THE TROUBADOUR POETRY OF SOUTHERN FRANCE IN THE 12TH CENTURY
and
THE NEW STYLE -- Florence, Italy; 13th century -- DANTE'S VITA NUOVA

Part I: The Troubadours of Southern France: from the 12th into 13th centuries

        The 1000ís = the 11th century -- key image: MONT SAINT MICHEL with warrior angel on spire.
                In the 11th century, feudalism stressed loyalty and service to one's king and lord.
                Basically, it was a code of male, warrior honor.

The 1100ís = the 12th century -- key image: CHARTRES CATHEDRAL dedicated to Mary, Notre Dame.
                    Also crusades, chivalry (Arthurian material), plus courtly love arise.

In the12th century, a mysterious reversal happens. The troubadours made a
virtue of THE LOVE OF A WOMAN elevating the Lady to a position superior to men
and making her the font of all good. Two key elements: "the adoration of women" and
"the ennoblement of man through love." (Valency, In Praise of Love, p. 37)
The 1200ís = the 13th century -- key image: UNIVERSITIES and PARLIAMENTS

        Also , in 13th century, a cruel crusade against the Cathars in the south of France, followed by the
        founding of the Inquisition which finished what was left of the rich, tolerant culure of Provence.

        Alexander Denomy (The Heresy of Courtly Love, p.20) writes as follows:

            "The novelty of courtly love lies in three basic elements:
                first, in the ennobling of human love [directed to a woman: JGS]
                second, in the elevation of the beloved to a place of superiority above the lover;
                third, in the conception of love as ever unsatiated, ever increasing desire."

Several things make this doctrine of romantic or courtly love at odds with orthodox Roman Catholic teaching:

1. Courtly love saw passion as a good and source of good.          [The Church did not.]
2. Courtly love was seen as more noble than marriage and it was
        directed to a woman other than one's wife.                             [The Church "strongly disagreed."]
3. Courtly love was not to be consummated [or, if it was consummated, the
        physical union would have to be seen in a very different manner: JGS]
                                                                                                        [Again, the Church disapproved.]
Here was a love both sensual and spiritual. Its stages would later be written about as four:

    (i) the giving of hope,
            (ii) the kiss,
                (iii) the embrace, and (iv) the yielding of the  whole person.
     However, to demand this last step was to love only for the sake of such
     a reward; it was also to stop the energy of devotion/service etc.

Here is what the troubadour, Guillem Montanhagol of Toulouse wrote:

       "Truly, lovers must serve love with all their hearts, for love is not sin but a virtue which makes the wicked good and the good better, and puts a man in the way of doing good every day; and out of love comes charity, for whoever truly gives his mind to love cannot thereafter do evil." (See Valency, p. 183)

Another troubadour, N'At de Mons, wrote: "True lovers know that through love the haughty become humble and the base are ennobled and the lazy become skilled and the simple, wise." (Valency, p. 178)

Bernard of Ventadour (c. 1150) wrote: "By nothing is man made so worthy as by love and the courting of women, for thence arise `delight' and song and all that pertains to excellence. No man is of value without love." (quoted in Denomy, see above)

Valency notes that "the true lover offered himself to the lady in a fourfold capacity -- as her lover, her vassal [agent of her will], her champion [protector of her reputation, heralder of her fame], and her poet." (p. 169) Another way to put love's tasks is to speak of "servir" (to serve), "onrar" (to honor), "celar" (to keep secret), and "sofrir" (to suffer for love). Such was the code of "cortezia" or "fin 'amor" -- of courtesy and faithful, refined love.

The slow operation of the flame of love brought refinement; measure was a key quality of the gentle heart; secrecy was enjoined.

At times, the troubadours distinguished three types of love:

PURE LOVE -- true, excellent love -- the union of hearts and minds of lovers -- which
    yearns for and at times is rewarded by every delight except physical possession.

MIXED LOVE -- the love of physical possession. Good insofar as it can begins with
    pure love (union of hearts and minds of lovers); not so good in that it ends in physical
    union. Danger: it will weaken desire and remember: desire is productive of all good.

FALSE LOVE -- evil and impure, founded on sensuality for its own sake, faithless,
    promiscuous and mercenary -- reduces man to level of beast -- counterfeit of true love
    -- source of evil practiced by the wanton, the criminal, the debauched. (See Denomy,
        p. 26)

************************************************************************************************************************
Part II: The Stilnovisti [New Style] in 13th century Italy, esp. the young Dante

        The gentle heart and intelligence develop through love of beauty; there are special aptitudes needed to perceive this beauty. Valency writes: "In the poetry of the dolce stil, everything is vast in scale and of extraordinary intensity." (p.236) Certainly by the time we reach Dante, the lady, while always remaining herself, becomes also her city, a guide from darkness to light, the universe, and a bearer of God. She becomes a "reality symbol," I would say, and her multi-leveled meaning becomes clearer in the Commedia.

        "Guinizelli had used the idea of the angelic lady as a similitude: the lady resembled an angel. Cavalcanti proposed it as an authentic intuition: the lady whose radiance made one think of a star was in fact a star. [that is, an angel, a radiant spirit, a God-bearing presence: JGS] .... SHE IS AN ANGEL, therefore the lover can follow her to the throne of God. .... The protagonist of the troubadour song was a knight in love with a lady. The protagonist of the stilnovist song was a young scholar in love with a star." (see Valency pp. 247-249)
*************************************************************************************************************************

New Love and the gentle heart are the same thing
just as the wise man set down in his poems.
And the one without the other could no more exist.
than the thoughtful soul if thought did not.
Nature made them both one day when amorous,
New Love as Lord, and the heart as his great seat;
inside that house New Love lies there sleeping
perhaps a month or two, perhaps for years --
Then it is beauty in a savvy woman that appears,
and beauty pleases his eye so much that deep inside
a desire is born toward this desirable thing.
And sometimes the desire remains alive in him
so long that it makes the spirit of New Love wake up.
A generous man has the same effect upon a woman.


                                                                                                                                Dante --  Trans. Robert Bly

                                [This is an alternate translation of poem on p. 59 your copy of Vita Nuova]
***********************************************************************************************
                                                    Return to Dante Enrichment Page

                                                   Return to Dante Menu Page

                                                  Return to John G. Sullivan Homepage