Turning on moderation later today.

I’ve been swamped all week and will be even more so over the next few days. I’ll be turning on moderation in a few hours, and probably won’t turn it back off until early next week.

In the meantime, if you crave high quality Christian Manosphere discussion, there are lively discussions over at:

  1. American Dad: June Cleaver might be unmarriagable right now. Scott published the post this morning and as of 3:30 Central Time it already has 67 comments.
  2. Cane Caldo: Where We Used to Live Isn’t  Cane posted this yesterday and it currently has 11 comments.

I would also recommend Still Amusing over at Vox Day’s Alpha Game.  Hilarious!

Feel free to add any other blogs/posts you think readers would enjoy before I turn moderation on, including plugs for your own blog.

Posted in Linkage | 2 Comments

Is Gen. 29 a modern love story?

Note:  This began as a discussion in the comments section of Riding to Lancelot’s rescue, but it seems worthy of making into a quick post.

Commenter Kevin asks:

I agree that the obsession with romantic love is absurd. But I continue to be confused by the connection between our bizarre expectations and courtly love. Is Dalrock arguing that there was no concept of love or romance prior to courtly love? Or that courtly love was the beginning of the perversion?

Genesis 29 seems to be a love story. The concept of love and romance both licit and illicit is ancient.

There has always existed an emotional aspect of sexual desire/passion. What is novel is our focus on separating the emotional from the physical and declaring the emotional aspect pure, purifying, and holy. As C.S. Lewis explains, we struggle to even imagine how this was viewed prior to the transformation of courtly love. Gen. 29 is a great example of this (NIV version):

16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah had weak[a] eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful. 18 Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”

19 Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” 20 So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.

21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.

As you Kevin points out, in our minds this is a modern love story, a romance. How could it possibly be anything else? We simply can’t imagine otherwise.

But take a look at the original Hebrew and how our translations cover it. I’m not trying to create the “correct” biblical interpretation*, but pointing out the different frame of mind of the Hebrew words vs the massive baggage we have in English about romantic love. Here is an example of how the passage would read choosing just three different English words:

16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah had weak[a] eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful. 18 Jacob liked Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”

19 Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” 20 So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his sexual desire for her.

21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to go into her.

Cane Caldo pointed out that Jacob’s “love” for Rachel is not the sentimental, purifying true love of modern love tales:

1. Jacob loved Rachel because she was beautiful. He wasn’t “captivated by her inner beauty”. He didn’t “love her for who she was”. He wanted her to be his, and to have sex with her. Compare this to Dalrock’s post “Like a rutting buck”.

Indeed. So much so that Jacob didn’t realize he had spent the night having sex with the wrong sister until the next morning!

21 And Jacob said unto Laban, Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in unto her.

22 And Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast.

23 And it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter, and brought her to him; and he went in unto her.

24 And Laban gave unto his daughter Leah Zilpah his maid for an handmaid.

25 And it came to pass, that in the morning, behold, it was Leah: and he said to Laban, What is this thou hast done unto me? did not I serve with thee for Rachel? wherefore then hast thou beguiled me?

Moreover, as Cane also points out, we are never told that Rachel had any romantic or sexual feelings toward Jacob;  Jacob never “wins her heart”. Contrast this with 1 Sam 18 where we learn that Michal was in love with David:

 20 Now Saul’s daughter Michal was in love with David, and when they told Saul about it, he was pleased. 21 “I will give her to him,” he thought, “so that she may be a snare to him and so that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.”

Jacob offers to work for Rachel’s father for seven years, and her father replies that he may as well give her to Jacob instead of some other man:

19 Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.”

And yet, as Lewis explains, the legacy of the courtly love revolution means that we can’t read stories like Gen 29 in any other way than as a “love story”.

This is not to say that Jacob had no emotional feelings for Rachel.  If he didn’t have strong emotional feelings for her before the wedding he certainly had them by the time of her death.  But the story of their “courtship” is anything but romantic, and the description of Jacob wanting to marry her so he could have sex with her is about as straightforward as it could be.  There is also not even an inkling of the idea that romantic love is pure or sanctifying in this story.  But the legacy of courtly love hovers over us like a supermassive black hole, warping everything relating to sex and marriage with a nearly irresistible force in our minds.  We just don’t notice it because from our perspective it has always been there.

*Just as everyone with access to an acetylene torch is tempted to fancy themselves a welder, everyone with access to Strongs is tempted to see themselves as a scholar of Hebrew.  For the record, I am neither a welder nor a scholar of Hebrew.  My point is not to offer the correct interpretation/translation of the passage, but to give a sense of the immense baggage the words have in English.

Posted in Chivalry, Courtly Love, Marriage, Romantic Love | 91 Comments

Ovid Game tip: Don’t visit her on her birthday.

In The Allegory of Love C.S. Lewis explains that because the concept of courtly love has fully transformed our view of sexual passion, we misread prior works as if they had the same theme.  He uses the example of Ovid’s Art of Love, which he describes as an ironic poem on the art of seduction:

Ovid sat down to compose for the amusement of a society which well understood him an ironically didactic poem on the art of seduction. The very design of his Art of Love presupposes an audience to whom love is one of the minor peccadilloes of life, and the joke consists in treating it seriously—in writing a treatise, with rules and examples en rège for the nice conduct of illicit loves. It is funny, as the ritual solemnity of old gentlemen over their wine is funny. Food, drink, and sex are the oldest jokes in the world; and one familiar form of the joke is to be very serious about them.

He offers the following example from the poem:

Go early ere th’ appointed hour to meet
The fair, and long await her in the street.
Through shouldering crowds on all her errands run,
Though graver business wait the while undone.
If she commands your presence on her way
Home from the ball to lackey her, obey!
Or if from rural scenes she bids you, ‘Come’,
Drive if you can, if not, then walk, to Rome,
And let nor Dog-star heats nor drifted load
Of whitening snows deter you from the road.
Cowards, fly hence! Our general, Love, disdains
Your lukewarm service in his long campaigns.8

Lewis explains that this is a joke, mocking the foolish way men pedastalize women and set out to satisfy their every whim (truly a fool’s errand).  Since we have adopted the foolish view of courtly love, we can’t imagine Ovid’s mocking as anything other than sincere:

No one who has caught the spirit of the author will misunderstand this. The conduct which Ovid recommends is felt to be shameful and absurd, and that is precisely why he recommends it—partly as a comic confession of the depths to which this ridiculous appetite may bring a man, and partly as a lesson in the art of fooling to the top of her bent the last baggage who has caught your fancy. The whole passage should be taken in conjunction with his other piece of advice—‘Don’t visit her on her birthday: it costs too much.’9 But it will also be noticed—and this is a pretty instance of the vast change which occurred during the Middle Ages—that the very same conduct which Ovid ironically recommends could be recommended seriously by the courtly tradition. To leap up on errands, to go through heat or cold, at the bidding of one’s lady, or even of any lady, would seem but honourable and natural to a gentleman of the thirteenth or even of the seventeenth century…

Posted in C.S. Lewis, Chivalry, Courtly Love, Game, Romantic Love | 54 Comments

Riding to Lancelot’s rescue.

Several commenters have objected to my previous post, including Hugh Mann:

I think our gracious host doth read too much into these tales – I was brought up on them, and in none of the printed retellings popular in the pre-60s was it implied that the relationship of Lancelot and Guinevere was anything but a betrayal and a tragedy – THE betrayal, in that from it springs the shattering of the fellowship.

What Hollywood’s made of it since might be a different matter.

Commenter Sean Toddington also felt the need to defend Lancelot’s honor:

Firstly it is important to remember that these are fictional characters, and there are a few versions of it all. If you can’t be bothered to read the originals – Mallory is the main one – I suggest that you treat C.S. Lewis with caution.

Note that Toddington incorrectly claims that Thomas Malory’s Lancelot is the original that inspired Chrétien de Troyes.  Yet this isn’t the case, as Malory was born several hundred years later.  More importantly, both Toddington and Mann are missing the fundamental point of my previous post.  The post was not a treatise on the King Arthur legend but about the way that the concept of courtly love has transformed our moral thinking.  As C.S. Lewis explains in The Allegory of Love:

French poets, in the eleventh century, discovered or invented, or were the first to express, that romantic species of passion which English poets were still writing about in the nineteenth. They effected a change which has left no corner of our ethics, our imagination, or our daily life untouched, and they erected impassable barriers between us and the classical past or the Oriental present. Compared with this revolution the Renaissance is a mere ripple on the surface of literature. There can be no mistake about the novelty of romantic love: our only difficulty is to imagine in all its bareness the mental world that existed before its coming—to wipe out of our minds, for a moment, nearly all that makes the food both of modern sentimentality and modern cynicism. We must conceive a world emptied of that ideal of ‘happiness’—a happiness grounded on successful romantic love—which still supplies the motive of our popular fiction

This transformation is so deep that we aren’t aware it ever happened, as we can’t conceive of any other way of thinking.  The concept of courtly love has infected all forms of literature, and is the philosophical foundation for no fault divorce.  Even (and especially) conservative Christian theology has adopted the concept of courtly love.  Again from Lewis:

If the thing at first escapes our notice, this is because we are so familiar with the erotic tradition of modern Europe that we mistake it for something natural and universal and therefore do not inquire into its origins. It seems to us natural that love should be the commonest theme of serious imaginative literature: but a glance at classical antiquity or at the Dark Ages at once shows us that what we took for ‘nature’ is really a special state of affairs, which will probably have an end, and which certainly had a beginning in eleventh-century Provence. It seems—or it seemed to us till lately—a natural thing that love (under certain conditions) should be regarded as a noble and ennobling passion: it is only if we imagine ourselves trying to explain this doctrine to Aristotle, Virgil, St. Paul, or the author of Beowulf, that we become aware how far from natural it is. Even our code of etiquette, with its rule that women always have precedence, is a legacy from courtly love and is felt to be far from natural in modern Japan or India. Many of the features of this sentiment, as it was known to the Troubadours, have indeed disappeared; but this must not blind us to the fact that the most momentous and the most revolutionary elements in it have made the background of European literature for eight hundred years.

Anyone who is tempted to white knight for Lancelot tales in general after reading my post illustrating the absurdity of courtly love using Chrétien de Troyes’ Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart is missing the broader point entirely.  And yet there is also a reason we use the term white knight to describe men who feel compelled to rescue women from the consequences of their own bad behavior. As Know Your Meme explains (emphasis mine):

The term “white knight” is derived from the knight-errant stock character, a medieval figure in romance literature that would perform various acts to prove his chivalry. According to Wikipedia,[1] the term “knight-errant” was first recorded in the 14th-century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but was developed as a romance genre character during the late 12th century. The first Urban Dictionary[4] definition was submitted by user Jake on November 3rd, 2004, which defined the phrase as a male who attempts to aid a woman in distress.

The “romance genre” in question is the chivalric concept of courtly love, which brings us back to Lancelot and Chrétien de Troyes.  From the Infogalactic version of the Wikipedia article referenced in Know Your Meme:

A knight-errant[1] (or knight errant[2]) is a figure of medieval chivalric romance literature. The adjective errant (meaning “wandering, roving”) indicates how the knight-errant would wander the land in search of adventures to prove his chivalric virtues, either in knightly duels (pas d’armes) or in some other pursuit of courtly love.

The template of the knight-errant are the heroes of the Round Table of the Arthurian cycle such as Gawain, Lancelot and Percival. The quest par excellence in pursuit of which these knights wander the lands is that of the Holy Grail, such as in Perceval, the Story of the Grail written by Chrétien de Troyes in the 1180s.

According to Infogalactic, while there is no canonical version of the Arthur tales, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae is generally the starting point for Arthur, Guinevere, and Excalibur.  Yet it was Chrétien de Troyes who added Lancelot and transformed the story into romance:

Many elements and incidents that are now an integral part of the Arthurian story appear in Geoffrey’s Historia, including Arthur’s father Uther Pendragon, the wizard Merlin, Arthur’s wife Guinevere, the sword Excalibur, Arthur’s conception at Tintagel, his final battle against Mordred at Camlann, and final rest in Avalon. The 12th-century French writer Chrétien de Troyes, who added Lancelot and the Holy Grail to the story, began the genre of Arthurian romance that became a significant strand of medieval literature. In these French stories, the narrative focus often shifts from King Arthur himself to other characters, such as various Knights of the Round Table.

Chances are if you have a cherished tale of Lancelot, it has an embedded philosophy of courtly love and you never even noticed it.  This is after all what we love about these tales, even though we aren’t aware that the very concept was manufactured some time in the twelfth century.  We love it without being consciously aware that it even exists, because as Lewis explains it simply seems normal.  Thomas Malory’s The Knight of the Cart, as just one example, is clearly based on Chrétien de Troyes’ Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart.  In fact, it includes a nearly identical scene where Lancelot fights for Guinevere’s honor after she is rightly accused of adultery.  From the Cliff’s Notes:

That night Launcelot goes to the queen’s room, tears an iron grill from her window, cutting his hand, and at her request lies with her. Melliagaunce sees the blood on the bed in the morning and accuses her of faithlessness to Arthur. To save Guinevere from execution at the stake, Launcelot says he will be her champion and sets a day for trial by battle.

Posted in C.S. Lewis, Chivalry, Courtly Love, Romantic Love, Traditional Conservatives | 192 Comments

Fighting for his Lady’s honor.

I’ve touched on this before, but I think the chivalrous story of Lancelot fighting for Guinevere’s honor in Chrétien de Troyes Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart is worthy of a dedicated post.  I should note that I have not read the original work, and all quotes and summaries in this post are from CS Lewis’ Allegory of Love and Infogalactic’s synopsis of the 12th century poem of chivalry and courtly love.

In the poem Lancelot challenges Meleagant to a fight to defend Guinevere’s honor after Meleagant accuses Guinevere of adultery, and this leads to Lancelot fighting in a tournament.  However, as Lancelot is duty bound to follow his Lady’s every whim, he at first must humiliate himself by losing.  From Infogalactic:

When he finally did fight the tournament fighters, Guinevere asks for him to lose to prove his love. He obliges and when he starts to lose, Guinevere changes her proposal, now hoping for him to win. Lancelot complies and beats the other tournament competitors…

But a bit of back-story is needed to explain how Lancelot came to defend Guinevere’s honor at the tournament.  Guinevere (King Arthur’s wife) was abducted by Meleagant, and Lancelot (one of Arthur’s knights) sets out on a quest to free her.

As one of the prime virtues in courtly love is a man debasing himself out of romantic love for another man’s wife, Lancelot is early on forced to humiliate himself by riding in a cart:

Lancelot encounters a cart-driving dwarf, who says he will tell Lancelot where Guinevere and her captor went if Lancelot agrees to ride in his cart. Lancelot boards the cart reluctantly since this is a dishonorable form of transport for a knight.[2] Gawain, not about to demean himself, chooses to follow them on horseback. Along this journey they encounter many obstacles, with the most prominent one coming from other people being unwilling to talk to Lancelot due to his implied low status because of the cart.

The quote above is from Infogalactic.  Lewis offers a more detailed explanation of the symbolism of the cart.  The cart Lancelot rides in is no ordinary cart, but a tumbril, a cart to haul manure that was also used to humiliate criminals, similar to a cucking stool*.

In this predicament he is met by a dwarf driving a tumbril. To his questions, the dwarf—surly like all his race—replies, ‘Get in, and I will bring you where you shall have news of the Queen’. The knight hesitates for a moment before mounting the cart of shame and thus appearing as a common criminal; a moment later he obeys.50 He is driven through streets where the rabble cry out upon him and ask what he has done and whether he is to be flayed or hanged.

After much hardship and humiliation, Lancelot finally encounters Guinevere.  But his queen rebukes him coldly, because she has learned of his momentary hesitation in climbing into the tumbril:

When he has crossed the bridge, wounded in hands, knees, and feet, he comes at last into the presence of the Queen. She will not speak to him.

Eventually Guinevere warms to Lancelot, and she commits adultery with him.  Ironically this is the act of adultery that Lancelot is defending.  From Infogalactic:

They spend a passionate night together after Lancelot breaks into her tower. He injures his hand during his break-in, and leaves blood all over Guinevere’s sheets. Lancelot sneaks out of the tower before sunrise, and Meleagant accuses Guinevere of committing adultery with Kay, who is the only wounded knight nearby. Lancelot challenges Meleagant to a fight to defend Guinevere’s honor.

When conservatives mourn our ostensibly lost sense of chivalry in our feminist age, the values taught in tales like Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart are what they are referring to as lost virtue.  Courtly love was from the very beginning a glorification of adultery, and a worship of women with men ritually debasing themselves to the intertwined sovereigns of romantic love and women.  As Lewis explains, Lancelot worships Guinevere and her sexuality:

The submission which Lancelot shows in his actions is accompanied, on the subjective side, by a feeling that deliberately apes religious devotion. Although his love is by no means supersensual and is indeed carnally rewarded in this very poem, he is represented as treating Guinevere with saintly, if not divine, honours. When he comes before the bed where she lies he kneels and adores her…

Even after Lancelot worships Guinevere’s sexuality, and even while he is defending her (nonexistent) honor, Lancelot demonstrates the virtue of courtly love by yet again humiliating himself:

Even when he is forgiven, his trials are not yet at an end. The tournament at the close of the poem gives Guinevere another opportunity of exercising her power. When he has already entered the lists, in disguise, and all, as usual, is going down before him, she sends him a message ordering him to do his poorest. Lancelot obediently lets himself be unhorsed by the next knight that comes against him, and then takes to his heels, feigning terror of every combatant that passes near him. The herald mocks him for a coward and the whole field takes up the laugh against him: the Queen looks on delighted. Next morning the same command is repeated, and he answers, ‘My thanks to her, if she will so’. This time, however, the restriction is withdrawn before the fighting actually begins.53

Above I wrote that conservatives mourn the ostensible loss of chivalry, because the idea that a woman’s sexuality is divine is if anything more deeply rooted today than it was in the original works of courtly love nearly a thousand years ago.  In the past this divinity was merely implied, but today we have conservative pastors explicitly teaching that a woman’s sexual desire (or lack thereof) is a message from God, and that a wife’s romantic love is needed to sanctify sex in marriage.  We also have country music hits where men explicitly worship their wives, singing about their sexuality as holy and sanctifying:

You’re an angel. Tell me you’re never leaving
‘Cause you’re the first thing I know I can believe in

You’re holy, holy, holy, holy
I’m high on loving you, high on loving you
You’re holy, holy, holy, holy
I’m high on loving you, high on loving you

You made the brightest days from the darkest nights
You’re the river bank where I was baptized
Cleansed from the demons
That were killing my freedom
Let me lay you down, give me to ya
Get you singing, babe, hallelujah
We’ll be touching
We’ll be touching heaven

What conservatives commonly mourn as a lost virtue is in reality a sickness that has grown more malignant over time.  The problem with courtly love is not that it started as noble and was later twisted.  The evil has been there all along, and it plays into a weakness men and women both exhibit going all the way back to the fall in Genesis.

*Tumbril is in fact an alternate name for a cucking stool.

Posted in C.S. Lewis, Chivalry, Courtly Love, Infogalactic, New Morality, Romantic Love, Traditional Conservatives, Ugly Feminists, Wife worship, You can't make this stuff up | 132 Comments