Eros Agape(Tristano Strassubrg)

Eros agape
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  Medieval Academy of America Eros, Agape, and Rhetoric around 1200: Gervase of Melkley's Ars poetica and Gottfried vonStrassburg's TristanAuthor(s): Robert GlendinningSource: Speculum, Vol. 67, No. 4 (Oct., 1992), pp. 892-925Published by: Medieval Academy of America Stable URL: . Accessed: 27/03/2013 09:48 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at  .  . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact  .  Medieval Academy of America  is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Speculum. This content downloaded from on Wed, 27 Mar 2013 09:48:30 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  Eros, Agape, and Rhetoric around 1200: Gervase of Melkley's Ars poetica and Gottfried von Strassburg's Tristan By Robert Glendinning In two previous articles I have examined the presence of elements related to love and sex in rhetorical manuals of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and compared such elements with similar material in a number of literary texts of the same period.' The relationship between the two kinds of texts appears to be closer than would be expected solely on the grounds that they were written in an age interested in both eros and rhetoric, and I have suggested that the relationship is symbiotic. In the present discussion I wish to enlarge upon this subject and pursue further than hitherto a particular vehicle of eros in the literature of the period, the oxymoron, especially the oxymoron in chiastic form. The main witnesses called will be a chronological sequence of three rhetorical manuals culminating in Gervase of Melkley's Ars poetica, several of the medieval Latin Pyramus and Thisbe poems, and finally, one of the most complex and sophisticated treatments of eros of its day, Gottfried von Strassburg's Tristan. The time frame set by these texts is ca. 1140-1215. 1. SOME PRELIMINARY REMARKS When Christianity brought its radical inversion of values to the ancient world, the oxymoron came into its own as a natural, one might say ideal, form of expression for the apparent paradoxes of the new religion.2 It is found in irreducible form in St. Paul's cryptic When I am weak I am strong (2 Cor. 12.10), and in more potent and provocative form in such formulations as He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life . . . will find it (Matt. 10.39). Although no theoretical basis for the oxymoron as a figure of speech or thought appears to have existed in ancient rhetoric, this obviously mattered little to those for whom believing was a precondition of knowing and who knew as a matter of faith that foolishness was wisdom, weakness strength, servitude Robert Glendinning, Pyramus and Thisbe in the Medieval Classroom, Speculum 61 (1986), 51-78; Gottfried von Strassburg and the School-Tradition, Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift ur Litera- turwissenschaft nd Geistesgeschichte 1 (1987), 617-38. 2 E.g., Matt. 10.39, 20.26-27; Luke 9.48; John 12.25; Rom. 7.10, 8.13; 1 Cor. 1.20-28, 3.18- 19, 7.22, 9.19, 15.36; 2 Cor. 4.10-16, 5.21, 8.9, 12.9-11; Phil. 3.7-8; 1 Pet. 2.24. 892 Speculum 7 (1992) This content downloaded from on Wed, 27 Mar 2013 09:48:30 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  Eros, Agape, and Rhetoric freedom, poverty wealth, and death life. Rhetorical theory would have to wait twelve centuries for an accommodation with this linguistic puzzle.3 In the Middle Ages the oxymoron was so ubiquitous as to make documentation superfluous. Nevertheless, a few examples from St. Augustine and Gregory the Great are given here to illustrate the manner of its use. The examples chosen are all of the oxymoron in chiastic form, which is to be the focus of the discussion below, and they are reproduced in such a way as to make their chiastic form perceptible visually. From Gregory's Dialogues: MORTALITAS ostra virtutem IMMORTALITATIS ssumpsit ex quo FIRMITAS alvatoris nostram nduit INFIRMITATEM.4 Our mortality ook on the strength of immortality when the strength of our saviour took on our infirmity. Though grammatically parallel (mortalitas/firmitas), his figure is semantically chiastic (mortalitas = infirmitas, and immortalitas = firmitas). St. Augustine's works abound in antithetical thinking and its corresponding rhetorical figures, including the oxymoron. He bequeathed a rich and potent legacy to the Middle Ages.5 From the Confessions: ... nescio, unde uenerim huc in istam dico VITAM MORTALEM an MORTEM VITALEM? I know not whence I have come into this-should I say-dying life or living death. ... ex amissa VITA MORIENTIVM MORS VIVENTIVM.6 From the lost life of the dying comes the death of the living. At the opposite end of the medieval tradition we find a particularly fine 3 Although the word oxymoron and its related forms are not found in classical Greek or Latin texts or in ancient rhetorical treatises, they do occur sparsely in late Latin and early-medieval Latin works. The Thesaurus linguae Latinae, 10/2 (Leipzig, 1968-81), ad loc., cites six instances of the occurrence of oxymoron r oxymorus, a, -um, in commentaries, scholae, and a polemic of St. Augustine against the Emperor Julian. All are from the fourth century or later. The scholae and commentaries use the word descriptively of paradoxical formulations by a number of classical and postclassical Latin authors. The Glossarium mediae et infimae Latinitatis gives no listing for the Middle Ages. The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. (Oxford, 1989), ad loc., indicates that the first recorded use of the term oxymoron by an English author occurs in Bishop Edward Reynolds's Treatise of the Passions and Faculties of the Soul, written in 1640 and published in 1658. He is commenting on Seneca's phrase mortibus vivimus. As the discussion below will show, however, the oxymoron was recognized and described in theoretical terms, but without its modern name, by medieval rhetoricians shortly after 1200. A convenient summary of antithetical thinking and its linguistic forms, including the oxymoron, during the Renaissance can be found in Robert Grudin, Mighty Opposites: hakespeare and Renaissance Contrariety Berkeley, 1979). Besides Shakespeare, he discusses Petrarch, Castiglione, Paracelsus, Giordano Bruno, and Montaigne; see esp. pp. 18-35. 4 Quoted from Gervais von Melkley: Ars poetica, ed. Hans-Jurgen Grabener, Forschungen zur romanischen Philologie 17 (Munster, 1965), pp. 177 and 282 ad loc. 5 See especially Jack Lindsay, Song of a Falling World: Culture during the Break-up of the Roman Empire (A.D. 350-600) (London, 1948), pp. 35, 171-76. 6 Sancti Aureli Augustini confessionum ibri tredecim 1.6.7 and 4.9.14, ed. Pius Knoll (Vienna, 1896; repr. New York, 1962). 893 This content downloaded from on Wed, 27 Mar 2013 09:48:30 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  Eros, Agape, and Rhetoric example of the chiastic oxymoron in Dante's ma vince lei perche vuole esser vinta, / e, vinta, vince con sua beninanza ( . . . Himself doth will / To suffer conquest, who by His own love / Conquered, comes conquering and uncon- querable ),7 or in chiastic form: ma VINCE ei perche vuole esser VINTA e, VINTA, VINCE, con sua beninanza. When we approach the matter of eros from the perspective of this tradition, it would seem reasonable to assume that just as the contents of the Christian faith affected all areas of medieval thought and experience, so must the mental and linguistic habit of the oxymoron, predominantly Christian in its raison d'etre, have invaded secular thinking from the domain of religion. Notwithstanding the reasonableness of such an assumption, there was another important source for antithetical thinking and its linguistic vehicles in the Middle Ages. As Anne Carson has aptly signaled by the title of her book Eros the Bit- tersweet, he experience of love was perceived in the ancient world as contra- dictory and paradoxical, and not surprisingly this perception was conveyed in the form of the oxymoron. Love was sweet pain, a living death, a sickness or wound curable only by its cause. Horace perhaps put the matter most tersely when he apostrophized Venus in a chiastic oxymoron as dulcium mater saeva Cupidinum ( cruel mother of sweet Cupids ; Odes 4.4-5).8 Roughly fifteen centuries later Shakespeare was to say of it: All the world well knows, yet none knows well / To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell (Sonnets 129.13- 14). The oxymoron, or the mental attitude which generated the oxymoron as a linguistic form, was at home in two vital areas of the ancient world, the Christian faith and eros. With the more or less successful banning of the latter from the public arena in the first Christian millennium, the erotic oxymoron, with its roots in the pagan world, disappeared from view for a time. When eros and the progeny of Ovid reappeared in the twelfth century, so did the erotic oxymoron,9 now to be strongly reinforced, and possibly challenged, by the oxy- moron of agape and spiritual love. The Ars poetica of Gervase of Melkley shows unmistakably that even in what is ostensibly a purely secular amatory context, the chiastic oxymoron was never far away from its religious counterpart. In Gervase, as we shall see, the erotic oxymoron, when taken to the limit of human 7 Paradiso 20.98-99. Dante is cited from Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, rans., with a com- mentary, by Charles S. Singleton, Paradiso, 1: Italian Text and Translation, Bollingen Series 80 (Princeton, 1975). The translation is that of Dorothy L. Sayers and Barbara Reynolds, The Divine Comedy f Dante Alighieri the Florentine, Cantica 3, Paradise (Harmondsworth, 1962). 8 For the contrary aspects of Venus/Aphrodite in the eyes of the ancient world see the interpre- tation of this ode by Hans Peter Syndikus in his Die Lyrik des Horaz: Eine Interpretation er Oden, 2 vols. (Darmstadt, 1972, 1973), 2:285-95. 9 E.g., [A]mare / crucior, / morior / vulnere, quo glorior. / eia, si me sanare / uno vellet osculo, / que cor felici iaculo / gaudet vulnerare (Carmina Burana, 1: Text; 2: Die Liebeslieder, d. Otto Schumann, 2nd ed. [Heidelberg, 1971], 69.2.5-12): I am tormented in love, I die of a wound in which I glory. Ah, if she would deign to heal me with a single kiss, she who rejoices to wound my heart with her happy dart Helen Waddell's freer translation does the srcinal much more justice: I suffer, yea, I die, / Yet this mine agony / I count all bliss, / Since death is life again / Upon her lips See Medieval Latin Lyrics, trans. Helen Waddell (Harmondsworth, 1952), p. 284. 894 This content downloaded from on Wed, 27 Mar 2013 09:48:30 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


Jul 23, 2017
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