The Book of Love

June 9, 2012

“The spiritualization of sensuality is called love: it represents a great triumph over Christianity.” Nietzsche

“Thy naughty limericks are as a fire unto my loins!”

Imagine a world without speed dating, “The Bachelor”, or that heartbreak staple, the lovelorn teen. Looks pretty good, doesn’t it? Alas, we have all this and more due in no small part to a twelfth-century courtier named Andreas Capellanus. Sometime around the year 1190, Capellanus wrote and published a short treatise called De amore, or About Love (often inaccurately called The Art of Courtly Love). Capellanus was a chronicler, compiling and codifying sentiments and behaviours that comprise modern love in embryonic form. Though often couched in spiritual terms (e.g., “Love adorns the man with the virtue of chastity”), he defines love as something very much of this world:

Love is a certain inborn suffering derived from the sight of and excessive meditation upon the beauty of the opposite sex, which causes each one to wish above all things the embraces of the other and by common desire to carry out all of love’s precepts in the other’s embrace.”

At a time when the spirit ruled, the body denigrated, and even feelings of passion for one’s own wife were considered sinful, De amore was revolutionary. By acknowledging the sensual, it presaged the humanism of the Renaissance. The body is no longer merely a container for the soul, but an essential extension of it.

“Thrice rebuked! Hast thou a less discriminating friend?”

Toward the end of the book, Capellanus lays out thirty-one “Rules of Love”. Here are some of the more interesting ones:

  1. Marriage is no real excuse for not loving.
  2. He who is not jealous cannot love.
  3. No one should be deprived of love without the very best of reasons.
  4. It is not proper to love any woman whom one would be ashamed to seek to marry.
  5. A true lover does not desire to embrace in love anyone except his beloved.
  6. Every lover regularly turns pale in the presence of his beloved.
  7. When a lover suddenly catches sight of his beloved his heart palpitates.
  8. Real jealousy always increases the feeling of love.
  9. He whom the thought of love vexes, eats and sleeps very little.
  10. A true lover considers nothing good except what he thinks will please his beloved.

Thanks for reading!