medieval men ardently, profoundly loved women

Spring has long been a season associated with love. But in medieval Europe, men’s love for women was so ardent that it could change the season:

The woods have dressed themselves in foliage, now nightingales sing,
and with varied colors now the fields are welcoming.
Sweet it is to wander along wooded paths,
sweeter to pluck now the lily with the rose,
yet sweetest to play in love with a well-formed young woman.

But when I ponder in my mind such delights,
I feel my vitals becoming anxious.
If she for whom I burn is cold and doesn’t wish to warm to me,
what then of birds’ singing, how can they be of value to me?
What then of spring’s proclaiming? Now is truly winter!

{ Fronde nemus induitur, iam canit philomena,
cum variis coloribus iam prata sunt amena.
Spatiari dulce est per loca nemorosa;
dulcius est carpere iam lilium cum rosa,
dulcissimum est ludere cum virgine formosa.

Verum cum mente talia recensens oblectamina,
sentio quod anxia fiunt mea praecordia.
Si friget, in qua ardeo, nec mihi vult calere,
quid tunc cantus volucrum mihi queunt valere,
quid tunc veris praeconia? Iam hiems erit vere! }[1]

medieval man and woman embracing in love

Medieval men were willing to give up their lives for a woman’s love:

I would be happier than Jove on high,
if she whom I desire would deem me worthy,
if I came to know her lips once,
if for one night I slept with her.
To submit to death,
to go towards it appeasingly,
and to end my life
gladly I can,
if such joy I’ll regain,
yes I can, yes I can, yes I can,
if such joy I’ll regain.

{ Felicitate Iovem supero,
si me dignetur, quam desidero,
si sua labra semel novero
una cum illa si dormiero,
mortem subire,
placenter obire
vitamque finire
libens potero,
tanta si gaudia recepero,
a potero, a potero, a potero,
tanta si gaudia recepero. }[2]

Given men’s lifespan shortfall relative to women, men’s health should be a public-policy priority. The ancient, wise lawmaker Solon was concerned for men’s welfare. Medieval Latin literature recognized that men’s health and men’s happiness are closely related:

So hope of blissful sex, when fragrant breath from a tender mouth
leans in for a kiss,
breaks up the cloud of all
cares, but to be pulled away
from those isn’t known, unless association be the secret, healing tussle.

Happy the hour of this tussle
for whom it brings together nectar mixed with honey.
How happy a union
that with its cup of sweetness
feelings and narrowing eyes go to sleep.

{ Sic beari spes, halitus fragrans oris tenelli
dum acclinat basium,
scindit nubem omnium
curarum, sed avelli
nescit, ni congressio sit arcani medica duelli.

Felix hora huius duelli,
cui contingit nectar adunare melli!
Quam felix unio,
cuius suavitatis poculo
sopiuntur sensus et ocelli! }[3]

Of course, one needs to be concerned for men’s safety. The greatest threat to men’s safety isn’t the corona plague, climate change, or structural sexism. Nothing can lead faster to the destruction of the world than gyno-idolatry:

I would grow pale, were it not that a young woman, wondrous with Venus’s beauty,
approves of me.

I would wither, were it not that she, keeping me darkened with the old fear,
stimulates me.

A glorious deed I have come to know. Its loss would be death to me,
I who ask for it.

Her pious kisses, sweet and delicious, double
as I multiply them.

I drink cups of life through her.
This to me is peaceful glory.

Worship of her is enough for me,
with many years of meetings to come.

{ Pallerem, nisi me Veneri miranda decore
virgo probaret,

marcerem, nisi spe veteri fuscata timore
me stimularet.

Inclita res ita cognita, perdita dat mihi fata,
namque rogavi,

cui pia basia, dulcia, suavia, congeminata
multiplicavi.

Hac bibo pocula vitae;
hoc decus est mihi mite.

Quae satis est mihi culta,
obvia saecula multa. }[4]

Men’s worship of women can rival men’s worship of God. God declared to Saint Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you {mihi sufficit tibi gratia}.”[5] God’s grace alone is sufficient for all women and men. Men who worship women as goddesses lead themselves to lonely misery, or even worse, sexless marriage. If worship of women becomes prevalent, men start castrating themselves to serve the goddess. Then civilization’s fall is near.

Men by nature are romantically simple. But men shouldn’t be devalued as vagabonds superficially interested in only wine, women, and song. Medieval men ultimately desired intimate friendship with women:

I am captivated in love
for one whose flower is still flowering.
Sweet is made the labor of my laboring
if her mouth takes a kiss from mine.
I will not be healed by the touch of her lips
unless both our hearts become one,
and so our wishes. Be well, flower of flowers!

{ Illius captus sum amore,
cuius flos adhuc est in flore.
Dulcis fit labor in hoc labore,
osculum si sumat os ab ore.
Non tactu sanabor labiorum,
nisi cor unum fiat duorum
et idem velle. Vale, flos florum! }[6]

According to the classical Latin orator Cicero, the ultimate in friendship is a second self.[7] That’s a highly abstract formulation. Moreover, a man and a woman differ by sex and cannot be second selves to each other. Medieval Christian theology emphasized conjugal partnership between a woman and a man. That conjugal partnership included each spouse having an obligation to have loving sex with the other. That’s what medieval men ultimately sought. They sought intimate friendship with women in unity of body and mind, in love incarnated in daily life together.

Our benighted age proclaims sterile absurdities such as “sex-positive feminism.” Men who believe in “sex-positive feminism” probably also believe that women desire them for kitchen help. In the face of such ignorant belief, one can only pray: God help Denmark!

In more enlightened medieval Europe, men ardently and profoundly loved women. Medieval men understood that their seminal blessing, provided lovingly to women, was a matter of life and death to women and to civilization as a whole. Well-educated medieval men recognized women’s natural superiority to men in guile, yet with the help of great literature such as Virgil’s Aeneid men learned to cope with women’s guile. While the medieval Archpoet suffered like Jonah, he understood the profundity of men’s love for the beautiful women of Pavia.

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Notes:

[1] Carmina Burana 140: “The earth now opens her lap with the mildness of spring {Terra iam pandit gremium vernali lenitate},” stanzas 4-5 (of 5), Latin text from Traill (2018), my English translation, benefiting from that of id. For an alternate, freely available translation of the whole poem, Waddell (1929) pp. 206-9.

[2] Carmina Burana 116: “Thus in my fate I take solace in singing {Sic mea fata canendo solor},” stanza 2 (of 3), Latin text from Traill (2018), my English translation, benefiting from that of id. The third stanza describes the man’s delight in touching the woman’s breasts. Waddell, who had fine appreciation for men’s desires, nonetheless omitted this stanza. Waddell (1929) pp. 206-9. Carol Anne Perry Lagemann seems to me to over-interpret sexually the third stanza both in her “direct” and “poetic” translations, but this would surely be a worthy matter for classroom discussion in a medieval Latin course.

Several recordings of “Sic mea fata canendo solor” are on YouTube. Perhaps the most interesting is that of Andrew King from his album Deus Ignotus (2011). Other recordings are those of Thomas Binkley & Studio der Frühen Musik, Ensemble für frühe Musik Augsburg (2020), and the Clemencic Consort (2008).

[3] Carmina Burana 68: “As Mercury sparkles, the cold-blue star of Saturn {Saturni sidus lividum Mercurio micante},” stanzas 5-6 (of 6), Latin text from Traill (2018), my English translation, benefiting from that of id. Vatican Mythographers {Mythographi Vaticani} (Vatican Reg. lat. 1401) noted of Saturn:

This star Saturn is considered the coldest.. whose signal is the most remote…that is to say, it has its home in the constellations Aquarius and Capricorn.

{huius stella frigidissima existimatur … quum in signis remotissimis … aquario videlicet et capricorno, domicilia sua habeat }

Mythographi Vaticani 3.1.4, as noted by Marshall (2014) p. 387, n. 70.

With respect to beari spes is 5.1, Traill noted:

Beari (to bless) seems to be used in Medieval Latin love poetry as a euphemism for “to grant sexual favors,” as at CB 70.2.8 and 73.6a.2.

Traill (2018) vol. 1, p. 533, note to 5.1.

[4] Carmina Burana 65: “In whatever way the stirred seasons are tumbled into the past {Quocumque more motu volvuntur tempora},” stanzas 4a-6b (of 10a-b), Latin text from Traill (2018), my English translation, benefiting from that of id. In 3a.1, the poem refers to a “bearded Venus {Cypris barbata},” which could be a man or a transsexual. Nonetheless, the poem may be addressed to a woman. Men certainly have read it as addressed to a woman. On this issue, id. vol. 1, p. 529, note to 3a.

[5] 2 Corinthians 12:9, with Latin text of the Vulgate, the standard Christian bible in medieval Europe.

[6] Carmina Burana 78: “The newness of a new year is returning {Anni novi rediit novitas},” stanza 4 (of 4), Latin text from Traill (2018), my English translation, benefiting from that of id. For an alternate, freely available translation of the whole poem, Waddell (1929) pp. 256-7.

[7] Cicero, About friendship {De amicitia}. Marshall cited Sallust, The Conspiracy of Catiline {De coniuratione Catilinae} 20.4: “wanting the same and not wanting the same — that, after all, is solid friendship {idem velle atque idem nolle, ea demum firma amicitia est}.” Marshall (2014) p. 390, n. 113.

[image] Medieval woman and man embracing in love. The depicted man (minnesinger) is Albrecht von Johansdorf, who lived in thirteenth-century Germanic lands. Illustration from Codex Manesse, made between 1305 and 1315. Manuscript preserved as UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, fol. 179v. Thanks to University of Hiedelberg and Wikimedia Commons.

References:

Marshall, Tariq. 2014. The Carmina Burana: Songs from Benediktbeuren: a full and faithful translation with critical annotations. 3rd edition. Los Angeles: Marshall Memorial Press.

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

Waddell, Helen. 1929 / rev. 1948. Mediaeval Latin Lyrics. New York: Henry Holt.

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