god of love advised medieval victim of war on men

A medieval man suffering grief in love fell asleep. Most persons in the relatively enlightened medieval period didn’t believe that a god of love exists. But the entity that this grieving lover encountered in his dream was unmistakable:

I saw a king who was adorned wondrously. He was wearing a crown having gold all over, torques about his neck, and a splendid pearl fixed to his chest. He was admirably dressed, with precious clothes in the manner of a great king. Moreover, the shape of his face and his appearance was very excessively beautiful. In his right hand he held a placard, written in golden letters, declaring: “Come to me, all you who are lovers, and I will give you rest.” On his chest was written: “I am the god of love.”

{ vidi regem quendam miriffice adornatum, coronam auream abentem in quapite et torques in collo, et in pectore margaritam splendentem tenebat. Erat etenim digniter indutus, preciossisimus vestibus ad modum magni regis. Forma autem faciei et aspectus erat pulcerima multum nimis. Titulum vero in manu dextera tenebat, scriptum literis hec aureys continentem: “Omnes amatores, venite ad me et reficiam vos.” In pectore namque erat scriptum: “Deus sum amoris.” }[1]

Written on the placard were words like those of Jesus, whom Christians regard as the one God incarnate. But this man clearly wasn’t Jesus. The biblical first letter of John states, “God is love {θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν}.”[2] This man had written on his chest, “I am the god of love {Deus sum amoris}.” He was a different god of love.

Medieval Latin poetry highlights the need for a god of love. To a woman he loved, a medieval man declared in anguish:

Polished creation by the skill of a heavenly artificer,
you to whom Nature said, “Thais, be my masterpiece,”
ah you, whom I beg too much, are to me more iron and stone.
Be less iron, I implore, be less stone!

{ Celitus artifici res elimata paratu,
Cui Natura “Meum sis, Thai,” dixit “opus”
Ei mihi plus nimio ferrumque lapisque roganti!
Esto minus ferrum, queso, minusque lapis. }[3]

Begging never works to gain a woman’s love. This man complained that his beloved woman had a heart like Mars, the Roman god of war. He urged her:

Abolish your Mars, that divinity sent down from the stars.
Mutual love is preserved by spells of peace.

{ Tolle tuum Martem demissum numen ab astris:
Mutuus alterna pace tuetur amor. }

Perpetual war on men makes misery for men and women. A god of war is a poor alternative to a god of love.

Men suffering in the war on men often fail to see alternatives. One medieval man complained:

It’s certain and apparent that I love — but Love doesn’t provide for me.
My young manhood lacks its flower, my flesh fades, and my skin dries.
I’m barely impeded from moving quickly by the reins of Love.
The cause of my grief is the bedroom-hating Lycoris.
She has never learned to yield, but abhors to couple or to be coupled —
she disdains her lover’s kisses and peaceful times in bed!

{ Constat et apparet quod amo — nec Amor mihi paret.
Flore iuventa caret, caro defluit, et cutis aret.
Impedior loris vix expediendus Amoris;
Causaque meroris, thalamos exosa Licoris.
Non didicit flecti, sed haborret nectere, necti —
Oscula dilecti fastidit et ocia lecti! }[4]

Lycoris preferred to make war than to make love:

Young woman more wild than wild beasts, you who don’t pity the pitiful,
what war are you waging against me? Why seek to defeat one already defeated?
What means or end, what goddess of vengeance has seduced you?
Lay down a limit to your threats. Leave roaring to the Sabine women!

{ Plus fera virgo feris, que non miseris misereris,
Quid mihi bella geris? quid victum vincere queris?
Quis modus aut finis, que te seduxit Erinis?
Finem pone minis; ruditatem linque Sabinis! }

After Roman men captured them, the Sabine women captured those men in marriage and insisted on female privileges. Roman men originally were neither pitiful nor defeated. They would have been more free if they hadn’t captured the Sabine women and married them. Every man should remember the Sabine women, as this medieval man did. But instead of begging a woman not to be like the Sabine women, a man should flee from women like the Sabine women.

The god of love offered the lovelorn, dreaming medieval man timeless wisdom. With Christian humility, the god of love pointed out that men have no need for the god of love of many men’s dreams:

So tell me, what is the cause of your grief? You have lost your beloved. Why are you calling me? Or what do you answer? If indeed you have lost her, rejoice! Rome will give you young women just as beautiful. Rome contains, so it is said, everything that has been in the world.

{ Et dic, que est causa meroris tui? Perdidisti amasiam tuam. Quid me vocas? Aud quid respondes? Si enim perdidisti, letare, quoniam tot tibi tamque dabit formosas Roma puellas. Hec habet, ut dicas, quidquid in orbe fuit. }[5]

The god of love gave the man “a most lovable and beautiful young woman {virgo gratissima atque pulcra}.” God’s grace is sufficient for men.

Waking from his dream, the man stopped sighing and groaning. The poem ends with the man giving thanks and praise:

Then at last I offered thanks and praise to the highest, true God, and to his only-begotten Son, and to the Holy Spirit, just as is proper.

{ Demum autem gratias et laudes summo deo vero filioque unigenito suo atque spiritui sancto optuli prout decet. }

Late has he loved you, beauty so ancient and so new, late has he loved you!

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[1] “I’ll now compose a song telling of my sorrow {Cantica conponam nunc in me tristia narrans},” ll. 20-9, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Dronke (1965) vol. 2, pp. 523-34. Cf. Matthew 11:28, which in the Vulgate is:

Come to me all you who are laboring and are burdened, and I will give you rest.

{ venite ad me omnes qui laboratis et onerati estis et ego reficiam vos }

“Cantica conponam nunc in me tristia narrans” is a narrative poem mixing verse and prose. It survives in MS. Escorial T. II. 16, folios 68v-73r, written in the fifteenth century. That manuscripts also contains About the Flea {De pulice}. Id. p. 553.

[2] See 1 John 4:8 and 4:16.

[3] “Polished creation by the skill of a heavenly artificer {Celitus artifici res elimata paratu},” vv. 1-4, Latin text from Dronke (1965) vol. 2, p. 469-9, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. The subsequent quote above is similarly from vv. 11-12 (of 12).

“Celitus artifici res elimata paratu” survives on folio 26r of MS. Munich, Clm 17212, written in the thirteenth century. That manuscript is a poetic miscellany that includes verses of Hildebert of Lavardin and Marbod of Rennes. Id. p. 565.

[4] “It’s certain and apparent that I love — but Love doesn’t provide for me {Constat et apparet quod amo — nec Amor mihi paret}, vv. 1-6, Latin text from Dronke (1965) vol. 2, pp. 465-6, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. The subsequent quote above is similarly from vv. 7-10 (of 10).

“Constat et apparet quod amo — nec Amor mihi paret” survives on p. 66 of MS. Oxford, Rawlinson G. 109, written about 1200. That manuscript includes poems of Hugh Primas, as well as the epigram Carmina Burana 121a:

Love is not a crime, because, if it were a sin to love,
God would not join even divine entities in love.

{ Non est crimen amor, quia, si scelus esset amare
nollet amore Deus etiam divina ligare. }

Latin text and English translation from Traill (2018).

[5] “Cantica conponam nunc in me tristia narrans,” ll. 48-51, Latin text from Dronke (1965) p. 524, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. The subsequent two quotes above are similarly from ll. 151 (a most lovable and beautiful young woman) and 162-3 (Then at last I offered thanks and praise…).

[image] Taylor Tripodi, “Late Have I Love You,” video via YouTube.


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

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

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