September 29, 2022

#08-244: Courtly Love

A lady giving a favor to a knight about to do battle

Note: Every society has rules that people of various classes are supposed to live by. In Medieval Europe, the nobles were to abide by, among other things, the Rules of Courtly Love.

Get Ready: What are the rules you follow for the relationship between men and women (or men and men, or women and women)?

Courtly love is a concept often found in medieval European literature. Originally seen only in poems written in southern France around the year 1200, the idea eventually spread into the general culture of the elite and became a standard for chivalrous behavior.

"True love" would draw the lover away from sexual love and toward spiritual love. It often involved loving someone who was somehow "forbidden" (for example, married to another) and who could therefore be loved "purely," without sex (and sometimes without even knowing the beloved!)

The poets most associated with the early days of courtly love were called "troubadours," musicians and poets who wrote of knights and their behavior. The late 12th-century author Andreas Capellanus ("Andrew the Chaplain") wrote a book known as De amore (About Love) in which he set out 31 rules for courtly love.

Some of these rules are still widely believed today, and considered mentally healthy. Thus #3 says "No one can be bound by a double love"--that is, a lover should love only one person. Likewise, #11 says we should only love someone we would be proud to marry.

On the other hand, #13 says "When made public, love rarely endures." This is the idea of the "secret love." It's all very exciting, but then how could secret lovers ever marry?

Other rules are more troubling. The very first one tells us "Marriage is no real excuse for not loving." This can mean that we shouldn't fall out of love once we're married; but it can also be that we are free to love someone, even if she or he is already married to someone else!

Other disturbing rules: #2 requires jealousy ("He who is not jealous cannot love"); #20 says that a lover should "always [be] apprehensive"; and, contradicting #3, we find in #21 that a woman may be loved by two men, or a man by two women!

Other rules have become clichés of romantic behavior:

  • love that is easily attained is of little value, but love that is difficult to get is "prized" (#14);
  • the lover should turn pale in the presence of his beloved (#15); and
  • his heart should palpitate upon seeing her (#16).

But my favorite is #18: "Good character alone makes any man (or woman!) worthy of love."


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. apprehensive
  2. chivalrous
  3. cliches
  4. contradicting
  5. courtly
  6. forbidden
  7. jealousy
  8. likewise
  9. palpitate
  10. prized

  1. for the nobility; polite
  2. saying the opposite of
  3. worn-out words, phrases, or ideas
  4. not allowed
  5. valued; honored
  6. having courage, courtesy, and loyalty
  7. beat fast
  8. in the same way
  9. suspicion of unfaithfulness
  10. nervous; worried

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for September 29, 2022

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. j; 2. f; 3. c; 4. b; 5. a; 6. d; 7. i; 8. h; 9. g; 10. e