Washington State University
THE ART OF COURTLY LOVE
The musical question, “Who wrote the book of love,” is not entirely rhetorical. André the chaplain did in the late 12th century. Called Ars Honeste Amandi, the work was supposedly written by the court chaplain of Marie of Champagne, daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine [sometime Queen of France and later Queen of England — see The Lion in Winter (1968)]. It has been taken as “a quasi-scientific attempt to reduce to laws the practices of the troubadours and other courtly lovers of the time” (Dodd 11).
As you can see in the table of contents, the book consists of a prefatory self-justification for the book (supposedly some guy named Walter has been asking questions). We then get some definition of love followed by assertions of who is fit to love and who is not. This is “fin amour” after all, refined love, and rather exclusive. Andreas provides sample dialogues and advice for various cases (e.g., a man of the higher nobility speaking with a woman of the middle class, love of nuns, love of prostitutes, etc.). This material is strikingly similar to self-help The Art of Dating books and material perpetually popular on newsstands and in magazines. I have a 1960s example that’s a hoot. Next, Andreas supplies discussion on retaining love and other phenomena in the process. He give various “decisions in love cases” — for apparently we are to believe that set up as parallel to actual court were love courts presided over by noble women of the time. Dear-Abbey-style petitioners come to court and make their cases. The decisions are based on an understanding of the system of love, but the whole thing seems pretty bizarre and the decisions arbitrary often. Andreas gives the 31 Rules of Love, discusses rejection, and then wraps up with a complete retraction of the work.
E.T. Donaldson long ago noted something fishy about all this. Perhaps Andreas was using the topic of love as a vehicle for his own moralizing. But Donaldson thought that this text was a joke — a belabored and dull joke, but one which monks might get an acceptably pious kick out of. [He notes that when Drouart la Vache was given a copy of the book in 1290, he laughed so much that he decided immediately to translate the Latin work into French (160).] For example, why 31 rules of love? Numerology, of which the medieval mind was especially fond (witness Dante), can do nothing with this prime number. So what better (rather pathetic) laugh to be had than to select the most arbitrary number possible for the pretense that we’re doing something scholastic with the topic of courtly (and debasing and adulterous and sinful) love? Within the first two pages, the passage defining love contains the words “suffering” and “fears” numerous times, with one instance of “no hope” and one “burns” (28-29). That’s the language of hell, and while love may be hell, to a chaplain that means something rather serious. We quickly find out that to be fit for love, you cannot be blind, poor, too old, too young, too passionate, impotent, gay, self-confident, trusting, or self-actualized. You must be an anxiety-ridden type-A personality. You have to be a mature adolescent perpetually. And anyway, Andreas tells “Walter” to abstain from the “heresy” of love in the retraction — so he’s sort of fessing up that his perspective has not been presented straightforwardly in the preceding pages.
None the less, the work was taken as an historical witness to the hot new fad and scholars have taken it at face value. treating Andreas’ work as history or sociology more than as literature (Donaldson 158). Why would this have been so mistaken, if it was?
What do you suppose would have motivated this codification of something as untamable as love? Andreas even lists 31 rules of love. What is the effect of codifying conduct? [Admittedly, even Dodd notes that what is described is an art practiced, not a passion felt (2).]
How are the guidelines still well known and used today? What changes have evolved since the 12th century? What implications does this overall survival have?
Andreas Capellanus. The Art of Courtly Love. Trans. John Jay Parry. NY: Columbia University Press, 1990.
Campbell, Joseph, with Bill Moyers. “Tales of Love and Marriage.” The Power of Myth. NY: Doubleday, 1988. 186-204.
Dodd, William George. “The System of Courtly Love.” 1913. Rpt. in Chaucer Criticism, Vol. II. Ed. Richard J. Schoeck and Jerome Taylor. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1961. 1-15. Dodd treats the phenomenon as historical.
Donaldson, E. Talbot. “The Myth of Courtly Love.” Speaking of Chaucer. NY: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1970. Donaldson declares Andreas a clerical joke.
Lewis, C.S. The Allegory of Love. 1936. NY: Oxford University Press, 1958.