Its everywhere. Advertising overflows with it. Its all people talk about. Do you love someone but aren’t in love with them? Are you in love love? Is it just about the sex, then? We think about it, dream about it, go online to get closer to it ~ and of course, we write stories about it. Modern ideals of falling in love and discovering romance find their beginnings in exactly that – stories. In this week’s History of Sex, we’ll have a look at the origins of love.
During the crusades, a flow of soldiers, merchants and culture brought Spanish and Islamic traditions into the lives of Europeans. There were the troubadours of Provence, basically Spanish romance poets – traveling throughout Europe singing mythical songs about chivalry and love. The motifs developed in Arabic literature soon influenced French, English, Italian and German culture: love as sickness and cure, romance as torment and delight. The idea of ‘love for love’s sake’ and even the notion of ‘unrequited love’ have their roots in Arabic poetry of the 9th and 10th century.
From far-off places, courtship and an eroticized ‘real love’ worked its way into the European story. The practice of courtly love was developed in the castle life in a few regions in France around the time of the First Crusade (1099). At the time, marriages for nobles were ‘arrangements’ and had nothing to do with what we know as ‘love’, so ‘lovers’ were something different.
Here are the stages of courtly love:
- Attraction to the lady, usually by a glance
- Worship of the lady from afar
- Declaration of passionate devotion
- Virtuous rejection by the lady
- Renewed wooing with oaths of virtue and eternal faithfulness
- Moans of approaching death from unsatisfied desire (and other lovesickness)
- Heroic deeds of valor which win the lady’s heart
- Consummation of the secret love
- Endless adventures avoiding detection
Well, today we’d probably call them “cheaters”. They were definitely secret trysts…often sexual, but sometimes just escalating emotional affairs. They were never purely platonic – all courtly love was erotic. At the very least, all these noble cheats helped to break up some of the chauvinism of the upper classes. At most, they helped to spread an imaginative view of romantic love where sex was something to achieve…they made fashionable the very idea that it was a game worth playing.