De amore (Andreas Capellanus)

Andreas Capellanus was the twelfth century author of a treatise commonly entitled De amore ("About Love"), also known as De arte honeste amandi, for which a possible English translation is The Art of Courtly Love (though the book's realistic, somewhat cynical tone suggests that it is in some measure an antidote to courtly love). His real identity has never been determined, but has been a matter of extended academic debate. Andreas Capellanus is sometimes known by a French translation of his name, André le Chapelain. His work may have been inspired by an earlier work on love Tawq al-hamamah (The turtle-dove's necklace) by the Muslim philosopher Ibn Hazm.

His work

De Amore was written some time between 1186 and 1190. It was most likely written for the French court of Philip Augustus. Earlier scholars believed that it had been written at the request of Marie de Champagne, daughter of King Louis VII of France and of Eleanor of Aquitaine, but that was disproven by the linguistic historian John Benton in the 1960s. A dismissive allusion in the text to the "wealth of Hungary" has suggested the hypothesis that it was written after 1184, at the time when Bela III of Hungary had sent to the French court a statement of his income and had proposed marriage to Marie's sister Marguerite of France, but before 1186, when his proposal was accepted.

John Jay Parry, the editor of De Amore, has described it as "one of those capital works which reflect the thought of a great epoch, which explains the secret of a civilization". It may be viewed as didactic, mocking, or merely descriptive; in any event it preserves the attitudes and practices that were the foundation of a long and significant tradition in Western literature. An earlier translation by E. Trojel is a much more accurate rendering of the medieval Latin, but is not readily accessible.

The social system of "courtly love", as gradually elaborated by the Provençal troubadours from the mid twelfth-century, soon spread. It is often associated with Eleanor of Aquitaine (herself the granddaughter of an early troubadour poet, William IX of Aquitaine), but this is pure conjecture. It has been claimed that De Amore codifies the social and sexual life of Eleanor's court at Poitiers between 1169 and 1174 because the author mentions both Eleanor and her daughter Marie by name; but there is no evidence that Marie ever saw her mother again after Eleanor's divorce from Louis VII in 1152.

Outline of De Amore

It deals with several specific themes that were the subject of poetical debate among late twelfth century troubadours and trobairitz. The basic conception of Capellanus is that courtly love ennobles both the lover and the beloved, provided that certain codes of behaviour are respected. Interestingly, De amore describes the affection between spouses as an unrelated emotion, stating that "true love can have no place between husband and wife", although they may feel even "immoderate affection" for one another. Rather, the most ennoblinng love is generally secret (i.e., not public), extremely difficult to obtain and unconsummated, serving as a means for inspiring men to great deeds.

After an introductory analysis of "What love is" (Parry, pp. 28-36), Book One of De Amore sets out a series of nine imaginary dialogues (pp. 36-141) between men and women of different social classes, from bourgeoisie to royalty. In each dialogue the man is pleading inconclusively to be accepted as the woman's lover, and in each he finds some small reason for optimism. The dialogs are delightful compositions, with many well-crafted, albeit medieval, arguments by both the ardent suitor and the skeptical lady; typically, the older man asks to be rewarded for his accomplishments whereas the young men or men of lower birth ask to be given inspiration so that they might accomplish something. These dialogues are followed by short discussions of love with priests, with nuns, for money, with peasant women, and with prostitutes (pp. 141-150).

Book Two takes love as established, and begins with a discussion of how love is maintained and how and why it comes to an end (pp. 151-167). Following this comes a series of thirty-one "judgements of love" (pp. 167-177), said to have been pronounced in contentious cases by great ladies. Among these, three judgements are attributed to "Queen Eleanor" and another four simply to "the Queen", seven to Eleanor's daughter Marie of Troyes ("the Countess of Champagne"), two to Eleanor's niece Isabelle of Vermandois ("the Countess of Flanders", daughter of Petronilla), one to "a court of ladies in Gascony", and five to Viscountess Ermengarde of Narbonne, who is thus singled out as the only patron of a "Court of Love" not belonging to the immediate family of Eleanor of Aquitaine. However, it has been suggested that "the Queen" is not Eleanor but Adèle of Champagne, Eleanor's successor as wife of Louis VII and Queen of France. Book Two concludes (pp. 177-186) by setting out "The Rules of Love".

Book Three, the briefest (pp. 187-212), is entitled "The Rejection of Love". This book seeks to remedy the natural affection of men for women, by painting all women as disgusting as possible in so few words. For example, women are described as being completely untrustworthy ("everything a women says is said with the intention of deceiving"), insanely greedly and willing to do anything for food, weak-minded and easily swayed by false reasoning, "slanderers filled with envy and hate", drunkards, loud-mouthed and gossipy, unfaithful in love, disobedient, vain and tortured by envy of all other women's beauty, "even her daughter's". The historical example of Eve is cited at several points as evidence.


De Amore gives a listing of the stages of love which resembles in some ways the modern baseball euphemism:

"Throughout all the ages, there have been only four degrees [gradus] in love:
"The first consists in arousing hope;
"The second in offering kisses;
"The third in the enjoyment of intimate embraces;
"The fourth in the abandonment of the entire person."

Courtly love is reserved for the middle and upper classes in De Amore. Attractive farm-girls (i.e., peasant girls) are to be shunned or raped:

If you should, by some chance, fall in love with a peasant woman, be careful to puff her up with lots of praise and then, when you find a convenient opportunity, do not hold back but take your pleasure and embrace her by force. For you can hardly soften their outward inflexibility so far that they will grant you their embraces quietly or permit you to have the solaces you desire unless you first use a little compulsion as a convenient cure for their shyness. We do not say these things, however, because we want to persuade you to love such women, but only so that, if through lack of caution you should be driven to love them, you may know, in brief compass, what to do. (Parry, p. 150, adapted).

In a similar vein, Andreas Capellanus describes nuns as easy to seduce, although he condemns anyone who does so as a "disgusting animal".



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