Origins of the Courtly Love Tradition

Courtly love 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 in 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. They were attributed by variability, deceit, greed, hypocrisy, envy, cunning, stupidity and other unpleasant qualities. 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 regularly educate their wives by beating them as they were called a house property (Swabey 76).

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However, in such a quite dark background, the misty image of a mysterious Beautiful Lady has 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. Thus, this way, the tradition of courtly love was born. It reflected the very different rules of relationships between a man and a woman (Swabey 79).

The image of the medieval Beautiful Lady was more ephemeral and ethereal than real. No coincidence that many researchers see its origins in the worship to the Virgin Mary, which embodies purity and chastity. The love towards a Beautiful Lady was rarely accompanied by desire to intimacy. It was limited to service and chanting. However, a lady still had to obtain with certain features of nature and appearance, (ONeil 60). As a rule, it is the woman of a noble birth and married. 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 welcome (ONeil 62). The adoration to 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 suffering what he feels without getting any favors from his darling was considered as a good form. The Beautiful Lady was extremely attractive externally. Usually, she had golden hair, a supple body, 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, 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 (ONeil 65).

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 with 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 (Swabey 108).

The emergence of practice for courtly love starts from the 11th century on territory of modern France. A French historian, George Duby, connects this with the beginning of preachers efforts in the development of the forms of distinctly female spirituality (1200). 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 (Schultz 111). Thus, the lower bound is already in the middle of the 13th century. This bound has been moved on by many historians. It is associated with the decline of chivalry and the beginning of capitalism in the early modern period. Although, the reflection of this phenomenon can also be seen in the Victorian era and today, but despite the feminist movement, the gallantry of a modern gentleman is relevant in the Western society to the present day (Schultz 113).

 
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Since that date, 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 love, 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 improve 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 much of the structure and its contents have a theoretical source of The Art of Love by Ovid (Monson 54).

Arab poets and their works of Al-Andalus expressed the same way this unusual kind of love, 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 only logical that he could come into the contact with the rich Muslim culture (Wollock 131).

The concepts of love for loves sake and exaltation of the beloved lady have their origin 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 Ibn Sina (Wollock 134). The final concept is the concept of love as desire will never be achieved. It is partly presented in the Arabic poetry. However, it had been initially developed as a doctrine in the European literature, in which all four concepts of courtly love were present (Wollock 137).

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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 Ibn Sina. In A Treatise on Love, Ibn Sina attributes to human love and the love of genders, the positive role that facilitates the ascent of a soul to the divine love and union with deity.

However, overcoming a traditional separation of scopes of animal and rational souls in a man and ensuing from it division of the natural and spiritual love, Ibn Sina attributed the low-lying soul to the role of the partner with a rational soul. It is more than the love for the external beauty or sexual love contributing 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 (Monson 95).

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 Ibn Sina:

When something of intelligence is woven into enjoyable form of a mans 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. (Schultz 157)

It is clear that of the four elements of courtly love only the ennobling power directly specified and explained by Ibn Sina, despite the idea of love for loves 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 Ibn Sina (Schultz 172). 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, the same 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 is, according to Plotinus, initially exists in the soul as the need to rise through self-spiritualization to the continuous contemplation of the Only Being (Schultz 177).

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