troubadour Gavaudan redeemed ancient pastoral literary genre

She wakes up fresh, she wakes up fair:
she goes to the spring to wash her hair.
Happily in love, in love she’s happy.

She wakes up fair, she wakes up fresh:
she goes to the spring to wash her face.
Happily in love, in love she’s happy.

She goes to the spring to wash her hair:
her adoring boyfriend meets her there.
Happily in love, in love she’s happy.

{ Levou-s’a louçana, levou-s’a velida:
vay lavar cabelos, na fontana fria.
Leda dos amores, dos amores leda.

Levou-s’a velida, levou-s’a louçana:
vay lavar cabelos, na fria fontana.
Leda dos amores, dos amores leda.

Vay lavar cabelos na fontana fria:
passou seu amigo, que lhi bem queria.
Leda dos amores, dos amores leda. }[1]

In the ancient pastoral literary genre, an elite man from the city is traveling through the countryside. He sees there a beautiful shepherd-girl. Without any consideration of his potential financial liability or his criminal risk, he falls in love with her. She typically rejects his amorous solicitation. In her rural simplicity, she doesn’t even consider potential material advantages of responding differently to him. However, in southern France early in the thirteenth century, the man trobairitz (troubadour) Gavaudan challenged the ancient pastoral literary genre with two Old Occitan pastoral songs (pastorelas). Gavaudan’s pastorelas end astonishingly: the shepherdess responds sympathetically and generously to the man’s need for love.

Gavaudan’s pastorela “Distraught, without a companion {Dezamparatz, ses companho}” begins like the traditional pastoral. Implicitly rejecting the possibility of “love from afar {amor de lonh},” the unhappy, love-deprived man is riding through the countryside:

Distraught, without a companion,
and far from love and deprived of it,
I was riding through a field,
worried, sad, and thoughtful,
passing along woods, when joy held me
by a shepherdess I saw:
through her, my joy is so renewed,
when her beauty comes to mind,
that I can’t recall any other woman.

I descended right away to the sand
and approached her with hurried steps.
She lifted her chin a little towards me.
With a sweet smile, a truly loving one,
she said to me: “Sir, what has come about
that you have turned thus toward me?
Why are you so enamored with me?
For I don’t know what it is to love,
so I will depart and move far from you.”

{ Dezamparatz, ses companho
e d’amor luenh del tot e blos,
cavalgava per un cambo,
iratz e tristz e cossiros,
lonc un bruelh, tro joys mi retenc
d’una pastoressa que vi;
per qu’es mos joys renovellatz,
quan mi remembran sas beutatz,
que anc pueys d’autra no·m sovenc.

Tost dissendei sobre·l sablo
e vinc vas lieys de sautz coytos.
Elha·m ders un pauc lo mento;
ab un dos ris, ferm amoros,
me dis: “Senher, cossi·us avenc
que·us trastornessetz sai vas mi?
Quo·us etz tan de mi adautatz?
Qu’ieu no say que s’es amistatz,
per que·m luenh de vos e m’estrenc.” }[2]

Men tend to be romantically simple. This man simply declared his ardent love for her. She, in contrast, responded both thoughtfully and aggressively:

“Young woman, joy gives me the reason
why I have come here to you.
When you showed me your face,
more than all in joy I was joyful.
So I forced and compelled my heart
to go to you for love, you to whom I bow.
And may my heart be welcomed and loved
— my joy together with yours, if you please —
so that love may never be broken or cut off.”

“Sir, if I give you my love,
I will have Lady Harlot for a name,
while I hope for a better reward
from another who, I believe, will soon marry me.
I’ll stick you with the arrow that I hold!
Turn back and go along your way.
You have made attempts with other women,
apparently, by whom you are deceived.
They are false ones, who debase noble joy.”

{ “Toza, joys mi dona razo
per qu’ieu suy sa vengutz a vos.
Quan me mostretz vostra faisso,
sobre totz jauzens fuy joyos;
per que mon cor fortz e destrenc
ab vostr’amor, vas cuy m’acli.
E sia volgutz et amatz
lo mieus joys e·l vostre, si·us platz,
que jamais no rompa ni trenc.”

“Senher, si m’amistat vos do,
yeu aurey nom na Malafos,
qu’ieu n’esper melhor guizardo
d’autre que cug qu’en breu m’espos.
Dar vos ey est cairelh que tenc!
E tornatz en vostre cami,
qu’ab autras vos etz ensajatz,
per semblan, don etz galiatz,
falsas, que fan ric joy sebenc.” }

Men typically fight physically with deadly weapons. Women typically fight with words and social tactics. This man dared to engage the woman he loved in a battle of words:

“Beloved, to you I say neither yes nor no
about the false ones with scheming hearts.
You so please me and I know such good from you
that all bad that comes to me from this is profit.
Whatever you desire, that I accept,
for I pledge and affirm to you
that I am your servant-man,
and do to me such that you desire,
even tear out my heart with a shepherd-crook.”

“Sir, he who has enough falsehoods
that resemble truth is no inexperienced man.
Solomon’s wisdom would have
overflowed, if not maddened with love.
He made a wall, fortress, and palisade
of understanding, but it wasn’t worth
a broken bowl when he was overcome,
and then was deceived in love.
Keep for yourself what I refuse to take!”

{ “Amiga, no·us dic oc ni no
de las falsas ab cor ginhos;
tan me platz de vos e·m sap bo,
que totz mals davers m’en es pros.
En qual que·us vulhatz vos o prenc,
que ieu vos plevisc e·us afi
que vostres suy endomenjatz;
e faitz de mi so que·us vulhatz,
neys lo cor traire ab un brenc.”

“Senher, qui messonjas a pro
a semblan de ver non es tos.
La saviez’a Salamo
aondera, s’amors no fos,
que mur e forsa e palenc
fe de sen, et un franh bassi
no·l valc quan fo apoderatz;
e pus elh ne fo enganatz.
Gardatz en vos so qu’ieu ne prenc!” }[3]

The man refused to concede to the woman’s superior verbal power. He kept talking:

“Beloved, with another pretext
you turn my joy upside down,
for it never was and never will be
that love wasn’t good to the good.
So I won’t desist from loving well,
which gives my heart clear and noble joy
from you. I beg you to have mercy on me,
or if you make me languish, I’ll resign myself
to be a hermit on Mont Mézenc.”

{ “Amiga, ab autr’ochaizo
mi tornatz mon joy sus dejos;
que ja non er ni anc no fo
q’amors no sia bon’als bos:
per qu’ieu de ben amar no·m fenc,
que·m don’al cor joy clar e fi
de vos; e prec merce m’ajatz,
o·m metrey, si m’o alongatz,
hermitas el pueg de Messenc.” }

Becoming a hermit wasn’t necessary for the man. Suddenly his beloved shepherdess wondrously rejected the pastoral convention of rejection and warmly welcomed him who loved her:

“Sir, let there not be begging
or sermons between us two.
If you are my lover, I’ll be your lover,
since you are so passionate and eager.
I throw off my pride and drive it
away from my haughty heart. I change
all thus as you wish.
My joy will be joined to yours,
for without joy I’m not worth a herring.”

{ “Senher, ja prezic ni sermo
non aya mai entre nos dos:
si m’etz amicx, amiga·us so,
quar tan n’etz lecx et enveyos.
Yeu gieti foras et espenc
de mon cor brau erguelh. Camgi
tot aissi cum vos deziratz:
er mos joys al vostre privatz,
que ses joy no valh un arenc.” }[4]

A shepherdess in southern France early in the thirteenth century wouldn’t have been taught the social justice imperative of reducing systemic sexual inequality. But women can change on their own. In her rustic simplicity, the shepherdess declared a renewed standard of worth to replace the corrupted ideal of chivalry. One who sings without joy is a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. One who knows all but lacks joy has nothing. Those without joy aren’t worth a herring.

My lover speaks very well of me,
praising my looks as much as he can,
and those who hear the words he speaks
think that I must owe him thanks.

As for his words, I thank him for nothing;
I know that I’m indeed good-looking.

He says I’m fair and beautiful,
as all who know me naturally say,
and thus he thinks he shows great love,
for which I should, with thanks, repay.

As for his words, I thank him for nothing;
I know that I’m indeed good-looking.

He praises me in the songs he sings,
and rightly so, and I’ll tell you more:
those who hear him praise me think
I have a lot to thank him for.

As for his words, I thank him for nothing;
I know that I’m indeed good-looking.

{ Diz meu amigo tanto ben de mi,
quant’ el mais pod’, e de meu parecer,
e os que saben que o diz assi
teen que ei eu que lhi gradecer;

em quant’ el diz non lhi gradesqu’ eu ren,
ca mi sei eu que mi paresco ben.

Diz-mi fremosa e diz-mi senhor,
e fremosa mi dira quen me vir,
e teem que mi faz mui grand’ amor
e que ei eu muito que lhi gracir;

em quant’ el diz non lhi gradesqu’ eu ren,
ca mi sei eu que mi paresco ben.

Diz muito ben de min en seu trobar,
con gran dereit’, e al vos eu direi:
teen ben quantos me lh’ oen loar
que eu muito que lhi gradecer ei;

em quant’ el diz non lhi gradesqu’ eu ren,
ca mi sei eu que mi paresco ben. }[5]

Men’s lives are difficult and full of troubles. Men sometimes feel that whatever they do, it’s wrong. Sing her praises, and she haughtily disdains you. Don’t sing her praises, and she complains. The solution is simple. Whatever you do, do it with joy.

Ugly lady, you’ve complained
that I never sing your praise,
so I’ve composed a new refrain
telling all your charms that slay me —
and this is what my heart exclaims:
you’re a crazy, old and ugly lady!

Ugly lady, your desire
is that I praise you in my rhymes,
so, God forgive me, that is why
I’ll tell all your charms that slay me —
and this is what my heart will cry:
you’re a crazy, old and ugly lady!

Ugly lady, though I’ve sung
of all my loves, I never sang
a song for you, so now I’ll sing
telling of all your charms that slay me —
and this is what my heart will say:
you’re a crazy, old and ugly lady!

{ Ai, dona fea, fostes-vos queixar
que vos nunca louvo en meu cantar;
mais ora quero fazer un cantar
en que vos loarei toda via;
e vedes como vos quero loar:
dona fea, velha e sandia!

Dona fea, se Deus mi pardon,
pois avedes atan gran coraçon
que vos eu loe, en esta razon
vos quero já loar toda via;
e vedes qual será a loaçon:
dona fea, velha e sandia!

Dona fea, nunca vos eu loei
en meu trobar, pero muito trobei;
mais ora já un bon cantar farei,
en que vos loarei toda via;
e direi-vos como vos loarei:
dona fea, velha e sandia! }[6]

Gavaudan changed the traditional pastoral to be even better than the shepherdess eventually accepting the man’s love. Another of Gavaudan’s pastorelas validated the love-lost man’s ultimate fantasy:

The other day in the morning
I was traversing a hilltop
and I saw under a hawthorn,
amid the first rays of the sun,
a young woman who to me resembled
the one I used to see.
So I turned my way
toward her. Smiling, she greeted me.

Full of joy, I from my horse
dismounted onto unfavorable gravel,
and she took me by the hand and next to her made me
sit in the shade of a linden tree
and she didn’t ask me for any explanation.
I don’t know if she recognized me.
She, yes — why would I lie to you? —
she kissed my eyes and my face.

Not just a little joy nearly moved me to faint
when her hair touched me.
“Beautiful one,” I said, “how is it so?
The Lord God, I believe, has for me prepared this.”
“Sir, yes, he has brought us together
because I don’t want, nor seek, any other
and, if it pleases you, it’s a pleasure for me —
that for which one has most reprimanded me.”

{ L’autre dia, per un mati,
traspassava per un simelh
e vi dejos un albespi,
encontr’un prim rach de solelh,
una toza que·m ressemblet
sylh cuy ieu vezer solia;
e destolgui·m de la via
vas lieys: rizen me saludet.

Totz jauzions de mon rossi
dessendey jos sobre·l gravelh;
e pres me pel ponh, josta si
assec me a l’ombra d’un telh,
et anc novas no·m demandet.
No sai si me conoyssia;
ilh,oc — per que·us o mentria? —
que·ls huelhs e la cara·m baizet.

Per pauc de joy no m’endurmi
quan mi toqueron siey cabelh.
“Bella,” fi·m yeu, “cum etz aissi?
Dombredieus crey m’o apparelh.”
“Senher, oc, quar nos ajustet,
qu’alre no vuelh ni queria;
e, si·us platz, a mi plairia
so don hom pus me castiet.” }[7]

Men are not dogs. Even amid their most treasured fantasies, men have thoughts of right and wrong:

“Beloved, from what I divine,
wrong would I be ever to complain about this.
Because you are so intimate with me,
I will tell you my inner prompting.
Love has taken away what it had given me —
her who most delighted me.
I now don’t know where she went.
Since I lost her, nothing could console me.”

{ “Amiga segon qu’ieu devi,
tort n’ey si ja mais m’en querelh.
Pus tan privada etz de mi,
dir vos ey mon privat cosselh:
amors m’a tout so que·m donet,
selha que mout m’abellia;
ar no sey vas on se sia,
per qu’anc res pueys no·m conortet.” }

This man still carried a torch for his former girlfriend. Many men are prone to one-itis. This man wondered if it were right for him to love another woman. What then happened was even more wondrous than Hermione returning to life in Shakespeare’s reworking of pastoral romance in The Winter’s Tale. The loving shepherdess next to him said:

“Sir, I know such things,
for that I spend nights in sorrow and vigil.
Never, since I parted from you,
have my eyes experienced sleep.
Evil did he who took you so far from me,
yet his deeds haven’t born fruit.
Our love companionship
will be better than it ever was.”

{ “Senher, tan sey d’aquest lati,
per que la nuech cossir e velh:
anc pueys, pus de vos me parti,
li miey huelh no preyron sonelh;
mal o fey qui tan vos lonhet,
e res sos faitz non l’embria,
que la nostra companhia
estara mielhs qu’anc non estet.” }

She, that shepherdess there, actually was she, his former beloved! Oh most wonderful pastorela, far more wonderful than the classic Greek and Latin pastorals, most wonderful pastoral of all!

“Beloved, through good destiny,
I believe that God has given me this mate
and the joy of a bedding-place in the pasture
that’s so sweet to me as to amaze me.
And never has it been so good for us!
With mercy to you and to me,
we are free from other bondage.
Love wasn’t mistaken in moving me.”

{ “Amiga, per bon endesti
crey que·m det Dieus aquest parelh,
joy de cambra en pastori,
que m’es dous, don me meravelh.
Et anc mais tan be no·ns anet!
Vostra merce e la mia
yssit em d’autra baylia;
et amors en mi no·s pecquet.” }[8]

For the sake of today’s students suffering under tyrannical sex regulations, classics teaching should include medieval literature. But don’t trust this important task to schools and universities. Study medieval literature yourself!

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Pero Meogo, song for a beloved man {cantiga d’amigo}, “Song about a Girl at a Spring,” stanzas 1-3, Galician-Portuguese text and English translation from Zenith (1995), pp. 212-13 (song 99). Cantigas Medievais Galego-Portuguesas has a slightly different source text (verse 1 and 4 depend on a textual reconstruction) and a slightly different English translation by Zenith. Washing / doing laundry has been associated with amorous intercourse at least since Nausicaa hosted Odysseus in the ancient Greek Odyssey.

This song by Pero Meogo apparently inspired Dinis, King of Portugal, to write the song “She wakes up lovely {Levantou-s’a velida}” (song 100 in Zenith (1995)). The latter song begins:

She wakes up lovely,
bright and early,
and goes to wash shirts
at the stream.
She´ll wash them bright and clean.

{ Levantou-s’a velida,
e vai lavar camisas
eno alto,
vai-las lavar alva. }

The second verse, “levantou-s’alva,” can be translated more literally as “she wakes up white / pure” or “she wakes up at dawn.” Part of the fun of this pun seems to be that, by doing her washing early, the woman avoids encounters with roaming men and thus avoids being “besmirched” by their amorous solicitations. Both songs adapt the pastoral genre to a material household chore. Both songs engage in intricate rhythmic and semantic variation.

[2] Gavaudan, “Distraught, without a companion {Dezamparatz, ses companho},” stanzas 1-2, Old Occitan text from Guida (1979), p. 158, via Rialto, my English translation benefiting from that of trobar and the French translation of Audiau (1923), via Corpus des Troubadours. In the trobairitz / troubadour corpus, this song is PC 174.4. Corpus des Troubadours gives the older Old Occitan textual edition of Audiau.

Gavaudan was from the Gévaudan region in southern France. He apparently flourished about 1195 or 1212, or perhaps throughout those years. Ten of Gavaudan’s songs have survived. Gavaudan served as a fighting man for Raymond V and Raymond VI of Toulouse. In his song, “Gentlemen, it is because of our sins {Senhors, per los nostres peccatz},” Gavaudan urged Christian men to engage in violence against Muslim men. Underscoring lack of concern for men’s lives, that song has become by far Gavaudan’s most well-known song.

Gavaudan declared, “I am not like the other troubadours {Ieu no suy pars als autres trobadors}.” That’s the opening verse of Gavaudan’s song PC 174.5. In contrast to many troubadours and many men more generally, Gavaudan dared to criticize harshly particular groups of women. Gavaudan harshly criticized disloyal whores:

It is vile, and expensive, and changes too many masters:
the miserable, disloyal, deceitful cunt.

{ Vils es e cars e muda trops senhors
lo cons tafurs, deslials enganaire. }

Gavaudan, “Ieu no suy pars als autres trobadors,” vv. 46-6, Old Occitan text of Guida via Rialto, English translation from trobar.

The subsequent four quotes above are Gavaudan’s “Dezamparatz, ses companho,” stanzas 3-8, sourced as for the first quote and quoted seriatum. The song ends with an additional two, three-verse tornadas.

[3] Solomon was a paragon of wisdom, yet he readily surrendered to women. 1 Kings 11:1-13. Gavaudan himself condemned the classically learned man who misdirected his classical learning; that is, he who:

knows so much Greek and Latin
that you now want to do Greek with a nun.
Let nobody partake in that!
He is betrayed, who takes to that:
he rolls one eye and winks with the other,
and the deception brings forth servitude.

{ sap tan lati e grec
qu’oras voles clergua grega:
per so ja us no·s n’ampar!
Trahitz es qui lieys ampara:
l’un huelh tors e l’autre cuga
e l’engans forsa·l badiu. }

Gavaudan, “I shall write a poem in such a rime {Lo vers dech far en tal rima},” vv. 55-60, Old Occitan text of Guida via Rialto, English translation from trobar.

[4] Gavaudan recognized the pervasiveness of sexual passion and urged all to be careful:

Although I’m wary of it, no little do I burn
in the fire where nature buys its ruin.
I hardly find a layman or cleric
who doesn’t mix up what’s right
when his sense is false and mixed up.
I hardly see a lay woman or nun
who at no amount won’t trade in wickedness.

{ Si tot m’en gar, a pauc no m’arc
el foc don natura·n mal mèrc,
qu’a penas hi truep layc ni clérc
que·l dreg cami non entreforc
on sens falh et entreforca;
greu ni vey laica ni clerca
tant o quant que mal no merca. }

Gavaudan, “I dismiss the month and season and year {Lo mes e·l temps e l’an deparc},” vv. 55-61, Old Occitan text of Guida via Rialto, English translation (with my changes) from trobar.

Gavaudan’s “Respectful, faithful, true and whole {Crezens, fis, verays et entiers}” poignantly laments the death of a woman the poet loved. In another song, Gavaudan declared “Lasting peace comes from the lord {Patz passien ven del Senhor}.”

[5] João Airas de Santiago, song for a beloved man {cantiga d’amigo}, “Song of One Who Knows She’s Good-Looking,” stanzas 1-3, Galician-Portuguese text and English translation from Zenith (1995) pp. 128-9 (song 60). Here’s the text at Cantigas Medievais Galego-Portuguesas.

[6] João Garcia de Guilhade, song of mockery {cantiga d’escarnho}, “Ugly lady, you’ve complained {Ai dona fea, fostes-vos queixar},” Galician-Portuguese text and English translation from Zenith (1995) pp. 68-9 (song 33). Here’s the text at Cantigas Medievais Galego-Portuguesas.

[7] Gavaudan, “The other day in the morning {L’autre dia, per un mati}” (PC 174.6), stanzas 1-3, Old Occitan text from Guida (1979), p. 190, via Rialto, my English translation benefiting from that of trobar and the French translation of Audiau (1923), via Corpus des Troubadours. Corpus des Troubadours gives the older Old Occitan textual edition of Audiau. The subsequent three quotes above are similarly sourced from this song, stanzas 4-6, and are quoted seriatum.

[8] Gavaudan wasn’t merely a misty-eyed romantic. He followed Lucretius in attempting to disabuse men of gyno-idolatry:

You each believe you have a good girlfriend:
believe only what you see about her,
for imagining makes the wise fall,
if sense doesn’t enlighten him.

{ Quecx cujatz bon’amig’aver,
sol so qu’en veyretz ne crezetz
que cujars fa·l savi cazer
si sens non lo declara. }

Gavaudan, “Ieu no suy pars als autres trobadors,” vv. 15-8, Old Occitan text of Guida via Rialto, English translation from trobar.

With his song “By the fountain of the orchard {A la fontana del vergier},” the man trobairitz Marcabru redirected the pastoral genre to criticize violence against men in war. Gavaudan’s pastorelas similarly addresses a central issue of gender injustice: systemic, gynocentric devaluation of men’s sexuality. Reflecting deeply entrenched anti-meninism in academia, Monson associated Gavaudan’s pastorelas with “boastings of male conquest.” Monson (1995) p. 268.

[image] (1) Video recording of Pero Meogo “Levou-s’a louçana, levou-s’a velida,” sung by Paulina Ceremużyńska (Grupo de Música Antiga Meendinho). Via YouTube. (2) Video recording of DOA performing “Levousa fremosa,” with lyrics based on Pero Meogo’s “Levou-s’a louçana, levou-s’a velida.” Via YouTube.


Audiau, Jean. 1923. La pastourelle dans la poésie occitane du Moyen-Age. Paris: Boccard.

Guida, Saverio. 1979. Il Trovatore Gavaudan. Subsidia al Corpus des troubadours, 6. Studi, testi e manuali / Istituto di filologia romanza dell’Università di Roma, 8. Modena: Societa Tipografice Ed. Modenese.

Monson, Don A. 1995. “The Troubadour’s Lady Reconsidered Again.” Speculum. 70 (2): 255-274.

Zenith, Richard, trans. 1995. 113 Galician-Portuguese Troubadour Poems. Manchester: Carcanet, in association with Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Instituto Camões.

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