Belissant & Lubias direct violence against men in epic Ami et Amile

Violence against men, normalized as merely violence, structures epic literature. Although scholars scarcely acknowledge women’s epic importance, men engage in violence against men according to values that women establish, maintain, and represent. Women thus direct epic violence against men. In the twelfth-century “song of deeds {chanson de geste}” Ami and Amile {Ami et Amile}, directing women take center stage in the major characters Princess Belissant and the noble young woman Lubias. Belissant and Lubias lead the devoted men friends Ami and Amile in an epic that moves beyond typical epic violence to encompass heterosexual rape and perverse judicial combat. Ultimately Belissant, but not Lubias, points to ending epic violence against men.

Ami et Amile starts with the promise that it will tell “about such martial qualities {de tel barnaige}” as should never be forgotten. The titular heroes Ami and Amile, born on the same day, are like identical twins. As fifteen-year-old knights, they set out in search of each other. For seven years they traveled widely — Germany, southern France, Italy, Jerusalem — in search of each other. In their quests for each other, Ami paused at Pavia, a city renowned for beautiful, warmly receptive women. Near Rome, Amile spent a night “at a brothel-keeper’s house {chiés un oste felon}.”[1] Ami and Amile apparently were young men who knew sexual desire for women. They also loved each other as men friends.

Ami and Amile as nearly identical youths

Ami and Amile came together in an enactment of love as war. Ami finally saw Amile in a meadow of summer flowers in Apulia, Italy. Each knight was riding his steed. It was as if they met each other in a joust:

With his golden spurs he jabbed his horse.
Quickly this side went,
and that one from afar recognized the sight of him.
Towards him he turned when from afar he saw him.
By such force they come together,
so strongly they kissed and so pleasantly they embraced,
they nearly fainted and died.
Their stirrups snapped and together they fell to the meadow.
Only then would they speak to each other.

{ Le cheval broche des esperons doréz,
Isnellement est celle part aléz,
Et cil le vit qui l’ot ja avisé.
Vers lui se torne quant il l’ot ravisé,
Par tel vertu se sont entr’acolé,
Tant fort se baisent et estraingnent soef,
A poi ne sont estaint et definé;
Lor estrier rompent si sont cheü el pré.
Or parleront ensamble. }[2]

They rejoiced in being with each other. Then they followed men’s epic destiny. Amile said to Ami:

Now let’s go to the court in Paris.
The king is at war. If he wishes to retain us,
I will be your liege and your vassal,
for I see you are a fine man.

{ Or en irons a la cort a Paris.
Li rois a guerre; s’il noz weult detenir,
Vostre hom serai et li vostres conquis,
Car molt voz voi bel home. }

War subordinates man to man in organizing violence against men. King Charlemagne was ready for war. Seeing that Amile and Ami were fine men, he took them into his service. Fine men can do much more than engage in war.

On the very day that Ami and Amile arrived at Charlemagne’s court in Paris, Charlemagne went to war. The two young men participated in the terrible violence against men:

There you could have seen such a wicked battle —
so many helmets fractured and so many bucklers pierced,
one dead man upon the other thrown to the sand.
The two companions struck blows well there.
They captured two princes, Berart and Nevelon,
and sent them to prison in Paris.

{ La veïssiéz un estor si felon,
Tant elme fraint et percié tant blazon,
L’un mort sor l’autre trebuchier el sablon.
Bien i ferirent andui li compaingnon:
Douz contes prinrent, Berart et Nevelon,
Si les envoient a Paris en prison. }

Epic literature is filled with one dead man thrown upon another, with the dead men as numerous as sand on the seashore and stars in the sky.[3] Epic violence against men does not realize men’s distinctive seminal blessing.

Because of his envy and wickedness, Charlemagne’s faithless seneschal Hardré plotted to have Ami and Amile killed. Charlemagne had been fighting with Gombaut of Lorraine for twelve or fifteen years. Hardré secretly met with Gombaut and promised him a large sum of money to kill Ami and Amile. Gombaut and Hardré arranged an ambush. But Ami and Amile fought strongly along with other of Charlemagne’s knights. They routed Gombaut’s men. Hardré pretended to have been a hero in the horrific violence:

In front of him under the protection of an olive tree
he saw laying two noble knights,
dead and killed with swords of steel.
That one went to their side, so as to cut off their heads,
so as to hang their heads behind his saddle.
When he would retire back to court,
then he could boast to the acclaimed barons
and make himself appear much more proud and fierce.
May it please God that he not live another full month!
He came to the Seine and crossed by boat,
the scoundrel, so taken with himself, vaunting
in himself and his lineage.

{ Devant lui garde desoz un olivier
Et voit jesir douz barons chevaliers
Mors et ocis as espees d’aciers.
Celle part vint, si lor copa les chiés,
Si les pandi a son arson derrier.
Quant il sera arriere repairiéz,
Si se vantra au barnaige proisié,
Moult plus s’en fra et orgoilloz et fiers.
Ja Deu ne place que vive un mois entier!
Il vint a Sainne, si est outre naigiéz.
Li glouz par lui se prinst moult a prisier
Et lui et son lyngnaige }

Men vaunt in themselves according to women’s appraisals of men. The acclaimed barons had high status in the eyes of women at court. Hardré wanted to be like them in prowess in killing men.

Hardré falsely claimed that Ami and Amile had been killed in the battle. Charlemagne’s beautiful young daughter Belissant fainted at that news. She especially mourned Amile, whom she loved. When Amile and Ami returned leading two prisoners, she was overjoyed. She praised them for being “brave and bold {preu et hardi}” in violence against men. She also warned them against the treacherous Hardré.

Ami’s prowess gained for him the opportunity to marry the beautiful Lubias. After Amile magnanimously praised Hardré’s prowess to Charlemagne, Hardré promised him much gold and marriage to Lubias. A beautiful blond, Lubias was the daughter of Hardré’s brother, a rich and powerful man. Medieval marriage required the consent of both spouses. Amile, apparently not wanting to marry Lubias, tactfully suggested that she marry his friend Ami:

Lord, rightful emperor,
let my companion have her. He is a better fighter,
and does better in striking with the sword.

{ … Sire, drois empereres,
Mes compains l’ait qui plus est conquereres,
Et si fiert mieus dou tranchant de l’espee. }

Oblivious to this allusion to brutally disparaging men’s sexuality, Ami eagerly sought to marry Lubias. She apparently regarded Amile and Ami as interchangeable as men. If she weren’t willing to marry Amile, Hardré hardly would have offered her to him. She agreed to marry Ami instead of Amile. Men in truth are not exchangeable tokens, but they are too often treated so.

Lubias and Ami’s marriage develops the theme of women’s influence on friendship between men. One night, after the couple enjoyed sex, Lubias said to Ami:

“Sir,” said Lubias, “Since our marriage, much I have been surprised
about the Count Amile, your dear companion.
Much has he regretted that he didn’t have me as wife.
He has sent four messengers to me conveying
that with good favor he would still love me willingly.

{ Sire, dist elle, moult m’en puis merveillier
Dou conte Amile, vostre compaingnon chier.
Moult se repant quant ne m’ot a moillier;
Il m’en a ci quatre més envoié
Qu’il m’ameroit de gréz et volentiers. }

Lubias was lying to try to turn Ami against his friend Amile. Women who desire to dominate men strive to undermine friendships among men.

Ami, however, refused to believe that his good friend Amile would cuckold him. Ami resolved that the very next morning he would he go to Amile with four hundred of his loyal knights. They wouldn’t attack his friend Amile, but serve him in violence against men. After the friends met and embraced, Ami said that he had a son with Lubias. Ami promised that his son would serve Amile in violence against men if the need arose. These closely juxtaposed events resolve a threat of cuckolding with “normal” epic violence against men.

Perhaps drawing upon his experience with his wife Lubias, Ami warned Amile about women seeking to undermine men’s friendship. Ami apparently was aware that Charlemagne’s daughter Princess Belissant loved Amile. Ami may have also sensed that Amile loved her, even though such a love was inappropriate for a landless, relatively poor knight. Ami thus warned Amile:

Don’t be hot to love Charlemagne’s daughter.
Don’t embrace her flanks or her sides,
because once a woman has a man serving her,
he will be made to forget his father and mother,
cousins and brothers and his intimate men friends.

{ La fille Charle ne voz chaut a amer
Ne embracier ses flans ne ses costéz,
Car puis que fame fait home acuverter,
Et pere et mere li fait entr’oublier,
Couzins et freres et ses amis charnéz }

With their social superiority, women readily dominate men. Friendship among men is vital for resisting gynocentric gender domination and overturning men’s status as disposable instruments for fighting wars. Women who truly love men support friendship among men.

Wary after his friend’s warning, Amile repeatedly declined Princess Belissant’s requests to have sex with him. Strong, independent medieval women took the initiative in making direct amorous requests to men. Belissant bluntly complained to Amile:

“Good sir Amile,” said the noble young woman,
“I offered you the other day my love service,
dressed purely in my shift within my bedchamber.
You know well how to refuse my love.”

{ “Biaus sire Amile,” dist la franche meschinne,
“Je voz offri l’autre jor mon service
Dedens ma chambre en pure ma chemise.
Bien voz seüstez de m’amor escondire.” }

On a subsequent day, Belissant saw Amile and said to him:

“Sir,” she said, “I love no other than you.
Into your bed one night I’ll invite myself.
My whole body I will put at your service.”

{ “Sire,” dist elle, “je n’aimme se voz non.
En vostre lit une nuit me semoing,
Trestout mon cors voz metrai a bandon.” }

Prior to recent decades, many persons had a more sophisticated understanding of communication than “no means no.” Nonetheless, women should not sexually harass men, nor should women rape men. Although Amile recognized that Princess Belissant was his superior and that he owed her obedience, he again told her no. He refused to have sex with her.

Belissant refused to take no for an answer. She said to herself:

“Alas! God, dear heavenly Father,” she said.
“who has ever seen any man of such fierce knighthood,
of such prowess and of such martial valor,
who hasn’t deigned to love me or even look at me?
But by Jesus, the heavenly Father,
now I will not be stopped from doing what I want to do.
No other woman was ever as determined as I am.
I will go to his bed tonight,
and lay myself down under his pelts of marten.
It doesn’t matter to me if the whole world sees me,
nor if for that my father beats me daily,
for Amile is an exceedingly beautiful man.”

{ “Hé! Dex,” dist ele, “biaus Pere esperitables!
Qui vit ainz home de si fier vasselaige,
De tel proesce ne de tel baronnaige,
Qui ne me deingne amer ne ne m’esgarde.
Mais par Jhesu, le Pere esperitable,
Or ne lairai ce que je voil ne face,
Ainz nulle fame ne fu onques si aspre,
Que anquenuit an son lit ne m’en aille,
Coucherai moi desoz les piauls de martre.
Il ne m’en chaut, se li siecles m’esgarde
Ne se mes pere m’en fait chascun jor batre,
Car trop i a bel home.” }

With her sense of female privilege and sexual entitlement, Belissant did what she wanted to do:

At midnight all alone she arose.
She summoned neither a servant nor a chambermaid.
An expensive mantle of purple silk she threw over herself,
then she arose and extinguished the light.
Now the bedchamber was made completely dark and opaque.
She quickly approached the count’s bed
and raised up the expensive pelts of marten,
and she bedded herself at the count’s side,
very sweetly she slid herself next to him.

{ A mienuit toute seule se lieve,
Onques n’i quist garce ne chamberiere.
Un chier mantel osterin sor li giete,
Puis se leva, si estaint la lumiere.
Or fu la chambre toute noire et teniecle,
Au lit le conte s’i est tost approchie
Et sozleva les piauls de martre chieres
Et elle s’est léz le conte couchie,
Moult souavet s’est deléz lui glacie. }

Belissant thus worked a classic bed trick:

The count awakened, completely moving his face in bafflement.
And the count said, “Who are you here, joyfully alive?
Who at such an hour is beside me in bed?
If you are a woman, someone’s spouse,
or the daughter of Charlemagne, who rules France,
I beg by God, the son of Mary,
my sweet friend, return yourself back to your place.
And if you are a servant-girl or a chambermaid
of low birth, you have much advanced yourself well.
Remain here with me and have a happy face.
Tomorrow you’ll have a hundred coins in your purse.”

{ Li cuens s’esveille, toute mue la chiere
Et dist li cuens: “Qui iéz tu, envoisie,
Qui a tele hore iéz deléz moi couchie?
Se tu iéz fame, espeuse nosoïe,
Ou fille Charle, qui France a en baillie,
Je te conjur de Deu le fil Marie,
Ma douce amie, retorne t’an arriere.
Et se tu iéz beasse ou chamberiere
De bas paraige, moult t’iéz bien avancie:
Remain huimais o moi a bele chiere,
Demain avras cent sols en t’aumosniere.” }

While not wanting to cause serious offense to the innocent, Amile was willing to pay for a part-time woman sex worker’s aggressively promoted service. This was exactly what Belissant had hoped. She didn’t acknowledge that she was Charlemagne’s daughter. Instead, she silently closed in to get what she wanted:

Towards the count she drew more closely
and didn’t say a word, but was perfectly quiet.
The count felt her to be slim and delicate,
suddenly he could not but be moved with much desire to love.
Her little breasts sat next to his chest.
Only by a little they weren’t hard as stones,
so the baron fell for a first time.

{ Envers le conte est plus préz approchie
Et ne dist mot, ainz est bien acoisie.
Li cuens la sent graislete et deloïe,
Ainz ne se mut que s’amor moult desirre.
Les mamelettes deléz le piz li sieent,
Par un petit ne sont dures com pierres,
Si enchaït li ber une foïe. }

Only after she had sex with Amile did Belissant reveal her identity:

“Sir,” she said, “listen to me a little.
You have refused my heart.
By lovely guile I have taken you and overcome you.
From now on, if you please, love me
and so be my beloved and my intimate.”

{ “Sire,” dist elle, “un petit m’entendéz.
Voz aviiéz le mien cors refusé,
Par bel engieng voz ai prins et maté.
D’or en avant, s’il voz plaist, si m’améz
Et si soiéz mes drus et mes privéz.” }

Amile was furious at Belissant’s sexual deception. It created mortal danger for him:

The count listened to her, and he became very angry.
“Lady-lord,” he said, “indeed you have bewitched me
and undercut my royal service and my privileges.
If the king learns of it, I will have my head cut off.”

{ Li cuens l’oï, si en fu moult iréz.
“Damme,” dist il, “bien m’avéz enchanté
Et mon service et mes dons recopéz.
Sel seit li rois, j’avrai le chief copé.” }

According to current standards, Belissant raped Amile by deception. He wanted to have sex with a woman, but he didn’t want to have sex with her, and he didn’t consent to having sex with her.[4] Rape has always been regarded as a serious crime, except for women raping men.

Belissant "marrying" (raping) Amile

Other versions of this story more clearly present the woman sexually coercing the man. An Anglo-Norman version from late in the twelfth century makes explicit her coercing him by threatening him with capital punishment. Denied sex with him, she furiously declared:

Are you distressed by this —
that I have given you my love?
After this day, never in my life
will there be pleasure in my heart
if I am not avenged on you!
Certainly now I am well shamed
that you don’t deign to have me as lover.
Very noble men have begged me for love,
and I have refused them all.
Certainly you aren’t a knight.
You are vanquished and sluggish.
I will beat you hard and well in battle
and tell my father
that towards him and me you have done wrong
and you will be torn apart by horses.
Then on you I will be well avenged!

{ … Coment?
Este vus de ceo en marrement
Ke jeo vus ai done m’amur?
Ja en ma vie apres ceo jor
Ne serrai en mon quer haite,
Si jeo ne seie de vus venge!
Certes, or sui jeo bien honie,
Kant nem deignez aver amie:
Tant gentils hommes m’unt preie,
E jeo les ai tuz refuse.
Certes, n’estes pas chevaler,
Recreant estes e lanier.
Un plai bien dur vus bastirai
E a mon piere le conterai,
Ke vers li estes de moi forfet,
E serrez a chivals detrait.
Dunc serrai de vus bien vengie! }[5]

The Middle English Amis and Amiloun, composed no later than about 1330, made explicit the Anglo-Norman version’s implicit threat of false accusation of rape. After he warned at length that for them to have sex would be disastrous, she ridiculed his “preaching” and threatened him:

“But,” she said, “by Him that made us,
all this preaching helps not at all.
No matter how long you resist,
unless you will grant me my desire,
my love shall very dearly cost you,
with pains hard and strong.
My hair-covering and my clothes soon
I will each tear down
and say with a large wrong,
with strength, you have violated me.
You shall be arrested according to the land’s law
and condemned to hang high!”

{ “Ac,” sche seyd, “bi Him that ous wrought,
Al thi precheing helpeth nought,
No stond thou never so long.
Bot yif thou wilt graunt me mi thought,
Mi love schal be ful dere abought
With pines hard and strong;
Mi kerchef and mi clothes anon
Y schal torende doun ichon
And say with michel wrong,
With strengthe thou hast me todrawe;
Ytake thou schalt be londes lawe
And dempt heighe to hong!” }[6]

Penal systems vastly gender-disproportionately punish persons with penises. False accusations of rape are a very serious threat to men. Given a choice between facing a false accusation of rape and having sex with a woman, most men would prudently choose to have sex with her. That’s another way in which women rape men.

Whether Amile was raped by Belissant through deception or through criminal coercion, he didn’t under any reasonable standard wrong her or anyone else. But justice systems have long been gender-biased against men. In this story, the evil seneschal Hardré heard Belissant finally speaking to Amile. Hardré immediately defined the crime and punishment in the gender-dominant way:

By God, Amile, you’ve moved forward too quickly.
Now I know well of what you can boast.
You will carry away from the court a rich reward
when you are proved to be caught with my lady.
But if I live so long for it to be tomorrow,
then I will go to the emperor to recount the events
and so your head will be cut off!

{ Par Deu! Amiles, trop voz iestez hastéz.
Or sai je bien que voz poéz vanter.
Riches soudees de la cort emportéz,
Quant o ma damme iestez reprins prouvéz.
Mais se vif tant que il soit ajorné,
Lors l’irai je l’empereor conter,
Si voz fera celle teste coper. }

Threatening to have Amile’s head cut off for having sex alludes to castration culture, the killing of men as specifically masculine beings. Underscoring the epic theme of women’s influence on violence against men, Belissant urged Amile to fight with Hardré:

If he wants to accuse you of anything,
take up battle against him. You will vanquish him,
he who is evil and treacherous.

{ Se il voz weult de noient encuser,
Prennéz bataille vers lui, voz le vaintréz,
Qu’il est fel et traïtres. }

Belissant’s sexual violence against Amile led to more violence against men. Women are complicit in epic violence against men.

In a masterful touch, Ami et Amile first presents Hardré’s accusation with a gender twist. Men’s sexuality has long been regulated more harshly than women’s. Hardré declared to King Charlemagne:

Lord, rightful emperor,
I have horrible news for you.
Count Amile has dishonored your daughter.
I have caught and proved him to be in a bed with her.
King, make her burn, make her ashes be in the wind.
By God, for this she must be put to death.

{ … Sire drois empereres,
Je voz apors nouveles effraees.
Li cuens Amiles ta fille a vergondee,
Enz en un lit l’ai reprinse prouvee.
Rois, fait l’ardoir, la poudre en soit ventee.
Par Deu, morte an doit iestre. }[7]

That Charlemagne’s daughter was in bed with Amile wasn’t Amile’s fault. Death was a common medieval penalty for rape. Despite misinterpreting the affair, Hardré directed punishment not at the man, as is typical, but at the guilty woman. The king, however, mimicked Hardré’s original threat. The king would have Amile’s head cut off if Amile didn’t disprove the allegation that he sleep with Belissant. The proof would be the outcome of deadly judicial combat between Amile and Hardré.

Neither Amile nor any else at court, with three exceptions, believed in his righteousness. According to this epic, judicial combat required hostages for each party. A hostage insured a party’s performance and shared the party’s fate. When Amile asked among his fellow knights for a bondsman / hostage, none was willing to serve. The king then intended to cut off Amile’s head immediately. Suddenly, however, the queen pledged herself as Amile’s hostage. Needlessly increasing the stakes, she declared that Belissant and her brother Beuvon also pledged themselves to be his hostages. Having gone to meet his friend Ami, Amile explained to him:

But I could not find any hostages
then the queen suddenly pledged herself to me,
Beuvon her son who is brave and courtly,
and Belissant, who has a body so lovely.
I will not go to see them again except these months.
A man who has done wrong should not put himself to combat.
By my sin I have killed them.

Never again except these months will I be seen by them.
A man who has done wrong should not know combat.
Now I wish I were dead.

{ Mais des ostaiges ne poi je nul avoir,
Quant la roïne me pleja endroit soi,
Bueves sez fiz qui est preuz et cortois
Et Belissans qui le cors a adroit.
Je nes irai resgarder mais des mois.
Hom qui tort a combatre ne se doit.
Par pechié les ai mortes.

Ja n’i serai mais des mois esgardéz.
Hom qui tort a combatre ne se seit.
Or voldroie mors iestre. }

Epic violence against men is bad enough. This chanson de geste starts with epic violence against men and advances to a man wishing he were dead because a woman raped him.

Like the earlier Waltharius, Ami et Amile subverts epic with absurdity. Ami, pretending to be Amile, fought the judicial battle against Hardré. It was a brutal, two-day fight between the two men.

Count Ami held the sharp sword,
and so strongly struck Hardré on his gleaming helmet
that florets and gems fell from their settings.
The blow sliced through the head-covering of his Moorish hauberk,
and that rough blow descended upon his face.
His right eye was thrown down toward the field.
Upon the chest of his white hauberk it hung.

{ Li cuens Amis tint l’espee tranchant,
Si fiert Hardré sor son elme luisant,
Que flors et pierres contreval en descent,
Fausse la coiffe de l’auberc jazerant,
Sor le visaige li ruistes cops descent
Que le destre oil li abatit an champ;
Sor la poitrine dou blanc hauberc li pant. }

This bizarre scene of a knight’s dismembered right eye parallels another knight’s right eye gouged out in violent battle: “the quivering eye of Hagen {tremulus Haganonis ocellus}” resting on the battlefield in Waltharius.[8] Both Waltharius and Ami et Amile make epic violence against men appear not just irrational, but grotesque.

Ami / Amile kills Hardré in judicial combat

Men’s gouged out eyes symbolize an outer, critical perspective on epic violence against men. Fully appreciating women in relation to men provides that critical perspective. In Ami et Amile, Belissant and Lubias set the most significant plot directions. Lubias never progressed even to consciousness of her own wickedness. Belissant, however, came to regret profoundly that her rape of Amile caused terrible violence against men:

“Alas!” she said, “Evil it was that I was ever born,
when for me such a battle is fought.
Better it would be, by God, that I had been destroyed,
burned in a fire or killed with knives.
Ah, Count Amile, may God give you aid today!”

{ “Lasse!” dist elle, “mar fui onques veüe,
Quant por moi est tex bataille randue.
Miex fust, par Deu, que je fuisse fondue,
Arse en un feu ou a coutiaus fandue.
Hé! cuens Amiles, Dex voz face hui aiue!” }

With remarkable gender understanding, Belissant took the violence upon herself and prayed for divine aid for her endangered man. Her words are centered in three laisses (a type of stanza) that end with verses that together ironically critique epic violence against men:

the beautiful daughter of Charlemagne
all for the daughter of Charlemagne
all for the daughter of Charlemagne

{ La bele fille Charle
Tout por la fille Charle
Tout por la fille Charle }

Epic violence against men in the European literary tradition has at its origin Helen of Troy. All the horror of the Trojan War was for Helen, the beautiful wife of Menelaus. Ending that epic tradition has been the most important literary task since the Iliad.

Belissant’s marriage to Amile explicitly supported solidarity among men. An unnamed knight told her an appropriate marriage vow:

A knight said, “Lady-lord, voluntarily
you will swear now to this court
that you will take Amile as your husband,
with the consent of his companion Ami,
and between those two will never sow discord.”

{ “Volentiers, damme,” uns chevaliers respont,
“Voz jurreréz orendroit a bandon
Que voz panréz Amile le baron
Au loëment d’Ami son compaingnon,
Ne antr’euls douz ne meteréz tanson.” }

Belissant responded with enthusiastic consent:

“Sir,” she said, “voluntarily I swear it:
so help me God and the saints whose relics are here,
that I will take Amile as my husband,
with the consent of his companion Ami,
and between those two will never sow discord.”

{ “Sire,” dist elle, “volentiers le jurronz:
Si m’aït Dex et li saint qui ci sont,
Que je panrai Amile le baron
Au loëment d’Ami son compaingnon,
Ne entr’euls douz ne mouvrai ja tanson.” }

Such a marriage vow seems as improbable as overturning gynocentrism. Nonetheless, such a marriage vow exists. It exists in a twelfth-century chanson de geste that in recent decades few persons have read. By supporting solidarity among men, Princess Belissant showed an important way in which women can help to end epic violence against men.

Ami et Amile ends without violence against men. “The powerful count Ami took the cross {La crois a prinse li cuens Amis puissans}.” His friend Amile also took the cross. Their crusade was not the usual medieval crusade:

They went over the sea to seek true forgiveness.

To the Holy Sepulcher they went without stopping.
The Holy Cross, on which was suffered the passion
of Jesus the Lord — this they kissed in that jurisdiction.

{ Outre mer vont por querre voir pardon

Jusqu’au Sepulcre n’i font arrestison,
La sainte Crois, ou souffri passion
Jhesus li Sires, baisierent a bandon }

The epic Ami et Amile says nothing about violence against men on Ami and Amile’s crusade. This epic says nothing about changing the ruler of the Holy Land. Ami and Amile returned together to Italy “without battle {sans tanson}.” They died together, without any reference to violence, in Mortara, Lombardy. There they were buried in the same tomb. Ami et Amile ends with forgiveness, peace, and solidarity among men.[9]

Progressive criticism of epic literature begins with taking seriously epic violence against men. Men are human beings. Men’s lives matter. Men’s lives have been intimately intertwined with women lives throughout history. Epic violence against men depends on women, even if relatively few women explicitly appear in epic.[10] Like Belissant, women can and should act to end epic violence against men.

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Read more:


[1] Ami and Amile {Ami et Amile}, Continental version in decasyllabic verses {Version continentale en décasyllabes}, v. 63 (5), Old French edition of Dembowski (1969), my English translation. The previous short quote, “about such martial qualities,” is similarly from Ami et Amile, v. 3 (1). Subsequent quotes from Ami et Amile are similarly sourced, with my English translation benefiting from that of Rosenberg & Danon (1996). The verse numbers are followed by the laisse numbers in parentheses. Ami et Amile is also known as Amis and Amiles {Amis et Amiles}.

The story of these devoted men friends exists in many medieval versons and languages. It probably originated in ancient folk traditions or in a lost chanson de geste from the eleventh century. On the former claim, now generally regarded more skeptically, Krappe (1923). On the latter, Bar (1937). The earliest surviving version is a verse summary of the story of Amelius and Amicus written in Latin about 1090 by Raoul Le Tortier {Radulphus Tortarius}, a monk at Fleury-sur-Loire. Radulphus declared that the story was well-known among the Saxons and in Gaul. On the various versions, Leach (1937) pp. ix-xxxi, Rosenberg & Danon (1996) pp. 1-9, and Foster (2007) introduction. On some other related stories, see note [1] in my post of the friendship of Tito and Gisippo (Boccaccio’s Decameron X.8).

Ami et Amile is closely assocaited with the epic tradition. Its decasyllabic verse is the verse of Old French epic. Its introduction has epic character. Ami et Amile survives in only one manuscript: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, français, 860, f. 93ra-111ra. That manuscript, written in the second half of the thirteenth century, consists of four other chansons de geste. Ami et Amile, situated among these other epics, evidently was understood to be part of the chanson de geste tradition. Ami et Amile is thought to have been composed about 1200.

In its various versions, the story of the close friends Ami and Amile contains many folkloric elements. These include (with Stith-Thompsom index) sworn friends (P 311), judicial combat (H 218), the sword of chastity (T 351; also included in the related medieval Arabic Tale of Attaf), a leper hero (L 112.7.1), identification by a cup (H 121), washing in the blood of child as cure for leprosy (D 1502.4.2.1), as well as many other less distinctive folk motifs. For a list of relevant folk motifs and related analysis, Calin (1966) pp. 58-72.

Versions of the story of the close friends Ami and Amile also include hagiographic themes. An explicitly hagiographic version is the twelfth-century Latin prose version, The Life of Amicus and Amelius {Vita Amici et Amelii}. For an edition, Kölbing (1884) pp. xcvi-cxxi. Of thirty-four versions Leach identified, he classified seven as romantic and twenty-seven as hagiographic. Leach (1937) pp. ix-xiv. The chanson de geste Ami et Amile, which Leach classified as romantic, includes hagiographic elements:

it shows analogues to the themes of pilgrimage and quest and salvation which are typical of the hagiographic genre, and certainly incorporates the basic hagiographic element of the miracle. Finally, we may see as a parallel to the function of hagiography the edifying portrayal, from birth to death, of a type of morally ideal heroes and the celebration of a type of exemplary behavior.

Rosenberg & Danon (1996) p. 9. Calin interpreted the chanson de geste as fundamentally a Christian “quest for the absolute.” Calin (1966) Chapter 2. That interpretation doesn’t do justice to Ami et Amile’s engagement with mundane gender concerns. Of course, Christ’s universal redemption of equally valued human persons across genders is a central Christian belief.

Subsequent quotes above, unless otherwise noted, are from Ami et Amile and are similarly sourced. They are vv. 175-83 (11) (With his golden spurs…), 195-8 (12) (Now let’s go to the court in Paris…), 220-5 (14) (There you could have seen such a wicked battle…), 388-99 (22) (In front of him under the protection of an olive tree…), 444 (26) (brave and bold), 476-8 (28) (Lord, rightful emperor…), 501-5 (30) (“Sir,” said Lubias…), 566-70 (34) (Don’t be hot to love Charlemagne’s daughter…), 612-5 (37) (“Good sir Amile,” said the noble young woman…), 628-30 (38) (“Sir,” she said…), 650-61 (39) (“Alas! God, dear heavenly Father,” she said…), 664-72 (40) (At midnight all alone she arose…), 673-83 (40) (The count awakened…), 685-91 (40) (Towards the count she drew more closely…), 696-700 (41) (“Sir,” she said, “listen to me a little…”), 701-4 (41) (The count listened to her…), 707-13 (41) (By God, Amile…), 720-2 (41) (If he wants to accuse you…), 728-33 (43) (Lord, rightful emperor…), 989-95 (56), 1015-7 (57) (But I could not find any hostages…), 1563-9 (80) (Count Ami held the sharp sword…), 1522-5 (78) (“Alas!” she said…), 1505 (77), 1534 (78), 1562 (79) (the beautiful daughter of Charlemagne…), 1830-4 (91) (A knight said…), 1835-9 (91) (“Sir,” she said…), 3463 (175) (The powerful count Ami took the cross), 3473, 3483-5 (176) (They went over the sea to seek true forgiveness…), 3486 (176) (without battle).

[2] Konstan perceived with respect to Ami and Amile, “no hint … of any erotic or sexual dimension to their relationship.” Konstan (1996) p. 154. While the joust seems to me to draw upon erotic imagery of love as war, Konstan aptly noted:

The story of Ami and Amile reflects a culture in which friendship may involve a high degree of commitment and intimacy, and the development of social mores since the seventeenth century has made it seem as though only sex can account for so close a tie.

Id. In any case, Ami et Amile decisively rejects the conceit of love as war.

[3] Genesis 15:5, 22:17, 26:4; Exodus 32:13; 1 Chronicles 27:23. Scholars have generally preferred to ignore the massive killing of men in epic and to lament that more women don’t explicitly appear in epic. These positions together imply that scholars favor gender equality in violent victimization, but logic seems to be suppressed with such views.

Scholars have misrepresented women’s fundamental importance in epic. A book designed for general readers and students declares:

in the earliest ‘songs of deeds’ women figure very much as minor characters whose honour, like their status in society, is dependent on and reflected from males.

Newth (2014) p. 1. That’s backwards. Men’s honor, including being animalized as merely males, is very much shaped through women’s eyes.

Women characters don’t have to appear in a particular epic to shape men’s deeds. One reads that epic generally, and Ami et Amile specifically, features “the distinctly marginal and second-class role of women.” Rosenberg & Danon (1996) p. 14, from 1981 introduction. The vast majority of men in epic are nameless men conventionally killed. That’s apparently a “first-class role.”

Kay interpreted Ami et Amile as confirming the academic-hero Irigaray’s tendentious, totalitarian claims:

Why this absence of women? Are they omitted or excluded? … Irigaray’s contention that in Western society all representation, including and especially self-representation, is based on the specular reiteration of the masculine model, links her commentary on Freud with the central section of Speculum whose theme is the dispossession from subjecthood of women … The pattern of seduction and suppression disenfranchises the women from participation in textual truth. They are not allowed to be right, even if they are. Their words will not be believed, for one of two very good reasons. Either they are transparent objects, and thus inaudible (so Amile is deaf to Belissant’s declarations of love); or else they are malign subjects, and therefore not to be heeded (so neither does he pay any attention to Lubias’s denunciation of the way she is used as a commodity in homosocial trade). Women are excluded from the chanson de geste not, as a conventional account would suggest, because they cannot participate in heroic action, but because they stand in a negative relation to language and hence to the text.

Kay (1990) pp. 130, 139, 140. That shouldn’t be believed, for the very good reason that it’s nonsense. One could equally well argue that all the men killed in epic “stand in a negative relation to language and hence to the text.” Those words aren’t believed because either the writer isn’t an eminent professor, and hence is socially positioned as inaudible, or the writer is constructed as a malign subject not to be heeded. Who cares if Irigaray didn’t say so?

Women certainly aren’t excluded from epic or even just chansons de geste. Helen of Troy drives the action of the Iliad. Juno and Dido are important figures in the Aeneid. Prudentius’s epic Psychomachia is peopled with female personifications. Countess Ermengard and Queen Guiborc are important figures in the chanson de geste Aliscans. Six chansons de geste have been grouped together, translated, and marketed under the title Heroines of the French Epic. Newth (2014). Many chansons de geste are quite similar to romances. Kay (1995). Most obviously, Belissant and Lubias are important figures in the epic Ami et Amile.

The academic posturing for women is ridiculous to a non-participant. For example, an eminent scholar began a scholarly article on the chanson de geste Ami et Amile thus:

The songs of deeds are stories of men. That of Ami et Amile is even the story of two men, who do not treat women with much regard, if we are to believe this advice from Ami: “S’elle voz dist orgoil ne faussetéz, / Hauciéz le paume et el chief l’en ferez {If she speaks proudly or falsely, raise your palm and slap her on the head}” …

{ Les chansons de geste sont des histoires d’hommes. Celle d’Ami et Amile est même l’histoire de deux hommes, qui ne traitent pas les femmes avec beaucoup d’égards, si l’on en croit ce conseil d’Ami : « S’elle voz dist orgoil ne faussetéz, / Hauciéz le paume et el chief l’en ferez » … }

Zink (1987) p. 11, my English translation of the original French and the Old French quote from Ami et Amile, vv. 1068-9 (60). Calin similarly cited this verse and glossed it as “he should not hesitate to bash her.” Calin (1991) p. 82. Kay, with indignant astonishment, astonishingly universalized the verse: “It is astonishing that the best way to impersonate the loyal husband is, apparently, to strike his wife in the face (l.1069).” Kay (1990) p. 137. It’s difficult to imagine such a reader appreciating literature.

When Lubias accused Amile, disguised as her husband Ami, of having an affair with Belissant and called Belissant a whore, Amile / Ami raised his palm and slapped her in the nose. Ami et Amile, v. 1133 (62). Calin declared, “One of the most brutal actions, at least by modern standards, occurs when Amile strikes Lubias in the face….” Calin (1966) p. 73. Readers are taught to overlook or trivialize massive violence against men in epic. But in this epic, a man slapped a woman in the face! A woman would never slap a man in the face. Of course, exactly that action is a staple of comedy and romance through to the present.

In advising a slap to the face, Ami was giving Amile advice about how to live with Ami’s wife Lubias. Lubias herself claimed that she punched Amile in the face:

I gave him such a punch in the face
that he fell to the ground on his knees.

{ Tel li donnai de mon poing enz el front
Que a la terre chaï a jenoillons. }

Ami et Amile, vv. 1212-3 (66), Old French edition of Dembowski (1969), my English translation. Kay tendentiously justified Lubias punching Amile in the face. She concluded, “Lubias’s indignation is better founded that {sic} she knows.” Kay (1990) p. 138. Modern scholarly representations of violence are a gynocentric farce.

[4] Women raping men tends to be trivialized in both life and literature. In Calin’s interpretation:

The joining of Amile and Belissant is recounted in all its sensuous detail, with all the positive overtones of passion, beauty, and desire … the scene concretizes a masculine wish-fulfillment fantasy … the all-but-institutionalized wish-fulfillment fantasy of the twelfth-century juvenis lacking land and a wife … Their ménage is presumably what Belissant desired from the beginning and what Amile would have desired had he not been impeded by masculine scruples.

Calin (1991) pp. pp. 80, 81. Kay desribed Belissant raping Amile as a seduction that, like everything in anti-meninist ideology, confirms the “phallic order”:

Belissant’s seduction {of Amile} confirms the centrality of phallic order with respect to the hierarchical structures of society

Kay (1990) p. 136 (my explanatory gloss added in brackets). According to Kay, “Belissant has been set up,” apparently by that scholarly bogeyman “patriarchy”:

Her attempted seduction of Amile is an assault on her father’s dominance for which she can only be punished.

Kay (1990) p. 136. Bringing together the views of Calin and Kay, one learns that masculine wish-fulfillment fantasy is an assault on the father’s dominance. Who knew?

[5] Amis and Amilun {Amis et Amilun}, Anglo-Norman verse version, vv. 269-85, Old French (Anglo-Norman) text from Kölbing (1884) pp. 129-30, English translation (modified) from Weiss (2009) p. 175.

Kölbing’s edition is based on manuscript C (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 50 ff. 94vb-102ra; written in the second half of the thirteenth century). For an edition of the Anglo-Norman version in manuscript L (London British Library Royal 12. C. XII, ff. 69ra-76rb; written at the end of the thirteenth or early in the fourteenth century), Fukui (1990).

In the Anglo-Norman version, Charlemagne’s daughter is named Mirabele, and also called Florie. These names, like the name Bellisant, indicate this woman’s admirable status by the end of the story. Amilun and Amis in the Anglo-Norman version correspond to Ami and Amile in the chanson de geste . Hence Florie rapes Amis, not Amilun.

Much medieval scholarship about rape seems to me viciously misleading. Because men throughout history have faced serious punishment for raping women, men have been seriously concerned about false accusations of rape. Medieval scholars have nonetheless trivialized men’s concerns (mere “masculine anxiety”) about false accusations of rape. For example, Vines declared: “the many stories of Potiphar’s wife expose masculine anxiety about two aspects of medieval rape law, namely, prosecution and punishment.” Vines (2022) p. 110. Vines concluded with the declaration that medieval romance “ultimately reaffirm the traditional structure where men are the acceptable aggressors.” Id. p. 111. That’s preposterous. Today, women raping men is scarcely recognized publicly. Women’s tears garner them lenient sentences for raping boys. Women are far more acceptable rapists than men are. Given the vastly gender-disproportionate incarceration of men, men have obvious reasons for concern about anti-men gender bias in prosecution and punishment. The popular translation of Mason (1910) omits Belissant raping Amile and simply makes him guilty of having sex with her.

Medieval scholars have scarcely acknowledged that Belissant raped Amile. One reads, “Belissant seduces Amile,” Gilbert (2019) p. 81; “Belissant’s seduction {of Amile} is all but pure masculine wish-fulfillment fantasy,” Calin (1991) p. 85; “Belissant is better at picking her partner than Charlemagne at selecting one for her,” Kay (1990) p. 140; “Belissant’s seduction of Amile,” Calin (1966) p. 82. It’s as if, in the Middle English version, Amis is guilty of sleeping with Belisaunt / Belissant: “The knight Amis, who has slept with his lord’s daughter, dares not face a trial by combat because he is guilty.” Newman (2013) p. 24. While not wanting to accuse a woman of committing a crime, Calin at least acknowledged, “Amile is for all intents and purposes innocent” of having sex with Belissant (“dishonoring the king”). Calin (1966) p. 86.

[6] Amis and Amiloun, Middle English verse version, vv. 625-36, Middle English text from Foster (2007), my English modernization. For a complete English modernization of Amis and Amiloun, Eckert (2015).

Amis and Amiloun survives in four manuscripts. Foster’s edition takes as its base text manuscript A (Advocates 19.2.1 (Auchinleck manuscript), at the Advocates Library, Edinburgh. Fols. 49r–61v). The Auchinleck manuscript was written in London in the 1330s.

In the Middle English version, Belisaunt, Amiloun, and Amis correspond to Belissant, Ami, and Amile in the chanson de geste. As in the Anglo-Norman version, Belisaunt rapes Amis, not Amiloun.

Amis warned Belisaunt at length that nothing but woe would come from them having sex and urged her to reconsider her desire. She in response ridiculed him:

That lovely maiden of great renown
answered, “Sir knight, you have no tonsure.
For God that redeemed you dearly,
are you a priest or a parson,
or are you a monk or a canon,
that you preach to me thus here?
You shouldn’t have been a knight
to go among shining maidens.
You should have been a friar!
He who taught you thus to preach,
I wish the devil of Hell would take him,
though he were my brother!

{ That mirie maiden of gret renoun
Answerd, “Sir knight, thou nast no croun;
For God that bought the dere,
Whether artow prest other persoun,
Other thou art monk other canoun,
That prechest me thus here?
Thou no schust have ben no knight,
To gon among maidens bright,
Thou schust have ben a frere!
He that lerd the thus to preche,
The devel of helle ichim biteche,
Mi brother thei he were! }

Amis and Amiloun, vv. 613-24, sourced as previously.

Foster noted that Belisaunt “threatens to cry rape if Amis does not acquiesce.” Yet he also minimizes the moral wrong of this activity: “Belisaunt’s successful stalking of Amis occurs while the duke is hunting, and he is finally seduced while the duke is hunting again.” In addition, Foster faulted Amis: “Amis is trapped by Belisaunt’s persistence and compromised by his own failure of nerve: he does the wrong thing.” Foster (2007) Introduction. Avoiding a false accusation of rape by having sex with a woman might well be a prudent choice for a man. He should not be blamed for having sex to avoid a potentially deadly false accusation of rape.

[7] In the version of Radulphus Tortarius, the friends are named Amicus and Amelius. Amelius is charged with having sex with Beliardus, the daughter of King Gaiferus of Poitiers. This charge is made through the courtier Ardradus telling Bertha, the Queen of Poiters:

The string of love sounds loudly. The ear of one hears it.
Ardradus, which he was called, is jealous.
He soon tells the queen. In the manner of a lioness
when deprived of her whelps, she roars and rages.
Furious, with disheveled hair she complains to the King.
She judges Amelius to hang from a cross.

{ Insonuit nervus, deprendit id aulicus unus,
Invidet Ardradus, iste vocatus erat,
Qui mox reginae manifestat; more leenae
Haec fremit, ablatis quando furit catulis;
Conqueritur regi passis furiosa capillis,
In cruce pendendum iudicat Amelium. }147-52

Radulphus Tortarius, Letters {Epistulae} 2, “To Bernarnd {Ad Bernardum},” vv. 147-52, Latin text from Ogle & Schullian (1933) p. 261, my English translation, benefiting from that of Leach (1937) Appendix A, “The Amis and Amilous Story of Radulfus Tortarius.” Radulphus Tortarius’s version underscores women’s complicity in unjust penal punishment of men.

[8] Waltharius, v. 1403, Latin text and English trans. from Ring (2016). The Waltharius apparently influenced the chanson de geste The Monastic Life of William {Le Moniage Guillaume}.

[9] In Ami et Amile, Emperor Charlemagne is a thematic foil to Ami and Amile. Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor, was commonly regarded as a model Christian king in twelfth-century France. Nonetheless, Charlemagne in Ami et Amile is depicted as a viciously brutal fool. The seneschal Hardré has a historical prototype in Hardradus, who tried to kill Charlemagne in 785. Calin (1966) p. 77. In contrast, in Ami et Amile Hardré manipulates Charlemagne, and Charlemagne repeatedly echoes Hardré’s words. See, e.g. Hardré proposes to Charlemagne sharply contrasting punishment and reward for Ami and Amile’s martial exploits (laisses 16 and 17); Charlemagne chastises Belissant for disparaging Hardré, whom Charlemagne describes as a good knight (laisse 25); Hardré dupes Charlemagne about his battle conduct and advises Charlemagne to have Lubias marry Amile (laisse 28). Charlemagne is ready to kill Amile merely because Hardré claims that Amile had sex with her. Charlemagne moreover shows no concern about killing his wife and daughter (laisses 46 and 68-70). Ami et Amile praises Charlemagne abstractly: “Our Emperor was very noble and trustworthy … Our Emperor was very brave and noble {Nostre empereres fu moult gentiz et fiers … Nostre empereres fu moult preuz et nobile}.” Ami et Amile, vv. 257 (17) and 283 (18). This chanson de geste, however, shows Charlemagne in action to be contemptible, especially in contrast to Ami and Amile.

Friendship among men and institutionalized violence against men are issues of great public importance. Even with its shocking treatment of Charlemagne, the public importance of Ami et Amile hasn’t been adequately recognized:

The chanson de geste named for them is not concerned with any public issue, any political or historical or religious cause which would subsume their story. The poem is focused, rather, on their lives and their relationship

Rosenberg & Danon (1996) p. 16. Ami et Amile presents friendship between men creatively in relation to epic violence:

When seen against the rich literary tradition concerning friendship in classical antiquity, the tale of Ami and Amile appears as something radically new.

Konstan (1996). The innovative medieval epic Ami et Amile should be more widely read and much better interpreted in order to promote social justice.

By seeking God’s forgiveness, the loyal and intimate friends Ami and Amile recognize their wrongs and the wrongs of others living within the complexities of human life. Utterly misinterpreting them, Zink preferred to employ inappropriately the medieval topos of contempt for the world to garner scholarly value through supporting poor-dearism:

Ami and Amile render contempt for the world desirable by associating it with a love of self disguised as love of the other. Women, the good and the bad, are the value-promoters and the victims of this sufficiency of men.

{ Ami et Amile rendent désirable le mépris du monde en l’associant à un amour de soi déguisé en amour de l’autre. Les femmes, la bonne et la mauvaise, sont les faire-valoir et les victimes de cette suffisance des hommes. }

Zink (1987) p. 23, my English translation of the original French. Alas, for the existence of strong, independent men! Just think how they affect women, those poor dears!

[10] Scholarly discussion of Ami et Amile shows acute gender trouble. Consider, for example, Kay (1990) — a highly regarded scholarly article. Beginning this article with three sentences from three eminent men medieval scholars, Kay chided them for slighting women. She then drew upon scholarly claims of the devotedly gynocentric man “Duby,” the all-powerful pyschoanalytic woman hero-scholar “Irigaray,” and the pillar of queer studies “Sedgwick.” With the benefit of these authorities, Kay perceived that Ami et Amile concerns “phallic dominance.” She discovered “forcible elimination of women from the epic world.” That “forcible elimination of women” from epic differs from forcible elimination of men in epic through massive slaughter of men.

Kay’s claims about the forcible elimination of women from epic weren’t regarded as inconsistent with the plain evidence of women in epics. Appearing before the final part of her paper, Kay didn’t present those claims as requiring a peculiar type of spectacles. Kay, however, added a final part, prefaced with a warning: “The final part of this paper is highly speculative.” That final part leads to these concluding sentences:

Women are introduced in order that they can be expelled and a primal masculine order restored. Thus, while women may be excluded from the matière of the chansons de geste, they are, paradoxically, a valuable prop to the ideal of masculine collectivity.

Kay (1990) p. 141. In this paradoxical view, women, excluded from epic, are included in epic in order to be excluded to serve men’s interests. That’s a view well worthy of a scholarly worship and holy water! The earlier short quotes are from id. p. 135 (phallic dominance) and p. 136 (forcible elimination of women from epic). Kay explicitly cited work of “Duby” (Georges Duby) and “Sedgwick” (Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick), but not “Irigaray” (Luce Irigaray).

The amazing scholarly contortions to demonize men as oppressors and promote sympathy for women aren’t paradoxical. Observe that the claims of Kay (1990) have compelled respect from scholars of widely differing scholarly orientations. Engaging with what had become to scholars the “woman question” in Ami et Amile, Calin declared:

Sarah Kay’s essay is especially challenging. Grounding a rigorous close reading of the text in the most sophisticated feminist theory, Kay argues that both women characters are punished and, in the end, excluded from the “epic world,” a world and world vision that depend on their exclusion.

Calin (1991) p. 79. How could one believe that the punishment and exclusion of women characters is essential to epic? That wasn’t actually the challenge for Calin. He emphasized that he in no way meant to contradict Kay:

In this article, I propose a reading of the chanson parallel to Kay’s. I insist that my considerations are meant to be taken in conjunction with hers, not in opposition.

Id. Calin earned a Ph.D. in medieval French literature from Yale in 1960. By 1991, he was widely regarded as a leading scholar of the chansons de geste. On Calin’s biography, Jones (2018). Calin prudently refused to challenge Kay’s ridiculous claims. That’s the way to keep friends and ascend in academia.

Samuelson’s recent study of Ami et Amile unself-consciously explored concern for counter-narratives in Kay (1995). Samuelson received his Ph.D. from Princeton in 2016 for a study of medieval French literature. His advisor was Kay. His study appears in a scholarly volume honoring Kay’s achievements as a leading scholar of medieval French literature. Samuelson’s study provides a learned display of formalities of counter-narrative discourse:

I begin by building on Kay’s work on female ‘counternarratives’ in Ami et Amile, observing how curious echoes – almost what Leo Bersani (Bersani and Phillips 2008: 86) calls ‘liquefying speech’ – entangle the ‘dominant narrative’ with female ‘counternarratives’. Yet, while Kay focuses on gender politics, I then look to two unlikely bedfellows – canon law and Bersani’s work in queer theory – to tease out a ‘counternarrative’ about illicit sexual behaviours, which is not entirely embodied by (or does not perfectly ‘belong’ to) women. Sexuality, argues Bersani, ‘is that which is intolerable to the structured self’ (1986: 38); similarly, Ami et Amile stresses how desire is ‘intolerable’ to the ‘dominant narrative’. And yet – in a manner also in keeping with Bersani’s thought – the ‘dominant narrative’ engages in risky, perverse, but all too alluring ways with this ‘counternarrative’, which asserts that desire disfigures order.

Samuelson (2021) p. 73. Engaging in Bersani’s argument in “Is the Rectum a Grave?”, Samuelson considered how Amile killing his two boys and bathing Ami in their blood to cure Ami of leprosy relates to barebacking:

This scene may be productively considered alongside Bersani’s work on the deliberately risky sexual practice of barebacking. As the friends fully expect to be executed for killing Amile’s sons (§164), ‘there is’, as in barebacking, ‘no speculation about the possibility of something other than death’ arising from the experience (Bersani and Phillips 2008: 41). And as barebacking debunks the association of sex with life, ‘advertis[ing] the risk of the sexual […] as the risk of self-dismissal, of losing sight of the self’ and ‘dangerously represent[ing] jouissance as a model of ascesis’ (Bersani 2010: 30), so too do self-dismissal and sacrifice here rub shoulders with an awesome and awful spiritual, emotional, and physical experience.

Id. p. 80. Samuelson recognized a significant risk in making this argument:

shifting the focus from women to desire comports a significant risk: that of erasing women. By way of conclusion, I would, though, insist that not only did Kay’s feminist work provide the departure point for my queer reading, but this reading can and should return us to women.

Id. pp. 83-4. Literary scholars may ponderously ponder “counter-narrative.” But in the final analysis, apart from marginalize and excluded meninist literary criticism, scholars are socially compelled to support work like Kay (1990) and to uphold dominant gynocentrism.

[images] (1) Ami and Amile depicted as nearly identical youths. In the top right of the image, apparently the pope baptises Ami and Amile. Illumination from manuscript of Jean Mansel’s Flower of Stories {Fleur des histoires}. Manuscript made in Bruges in the third quarter of the fifteenth century. From folio 250r of Paris Bibliothèque Mazarine, 1560. (2) Belissant “marrying” (raping) Amile. From manuscript of chanson de geste Ami et Amile. Made in 1465 in Artois, northern France. From folio 68r of Arras, Bibliothèque municipale MS. 0704 (CGM 696). (3) Ami / Amile kills Hardré in judicial combat. From folio 77v of Arras, Bibliothèque municipale MS. 0704 (CGM 696), described previously.


Bar, Francis. 1937. Les Epîtres Latines de Raoul Le Tourtier (1065?-1114?); Étude de Sources; La Légende d’Ami et Amile. Paris: E. Droz.

Calin, William. 1966. The Epic Quest: Studies in Four Old French Chansons de Geste. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press.

Calin, William. 1991. “Women and Their Sexuality in Ami et Amile: An Occasion to Deconstruct?Olifant. 16(1/2): 77–89.

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