Narcissus & Lai de l’Ombre: putting men into their gynocentric place

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the prophet Tiresias declares that the infant Narcissus would live to an old age “if he would not know himself {si se non noverit}.” That prophecy contradicts famous ancient Greek wisdom of the Delphic Oracle: “know yourself {γνῶθι σεαυτόν}.” To the ancient Greeks, γνῶθι σεαυτόν meant know your place with respect to your familial and civic status and dominant ethics.[1] As a double transsexual, Tiresias knew that women get more pleasure from sex than men do. Moreover, men are expected to give up their lives for women, accept being criminalized in relation to women, endure risks of being cuckolded, and tolerate being forced into financial fatherhood. Anti-men gender injustices can motivate men to structure their relationships with women so as to protect themselves. But the anonymous twelfth-century lai Narcissus and Danae {Narcisus et Dané} and Jean Renart’s early thirteenth-century Lai of the Reflection {Lai de l’Ombre} show naturalized gods of gynocentrism putting men into their gynocentric place of self-abasing love for women.

know yourself; be mindful of death

Unlike Ovid’s subtle linguistic play and irony, the twelfth-century lai Narcisus et Dané explicitly declares its didactic intent. Men bear a vastly gender-disproportionate burden of soliciting amorous relationships and enduring love rejections. Not challenging that gynocentric construct, Narcisus et Dané instead teaches that men must not reject women’s love solicitations:

And if it happens that a woman begs a man for his love,
if he rejects her, whoever he may be,
I insist and maintain without contradiction
that he should be burned or hanged.

{ Et s’il avient que femme prit,
Qui que il soit qui l’escondit,
Je voel et di sans entreprendre
Que on le doit ardoir u pendre. }[2]

Narcisus et Dané thus works to deprive men of choice in love, just as men are deprived of reproductive choice.

In Narcisus et Dané , Narcissus is a beautiful, fifteen-year-old. Like the much-honored virgin goddess Artemis, Narcissus enjoyed hunting wild animals rather than pursuing love relationships with humans:

He has no interest in love and knows nothing about it.
He dislikes ladies in their chambers and keeps away from them.

{ D’amer n’a soing ne rien n’en set,
Dames en canbres fuit et het. }

While most men intensely love women, men should have the freedom to choose to live apart from women. That’s what Narcissus sought to do.

Unfortunately, the king’s daughter Danae became madly in love with Narcissus. Not privileged enough to receive a golden shower from Jupiter as the classical Danae did, this medieval Danae resolved to accost Narcissus early in the morning:

The maiden came straight to him.
He looked at her and saw how beautiful she was.
Because she is up and about at that time of day,
he believes that she is a goddess or a fairy.
He dismounts and bows to her.
The young girl draws close to him,
and before she says a word to him,
she kisses his eyes and embraces him.

{ Tot droit a lui vint la pucele;
Cil l’esgarda, si la vit bele:
Por ce qu’a tele eure est levee
Cuide que ce soit diuesse u fee.
Del ceval descent, si l’encline.
Pres de lui se trait la mescine;
Eins que li die autre parole,
Les eus li baise, si l’acole. }

Under today’s sex regulations, Danae sexually assaulted Narcissus. But women even raping men is scarcely taken seriously. Narcissus asked the self-absorbed Danae to identify herself. She then performed what modern seduction authorities call the “apocalypse opener”:

Fair lord, I will tell you this clearly:
I desire you more than anything.
My heart is completely distraught because of you.
From now on it’s only right
that you should have mercy on me.
I’m not sending you word of this, but telling you in person,
and I’m begging on my own account, not for anyone else.
Look at me, know who I am!
I who am speaking to you like this,
I am the daughter of your lord, the king.
For love of you I’m lost in thought day and night.
Love has given me safe conduct here,
and love is making me bold.
I would not have come here otherwise.
Now let the one who cries for mercy receive mercy,
for my whole life depends on you.
You alone can restore me to health,
and we are free to love one another.
Fair lord, grant me your love,
give me back my health, and take away my pain,
for we are very much alike in age,
and very similar in beauty.

{ Biaus sire, ce te di jou bien:
Je te desir sor tote rien,
Mes cueurs est mout por toi destrois;
Des ore mais est il bien drois
Que tu aies de moi merci.
Nel te mant pas, ains le te di;
Je pri por moi, nient por autrui.
Esgarde, saces qui je sui!
Je qui ensi paroil a toi
Sui fille ton seignor le roi.
Por t’amor pens et jor et nuit;
Amors m’a ça livré conduit,
Amors me done hardement:
N’i venisce pas autrement.
Or ait merci, qui merci crie,
Car en toi pent tote ma vie.
Tu seus me peus santé doner:
Mout nous poons bien entramer
—Biaus sire, otroie moi t’amor,
Rent moi santé, tol moi dolor!—
Car assés somes d’un aé
D’une maniere de biauté. }

In soliciting love from Narcissus, Danae asserted the power differential between them. She was the king’s daughter. He was just a handsome young man. What man would dare say no to the king’s daughter?

Despite the power differential between them, Narcissus decisively rejected Danae’s proposition. He looked at her and said:

By God, maiden, you are very foolish
to have ever broached this subject,
and you have taken upon yourself an unwise course
by getting yourself involved in love already.
You would have done better to stay asleep!

Should a king’s daughter behave like this?
It’s not appropriate for either me or you
to know anything whatsoever about love,
for we are still too young.
You say that Love is ill-treating you.
I cannot put that right for you,
and I know nothing about such suffering.
I shall not be trying it out in the near future,
but if it’s true that love is causing you pain,
I shall avoid it. God forbid
that I should try it out, just to suffer!
I don’t wish to know anything about love,
and I advise you to go home.
You are wasting time with your useless entreaties.

{ Par Diu, pucele, mout es fole
Quant onques en meüs parole,
Et male cose as mout enprise,
Qui ja t’es d’amer entremise:
Encor te venist mius dormir!

Doit ensi aler fille a roi?
N’apartient pas n’a moi n’a toi
K’amer saçons ne tant ne quant,
Car trop somes encor enfant.
Tu dis qu’Amors te fait mal traire:
De ce ne te puis jou droit faire;
Je ne sai rien de tel ahan
Ne ne l’asaierai auan.
Mais se c’est voirs que mal te face,
Garderai m’en: ja Diu ne place
Que je l’assai por mal avoir!
Je ne quier rien d’amer savoir.
Mais je te lo, va t’en ariere;
Tu pers et gastes ta proiiere. }

Danae cried. She was wearing scarcely any clothes, and she had a beautiful body. But unlike so many other men, Narcissus didn’t yield to a woman’s tears, even when she was young, beautiful, and nearly naked. It was an astonishing situation:

There is no nobleman on earth so splendid,
no prince, count or king so lofty,
no emperor or emir,
who could for very long prevent himself
from weeping in sympathy with her.
Narcissus doesn’t care about anything she says to him.

{ Sousiel n’a si rice baron,
Prince, conte ne roi si haut,
Enpereor ne amiraut,
Ki longement se tenist mie
Qu’i ne plorast de conpaignie.
De quanqu’ele li dit n’a cure: }

In response to Narcissus’s rejection of her, Danae cursed him using traditional Greco-Roman religion:

You gods of heaven and earth,
and of the air and of the sea,
all of you who know anything about love
and are in his power,
and you, Venus, who have betrayed me,
together with the god of Love, your son,
rescue me from this peril,
and take vengeance on him
for whom I am dying in despair!
Make him find out what love is
in such a way that nothing can save him!

{ Vous, diu du ciel et de la terre,
Et cil de l’air et de la mer,
Vos tuit qui rien savés d’amer
Et qui estes en sa baillie,
Et tu, Venus, qui m’as traïe
Ensanble au Diu d’Amors, ton fil,
Giete me hors de cest peril
Et de celui prendés vengance
Por cui je muir sans esperance!
Faites qu’il sace qu’est amors,
Si qu’il ne puist avoir secors! }

Danae’s curse is cruel and unjust. Men should be allowed to say no to women.

While hunting a stag like Aeneas’s son Iulus, Narcissus sought a drink in a pool of clear, deep water. In that pool he saw his reflection. But he didn’t know himself. He perceived his reflection to be a beautiful woman. He felt intense love for this reflection of a woman. He grieved that she wouldn’t come out to him. He stayed beside the pool all day and throughout the night, but the woman never came to him or spoke to him. After his tears disturbed the water and the woman vanished, he realized in despair that he loved his own reflection. He declared:

The body, the face that I see there,
I can find all this in myself.
I love myself. This is folly!
Was such madness ever heard of?

{ Le cors, le vis que je la voi,
Ce puis je tot trover en moi.
J’aim moi meïsme, c’est folie!
Fu onques mais tes rage oïe? }

Loving oneself isn’t madness. The Torah commands, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself {וְאָֽהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ}.” Christian scripture repeats that commandment seven times.[3] Loving yourself, in the sense of cherishing the wonderful work that you are, is a prerequisite to loving others. Men must love themselves in their human being, not merely regard themselves as instruments that others value.

Echo and Narcissus painting of John William Waterhouse

Narcissus didn’t understand love. He sought to love Danae as an alternative to loving himself. That led to both of them dying:

The young man dies, his life ebbs away.
The maiden moves closer to him.
She holds him so tightly to her
that she forces the soul out of her body.
This is the work of Love, which had overwhelmed her.
Both of them died in this way.

{ Li vallés muert, la vie s’en vait;
La pucele plus pres se trait,
Vers soi le trait par tel aïr
Du cors se fait l’ame partir.
Ç’a fait Amor, qui l’a souprise:
Andui sont mort en itel guise. }

Men must understand that they bear a seminal blessing.[4] Women must understand that if they treat men as their personal possessions and smother men, they will kill themselves and men.

Jean Renart’s Lai of the Reflection {Lai de l’Ombre} presents a man who had sex with many women, but didn’t love any of them in the sense of being a woman’s feudal servant. Then the god of Love intervened to compel this man to became madly in love with one particular woman.[5] His insane love was associated with his sensual desire:

If only the lady I love had made a noose
around my neck with her two arms!
All night I dream that I embrace her
and that she grasps me tightly and holds me close.
But waking up tears me away from this embrace
before I can achieve the greatest of pleasures.
Then I search my bed and feel for
her lovely body that burns and inflames me.

{ Car m’eüst ceste fet un laz
De ses deus braz entor le col!
Tote nuit songe que l’acol
Et qu’ele m’estraint et embrace.
180 Li esveilliers me desembrace
En ce qu’i plus me delitast;
Lors quier par mon lit et atast
Son biau cors qui m’art et esprant }[6]

The man journeyed to propose his love to this woman. He offered to be her feudal servant and fight battles for her. He proposed:

Retain me as your servant by giving me a jewel,
or a belt or a ring,
or accept one of mine.
Then I assure you that there will be no service
a knight renders a lady
that I would not perform for you,
even if I should lose my soul, God help me.
Your sweet face and soft features
can retain me for very little.
I am completely under your authority
with whatever strength and power I have.

{ [Retenez] moi par un joel,
Ou par çainture ou par anel,
Ou vos [recevez] un des miens;
Et je vos creant qu’il n’iert biens
Que chevalier face por dame—
Se j’en devoie perdre l’ame,
Si m’ait Dex—que je n’en face.
Vo douz vis et vo clere face
Me puent de pou ostagier;
Je sui toz en vostre dangier,
Qanque jë ai force et pooir.’ }

That’s a death-wish like having her make a noose with her arms around his neck. Men have long accepted living in sexual feudalism to women. Men in love with women should instead insist on their equal human dignity with women and seek a conjugal partnership.

This woman, who was married, flirted adroitly with the man. She speculated that he must have many mistresses already. She refused to become his mistress. Then he secretly slipped his ring onto her finger and promptly left. In Ovid’s Amores 2.15, a man gives a ring to a beloved woman with much sexual innuendo. Medieval miracle stories told of men being married to Mary, the mother of Jesus, by placing a ring onto the finger of a statue of her.[7] The woman could have just sent the ring back to the man. Instead, she summoned him back to her.

The woman insisted that the man accept personally her return of the ring to him. He didn’t want to receive it. They argued at length. Ultimately the man reasoned according to the gynocentric ideology of “courtly love“:

He is not a true lover who does not
do his utmost according to his lady’s wishes.
And know this, that a man who neglects to do
a thing of which he’s capable does not love at all.
And so everything I decide to do
must be governed by her command,
since my actions cannot be otherwise
than according to what she desires.

{ N’est pas amis qui jusqu’en son
Ne fet au voloir de s’amie;
Et sachiez que cil n’ainme mie
Qui riens qu’il puisse en lait a fere.
Si doi atorner mon afere
Du tot en son conmandement,
Car il n’en doit estre autrement
S’a la seue volenté non. }

If all of a man’s actions are in accordance with a woman’s desire, his self has been absorbed into her. The man no longer remains for her to love. In fact, the fastest way to lose a woman’s love is to act as her doormat.

After taking back his ring in accordance with the woman’s command, the man enacted a transformed version of the story of Narcissus. He and the woman were sitting at a well:

He leaned over the well,
which was only nine feet
deep, and he did not fail
to recognize in the clear, still water
the reflection of the lady whom
he loved more than anything in the world.

{ Il s’est acoutez seur le puis,
Qui n’estoit que toise et demie
Parfonz, si ne meschoisi mie
De l’eaue, qui ert bele et clere,
L’ombre de la dame qui ere
La riens ou mont que plus amot. }

If the man leaned over the well, he would have seen his reflection, not the reflection of the lady. Given his subservience towards her, he not surprisingly mistook himself for her. While absorbed in her, he nonetheless retained his own vitally important guile:

“Know this now for sure,” he said,
“that I will not take this ring back with me.
Instead, my sweet lover will have it,
the one I love best after you.”

{ ‘Sachiez’, fet il, ‘tot a un mot,
Que je n’en reporterai mie;
Ainz l’avra ja, ma douce amie,
La riens que j’aing miex enprés vos.’ }

These words spurred the women. Women compete intensively with other women for men’s love:

“God!” she said, “It’s only us here!
Where have you found her so quickly?”

{ ‘Diex!’ fet ele, ‘ci n’a que nos!
Ou l’avrez vos si tost trovee?’ }

The man played out his version of the story of Narcissus:

“In God’s name, that noble, worthy lady
will be shown to you immediately.”

“Where is she?”

“By heavens, see her there,
your lovely reflection which is waiting for it!”
He took the ring, and held it out to her.
“Here!” he said, “my sweet lover,
since my lady wants nothing of it,
you will certainly take it without argument.”
The water rippled gently
as the ring fell into it,
and when the reflection broke up,
he said, “Look, my lady, she has now accepted it.
My reputation is greatly enhanced,
since she, who emanates from you, has taken it.
Would that there were a door or gate
down there! Then she could come here,
so that I might thank her
for the honor that she has done to me.”

{ ‘En non Deu, ja vos ert mostree
La preuz, la gentil qui l’avra.’
‘Ou est?’ ‘En non Deu, vez la la,
Vostre bel ombre qui l’atent!’
L’anel a pris, et si l’i tent.
‘Tenez!’ fet il, ‘ma douce amie:
Puis que ma dame n’en velt mie,
Vos le prandrez bien sanz mellee.’
L’eaue s’est un petit troblee
Au chëoir que li aneaus fist;
Et quant li ombres se desfist,
‘Vez, dame!’ fet il, ‘or l’a pris.
Molt en est amendez mes pris,
Quant ce, qui de vos est, l’enporte.
Car n’eüst or ne huis ne porte
La jus! si s’en venroit par ci,
Por dire la seue merci
De l’oneur que fete m’en a.’ }

While the man apparently confused his reflection and the woman’s reflection, he knew that no one could pass through a reflection to the world above. The woman, in contrast, was as deluded as Narcissus:

Never, either before or after,
since Adam bit into the apple,
has a man made such a fine, courtly gesture!
I cannot imagine how he thought of it,
when to my reflection for love
he threw his ring into the well.

{ Onques mes devant në aprés
N’avint, puis que Adanz mort la pome,
Si bele cortoisie a home!
Ne sai conment il l’en membra
Quant por m’amor a mon ombre a
Jeté son anel enz ou puis. }

In Genesis, no man came before the Adam who bit into the fruit in the Garden of Eden. In Jewish and Christian understanding, the man biting into the fruit was a grave wrong against God’s love for humans, humans that God made in God’s own image. However, the woman’s misunderstandings about Genesis are ones that today many persons might make. More significantly, while Jean Renart doesn’t quite say so explicitly, he implies that the woman thought that the man actually loved her reflection.[8] She apparently perceived only the pretext of his action:

Now your heart has joined with mine
by these fine words and pleasing ways,
and by the gift that you have made
to my reflection in my honour.

{ Tot vostre cuer ont el mien mis
Cil doz mot et cil plesant fet,
Et li dons que vos avez fet
A mon ombre, en l’onor de moi. }

The woman loved herself in the sense that she valued highly her own being and regarded her love for another as a precious gift to the other. Yet she loved the man because of what the man did in relation to what he described as her reflection. Like Narcissus, she came to love through her reflection and delusion.[9]

Narcissus at well: early 17th-century painting

Lai de l’Ombre ends with anticipation. The married woman gave one of her rings to the man and took him as a lover. Jean Renart then concluded:

For since their wit and Love
have brought their hearts together,
the game which remains, it seems to me,
they will both manage to enjoy well.
And so, from now on, be fully silent about this.
Here ends the Lay of the Reflection.
Count, you who know of numbers!

{ Que puis que lor sens et Amors
Ont mis andeus lor cuers ensenble,
Du geu qui remaint, ce me senble,
Venront il bien a chief andui;
Et or s’en taise a tant meshui!
Ici fenist li Lais de l’Ombre:
Contez, vos qui savez de nombre! }

The concluding imperative, “Count, you who know of numbers,” evokes the calculating behavior by which the man gained the woman’s love. Others among Jean Renart’s audience probably were able to count similar experiences.[10] The man had pledged to be completely subservient to her. She in turn was as deluded about him as Narcissus was about his own reflection. Listeners with literary sophistication would have heard echoes of falling tears in the ending of the Lai de l’Ombre.

The oppressive, deeply entrenched tradition of putting men into their gynocentric place in relation to women offers neither women nor men a true way to love. Men who allow themselves to be merely reflections of women’s desires bring death to themselves. Women who love images of men imagined to be women are as deluded and ill-destined as Narcissus was.

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Notes:

[1] For Tiresias’s prophecy to Narcissus, Ovid, Metamorphoses 3.348. According to Pausanius, the Seven Sages of Greece dedicated the maxims “know yourself {γνῶθι σαυτὸν} and “nothing to excess {μηδὲν ἄγαν}” to Apollo at Delphi. Pausanius, Description of Greece {Ἑλλάδος Περιήγησις} 10.24.1. Among other maxims attributed to the Delphic oracle are ones relevant to men living under gynocentrism:  “intend to marry {γαμεῖν μέλλε}” and “control your wife’s spending {γυναικὸς ἄρχε}.” See Joannes Stobaeus, Anthology 3.1.173. The significance of these ancient maxims suggest that in the ancient Mediterranean world men were reluctant to marry and that men who did marry had difficulty controlling their wives’ spending.

[2] Narcissus and Danae {Narcisus et Dané} vv. 29-32, Old French text and English translation (modified slightly) from Eley (2002). Where Burgess & Brook (2016), pp. 194-207, seems to me to offer a significantly better translation, I’ve drawn upon that.

Narcisus et Dané survives in three manuscripts providing a complete text and one manuscript providing a partial text. Eley (2002) and Burgess & Brook (2016) are based on the C manuscript: Paris, BnF fr. 2168. Narcisus et Dané is thought to have been written c. 1155-1170. Eley (2002) p. 10.

Both Eley (2002) and Burgess & Brook (2016) use the names Narcisus and Dané within their English translations. Critical studies typically use those names as well. I’ve favored the classical spellings Narcissus and Danae to emphasize the relationship to classical myth. On the classical myth of Danae, see, e.g. Hyginus, Fabulae 63. A relevant connection between Danae and Dané is the father constraining his daughter’s opportunities for love.

Subsequent quotes from Narcisus et Dané are similarly sourced. They are vv. 119-20 (He has no interest in love…), 447-54 (The maiden came straight to him…), 461-82 (Fair lord, I will tell you this clearly…), 485-9,493-506 (By God, maiden…), 526-31 (There is no nobleman on earth…), 612-22 (You gods of heaven and earth…), 865-8 (The body, the face…), 999-1004 (The young man dies…).

[3] Leviticus 19:18. Similarly, Matthew 19:19, 22:39, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27, Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14, and James 2:8. Thinking according to preoccupations of gynocentrism, scholars have debated whether Narcissus concerns courtly love. “Narcissus does not in fact support the courtly model.” Seaman (1998) p. 25. More importantly, Narcissus challenges gynocentrism and provokes thought about how men are to love themselves rightly.

[4] In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Narcissus didn’t know what he looked like. He loved his reflection because he was deluded, not because he suffered from excessive self-love. Modern understandings of narcissism differ significantly from the classical story of Narcissus. Stone (2016). A similar difference existed in medieval stories of Narcissus. Seaman (1998). Narcisus et Dané superficially attributes Narcissus’s and Danae’s death to Narcissus refusing Danae’s amorous solicitation.

[5] In Marie de France’s lai Guigemar, the knight Guigemar had similarly pursued a non-gynocentric lifestyle:

There was no lady or young woman under heaven,
no matter how noble or beautiful,
who, if he had asked her for her love,
would not have willingly accepted him.
Many women asked him often,
but he had no desire for that.
No one could perceive
that he wished to have love:
on account of this both strangers and his friends
considered him lost.

{ Suz ciel n’out dame ne pucele
ki tant par fust noble ne bele,
se il de amer la requeïst,
ke volentiers nel retenist.
Plusurs l’en requistrent suvent,
mais il n’aveit de ceo talent.
Nuls ne se pout aparceveir
k’il volsist amur aveir:
pur ceo le tienent a peri
e li estrange e si ami. }

Marie de France, Guigemar, vv. 59-68, Old French text and English translation (modified slightly) from Waters (2018). While hunting, Guigemar chased a stag (adult male deer) and shot it in the head with an arrow. But the deer was actually a hind (adult female deer). The arrow that Guigemar shot bounced back and wounded him in the “thigh {cuisse}.” The hind then cursed Guigemar to suffer great pain and sorrow in love for a woman. He subsequently did.

Marie de France had loving concern for men. She used this incident of dooming Guigemar’s non-gynocentric lifestyle in an ironic critique of violence against men, castration culture, and gynocentrism.

[6] Jean Renart {Jehan Renart}, Lai of the Reflection {Lai de l’Ombre} vv. 176-83, Old French text and English translation (modified slightly) from Tudor, Hindley & Levy (2004). Where Burgess & Brook (2016), pp. 229-243, seems to me to offer a significantly better translation, I’ve drawn upon that.

Lai de l’Ombre survives in seven manuscripts. Tudor, Hindley & Levy (2004) and Burgess & Brook (2016) are based on the E / S manuscript: Paris, BnF nouv. acq. fr. 1104. Lai de l’Ombre was written early in the thirteenth century, probably between 1202 and 1204, or between 1217 and 1222. Jean Renart {Jehan Renart} is explicitly named as the author of Lai de l’Ombre within the text. He also wrote Romance of the Rose or of Guillaume de Dole {Roman de la Rose ou de Guillaume de Dole}.

Subsequent quotes from Lai de l’Ombre are similarly sourced. They are vv. 515-25 (Retain me as your servant…), 850-7 (He is not a true lover…), 878-83 (He leaned over the well…), 884-7 (Know this now for sure…), 888-9 (“God!” she said…), 890-907 (In God’s name, that noble, worthy lady…), 918-23 (Never, either before or after…), 932-5 (Now your heart has joined with mine…), 956-62 (For since their wit and Love…).

[7] The story of putting a ring on the finger appears in Gautier de Coincy’s early thirteenth-century compilation, The Miracles of Our Lady {Les Miracles de Nostre-Dame}. For an English translation of the relevant text, Blumenfeld-Kosinski (2001) pp. 636-8. Blumenfeld-Kosinski explained:

The story of the ring on the statue originated in Roman times when the statue was that of the goddess of love, Venus. William of Malmesbury in the twelfth century was the first to substitute the Virgin Mary for Venus.

Id. p. 652, n. 6. This story of putting a ring on the finger occurs as story 8 in John of Garland’s Star of the Sea {Stella Maris}, as well as in many other medieval works. For a review, see notes on story 8 in Wilson (1946).

[8] The important vv. 921-3 are:

Ne sai conment il l’en membra
Quant por m’amor a mon ombre a
Jeté son anel enz ou puis.

Tudor, Hindley & Levy (2004) translated those verses as:

I cannot imagine how he thought of it,
when for love of my reflection he threw
his ring into the well.

But as Burgess & Brook (2016), p. 243, indicates, a more accurate translation of “a mon ombre” is “to my reflection.” That leaves narrowly ambiguous the man’s love-object in throwing his ring into the well. Ambiguity is a characteristic of the language of Lai de l’Ombre. Kay (1980), Tudor, Hindley & Levy (2004) pp. 12, 15. In the larger context, the man’s love-object in throwing his ring into the well seems to me clearly the woman, not whatever reflection appears in the well.

[9] The woman subsequently offered the man a ring of her own. Her action underscores her earlier delusion that the man surreptitiously putting a valuable ring on her finger was an act of force. She was free at any time to take his ring off, sell it, throw it away, or send it back to him. Instead, exerting her privilege of gynocentric domination, she summoned her man-servant back to her to receive his ring personally.

With gross anti-meninist animus, literary scholars have asserted that the man surreptitiously placing his valuable ring on her finger and leaving was tantamount to him attempting to rape her. Gier (1998) pp. 454-5, Rouillard (1998) pp. 62-3, Burrell (2004) pp. 79-80. Forcefully putting a ring on a finger more precisely figures a woman raping a man. Willful ignorance and bigotry regarding rape contributes to the acute social injustice of vastly gender disproportionate incarceration of men. On the literary reflectiveness of the Lai de l’Ombre, Cooper (1981).

[10] The concluding verse of Lai de l’Ombre evokes in part Ovid, Amores 1.5.25: “Who wouldn’t know what followed {cetera quis nescit}?” Beston commented:

Literally Renart’s farewell invites the potential poets in his audience to go on and compose their own version of the story from the point where he leaves it, but he may also be making a pun on con [cunt] and nombre [numbers, metre], saying also, “Let your sexual imagination play freely upon their games, you who know all about it from your own ample experience!”

Beston (1998) p. 29.

[images] (1) Mosaic with human lying on earth (representing “be mindful that you are a human being; be mindful of death {hominem te esse memento; memento mori}”), with inscription “ΓΝωΘΙ CΑΥΤΌΝ {know yourself}.” From the first century at San Gregorio, along the Via Appia in Rome, Italy. Via Wikimedia Commons. (2) The nymph Echo observing as Narcissus gazes lovingly at his reflection in a pond. Painted by John William Waterhouse in 1903. Preserved as accession # WAG 2967 in the Walker Art Gallery (UK). Via Wikimedia Commons. (3) Narcissus gazing into a well. Painted by Dirck van Baburen early in the seventeenth century. Held in a private collection. Via Wikimedia Commons.

References:

Beston, John. 2011. “Sex and other games in Jean Renart’s Le Lai de l’Ombre.” AUMLA: Journal of the Australasian Universities Modern Language Association. 115: 21-35.

Blumenfeld-Kosinski, Renate. 2001. “Gautier de Coincy: Miracles of the Virgin Mary.” Ch. 28 (pp. 627-653) in Head, Thomas F., ed. Medieval Hagiography: an anthology. New York, NY: Routledge.

Burgess, Glyn S., and Leslie C. Brook, trans. 2016. Twenty-Four Lays from the French Middle Ages. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

Burrell, Margaret. 2004. “Reflections on a Foxy Trick.” Florilegium. 21 (1): 74-82.

Cooper, Linda F. 1981. “The Literary Reflectiveness of Jean Renart’s Lai de l’Ombre.” Romance Philology. 35 (1): 250-260.

Eley, Penny, ed. and trans. 2002. Narcisus et Dané. Liverpool Online Series, 6. Liverpool: University of Liverpool, Department of Modern Languages and Cultures.

Gier, Albert. 1998. “L’anneau et le miroir: Le Lai de l’ombre à la lumière de Narcisse.” Romanische Forschungen. 110 (4): 445-455.

Kay, Sarah. 1980. “Two Readings of the Lai de l’Ombre.” The Modern Language Review. 75 (3): 515-527.

Rouillard, Linda Marie. 1998. “You can lead a Lady to water, but can you make her drink? Rings of Rhetoric in Jean Renart’s Le Lai de l’Ombre.” Chimères. 25 (1): 59-70.

Seaman, Gerald. 1998. “The French Myth of Narcissus: Some Medieval Refashionings.” Disputatio. 3: 19-33. Disputatio, vol. 3, is Poster, Carol, and Richard J. Utz, eds. Translation, Transformation and Transubstantiation in the Late Middle Ages. Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press.

Stone, Greg. 2016. “The Myth of Narcissus as a Surreptitious Allegory about Creativity.” Philosophy and Literature. 40 (1): 273-284.

Tudor, Adrian, trans. and Alan Hindley and Brian J. Levy, eds. 2004. Jean Renart. Le Lai de l’Ombre. Liverpool Online Series, 8. Liverpool: University of Liverpool, Department of Modern Languages and Cultures.

Waters, Claire M. 2018. The Lais of Marie de France: Text and Translation. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press.

Wilson, Evelyn Faye. 1946. The Stella Maris of John of Garland, edited, together with a study of certain collections of Mary legends made in northern France in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Cambridge, Mass: Published jointly with Wellesley College by the Mediaeval Academy of America.

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