Thursday, December 31, 2009 12/31/09 - the reinvention of love

12/28/09 to 1/1/10: The
Week of

In today's encore excerpt - in the chivalrous
twelfth century, relationships and sex, viewed as
dutiful and dispassionate under the Church, begin to
emerge as rapturous and transcendent. The new age
of courtly love sweeps through the courts of Europe
and engenders a new genre of songs and poems.
Aiding in this transformation are Eleanor of Aquitaine
(1122-1204) and the troubadors:

"The [new] game of courtly love is an elaborate
blueprint for the building of desire, as opposed to the
quenching of it. The higher it builds without fulfillment,
the more perfect a lover the knight proves himself to
be. ...

"Consummated or not, courtly love is by definition
adulterous. The knight who jousts on horseback,
sword in hand, competes against other knights for a
highly desirable lady. But they're not fighting for her
hand in marriage, or even for the privilege of courting
her. She already has a husband. Initially, at least,
they're not even fighting for the privilege of sleeping
with her. They're fighting for the privilege of loving
her - synonymous with serving her. ...

"In 1154, Henry, Duke of Normandy, captures the
English throne as Henry I, making his wife Eleanor [of
Aquitaine] a queen for the second time - and [through
her] bestowing upon the English court a resident
expert on the rules of the game. From there the ideal
of love ... will be converted into the middle-class ideal
of marriage: the melding of two minds, bodies, and
hearts into one. ... Eleanor and her kin would find it
next to unimaginable that the heady quality of adultery
would one day converge with the dutiful,
dispassionate quality of marriage as they experience

"Maybe that's what finally enables the convergence:
Love enters marriage through the extramarital back
door. As [Christian author] C.S. Lewis noted in his
study of courtly doctrine, Allegory of Love, 'Any
idealization of sexual love, in a society where marriage
is purely utilitarian, must begin by an idealization of
adultery.' ...

"What troubadors bring about is the reinvention of
love. They make its pursuit desirable, even admirable.
Previously, epic tales of sexual desire ended in
mutually assured destruction for all concerned. ...
[Now], to gamble all you have, even your life, on
romantic rapture becomes the route to
transcendence. The most memorable romantic lovers
of courtly literature - Tristan and Isolde, Lancelot and
Guinevere, Troilus and Cressida - meet tragic ends,
but noble ones. They martyr themselves for the glory
of the faith. The new religion of love is a wedge to the

Susan Squire, I Don't, Bloomsbury, Copyright
2008 by Susan Squire, pp. 151-159.


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