of men’s love through ennobling love for men.[1] In the relatively enlightened medieval era, women were regarded as having the capacity to change and take up the practice of ennobling love for men.

Women have alternatives to ennobling love for men. In the biblical Song of Songs, a woman expresses ardent desire for a man:

As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among young men.
With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
He brought me to the banquet house, and his banner over me was love.
Sustain me with raisins, refresh me with apples, for I am sick with love.
O, that his left hand were under my head, and his right hand embraced me! [2]

{ כשושנה בין החוחים כן רעיתי בין הבנות׃
כתפוח בעצי היער כן דודי בין הבנים בצלו חמדתי וישבתי ופריו מתוק לחכי׃
הביאני אל־בית היין ודגלו עלי אהבה׃
סמכוני באשישות רפדוני בתפוחים כי־חולת אהבה אני׃ }

The Song of Songs was written in Hebrew more than two millennia ago. Just as is the case today, some women don’t passively wait for men to solicit amorous relationships with them. These women actively challenge systemic anti-men gender injustice in soliciting amorous relationships:

Upon my bed at night, I sought him whom my soul loves. I sought him, but I didn’t find him. I called him, but he gave no answer.

“I will rise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares. I will seek him whom my soul loves.” I sought him, but I didn’t find him.

The watchmen, as they went about the city, found me. I asked them, “Have you seen him whom my soul loves?”

Scarcely had I passed them, when I found him whom my soul loves. I held him. I would not let him go until I had brought him into my mother’s house, into the chamber of her that conceived me.

{ על־משכבי בלילות בקשתי את שאהבה נפשי בקשתיו ולא מצאתיו׃
אקומה נא ואסובבה בעיר בשוקים וברחבות אבקשה את שאהבה נפשי בקשתיו ולא מצאתיו׃
מצאוני השמרים הסבבים בעיר את שאהבה נפשי ראיתם׃
כמעט שעברתי מהם עד שמצאתי את שאהבה נפשי אחזתיו ולא ארפנו עד־שהביאתיו אל־בית אמי ואל־חדר הורתי׃ }

The woman bringing her beloved man into the home of her mother, the one who conceives persons, indicates ancient gynocentrism. Genesis 2:4 instructs the man to leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, presumably in her parents’ home. Jacob had to work for fourteen years for Rachel and Leah’s family in order to be allowed to have those women as wives. The woman in the Song of Songs, in contrast, seized her beloved man. She held him, wouldn’t let him go, and dragged him back to her mother’s house. If she were he, she would be called a caveman or a Neanderthal. Modern penal systems tend to punish men behaving in this way with the penis-disparaging criminal charge “abduction with intent to defile.” Women, in contrast, are relatively free to do what they desire to do. Yet many are lonely.

Western wind, when will you blow —
the small rain down can rain.
Christ, if my love were in my arms
and I in my bed again!

{ Westron wynde when wyll thow blow
the smalle rayne downe can Rayne
Cryst yf my love were in my Armys
And I yn my bed Agayne. }[3]

Just as most men wouldn’t rape a woman, most women wouldn’t abduct a man with intent to defile him. Women unwilling to kidnap, rape, and imprison men encounter difficulties in seeking to establish and maintain loving relationships with men. Consider, for example, a medieval woman similar to the woman in the Song of Songs. This medieval woman was lying alone in her bed at night. A noise interrupted her dreaming of her beloved man:

Who is this who knocks at the door,
interrupting the night’s dream?
He calls to me: “O loveliest among young women,
sister, wife, most splendid gem!
Quickly arise and open the door, sweetest one.

I am a son of the highest king,
the first and the last,
who has come from Heaven into these shadows
to free the souls of captives.
I have endured many injuries and death.”

Immediately I left my bed
and ran to the door-bolt
so that all my house would be open to my beloved,
and my mind would see in all fullness
him whom it greatly desired to see.

{ Quis est hic qui pulsat ad ostium,
Noctis rumpens somnium?
Me vocat: “O virginum pulcherrima,
Soror, conjux, gemma splendidissima.
Cito surgens aperi, dulcissima.

Ego sum summi regis filius,
Primus et novissimus;
Qui de caelis in has veni tenebras,
Liberare captivorum animas;
Passus mortem et multas injurias.”

Mox ego dereliqui lectulum,
Cucurri ad pessulum:
Ut dilecto tota domus pateat,
Et mens mea plenissime videat
Quem videre maxime desiderat. }[4]

The medieval woman’s husband is both Jesus and a good man who followed Jesus. In Christian understanding, Jesus and all humans are children of God and thus brothers and sisters to each other. With keen understanding of Christian love, her husband worked for social justice for men and suffered injuries and death. His commitment to overcoming mass incarceration, which highly disproportionately imprisons men, continued even after his death. Resurrected, he returned to earth to work further to liberate prisoners and spend time with his sister-wife. She thought of him only as her husband. She ignored his Christian mission to liberate from literal captivity mainly men.

Women suffer disproportionately a type of imprisonment much different from the imprisonment that penal systems imposes mainly on persons with penises. Woman imprison themselves in their own sense of woman-self. They then experience men ceasing to communicate with them. That’s now popularly called “ghosting.” Women turn men into ghosts by ignoring men’s separate and different being. These women in effect no longer affirm men’s existence: “the future is female.” So it was that this medieval woman’s husband ghosted on her:

But he had already passed from there,
departed from the door.
Thus what, most miserable me, what should I do?
Weeping I followed the young man
whose hands shaped humans.

The city’s watchmen found me.
They plundered me of my clothing.
They stripped me and gave me another robe.
They sang to me a new song
so that I might be brought into the palace of a king.

{ At ille jam inde transierat,
Ostium reliquerat.
Quid ergo, miserrima, quid facerem?
Lacrymando sum secuta juvenem,
Manus cujus plasmaverunt hominem.

Vigiles urbis invenerunt me,
Exspoliaverunt me,
Abstulerunt et dederunt pallium,
Cantaverunt mihi novum canticum
Quo in regis inducar palatium. }

After her husband ghosted on her, the wife appreciated her husband’s work in liberating prisoners. She appreciated how his hands had shaped human lives. Christian exegetes have long interpreted the city’s watchmen as spiritual officials. They stripped the wife of her self-indulgent, sumptuous dress and remade her into a loving person worthy of living in the palace of God and at home with her husband.[5] While anathema to current gynocentric dogma, medieval poets believed that women could change and put on a new dress of ennobling love for men. Women could become worthy of men’s love through behavior much different from men-abasing practices of courtly love.

How can women today learn to sing a new song? An early tenth-century theological manuscript found in a medieval European monastery of Saint Peter and Saint Paul preserves a scarcely known song. In this song, a man imagines presenting a young woman to his mother or to God:

God would love the girl,
radiant and gracious.
God would love the girl

who would be in mind noble
and faithful to her lover.
God would love the girl,

as constant as gemstones
and radiant precious metals.
God would love the girl,

shining whiter than snow;
sweeter she is than even honeycombs.
God would love the girl –

roses yield to her
and similarly lilies.
God would love the girl –

flowers yield, all
saints love her.
God would love the girl

on earth surely worth
as much as the moon in the sky.
God would love the girl

who indeed vanquishes
the sun’s fiery rays.
God would love the girl!

{ Deus amet puellam
Claram et benivolam
Deus amet puellam

Quae sit mente nobilis
Ac amico fidelis
Deus amet puellam

Constans gemmis similis
Atque claris metallis
Deus amet puellam

Candidior nivis
Dulcior est et favis
Deus amet puellam

Cedunt illi rosae
Simul atque liliae
Deus amet puellam

Cedunt flores, cuncti
Amant illam sancti
Deus amet puellam

Pollet nempe terris
Luna velut in caelis
Deus amet puellam

Solis quippae radios
Vincit illa fervidos
Deus amet puellam }[6]

This young woman is beautiful in appearance and in behavior. In medieval Christianity, lilies represent the purity of faith; roses, the self-giving blood of martyrs. This young woman surpasses lilies and roses with her faith and her self-giving love. In desire for her man, she burns with fire hotter than the sun. Women can aspire to be that woman.

The man who imagined presenting the young woman to his mother or God apparently came from Heaven. The young woman is a mother’s dream for her son, a Heavenly ideal. After speaking to himself about this Heaven-on-earth woman, the man turned to speak directly to an ordinary young woman who loved him and whom he loved:

Whence I ask you, girl,
would you wish to know such qualities?
May God love this girl.

What dignity comes to her
for whom love endures.
May God love this girl.

What glory comes to her
for whom treachery doesn’t exist.
May God love this girl.

Bare your soul,
join your lover.
May God love this girl

who at night begs
to give you sweet kisses
— may God love this girl —

and soft embraces
and truths and affections.
May God love this girl!

Farewell, farewell, girl,
sweetest of all.
May God love this girl.

Farewell now for ever;
Christ be also with you.
May God love this girl.

May all say Amen
who in Heaven beg for rest.
May God love this girl.

{ Unde rogo, puella
velis scire talia
Deus amet puellam

Quae fit illi dignitas
cui manet caritas
Deus amet puellam

Quae fit illi gloria
quae non extat perfida
Deus amet puellam

Stringe tuum animum
iunge tuum amicum
Deus amet puellam

Qui tibi noctu dulcia
dare poscit oscula
Deus amet puellam

Molles et amplexus
veros et affetus
Deus amet puellam

Vale, vale, puella
omnium dulcissima
Deus amet puellam

Vale iam per evum
Christus sit et tecum
Deus amet puellam

Omnes dicant Amen
Qui in caelo poscunt requiem
Deus amet puellam }

The young woman apparently answered “yes” to his question, “Would you wish to know such qualities?” This saintly man then prayed to God for her, urged her to unite herself to him (“join your lover”), appreciated her specific acts of love for him, and returned to Heaven. In medieval Christian understanding, saints in Heaven intercede to aid pious persons on earth. That’s onerous, tiring work, because earthly persons need much help. Women can help themselves by listening to this new song for them and converting themselves.[7]

Women’s capabilities shouldn’t be under-estimated. Virgil, one of the greatest authorities of pre-Christian poetry, asserted women’s capacity to change and respond to circumstances.[8] We are now living in circumstances of pervasive lovelessness, especially in Spain and Denmark. Women, however, can change. Women can undergo personal conversion. They can practice ennobling love for men and become worthy of men’s love.

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Notes:

[1] A leading medieval scholar associated “ennobling love” with courtly interpersonal interaction that is morally improving. Behind that abstraction, he asserted women’s essential moral superiority to men:

Moral value, not sex, is the measure of worth, and woman is declared better able to learn virtue than man. … The point is that the positive pole here introduces into the public forum of poetry a differentiated view of woman, an awareness of the virtuousness and honor potentially present, maybe even inherent, in women, a sensitivity to the “glory of the female sex.”

Jaeger (1999) p. 94. This idea of “ennobling love” reflects the delusional gyno-idolatry that Lucretius attempted to dispel. Across the past century and a half, academics have constructed men-abasing courtly love as “ennobling love.” Prefiguring and trumping such scholarly nonsense, Bloch (1991) argued that men-abasing courtly love abases women and is closely associated with misogyny.

Ennobling love for men, as described above, isn’t an essential, eternal, and universal dynamic of gendered human behavior. It’s relevant only under the ideological dominance of men-oppressing, aggressively irrational gynocentrism. Bloch (1991), Jaeger (1999), and much other contemporary discourse exemplify men-oppressing, aggressively irrational gynocentrism.

[2] Song of Songs 2:2-6, Hebrew text from BlueLetterBible (Westminster Leningrad Codex), English translation based on widely used biblical translations. The subsequent quote is similarly from Song of Songs 3:1-4. Song of Songs is also known as the Song of Solomon and Canticle of Canticles {Canticum canticorum}.

[3] This one-stanza poem survives, set to music, in one manuscript: British Museum, Royal Appendix MS. 58, fol. 5. For an image of the relevant manuscript part and transcription, Frey (1976) p. 260. Id. provides the manuscript transcription used above. The punctuation of the transcript is editorial, mine, and significant. The poem has at least two possible readings, re-enforced with different punctuation:

Editors who favor the first version say that “can” means “does” or “did” and “small” means “thin, biting.” Editors who favor the second version think that “can” means “may” and “small” means “fine” or “gentle.” The first version then means: “Western wind, when will thou blow? The small rain down does (or did, or has begun to) rain. (Please blow it away!)” The second version means: “Western wind, when will thou blow so that the small rain down can rain?” The majority of critics favor the latter reading, and there are several reasons to do so.

Id. p. 261. Particularly with appreciation for the woman’s dreams in the Song of Songs, the gender of the poetic voice in this poem seems to me impossible to discern.

While the poem is written in early modern English, its date of origin is subject to estimates varying from about 1300 to the early sixteenth century. Id. p. 264; for bibliographic details, id. p. 275, n. 16. For details on its melody and performance history, see Ian Pittaway’s post “Westron wynde: a beautiful fragment of longing.” Pittaway performs the poem on a medieval bray harp. Francesco Barbieri recorded a haunting solo voice performance.

I know a lady in a bright bower {Ichot a burde in boure bryht},” with refrain beginning “Blow, northern wind {Blow, northerne wynd},” is a thematically similar poem from no later than the first half of the fourteenth century. It’s preserved in London, British Library MS Harley 2253.

In his post “Two Erotic Poems,” Dr. Metablog (Vivian de St. Vrain) interprets the invocation of Christ in the third verse as “shockingly blasphemous.” A more detailed analysis perceives starkly opposed possibilities:

The speaker’s wife is dead; he appropriately invokes “Cryst.” The speaker’s sweetheart is alive, a sailor or farmer far from their illicit bed: “Cryst” is thus a most impious profanity.

Frey (1976) p. 263. In contrast to medieval stereotypes, medieval readers were more tolerant than modern readers. They had earthy appreciation for incarnate humanity. Medieval readers wouldn’t have focused on judging the poetic voice as pious or impious.

[4] Stanzas 1-3, Latin text from Raby (1953) pp. 254-5, English translation (with my minor changes) from Rendall (1970) p. 145. The subsequent quote, similarly sourced, is stanzas 4-5, which end the poem. Raby (1953) doesn’t cite a source. Dronke describes it as:

the famous ‘Quis est hic qui pulsat ad ostium’, found in an eleventh-century miscellany in the Beneventan script (Casinensis, III, p. 409), where it is entitled ‘Rhythmus de b[eata] Maria virg[ine]’.

Id. p. 269. This poem was notable enough to be included in Brittain (1962). It has been attributed to Peter Damian, but that attribution is doubtful. Id. p. xxvii, Raby (1953) p. 255. The title of the poem is probably a scribal addition. Rendall (1970) pp. 150-1. For slightly different translations, Dronke (1965) vol. 1, pp. 269-70, and Brittain (1962), pp. 180-1.

[5] Rendall declared that the references to injuries and death (v. 10) and hands that shaped humans (v. 20) definitively establish the visitor as Jesus Christ. Rendall (1970) p. 146. That declaration doesn’t appreciate sufficiently the medieval sense of communion with saints and saintly intervention. The reference to “the first and the last” could refer either to God the “highest king” (cf. Revelation 1:8) or to Jesus, the son of God / a facet of the one triune God. In my interpretation, the reference is to the former. On the watchmen as spiritual officials, id. pp. 147-50.

Dronke interpreted this poem to focus on the “magnificent sexual fantasy” of Song of Songs 5:2-7. He described the poem as containing “no trace of theological allegorêsis” and little theological assertion. Dronke (1965) p. 270. As Rendall (1970) p. 146 observed, Dronke’s reading of this poem is shallow.

Medieval exegetes produced at least eighty Latin commentaries on the Song of Songs. Without meaningful interpretation of gender, medieval exegetes interpreted the woman of the Song of Songs as the Church / the bride of Christ and the human soul. They also interpreted her as the Virgin Mary. Matter (1990), esp. Ch. 6.

Comparison of Song of Songs 3:1-4 to Song of Songs 5:2-7 suggests that the ancient compiler of the Song of Songs understood it in part as a self-improvement guide for women. “Quis est hic qui pulsat ad ostium” suggests medieval understanding of the Song of Songs as contributing to that type of spiritual literature. However, commentary and exegesis on the Song of Songs as a self-improvement guide for women likely encountered marginalization and suppression under historical gynocentrism. Such commentary and exegesis is even less welcomed among more intensely dogmatic gynocentric authorities today.

[6] Latin text from Weimar Staatsbibliothek, Qu. 39, folio 126r, printed in Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Poetae Latini Medii Aevi, vol. 5, part 2, pp. 553-4, English translation (with my small changes) by a leading expert in Latin philology and love. The subsequent quote is from the same poem and similarly sourced. I’ve eliminated all punctuation, which is editorial, in the Latin text. For related bibliographic references, Dronke (1965) vol. 2, p. 581. Dronke observed that this poem occurs in the early tenth-century manuscript “on a page between Augustine’s sermon on the Proverbs of Solomon and Jerome’s Ad Susannam.” Dronke (1965) p. 264.

Dronke described “Deus amet puellam” as “The first lyric in medieval Europe which is wholly courtois, as I understand the term.” Dronke (1965) vol. 1, p. 264. Dronke’s understanding of courtois, as I understand it, is men-abasing and women-pedastalizing. Those practices are wholly absent in this poem. Dronke interpreted this poem as showing admirable gyno-idolatry for an earthly woman. Id. pp. 266-8. That seems to me a simplistic, delusional understanding of an intricate and complex poem.

According to Jaeger, this poem is “not in the tradition of court poetry and other testimony on court love from Carolingian times on.” Jaeger (1999) p. 252, n. 58. However, consistent with his understanding of men’s moral inferiority to women and “ennobling love,” Jaeger perceives this poem to be “one bit of testimony to a sense of the {man} lover raised in stature by loving a woman.” Id. p. 258, n. 2. This poem seems to me much better interpreted in terms of women’s ennobling love for men.

[7] In support of increasingly totalitarian gynocentrism, scholars in recent decades have emphasized feminine characteristics of God. Interpretations of the Song of Songs have followed dominant ideology. The book blurb for Astell (1990) declares:

Astell describes interpretations of the Song of Songs in terms of the various feminine archetypes that the expositors emphasize — the Virgin, Mother, Hetaira, or Medium. She maintains that the commentators encourage the auditor’s identification with the figure of the Bride so as to evoke and direct the feminine, affective powers of the soul.

Medieval interpreters identified the woman of the Song of Songs with the human soul (in Latin anima, a feminine noun) and the Christian church (a gynocentric human institution). Astell’s claims, however, are broader:

salvation for both men and women must come through the feminine powers of the soul … Indeed, the central consciousness of the Song, in its literal sense, is feminine, not masculine, gynocentric, if you will.

Astell (1990) pp. 7-8. Both “Quis est hic qui pulsat ad ostium” and “Deus amet puellam” draw significantly on the Song of Songs. In a literal sense, the Song of Songs and both these poems emphasize the salvific importance of men for women.

Astell associates “the power to embody the Word” with the feminine. Id. p. 13. That’s a sophistic claim. In Christian understanding, Mary, the mother of God, gave birth to Jesus, the son of God. In Christian understanding, Jesus, a fully masculine man, is himself the embodied Word of God. John 1:1-18. In supporting dominant ideology, Astell has significantly misrepresented biblical texts.

A highly influential medieval scholar perceived Christian goddess worship to have become prominent in twelfth-century Europe:

Here, in the setting of {twelfth-century European} Christianity, something analogous to Silvestris’ gnosticism occurs: a feminine power invades the concept of the Godhead. … in the works of the latter {Bernard Silvestris}, the feminine component of Godhead is at the same time mater generationis {mother of giving birth}, uterus indefessus {indefatigable womb}, Natura praegnabilis {fertile Nature}. Here, then, as through an opened sluice, the fertility cult of the earliest ages flows once again into the speculation of the Christian West.

Curtius (1953) pp. 122-3. In fact, the “skillful penis {sollers mentula}” is a vitally important transformative force in Bernard’s Cosmographia. Gynocentric fertility cults are of course ancient phenomena, as is gynocentrism itself.

On singing a new song, Psalms 96:1, 98:1, 144:9; Revelation 5:9, 14:3.

[8] Virgil, Aeneid 4.569, “a woman is always varying and circumstantially responsive {varium et mutabile semper femina}.”

[images] (1) Video performance of “Deus amet puellam” (with verse order modified and some verses omitted) by Moon Far Away (composer, Alexey M. Sheptunov) from its album Minnesang (Auerbach Tonträger, 2010). Here’s a transcription of this song’s lyrics. (2) Tomi Lahren, “PSA for Boyish Men,” published by Tomi Lahren on Facebook on August 4, 2020. Here’s the YouTube version.

References:

Astell, Ann W. 1990. The Song of Songs in the Middle Ages. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. (review by Lawrence Besserman)

Bloch, R. Howard. 1991. Medieval Misogyny and the Invention of Western Romantic Love. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Brittain, Frederick. 1962. The Penguin Book of Latin Verse: with plain prose translations of each poem. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books.

Curtius, Ernst Robert. 1953. European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. Translated from the Germany by Willard R. Trask. New York: Pantheon Books.

Dronke, Peter. 1965. Medieval Latin and the Rise of European Love-Lyric. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Frey, Charles. 1976. ‘Interpreting “Western Wind.” ELH (English Literary History). 43 (3): 259-278.

Jaeger, C. Stephen. 1999. Ennobling Love: in search of a lost sensibility. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. (review by Constant Mews; Jaeger’s response)

Matter, Edith Ann. 1990. The Voice of My Beloved: the Song of Songs in Western Medieval Christianity. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press. (review by Lawrence Besserman)

Raby, F. J. E. 1953. A History of Christian-Latin Poetry from the Beginnings to the Close of the Middle Ages. 2nd Edition. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Rendall, Thomas. 1970. ‘“Quis est hic qui pulsat ad ostium?”: An Explication.’ Philological Quarterly 49 (2): 145-151.

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