3 - The poetics of fine amor in the French romans antiques  pp. 75-118

The poetics of <i>fine amor</i> in the French <i>romans antiques</i>

By Barbara Nolan

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No one can doubt that the “love interest” in the twelfth-century romans antiques is one of their most important and innovative features. The treatment of erotic love in the Roman d'Eneas and the Roman de Troie sharply distinguishes them from the chansons de geste as well as the lyric cansos of the same period. The Eneas-poet and Benoît de Sainte-Maure were the first medieval vernacular writers to pose urgent, practical questions about the place of sexual love in a highly structured, politically ambitious aristocracy. The French poets' dramatizations of love both enact “un art d'aimer,” as Jean Frappier suggested, and, as I argue in this chapter, explore the ethical significance of private love in relation to public, moral life and historical narrative consequences. Several scholars have described the behavior typical of young lovers in the northern French romances of antiquity, and we are especially indebted to Edmond Faral for demonstrating their dependence on Ovid's love poems.

Yet considerable confusion remains as to the narrative and ethical functions of the love interest in the first extended classicizing fictions en romanz. In what terms and for what purpose does the Eneas-poet distinguish between Eneas' relationship with Dido and his love for Lavine? Does Benoît de Sainte-Maure celebrate fine amor as an independent, positive system of behavior in his Roman de Troie, as Alfred Adler once argued, even as he laments its defeat by militia? Is he principally interested in the psychological plight of characters “caught between love and death, honor and desire”?