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Eleanor of Aquitaine

Eleanor of Aquitaine

Trouvères and Troubadors

I was hoping to discuss Richard de Fournival’s Bestiaire d’amour FR (1201- ?1260) a medieval philosopher and trouvère (Northern French: langue d’oïl).  Trouvères (from trouveur: finder) were Northern France‘s counterparts for troubadours, who spoke in langue d’oc, from old Occitane French.  The trouvères and troubadours composed and sang songs associated with chivalry and the code of conduct of Knights, surprisingly consistent with the rules of courtly love.  They traveled from court to court but disappeared at the time the Black Death, but not necessarily because of the plague.

Geoffrey Chaucer

Although I will attempt to show a few illuminations from the Bestiaire d’amour, images are difficult to find.  Moreover, having reread the text, I believe we need a broader starting-point.  Richard de Fournival wrote a Bestiary, but it is a bestiary of love, courtly love.  Moreover, Master Richard’s Bestiary is allegorical as is the Roman de la Rose.  Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343 – 25 October 1400) who transformed Saint Valentine’s Day into the romantic feast it has become, translated part the Roman de la Rose as the Romaunt of the Rose and included his translation in his Legend of Good Women, a poem.

Two sources: Ovid and the “Song of Songs”

Courtly love is not a European institution.  It has deep roots, two of which are texts by Roman writer Ovid, best known for his Metamorphoses, as well as the Song of Songs, a book of the Old Testament also known in English as the Canticle of Canticles, written circa 900 BCE.

Courtly Love: Roman Antiquity

It would be difficult to trace the origins of courtly love.  I should think it constitutes a permanent feature of love, but a feature that finds pinnacles at certain points in history.  For instance, Roman poet Ovid, Publius Ovidius Naso (43 BCE – 18 CE), known mainly for his Metamorphoses, wrote:

The very title of Remedia Amoris suggests that once the lover is wounded by Cupid‘s arrow, he is possessed by love.  Love is viewed as a disease.  Such is the case with Tristan and Yseult (or Yseut, Iseult, Isolde…).  Tristan has to take Iseult to Cornwall where she will marry his uncle Mark.  As they are sailing from Ireland to Cornwall, she and Tristan mistakenly drink the love potion Yseult was to drink with Mark on their wedding night. Tristan and Yseult are now inescapably “in love” (l’amour fatal).  Yseult marries Mark, but on their wedding night, her maid, a virgin, sleeps with Mark.  As for Yseult, she spends the night with Tristan and sneaks back to her husband’s room in the morning.

The Celtic legend of Tristan and Yseult (EN) Tristan et Iseut (FR), was written in France, in a Norman language, by 12th-century Norman poet Béroul, and in Old French, by 12th-century British poet Thomas of Britain.  The story of Tristan and Yseult has exerted considerable influence on Western art.  Among other works, it inspired:

The Matter of Britain and the Matter of France: Mythologies 

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (1136) is a pseudohistorical account of British history, called the Matter of Britain, of which there remains 250 manuscripts.  It could be defined as a mythology evoking a Golden Age.  The Matter of France, featuring Charlemagne is also a mythology.  Its main poem, an epic poem, is La Chanson de Roland (FR) or Song of Roland (EN).

However, the quest of chivalric epic poems is a quest for the Holy Grail.  As for courtly love, its Holy Grail is the heart of a woman who has not swallowed a magical love potion and whose love her suitor must earn by following rules of conduct, as in chivalry.

(Please click on image to enlarge it.)


Although it has deeper roots, fin’amor is an art of love developed in Aquitaine, Provence, Champagne and ducal BurgundyEleanor of Aquitaine (1122 or 1124 – 1 April 1204) is said to have brought the ethics of courtly love from Aquitaine to the Court of France.  She had first married Louis VII, king of France, but the marriage was annulled after the birth of their second daughter Alix de France

Aubrey Beardsley: Isolde, Jugendstil illustration in Pan, Berlin, 1899-1900

Fin’Amor’s Code

Courtly love was codified by Andreas Capellanus in his book entitled De amore, written in 1185 at the request of Marie de Champagne, Aleanor of Aquitaine’s first daughter, by Louis VII.  De amore has affinities with the Carte de Tendre, a French seventeenth-century allegorical map of love.  However, courtly love’s masterpiece is the Roman de la Rose.

My next post will therefore deal with the Roman de la Rose which we will examine using the Roman de la Rose Digital Library, a project of Johns Hopkins University, and La Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF).

László Czidra, Camerata Hungarica & Ars Renata

romandelarose-1© Micheline Walker
6 March 2013