Troubadours& The Beloved:
The Religion of
Love / Amor
Troubadours & The Beloved: Fin' amor ("Courtly Love"); the Troubadour devotees of "The Religion of Love/Amor" (or the Fedeli d'Amore) in Andalusia, Occitania (South of France), and Italy, the "Twelfth-century Renaissance," the "Rebirth of Eros" in Western culture, and the Beloved as "Rose-Woman."
"The subject tonight is love, and for tomorrow night as well. As a matter of fact, I know of no better topic for us to discuss until we die." -Hafiz
The Beloved of the Troubadours
The persistent question about the troubadours is the identity of their "Beloved."
Who is the "Beloved"?
Is she a flesh-and-blood woman? Or, is she some sort of idealized love; a muse, an anima archetype, an angel?
Or, is it more complicated than this? Reflecting on the wonderful, hermetic ambiguity of the poetry of the Troubadours (in the trobar clus style), could she be both; an angel in human form?
Again, because of the great ambiguity as to the ontological status of the object of desire in the poems/songs of the troubadours, it must be asked: Who is the "Beloved"? What is the secret identity of the Beloved? Is she a flesh-and-blood woman, or some sort of idealized love; a muse, an anima archetype, an angel?
"Kiss of the Muse" (Cezanne)
"Kiss of the Muse"
"Kiss of the Muse" (Grey)
The Divine Sophia Aeterna
The Divine Sophia Aeterna
The Divine Sophia Aeterna
The Divine Sophia Aeterna
The Mystic Sophia
The mystical "Beloved" of the troubadours, who was called "The Lady of Thoughts" and who was later called "Madonna Intelligenza" by their successors in Dante's Italian school poetry (Dolce Stil Novo), was none other than the (spiritual) angelic part of man--his true self. Therefore, to the question of precisely who the real "Beloved" is, the answer that comes from the poet-lovers of the troubadour "Religion of Love" and the later cult of the Fedeli d’amore is that she is ultimately some kind of knowledge-bestowing angel of high degree in human form. She was "Sophia aeterna" (the "eternal feminine," or the "mystic Sophia" of divine wisdom) "She’s an angel," who appears (out of the Imagination's "theophanic vision") with "such sweetness" as to carry her lover away in mystic rapture. "She’s an angel, she’s an angel."
"You may call my love Sophia, but I call my love Philosophy.
Didn't I come to bring you a sense of wonder
Didn't I come to lift your fiery vision
Didn't I come to bring you a sense of wonder in the flame?"
~Van Morrison, 'Sense of Wonder'
"You can't stop us on the road to freedom
You can't keep us 'cause our eyes can see
Men with insight, men in granite
Knights in armor bent on chivalry.
She's as sweet as Tupelo honey
She's an angel of the first degree--
She's an angel, she's an angel ...."
~Van Morrison, 'Tupelo Honey'
"I woke up to the angels
They're singin' in my head
You look so good naked next to me
An angel in my bed."
~Dave Matthews, 'Stand Up (For It)'
Sophia as Gnosis
Sophia as Wisdom
The Mystic Sophia
Sophia, as the personification of Wisdom, is known by various names: "Divine Wisdom," "Sophia Aeterna," "Gnostic Sophia," and "Mystic Sophia." In the Christian tradition she was conceived of as the "Holy Spirit." She also embodies the ideal of the "Divine Feminine," or the feminine aspect of God. For blog post about the history of Sophia, from the pagan Greek tradition, to Christian and Christian-Gnostic religion, to the modern neopagan Wiccan spirituality, click on link.
For blog post , "How Eliza Gilkyson's 'Emmanuelle' is Sophia, Divine Wisdom," click on link.
Again, who is this "Beloved" that the troubadour pours his heart out to when he sings of love’s constant sorrows and rare blissful joys?
Thus, because of the troubadours' "very ambiguous rhetoric," the question has been posed by one scholar of this tradition in the following way: "a situation arises in which we are never sure whether the yearning is addressed to a real human being or to the phantom of an anima.”
The same kind of question that has been asked regarding the twelfth-century troubadour love song has been asked again in regard to the nineteen-sixties love song. Thus, with today's post-sixties troubadours a tantalizing ambiguity once again presents itself, making the listener wonder:
To whom is the unnamed "you" in the love-song actually referring; who is the real object of the poet-singer's great longing, great complaint about, unrequited love, or great joy in a love fulfilled?
A variation on this troubadour ambiguity over exactly who is being addressed in the song is when you are never quite sure whether a contemporary troubadour is addressing a lover, or God.
She stands before you naked
You can see it, you can taste it,
And she comes to you light as the breeze.
Now you can drink it or you can nurse it,
It don't matter how you worship
As long as you're
Down on your knees …
And she says, drink deeply, pilgrim
But don't forget there's still a woman
So I knelt there at the delta,
At the alpha and the omega,
I knelt there like one who believes.
And the blessings come from heaven
And for something like a second
I'm cured and my heart
Is at ease
'Light As The Breeze'
Tell me again …
Try me again
When the angels are panting
And scratching at the door to come in…
Tell me again
Tell me over and over
Tell me that you need me then
Tell me again
Tell me over and over
Tell me that you love me then
The Troubadour "Rose-Woman":
The Symbolic Rose
"Glory to women! They entwine and weave heavenly roses in our earthly life." ~Friedrich Schiller
Aphrodite & Eros
Aphrodite & Eros
"The Symbolic Rose" of High Romance
“As the anagrammatical connection between the ‘queen of flowers,’ the rose, and the ancient ‘god of love,’ Eros, indicates, there is a rose in eros, and an eros in the rose. This connection is more than that of words; it is one that goes back—way, way back—to the origins of Western history. But the rose-flower's commonality today—used as an expression of sentimental love on greeting cards—hides a long, ancient history as a profound esoteric symbol of the highest aspirations of the human quest. Among literary flowers (like the narcissus, hyacinth, and fleur-de-lis), it reigns supreme. In fact, the poet Dante, in his masterwork, the Divine Comedy, made the white rose the very mandala of the Christian heaven. Most literary people today are aware of this celestial rose. Yet, unfortunately, few seem to know that this transcendent element that attached to the rose was actually a further elaboration of a preoccupation for symbolic flowers that long pre-dated Christian iconography.
It is, in fact, almost impossible to imagine an entity more evocative than the rose. Not only do its roots extend at least to the beginnings of recorded time, but its petals embrace the deepest positive values ever held by man. For example, the rose that culminates Dante’s Divine Comedy embraces Mary, Paradise, grace, and Divine Love, and at the same time reconciles the spiritual concepts with the hitherto opposing concept of terrestrial courtly love.
Romantic writers, pursuing a more personal but equally in tangible vision, have employed the rose as the only possible means of suggesting their transcended ecstasy and longing…. Accordingly, the eras most favorable to symbolism have been the Catholic Middle Ages and the Romantic nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The quest for a rose that could, like Isaiah's, redeem a wasteland has led some contemporaries back to the literature to the Middle Ages and even beyond them to pre-Christian times.
…. many writers have discovered in the fertile rose the wellsprings of the life instinct itself.
Capable of bearing a vast range of meanings, the flower has symbolized man's happiest dreams for countless centuries. As a creation of beauty appearing in spring, it has been associated with love and woman, concepts which have in turn been transposed to their religious equivalents, divine love and female fertility deities or Christ and the Virgin. The associations with woman and female deities, reinforced by the flowers annual appearance after the barren in winter season, have led to further associations of the rose with the ideas of motherhood and mother nature…. But even more closely allied to mother are the ideas of birth and rebirth, both of which have been symbolized by the rose, together with the joys of time or eternity to which the awakening soul has been born. Considered together, these associations with love, beauty, life, joy, creation, and eternity have made the rose relevant to all human ideals, whether the ideals be worldly or religious, personal or universal.
For the roses a part of what Jung calls the mandala, a symbolic design recurrent in myths and dreams, which has among its basic constituents a circle and a center.
The symbol of a rose or rose-shaped flower vitalized by and omnipotent sun, which was later to culminate in Dante’s Comedy, was central among the earliest organized attempts of man to comprehend the universe around him. This ancient integration of sun and flower was intended to symbolize simultaneously the sexual union of male and female creative forces, the physical fertility of all natural things, and the spiritual attainment of ultimate harmony.
As such, Isis was the personification of universal nature mother of all living things, so that her flower represented the female generative principle in the world at large. Beyond this, the goddess and her symbol developed certain moral connotations in keeping with her generative role. The rose came to symbolize the power of love as it operated in the human heart…. But Isis was not the only deity flourishing in the early years of Christianity who had a rose for her particular flower. Aphrodite or Venus, also to be reckoned with, is also associated with the rose…. Aphrodite, of all pagan goddesses, bore the rose which has most directly affected the history of Western literary blossoms….Her rose pervaded the life of the people in customs celebrating love. A Latin poet equates her with the fertility of the earth and uses the unfolding rose to symbolize her generative powers. ‘A glossy freshness hence the rose receives, / And blushes sweet through all her silken leaves’…. More important, it is as a simple token of human love that Aphrodite’s rose as most deeply impressed literature. For although the limited goddess held a limited flower, it was one so extravagantly popular with poets that few later roses have been unaffected by it….
Aphrodite's son Eros adopted her roses, as did her companions, the three lovely Graces. As early as the sixth century B.C., Anacreon had written of an Eros crowned with roses and sleeping in rose beds …. Associations with the Muses, also to be found in Anacreon and Sappho, may again have been the indirect result of the roses’s relation to Aphrodite ….
Persephone, the harbinger of spring, had gathered roses among other early flowers in the ancient Homeric Hymn to Demeter. And Dionysus, god of wine—and therefore, like love, an inspiration to song—had come close to rivaling Aphrodite as possessor of a widely popular rose.
It blossoms in classical lyrics from the time of Anacreon, whose flower exhales ‘Sweet incense to mortals from Bacchanal wreaths,’ through and beyond exhortations like Martial’s: ‘In thy dark wine-cup mingle summer snows, / And wreathe thy temples with the blushing rose.’ Most important of all, because wine betokened ecstasy, Dionysus' rose was linked with Aphrodite's as the flower of compound joy that encompassed wine, love, beauty, song, spring, and youth….
Moreover, the decorative flowers Elysium where to reappear in early Christian writings as ornaments of Eden and of the heavenly Paradise, concepts that in turn would gain symbolic qualities in the religious writings of succeeding centuries. For however far the symbolic roses of the Christian era might travel from the metaphors of classical times, they would never quite escape their distant pagan roots in beauty, love, spring, joy, festivity, and the afterlife.
Roses were the ‘queen of the flowers’ that made up the original heaven—the pagan Elysium—and were later transplanted into the Christian Garden of Eden and Paradise of the Blessed. With the coming of Christianity and its condemnation of pagan delight in earthly beauties for their own sake, seeing in this a perversion of the power of Christian love, the pagan ‘queen of flowers,’ longtime symbol of love (eros) in a natural, ensouled cosmos, was sublimated to the exclusive, anti-erotic, spiritual love (agape). Thus the rose, along with its goddess, experienced a complete reversal of pagan values and was sublimated to a de-sexualized heaven.
All of which is not to say that the classical poets originated anything new to the rose. It is clear that their flower itself was derived from a plant rooted deep in the primitive mind, and that in fact in their lyrical art it had lost a great part of its original meaning. For the roses cosmic origins in fundamental, primitive explanations of the universe had been greatly diminished in the customs and lyrics an entirely civilized people. For modern writers who wish to discover primitive, unconscious, or historical origins must inevitably return to those origins from the perspective of a Christian era.... But both primitive roots and classical blossoms have come down to us filtered through the Christian centuries.... For the pagan rose had achieved such popularity that it had to be taken account of and adapted to Christian purposes by the early Church. Certainly most of its meanings on the planes of earth and heaven had already existed long before the Christian era."
~"The Troubadours & The Beloved" (Essay-with-Soundtrack, 4/8/19)
"The Symbolic Rose" of High Romance : The "Rose-Woman"
Troubadours were especially amorous about roses, using them as metaphors for their Lady in poetry/song. Again, the pagan rose had, by the medieval period, been sublimated to the Holy Virgin Mary, and so at a time when sexual love was considered by the Church at odds with religious devotion, pagan roses still bloomed in the imaginations of the troubadours. They secularized the rose in their creations, retaining the popularity they had enjoyed in pagan times as flowers of the spring rebirth and earthly love. The "symbolic rose" became the poet's beloved: “Flower of all maidens, / My love, / Rose o'er all roses / Above," sang one troubadour.
By the thirteenth century, the greatest apotheosis of the rose occurred with the poem the Romance Of The Rose, which allegorically exemplified the new secular hybrid of rose-woman ("Rosebud") in love literature.( Because of its alchemical metaphors, the Roman was interpreted both as a quest for the "Beloved" and allegorically as a quest for the "Philosopher's Stone.") And, later still, Dante picks this red rose to represent his Lady, Beatrice, and transforms it into the "heavenly white rose" at the end of the Divine Comedy. Be that as it may, it has been observed that Dante's (troubadour enthusiast that he was) heavenly white rose was nevertheless "tinged with red"—the red rose of high romance. It has been said that the rose of the Romance of the Rose surpassed all other secular flowers of that time. Thus, in the Roman, the lovers, after meeting in the "Garden of Love," pledged themselves, by the “code of love,” to secrecy and to remain faithful despite all obstacles. One scholar of this romance tradition tells us “dreams are works which impart knowledge, doctrine, and truth.” In fact, one could say that the entire mythopoetic romance tradition represents a “dream where the contents are visible / where the poetic champions compose,” and where the poet-lover beseeches his Lady: “Will you breathe not a word of this secrecy? / Will you be my special Rose?” (Van Morrison)
Since then, the rose has been a frequent and pervasive symbol in world poetry from "la rosa sempiterna" of Dante, to Yeats' "Rosa Alchemica," and to Eliot's "burnt roses" in "Little Gidding." Indeed, as the rose novelist, Umberto Eco, noted: "the rose is a symbolic figure so rich in meaning that by now it hardly has any meaning left: Dante's mystic rose, and go lovely rose, the Wars of the Roses, rose thou art sick, too many rings around Rosie, a rose by any other name, a rose is a rose is a rose, the Rosicrucians." ("Reflections on the Name of the Rose")
Poet at Fountain of Narcissus
in Romance of the Rose
God of Love (Eros) locking the lover's heart in Roman de la Rose
Lovers at Fountain of Narcissus
in Romance of the Rose (Rossetti)
Romance of the Rose (Rossetti)
Garden of Love in Roman of the Rose
Garden of Love in Roman of the Rose
Garden of Love in Romance of the Rose
Worthy of love is she, and fit,
Before all other maids I swear,
The fragrant name of the Rose to bear.
~Romance of the Rose
Flower of all maidens
Rose o'er all roses
~Wandering Scholar (Vagante)
Dance of Sir Mirth & Lady Gladness in Roman of the Rose
Fresh is her color as a rose in May
Her hair, red gold, pleases in every way,
Softer and sweeter than a man can say.
Oh, no man knows
Through what wild centuries
Roves back the rose.
~Walter de la Mare
Dante & Beatrice
Dante's "Beatrice" (Rossetti)
Dante & Beatrice
After the twelfth-century troubadours, it was the Italian poets of the next century who carried on and developed the tradition of secular love—amore: “it remained for the poets of Italy to further the task of uniting mortal and immortal love and for the supreme Italian poet to complete this needful union in his rose of eternity.” Of course, that poet is Dante, for whom falling in love with a young woman was an initiation to a quest for the beloved, and thus for paradise. Dante, whose work on the troubadours influenced all later troubadour studies, both poetically and linguistically (De vulgari eloquentia), drew inspiration from a very suspect poetic cult of amore, one called Dolce Stil Novo (Sweet New Style), founded by Dante's acknowledged mentor, Guinizelli, who is credited for “effecting an adequate harmony between mortal and immortal love.” He introduced the idea that a beloved woman could symbolize “an angelic Intelligence.” These poets of the Dolce Stil Novo personified “divine philosophy as a beautiful woman.” Thus, it was said of the young Dante: “Lady Philosophy has appealed to his intellectual faculties …. Lady Philosophy has shown him the place of reason as handmaiden to the revelation of Beatrice is to be.” Dante's sunlit rose is Beatrice's flower, “the flower of mortal love revealed as symbol and agent of the immortal.” Dante's rose becomes the mandala of heaven. Thus, it could be said that in reuniting heavenly with earthly love (sacred with profane love), Dante’s heavenly white rose was tinged with red—the red rose of high romance. Beatrice, Dante’s “Fair Lady,” is the moving spirit behind his entire journey in the Divina Commedia. In this poetic quest for the “beloved,” it is important to know that the young Dante also belonged to the secret poetic cult of the Fedeli d' amore, which is recognized as “the cult of the Eternal Feminine.” It was the first to define the Italian conception of courtly love, one which sought to reconcile profane love with sacred love.
The Lady Philosophy of Boethius
Philosophy (wisdom) was first personified as a beautiful woman by the Roman philosopher Boethius in his influential The Consolation of Philosophy (524 CE). This figure is behind Dante's "Lady Philosophy" and informs his ascent through the layered universe in the Divina Commedia. Citations from Boethius' work occur frequently here. Of Boethius, Dante remarked “The blessed soul who exposes the deceptive world to anyone who gives ear to him.”
"Lady Philosophy Presenting Seven Liberal Arts to Boethius" (Henri de Vulcop)
Lady Philosophy offering wings to Boethius, so his mind can fly aloft (French School 15th c.)
"Dante & Beatrice" (Parkes)
"Dante & Beatrice" (Waterhouse)
"Dante & Beatrice" (Stillman)
"The Chance Meeting of Dante & Beatrice" (Bunce)
"The Salutation of Beatrice" (Rossetti)
Dante's final vision of the Paradisio: the mandala of the "White Rose of Paradise" and a divinely transfigured Beatrice.
"The Visionary Rose"
"The Alchemical Rose" (related to the Romance of the Rose)
"The Meditative Rose" (Dali)
"The Soul of the Rose" (Waterhouse)
The Troubadour Cult of Woman
& The Church of Amor
"While the womanly god demands our veneration, the godlike woman kindles our love; but while we allow ourselves to melt in the celestial loveliness, the celestial self-sufficiency holds us back in awe."
"To be man's tender mate was woman born, and in obeying nature she best serves the purposes of heaven."
"He, that noble prize possessing
He that boasts a friend that's true,
He whom woman's love is blessing, Let him join the chorus too!"
Troubadour "Cult of Woman"
The Fair Lady (domna)
Fin’amor was paradoxical, as it encompassed both erotic desire and spiritual aspiration.This meant that the theological dichotomy of sacred versus profane love will be transcended with the practice of fin’amor. This is because the passion and aspiration of fin’amor provides the energy and impulse for spiritual vision. The lover of the troubadour “cult of woman” becomes the priest of a new religion, which develops in parallel with the devotional cult of the Virgin Mary (Marianism).
The love poetry/songs the troubadours composed brought them in conflict with the Church, since the point of view of the ecclesiastical authorities was that the vocabulary and emotional passion hitherto used to express the (sacred) love for the Virgin Mary was now being perverted into the (profane) love for a flesh-and-blood woman. Thus, the “Lady” (domna or midons) of the troubadours, deified through poetic worship, inspired them with a love-cult that vied with that of the Church’s Holy Virgin Mary. Indeed, the influence of this secular "cult of woman" was so powerful that its courtly vocabulary was highjacked for love hymns addressed by the faithful to Mary, “Our Lady,” now replacing the “Lady” of the troubadours. (Thus, the monks and mystics were copying the troubadour lovers, and not the other way around. And in the subsequent centuries that followed, the classical mystics of the Church freely availed themselves of the erotic language of troubadour poetry/song when describing the soul’s relationship to God. The troubadours were the first to make secular use of that scandalous text in Holy Scripture, the most famous love lyric in history, the Song of Songs, with its overt erotic content.) With the troubadours’ “cult of woman,” the profane reunites with the sacred, for the very good reason that they actually form one single reality, considered under two different but complementary aspects. Thus, we can begin to understand that the “Church of Amor” ("the Religion of Love") and its “Cult of Woman” challenged the metaphysical ontology for the “Church of Roma.” Fin’amor forced an opening onto horizons that were not restricted to the faithful alone, opening wide the gates of awareness onto realms both subtle and invisible. Indeed, fin’amor forced an opening to some very restricted transcendental gates!
Therefore, here’s the crucial question concerning the troubadours reuniting sacred and profane love in the twelfth century: Was it the saintly monks or the lovers who kept the doors of paradise open in the High Middle Ages? The following poem by Robert Bly answers this question perfectly:
Imagination is the door to the raven's house, so we are
Already blessed! . . . .
Last night I heard a thousand holy women
And a thousand holy men apologize at midnight
Because there was too much triumph in their voices.
Those lovers, skinny and badly dressed, hated
By parents, did the work; all through the Middle Ages
It was the lovers who kept the door open to heaven.