The Art of Love: Amatory Fiction from Ovid to the Romance of the Rose

The Art of Love: Amatory Fiction from Ovid to the Romance of the Rose

The Art of Love: Amatory Fiction from Ovid to the Romance of the Rose

The Art of Love: Amatory Fiction from Ovid to the Romance of the Rose

Synopsis

"Two major French medieval literary works that claim to teach their readers the art of love are virtually torn apart by the contradictions and conflicts they contain. In Andreas Capellanus's late twelfth-century Latin De amore, the author instructs his friend Walter in the amatory art in the first two books, but then harshly repudiates his own teachings and love itself in a third and final book. In Jean de Meun's encyclopedic continuation of the Romance of the Rose, written in French in the 1270s, a succession of allegorical figures alternately promote and excoriate the lover's amatory pursuits. Jean's romance, moreover, virtually rewrites the dream vision of Guillaume de Lorris, which it claims simply to extend, and ends with the depiction of a sexual act that seems to throw the book's whole structure into confusion. The more closely one reads these works, Peter Allen contends, the harder it is to understand them: "Didactic, heavy-handed, and problematic, they teach would-be lovers how to behave in order to have others accomplish their desires, yet they also contain vociferous passages that dissuade their protagonists from the practice of this art, which, they claim, leads not only to earthly destruction but also to eternal damnation." Readers from the Middle Ages to the present have been troubled by the fact that these texts are both radically self-contradictory and fundamentally at odds with the accepted morality of medieval Christian Europe. And for decades, scholars have tried to determine how these two works are related to what is often referred to as "courtly love."" "In The Art of Love, Allen persuasively argues that the De amore and the Romance of the Rose are central to the courtly tradition. Allen contends that their conflicts and contradictions are not signs of confusion or artistic failure, but are instead essential clues which show that the medieval works follow the disruptive structural model of Ovid's first-century elegiac Ars amatoria (Art of Love) and Remedia amoris (Cures for Love). Andreas's and Jean's works, no less than Ovid's, teach not the art of love for practicing lovers, but the literary art of love poetry and fiction. Based squarely on Ovid's poems, which were among the most widely read classical texts in medieval Europe, the De amore and the Romance of the Rose use the classical tradition in a particularly assertive fashion - and suggest a way for fantasies of love to exist even against a background of ecclesiastical prohibition." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

If one were to assemble a list of French texts central to the literature of what is commonly called "courtly love," it would no doubt include the works of a number of troubadours and trouvères, the romances of Chrétien de Troyes, the lais of Marie de France, a version of the Tristan legend, and two works dealing with the art of love: Andreas Capellanus's De amore and the Roman de la Rose (the Romance of the Rose), begun by Guillaume de Lorris and completed by Jean de Meun. The two latter works, however, do not fit comfortably into the mold of the others: while the lyric poems and courtly romances tend to be ethereal, somewhat magical, and clearly set apart from ordinary life as fiction or at least as fantasy, the De amore and the Roman de la Rose are more didactic, heavy-handed, and problematic. They teach would-be lovers how to behave in order to have others accomplish their desires, yet they also contain vociferous passages that dissuade their protagonists from the practice of this art, which, they claim, leads not only to earthly destruction but also to eternal damnation. These works, furthermore, are profoundly self-contradictory, misogynistic, and deceitful: the art of love, it would seem, is a troubled one. Yet these two works continue to be tantalizing, both for their own interest and for what they may be able to reveal about a tradition that has been one of the central modern foci in the study of medieval literature.

I argue in the present study that these two texts are, in fact, essential to understanding the love poetry of the Middle Ages, particularly of medieval France, and that they teach not the "art of love" but the ways and means of amatory fiction -- to be precise, how love becomes art. The De amore and the Roman de la Rose show that, in medieval literature, love and fiction are intertwined to such a degree that they can be seen as aspects of one another, and that this intimate linkage derives clearly and unambiguously from the amatory works of Ovid -- particularly the Ars amatoria (The Art of Love) and Remedia amoris (Cures for Love), published around 1 A.D. In these two works, Ovid teaches his readers that literary love (as manifested in the Roman elegiac tradition, and specifically in his own elegies, the Amores) is a conventional and constructed fiction which poet . . .

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