Ruling class of Western European feudal society completely formed its social class structure by the 11th-12th centuries. Chivalry was transformed into a kind of estate of military-feudal aristocracy realm with its unwritten regulations, customs and rules of conduct, ideals of honor and valor. A knight had to be courageous, fair, truthful and generous. He was obliged to defend the church, to deal with “infidels”, to be faithful to the suzerain, and to protect the weak and defenseless. These requirements for an ideal knight should have been an ideological justification of the estate-hierarchy principle of feudal society, “sanctifying” the right of a knight for a dominant position in society.
A significant role in the creation of this lofty ideal of knight belonged to the chivalric poetry of 12-13 centuries. Under the influence of chivalric poetry, chivalry started to culturally grow and revive. It retained its class nature with all its typical features; feudal wars and robberies were still its main occupations, and its life and customs retained their original rudeness and cruelty. However, at the same time, a moral and aesthetic ideal started to form in the highest circles of chivalry. A knight did not only have to be brave, loyal and generous; now he also had to be polite, elegant, and attractive in society, being able to be subtle and delicate. All this resulted in the concept of courtly love. Thus, this paper will discuss the courtly love and the origins of its embodiment.
Courtly love (or fine amor) is a medieval concept of love, according to which the relationship between the lover and his lady is similar to the relationship between a vassal and his lord. The concept has had a significant impact on the whole European culture until now. For the first time, the concept “courtly love” occurred at the end of the 11th century in the poetry of troubadours in the court of sovereign lords of Aquitaine and Provence.
In the Middle Ages, women occupied a very modest place in a social hierarchy. The religious fanaticism, accusing Eve that she brought Adam to sin, put women in unflattering terms. Various unpleasant qualities, such as variability, deceit, greed, hypocrisy, envy, cunning, and stupidity, were attributed to women. It was believed that their main (and only) right was to have children and engage into their education. Moreover, the medieval morality did not just permit, but encouraged husbands to regularly “educate” their wives by beating them as they were called a “house property”.
However, in such a quite dark background, the misty image of a mysterious Beautiful Lady appeared. This was the beginning of the 12th century. It was a wealthy shipping French province of Provence, where the attitude towards women was different from other areas. Troubadours have roamed the southern outskirts of France. They composed the songs about a beautiful woman with impeccable manners and the ability to carry on an interesting polite conversation. This way, the tradition of courtly love was born. It reflected the very different rules of relationship between a man and a woman.
The image of the medieval Beautiful Lady was more ephemeral and ethereal than real. It is not a coincidence that many researchers see its origins in the worship of the Virgin Mary, who embodies purity and chastity. Love towards a Beautiful Lady was rarely accompanied by desire of intimacy. It was limited to service and chanting. However, a lady still had to obtain certain features of nature and appearance. As a rule, it was a married woman of noble birth. Exactly marriage was considered as a barrier that had attached the features of tragedy and hopelessness to the worship of a knight. Accordingly, the lady chose not to seek the physical pleasure. Her main goal was to feel the charm of service while remaining inaccessible. At the same time, she had to be courteous with her admirer. The ability to entertain guests and knowledge of poetry were welcomed. The adoration of a Beautiful Lady was the custom of all estate, because each knighted man had to elect a “lady of the heart” and get her permission to serve her. The demonstration of the knight’s suffering he felt without getting any favors from his darling was considered as a good form. The Beautiful Lady was extremely attractive externally. Usually, she had a golden hair, a supple body, a bright sight, a gentle glow and a high forehead. Even if the knight never saw a lady of his heart, he imagined her just like that. The similar things happened quite often; for example, it was revealed by a known story of a troubadour, Jaufre Rudel. He fell in love with a princess of Tripoli despite the fact that he had not even seen her before.
The major impact on the composition of an ideal of courtly love had a Roman poet Ovid (I century). His poetic treatise The Art of Love has become a kind of encyclopedia of behavior for the knight being in love with his Beautiful Lady. Such a knight trembles for love; he does not sleep; he is pale; and he can die from the unrequited feeling of love. Perceptions of such a pattern of behavior have become more complex, expressing the Christian ideas about the cult of the Virgin Mary. In this case, the Beautiful Lady, the knight was serving to, became an image of spiritual love. The impact of the Arab mystical philosophy was significant. It has developed the concept of platonic feelings.
The emergence of courtly love practice in the territory of modern France dates back to the 11th century. A French historian, George Duby, connects this with the beginning of preachers’ efforts to develop the forms of distinctly female spirituality. Some researchers believe that the symbol of degeneration of courtly love is a medieval French poem “Romance of the Rose”, where only one step “from love to hate” reflects this degeneracy. Thus, the lower bound already occurred in the middle of the 13th century. This bound has been investigated by many historians. It is associated with the decline of chivalry and the beginning of capitalism in the early modern period. The reflection of this phenomenon can also be seen in the Victorian era and today. However, despite the feminist movement, the gallantry of a modern gentleman is relevant in the Western society up to the present day.
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Since then, some marriages among the nobility actually had little in common with the feeling of love. Courtly love was also the way for noble people to express feelings, which had not been found in their own marriages. “Love” in the context of courtly love is not related to sex. It is rather an act of emotional excitement. These loving relationships were based on short visits, which were held in secret. This helped to inspire lovers mentally and spiritually, but not physically. The rules of courtly love were fixed in the end of the 12th century due to the work De Amore written by Andreas Capellanus. This work lists the rules of courtly love. It is worth noting that many elements of the structure and its contents originated from a theoretical source of The Art of Love by Ovid.
Arab poets and their works in Al-Andalus expressed this unusual kind of love the same way, paying attention to its positive and negative aspects. Taking into account that the customs similar to courtly love have already been widespread in Al-Andalus and other countries of the Muslim world, it is very possible that Islamic customs influenced the actions of Christian representatives of European countries. William of Aquitaine, for example, participated in the First Crusade. Thus, it is logical that he could come in contact with the rich Muslim culture.
The origins of such concepts as “love for love’s sake” and “exaltation of the beloved lady” have been derived from the Arabic literature of the 9th and 10th centuries. The concept of the “noble power of love” was developed in the beginning of the eleventh century by an eminent Persian psychologist and philosopher Avicenna. The final concept reveals that “love as desire will never be achieved”. It is partly presented in the Arabic poetry. However, it was initially developed as a doctrine in the European literature, in which all four concepts of courtly love were present.
It should be noted that the roots of courtly love must be sought not in the Arabic literature, but rather in its philosophy and especially in the mystical philosophy of Avicenna. In A Treatise on Love, Avicenna attributes the positive role that facilitates the ascent of a soul to the divine love and union with deity to human love and the love of genders.
However, overcoming a traditional separation of scopes of animal and rational souls in a man, as well as division of the natural and spiritual love ensuing from it, Avicenna attributed the low-lying soul to the role of the partner with a rational soul. It is more than love for the external beauty or sexual love since it contributes to the achievement of divine. Associated with a rational soul, the animal soul finds nobility and virtue as a result of the alliance with the higher mental ability.
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Morality of human love depends on how much it contributes to the unity of a man with the absolute good. This is presented in the following words of Avicenna:
When something of intelligence is woven into enjoyable form of a man’s love, it can be considered as the approximation to nobleness and acquisition of kindness. For man longs for something that brings him closer to the effects of what is the First Source of influence and First Love object, making him look more like sublime and noble creatures. It inclines him to mercy, magnanimity and kindness.
It is apparent that out of the four elements of courtly love, only the ennobling power directly specified and explained by Avicenna, despite the idea of “love for love’s sake” as well as “the exaltation of the beloved lady”, could be found in the Arabic literature (but not in its philosophy) more than 200 years before the works of Avicenna. The idea of love as the unrealizable desire, from time to time put forward by poets, will never acquire the force of a doctrine. At the same time, this idea is an integral part in the presentation of desire as a driving force of self-purification and an ascent of the soul to the divine. The latter one was central to the Neoplatonic ethics. It seems natural to see an effect of secularization and longing for God in this extension of earthly love. This, according to Plotinus, initially exists in the soul as the need to rise through self-spiritualization to the continuous contemplation of the Only Being.
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Chivalrous culture has created a new narrow concept of courtly love. The influence of fine amor in society has been very fruitful, which resulted in a rapid expansion of its traditions. All chivalrous classes eventually became courteous. Courtly customs have become the norm. Those things, which were once glorified by poets as dangerous and almost unattainable exploits, have become a common requirement of good taste.
At the same time, female perspective on love is still unclear and hidden; it is much more profound mystery. Women love needs no sublimation to the level of romantic heroism because it is sublime in itself and in its nature, and there is no need to resort to the dreams of the courage and sacrifice. In the literature, female perspective on love is absent for the most part not only because the creators of this fiction were men, but also because the perception of love through literature is less necessary for women than for men.
The image of the noble knight who suffers for the sake of his beloved primarily represents pure male personification and the way in which he wants to see himself. He experiences the dream of himself as the liberator even more intensely if he acts incognito and is recognized only after the accomplishment of the feat. This mystery, no doubt, also hides a romantic motif caused by women’s perceptions of love.