The ‘Spirit of Chivalry’ personified as female in 1845 London exhibition

The following graphic depicting the spirit of chivalry was exhibited in Westminster Hall, London, in August 1845. The author of this image describes the scene as follows:

The spirit, or “personification” of Chivalry is surrounded by men of various pursuits — religious, military, and civil — who represent, as by an Upper Court, or House, the final acquisition of her honours and rewards. Beneath, as not having obtained, though within reach of the Crown, a young Knight vows himself to chivalric services, attended by his Page, and invited by his Lady’s favour. Beside, or around him, in various grades, other figures are introduced to connect the abstract representation of Chivalry with its general recognition of intellectual influences. Among them the Painter, the Sculptor, the Man of Science; the Bard inspiring Youth by his recitals; the Troubadour and his Mistress; the Palmer from the Holy Land; and the Poet-Historian, from whom future ages must derive their knowledge of the spirit and the deeds of Chivalry.

The Spirit of Chivalry – Westminster Hall Exhibition (1845)

The following graphic depicting the spirit of chivalry was exhibited in Westminster Hall, London, in August 1845. The author of this image describes the scene as follows:
The spirit, or “personification” of Chivalry is surrounded by men of various pursuits — religious, military, and civil — who represent, as by an Upper Court, or House, the final acquisition of her honours and rewards. Beneath, as not having obtained, though within reach of the Crown, a young Knight vows himself to chivalric services, attended by his Page, and invited by his Lady’s favour. Beside, or around him, in various grades, other figures are introduced to connect the abstract representation of Chivalry with its general recognition of intellectual influences. Among them the Painter, the Sculptor, the Man of Science; the Bard inspiring Youth by his recitals; the Troubadour and his Mistress; the Palmer from the Holy Land; and the Poet-Historian, from whom future ages must derive their knowledge of the spirit and the deeds of Chivalry.

Gynocentrism: The Real Gender Cult

By Vernon Meigs

In light of the trend of transgender mania and woke and politically correct culture, those on the conservative traditionalist side are keen on throwing around terms like “gender cult.” This gender cult they speak of is that of gender subjectivism, denial of organic attributes of sex, and divorcing the metaphysical and behavioral aspects of sex from the biological real-world component – what progressives would like to call sex assigned at birth.

It’s not that they’re necessarily wrong here, calling this a gender cult. It is; albeit a specialized reactionary one that professes to rebel against gender norms. Ironically enough transgender identity relies on stereotyped ideas about gender to then say they are defying it.

What I want to address is the idiocy of those who claim to be fighting this gender cult, namely the hypocrisy of calling it a gender cult when they as neotraditionalists are likely to indulge and take for granted a gender cult of their own, one which is more massive and has a bigger, more longstanding history than even feminism itself.

Gynocentrism and gyneolatry contain qualities in every way attributable to an actual gender cult. The fact that it actually gave way to feminism, which in turn gave way to political transgender ideology, is evident but conveniently ignored too often by these conservatives. They don’t want to address it because, as practitioners of the gynocentric gender cult, they either are dependent on it to keep the approval of the women in their immediate lives as well as from the public, or suffer from a serious normalized case of Stockholm Syndrome.

Anyway, to the heart of the subject of this article: The gender cult that the traditional conservative promotes and refuses to denounce.

Men are expected to die in wars while the royal class of women are subject to protection by these men. That is a gender cult.

Men are expected, from the point of courtship til well after the divorce, to financially and in effect materially provide for womankind. That is a gender cult.

Men are expected at one day old to have a crucial component of their genitalia ripped off, despite the risk of infection, physical complications that follow, and death, as well as guaranteed psychological trauma manifesting itself at varying degrees later in life — apparently for the sake of anywhere from Sandra Bullock’s, Oprah’s, and Kate Beckinsale’s facial creams to the depraved whims of women sexually attracted to broken manhood. That is a gender cult. Circumcision of baby boys is a gender cult.

Women are regarded as equivalent of nature, designated as the big choosers, and the men as vassals that must commit degrading acts of altruism to earn their attention, this despite the fact that men and women are both choosers and members of nature together. This one-sided attitude is a gender cult.

Families, in particular in North America, favor supporting daughters after adulthood, whereas men are generally kicked out of the house when they reach the age of 18, expected to fend for themselves because “a man should take care of himself” else he gets shamed as a dweller in his parents’ basement with no life. Women categorically reject men at the slightest hint of them receiving assistance in any such way in the dating market, for instance. I call that a gender cult.

To engage in romance a man must first place himself in a position of self-degradation of bending his knee in front of a woman and present her with a hunk of rock, which may or may not be a blood diamond, that he has spent a ridiculous amount of his fortune on. That’s the first edge. What is either a curt rejection and no further regard by the woman for the trouble the man went through or, if she did accept, then the wedding will be even more of a fortune lost on the man’s part and it will be again when the divorce follows, which happens at this point too often to not consider it an event to expect, and practically schedule. Either way, royal woman looks down at vassal man. That is the image of the man going down on his knee and proposing. That is a gender cult.

Violence against men, especially by women, is subject to laughter. The very act of entertaining the idea of violence against women, especially by men, is grounds for ostracism at best, violent retribution at worst. Self-defense is not tolerated even if the man is faced with a rabid crazed blade wielding unhinged psycho woman on a rampage. That is a gender cult.

Happy wife, happy life. If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. Placing women on status of maniacal ruler whose whims must be satisfied else the man’s existence is not justified. That is a gender cult.

To the traditional conservatives out there, and anyone who professes to ally with feminists and other misandrists just so they could own the trans gender cult — this discussion is for you. The gender cult which you profess to wage war on is but a fad compared to the grander gender cult that is gynocentrism that you take for granted and bask in.

I’ll close with something that I want you to get through to your head. Gynocentrism is a gender cult. It is the biggest such cult. Gyneolatry is woman-worshipping in this gender cult. Biogynocentrism is the means of rationalizing it with the alleged argument from biology and evolution in this gender cult. Male disposal is the end goal of this gender cult. Gynocentrism is a gender cult.

Nothing Envy and the Fascration Complex – by David L. Miller

The following excerpts are from David L. Miller’s 1991 essay Why Men Are Mad: Nothing Envy and The Fascration Complex. At a time when multiple sexualities are now topical, including transgendered identities, Miller’s essay provides an imaginative springboard for contemporary audiences. In this article Miller emphasizes men’s adherence to ‘patriarchal’ fantasies while simultaneously harboring a wish to be free of same, and while ‘patriarchy theory’ was a feminist invention of 1980s-90s when the author penned these thoughts (now considered an imaginary artifact that holds questionable explanatory power), the essay itself contributes new and complimentary layers to Freud’s ‘penis envy’ theory. He does this by posing that men, too, may envy the un-membered state of womanhood. Whether this perspective aids in better understanding the dynamics of transgender and other sexualities will be left to the imagination of the reader.

________________________________________________________________________

NothingEnvy and the Fascration Complex

By David L. Miller

One clue to the hurt men feel, to their crazy rage, can be discerned in an essay entitled “Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction Between the Sexes” (1925), where Freud describes a traumatic moment of childhood, the discovery of penis envy. The little girl “has seen it and knows that she is without it and wants to have it” (252).

But, according to Freud, the little boy’s experience, or at least the screen-memory of the experience, is different. Only later when confronted with the threat of castration does the boy or man recall the sight of the little girl. Then he knows of the real possibility of losing a part of his body. There arises an anxiety — the so-called “castration complex” — together with two possible reactions to women: either “horror of the mutilated creature” or “triumphant contempt for her” (Freud, 1961: 252; 1959; 1964b; Du Bois: 10-11). The neurotic consequence of childhood trauma for the woman is envy and inferiority; for the man, anxiety and superiority.

There is an asymmetry in Freud’s theory. Why has he not moved to observe envy in the man as in the woman, and anxiety in the woman as in the man? Is there no complex in the woman to correspond to castration in the man? And is there no envy in the man to correspond to the envy for the penis in the woman?

A few theorists and therapists have wondered about these questions. Bruno Bettelheim thought that “penis envy in girls and castration anxiety in boys have been over-emphasized” by psychoanalysis, and that there is “a possibly much deeper psychological layer in boys that has been relatively neglected.” He called this deeper matter “vagina envy” (20). Karen Horney, also, has spoken of a “femininity complex” in men and has raised the question of “why no corresponding impulse to compensate herself for her penis envy is found in women” (61; also 21, 60). But in this theorizing, the envy noted in the male has to do with the woman’s ability to bear children, “pregnancy envy,” as Eric Fromm calls it (233). This focuses on only one aspect of woman, an aspect which a patriarchal tradition is eager to totalize.

* * *

If the little girl sees something, and then envies this thing, one could say that the little boy sees nothing and envies that nothing. The traumatic physical moment produces psychological “nothing-envy.” Nothing-envy is the desire lurking as the diabolical other-side of the castration anxiety. The fundamental ambivalence of the psyche demands that a person face the two-sidedness of fear. There is a latent wish in the symptom of anxiety. Castration is what a man wants as well as what he most fears. What does a man want? Nothing.

* * *

Similarly, men have no desire to be deprived of their penises. This is not what nothing-envy is about. The penis, besides being an efficient piece of plumbing, gives a good deal of pleasure. But the phallus is a different thing. The very patriarchy which has connected dominance, power, aggression, initiative, rational meaning, thinking and commitment to maleness, that perspective which has deprived women of a phallus, has also loaded more on men than they wish to bear. What a relief it would be to be rid of this thing, to have nothing.

Ernest Wallwork has called my attention to evidence of this nothing-envy in men. A bit of play familiar to all men from their days in school locker rooms is that of pulling the penis back and holding it between one’s legs so that one looks like a woman. The play is the symptom of a wish. The little boy looking upon the little girl in wonder experiences both fear and desire. The trauma produces not only a castration complex but also nothing-envy. Mysterium Tremendum et fascinosum: I am afraid of nothing, of losing something, and, at the same time, I am drawn to nothing. Freud noticed the former, but he missed the latter.

* * *

There is a long litany of female affirmations of women’s weavings, and they have little or nothing to do with envy of men. Rather, these testimonies and expressions have deep archetypal rooting in Athena and Arachne, in Persephone, in Philomela, and in Charlotte’s Web (see Gubar: 74, 89, 91). What is the missing female complex to which weaving points? I propose to name it “the fascration complex,” drawing upon a Mediterranean word having to do with weaving. Fasces is a bundle of twigs woven together, a bit of wicker work, the work of the wicca (who is by no means a witch). The term fasces gives us our word “basket,” as well as “fasten,” “fascination,” and “fascist.”

What the little boy sees when he gazes upon what is non-a-thing is the female “basket” and later he will come to admire the webs and tapestries a woman can weave with it. She is anxious about losing her basket, her weaving, her fasces, for this, not the penis, is her power.

* * *

An erotics of male desire discloses a projection of a wish based on lack… a lack of nothing. It is a desire for nothing because men ‘don’t got plenty of nothing.’ The irony, of course, is that that is exactly what they have plenty of — which is why they are mad. The return of the repressed is the return of something that never went away. A man never did not have nothing. If a man could withdraw his projection onto women of nothing, he could be who he is, one-in-himself, male and female, something and nothing. There is nothing of which to be envious. We are always and already nothing.

* * *

Why Men Are Mad: NothingEnvy and the Fascration Complex, by David L Miller, Spring Journal 51, Spring: Dallas, 1991. [FULL TEXT pdf made available by permission of the author].

Women’s attraction to the ‘child archetype’

ARTICLES ON WOMEN’S ATTRACTION TO THE CHILD ARCHETYPE

 

-Time To Throw The Baby Out With The Bathwater (P. Wright & P. Elam)
-With This Ring I Thee Adopt (Esther Vilar)
-Infantriarchy (Gordon Wadsworth)
-The Child Archetype As Responsible for Woke Dystopia (Peter Wright)
-The Biological Origins of Damseling (Peter Wright)
-Victimhood and the Child Archetype (Lyn Cowan)
-Fascinating Womanhood: How To Use Childlikeness to Manipulate Men (video)
-Fascinating Womanhood: Women’s Introduction To Cultivating Childlikeness (pdf text)
-Childlikeness As Artificial Promotor of Gynocentrism: A Short Comment (Peter Wright)

“Love Service”

Love service is a ritualized form of male love-devotion toward women, especially noble women, that was popularized in the Middle Ages.[1][2][3]

History

The practice of love service appeared first in Medieval Europe and was modeled on a combination of feudalistic class distinctions, courtly love tenets, and gendered aspects of the chivalric class code regarding respectful treatment of women.[4][5]

Love service had certain resemblances with vassalage, especially the concept of obedience. According to Sandra R. Alfonsi the entire concept of love-service was patterned after the vassal’s oath to serve his lord with loyalty, tenacity, and courage. These same virtues were demanded of the male supplicant. Like the liegeman vis-a-vis his sovereign, the male approached his lady with fear and respect, submitted obediently to her and awaited a fief or in this case an honor of reception as did the vassal.[6]

The vocabulary of love service borrowed some terminology from the vocabulary of feudalism indicative of the ties between a man to his lord. Examples are servitium (service), dominus (denoting the feudal Lord, or Lady), homo ligius (addressing the Lord’s liegeman or ‘my man’), homage (duty toward Lord), and honor (honoring gestures). The men were sometimes referred to as domnei or donnoi, meaning an attitude of chivalrous devotion of a knight to his Lady based in servitude and duty.[7]

References
  1. Margaret Schaus, Women and Gender in Medieval Europe: An Encyclopedia, Taylor & Francis, 2006
  2. Chivalry and Love Service, in Judith M. Bennett, Ruth Mazo Karras, The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe, Oxford University Press, 2013
  3. Sandra R Alfonsi, Masculine Submission in Troubadour Lyric (American University Studies), Peter Lang Publishing, 1986
  4. James A. Schultz, Courtly Love, the Love of Courtliness, and the History of Sexuality, University of Chicago Press, 2006
  5. Chivalry and Love Service, in Judith M. Bennett, Ruth Mazo Karras, The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe, Oxford University Press, 2013
  6. Sandra R Alfonsi, Masculine Submission in Troubadour Lyric (American University Studies), Peter Lang Publishing, 1986
  7. Sandra R Alfonsi, Masculine Submission in Troubadour Lyric (American University Studies), Peter Lang Publishing, 1986

Gender narratives

Narrative pic

Cultural Narratives

Mythologies of the men’s rights & feminist movements
Men Who Sit At The Screens
One True Masculinity
Feelings Don’t Care About Your Facts
Where Do Stories Come From?

Personal Narratives for Men

Men Authoring Their Own Lives
Narrative Therapy With Men

Gendered archetypes: masculine & feminine

Below is an amended excerpt from an interview with Greta Aurora which touches on archetypes of masculinity and femininity appearing in traditional mythologies.

 

Greta Aurora: You previously mentioned you don’t agree with looking at masculinity and femininity as the order-chaos duality. Is there another archetypal/symbolic representation of male and female nature, which you feel is more accurate?

Peter Wright: Some archetypal portrayals in mythology are distinctly male and female, such as male muscle strength and the various tests of it (think of the Labours of Hercules), or pregnancy and childbirth for females (think Demeter, Gaia etc.). Aside from these universal physiology-celebrating archetypes, many portrayals of male or female roles in traditional stories can be viewed instead as stereotypes rather than archetypes in the sense that they are not universally portrayed across different mythological traditions (as would be required of a strictly archetypal criteria in which images must be universally held across cultures).

For example you have a Mother Sky and a Father Earth in classical Egyptian mythology, which is a reverse of popular stereotypes, and males are often portrayed as nurturers. This indicates that material nurture is not the sole archetypal province of a feminine archetype. Also, many archetypal themes are portrayed interchangeably among the sexes – think of the Greek Aphrodite or Adonis both as archetypal representations of beauty, or Apollo and Cassandra as representatives of intellect, or of the warlikeness to Ares or Athene.

To my knowledge the primordial Chaos described in Hesiod’s Theogony had no apparent gender, and when gender was assigned to Chaos by later writers it was often portrayed as male. There is no reason why we can’t assign genders to chaos and order to illustrate some point, but we need to be clear that this rendition is not uniformly backed by archetypal portrayals in myths – and myths are the primary datum of archetypal images. So broadly speaking the only danger would be if we insist that chaos must always be female, and order must always be male as if that formula were an incontrovertible dogma.

There’s also a rich history of psychological writings which look at chaos as a state not only of the universe, or of societies, but as a potential in the psyche or behavior of all human beings regardless of gender; e.g. this factor elaborated for example in the writings of psychiatrists R.D. Laing and by W.D. Winnicott .

See also:

Courtly Love – by Joshua J. Mark

Courtly Love (Amour Courtois) refers to an innovative literary genre of poetry of the High Middle Ages (1000-1300 CE) which elevated the position of women in society and established the motifs of the romance genre recognizable in the present day. Courtly love poetry featured a lady, usually married but always in some way inaccessible, who became the object of a noble knight’s devotion, service, and self-sacrifice. Prior to the development of this genre, women appear in medieval literature as secondary characters and their husbands’ or fathers’ possessions; afterward, women feature prominently in literary works as clearly defined individuals in the works of authors such as Chretien de TroyesMarie de France, John Gower, Geoffrey ChaucerChristine de PizanDante AlighieriGiovanni Boccaccio, and Thomas Malory.

Scholars continue to debate whether the literature reflected actual romantic relationships of the upper class of the time or was only a literary conceit. Some scholars have also suggested that the poetry was religious allegory relating to the heresy of the Catharism, which, persecuted by the Church, spread its beliefs through popular poetry while others claim it represents superficial games of the medieval French courts. No consensus has been reached on which of these theories is correct, but scholars do agree that this kind of poetry was unprecedented in medieval Europe and coincided with an idealization of women. The poetry was quite popular in its time, contributed to the development of the Arthurian Legend, and standardized the central concepts of the western ideal of romantic love.

Origin & Name

Courtly love poetry emerged in southern France in the 12th century CE through the work of the troubadours, poet-minstrels who were either retained by a royal court or traveled from town to town. The most famous of the early troubadours (and, according to some scholars, the first) was William IX, Duke of Aquitaine (l. 1071-1127 CE), grandfather of Eleanor of Aquitaine (l. c. 1122-1204 CE). William IX wrote a new kind of poetry, highly sensual, in praise of women and romantic love. William IX and the troubadours who followed him never referred to their work as courtly love poetry or Provencal love poetry – it was simply poetry – but it was unlike any literature produced in Western Europe previously. Scholar Leigh Smith discusses the origin of the name:

The term itself dates back only to 1883 CE when Gaston Paris coined the phrase Amour Courtois to describe Lancelot‘s love for Guinevere in the romance Lancelot (c. 1177 CE) by Chretien de Troyes. Medieval literature employs a variety of terms for this kind of love. In Provencal the word is cortezia (courtliness), French texts use fin amour (refined love), in Latin the term is amor honestus (honorable, reputable love). (Lindahl et. al., 80)

This love praised by the troubadours had nothing to do with marriage as recognized and sanctified by the Church but was extramarital or premarital, freely chosen – as opposed to a marriage which was arranged by one’s social superiors – and passionately pursued. An upper-class medieval marriage was a social contract in which a woman was given to a man to further some agenda of the couple’s parents and involved the conveyance of land. Land equaled power, political prestige, and wealth. The woman, therefore, was little more than a bargaining chip in financial and political transactions.

In the world of courtly love, on the other hand, women were free to choose their own partner and exercised complete control over him. Whether this world reflected a social reality or was simply a romantic literary construct continues to be debated in the present day and central to that question is the figure of Eleanor of Aquitaine.

The Queen of Courtly Love

As with many aspects of the discussion of courtly love, Eleanor’s role in developing the concept remains controversial. Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the most powerful women of the Middle Ages, wife of Louis VII of France (r. 1137-1180 CE) and Henry II of England (r. 1154-1189 CE), and mother of Marie de Champagne (l. 1145-1198 CE) from her marriage to Louis and Richard I (r. 1189-1199 CE) and King John (r. 1199-1216 CE) from her marriage to Henry. She had eight children in total with Henry II, most of whom would follow her example in patronizing the arts.

Eleanor of Aquitaine

Throughout her marriage to Louis VII (1137-1152 CE), Eleanor filled her court with poets and artists. When their marriage was annulled in 1152 CE, Eleanor did the same at her own court in Normandy, where she was especially entertained by the young troubadour Bernard de Ventadour (12th century CE), one of the greatest medieval poets, who would follow her to the court of Henry II in 1152 CE and remain with her there three years, probably as her lover.

Louis VII, after Eleanor’s departure, drove the troubadours from his court as bad influences, and Henry II seems to have had an equally low opinion of the poets. Eleanor admired them, however, and when she separated from Henry II in c. 1170 CE and set up her own court at Poitiers, she again surrounded herself with artists. There is no doubt that she inspired the works of Bernard de Ventadour, but it is likely she did the same for many others and, through her daughter Marie, inspired the greatest and most influential works of courtly love literature.

Chretien de Troyes & Andreas Capellanus

Eleanor’s court at Poitier, c. 1170-1174 CE, is a subject of some controversy among modern-day scholars in that no consensus has been reached as to what went on there. According to some scholars, Marie de Champagne was present while others argue she was not. Some scholars claim that actual courts of love were held there with Eleanor, Marie, and other high-born women presiding over cases in which plaintiffs and defendants would present evidence relating to their romantic relationships; others claim no such courts existed and that any literature suggesting they did is satire.

THE BEST-KNOWN EXAMPLE OF COURTLY LOVE IS LANCELOT’S LOVE FOR GUINEVERE, THE WIFE OF HIS BEST FRIEND & KING, ARTHUR OF BRITAIN.

Whatever happened at Poitiers, Eleanor seems to have established the ground rules for a literary genre – and possibly a social game of sorts – which was then developed by her daughter who was the patroness of the poet Chretien de Troyes (l. c. 1130-1190 CE) and author Andreas Capellanus (12th century CE). Andreas is the author of De Amore (usually translated as The Art of Love) which describes the courts of love presided over by Marie and the others while also serving as a kind of manual in the art of seduction.

The work draws on the earlier satirical Art of Love (Ars Amatoria) of Ovid, published c. 2nd century CE, which presented itself as a serious guide to romantic relationships while actually mocking them and anyone who takes such things seriously. Since Andreas’ work so closely mirrors Ovid’s, some scholars claim that it was written for the same purpose – as satire – while others accept it as a serious guide to navigating the world of courtly love. Andreas set down the four rules of courtly love as, allegedly, derived from Eleanor and Marie’s courts:

  • Marriage is no excuse for not loving
  • One who is not jealous, cannot love
  • No one can be bound by a double love
  • Love is always increasing or decreasing

According to these rules, just because one was married did not mean one could not find love outside of that contract; love was expressed most clearly through jealousy which proved one’s devotion; there was only one true love for every individual and no one could honestly claim to love two people the same way; true love was never static but always dynamic, unpredictable, and ultimately unknowable even by those experiencing it because it was initiated and directed by a God of Love (Cupid), not by the lovers themselves. These concepts in Andreas’ prose work were mirrored in Chretien’s poetry.

Chretien de Troyes is the poet responsible for some of the best-known aspects of the Arthurian Legend including Lancelot’s affair with Guinevere and the Grail Quest. His works include Erec and EnideCligesLancelot or the Knight of the CartYvain or the Knight of the Lion, and Percival or the Story of the Grail, all written between c. 1160-1190 CE. Chretien established the central motifs of the genre of courtly love poetry which include:

  • A beautiful woman who is inaccessible (either because she is married or imprisoned)
  • A noble knight who has sworn to serve her
  • A forbidden, passionate love shared by both
  • The impossibility or danger of consummating that love

The best-known example of this is Lancelot’s love for Guinevere, the wife of his best friend and king, Arthur of Britain. Lancelot cannot deny his feelings but cannot act on them without betraying Arthur and exposing Guinevere as the unfaithful wife of a noble king. In Malory’s version of the legend, their affair’s exposure is pivotal in destroying the Knights of the Round Table. Another example is the famous story of Tristan and Iseult by Thomas of Britain (c. 1173 CE) in which young Tristan is asked by his uncle Mark to escort Mark’s fiancé Iseult to his castle. Tristan and Iseult fall in love (in some versions because of a love potion accidentally taken) and their betrayal of Mark is the plot point that drives the rest of the story.

Tristan & Iseult

Although scholars continue to debate Eleanor of Aquitaine’s role in developing these kinds of stories, even a cursory knowledge of the woman’s life strongly suggests that courtly love poetry was inspired by her. Like the lady character in the poems, Eleanor was never defined by either of her marriages, she always did precisely as she pleased except for the period in which Henry II had her imprisoned, and she inspired devotion in others. Eleanor’s role seems even more prominent if one entertains the theory that courtly love poetry was actually religious allegory depicting the beliefs of the heretical sect of the Cathars.

The Cathars & Courtly Love

The Cathars (from the Greek for “pure ones”) were a religious sect which flourished in southern France – precisely in the regions of the courts of Eleanor and Marie – in the 12th century CE. The sect evolved from the earlier Bogomils of Bulgaria and adherents were popularly known as Albigensians because the town of Albi was their greatest religious center. The Cathars rejected the teachings of the Catholic Church on the grounds they were immoral and the clergy corrupt and hypocritical.

Catharism was dualist – meaning they saw the world as divided between good (the spirit) and evil (the flesh) – and the Church was decidedly on the side of evil as the clergy was more devoted to earthly pleasures than spiritual pursuits, and the dogma emphasized the weight of sin over the hope of redemption. Cathars renounced the world, lived simply, and devoted themselves to helping others. The Cathar clergy were known as perfecti while adherents were called credentes. A third set of people were the sympathizers – those who remained nominally Catholic but supported Cathar communities and protected them from the Church.

The Church suspected both Eleanor and Marie as sympathizers, and this suspicion was strengthened by the actions of Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse (r. 1194-1222 CE), Eleanor’s son-in-law, who was not only a Cathar sympathizer but secretly the Cathar bishop of his region. Raymond was the most ardent defender of the Cathars when the Church finally launched the Albigensian Crusade against Southern France in 1209 CE.

Pope Innocent III & the Albigensian Crusade

The correlation between Catharism, Eleanor, and courtly love poetry is that this genre seems to appear out of nowhere at the same time Catharism is flourishing and Eleanor is holding her courts. This theory (advanced, primarily, by the scholar Denis de Rougemont in his Love in the Western World), highlights how one of the main tenets of Catharism was recognition of the female principle in the divine which they recognized as the goddess Sophia (wisdom) and how the core of the belief was dualist. The theory then claims that courtly love poetry was an allegory in which the damsel-in-distress was Sophia, held captive by the Catholic Church, and the brave knight was the Cathar whose duty was to liberate her.

The lady symbolized good as spirit – and so the knight could never consummate his love for her – while the marriage she was trapped in, sanctified by the Church, symbolized the evil of the world. This theory is by no means universally accepted but it should be noted that there seems to be a direct correlation between the activities of the troubadours of southern France and the spread of Catharism in the 12th century CE.

A Social Game

Another theory (advanced by scholar Georges Duby, among others), is that courtly love was a medieval social game played by the upper-class in their courts. Duby writes:

Courtly love was a game, an educational game. It was the exact counterpart of the tournament. As at the tournament, whose great popularity coincided with the flourishing of courtly eroticism, in this game the man of noble birth was risking his life and endangering his body in the hope of improving himself, of enhancing his worth, his price, and also of taking his pleasure, capturing his adversary after breaking down her defenses, unseating her, knocking her down and toppling her. Courtly love was a joust. (57-58)

According to this theory, the lady in the tales serves “to stimulate the ardour of young men and to assess the qualities of each wisely and judiciously. The best man was the man who had served her best” (Duby, 62). This theory accounts for the misogynistic elements of courtly love poetry in that the woman is an object to be conquered sexually, not an individual, or is an arbiter of a man’s worth based solely on her status as noble and, again, not because of who she is as a person.

Knight Battling the Seven Sins

This aspect of the genre, however, may not be so much misogynistic as idealistic. If courtly love was a game invented by women, then woman-as-prize and woman-as-judge would have served the same purpose of elevating their status. Other scholars have pointed out that there were court games played by the upper class well into the Renaissance which would amount to role-playing and that the courts of love Andreas Capellanus describes were not actual courts but simply games the noble ladies created to amuse themselves; the works of Andreas and Chretien and others just added to the enjoyment or provided ground rules. Leigh Smith writes:

As with any game that depends upon the creation of an alternate reality, the fun depends upon all the participants treating that reality with utmost seriousness. Therefore, Andreas’ treatise may be understandable as a guide to being a successful courtier in such a Court of Love. (Lindahl et. al., 82)

The winner in this game would be the knight who exemplified the virtues of chivalry and courtesy in service to his lady. It is possible these games were played over the course of months – and perhaps that is what was happening at Eleanor’s court at Poitiers c. 1170-1174 CE – but the game theory does not explain the passion of the works themselves, the devotion the knight has to the lady, or their enduring popularity. Most importantly, the game theory does not fully explain why, even if women invented the game, they should suddenly be so elevated in this genre in a way no earlier European literature had done.

Conclusion

The genre was considered completely original by scholars of the 19th and 20th centuries CE who, while recognizing the central motif of the elevation of the lady present in some Roman works and the biblical Song of Songs, had little or no knowledge of the literature of ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. As noted, ‘courtly love’ was coined by French writer Gaston Paris only in 1883 CE, and the concept was not fully developed until 1936 CE by C. S. Lewis in his Allegory of Love.

These authors were both writing at a time when the understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphics (in Paris’ case) and Mesopotamian cuneiform (for Lewis) was in relative infancy. Many works, from both ancient cultures, had yet to be translated – most famously, The Love Song for Shu-Sin (c. 2000 BCE) from Sumer, considered the world’s oldest love poem, which was not translated until 1951 CE by Samuel Noah Kramer. Works from both cultures that had been translated were not often widely publicized outside of anthropological circles.

Accordingly, writers like Paris and Lewis interpreted the literature of courtly love as something unprecedented in world literature when, actually, it was not; it was simply new to medieval Europe. The Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures both regarded women highly, and their literature bears witness to that. Somehow, whether as religious allegory or role-playing or simply through the efforts of one woman, the poets of Southern France – with no knowledge of the passionate poems of Mesopotamia or Egypt – produced the same sort of literature in a culture which did not support that vision. Women were consistently devalued and denigrated throughout most of the Middle Ages but, in the poetry of courtly love, they reigned supreme.

Bibliography

About the Author

Joshua J. Mark (published 2019)

A freelance writer and former part-time Professor of Philosophy at Marist College, New York, Joshua J. Mark has lived in Greece and Germany and traveled through Egypt. He has taught history, writing, literature, and philosophy at the college level.

Creative Commons reprint.