medieval women taught men about true love

Men tend to be romantically simple. Moreover, men are often emotional, illogical, and dreamy. Consider, for example, the thirteenth-century Italian man poet Guido Guinizelli in his highly influential verses on love:

Love always repairs to the noble heart
like a bird winging back into its grove.
Nor was love made before the noble heart,
nor did nature, before the heart, make love.
For they were there as long as was the sun,
whose splendor’s ever bright.
Never did love before that shining come.
Love nestles deep inside nobility
exactly the way
one sees the heart within a fiery blaze.

Fire of love in noble heart is caught
like power gleaming inside a precious stone.
The value does not come down from the stars
until the sun has blanched the stone all pure.
Only after the might of the sun
has drawn out all that’s vile
does the star bestow its noble power.
Just so a heart transformed by nature pure,
noble and elect,
a woman star-like with her love injects.

{ Al cor gentil rempaira sempre amore
come l’ausello in selva a la verdura;
né fe’ amor anti che gentil core,
né gentil core anti ch’amor, natura:
ch’adesso con’ fu ’l sole,
sì tosto lo splendore fu lucente,
né fu davanti ’l sole;
e prende amore in gentilezza loco
così propïamente
come calore in clarità di foco.

Foco d’amore in gentil cor s’aprende
come vertute in petra prezïosa,
che da la stella valor no i discende
anti che ’l sol la faccia gentil cosa;
poi che n’ha tratto fòre
per sua forza lo sol ciò che li è vile,
stella li dà valore:
così lo cor ch’è fatto da natura
asletto, pur, gentile,
donna a guisa di stella lo ’nnamora. }[1]

That’s sparkling nonsense. Mundane life in love with a woman isn’t about nobility, nor about purity. It’s about humility in muddling through the mud that constitutes humanity. Guido Guinizelli probably never had a girlfriend, and surely not a wife. More than a millennium before Guinizelli was born, the great dispeller of delusions Lucretius wrote about fools like him.

medieval man in love without woman present

In medieval Europe, strong, articulate women sought to teach men about love. One woman explained:

I got really angry with my beloved
because he does whatever I tell him to.
Since I know that he loves me so,
I get angry with him for that.

And if someone else makes me upset,
I get angry with him, and it’s only right.
Since I know that he loves me so,
I get angry with him for that.

And he already knows how I am,
because I dump all my anger on him.
Since I know that he loves me so,
I get angry with him for that.

{ Assanhei m’ eu muit’ a meu amigo
por que mi faz el quanto lhi digo;
por que entendo ca mi quer ben
assanho me lhi por en

E, se m’ outren faz ond’ ei despeito,
a el m’ assanh’ e faço dereito;
por que entendo ca mi quer ben
assanho me lhi por en

E ja m’ el sabe mui ben mha manha,
ca sobr’ el deit’ eu toda mha sanha;
por que entendo ca mi quer ben
assanho me lhi por en }[2]

Women don’t like men who act like doormats or kitchen servants for them. Such men tend to get upset if a woman gets angry at them. Those men don’t value their intrinsic virtue. Men with a solid sense of self-esteem tolerate women whom they love being angry with them. Just as love implies having sex with your spouse even when you don’t feel like it, love requires meekness in accepting anger from a beloved. Women of course should not physically or emotionally abuse men, or vice versa. But a woman being angry doesn’t necessarily harm a man. Another medieval woman poignantly explained to an ignorant man:

My beloved, since you’re so upset
that I get angry at you,
by God, who should I get angry at,
beloved, or how will I survive?

If, my boyfriend and my love,
I can’t get angry at you, tell me this:
by God, who should I get angry at,
beloved, or how will I survive?

If I can’t get angry at you — whom I love
more than myself — when I feel like it,
by God, who should I get angry at,
beloved, or how will I survive?

If I’m not to get angry at you,
even without reason, whenever I like,
by God, who should I get angry at,
beloved, or how will I survive?

{ Meu amigo, pois vós tan gran pesar
avedes de mi vos eu assanhar,
por Deus, a quen m’ assanharei,
amig’, ou como viverei?

Se m’ eu a vós, meu amig’ e meu ben,
non assanhar, dizede m’ u~a ren:
por Deus, a quen m’ assanharei,
amig’, ou como viverei?

Se m’ eu a vós, que amo mais ca min,
non assanhar, se sabor ouver i,
por Deus, a quen m’ assanharei,
amig’, ou como viverei?

Se m’ eu a vós d’ assanhar non ouver,
si quer dõado, quando m’ eu quiser,
por Deus, a quen m’ assanharei,
amig’, ou como viverei? }[3]

Women need men, if only so they can be angry at them. Men must be able to figure that out.

Unless men become more reasonable and reject men-abasing courtly love, they are doomed to misery. A poet in the school of the courtly love poet Guido Guinizelli had a life that was neither sweet nor new:

I praise my beloved lady
beyond all other good women.
I will loyally serve her
and to her remain forever true.
She’s like a looking glass,
a diamond of utter virtue,
and has exceptionally good parentage.
That’s she, for whom I endure misery.

Her mouth, the color of red roses,
always fills me with yearning.
Her eyes are ever bright
like a star gleaming through clouds.
Her hand has fettered the life of my heart
without any need for chains.
My eyes have never seen a woman more lovely.
She looks like an angel!

My life is in her power.
She should bear that in mind.
Let me grow old with joy, for
I will never leave her side.
If she so desires, I will be happy,
for which I will serve her always, as I should.
If she so ordains, I am dead.
So I suffer unending pain.

{ Ich lob die liben frowen min
vor allen gvten wiben,
mit dienst wil ich ir stete sin
vnd immer stete beliben.
si ist als ein spigel glas
si ist gantzer tvgende ein adamas
vnd schoner zvhte ist si so vol,
von der ich chvmber dol.

Ir roter rosenvarwer mvnt,
der tvt mich senen diche,
ir ovgen brehent ze aller stvnt
sam stern dvrch wolchen blicche.
mins herzen leben ir hant
gebvnden hat an elliv bant.
min ovge sach nie schoner wip.
ein engel ist ir lip.

Min leben stat in ir gewalt,
daz sol si wol bedenchen,
lazze mich mit frovden werden alt,
ich wil ir nimmer wenchen.
wil si, ich lebe wol,
daz diene ich immer swie ich sol.
gebivtet si, ich lige tot.
svs leide ich wernde not. }[4]

Men lives should matter, even without women’s love. Meninism is the radical notion that men are human beings and that gender equality should be for men, too. Those who don’t read medieval literature are doomed to repeat it. Don’t be like that man.

* * * * *

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Notes:

[1] Guido Guinizelli, “Love always repairs to the noble heart {Al cor gentil rempaira sempre amore},” stanzas 1-2, Old Italian text from Contini (1960) vol. 2, pp. 460-4, English translation (modified slightly) from Wilhelm (1990) pp. 141-2. The English translations of Lorna de’ Lucchi (1922) and Rossetti (1861) are freely available online.

Guido Guinizelli wrote in the middle of the thirteenth century in central Italy. Underscoring the deep historical roots of gender inequality, Dronke called this poem “the most influential love-song of the entire thirteenth century.” Dronke (1965) vol. 1, p. 57, n. 1. Guinizelli was the leading exponent of the so-called “sweet new style {dolce stil nuovo}.”

[2] Fernan Rodriguez de Calheiros 5, Song about a beloved man {Cantiga de amigo}, “I got really angry with my beloved {Assanhei m’ eu muit’ a meu amigo}” (B 630, V 231), Galician-Portuguese text (editorial marks eliminated) from Cohen (2003), English translation (modified slightly) from Cohen (2010). Here’s this song at the Universo Cantigas site and at the Galician-Portuguese Medieval Songs site.

Fernan Rodriguez de Calheiros, also called Fernão Rodrigues de Calheiros, was a Portuguese man trobairitz active probably in the early decades of the thirteenth century.

[3] Vaasco Praga de Sandin 3, Song about a beloved man {Cantiga de amigo}, “My beloved, since you’re so upset {Meu amigo, pois vós tan gran pesar}” (B 636, V 237), Galician-Portuguese text (editorial marks eliminated) from Cohen (2003), English translation (modified slightly) from Cohen (2010). Here’s this song at the Universo Cantigas site and at the Galician-Portuguese Medieval Songs site.

Vaasco Praga de Sandin, also called Vasco Praga de Sandim, was a man trobairitz of Galician origin but active in Portugal. He seems to have been active in the first half of the thirteenth century.

[4] Carmina Burana, 2 additional, “I praise my beloved lady {Ich lob die liben frowen min},” Middle High German text from Bernt, Hilka & Schuman (1979) via Bibliotheca Augustana, English translation from Traill (2018). The Middle High German text of id. differs only in having editorially standardized spelling.

This poem is attested only in the Carmina Burana. While most of the Carmina Burana apparently was written about 1230 in the area of Tyrol, additional works such as this poem date latter. The temporal relation between this poem and Guinizelli’s “Al cor gentil” isn’t clear. The two poems are similar in associating a woman with an angelic being and the man being abjectly subservient to his beloved woman.

[image] Medieval man thinking about love for a woman. Illustration from Codex Manesse, made between 1305 and 1315. Manuscript preserved as UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, folio 30r. Thanks to University of Hiedelberg and Wikimedia Commons.

References:

Cohen, Rip. 2003. 500 Cantigas d’Amigo. Porto: Campo das Letras.

Cohen, Rip. 2010. The Cantigas d’Amigo: An English Translation. Online. 2016 edition.

Contini, Gianfranco, ed. 1960. Poeti del Duecento. Milano-Napoli: Riccardo Ricciardi.

Dronke, Peter. 1965. Medieval Latin and the Rise of European Love-Lyric. 2 vols. Vol. 1Vol. 2. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Rossetti, Dante Gabriel. 1861. Early Italian poets from Ciullo D’Alcamo to Dante Alighieri (1100-1200-1300) in the original metres, together with Dante’s Vita Nuova. London: Smith, Elder, and Co.

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

Wilhelm, James J., ed. 1990. Lyrics of the Middle Ages: An Anthology. New York: Garland Publishing.

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