Thursday, August 03, 2017

The Lais of Marie de France (circa 1150-1215 A.D.)

The Lais of Marie de France, translated with an introduction by Glyn S. Burgess and Keith Busby. Second edition with two further lais in the original Old French. London: Penguin Books, 1999.

Marie de France (circa 1150-1215) accomplished two projects in one: she saved old tales from oblivion while putting her own stamp on their retelling. The results are terse, interesting and revealing. Wherein romance is the main game, human psychology remains the same. 

"Equitan" leaps out as a tale of amour fou, or crazy love. Equitan, the Lord of Nantes, is smitten by the wife of his seneschal (in today's parlance, his chief of staff or main lieutenant).

Poor Equitan! "Love admitted him into her service and let fly in his direction an arrow which left a very deep wound in him. It was launched at his heart and there it became firmly fixed. Wisdom and understanding were of no avail . . . Unable to withstand its power, he was forced to give Love his full attention . . ." (page 57).
Soon Equitan is "dying" from love, enough so that he proposes to "the lady" (who is never named) that she either "bring comfort to him or cause his death." (page 58).

She listens, and considers. She then counters with pragmatic musing. "Love is not honourable" she notes, "unless it is based on equality." And, as true today as it was 800 years ago: "If anyone places his [or her] love higher than is appropriate for his [or her] station in life, he [or she] must fear all manner of things." (page 58). 

Nonetheless, they take the plunge, to hell with the consequences. Amour fou!

It is for her insights into human psychology, both individual and social, that Marie de France resonates. Her cultural preservation of olden tales is like tasty icing on the cake.

Today's Rune: Breakthrough.  

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

Richard Adams did some of that kind of thing and I really enjoyed those retellings.