medieval men’s ardent, unlimited love for women

Authoritative rhetoric experts now preach wordy social constructions of the human body, sex, sexuality, romantic love, and all of reality. Such social constructions are socially constructed in line with these professors’ career interests. To get a fresh sense of reality, one best turns to medieval culture. Medieval men really, passionately loved women beyond any imaginable limit.

Love for a woman could be real to a medieval man. Love could be as real as the scent of flowers and pressing his body to hers:

Immortal flowers — violets, fresh crocuses,
lilies of spring and tender roses joined —
all their beauty and all their scent cannot thrill me
as you thrill me, Flora, in the kisses you give.
Of course the flowers help the outward senses,
but you kindle both my senses and my heart.
To me, Flora, your scent is not the light scent of mere flowers.
You have the fragrance of sweet love’s blossoms.
Happy the man who embraces you and in a sigh drains
such perfume from your half-parted lips!
When his chest presses close to your young chest, when
he culls the honey hidden in your golden cells,
harsh cares can devour his heart no longer,
and sickness and pain can bring no anxiety.
Though winter with its cold halts coursing rivers,
here the delights of spring flow all around.
What more could he desire? Nothing now will be found more worthy.
Fortune can add nothing to the good he has.

{ Ambrosie flores, violeque crocique recentes,
Vernaque cum teneris lilia mixta rosis,
Non tantum forma nec odere placere videntur,
Quantum, Flora, michi suavia dando places.
Nempe iuvant flores hos sensus exteriores,
Tu vero sensus cordaque nostra foves.
Nec tu, Flora, levem spiras michi floris odorem,
Ipsius at flores dulcis amoris oles.
Felix qui talem, qui te complexus odorem
Sugit ab ore gemens semipatente tuo.
Quid? cum virgineo cum pectore pectora iungit,
Et libat flavis condita mellia favis,
Non illum dure mordentes pectora cure,
Non labor aut morbus sollicitare queunt.
Quamvis bruma gelu labentia flumina sistat,
Affluit hic vernis undique deliciis.
Ultra quid cupiat? nil iam reperire valebit,
Hiis fortuna bonis addere nulla potest. }[1]

This poem is sensual and concrete. In not being able to imagine any good beyond pressing his body to hers, it hints at gyno-idolatry. Medieval men easily slid into gyno-idolatry:

All else I renounce. You I love with all my heart,
you living fount of the world’s delight.
I worship you, desire you, seek you, breathlessly follow you,
sigh for you to death, and miss you.
Come help one who is broken and say: “Arise,
I shall now heal your illness and lighten your grief,
such that you would recover unhurt and live in joy!”
I judge you sweeter than honey’s true nectar.
There is no drink so sweetly strengthening.
Let it not spoil for him whom it sustains forever!
O you, all of Christ’s creation — sun, stars, moon,
hills and mountains, valleys, sea, rivers, fountains,
tempest, showers, clouds, winds and storms,
heat, hoarfrost, cold, ice, snow, lightning, rocks,
meadow, grove, foliage, forest, grasses, flowers
exclaim “Hail!” and with me greet her tenderly.
I beg not for love’s limit, but that love endure eternally.
Do not show others what I have sent to you alone!

{ Omnia postpono, te pectore diligo toto,
Tu mundanarum fons vivus deliciarum.
Te colo, te cupio, peto te, lassatus anhelo,
Ad te suspiro moribundus, teque requiro.
Concite succurre ruituro, dicque: “resurge,
Nunc ego sanabo morbum, mestumque levabo,
Tantum convaleas sospes, letus quoque vivas!”
Verum precellis nectar me iudice mellis,
Est potus nullus tanta dulcedine fultus —
Qui non vilescat illi quem semper inescat!
Omnis factura Christi — sol, sydera, luna,
Colles et montes, valles, mare, flumina, fontes,
Tempestas, pluvie, nubes, ventique, procelle,
Cauma, pruina, gelu, glacies, nix, fulgura, rupes,
Prata, nemus, frondes, arbustum, gramina, flores —
Exclamando: vale! mecum predulce sonate.
Non precor extremum, sed quod perduret in evum.
Missa tibi soli multis ostendere noli! }[2]

The closing, personal demand underscores the authenticity of this man’s fall into gyno-idolatry. Medieval women denounced men’s suffering under sexual feudalism. They sought to lead men away from gyno-idolatry. Medieval men’s sexed protest voiced injustices that men face in relation to women. Yet medieval men still engaged in gyno-idolatry, just as modern scholars write incessantly about medieval misogyny. It’s madness!

Venus goddess rising from the sea

What could a woman do to help a man suffering from insane love for her? While medieval women offered balms and compresses, the long-term cure isn’t obvious. One medieval woman at least sought to promote gender equality:

Joy of my life, give yourself to me, for I give myself to you!
Let me be a goddess, you a god — let me be yours, you mine.

{ Vite dulcedo, mihi te da, nam tibi me do!
Sim dea tuque deus: sim tua tuque meus. }[3]

Unfortunately, more idolatry isn’t a good cure for idolatry. A woman offering to make a gyno-idolatrous lover into her god merits respect for her compassion and commitment to equality. But a mutual death-pact isn’t a true expression of love.

Gyno-idolatry is real and pernicious. The many recent initiatives to destroy love relations between women and men aren’t sufficient. While men’s love for women is now much less than in medieval Europe, gyno-idolatry persists. Meninism is the radical notion that men are human beings. Until everyone is a meninist, men lacking proper self-esteem will continue to fall into gyno-idolatry.

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Notes:

[1] Full anonymous poem, Latin text from Dronke (1965) vol. 1, p. 248, English translation (modified) from id. This poem probably was composed in the eleventh century:

The song is found in two MSS, one of the twelfth, the other of the thirteenth century. But its surroundings, in which are many eleventh-century pieces; its verbiage, which is still largely that of poems written by known eleventh-century authors; the very poverty and leanness of its whole manner and guise; its hesitant and unimaginative art — these seem to speak, in almost every line, of poetry written before the light and graceful schemes of rhyming which the twelfth and thirteenth centuries knew.

Allen (1912) p. 2. The authenticity of the poem’s feeling perhaps obscured for Allen the subtlety that Dronke perceived:

The subtlety lies in the ways in which the images of spring and love are linked. The delights of spring and those of the beloved are alike and yet unlike; it is only through her, and through being in love with her, that the lover is able to see nature’s beauty as beautiful. By being herself more beautiful, the beloved makes other beauty meaningful for him; in this Flora, as her name implies, embodies the Korê who in spring gives nature its beauty and joy.

Dronke (1965) vol. 1, p. 249. Here’s more on medieval poems of Flora and flowers.

“Ambrosie flores, violeque crocique recentes” survives in two manuscripts: Phillips 1694, folio 176r, written at the end of the twelfth century, probably at the monastery of St. Arnulph at Metz in present-day Germany; and Reims 1275, written in the thirteenth century. Dronke (1965) vol. 2, p. 549. On the manuscript context, Wattenbach (1892).

[2] Full anonymous poem, Latin text from Dronke (1965) vol. 1, pp. 249-50, English translation (modified) from id. This poem survives in MS. Zurich, C 58/275, folio 12v, written in the twelfth century, probable at Schaffhausen. Dronke (1965) vol. 2, p. 582. For the manuscript context, Warner (1904) p. 48 (poem 120), Mews (1999) pp. 104-7.

Dronke observed:

These lines show a remarkable use of ‘divine’ language. The beloved is given words which echo the miracles of Christ; the drink which she can give, which ‘sustains for ever’, suggests almost the calix salutis {Eucharistic chalice of good-health / salvation}; and the call to all creation is that of the three children in the furnace (Dan. III 57-88) — but not to proclaim ‘Benedicite Domino’ {Blessed be the Lord} — it is to greet a woman who is loved.

Dronke (1965) vol. 1, p. 250. Mews calls “Omnia postpono, te pectore diligo toto” and four other associated verse epistles “of interest for their immediacy rather than any literary merit.” Mews (1999) p. 107. This poem’s gyno-idolatrous immediacy points to the importance of meninist literary criticism for understanding literature and life.

[3] Full anonymous Latin poem, Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from Dronke (1965) vol. 2, p. 490. This lyric, composed in the thirteenth or fourteenth century, survives in MS. Munchen, Clm 6911, fol. 128r. Id.

[image] Goddess Venus rising from the sea. Painted by Gustave Moreau in 1866. Preserved as accession # B92.0333 at the Israel Museum (Jerusalem, Israel). Via Israel Museum and Wikimedia Commons. Credit: The Vera and Arturo Schwarz Collection of Dada and Surrealist Art in the Israel Museum. The body position of Venus parallels a long art history of depicting the crucified Christ’s body being removed from the cross.

References:

Allen, Philip Schuyler. 1912. “Notes on Mediaeval Lyrics: Paul von Winterfeld’s Conjectural Emendations to the Text of Hilarii versus et Ludi.” Modern Philology. 9 (3): 427-430.

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

Mews, Constant J. 1999. The Lost Love Letters of Heloise and Abelard: perceptions of dialogue in twelfth-century France. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Wattenbach, Wilhelm. 1891. “Beschreibung einer Handschrift mittelalterlicher Gedichte.” Neues Archiv der Gesellschaft für altere Deutsche Geschichtskunde. 17 (12): 351-384.

Werner, Jakob. 1904. Über zwei Handschriften der Stadtbibliothek in Zürich [Handschrift C. 58/275 und C. 101/467], Beiträge zur Kunde der lat. Literatur des Mittelalters. Aarau: Druck von H.R. Sauerländer.

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