Rescuing Each Other: Between them, the early medieval troubadours and their aristocratic patronesses of Southern France created a new and enduring cultural style: the Ideal of Courtly Love. For a thousand years in the West it has been possible to like and respect women, seek out and enjoy their company, heed their advice – and still be considered a man.
THEY CAME FROM THE SOUTH, wandering the rough roads and sweeping beaches of Aquitaine. Bringing with them all the news and scandal of the day and singing long strange tales to the rhythm of a tabor and the ripples of a harp. They were the troubadours: half journalists, half rock-stars; and wholly welcome in the castle-based culture of Southern France during the eleventh and twelfth centuries.
As often as not those castles were ruled by women. With their lords far away, settling old feudal scores; or even further afield, crusading in the Holy Land; these ladies found themselves temporary matriarchs. They may have been ruling over men in their husband’s name, but they were ruling nonetheless.
Out of these two – the troubadours and the matriarchs – emerged a new cultural style that was to influence the relationship between the sexes for centuries to come: the ideal of courtly love; chivalry; romanticism.
Powerfully influenced by the sparkling cultures of Islamic Spain and Sicily, this new cultural style was aimed directly at the uncouth brutality of the fiercely patriarchal societies of Northern Europe. From across the Pyrenees the troubadours brought glimpses of a world where manhood was not defined entirely by the violent assertion of power and control, but by how completely he was able to enter the life of the mind. To read, to write, to make music, to patronise beauty and knowledge: these were accomplishments of which men could also be proud. Yes, and women, too.
Women were the key, the means by which a feudal brute could be transformed into a courteous knight. The Ideal of Courtly Love challenged men to seek out and savour all the qualities that a warrior culture despises: tenderness, vulnerability, longing, patience, generosity and sacrifice.
Patriarchy rejects these emotions precisely because they are the qualities it associates most closely with the world of women. Were men to open themselves to these experiences, then interaction between the sexes would at once become both more intelligible and more equal, and the rigid barriers of patriarchy would crumble.
It was this, the revolutionary potential of courtly love, that inspired Eleanor of Aquitaine (Queen to both the King of France and of England) and her daughter, Marie, the Countess of Champagne, to champion courtly love throughout the courts of Europe. Aristocratic feminists they may have been (did serfs even have feelings?) but the cultural style which they and their troubadour propagandists promoted has, over the intervening millennium, become a defining motif of Western culture.
For a thousand years in the West it has been possible to like and respect women, seek out and enjoy their company, heed their advice – and still be considered a man.
Modern feminists tend to give the Ideal of Courtly Love short shrift. Queen Eleanor and her troubadours have largely been denounced for “putting women on a pedestal” which, according to their latter-day sisters, confers upon women an entirely spurious superiority, rather than the equality that is theirs by right. “Benevolent” sexism chivalrous behaviour may be, but it’s still sexism.
In a week during which New Zealand women have become acquainted with all the gut-wrenching details of malevolent sexism, feminism’s swift dismissal of chivalry’s benevolence surely warrants reconsideration? The narrative of courtly love may have been a literary, historical and sociological fiction, but it provided men with a model of “the perfect knight” they could become. By the rules of chivalry, honour and virtue were the consequence of neither a man’s genealogy, nor his wealth, but of his character. A man attained honour by the virtue of his choices.
Where was honour and virtue among the Roastbusters? In a room full of young men made brutes by the fictions of pornography, isn’t it tragic that not even one boy was raised on the fictions of chivalry? Not one young man who, perceiving the evil intent of his companions, recognised damsels in distress and chose to become their perfect knight? Not one 17-year-old boy who chose to, in Matthew Hooton’s anguished father’s appeal to shock-jocks Willie Jackson and John Tamihere: “look after them and get them home safely”?
For all stories have power. As the Canadian producers of a documentary looking into the sexualisation of young women revealed, a huge number of girls are still raised on the fictions of the Disney Corporation. Encouraged to see themselves as little princesses, they grow up expecting their very own Prince Charming.
Sadly, their brothers grow up with very different expectations. Rather than draw inspiration from the chivalrous deeds of King Arthur and his Knights, they revel in the murders and rapes depicted in Game of Thrones.
Perhaps Queen Eleanor and the troubadours were right: in a world of brutal exploitation and violence, men must be encouraged to rescue women. So that women, in their turn, can rescue us right back.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, November 12, 2013.
"Powerfully influenced by the sparkling cultures of Islamic Spain and Sicily, this new cultural style was aimed directly at the uncouth brutality of the fiercely patriarchal societies of Northern Europe. "
Chris, let's not forget that the 'sparkling cultures of Islamic Spain...' were the result of bloodshed, battle and sexual slavery of the indgienous Christian people wrought at the hands of the invading Moors.
If you were looking for a 'rape culture' you could find no better example than the one imposed by Islam on those who lived under its dimmhitude.
The abduction, rape and forced marrages of Christian girls to Muslim men is still common practice in Egypt today, and throughout north Africa.
I apprecaite that you were 'weaving a narritive' but this one was so revisionist it needed challenging, particularly in the context of our youth rape culture.
My mediaeval history is a little rusty, but I suspect it was more like the game of thrones than anything remotely connected to courtly love. Particularly if you were a peasant. The idea of one's rape potential depending on one's social class is pretty repellent. Rather than wasting time on this why don't you agitate for the Labour Party to expel John Tamihere.
Oh Brendan, sigh – again you show your absolute ignorance – this time of history. Firstly, bloodshed battle and sexual slavery were common in mediaeval times are not restricted to "Moors". Secondly, during that time there was far more tolerance in Islamic states than there was in Christian ones. Thirdly, the history of Spain is much more complex than Christian versus Muslim. Deary me there were times when Christians fought against Christians alongside Muslims and vice versa. You really need to do some reading. And possibly stop commenting on things you know very little about.
Why is C^^^ a swear word? Because "powerless" young women can drive young men nuts. Why do salmon swim upstream without eating spawm and die?
Oh dear Brendan, what a selective memory you apparently have. Yes, the Moors were no innocent visitors but nor were the Teuton Knights, commissioned by the Pope to Catholify (is that a word? -- is now!) modern Poland, Lithuania, Estonia and Finland. They slaughtered thousands of men and kidnapped women and girls to be married off to good Christian Catholic men.
Or the Crusaders, who invaded the "Holy Land" and the streets of Jerusalem were ankle deep in blood!
Or Phillip I of Spain who ordered the people to become Catholics or die including the Moors!
Bear in mind that the Moorish Andalusia region kept science and Mathematics alive when those good Christians were doing the "Dark Ages" and such things were the work of Satan.
I have a verified timeline of all the recorded numbers of people killed by the quiet and peaceful Christians in the name of Christ and God. If you like I will send to to you to peruse.
We western countries have a male dominated (especially male domination of women - it says so in the Bible) society and we still carry that on.
On The Panel Mike Williams said that you could explain (or argue) with John Tamahere "and he still wouldn't get it" and "you have to wonder at the intelligence of the man". jim Moira refereed to this being a class thing and Lynda Clark assured us that the people of West auckland "don't think like that". Meanwhile Big Bruv on Kiwiblog is says: Fantastic news. No more three hours of racist ranting, left wing bullshit and union crap five days a week.. Seems like another concensus of elite interests. Lynda Clark speaks for West Auckland and Mike Williams is the intelligent sensitive one. John Tamahere has no case. Except that he does (I think Steven Pinker would support John Tamahere).
Before we cast judgement we aren't allowed to ascertain the facts just coo in agreement. It is assumed, there could be no mitigating circumstances, like what sort of party was this (reported to be group sex)? This looks like an attempt to raise the bar so that young men don't sexualise young women (but if you're gay, go for it).
The feminist movement stamped out chivilry and the concept of the 'gentleman'. These vittues are frowned upon, and the man opening the door for the woman or offering to carry her bag is more likely to get frowned at than thanked.
The behaviour of the Roast Buster youths is appalling, but chilvalry died out around the time of the moon landing, if not before. Decency is not encouranged these days much either. Pop culture gone mad and progressive values running amok.
Oh Brendan - I forgot "Kill them all, god will know his own" My favourite Christian quote - sorry :-).
You appear to have missed the point of my comment, which was to highlight the revisionist statement in Chris's blog: 'sparkling cultures of Islamic Spain...' in the context of his article about rape.
I'm not sure how you turned this into an apparent justification of the crusades! I wonder if you also superimpose your own preconceptions on the text when you read history?
I also note that neither of you have refuted the link I provided showing that a culture of abduction and rape of Christian girls still exists in Islam today?
Or are the Christians responsible for this as well?
One can not equate Egypt right now to a generalisation of all Islam. Egypt is is a sad state of turmoil and lawlessness prevails there.
Yes, the Moors conquered the south and east of Spain but why is that different to the Yanks invasion of Iraq? Or China's invasion of Tibet? In both cases the invaders were after the resources of the lands they invaded.
The world would be a more peaceful place without religion. Perhaps we should reflect on the peacefulness of the countries which until recently were Fascist dictatorships often referred to as "Communist" where all religion was banned. People there got along!
Are you suggesting that the 'Tea Party' nutters who currently have so much control of the Republican Party in the US and who want their brand of extreme Christianity imposed on the rest of us are so benign?
The Muslims of Andalusia did keep science alive when the Christians banned it as the work of the devil.
Remember that both religions are open to interpretation by various groups of people. Example; there is nowhere in the Koran that states that women should wear a burkha or a Habib (an Arabic interpretation of the Latin Habitae - to cover). All the Koran says is that women should be dressed modestly in public. Forcing them to cover up completely is a custom not a religious edict. Which incidentally was adopted by the Muslims from the Christians in Constantinople.
I am not making excuses for the atrocities caused by Muslims past and present, just pointing out that neither religion is exactly benign. Both have some very bad skeletons rattling away in their cupboards.
Well, I appreciate the more consolatory tone - for the record, I'm not an apologist for sectarian or other violence regardless of whose name it's perpetrated in.
I do think however you are a little to sanguine in your analysis of those glorous communist countries where relion was banned. You suggest: "People there got along!"
Well perhaps those who survived the purges of Stalin, Chairman Mao and Pol Pot got along. In those three countries alone I can think of between 30 million and 40 million people who didn't get the chance to try, having been systematically murdered by the policies and actions of their glorous leader(s).
No religion in sight either.
Same old story mate, they were NOT COMMUNIST at all, they were FASCIST!!
Chalk and cheese mate, completely different.
I was also referring to religion not how well or badly the people there were governed. How people can get along when religion is not involved.
A classic example was old Yugoslavia, which for years under Tito was quite peaceful. Serbs, Croats,Bosnians and Kosovars all lived together in relative harmony. Then came the break-up and the worst civil war Europe has ever seen in many a year! Now that region is a series of states so small they can't really survive on their own glaring at each other across the borders.
Yes, they were dictatorships but that was not the point of my comments nor was the "Purges" of those nasty leaders.
What about the Phalanges in south Lebanon? They slaughtered men, women and children indiscrimately on their rampage in the 80's (Supported by Israel). They are Christian my friend.
Neither religion can claim the high ground on morals. Nor can the Jews for that matter. Each is as bad as the others.
Getting back to you comment about Chris' "sparkling cultures of Islamic Spain", yes, the Moors invaded he south of Spain by force but they did treat the local people quite benignly in comparison to many other invaders including Christians of that time and previously.
Off topic, but worth reading.
"Same old story mate, they were NOT COMMUNIST at all, they were FASCIST!!
Chalk and cheese mate, completely different."
Not at all. Almost completely the same in fact. Big state in charge of everything, no personal freedom and likelihood of severe punishment or death if you do or say the wrong thing.
"Same old story mate, they were NOT COMMUNIST at all, they were FASCIST!!"
This has to the revisionist statement of the year, tell me, when will the glorious workers paradise of Venezuela make this same drearily predictable transition? And how will us who are not part of the left's 'intelligentsia' tell the difference?
"..the sparkling cultures of Islamic Spain and Sicily"
Any troubadour escaping the sparkle there with his neck intact, would have his backside aching and his pockets empty.
Islam doesn't do music.
You swung and missed there cobber.
Au contraire, Anonymous!
My knowledge of the crusades and the Golden Age of Islamic culture is in part drawn from an excellent documentary series on the subject.
Part of that series featured the modern-day equivalents of those 11th Century troubadours sitting in Syrian coffee shops singing to appreciative audiences the immensely long traditional ballads about the triumphs of Saladin over the Christian crusaders.
Not all Moslems subscribe to the fiercely puritanical notions of the Taliban. The Arab peoples have a rich musical tradition. Indeed, if you listen to the music of the troubadours you will be struck, as I was, by how "Middle Eastern" it sounds.
Chris - I read your three "roaster buster" posts with interest. Even if I don't agree with what you say, you clearly bring intelligence and forethought to the discussion, which I appreciate.
From the perspective of a young woman, the issue of chivalry versus feminism is outdated. My husband and I take care of each other. We play to our strengths and weaknesses. We try not to force on each other preconceived notions about "roles"/responsibilities". This is in spite of our, acknowledged, preconceived ideas of how a "man" or "woman" should act. These preconceived, often subconscious, beliefs, comes from cultural tradition. We fight those traditions because we believe we are better people for it.
Chivalry - courtesy, generosity, valor - these are traits that both good men, and good woman, can display.
Regarding your post about the WJ & JT debacle, you presume rational, sensible, intelligent thought and action. I appreciate the idealism, but I don't think it's very realistic!
Turning to your original post "Fathers and Sons", which again, was very interesting, I had a couple of thoughts. One was that mothers have a role alongside fathers which is equally important in teaching respect of others, which your blog implicitly downplayed.
Also, although I'm unsure about typing this, when NZers talk about a NZ "rape culture", I feel like that's true in some instances, but overly dramatic in others. NZ is a great place to live, which is why I'm moving back there. I feel like NZ, over the US, will have better opportunities for my future kids to be well-rounded. I think that sexism is more prevalent in other western countries, although that is not saying that it doesn't exist in NZ. And this is not to detract from my wanting those young men to be charged and taken to court.
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