You are on page 1of 121

The Calvert Quarterly

Volume 1
Pilot Issue
The Calvert Quarterly is a national scholarly journal for superior high school
research papers on English, American, and world literature. CQ publishes three
online issues annually and one print issue containing the best submissions for the
academic year.

Subscription Information:
The Calvert Quarterly is published by Towson University's Department of
English. Subscription information is available from Dr. H. George Hahn,
Chairman, Department of English, Towson, Maryland 21252-0001, or by email at

Editorial Staff: This pilot edition of The Calvert Quarterly was produced by a
team of developmental, managing, and copy editors in Prof. Marlana Portolano's
editing class in the Master's in Professional Writing Program at Towson

Irene Davis, Copy Editor

Margaret Fitz-Gibbon, Copy Editor
Anna Luther, Layout and Design Editor
Bethany Taylor, Managing Editor

© 2011 by The Calvert Quarterly. All rights reserved.

Contributor Information: The Calvert Quarterly accepts high school research

papers of 4,000-6,000 words, written in English. Essays are accepted on a rolling
basis. You must be the sole author, and the paper must be previously
unpublished except in periodicals produced by your secondary school.
Submissions should be formatted as Word documents in 12 point type and
conform to the style of the MLA Handbook with a works cited page and
footnotes rather than parenthetical citations. Submissions must be written for a
high school English class and sponsored by its teacher, whose name should
appear along with that of the school in the first endnote. CQ reserves the right of
revision on matters of form.

Publication of your paper will bring national recognition to you, your school, and
your sponsoring teacher, whose name appears in a bio-line. If you are interested
in submitting to CQ, please contact Dr. H. George Hahn, Chairman, Department
of English, Towson, Maryland 21252-0001, or by email at
Table of Contents

The Psychological State of Being in Love…………………………… 7

A Beautiful and Unending Longing: A Brief Examination of Love

Unfulfilled in the Poetic Tradition…………………………... 26

By What Definition Do You Understand Love?...................................... 40

Chivalry: Then and Now……………………………………………. 54

Austen v. Plato: An Exploration of Love and its Depiction

in Literature ……………………………………………….. 69

Love in Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Othello…..… 86

From Courtly Love to Courtesy: The Evolution of Courtship….….....96

Maturity Through Spiritual Love……………………………....……110

7 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
The Psychological State of Being in Love
Brenna Casey

Love is a mysterious concept; it’s a feeling, an emotion, a universal

human state of being, and according to leading scientists, a condition of
insanity and addiction. Researchers, such as Helen Fisher, Aron Arthur
and Lucy Brown, are attempting to reveal the inexplicable feeling of love,
and have found that the emotion has purpose. Love corresponds with the
sense of sight, correlates with the effects of some neurochemicals, shares
similarities with drug addiction and the mental disorder OCD. In Western
literature, poets and writers have tried to capture the essence and
complexities of love for centuries. These attempts can be illustrated by the
literary works of Dante’s La Vita Nuova, Chopin’s The Awakening, The
Letters of Abelard and Heloise, and the poems of Sappho and John
Today, researchers believe that romance and falling in love is
universal among humanity and has been rooted in our brains since ancient
times. Anthropologists Helen Fisher, Aron Arthur, and Lucy Brown note
a study performed by experts William Jankowiak and Edward Fischer
which encompassed 166 cultures. In 147 of these cultures, they found
proof of romantic love. Jankowiak and Fischer believe that the only reason
for not finding the same evidence in the remaining 19 cultures, was due to
oversights of members of the team. Therefore, Jankowiak and Fischer
concluded romantic love is extensive and characteristic of humanity.1
Leading researchers have also hypothesized that romantic love has
(theoretically) evolutionary roots. According to author Lauren Slater,
science has confirmed that men and women are attracted to people who
appear healthy. Therefore, humans often choose a healthy looking
individual as their partner and mate. The physical health of women is
determined by their waist-to-hip ratio. A roughly 70 percent ratio suggests
that a woman is fertile and will be able to give birth to strong and healthy
babies.2 According to journalist Danielle Groen, glossy hair, smooth skin,

1 Helen E. Fisher, Arthur Aron, and Lucy L. Brown, "Romantic Love: A Mammalian

Brain System for Mate Choice," Philosophical Transactions B: Biological Sciences, 361.1476
((2006): 2173-2186. E-Journals. EBSCO. Web. 8 Mar. 2010).
2 Ibid.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 8
white teeth, and a well-built body can also exude health in women.3
Healthy men are desirable because it can be presumed that any healthy
man will have healthy children. Health in men is determined by rugged
looks and broad shoulders which demonstrate strength and an abundance
of testosterone. Testosterone implies the man has a sturdy immune
system and therefore, will be a healthy mate and father.4
According to Christina Frank, anthropologist and professor Helen
Fisher has performed research connecting passionate and romantic love to
evolution.5 Fisher outlines three evolved mating emotions that each has
their own unique function in love. These three emotions are lust, romantic
attraction or love, and attachment. Lust’s purpose is to find a mate to have
children with. Love and attraction helps individuals focus their energy and
attention on one specific person. Attachment allows couples to stay
together in order to raise a child.6 Fisher argues that it may be due to
evolution that passionate love eventually fades.7 In her research, Fisher
found that couples usually tend to begin having serious problems, which
sometimes lead to divorce, after about four years. To explain this trend,
Fisher points to evidence that millions of years ago, it was critical for men
and women to stay attached for about four years, which is the
approximate time it takes to rear a child out of infancy. For a woman, it
was essential she have protection and a sufficient amount of food, which a
man could provide, and for a man, it was most suitable to provide for only
one woman and child. Fisher concludes, “Monogamy in humans,
therefore, is not entirely natural.”8 However, Fisher certainly does not
believe this means that long-term and love-filled marriages cannot exist;
the nature of a relationship depends on the couples’ determinations.9

3 Danielle Groen, "This is Your Brain on Love," Chatelaine, 82.2 ((2009): 128. MasterFILE

Premier. EBSCO. Web. 8 Mar. 2010.)

4 Lauren Slater, “Love.” National Geographic. 209.2 ((2006): 32-49. Academic Search Premier.

EBSCO. Web. 8 Mar. 2010).

5 Christina Frank, “Why Do We Fall In – and out of – Love? Dr. Helen Fisher Unravels

the Mystery,” Biography. 5.2 ((2001): 85. Academic Search Premier. Web. 8 Mar. 2010.)
6 Ibid.
7 Slater, “Love.”
8 Frank, “Why Do We Fall In – and out of – Love? Dr. Helen Fisher Unravels the

9 Ibid.
9 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
Of all the five human senses, sight is the most closely related and
influential when it comes to love. Due to modern technology, several
studies using MRIs have been conducted to find what parts of the brain
are active in love-struck individuals. Anthropologists Helen Fisher, Arthur
Aron, and Lucy Brown conducted an MRI study in which they recruited
male and female subjects who were passionately in love for about seven
months. They showed their volunteers two pictures as they scanned their
brains for activity. One picture was of their beloved. The second picture,
which was meant to be a neutral stimulus, was of a platonic friend.
The MRI showed that while participants viewed the photograph of
their loved one, certain parts of their brain lit up. The parts of the brain
which were activated while individuals viewed their loved one were the
same parts of the brain associated with reward and pleasure. Helen Fisher
concludes that during the beginning of romantic love, the reward system
of one’s brain is activated and inundated with dopamine, allowing that
person to feel exhilaration, excitement, energy, motivation to win rewards,
and the increased ability to accomplish feats one may not ordinarily be
able to do.10
According to Groen, researchers in Great Britain conducted a very
similar study in which they also used MRIs to scan the brains of
participants who attested to being in love. The subjects in this study were
also shown a picture of their loved one and of a friend. These researchers
agreed that a smaller area of the brain is more active in romantic love than
in friendship. Additionally, the researchers thought these brain scans
would confirm that brain activity accompanies love, just as brain activity
might also accompany other strong feelings like fear or anger. Researchers
were astonished to find that the regions activated in the lovers’ brains
more closely resembled the euphoric state and brain activity of an
individual high on cocaine.11
Science has proven that the state of being love in is much like a
drug addiction. The dopamine surges felt on a love-struck individual such
as passion and euphoria, has been compared with the effects that cocaine
has on addicts. Eventually romantic love and its powerful effects fade, just

10 Slater, “Love.”
11 Groen, "This is Your Brain on Love.”
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 10
as a user builds tolerance for cocaine.12 People are addicted to love, and its
powerful effects are like that of a drug. As Groen summarizes, “We’re
addicted to love.”13
Helen Fisher and colleagues Arthur Aron and Lucy Brown also
conducted an MRI study in which participants were men and woman who
had been in love, but whose partner had recently rejected and abandoned
them. During the MRI scan, these subjects switched between looking at a
picture of a familiar and neutral person and a picture of their former
beloved. Fisher, Aron, and Brown discovered activity in parts of the brain
linked to high-risk activities such as gambling, which involves high stakes.
They also found activity in areas connected with anxiety as well as with
physical pain, such as skin and muscle pain.14 In a previous examination,
the first study to research rejection in love, the subjects were described as
actively grieving. Since the subjects in Fisher, Aron, and Brown’s study
expressed feeling anger and hope that they’ll reunite with their partner,
Fisher and her team predicted that their subjects were in the first stage of
romantic rejection, which they called the protest phase. Later, Fisher and
her colleagues concluded, like the participants of the first rejection study,
people come to feel acceptance and sorrow, which is characteristic of the
following phase Fisher’s team named the resignation and despair phase.15
In Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, a married woman named Edna
struggles against society’s restrictions married women are held against. For
the first time, she becomes aware of her sexuality. This leads to her sexual
awakening. Over the course of the summer, Edna falls in love with a man
named Robert Lebrun. Although Lebrun suddenly leaves the summer
island on a business excursion to Mexico, Edna continues to think about
him constantly. The narrator describes Edna’s inner turmoil upon
Lebrun’s departure, “The woman seemed to echo the thought which was
ever in Edna’s mind; or, better, the feeling which constantly possessed her.
Robert’s going had some way taken the brightness, the color, the meaning
out of everything. The conditions of her life were in no way changed, but
her whole existence was dulled… She sought him everywhere–in others

12 Slater, “Love.”
13 Groen, "This is Your Brain on Love.”
14 Fisher, Aron, and Brown, "Romantic Love: A Mammalian Brain System for Mate

15 Ibid.
11 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
whom she induced to talk about him.”16 Modern scientists might argue
that Edna is experiencing an addicted state of love and its aftermath,
withdrawal. Edna had gotten so accustomed to having Robert with her all
the time, she became addicted to him. When he left her, she began to feel
the effects of withdrawal like a drug addict experiences without the rush
and exhilaration of cocaine.
Sappho, a great poet in Ancient Greece, was familiar with the
pangs of rejection in love. In one of her famous poems, Sappho addressed
a prayer to Aphrodite, also known as Venus, the goddess of love. Sappho,
whose love for another went unreturned, pleaded with Aphrodite to take
away the anguish and grief she felt. The poet imagined Aphrodite coming
to her and bidding to know who had done her wrong. In a 1713
translation by Herbert, Sappho writes,
I love, I burn, and only love require,
And nothing less can quench the raging fire.
What youth, what raving lover shall I gain?
Where is the captive that should wear my chain?
Alas, poor Sappho, who is this ingrate
Provokes thee so, for love returning hate?
Does he now fly thee? He shall soon return;
Pursue thee, and with equal ardour burn.
Would he no presents at thy hands receive?
He will repent it, and more largely give.
The force of love no longer withstand;
He must be fond, wholly at thy command.17
In addition, the English poet John Donne also described the
suffering and distress he felt when he fell in love with a woman who did
not love him in return. In his poem, “Love’s Deity,” Donne describes how
Cupid, the god of love, is a cruel tyrant for allowing one person to fall in
love, but not the other. He wonders what it was like to love before the
modern god of love was born, and questions why he should have to
endure the turmoil of unrequited love. Specifically, Donne says,
I long to talk with some old lover's ghost,

16 Kate Chopin, The Awakening, Ed. Cynthia B. Johnson. (New York: Simon & Schuster

Paperbacks Inc., 2009).

17 Sappho, Fragments from Wharton’s Sappho, Trans H. T. Wharton. (Web. 16 April

2010. <>).
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 12
Who died before the god of love was born.
I cannot think that he, who then loved most,
Sunk so low as to love one which did scorn.
But since this god produced a destiny,
And that vice-nature, custom, lets it be,
I must love her that loves not me.

Rebel and atheist too, why murmur I,
As though I felt the worst that love could do?
Love might make me leave loving, or might try
A deeper plague, to make her love me too;
Which, since she loves before, I'm loth to see.
Falsehood is worse than hate; and that must be,
If she whom I love, should love me.18
MRI studies might reveal that Sappho’s and Donne’s pain could
indeed have felt much like a physical affliction, as the sight of a lover can
provoke the same brain activity as when a person is in physical pain.
In a study made to investigate gender difference, Fisher, Aron, and
Brown found that men showed more activity than women in regions of
the brain associated with looking at beautiful faces. Men also tended to
demonstrate more activity in areas of the brain connected with
incorporating visual stimuli and visual processing. Fisher, Aron, and
Brown specify, “Extensive cross-cultural data indicate that courting men
respond more strongly than women to visual signals of youth and
beauty.”19 Perhaps this is why some studies found more men reported to
believing in love at first sight. 20 On the other hand, women showed more
activity in parts of the brain linked with attention, memory, and emotion.
Therefore, women are able to remember the promises made by a man and

18 John Donne, “Love’s Deity,” From Marlana Portolano’s hand-out, (Spring Semester

19 Fisher, Aron, and Brown, "Romantic Love: A Mammalian Brain System for Mate

20 Groen, "This is Your Brain on Love.”
13 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
recall whether or not these vows were upheld, thus helping the woman
determine if her mate is trustworthy.21
In the first of six love letters, Pierre Abelard wrote to his friend
Philintus, to whom he related all his misfortunes after having fallen in love
with Heloise. Abelard described his passionate love for Heloise as love at
first sight. Abelard describes his experience simply, “There was in Paris a
young creature (ah, Philintus!) formed in a prodigality of nature to show
mankind a finished composition… Her wit and her beauty would have
stirred the dullest and most insensible heart… I saw her, I loved her, I
resolved to make her love me.”22
Dante Alighieri, an Italian poet in the Middle Ages, also relates
experiencing the phenomenon when he describes falling in love with the
beautiful Beatrice at first sight. Dante denotes, “Nine times already since
my birth had the heaven of light returned to the selfsame point almost, as
concerns its own revolution, when first the glorious Lady of my mind was
made manifest to mine eyes… I saw that, from that time forward, Love
quite governed my soul.”23 As Fisher’s team has evidenced in their
research, these famous writers in history demonstrate how men are more
greatly influenced than women by sight and the presentation of physical
beauty in body and face.
When brain activities were recorded as men and women watched
an erotic film, men showed greater activity in the parts of the brain
associated with sexual arousal and behavior. After several MRI studies,
research has proven that while the brain systems for the sex drive and
romantic love share the same regions, there are also differences. This helps
conclude that the two brain systems are distinct from one another.24
In The Awakening, Edna continues to pine for Robert Lebrun, with
whom she had fallen in love with, even as she, her husband, and her

21 Fisher, Aron, and Brown, "Romantic Love: A Mammalian Brain System for Mate

22 “The Letters of Abelard and Heloise.” Trans. Anonymous. Ed. Israel Gollancz and

Honnor Morten. (1901. Web. 16 April 2010. <

23 Dante Alighieri, La Vita Nuova, Trans. Dante G. Rossetti, Ed. Joslyn Pine. Mineola,

(New York: Dover Publications Inc., 2001).

24 Fisher, Aron, and Brown, "Romantic Love: A Mammalian Brain System for Mate

Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 14
children return to the city. After returning home, Edna meets a man
named Alcée Arobin, and although she admits feeling no love for him, she
still feels a compelling sexual and erotic attraction for him. This is first
indicated in Chapter XXV when Arobin kisses Edna’s hand. Particularly,
the narrator explains, “[Edna] felt somewhat like a woman who in a
moment of passion is betrayed into an act of infidelity… She did not
mean her husband; she was thinking of Robert Lebrun… Alcée Arobin
was absolutely nothing to her. Yet his presence, his manners, the warmth
of his glances, and above all the touch of his lips upon her hand had acted
like a narcotic upon her.”25 This is again evidenced after Edna and Alcée
kiss in Chapter XXVII, “It was the first kiss of her life to which her nature
had really responded. It was a flaming torch that kindled desire.”26 Edna’s
character in The Awakening proves the scientific discovery that one can feel
sexual attraction without feeling any romantic love at all.
Arthur Aron, a psychologist at Stony Brook University in New
York, believes he may have found a way in which individuals can become
and stay attracted to their special someone. In an experiment he
conducted, he paired men and women together and had them tell each
other several details about themselves for a few minutes. Next, he
instructed the couples to take two minutes to stare into each other’s eyes.
As a result, most couples reported feelings of attraction for their partner.
Fisher and Aron further determine that when a couple does anything
different together, an attraction can build as such novelty tends to increase
dopamine. In another of Aron’s studies, Aron learned that if a person jogs
in place before meeting someone, they’re more apt to find the person
attractive. Exercise’s effect of making the heart beat faster can lead to
misdirected feelings of love. Similarly, if one is really feeling the heart-
racing effects of nerves and anxiety, they can mistake it for being in love.27
According to Groen, one experiment taken on Vancouver’s
Capilano Suspension Bridge proved that a rush of adrenaline, felt in the
midst of danger, can mistakenly be identified as feeling the effects of love.
Participants were all male, and for the experiment, the men were asked to
cross Vancouver’s shaky suspension bridge, which hangs high above the
rapids of a river. After they crossed the bridge, the subjects were met by a
25 Chopin, The Awakening.
26 Ibid.
27 Slater, “Love.”
15 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
beautiful woman, who gave them a questionnaire to fill out, as well as her
phone number, in case they should have any questions. Researchers
conducted the same experiment again, except the second time, they had
volunteers cross a lower and more stable bridge. At the conclusion of the
studies, it was discovered that four times the number of men from the first
experiment, as opposed to the second one, called the woman. The
researchers conducting the experiment concluded that the men from the
high suspension bridge had falsely assumed their heart-racing condition to
be the resulting effects of love.28 In conclusion, Slater notes, “First dates
that involve a nerve-racking activity, like riding a roller coaster, are more
likely to lead to second and third dates.”29
According to psychiatrist Hagop Akiskal, who works at the
University of California in San Diego, powerful feelings of love help to
create an idealistic image on the beloved; specifically, Akiskal states,
“Without intense emotion, which typically creates an unrealistic image of
the love object, rather like a photo that’s perfectly airbrushed, nobody in
their ‘right’ mind would fall in love.”30 According to S. Zeki, when people
are deeply in love, they suspend their critical judgment and relax the
criteria by which individuals assess each other. Individuals in love also
experience a lessening of fear. When people are engaged in the passion of
romantic love, activity greatly decreases in the frontal cortex, which is the
region of the brain connected with judgment and assessment.31 Sexual
desire and arousal, as well as seeing beauty or an attractive face, activates
the same region of the brain, which is called the orbito-frontal cortex.32
Viewing the face of a loved one, as well as an attractive or beautiful face,
can also deactivate these parts of the brain associated with judgment.
Dante Alighieri most clearly demonstrates this aspect of love in his
obsessive passion for Beatrice. It is debatable whether or not Dante
actually loved Beatrice, or if he was more overwhelmed with admiration,
desire, and the obsessive idea of Beatrice. Certainly, Dante used Beatrice

28 Groen, "This is Your Brain on Love.”

29 Slater, “Love.”
30 Kathyrn Brown, "Love sick," New Scientist, 163.2197 ((1999): 42. Academic Search Premier.

EBSCO. Web. 3 Apr. 2010).

31 "The Neurobiology of Love," FEBS Letters. 581.14 ((2007): 2575-2579. E-Journals.

EBSCO. Web. 8 Mar. 2010).

Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 16
as his muse, goddess, and angel as the inspiration for his love poetry. It
appears that Dante did not know Beatrice personally, but he wrote about
her with a great tenderness and poignancy. He was so enraptured by her
physical beauty that he began to praise Beatrice’s virtue without really
knowing her moral character at all. For example, in Chapter II Dante
writes, “[Love] oftentimes commanded me to seek if I might see this
youngest of the Angels: wherefore I in my boyhood often went in search
of her, and found her so noble and praiseworthy that certainly of her
might have been said those words of the poet Homer, ‘She seemed not to
be the daughter of a mortal man, but of God’.”33 In addition, in Chapter
XI Dante says, “It seemed to me, by the hope of her excellent salutation,
that there was no man mine enemy any longer; and such warmth of charity
came upon me that most certainly in the moment I would have pardoned
whosoever had done me an injury.”34 Dante is so overwhelmed with
Beatrice’s beauty and his own obsessive love that he confuses Beatrice’s
virtue as the source to which he finds her so praiseworthy. He also
ascribes simply being in the presence of Beatrice’s moral person as the
reason for his contentment and ability to forget any wrongs ever done to
Dante perceives that Beatrice is everything virtuous and moral
because she has a lovely form and a beautiful face. He even confesses to
believing Beatrice is an angel. Dante’s poems also suggest he not only
distinguish the beautiful Beatrice to be all that is good, but he also believes
that in coming in contact with her, others are elevated to a new level of
morality as well. This is evidenced in Dante’s poem in Chapter XXVII,
For certain he hath seen all perfectness
Who among other ladies hath seen mine:
They that go with her humbly should combine
To thank their God for such peculiar grace.
So perfect is the beauty of her face
That it begets in no wise any sign
Of envy, but draws round her a clear line
Of love, and blessed faith, and gentleness.
Merely the sight of her makes all things bow:

33 Alighieri, La Vita Nuova.

34 Ibid.
17 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
Not she herself alone is holier
Than all; but hers, through her, are raised above
From all her acts such lovely graces flow
That truly one may never think of her
Without a passion of exceeding love.35
According to S. Zeki’s research, Dante’s judgment of Beatrice’s
character was clouded by his love. Dante was besotted by Beatrice’s
beauty, and therefore, he was apt to relax any critical judgment of her
nature. Simply viewing Beatrice’s attractive face or believing himself to be
in love may have deactivated the frontal cortex of Dante’s brain, which
caused Dante to create an unrealistic and perfected image of his beloved.
There are several chemicals associated with the functions and
characteristics of romantic love. The neurotransmitter dopamine has been
corresponded with the reward system in the brain, and has been identified
as playing a key role in romantic love. Dopamine is believed to be the
chemical responsible for the pleasurable feelings, more focused attention,
and highly goal motivated behaviors related with being in love.36 So,
during the first flush of love, the serotonin in one’s brain plummets, while
dopamine soars.37
The neurochemical Norepinephrine is also thought to have an
active role in the strong emotions associated with romantic attraction,
courtship, and love. Norepinephrine is commonly believed to increase
alertness and energy and cause loss of sleep and appetite. A characteristic
of passionate love is clearer and better memory for new sensations.
Norepinephrine also heightens heart rate, sweating, and trembling.38
Sappho wrote many poems describing the tumultuous experiences
of love. In one of her poems, she described the physical experience and
emotions she felt while in the same room with someone she had fallen in
love. Specifically, in a literal translation, Sappho says,
That man seems to me peer of gods, who sits in thy
presence, and hears close to him thy sweet speech and

35 Ibid.
36 Fisher, Aron, and Brown, "Romantic Love: A Mammalian Brain System for Mate
37 Groen, "This is Your Brain on Love.”
38 Fisher, Aron, and Brown, "Romantic Love: A Mammalian Brain System for Mate

Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 18
lovely laughter; that indeed makes my heart flutter in my
bosom. For when I see thee but a little, I have no utterance
left, my tongue is broken down, and straightway a subtle
fire has run under my skin, with my eyes I have no sight, my
ears ring, sweat pours down, and a trembling seizes all my
body; I am paler than grass, and seem in my madness little
better than one dead.39
Sappho describes a very familiar experience with which many can
identify with; many have felt these same emotions and physical reactions
when near the person they love. Science can explain Sappho’s sweaty skin,
trembling, and racing heartbeat as the effects of a rush of the
neurotransmitter Norepinephrine that’s associated with the passion of
Another chemical strongly corresponded with love is the chemical
oxytocin. Oxytocin has been linked with dopamine receptors, which
means that oxytocin also contributes to feelings of gratification and
reward. Largely, oxytocin has been linked with feelings of bonding,
connection, and attachment.40 Sue Carter, a professor of psychiatry at the
University of Illinois, researched prairie voles, which are one of the few
mammals known to form monogamous relationships and lifetime mates.
Carter found that when prairie voles have sex, oxytocin is released, and as
a result, discovered that the mammals form monogamous bonds because
it simply feels pleasurable to do so. 41When oxytocin receptors were
blocked, the rodents began to roam, and increased promiscuous behavior,
as opposed to monogamous bonding, ensued.42
It may be argued that Dante had an abundance of the chemical
oxytocin which thus allowed him to stay constant to only one lady, the
glorious Beatrice. After Beatrice died, Dante stayed faithful to his lady
even in the void of her death. When Beatrice died, Dante wept bitterly,
and he continued to have visions of her in his dreams and write poems for
her. His constancy for Beatrice is evidenced in the last chapter, Chapter
XLIII as Dante indicates, “[I determined] that I would say nothing further
of this most blessed one, until such time as I could discourse more

39 Sappho, Fragments from Wharton’s Sappho.

40 Slater, “Love.”
41 Groen, "This is Your Brain on Love.”
42 Slater, “Love.”
19 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
worthily concerning her… It is my hope that I shall yet write concerning
her what hath not before been written of any woman.”43 Dante’s behavior
implies that he takes pleasure in staying bonded to only one woman just as
other humans and the mammal prairie voles are able to stay continuously
attached in a monogamous relationship.
Finally, the chemical serotonin has many functions in romantic
love as well. Studies have shown that some men have a shorter serotonin
transporter gene than others. With the shorter gene, these men have lower
levels of serotonin. As a result, men with the shorter gene are more likely
to have anxiety and be sexually active, which creates a more passionate
temperament. According to Brown, “[Psychiatrist Hagop Akiskal] thinks
the ‘great romantics’ are people suffering from cyclothymia, a bipolar
disorder somewhat like manic-depression, that brings alternating periods
of intense excitement and gloom.”44 Akiskal’s studies prove that it is
during happy times that individuals with cyclothymia fall in love. Akiskal’s
research shows that this state of ecstasy does not last as severe depression
eventually replaces the euphoria. This dark state may even lead to a
suicidal disposition, possibly endangering one’s own life as well as their
lover’s life.45
Dante Alighieri and Chopin’s character Edna both exhibit signs
that they could be suffers of cyclothymia as both Dante and Edna would
experience swings from the ecstasy of being in love to suddenly dark and
deep feelings of depression. Edna would often be happy one moment and
enveloped with sadness and weeping the next; she was so wrought with
the anguish of her thoughts and the rocking of her emotions that at the
end of the novel, she commits suicide. Dante also would experience these
severe swings of emotions in his tumultuous love for Beatrice. Sometimes,
he would experience such overwhelming emotion that his confusion
became evident to others around him. This is illustrated in Chapter XIII,
when Dante states,
And when I perceived her, all my senses were
overpowered by the great lordship that Love obtained,
finding himself so near unto that most gracious being, until

43 Alighieri, La Vita Nuova.

44 Brown, "Love sick.”
45 Ibid.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 20
nothing but the spirits of sight remained to me…I grieved
for the spirits so expelled which kept up a sore
lament…By this, many of her friends, having discerned my
confusion, began to wonder: and together with herself,
kept whispering of me and mocking me... Afterwards,
leaving him, I went back to my room where I had wept
before; and again weeping and ashamed, said: “If this lady
but knew of my condition... she must needs feel some
pity.” 46
According to Katherine Brown, researchers have discovered that
the emotion of love has similar characteristics and symptoms to those of
the Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Those who have OCD suffer from
endlessly nagging thoughts and anxiety. At the University of Pisa in Italy,
psychiatry professor Donatella Marazziti and her associates conducted a
study attempting to find biochemical explanations for the disorder. In her
study, Marazziti took blood samples from participants who have OCD to
determine their serotonin levels. Through a simple blood sample,
Marazziti calculated serotonin in one’s brain and serotonin in blood
platelet, because serotonin in blood platelets and serotonin in the brain
move similarly. Marazziti and her colleagues found that those with OCD
lacked enough of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Unusually low serotonin
levels in individuals have been correlated with depression, aggression, and
While interviewing patients for the study, Brown states, “Marazziti
was struck by the way their persistent one-track thoughts mirrored the
musings of people in love. Throughout the day, both the people with
OCD and the love struck can spend hours fixating on a certain object or
that certain someone.”48 Author Lauren Slater illustrates this phenomenon
while recalling the first time she felt the pangs of love when she fell in love
with her grade school teacher, “I could not get Mr. McArthur out of my
mind. I was anxious… School became at once terrifying and
exhilarating… But when my wishes were granted, and I got a glimpse of
my man, it satisfied nothing; it only inflamed me all the more.”49

46 Alighieri, La Vita Nuova.

47 Brown, "Love sick.ӌ
48 Ibid.
49 Slater, “Love.”
21 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
Marazziti decided to research the correlations between OCD and
love, and for their study, Marazziti and her team recruited love-struck
students from the University of Pisa. These individuals had to have fallen
in love within the last six months, not yet consummated their relationship,
and obsessed about the significant other for a minimum of four hours
each day. They also recruited individuals with OCD and volunteers who
did not have OCD nor were in love. After analyzing the blood samples
taken from each group, Marazziti’s team found that love-struck and OCD
participants had about 40% less serotonin in their blood than the subjects
free of both afflictions who exhibited normal levels of the chemical.50
Slater simplifies this discovery stating, “Translation: Love and obsessive-
compulsive disorder have a similar chemical profile. Translation: Love and
mental illness may be difficult to tell apart. Translation: Don’t be a fool.
Stay away.”51
Dante was most evidently “crazy” and “sick” in his obsession with
Beatrice. Dante could not stop thinking about Beatrice from the moment
he first saw her. He experienced such inner turmoil in his laboring of love
that he would become sick, and his unhealthy state of mind even
manifested itself in his physical appearance. This is alluded to in Chapter
IV when Dante specifies, “From that night forth, the natural functions of
my body began to be vexed and impeded, for I was given up wholly to
thinking of this most gracious creature: whereby in short space I became
so weak and so reduced that it was irksome to many of my friends to look
upon me.”52
Abelard experiences obsessive love for Heloise as well, and he
admits to Philintus his inability to stop thinking about Heloise saying, “All
my passions were lost in this new one. I thought of nothing but Heloise;
everything brought her image to my mind. I was pensive and restless, and
my passion was so violent as to admit of no restraint.”53 Heloise returned
these passionate feelings, and she also experienced obsessive infatuation
with Abelard. She found herself unable to stop writing him. In her last
letter to Abelard, she tries to convince him that she has gotten over him,
but by the end of the letter, she betrays her true feelings, and admits she is

50 Brown, "Love sick.”

51 Slater, “Love.”
52 Alighieri, La Vita Nuova.
53 “The Letters of Abelard and Heloise.”
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 22
still passionately in love with him. In her first letter to Abelard, Heloise
relates how his picture conjures thinking of him constantly. She begs him
to tell her everything he is thinking and feeling so that she may know
everything about him and share in his jubilations and trials. She
convincingly bids him to write to her since letters are able to truly impart
all their passions. Heloise writes,
Let me have a faithful account of all that concerns you; I
would know everything, be it ever so unfortunate…I have
your picture in my room; I never pass it without stopping to
look at it; and yet when you are present with me I scarce
ever cast my eyes on it. If a picture, which is but a mute
representation of an object, can give such pleasure, what
cannot letters inspire? They have souls; they can speak; they
have in them all that force which expresses the transports
of the heart; they have all the fire of our passions, they can
raise them as much as if the persons themselves were
However, lovers such as Dante, Abelard, and Heloise have hope; research
has demonstrated that this sick, crazy, and obsessive state found at the
beginning stage of love, does eventually pass.
To confirm the hypothesis that serotonin only lowers during the
beginning of new love, researchers again tested a handful of the students
they had previously studied after a year had passed. The study proved this
prediction accurate as all of the students’ serotonin levels had returned to
normal. Their bubbly, passionate, and head-over-heels love for their
partner had been replaced by a less volatile and more affectionate love.55
In New York, Eric Hollander, who is the director of Compulsive,
Impulsive, and Anxiety Disorders Program at Mount Sinai School of
Medicine, believes many do not realize that OCD has been linked with
activities that pursue precarious or thrilling activities such as stealing,
shopping and gambling. These types of activities are correlated with the
reward system in the brain and provide pleasure. Love can be correlated

54 “The Letters of Abelard and Heloise.”

55 Brown, "Love sick.”
23 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
with OCD in these respects, too.56 Slater specifies, “Love makes you bold,
makes you bright, makes you run real risks.”57
Hollander has also studied obsessive jealousy, another emotion
commonly found in OCD and in-love individuals. Hollander related the
story of one of his OCD patients. His patient was certain that his wife was
cheating on him; he persistently quizzed his wife about where she’d been,
and he made his wife cover their home’s windows and stay fully dressed
on trips to the beach. This OCD symptom is called checking compulsion.
Hollander prescribed Prozac, a drug that is meant to enhance and
normalize levels of serotonin in the brain. After treatment, this particular
patient, among others of Hollander’s patients, relaxed and their OCD
symptoms lessened.58
Abelard most clearly demonstrated the feeling of burning and
impassioned jealousy that can accompany love. In Letter I, when Abelard
writes to his friend Philintus, he describes how, after having lost his
manhood, he became sick with jealousy at simply the thought that any
other man but him could have Heloise. In particular, Abelard writes,
“Jealousy took possession of my mind, and at the very expense of her
happiness I decreed to disappoint all rivals. Before I put myself in a
cloister I obliged her to take the habit and retire into the nunnery of
Argenteuil.”59 This theme betraying Abelard’s selfishness again appears
when Abelard writes to Heloise in Letter III. Abelard again describes the
strong pangs of jealousy he felt when he realized that he could no longer
possess Heloise saying, “When I saw myself oppressed by my misfortune I
was furiously jealous, and regarded all men as my rivals. Love has more of
distrust than assurance.”60 At the beginning of their love relationship, the
lovers Heloise and Abelard demonstrate an OCD-like obsession for one
another just like couples in modern scientific studies who lack enough of
the chemical serotonin. In his obsessive desire for Heloise, researchers
may speculate that Abelard lacked enough levels of circulating serotonin in
his brain, thus allowing him to make hasty judgments clouded by jealousy.

56 Ibid.
57 Slater, “Love.”
58 Brown, "Love sick.”
59 “The Letters of Abelard and Heloise.”
60 Ibid.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 24
Love is an inexplicable and baffling concept. In western literature,
poets and authors have written about love for centuries. In recent decades,
scientists have also attempted to unveil the complexities of the emotion.
Studies and research have proven that love has evolutionary roots and
purposes, strongly corresponds with the sense of sight, resembles drug
addictions, correlates with the activities and effects of several
neurochemicals, and shares similarities with the mental disorder OCD.
Literary works such as Dante’s La Vita Nuova, Chopin’s The Awakening,
The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, and the poems of Sappho and John
Donne, all illustrate various discoveries made in science. Love is a subject
that writers and scientists will continue to return to, attempting over and
again to relate the experiences of being in love and to explain the
sensations associated with love that are universally familiar.

Works Cited
Alighieri, Dante. La Vita Nuova. Trans. Dante G. Rossetti. Ed. Joslyn
Pine. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications Inc., 2001.
Brown, Kathryn. "Love sick." New Scientist. 163.2197 (1999): 42. Academic
Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 3 Apr. 2010.
Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. Ed. Cynthia B. Johnson. New York, NY:
Simon & Schuster Paperbacks Inc., 2009.
Donne, John. “Love’s Deity.” From Marlana Portolano’s hand-out. Spring
Semester 2010.
Fisher, Helen E., Arthur Aron, and Lucy L. Brown. "Romantic Love: A
Mammalian Brain System for Mate Choice." Philosophical
Transactions B: Biological Sciences. 361.1476 (2006): 2173-2186. E-
Journals. EBSCO. Web. 8 Mar. 2010.
Frank, Christina. “Why Do We Fall In – and out of – Love? Dr. Helen
Fisher Unravels the Mystery.” Biography. 5.2 (2001): 85. Academic
Search Premier. Web. 8 Mar. 2010.
Groen, Danielle. "This is Your Brain on Love." Chatelaine. 82.2 (2009):
128. MasterFILE Premier. EBSCO. Web. 8 Mar. 2010.
Sappho. Fragments from Wharton’s Sappho. Trans H. T. Wharton. Web.
16 April 2010.
Slater, Lauren. “Love.” National Geographic. 209.2 (2006): 32-49. Academic
Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 8 Mar. 2010.
25 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
“The Letters of Abelard and Heloise.” Trans. Anonymous. Ed. Israel
Gollancz and Honnor Morten. 1901. Web. 16 April 2010.
< chr/aah/index.htm>.
"The Neurobiology of Love." FEBS Letters. 581.14 (2007): 2575-2579. E-
Journals. EBSCO. Web. 8 Mar. 2010.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 26
A Beautiful and Unending Longing:
A Brief Examination of Love Unfulfilled in the Poetic Tradition
Felicia Griffith

Love is a timeless theme in literature. Throughout the history of

the written word, creative thinkers have recorded their thoughts and
feelings about love in poetry, novels, songs, plays, movies, and even
nonfiction. From Plato’s Symposium on the nature of love to the modern
romance novels of Nicholas Sparks, love has been a topic of interest for
every generation. It is this endless fascination that people have with love
that fuels such creative efforts. In the Western tradition of love poetry,
such poets as Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarch, and William
Shakespeare expressed love in a slightly different way. Each of those
poets was in love with someone with whom a real relationship was
impossible. For Dante, his love, Beatrice, was already married, as was he.
For Petrarch, his love, Laura, continually rejected him in addition to the
fact that they were both married. For Shakespeare, his love was a young
man, which went against all social conventions of his time. Such doomed
love seems more common in poetry than in any other form of art or
literature. In that way, poetry seems to be rather unique. Whereas most
other creative forms will focus on mutual love and its development, poetry
lends itself to the poet’s fascination with someone who is usually unaware
of her role as the poet’s muse.
These depictions of love in poetry are related to unrequited love,
which is “passionate love felt by one person toward another person who
does not desire . . . the would-be lover.”61 The major difference between
unrequited love and the love seen in the poetic tradition is that unrequited
love has an unavoidable aspect of rejection, where “. . . the target of [the
other] person’s affections is left in the uncomfortable position of having
to reject that [intense romantic] love.”62 Following that rejection, the
person experiencing unreturned love would, perhaps, do desperate things

61 Ellen Bratslavsky, Roy F. Baumeister, and Kristen L. Sommer. "To Love or Be Loved

in Vain: The Trials and Tribulations of Unrequited Love." The Dark Side of Close
Relationships. Ed. Brain H. Spitzberg and William R. Cupach. (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence
Erlbaum Associates, Publishers, 1998).
62 Ibid.
27 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
to prove his worth to the object of his affections. Indeed, “[i]t appears
that unrequited love often makes people act in strange or unexpected
In unrequited love, one of the people always has to end up in
the role of the villain, because the two people involved want very different
things from each other. One wants a committed relationship, and the
other just wants to be left alone. With the poetic love tradition, none of
the rejection, nor the vilifying aspect of unreturned love, is experienced.
Instead, the poet does not approach his love, only watches her from afar.
In this way, the poet keeps the object of his affections as inspiration for
his writings, and does not have to suffer from her rejection. The poetic
version of love keeps all the splendor and joy of the feeling of being in
love without having all the painful consequences of unrequited love. It
may seem a subtle distinction, but it is critical when examining the works
of Dante, Petrarch, and Shakespeare.
Dante Alighieri, who was extremely dedicated to Beatrice, first fell
in love with her in his youth, and she served as the inspiration for his La
Vita Nuova. Even years after her death, Beatrice still maintained an
influence over Dante; she is his guide through Heaven in The Divine
Comedy. Certainly, “. . . the most important part of Dante’s youth—at least
. . . for its effect on his verse—was his relationship with Beatrice, so
tenuous as hardly to be described a relationship at all, yet so lasting in its
effect as to dominate all his remaining years.”64 Dante’s first encounter
with Beatrice is described in La Vita Nuova:
Nine times already since my birth had the heaven of light
returned to the selfsame point almost . . . when first the
glorious Lady of my mind was made manifest to mine eyes
. . . [Beatrice] appeared to me at the beginning of her ninth
year almost, and I saw her almost at the end of my ninth
year. . . . At that moment, I say most truly that the spirit of
life, which hath its dwelling in the secretest chamber of the
heart . . . said these words: “Here is a deity stronger than I;
who, coming, shall rule over me.”65

63 Ibid.
64 Thomas G. Bergin, Dante, 1st ed. (New York: Orion Press, 1965).
65 Dante Alighieri, La Vita Nuova (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 2001).
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 28
And so began the lifelong love of Dante for Beatrice. While he is
fascinated by her, Dante is also completely in love with Beatrice, and it not
a painless love. In one of his sonnets, he describes how he is affected by
both his love and the mere sight of his Lady:
At whiles (yea oftentimes) I muse over
The quality of anguish that is mine
Through Love: then pity makes my voice to pine
Saying, “Is any else thus, anywhere?”
Love smiteth me, whose strength is ill to bear;
So that of all my life is left no sign
Except one thought; and that, because ‘tis thine
Leaves not the body but abideth there.
And then if I, whom other aid forsook,
Would aid myself, and innocent of art
Would fain have sight of thee as a last hope,
No sooner do I lift mine eyes to look
Than the blood seems as shaken from my heart,
And all my pulses beat at once and stop.66
This poem also describes a common theme of love in literature: that of
love being like a sickness. For Dante, love is like a sickness that afflicts
him whenever he sees Beatrice or even when he merely thinks of her.
Despite this sickness of sorts, he is also raised up by his love for Beatrice,
and thinks that any other man who is in her presence is so uplifted as well.
He writes:
My lady carries love within her eyes;
All that she looks on is made pleasanter;
Upon her path men turn to gaze at her;
He whom she greeteth feels his heart to rise,
And droops his troubled visage, full of sighs,
And of his evil heart is then aware:
Hate loves, and pride becomes a worshipper.
O women, help to praise her in somewise.
Humbleness, and the hope that hopeth well,
By speech of hers into the mind are brought,
And who beholds is blessed oftenwhiles.

66 Ibid.
29 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
The look she hath when she a little smiles
Cannot be said, nor holden in the thought;
‘Tis such a new and gracious miracle.67
Dante is so in love with Beatrice that, even while he is made physically ill
by his longing for her, he still feels an emotional and spiritual lightness in
her presence. Such is the power of love.
For his part, Dante guards his love sickness closely, so that he
alone may experience his love without outside interference. Indeed, “[he]
wished to keep his feelings about Beatrice a secret—it was a convention of
‘courtly love’, but it is also a frequent human tendency, especially if
combined with a tendency to talk about the beloved on every possible
occasion . . .”68 To further his cause of complete secrecy in regards to his
love’s true identity, Dante used another woman as a cover for his love. At
a public event where both he and Beatrice were present, he continually
looked towards his love,
and betwixt her and me, in a direct line, there sat another
lady of a pleasant favour; who looked round at me many
times, marveling at my continued gaze which seemed to
have her for its object. And many perceived that she thus
looked . . . It came into my mind that I might make use of
this lady as a screen to the truth . . .” (Alighieri).
By using this other woman as a screen for Beatrice, Dante is able to
continue to act like he is in love in public, and not raise any suspicions.
He is then able to keep Beatrice in his heart, and have her all to himself.
Instead of Beatrice, it is this screen woman about whom Dante is teased,
and his love for Beatrice is able to remain unspoiled.
Even Beatrice’s death does not spoil Dante’s love for her. In fact,
it remains just as strong as it ever was. While the event is, in itself, tragic
and “. . . a crucial event in Dante’s life” it also serves to cement Dante’s
feelings for Beatrice.69 He writes:
The eyes that weep for pity of the heart
Have wept so long that their grief languisheth
And they have no more tears to weep withal:

67 Ibid.
68 Williams
69 Bergin, Dante.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 30
And now, if would ease me of a part
Of what, little by little, leads to death,
It must be done by speech, or not at all. . . .
And I will say—still sobbing as speech fails—
That she hath gone to Heaven suddenly,
And hath left Love below, to mourn with me.
Beatrice is gone up into high Heaven,
The kingdom where the angels are at peace;
And lives with them; and to her friends is dead.70
So passionate is Dante’s grief that he writes many poems in his mourning
for Beatrice. During this period of grief, he decides to continue to write
about her so that he may reflect on her virtues and her perfection as a
woman. It is with this mindset that he ends La Vita Nuova, vowing to
“. . . yet write concerning her what hath not before been written of any
Another of the followers of the poetic tradition, Francesco
Petrarch wrote his love sonnets about a woman named Laura. Following
in the courtly love tradition, Petrarch fell in love with Laura when he first
laid eyes on her “. . . in the church of St Clare in Avignon on 6 April 1327
. . .”72 In his third sonnet, he writes:
It was on that day when the sun's ray
was darkened in pity for its Maker,
that I was captured, and did not defend myself,
because your lovely eyes had bound me, Lady.73
His love was confined to poetic form because “Laura resisted Petrarch’s
sensual advances from motives that combined innate morality and concern
for her good name.”74 This outright declaration of love by the poet, which
results in his being rejected numerous times, is much closer to the idea of
unrequited love than it is to that of a love that is outside the norms of
society. Understandably, being in love was a mixture of ecstasy and

70 Alighieri, La Vita Nuova.

71 Ibid.
72 Peter Hainsworth, Petrarch the Poet (New York: Routledge, 1988).
73 Francesco Petrarch, "Petrarch: The Canzoniere," Francesco Petrarch - Father of Humanism.

(N.p., 10 Sep 2007: Web, 10 Mar 2010)

74 Ibid.
31 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
torture for Petrarch. To save himself the heartache, he tried to get over
his feelings for Laura and even “. . . thought for a time that he had freed
himself from his passion, but relapsed even more strongly,”75 as can be
seen in Sonnet 55:
That fire that I thought had been quenched
by chill time and declining years,
rekindles flame and suffering in the soul.
They were not wholly spent, as I can see,
those last embers, but covered over,
and I fear this second error will be worse.
With all the thousands of tears I weep
sorrow flowing from my heart distils
from my eyes: sparks and tinder are with me:
it is not as it was, but seems to flare higher.76
Despite his attempt to smother the feelings he had for Laura, who was
unsympathetic to his plight, Petrarch is unable to let her go. The last lines
of Sonnet 55 describe his feelings of being completely entangled in love’s
web: “. . . that when I've most hope my heart will escape, / I can no
longer retreat from her lovely face.”77
As completely as his heart is entwined around Laura, so Petrarch
also winds his hopes and dreams of literary fame through his love for her
and into his poetry. In Sonnet 61, he writes:
Blessed be the day, and the month, and the year,
and the season, and the time, and the hour, and the
and the beautiful country, and the place where I was joined
to the two beautiful eyes that have bound me:
and blessed be the first sweet suffering
that I felt in being conjoined with Love,
and the bow, and the shafts with which I was pierced,
and the wounds that run to the depths of my heart.

75 Ibid.
76 Ibid.
77 Ibid.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 32
Blessed be all those verses I scattered
calling out the name of my lady,
and the sighs, and the tears, and the passion:
and blessed be all the sheets
where I acquire fame, and my thoughts,
that are only of her, that no one else has part of.78
In the same breath that he rejoices in Laura’s beauty and celebrates
the love he feels for her, Petrarch also makes it clear that he intends to use
his love and suffering as inspiration for his writings. By using Laura as his
muse, Petrarch could be trying to distance himself from her. If she is only
his inspiration for poetry, he does not necessarily have to love her, and
continue to pine after her. Laura’s name is, in fact, “. . . an exact
homophone of ‘l’aura’ (breeze, breath) . . . something cooling, consoling,
or even vital when it becomes the breath of life or inspiration.”79 She
certainly was the breath of inspiration for Petrarch’s sonnets, and seems to
be his breath of life as well. Another of the meanings of Laura’s name
seems to indicate that Petrarch was using her to help achieve literary fame:
“‘lauro’ . . . the laurel, suggests poetry, fame, classical studies and
achievement . . .”80 It may have seemed to Petrarch fantastic luck, being in
love with a physical representation of the laurels he so desperately desired.
Despite the apparent good luck charm of Laura/laurels, Laura died
twenty-one years, to the day, after Petrarch first saw her.81 Unfortunately
for Petrarch, even Laura’s death did not diminish his passion. It was a
very painful experience for him, as can be seen in Sonnet 268:
What must I do? What do you counsel, Love?
The time has truly come to die,
and I have lingered longer than I wish.
My lady is dead, and my heart with her:
and if I wish to follow,
I must interrupt this cruel life,
since I have no more hope
of seeing her here, and waiting galls me.
Now all my joy

78 Ibid.
79 Hainsworth, Petrarch the Poet.
80 Ibid.
81 Ibid.
33 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
has turned to weeping at her going,
all sweetness has been taken from my life.82
Despite the anguish it caused, Laura’s death “. . . also seemed a release
from a passion which he analysed . . . as something paralysing his will and
endangering his soul.”83 Petrarch, however, was eventually drawn back to
Laura: “He was unable to forget her as she had been, or as he liked to
imagine her, and sometimes had dreams or visions in which her spirit
visited him, consoling him . . .”84 such as in Sonnet 302:
My thought raised me to a place in which
she was whom I seek, and cannot find on earth:
there, among those who are in the third circle,
I saw her once more, more beautiful and less proud.
She took my hand, and said: “If my desire
is not in error, you will be with me again in this sphere.”85
In this particular sonnet, Petrarch imagines a Laura who is “. . . everything
he wanted her to be, with a beauty that will only be perfected in eternity,
with love for him, and yet morally admirable.”86 Petrarch stayed in love
with Laura, even after she rejected him, and after she died. His continued
loyalty to her memory is expressed in his poetry, which he used as a
release for his pent-up emotions.
The need to release emotions through poetry was caused, for
William Shakespeare, by the young man who was addressed in the first
126 poems of his sonnet sequence. The first nineteen of which “. . . give
expression to one compelling case, that of saving from time and wrack the
rare and ravishing beauty of the youth addressed.”87 In Sonnet 3,
Shakespeare wrote:
Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest
Now is the time that face should form another,
Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest,
Thou dost beguile the world, unbless some mother.

82 Petrarch, "Petrarch: The Canzoniere,"

83 Hainsworth, Petrarch the Poet.
84 Ibid.
85 Ibid.
86 Hainsworth, Petrarch the Poet.
87 Joseph Pequigney, Such is My Love: A Study of Shakespeare's Sonnets (Chicago: The

University of Chicago Press, 1985).

Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 34
For where is she so fair whose uneared womb
Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry?88
He is so enamored of the young man’s good looks that he:
. . . urges his friend to marry and beget a child, arguing
that propagation is a double duty—to the young man
himself, and to the world, for time which made him will
destroy him, and without his progeny the world to come
will not know what he was.89
It may seem that Shakespeare feels only a platonic love for the young man,
since he is pushing the youth towards marriage and away from the poet
himself. Why, then, would he go to so much trouble to immortalize the
youth in his poetry? For Shakespeare, “. . . the decay of beauty is
observed with pain and rebellion, and sometimes with horror . . .”90 The
first nineteen poems of the sonnet sequence are on the single subject of
preserving the young man in some way. Shakespeare’s feelings ran so
deeply, he did not pursue the young man just so that future generations
would be able to know his beauty through his children. Even later on in
the sonnet sequence, Shakespeare continues to urge the young man away
from him. In Sonnet 36, he writes:
Let me confess that we two must be twain
Although our undivided loves are one;
So shall these blots that do with me remain,
Without thy help, by me be borne alone.
In our two loves there is but one respect,
Though in our lives a separate spite,
Which though it alter not love’s sole effect,
Yet doth it steal sweet hours from love’s delight.
I may not evermore acknowledge thee,
Lest my bewailed guilt should do thee shame,
Nor thou with public kindness honor me
Unless thou take that honor from thy name.
But do not so. I love thee in such sort

88 William Shakespeare, Shakespeare's Sonnets (New York: Washington Square Press, 2004).
89 Edward Hubler, The Sense of Shakespeare's Sonnets (Princeton: Princeton University Press,
90 Ibid.
35 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
As, thou being mine, mine is thy good report.91
For the good of the young man, Shakespeare tells him they cannot meet
or publically praise each other. As in the first sonnets, the poet sacrifices
his own pleasure for the betterment of the youth, both in his public life
and in the future. If that is not love, then how can anything be called
The origins of the poet’s love, like for Dante and Petrarch, was
from a “. . . visual apprehension of [the youth’s] beauty . . . [which] has
stolen his eyes and amazed his soul . . .”92 The youth’s beauty is such that
Shakespeare “. . . falls in love with him, and, as a result, the means for
immortalizing the youth changes . . . to verse”93 Sonnet 18 declares,
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall Death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st.
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.94
As a poet, Shakespeare wishes to give everlasting life to the young man
through his own poetry. This form of immortalization is much more
personal that simply urging the youth to procreate. In providing the
means for the young man’s beauty to last forever, or for as long as the
poem remains, Shakespeare is also giving the young man an unmistakable
token of his affections.
The subject matter of the sonnets again shifts with Sonnet 20, in
which Shakespeare writes:
A woman’s face with Nature’s own hand painted
Hast thou, the master mistress of my passion;
A woman’s gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false woman’s fashion;
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
A man in hue all hues in his controlling;
Which steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth.

91 Shakespeare, Shakespeare's Sonnets.

92 Pequigney, Such is My Love: A Study of Shakespeare's Sonnets.
93 Ibid.
94 Shakespeare, Shakespeare's Sonnets.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 36
And for a woman wert thou first created,
Till Nature as she wrought thee fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she pricked thee out for woman’s pleasure,
Mine be thy love, and thy love’s use their treasure.95
It is in this sonnet that Shakespeare reveals his “erotic passion for the
Master Mistress.”96 The poet’s love has deepened to the extent that he is
no longer willing to share the young man with the world. Instead, he
wants to keep the youth for himself. In the remaining sonnets addressing
the young man, Shakespeare writes of his love for the youth and the
emotional turmoil that the youth causes. In Sonnet 61, he writes that he
finds it hard to sleep because of his jealous thoughts of the youth:
Is it thy will thy image should keep open
My heavy eyelids to the weary night?
Dost thou desire my slumbers should be broken
While shadows like to thee do mock my sight?
Is it thy spirit that thou send’st from thee
So far from home into my deeds to pry,
To find out shames and idle hours in me,
The scope and tenor of thy jealousy?
O, no. Thy love, though much, is not so great.
It is my love that keeps mine eyes awake,
Mine own true love that doth my rest defeat
To play the watchman ever for thy sake.97
So great is Shakespeare’s love that he lies awake, wondering about the
young man’s location and his current company. Sonnet 61 shows
Shakespeare’s jealous feelings towards the youth’s companions, who get to
be with the young man even though Shakespeare cannot. Since a
relationship between the two men would have been socially unacceptable,
as explained in Sonnet 36, the only way Shakespeare could express his love
was through his poetry.
But how can the three separate and distinct loves of Dante,
Petrarch, and Shakespeare have a common root? Simply, all three used
95 Ibid.
96 Pequigney, Such is My Love: A Study of Shakespeare's Sonnets.
97 Shakespeare, Shakespeare's Sonnets.
37 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
their poetry as a substitution of sorts for a relationship with their loves.
Since “[all] human behavior is in one way or another concerned with
manipulating the self or the environment . . .”98 it can be understood that
the poets’ way of dealing with their unreturned emotions was to write
poetry. Each poet was simply directing his emotions to a source different
from their cause. Dante used Beatrice as his primary inspiration for
writing. His love for her was so great that he made Beatrice the guide
through Heaven, the holiest of places. Petrarch similarly used Laura as his
sole muse. Shakespeare was inspired, although not exclusively, by the
young man, who took up a very generous portion of the Shakespearean
sonnet sequence.
All three poets were engaged in a sort of talk therapy, where their
emotions were released without actually acting on them. Psychotherapy,
or talk therapy, is the “process of treating mental and emotional disorders
by talking about [one’s] condition and related issues . . . [in which one]
learn[s] about [one’s] condition and [one’s] mood, feelings, thoughts and
behavior.”99 The poets were able to express their thoughts, emotions, and
behaviors through their writings. This emotional catharsis was more
helpful to Shakespeare than to either Dante or Petrarch, both of whom
took their loves for Beatrice and Laura, respectively, to their graves.
Writing about their emotions (a more figurative form of talk therapy) did
not help either of them overcome said emotions. In fact, the way Dante
and Petrarch dwelled on their love seemed actually to make it stronger
rather than weaker. Shakespeare, on the other hand, was able to let go of
his love after a time. Even if the writing of his sonnets did not ease his
passion for the youth, something must have: the final section of sonnets
about the young man “. . . delineates the ebbing of the passion . . .”100
Despite the ineffectiveness of the “writing therapy” for Dante and
Petrarch, they were, in some way, soothed by writing about love.
Clearly, not all love stories can have a happy ending. In fact,
Dante, Petrarch, and Shakespeare were not able to be with the objects of
their affections. Even though none of them got a happy ending, or
experienced true love, or even got to enjoy spending time with the person

98 Ralph W. Heine, Psychotherapy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1971).

99 Mayo Clinic Medical Information, “Psychotherapy Definition,”
100 Pequigney, Such is My Love: A Study of Shakespeare's Sonnets.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 38
they devoted so much of themselves to, all three will be remembered
forever for their contributions to the poetic world. While living under the
strain of an unrequited love was probably full of more hardship than
happiness, it did produce beautiful verse that has withstood the test of
time. Their stories may not produce the same warm feeling as a romantic
movie, but they are certainly much more realistic than the Hollywood
version of love seen in movie theaters and on television. Not every story
can end with the hero riding off into the sunset, and not every man will
get the girl (or boy) of his dreams. It can be so easy to forget that some of
the most romantic and beautiful verse is actually inspired by unending
longing and a certain sense of desperation on the part of the poet.
Despite the unrequited love of poets past, the writings they left behind will
forever bring together new generations of lovers.

Works Cited
Alighieri, Dante. La Vita Nuova. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc.,
Bergin, Thomas G. Dante. 1st ed. New York, NY: Orion Press, 1965.
Bratslavsky, Ellen, Roy F. Baumeister, and Kristen L. Sommer. "To Love
or Be Loved in Vain: The Trials and Tribulations of Unrequited
Love." The Dark Side of Close Relationships. Ed. Brain H. Spitzberg
and William R. Cupach. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum
Associates, Publishers, 1998.
Hainsworth, Peter. Petrarch the Poet. New York, NY: Routledge, 1988.
Heine, Ralph W. Psychotherapy. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.,
Hubler, Edward. The Sense of Shakespeare's Sonnets. Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press, 1952.
Mayo Clinic Medical Information. “Psychotherapy Definition”
Pequigney, Joseph. Such is My Love: A Study of Shakespeare's Sonnets.
Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1985.
Petrarch, Francesco. "Petrarch: The Canzoniere." Francesco Petrarch - Father of
Humanism. N.p., 10 Sep 2007. Web. 10 Mar 2010.
39 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
Shakespeare, William. Shakespeare's Sonnets. New
York, NY: Washington Square Press, 2004.
Williams, Charles. The Figure of Beatrice: A Study in Dante. New York, NY:
Octagon Books, 1972.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 40
By What Definition Do You Understand Love?
Danielle Mayhew

A question that has been the focus of many writers throughout

time is, “What is Love?” From Plato’s dialogue The Symposium, to Ovid’s
didactic poem The Art of Love: Book I, and into modern media, the attempt
to define love remains an influential theme. Love has remained such a
significant theme that some of its elements are still in debate. One such is
Eros and sexual orientation, and how it figures in the equation of love. In
this paper I will attempt to define the meaning of love through an analysis
of Plato’s Symposium and Ovid’s didactic poem, as well as information
from additional sources.
I began my research with looking at the sexual relationships in
ancient Greece and Rome. In The Sleep of Reason, Martha Nussbaum and Juha
Sihvola discuss the role that Eros took in the society, which often involved
homosexual relationships. In that time Erotic realtionships had two
possible outcomes among men, one being beneficent by showing a tender
regard for a young man’s personality and education from the elder male;
the other being characterized by overwhelming genital desire that could
easily lead to ferocity and blind indifference to the well being of the young
man. Thus, for the Greeks, the “sexual appetite is treated as one appetite
among the others, and the important consideration, in dealing with all the
appetites, is one of self-mastery”. There are examples of this in art and
literary texts, like the Symposium, which frequently intimate that the two
aspects of Eros “work harmoniously together: the hand that strokes the
genitals is just as precise and reverent, just as cautious, as the hand that
delicately cups the face.”101 With the information that Eros in homosexual
relationships during the era was encouraged, though only when it included
the higher style, I moved on to look closer at Plato’s dialogue, including
the introduction.
The introduction to Plato’s Symposium explains that because there
was little male-female courtship in classical Athens, ‘romantic love’ tended

101Martha C Nussbaum & Juha Sihvola, The sleep of reason: erotic experience and sexual ethics in
ancient Greece and Rome, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2002).
41 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
to focus on adult males, especially between an older and a younger man.102
Although practiced in intellectual, aristocratic circles, this type of eroticism
was not entirely typical of Greek culture during that time.
Sexual orientation’s effect on love is extremely important for the
characters in their journey to define and praise the god Eros. Phaedrus
starts the contest, almost immediately referring to the best love as that
between two men, “I would claim that there is no greater benefit for a
young man than a good lover and none greater for a lover than a good
boyfriend.”103 By placing this information at the beginning of the dialogue,
Plato establishes that it is commonly accepted by the men at this meeting
that love is between two males and that it is a common belief as well that
homosexual love is of the best nature.
Pausanias is the next speaker. He complicates Phaedrus’s notion of
love by saying that there is more than one type of love, but that the
goddess Aphrodite is inseparable from all types of love. This is interesting
because Aphrodite was a female; so in saying that she is inseparable from
love, Pausanias maybe discretely suggesting that females are a necessary
ingredient to love. Contradicting his previous statement, he then goes on
to say that there are two types of love, the Common Love in which
“People (are) are attracted to women as much as boys, and to bodies
rather than minds,” and the Divine Love which “derives from the
heavenly goddess, who has nothing of the female in her but only maleness;
so this love is directed at boys.”104 I find this an impossible argument. A
goddess cannot lack femininity because she is a woman. A woman cannot
be a man as this negates the originally decreed nature. Thus, this is the first
of many arguments that foreshadow the breakdown of the participants’
claim that a divine love can only be homosexual.
Continuing the dialogue Eryximachus, the physician, takes his
place among the speech-makers, but says nothing on the sexual
orientation of love. He agrees with Pausanias’s argument that there are
two types of love, though for Eryximachus they depend on the well-being
and health of the human body. He stresses the need for control over the
body in order to perform what is best for oneself instead of surrendering

102 Christopher Gill, Plato’s Symposium, (Chicago: Penguin Classics, 1999).

103 Ibid.
104 Ibid.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 42
to one’s physical desires and poisoning the body. He insists what is moral
is the path to Love instead of animal desire.
In Plato’s Symposium: the ethics of desire, Robin Waterfield says “Our
desires embody our values and beliefs about what is good and help to
determine our choices; any study of desire, therefore, goes straight to the
heart of moral psychology, one of Plato’s recurrent interests.”105 No
speaker makes this argument as clearly as Eryximachus who reports desire
through a medical approach and demonstrates through reason that ethical
choices should control passion: “When those elements I mentioned before
(hot and cold, dry and wet) are influenced by the well-ordered Love, they
are in harmony with each other and achieve a temperate mixture.”106
Aristophanes tells a story about the creation of man in which there
were three genders: an androgynous gender that combined both male and
female into one being, a male being, and a female being. However, these
beings were too powerful for their own good and were split apart by Zeus
as punishment after their attempt to reach the heavens and attack the
gods. The separation brought a longing in the beasts to be whole again,
creating the yearning for a companion. He explains the preference for a
sex by saying that those who were cut from the male gender go for males,
those from the female gender for female, and those who were
androgynous go for a member of the opposite sex. Originally this became
my favorite of the tales because it legitimized each being’s desire for his or
her preferred sex, allowing the possibility that all can have a divine love.
But then Aristophanes went on to say, “While they are boys, because they
are slices of the male gender, they are attracted to men. . . . These are the
best of their generation…because they are naturally the bravest.”107 In that
paragraph, Aristophanes followed in the steps of the previous speech-
makers in devaluing the legitimacy of loving a woman. Waterfield sums up
the speeches to this point brilliantly, “The speeches link Eros with beauty,

105 Robin Waterfield, Plato’s symposium: the ethics of desire. By Frisbee C.C. Sheffield.
Heythrop Journal, 49(3) (2008: 476-477). Retrieved March 10, 2010, from
106 Ibid.
107 Gill, Plato’s Symposium.
43 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
and with virtue, for instance, but do so in ways that are incomplete or
The speeches are inadequate because of their prejudice. Only
beauty and wisdom can be truly loved according to the characters and they
deny women the ability to possess such qualities. They claim that women
do not have the mental capacity for such ways of thinking, yet they take
the time to ensure that women are not present during their discussions. Is
this a random act? I would argue to the contrary, because inconsequential
details like the removal of a woman from the symposium at the beginning
of the dialogue would not be included if these acts did not hold
symbolism. The removal of the woman symbolizes the fear of feminine
ability. The men do not want their existing beliefs questioned or
diminished by undeniable proof to the contrary As further justification to
my argument, the men in the symposium are all well educated men who
were likely taught at similar institutions and who share similar beliefs.
These similarities minimize the likelihood of conflicting arguments.
Additionally, since they are all discussing beliefs there is no hard proof
that can invalidate a conviction any of the men may hold, thus lessening
their anxiety of experiencing an event which would permanently alter their
comfortable lives.
The second to last speaker is Agathon who claims that love is a
god instead of a goddess, thus completely removing the need for a woman
in the equation. He praises the god, “Love is himself supreme in beauty
and excellence,” continuing on in this manner until the conclusion of his
speech. The speech is empty of meaning, saying little other than that love
is a beautiful man who should be followed around and serenaded.109 It is
simple—failing to mention the types of love and what each involves—
good and bad.
Finally Socrates takes the floor. He begins by criticizing Agathon
for his simplicity and unrealistic air, “But in fact, it seems, that isn’t the
right way of praising something. Instead, you should claim that your
subject has the greatest and finest possible qualities, whether it really does
or not; and if what you say isn’t true, it doesn’t matter very much.”110 He

108 Waterfield, Plato’s Symposium: the ethics of desire.

109 Gill, Plato’s Symposium.
110 Ibid.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 44
continues to rectify the inaccuracies in the other speeches as well. As Otto
Kaiser asserts in On the route to pedagogical Eros, “their content (the previous
speakers’) which in the horizon of homoerotic love is leading the reader by
their main theses according to the principle of correction and
contradiction to understand Socrates as the true lover, who as master of
his sexual passions has been able to educate his beloved youths to a
blessed life by virtue and piety.”111 Every word of the previous dialogue, it
seems, was purposefully placed to lead to Socrates who is then established
as the individual with a mastery and understanding of love.
Socrates explains that he learned about love from a woman named
Diotima and people desire that which they do not have, that love desires
beauty and good and thus does not possess these qualities. It is important
to note what is not meant in this description however. In Daniel Karlin’s I
Want You, he explains that “Socrates does not, of course, mean that love is
ugly and bad; as he goes on to explain desire – whether for a material
object, or person, or an abstract quality such as truth – is an intermediate
state, and is a necessary condition of human life.”112 (Karlin, 2007)
Socrates is attempting to explain that something that is not beautiful does
not have to be ugly but can be something in the middle. As such, desire or
Eros is experienced by all people at some point in their life. Desire is
neither good nor bad, but natural and realistic in the discussion of love.
Diotima taught Socrates this idea by explaining that Love is the
child of Resource and Poverty—a great spirit, a formidable hunter,
between ignorance and wisdom—who regards himself as satisfactory. She
goes on to say that every type of desire for good things or happiness is

111 Otto Kaiser. On the route to pedagogical Eros. A reading of Plato’s Symposium according to its
inherent connections. Trames: A Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences, 9(4), (2009:
299-325). Retrieved April 14, 2010, from
112 Daniel Karlin, I want you. Critical Quarterly 49(1) (2007: 18-35). Retrieved March 10,

2010, from
45 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
what constitutes love. She relates the beauty of love to pregnancy and
giving birth. With Diotima all love finds legitimacy, “There is something
divine in this process; this is how mortal creatures achieve immortality, in
pregnancy and giving birth.” Immortality in the form of progeny for
human beings is the result of a heterosexual union.
Human desire and love being the creators of immortality makes
women, according to Diotima an acceptable part of love as they are the
ones who bear a child. At the same time she appeases those who tend to a
more homoerotic opinion. Writing or producing art is another way to
become immortal, without loving a woman. Love, however, is arguably
necessary for the project to be produced. Most poetry is produced through
the love of something, be it animal, human, plant, or object. This love
inspires a person to express their emotions in a way that all of the world
can see. Plato’s Symposium was perhaps in itself the outcome of Plato’s love
for his teacher Socrates, based on the abundant content of Socrates’
speech in Plato’s Symposium compared to the others Plato wrote about.
Certainly, Socrates comes across as the wisest of the participants through
the content of his speech and the amount of pages dedicated to it.
Plato’s Symposium has immortalized Socrates because the text is still
referenced, read, and analyzed today. Mortimer Adler says in his interview
with Max Weismann, How to Think About Love, “May I say in passing that
both Aristotle and Freud learned a great deal from this dialogue. It is not
only the first, but also, perhaps, the greatest single work on love in the
whole of Western literature.”113. But when The Symposium is thought of, it
is thought of as a work about love, not as a product of love. Whereas,
when a child is created, the parents usually say that the child was created
out of love. So what makes love divine—homosexual Love or
heterosexual love ?
Ovid’s The Art of Love: Book I is of a different nature than The
Symposium. The didactic poem completely excludes the idea of homosexual
or homoerotic love and focuses on the courtship of women, or as some
say, the art of hunting. C.M.C. Green says in Terms of Venery: Ars Amatoria
I, “The first art, before all the others, was the art of hunting. This is the art

113 Max Weismann, How to think about love. By The Radical Academy.

Retrieved April 14, 2010, from

<> (2004).
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 46
that shapes and defines Ovid’s Ars Amatoria and is the source from which
the poet draws the narrative structure and the imagery of Book I, creating
resonances deeply relevant to the poet’s greatest concerns: his pursuit of
glory through love.”114
For Ovid, the society is heterosexual with men courting women in
an attempt to find and obtain love. He notes that while there is a large
crowd to search through, love is not so easy to find and the right woman
must be searched for. Ovid advises men to search while they are simply
walking about, to scout when at the theater, the races, the circus, the
dinner table, and the beach. He goes on to explain how to win the admired
lady. First, a man must have faith in himself, use flattering words, and
never be deterred by a failure; he must win the good graces of the lady’s
best friend, never forget her birthday, always write and make promises—
regardless of whether the promises are sincere or not—stay near the lady
always, look attractive, and never shy away from shedding a tear in front
of the lady.
While Ovid’s advice is comical it does hold some truth. For
example, “And tears help: tears move a stone: let her see your damp
cheeks if you can. If tears (they don’t always come at the right time) fail
you, touch your eyes with a wet hand.”115 The advice is serious, but the
fact that he tells men to fake tears is funny because one does not usually
admit that he is faking emotions to produce sympathy from his desired
love. Conceivably more important however, is that Ovid separates physical
love and transcendent l love, perhaps without meaning to, when he
discusses befriending the lady’s maid. He says, “You ask perhaps if one
should take the maid herself? Such a plan brings the greatest risk with it.
In one case, fresh from bed, she’ll get busy, in another be tardy, in one
case you’re a prize for her mistress, in the other herself. There’s chance in
it: even if it favours the idea, my advice nevertheless is to abstain.”116 In
this Ovid demonstrates, through the idea of taking the maid, Eros in its
lusty, physical form as well as transcendent love—if the man desires the
lady enough to abstain from the maid’s bed. Ovid acknowledges that men

114 C.M.C. Green. Terms of Venery: Ars Amatoria I. By The Johns Hopkins University

Press, 126, 221-263. Retrieved April 14, 2010, from

<> (1996).
115 Ibid.
116 Ibid.
47 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
do feel the physical form of Eros just as Plato’s characters did, but unlike
them, he does not condemn it as wrong behavior. Instead he discourages
the activity because it could easily be contradictory to accomplishing
transcendent love.
A controversial topic in Ovid’s didactic poem is in part IV: Or at
the Theatre. In this he describes the rape of women by men in order to
obtain them:
They watched, and each with his eye observed the girl he
wanted, and trembled greatly in his silent heart. While, to
the measure of the homely Etruscan flute, the dancer, with
triple beat, struck the leveled earth, amongst the applause
(applause that was never artful then) the king gave the
watched-for signal for the rape. They sprang up
straightaway, showing their intent by shouting, and eagerly
took possession of the women. . . . Whoever showed too
much fight, and denied her lover, he held clasped high to
his loving heart, and said to her: “Why mar your tender
cheeks with tears? As your father to your mother, I’ll be to
This is the advice that Ovid gives to young men to achieve love, be
it spiritual or physical or both, and yet it encourages these men to violate
women. Violation is far from the word that would immediately be thought
of as romantic and loving, though perhaps Ovid has a point. I do not
believe that rape is a good thing or that it should be condoned, but I do
think that in love one’s comfort zone should be violated and invaded.
Opening up to allow another being to become intimate with one
personally is frightening. It challenges people to show all of themselves to
another, good and bad, in the hope of experiencing acceptance. So the
push and violation of someone’s personal space—which Ovid may be
referring to indirectly—is a positive experience as it teaches someone to
love themselves through being loved by another—even if it is initially
So what then is Love? Can it only be celestial and transcendent if it
is between males as most of Plato’s dialogue suggest, only so if between
heterosexual individuals as Ovid indicates, or can it be inclusive regardless

117 Ibid.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 48
of the nature of the sexual relationship as Socrates and Diotima believe?
Based on the arguments presented by each party, I concur with Socrates
and Diotima, though I am not sure that I agree that love occurs only out
of the desire to achieve the glory of immortality through some form of
progeny. There are individuals all over the world who are unable to have
children or who do not want to have children at any point during their
lives, and yet they still fall in love and have successful marriages.
Additionally, many of these individuals do not always produce a great
work of art that will immortalize them. Does this then mean that they did
not have a transcendent love but a physical Love? Diotima and Socrates
would most likely say yes since no type of birth occurred between the two
people, but I must disagree.
Physical love can usually only last a few years at best, not decades,
if it does not evolve into something greater. It is based off attraction
rather than enjoyment in a person’s unique personality. In physical love,
the individuals tend to act sweetly to one another in the beginning in order
to secure the benefits of their bodies but as time goes on they may be
inattentive, and act cruelly, and even aggressively. This is not always the
outcome however, and even if the relationship does not evolve into
something greater it does not necessarily mean that the individuals will
show cruelty, it all depends on the person. It is possible for this type of
Eros to evolve into a more spiritual form though. Time spent together
often forms a bond between two people that develops over time, though
the risks of physical love can produce unforeseen complications that make
the time appear forced for the couple. The chance of producing offspring
is a very real risk which can either be considered either by the couple as a
curse or a joy. For some, the child becomes a ball and chain which forces
them to stay with the other parent “for the child’s sake”. For homosexual
couples this is not a challenge, but the likelihood of contracting a sexually
transmitted disease is a risk that can cause just as many problems for these
individuals; this is also a problem that is experienced by heterosexual
So perhaps love is not caused by the desire to produce offspring in
order to grasp immortality. I argue instead that physical attraction and the
physical urge to have sex are brought about by the evolutionary trait that is
programmed in a human’s biology to procreate in order to preserve the
species. Human biology presents the attraction in a manner that is so
49 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
stimulating to the body that the mind misinterprets the sensations to mean
that the individual loves the desired person for a period of time—enough
time for the two people to create a child. Thus the desire for immortality is
produced by an imagined love that is brought on through biologically
produced physical Eros. A trick that is perhaps necessary for a species to
Is there such a thing as spiritual love then? My answer is yes, but it
comes about through a longer process than physical love alone allows.
Spiritual Eros can be experienced by all people. But the interesting part is
that it seems to create individual experiences because different qualities are
desired by different people. For one person spiritual love occurs with
another person who strictly enjoys conversing with him or her, but
nothing more. For another, it may be sharing every aspect of their life with
one person and constantly desiring to be in that person’s company.
Another could only feel spiritual love when they worship someone but do
not really know who that person is, as Florentino Ariza loves Fermina in
Love in the Time of Cholera.
In spiritual Love, the desired person can be of the same sex or of
the opposite sex, but this is true of physical love as well. Courtly Love was
considered to be a type of spiritual love in Eleanor of Aquitaine’s time as
it focused on a man worshipping his lady and refraining from sexual
activity with the woman to respect her honor and herself. In romantic
fiction, spiritual love usually involves a “bad boy” who meets a girl who is
completely different from anyone he has ever met. This girl opens his eyes
to aspects of the world that he has never seen or known, changing his
perspective on life. The two people grow together as he in turn teachers
her how to relax and to do some of the things which are unconventional
in the society. In another scenario, there is a girl who feels misunderstood
until she meets the one boy who understands her. He teaches her how to
express herself to the rest of the world and gives her someone to confide
in as she discovers that he holds some secrets that he feels are
unforgivable. These secrets are uncovered by her, and she teaches him
how to forgive himself. More variations exist, though they usually follow a
similar path.
Spiritual Love is not limited to lovers however as it is something
much greater. What else could explain why a mother cat would continue
to run back into a burning building over and over until she had rescued all
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 50
of her litter? How else could a mother lift a car that was crushing her child
with her bare hands? Why would parents sacrifice their lives to save their
children’s? I would say that it is because spiritual love originates through a
strong emotional tie to another being. One of the forms that can bring
about this love is the process of pregnancy, especially in mammals. For
mammals, pregnancy is a vulnerable period because carrying another life
causes the mother’s strength, endurance, and other physical features to
deteriorate. Additionally, the child is hopefully a combination of the
woman and the man whom she loves, causing her to feel additional
affection because the child is a physical representative of the two people’s
love. Finally, in the later trimesters of pregnancy, the mother can feel the
baby moving inside of her. This often creates a feeling of oneness in
which the mother feels protective of the baby because it belongs to her as
it is a part of her.
When the child finally enters the world, the mother continues to
care for it because of the existent tie, and as the child grows the parents
experience all of the child’s discoveries and wonder about the world,
instilling joy in all. It is this joy that I feel is the basis of spiritual love in all
of its forms because joy makes it easier for people to share themselves, the
sharing creates bonds between people, and the bonds create the
experience of love.
The next question is, can physical love and spiritual love exist
together? They can exist together which often creates a husband and wife
relationship in the twenty-first century. They can exist on their own,
producing relationships like “fun buddies”, friends, children, and extended
families. When experienced together, both types of Eros can enhance the
love between unrelated people because it creates a situation where every
aspect of the two people’s lives are shared. Ultimate physical joy and
ultimate intellectual happiness are combined. It is what causes two people
to lay together, cuddling after they have made love, then encourages them
to desire nothing more than to stay in bed together for the rest of the day
in order to talk, kiss, and feel the warm skin of the person beside oneself
who feels like his or her other half.
Unfortunately, the love described above ignores the issues with
societal beliefs on the different types of sexual orientation. The four most
common terms today of sexual orientation are heterosexual, meaning that
people desire a member of the opposite sex; homosexuality, which means
51 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
that people desire a member of the same sex; bisexual, which means that
the person is sexually attracted to both members of the same and of the
opposite sex; and asexual, meaning that the person is not sexually attracted
to any member of any sex.
In ancient Greece and Rome the terms did not necessarily exist as
we recognize them today, but three of the concepts did. In both societies
it was recognized that men would be lovers to young men in order to
satiate physical desires but also to educate the young boys to become the
nation’s future leaders. Almost all of these men had wives and children,
but they still participated in this homoerotic love as it was seen to be more
divine. This culture discreetly encouraged men to have homosexual
relationships, producing them among most of the better-educated men.
In Western Europe during the time of the Crusades,
homosexuality was considered a sin by the Catholic church which was the
predominant religion at the time in that sphere. Physical Eros was also
considered a sin by the church as it was believed to be man succumbing to
his animalistic nature which was evil and wrong as it altered his status in
the world order. Sex was supposed to occur only on the days that the
church deemed acceptable, by married couples, only in the missionary
position, and should be done only to conceive children so the couple
should not feel pleasure. As such, little emphasis was placed on love, and
homosexuality was hidden.
In twenty-first century America many laws have been passed to
allow people to experience life in a way that they desire. And yet, dealing
with homosexuality is a difficult experience. Some people in the nation
feel that it is a condition that is biologically instilled in the individuals
while others argue that it is a poor choice. It is more difficult for
homosexual couples to adopt a child than it is for heterosexual couples to
do so. Homosexuals who are more open about their sexual status are more
likely to be beaten up then heterosexuals. Homosexuality, bisexuality, and
asexuality are conditions in the United States that are a hot issue of debate
to determine if they are moral or immoral and if these couples should be
allowed to marry.
Homosexual communities exist in different states around the
country. They are safer for these individuals because they do not have to
fear being ridiculed or attacked by heterosexuals if they make a pass at one
by mistake. Overall, a lot of disgust is directed towards them making it
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 52
difficult for homosexual relationships to exist happily because they must
deal with the added pressure of society’s disapproval along with the
normal issues that are involved in creating spiritual love with someone. I
feel that this does not devalue their love and make it less authentic than a
love shared between two heterosexuals, but instead strengthens their
relationship in a different way. Homosexuals must come to terms with the
ridicule thrown at them by some of society and learn to cope with it in
order to have the strength to continue their love relationship.
Heterosexuals must deal with the societal pressure to produce children. As
a result of these situations, I believe that all forms of love may be
experienced by all different types of people, though it can be made more
difficult by societal pressures.
Many of the issues listed and explained above are addressed by
both Plato and Ovid in their works. However, their ideas were limited by
the lack of anthropological knowledge concerning love, and they held
different opinions because of their societal norms. Yet the one thing that
both seem in utter agreement on, and that I agree with, is that love exists
and has both a physical and spiritual form. For both writers, the role of
sex in determining the love’s sincerity and divinity is essential, but they
disagreed on how love develops. For Ovid, love is like a hunt in which the
man must woo a woman but his intentions do not always have to be
honorable. For Plato, love is of the best kind when it allows for physical
and spiritual love to cohabitate together in order to create a type of
immortality for the lovers.
This still does not answer the question of what love is, as both
men have differing views and both contain elements of truth. My
answer— based on their arguments, historical beliefs on love, the
examination of motherhood and parenthood, the examination of different
types of relationships, scrutiny on sexual orientation, and modern
society—is that Love does not have a single, universal definition because it
comes in many different forms. The only universal aspect of love in my
opinion is that it must include the celebration of individuals as a whole—
respect, communication, and a willingness to share.
53 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
Works Cited
Gill, Christopher. Plato’s Symposium. Chicago: Penguin Classics, 1999.
Green, C.M.C. (1996). Terms of Venery: Ars Amatoria I. By The Johns
Hopkins University Press, 126, 221-263. Retrieved April 14, 2010,
from <>.
Kaiser, Otto. (2005). On the route to pedagogical Eros. A reading of Plato’s
Symposium according to its inherent connections. Trames: A Journal of the
Humanities and Social Sciences, 9(4), 299-325. Retrieved April 14,
2010, from
Karlin, Daniel. (2007). I want you. Critical Quarterly, 49(1), 18-35. Retrieved
March 10, 2010, from
Nussbaum, Martha C. & Sihvola, Juha. The sleep of reason: erotic experience and
sexual ethics in ancient Greece and Rome. Chicago, The University of
Chicago Press, 2002.
Waterfield, Robin. (2008). Plato’s symposium: the ethics of desire. By Frisbee
C.C. Sheffield. Heythrop Journal, 49(3), 476-477. Retrieved March
10, 2010, from
Weismann, Max. (2004). How to think about love. By The Radical Academy.
Retrieved April 14, 2010, from
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 54
Chivalry: Then and Now
Kerri Nicley

Chivalry is dead. If one hundred people were asked if they agreed

with this statement, most would probably agree. It is such an automatic
thought in today’s society that the statement has become cliché. When
most people think of chivalry, they imagine a knight in shining armor
riding in on a white horse to rescue a damsel in distress. In this sense, yes,
chivalry is dead. However, the general concepts of chivalry, while altered
over the course of the past few centuries, are still present in a way that is
more suitable for today’s society.
The word chivalry has origins in the 14th century. It comes from the
Middle English “chivalrie,” from the Anglo-French “chevalerie,” which
comes from the French “chevalier,” meaning horseman.118 Merriam-
Webster’s dictionary defines chivalry as “the qualities of the ideal knight
… the system, spirit, or customs of medieval knighthood.”119 Gary Dyer,
in his article on “Irresolute Ravishers in the Sexual Economy of Chivalry
in the Romantic Novel,” defines chivalry as “a standard for behavior,
often professed to originate in the codes of medieval knighthood, that
requires self-abrogation, and self-sacrifice from a privileged man in
defense of the powerless and disadvantaged, who are typically, even
characteristically, women.”120 From these definitions, it is easy to see how
modern society has developed a vision of the knight and damsel, but these
definitions also imply that chivalry is more than a simple idea. Knighthood
encompassed many other complex behaviors and rules that would come
to shape chivalric traditions in both life and literature for more than seven

Chivalry’s Beginnings
Many scholars have developed a rough timeline for the
development of chivalry from its inception to its decline to its

118 “Chivalry,” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (2009), http://www.merriam-
119 Ibid.
120 Gary Dyer, “Irresolute Ravishers in the Sexual Economy of Chivalry in the Romantic

Novel,” Nineteenth-Century Literature, 55.3 (December 2000), 341.

55 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
transformation into modern ideals. Author and historian Brad Miner
asserts that chivalry probably emerged during the “Middle Ages—1100
perhaps.”121 During this time, nobles all over Europe desired chivalric
perfection. King Edward I cultivated, preserved, and transmitted his
“chivalric and tournament tradition” to his grandson, Edward III.122
Edward III’s “stagey ceremonials in the 1330s and 1340s—the Round
Table, the Order of the Garter, and the pomp and circumstance that
attended the triumphs of the early days of the Hundred Years’ War” came
directly from his grandfather, the royal house, and the aristocracy.123 Like
Edward I and Edward III, the dynasties of England valued the learned
courtier. These men were described in verse in The Secret Secretorum and The
Regiment of Princes as well as in the story of Tristan and Iseult.124 This
courtly literature was passed from professional hands to the hands of the
courtier-poets who, along with their other various duties, were often asked
to write and recite courtly verse. These poems emphasized the “duties of
princes and their need for counsel, a need to be supplied by men of letters
through the presentation of an unending series of good and bad historical
models.”125 These poems also served as inspiration during the revival of
medieval literature in the nineteenth century.
Hyonjin Kim’s book, The Knight Without the Sword, described
the golden age of chivalry as “a time when men at least tried to be
chivalric knights,” which lasted from the fourteenth to the sixteenth
centuries.126 Kim places the peak of medieval chivalric culture in the
fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, but he notes that “chivalry had, by the
fourteenth century, declined into a decadent, anachronistic escapism.”127
Kim also alleges that signs of chivalry’s decline begin to surface during the
second half of the fifteenth century. By the year 1500, the institutions of

121 Brad Miner, The Compleat Gentleman: Modern Man’s Guide to Chivalry (Dallas: Spence

Publishing Company, 2004), 3.

122 Joel T. Rosenthal, “Kings, Courts, and the Manipulation of Late Medieval Culture and

Literature,” Comparative Studies in Society and history, 27.3 (July 1985), 486-493.
123 Ibid, 488.
124 Ibid, 489.
125 Ibid.
126 Hyonjin Kim, The Knight Without the Sword (Rochester: Boydell & Brewer Inc., 2000),

127 Ibid, 9-10.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 56
chivalry “had mostly faded away, but the aspirations of the sort of men
who once sought knighthood did not disappear.”128 What had occurred
was not the demise of chivalry, but rather a change in its appearance.
In the nineteenth century, Europe and Britain experienced a
resurgence in the desire for medieval tales. Romance became a popular
genre, and the “medieval revival had become a widespread style.”129
Medieval romance and medievalism were not only fashionable, “they
defined social ideals.”130 Traditional Irish, Welsh, Cornish, and Celtic
folklore provided a basis for the literature of Britain at this time. Authors
and poets drew inspiration from historical events, ancient folklore, and the
writings of the courtier-poets of the late medieval period. Because of this
mix of fact and fiction, it becomes difficult to discern the line between
history and fantasy. Some historians believe that perhaps there was a King
Arthur, if not in Britain then somewhere nearby. But there has been little
proof one way or the other. Tales popularized by Sir Mallory in Le Morte
Darthur and Tennyson in The Idylls of the King were likely “[no] more than a
reflection of what was doubtless a rich folkloric tradition.”131
The nineteenth century also brought back literature’s courtly love
tradition, which emphasizes the ideals of chivalry. Brad Miner describes
courtly love as “the accompaniment to chivalry,” which began the
“process of taming male aggression.”132 Courtly love has even been called
an early form of feminism that transformed chivalry from “first and
foremost the worldview of fighting men” to a call for gentlemanly and
courteous behavior.133 It is also “illuminating to think of [chivalry] as a call
to both manliness and tenderness.”134 Western literary tradition is steeped
in the ideas of courtly love and chivalry, which originates from the letters,
tales, and poems of Abelard and Heloise, Sir Mallory, Tennyson, Chaucer,
Dante, Petrarch, and many others.

128 Miner, Compleat Gentleman, 57.

129 John M. Gainum, “The Myth of Medieval Romance,” Medievalism and the Modernist
Temper, Ed. R. Howard Bloch and Stephen G. Nichols (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins
University Press, 1996), 152.
130 Ibid.
131 Miner, Compleat Gentleman, 41.
132 Ibid, 120.
133 Ibid, 23.
134 Ibid.
57 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
Literary Traditions
Sir Mallory’s Le Morte Darthur is probably the most famous story
about King Arthur and his court. This story outlines the three areas in
which a man can be chivalrous: with his fellow men, with women, and
with God. Through this great work, we learn of King Arthur’s birth, his
reign, his battles, his men (most notably Lancelot, Tristan, and Gareth),
and the quest for the Holy Grail. Within this novel of chivalry and courtly
love lies a model for men to follow. For instance, in one scene Arthur and
another knight battle on horseback. Arthur hits the other knight so hard
that he falls, and Arthur leaps to the ground crying, “I will assay thee, sir
knight, on foot, for I have lost the honour on horseback.”135 Hyonjin Kim
explains that “to attack an unhorsed opponent is, of course, not
commendable in chivalrous society.”136 Even worse than attacking an
unhorsed opponent was harming the horse itself: Habitual horse-slaying
was “condemned as one of the most heinous crimes in chivalrous
society.”137 In tournaments, knights were “forbidden to wound the horse”
of the opponent because these competitions were intended to display the
skills of the knights.138 Above all, there was to be a level of respect
between the knight and his opponent.
Many know the story of Lancelot and King Arthur’s wife,
Guinevere, and of Tristan and Iseult. In the first story, one of Lancelot’s
first tasks as a knight is to rescue Queen Guinevere. As described in the
courtly love tradition, Lancelot falls in love at first sight. Guinevere
attempts to dissuade him, but she is eventually encouraged (by Arthur’s
enemy) to return Lancelot’s affections. They consummate their
relationship, which contributes to the fall of Camelot. Like Lancelot and
Guinevere’s love, Tristan and Iseult also share a forbidden love. According
to legend, they drink a potion and fall in love, but Iseult is promised to
Tristan’s uncle, King Mark. They face numerous trials and tribulations and
eventually they are separated. Tristan marries another woman (also named
Iseult) but never consummates his marriage. Kim wrote that “one can
pursue either path of love [as married or unmarried lovers] with honor and
worship as long as, in doing so, one does not give up the chivalrous way

135 Sir Thomas Mallory, Le Morte Darthur (New York: Dutton, 1972), 41.
136 Kim, Knight Without the Sword, 128.
137 Ibid, 78.
138 Thomas Bulfinch, The Age of Chivalry (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1900), 5.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 58
of life.”139 Though the “chivalrous way of life” can be defined in many
ways, in this context it means that the man should not stop courting the
lady once he has bedded her, nor should he sacrifice the other two
important aspects of his life: his fellow man and God.
In Mallory’s Le Morte Darthur, the Knights of the Round Table go
forth in search of the Holy Grail, the dish used by Jesus at the last supper,
which supposedly has magical powers. During this quest, the knights must
show their fortitude and strength, their allegiance to each other and their
country, and most importantly, their devotion to God. They give up many
of life’s luxuries in order to fulfill their mission. These men are considered
chivalrous because they devote their lives to finding a physical remnant of
Jesus’ time, and they make several physical sacrifices along the way.
The poems of Dante and Petrarch also exemplify chivalry in its
early stages, especially in their treatment of women. Dante, in La Vita
Nuova, is in love with Beatrice. Throughout this series of poems, he pines
for Beatrice and writes poems in an attempt to woo her. Petrarch was in
love with Laura and wrote hundreds of poems about her beauty and
virtues. Both poets elevate their romantic love to a spiritual, nonphysical
place when their beloveds die. They exemplify the chivalric attitude toward
women in their devotion, even though their love is unrequited. They also
maintain their chivalric duty toward God by remaining faithful to him
once their beloveds have joined him in heaven.
Abelard and Heloise, though they came before Dante and
Petrarch, shared many of the same sentiments. Abelard and Heloise were
devoted to one another and wrote many passionate love letters, a practice
that many people continue today. They love deeply but are unable to
maintain physical contact because of Heloise’s pregnancy and the
subsequent events. Abelard, in love with Heloise and unable to think of
her with another man, encourages her to join a convent, where she
becomes an abbess. Abelard eventually joins an abbey himself, and they
are able to maintain contact through their letters. Their extreme devotion,
to each other and to God, exemplifies the ideals of chivalry.

139 Kim, Knight Without the Sword, 30.

59 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
Codes of Chivalry
Much ado has been made about rules and codes of chivalry. There
has never been one universal code, though many have offered lists: long
and short, relevant and irrelevant, contemporary and outdated. As
different as the lists are, they tend to “agree on [these] five attributes:
fidelity, prowess, generosity, courtesy, and honor.”140 Thomas Bulfinch
claims that the ideal knight combines “invincible strength and valor,
justice, modesty, loyalty to superiors, courtesy to equals, compassion to
weakness, and devotedness to the Church; and ideal which, if never met
with in real life, was acknowledged by all as the highest model for
emulation.”141 Knights were not perfect, and chivalry was “more an
ambition than an accomplishment.”142 Many knights practiced chivalry
because they felt that it would “reward its faithful servants not only in this
world but also in the world to come.”143 Chivalry also seamlessly
combined “military, religious, and social concepts into a unified way of
One of the most popular lists, which touches on each of the
attributes described by Bulfinch, was created by Leon Gautier and
published in 1989. His “Ten Commandments of Chivalry” are as
I. Thou shalt believe all that the Church teaches, and shalt
observe all its directions.
II. Thou shalt defend the Church.
III. Thou shalt respect all weaknesses, and shalt constitute
thyself the defender of them.
IV. Thou shalt love the country in which thou was born.
V. Thou shalt not recoil before thine enemy.
VI. Thou shalt not make war against the Infidel without
cessation, and without mercy.

140 Miner, Compleat Gentleman, 32.

141 Bulfinch, Age of Chivalry, 2.
142 Miner, Compleat Gentleman, 22.
143 Kim, Knight Without the Sword, 29.
144 Miner, Compleat Gentleman, 24.
145 James Marshall, The Code of Chivalry, (April 9, 2002),
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 60
VII. Thou shalt perform scrupulously thy feudal duties, if they
not be contrary to the laws of God.
VIII. Thou shalt never lie, and shall remain faithful to thy
pledged word.
IX. Thou shalt be generous, and give largess to everyone.
X. Thou shalt be everywhere and always the champion of the
Right and the Good against Injustice and Evil.
These rules reflect the three ways in which Mallory suggests a man can be
chivalrous: toward his fellow man, toward women, and toward God.
Brad Miner created a similar list in The Compleat Gentleman: Modern
Man’s Guide to Chivalry. His first rule, that a knight “must not consent to
false judgment or be a party in any way to treason” is similar to Gautier’s
fourth and eighth rules.146 Miner’s second rule, that a man “must honor all
women and damsels and be ready to aid them to the limit of his power,” is
similar to Gautier’s third, so long as one considers women “a weakness,”
as many knights did.147 Miner’s third and fourth rules state that a man
“must hear, when possible, a mass every day; and he must fast every
Friday in remembrance of Christ’s passion.”148 These statements resemble
Gautier’s first and second rules concerning the Church. Many other lists
include similar rules, some of which are extremely detailed.
Throughout history, different courts were governed by various
behavioral rules, which are reflected in literature. For example, suicide and
revenge were “unjustifiable.”149 Chivalrous knights should “never [spare]
giants and churls, whose uncivilized appearance, outfit, and rituals suggest
that they are non-aristocratic outsiders undesirable as the targets or
political recruitment.”150 In other words, involuntary manslaughter was a
“common and almost venial offense,” which obviously would not be
acceptable by today’s standards.151 James Marshall’s “Code of Chivalry”
provides rules very familiar to modern ears: do not attack an unarmed
enemy; do not attack an enemy from behind; never abandon your fellow

146 Miner, Compleat Gentleman, 43.

147 Ibid.
148 Ibid.
149 Dyer, “Irresolute Ravishers,” 354.
150 Kim, Knight Without the Sword, 78
151 Ibid, 97.
61 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
knight; die with honor.152 Brad Miner suggests that a knight must also be a
warrior because “he will fight for the right with his body and his brains.”153
Hyonjin Kim wrote that noble people exercised the “complex
virtues…honour, loyalty, … courtesy, magnanimity, and…open-
handedness.”154 These hard-won manners became an asset to the knights
as they advanced through battles and in court. But the basis of their
behavior always came down to respect for their fellow man, women, and

Chivalry in Entertainment
Aside from in literature, examples of chivalry and the influence of
classic tales can also be found in modern entertainment: in music, plays,
musicals, and movies. There are even entire “experiences” dedicated to
these traditions, such as the Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament in
the Arundel Mills Mall, or the many Renaissance Fairs and festivals around
the country.
One of the most popular stories retold time and time again is that
of Tristan and Iseult. Tristan und Isolde is an opera written by the German
composer Richard Wagner. This opera, which debuted in 1865, follows
the myth of Tristan and Isolde quite closely. In 2006, Twentieth Century
Fox released a movie starring James Franco and Sophia Myles as Tristan
and Isolde. The movie opened to lukewarm critical reception but gained a
cult following. For many, this movie is a reminder of the sweet love story
they learned in high school, but it is also an action film that follows the life
a knight in medieval times. Many who watch it feel a pang of longing for
the days when a man would fight for a woman, even against a much more
powerful man. The film, like the opera, follows the myth fairly closely.
Walt Disney released The Sword and the Stone in 1963. This popular
animated feature tells the story of King Arthur, his wizard Merlin, the
sword Excalibur, and the kingdom of Camelot. The musical team Lerner
and Lowe also turned the story of Arthur and the Round Table into
Camelot, a Broadway musical that romanticizes the Arthurian legend.
Disney also released the animated Robin Hood, a tale retold time and time

152 Marshall, Code of Chivalry.

153 Miner, Compleat Gentleman, 185.
154 Kim, Knight Without the Sword, 126.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 62
again, which is set in medieval times. Robin Hood steals from the rich and
gives to the poor, fighting inequality and oppression. He is a chivalrous
man who follows at least two of Gautier’s rules: respecting and defending
weakness as well as championing right and good.
One of today’s most well-known stories of chivalry is the 1997
blockbuster hit Titanic. In this film, Rose Dewitt-Bukater and Jack Dawson
fall in love on the “unsinkable” Titanic. The lovers, from different social
classes, follow the stages of courtly love. Jack proves himself to be a
chivalrous man as he defends and protects Rose from her jealous,
controlling, and tyrannical fiancé. However, the most striking example of
chivalry in this story was not fictitious—when the Titanic collided with an
iceberg, and it became apparent that the “unsinkable” ship would, in fact,
sink, many passengers demonstrated their chivalry and heroism. Because
there were not enough lifeboats for everyone on board, women and
children were loaded onto the boats first. Very few men were saved, and
most of them, including the captain, went down with the ship. This
follows Gautier’s third rule of chivalry, which dictates that chivalrous men
should protect the “weaker sex.”
The 1995 film Braveheart, starring Mel Gibson, is a violent historical
drama that depicts life in medieval times fairly accurately. Mel Gibson’s
Scottish character marries his childhood sweetheart, who is later killed by
an English Sheriff. A battle breaks out because the Scottish want freedom
from the English, and Mel Gibson’s character, William Wallace, wants
revenge. William Wallace is chivalrous in many ways: He fights for his
country and for his slain wife; he does not recoil from his enemies but
instead charges steadfastly ahead; he and his fellow knights fight against
evil for what they believe in and administer justice. Thousands of men,
including Wallace character, die for their freedom in this film. It is in these
acts of selflessness that the characters demonstrate chivalry.

Chivalry Today
Scott Farrell’s website, Chivalry Today, describes seven knightly
virtues that were relevant in medieval and renaissance times and are still
relevant today. His first universal virtue is courage. He writes, “More than
bravado or bluster, today’s knight in shining armor must have the courage
of the heart necessary to undertake tasks which are difficult, tedious or
63 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
unglamorous, and to graciously accept the sacrifices involved.”155 In both
ancient times and today, fighting for one’s country is considered
courageous. A modern example of this type of courage is the men and
women of United Airlines Flight 93, who overtook the terrorists on
September 11th, 2001. Their ability to undertake such a difficult task and to
sacrifice themselves on behalf of their country makes them courageous
American heroes.
Farrell’s next virtue is justice. “A knight in shining armor holds
him- or herself to the highest standard of behavior, and knows that
‘fudging’ on the little rules weakens the fabric of society for everyone.”156
Today, the United States has an entire governmental department dedicated
to justice. There is an elaborate court system that ensures just punishments
for crimes. Recently, the mayor of Chicago was pulled over for going five
miles per hour over the speed limit. He was let go with a warning, but he
felt so uncomfortable with the situation that he called the police station
and asked for a ticket. He understood that taking only a warning could be
misconstrued as favoritism, and he also knew that he was going too fast.
By taking the ticket he ensured that justice was served, even at his own
The third virtue of a knight, as described by Farrell, is mercy.
Farrell noted that words “can be painful weapons in the modern world,
which is why a knight in shining armor exercises mercy in his or her
dealings with others, creating a sense of peace and community, rather than
engendering hostility and antagonism.”157 Mercy is also a central theme in
three of the world’s most influential religions: Christianity, Judaism, and
Islam. In the early days of chivalry, a knight or king may have exercised
mercy on an enemy by sparing his life. In today’s society, mercy is granted
in different ways. A judge may have mercy on a person convicted of a
capital crime and sentence that person to life in prison rather than the
death penalty. A missionary may have mercy on a starving child and
provide food. After the Indonesian tsunami in 2004, people all across the
world sent supplies to help people get back on their feet.

155 Scott Farrel, “The Seven Knightly Virtues,” Chivalry Today (2002).
156 Ibid.
157 Ibid.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 64
Generosity is Farrell’s fourth virtue of knighthood. “Sharing
what’s valuable in life means not just giving away material goods, but also
time, attention, wisdom, and energy—the things that create a strong, rich,
and diverse community.”158 In the Middle Ages and Renaissance,
generosity was often measured by the sharing of material goods. A king
was considered generous if he gave land and money to his knights. Today,
generosity involves much more. People send toys at Christmas time to
children across the world. Many men and women volunteer with the Big
Brother and Big Sister organizations, providing time, attention, and
wisdom to children who need it. Communities sometimes rally together to
save a local business or to feed the homeless. Generosity can make entire
communities feel good about improving the lives of others.
Faith, according to Farrell, means “trust and integrity…a knight in
shining armor is always faithful to his or her promises, no matter how big
or small they may be.”159 In the time of knights, staying true to one’s word
was more common than it is today. Promises are not kept as often as they
were in earlier times. With the recent downturn in the economy, fewer
CEOs and company presidents are remaining faithful to their promises.
Politicians often lie their way into office, which is why they are often
mistrusted. In most ways, today’s society is much more civilized than
societies of former eras, but this is one area in which society has made
little progress.
Farrell’s sixth virtue is nobility. He clarifies what he means by
writing, “although this word is sometimes confused with ‘entitlement’ or
‘snobbishness,’ in the code of chivalry it conveys the importance of
upholding one’s convictions at all times, especially when no one is
watching.”160 In the time of knights and early chivalry, a peasant was never
considered chivalrous; only those with wealth and power, the nobility,
could experience chivalry. Today, however, there is “absolutely no
connection between chivalry and class.”161 A noble person today is one
who refuses to give in just because “everyone else is doing it.” A teenager
who refuses to drink alcohol, even when her friends are drinking, is noble.
A college student who does not cheat, even if he knew he could get away

158 Ibid.
159 Ibid.
160 Ibid.
161 Miner, Compleat Gentleman, 184.
65 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
with it, is noble. Nobility is a true test of character, one that many in
today’s society would not pass.
Farrell’s seventh and final knightly virtue is hope. “More than just
a safety net in times of tragedy, hope is present every day in a modern
knight’s positive outlook and cheerful demeanor—the shining armor that
shields him or her, and inspires people all around.”162 Many world religions
incorporate hope into their teachings, and Christianity, the dominant
religion of medieval England, was no different. Knights knew that God
was their only hope for everlasting life. Today, people hope for many
things, some trivial, but others profound. They hope for their favorite
sports team to win the big game; they hope there will be nice weather on
the weekend; they hope they can make a difference in someone’s life.
Hope is considered essential for happiness.
While Farrell describes chivalry as a combination of seven knightly
virtues, others describe and define it differently. I interviewed nine people
on the subject of chivalry, and each had a different definition of the term.
For example, Lauren Davenport said “I would define modern chivalry
pretty much as being a gentleman.” John Barton said that chivalry is a
“moral code of conduct that places one in a position of honorable service
to another person or cause.” Matthew Skroupa defined chivalry as “men
being courteous to women in all aspects of daily life.” Lacey McPherson
said that “in today’s society, being chivalrous includes treating a woman in
her ‘traditional role’ and being a gentleman towards her;” Lacey also feels
that “chivalry is pretty much dead these days.” Kirsten Cacciola felt quite
differently from Lacey and some of the other responders saying, “in this
century [chivalry] has evolved a step further to be a code of conduct for
men and women to follow because women are no longer viewed as inferior
to men.” Rebecca Brunk agreed, saying “chivalry does not apply to the
male gender only; women also can and should practice chivalry.” Esther
Martin first defined chivalry as “being a distinguished gentleman” but then
added, “Chivalry applies to men and women equally; chivalry is about
morals as well as actions.” Craig Nicley did not define chivalry as a
masculine or feminine trait, but rather, he felt that chivalry was simply
being polite and courteous. It is interesting to learn that chivalry is no
longer a masculine trait in many people’s minds. Some men have blamed

162 Farrel, “The Seven Knightly Virtues.”

Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 66
feminism for the demise of chivalry because women no longer want to be
treated as the inferior sex. As Kirsten and Rebecca pointed out, it is not
about being treated as inferior, it is about being treated as an equal, which
means that both men and women can be chivalrous.
After defining chivalry, each responder was asked to give some of
its modern rules. Craig said that “in the past, [chivalry] meant tossing your
jacket in the mud so a lady would not get her shoes muddy…Modern
chivalry should be very simplistic: If you can help someone out, do it.”
Rebecca said that chivalrous men and women should “be polite and
encouraging to everyone [they] come in contact with everyday.” Allen
Hess said that “chivalry is almost non-existent” but that chivalrous people
should “always be respectful to everyone [they] encounter.” Kirsten
thought that a modern code of chivalry should include not lying, good
manners, and splitting the check at a restaurant. Craig said that you
shouldn’t necessarily have to split the check but “offering to pay for
someone’s dinner” is chivalrous. Lauren said being a gentleman is
“holding the door for women, respecting her, and just basically following
the rules of etiquette,” and Craig concurred saying chivalry means
“holding the door open for a person, asking someone if they need a ride
somewhere, or randomly asking if there is anything you can do for that
person.” Lacey, the most traditional of those who were interviewed, felt
that common sense rules would apply. She suggested, like Craig and
Lauren, that a gentleman should hold open doors. She also said a
gentleman is courteous, stands until a woman is seated, pulls out a lady’s
chair, acts as a provider, treats all women with respect, stands on the street
side when walking, and most importantly, a gentleman never lays a violent
hand on a woman. John Barton agreed that under no circumstances
should you put a lady in an uncomfortable position, especially one where
her reputation may be called into question. John also agrees with nearly
every responder that you must treat others respectfully and maintain an
upright moral character. Matthew relies on the old standards “Do unto
others as you would have them do unto you” and “Treat your neighbor as
Brad Miner wrote, “In the end chivalry is nothing more than
putting the self second, it is the ultimate self-respect because in the
67 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
moments that matter the compleat163 gentleman makes himself the servant
of his God, his nation, his friends, his family…”164 Miner is absolutely
correct. In the Middle Ages, during the Renaissance, and even today,
chivalry means simply having respect for not only women but all people.

Works Cited
Barton, John. Email interview. 22 April 2009.
Brunk, Rebecca. Email interview. 21 April 2009.
Bulfinch, Thomas. The Age of Chivalry. Philadelphia: David McKay, 1900.
Cacciola, Kirsten. Email interview. 21 April 2009.
“Chivalry.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009. Web. 21 April 2009.
Davenport, Lauren. Email interview. 21 April 2009.
Dyer, Gary. “Irresolute Ravishers and the Sexual Economy of Chivalry in
the Romantic Novel.” Nineteenth-Century Literature. 55.3. Dec 2000:
340-368. JSTOR. Albert S. Cook Lib., Towson U, Towson, MD.
Web. 15 Apr. 2009
Ganium, John M. “The Myth of Medieval Romance.” Medievalism and the
Modernist Temper. Ed. R. Howard Bloch and Stephen G. Nichols.
Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.
Farrell, Scott. “The Seven Knightly Virtues.” Chivalry Today. 2002. Web. 21
April 2009.
Hess, Allen. Email interview. 23 April 2009.
Kim, Hyonjin. The Knight Without the Sword. Rochester: Boydell & Brewer
Inc, 2000.
Malory, Sir Thomas. Le Morte d’Arthur. New York: Dutton, 1972.
Marshall, James. The Code of Chivalry. Web. 21 April 2009.
Martin, Esther. Email interview. 21 April 2009.
McPherson, Lacey. Email interview. 21 April 2009.
Miner, Brad. The Compleat Gentleman. Dallas: Spence Publishing Company,
Nicley, Craig. Email interview. 21 April 2009.

163 An older (medieval) spelling.

164 Miner, Compleat Gentleman, 185.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 68
Rosenthal, Joel T. “Kings, Courts, and the Manipulation of Late Medival
Culture and Litrerature.” Comparative Studies in Society and History.
27.3. July 1985, 486-493. JSTOR. Albert S. Cook Lib., Towson U,
Towson, MD. Web. 15 April 2009.
Skroupa, Matthew. Email interview. 23 Apr. 2009.
69 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
Austen v. Plato:
An Exploration of Love and its Depiction in Literature
Rossella Procopio

There are few things that permeate humanity so fully that they can
transcend time, background, religion, and distance, but love is an
exception to the rule. Love has always been a subject that provokes
analysis, fascination, and even obsession, from the earliest legends to
present day films, and most especially in the field of literature. This is not
to say that because love rises above all these obstacles it has always been
interpreted to have an identical meaning for every audience; in fact, the
truth of the matter is quite the contrary. The ideals of love and its role are
ever-changing according to the standards set forth by a society, and the
manner in which it is shaped, expressed, and displayed is influenced by the
conventions of each period. However, even two of the most seemingly
unlike schools of thought on the topic can be found to share certain
parallel principles.
Take, for example, Plato’s The Symposium and Jane Austen’s Pride
and Prejudice. On the surface, these two works have absolutely nothing in
common, but initial impressions can be deceptive. While it is painfully
obvious to acknowledge there are differences between them—each
composition takes place in not only different countries, but different eras;
one is written from a man’s perspective and the other a woman’s; one is
set in context as a distanced, intellectual discussion while the other is a
romantic novel that emphasizes the development of the characters as they
deal with matters of the heart—it is imperative to consider their
similarities, because they do exist. Since love is a broad theme that
encompasses many components, the focus here will be to deliberate on
the aspects of romance and courtship, love and marriage, and the personal
improvement that love incites.
The idea of what romance entails for each culture is a good place
to begin. According to Robert Flacelière, the notion of romance was not
one that was circulated among the ancient Greeks, or at least not by that
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 70
nomination.165 The closest thing that the Greeks had to the modern
concept of “romance” was eros, or passionate love. Delving into the entire
subject from the Grecian perspective is a rather convoluted endeavor
because of the contradictory philosophies on passionate love. One faction
of Greeks, known as the Stoics, glorified only the physical pleasures of
love and promoted the necessity for emotional detachment.166 If they were
accused of hedonism, Stoics asserted that eros was a desire that wise men
did not succumb to, and those who did crave it were not only weak, but
unvirtuous.167 On the other hand, it was the view of intellectual purists
that both physical and emotional pleasures were mere distractions that fell
short of the greatest pleasure of all: knowledge.168 This, however, should
by no means be taken as proof that the Greeks were unromantic souls, but
only that those who did believe in romance did not have the words to
label such an ideology. Playwrights and storytellers almost always created
works that involved plots wrought with undertones of passionate love
affairs between two characters or more. These storylines were
purposefully included because they at once expressed the writers’
viewpoints and drew the interest of the audience.169 This is made clear
from popular epics like The Illiad, where at its core a full-scale war between
two Greek nations was prompted by two men wanting the same woman,
Helena of Troy.170 So, even without an overt identity as “romance,” the
literature of the time emulated the concept. In an unusual shirk of the
paradigm where art reflects life and life reflects art, there was one
important difference between what the storytellers composed and what
reality involved. While men in literary works accomplished daring feats
and heroic acts for the sake of women, one would be hard-pressed to find
a man who would go through such trials for women in reality. It seems
that any modern sentiments of “romance” that existed in ancient Greece

165 Robert Flacelière, Love in Ancient Greece, Trans. James Cleugh (New York: Crown
Publishers, 1962).
166 Daniel H. Garrison, Sexual Culture in Ancient Greece. (Norman: University of Oklahoma

Press, 2000).
167 Ibid.
168 Ibid.
169 Flacelière, Love in Ancient Greece.
170 Ibid.
71 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
were primarily reserved for a male to shower on other males, and a female
was unworthy of the effort.
Courtship in ancient Greece involved two distinct parties: the
erasti, or the suitors, and the eromenoi, or the beloveds.171 This pursuit was
held between two men, with the admirer being the older man and the
younger boy as the one admired.172 In courtship, it was common for the
erasti to compete with one another for the attentions of the same boy,
trying to upstage one another and prove their devotion with flattering
songs and poetry, exaggerated promises, and gifts.173 They worshipped the
youth from afar while the eromenoi affected indifference to all these
attentions.174 With the exception of a few cases, this game of courtship
ended in disappointment of the admirers. Eros is inherently a one-sided
emotion and therefore can never be mutual, or at least not in tandem; so,
the beloved never loves the one who loves him in return.175
During events like symposiums, the Greeks were quite
comfortable with gratuitous physical contact with other men for whom
they had affection. Plato establishes such a convention between two
characters in his work:
Then Agathon, who happened to be lying on his own
bottom couch, said, “Come and lie down beside me,
Socrates, so that, by contact with you, I can share the piece
of wisdom that came to you in the porch.”176
Such gestures of familiarity were natural, and therefore taken casually and
indulged in without fear of indecency. Though the pursuit of the eromenoi
was a chaste affair, there were other means by which Greek men sought to
fulfill their carnal needs, and their inclination to satisfy them premaritally
was quite common. Paying for sexual intercourse was a customary
occurrence that was tolerated publicly as long as men adhered to one
stipulation: premarital sex was only to be had with women of the lower

171 James N. Davidson, The Greeks and Greek Love: A Bold New Exploration of the Ancient
World (New York: Random House, 2007).
172 Ibid.
173 Ibid.
174 Ibid.
175 Ibid.
176 Ibid.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 72
rank, meaning slaves and prostitutes.177 Certain social circles and religious
cults even made prostitution an organized venture associated with the
temples of Aphrodite, and the courtesans therein were willing participants
under the patronage of the goddess.178 The fact that men had what some
refer to as “recreational” sex with only women was not a mark of
preference for the female gender when engaging in intimacies; on the
contrary, it was a blatant relegation of women.179 Mortimer Adler asserts
that the Greeks recognized purely sexual relationships as “fickle and short-
lived,” while sex that comes after love is enduring.180 Female courtesans
were simply a means to an end to be disregarded the moment the act itself
was complete, and seen as deserving of no more. The erasti would not
have sex with their young male beloveds unless they had their consent
because they respected the eromenoi; women warranted to such esteem and
were only instruments of pleasure.181 Greeks believed that if sexual love
had a transcendent moral function, than surely it could only be achieved
with another male, a notion that will be discussed in greater depth
shortly.182 As Daniel Garrison aptly points out, “There was no pedestal for
women in classical Greece.”183
In the age of Jane Austen, nineteenth-century Regency England,
expression of romance and courtship took on a somewhat separate course.
To begin with, romance and the concept of personal happiness started to
emerge into being much more openly by this time, especially in the realm
of literature. We hear such a sentiment from no less than the heroine of
Pride and Prejudice herself, Elizabeth Bennet, who repeatedly confides in her
sister Jane that nothing but real, enduring affection for a man could ever
induce her to marry. Here is a romantic heart if ever there was one, and a
rather bold contention for a woman to make to at a time when she
depended entirely on the support of a man, whether her father, her

177 Garrison, Sexual Culture in Ancient Greece.

178 Flacelière, Love in Ancient Greece.
179 Garrison, Sexual Culture in Ancient Greece.
180 “How to Think About Love: Max Weismann interviews Mortimer Adler,” The

Mortimer J. Adler Archive (2 Jan. 2010. The Radical Academy. 9 April 2010).

181 Davidson, The Greeks and Greek Love: A Bold New Exploration of the Ancient

182 Garrison, Sexual Culture in Ancient Greece.
183 Ibid.
73 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
brother, or her husband. A woman’s desire to marry for love alone often
superseded practical considerations, which was a very distressing situation
to their families.184 As a result of this trend, conduct literature was
published and referred to for ideas on how to counteract these romantic
inclinations from usurping a young single person’s sense of duty and
obligation, specifically on how to persuade a woman to reject the proposal
of an unbefitting suitor.185 The conduct literature gave suggestions like the
Is his pay sufficient to maintain himself? If it be, will it be
sufficient for the support of a family? Consider, there will
be no opportunity for you to increase his poor income, but
by such means as will be very grating for you to submit to.
Be cautious of pushing yourself into ruin.186
Self-discipline was also a great ally in the repression of romanticism. Many
felt there had to be a balance between being romantic and not exposing
yourself as such to the point of flouting decorum, because decorum was
exactly what the business of courtship embodied in respectable circles of
society during this time.
The stages of courtship were initial attraction, flirtation, a
gentleman calling on a lady at home, love—if one was lucky—and asking
for the woman’s hand in marriage.187 Playful flirtation was regularly
practiced in the ballrooms and at social events, but actual courtship was
not instigated lightly. Propriety and formality was everything in English
culture, and politesse required that any acquaintances be formed in public
places.188 Naturally, men held the reins in these situations, and it was never
a woman’s place to instigate anything with the opposite sex, from
introductions to a dance.189 It is nevertheless crucial to understand that
women were far more respected now than they were in the time of Plato,
at least to the degree that they were shown consideration and regarded as
worthy of admiration. It was common for gentleman to bestow

184 Hazel Jones, Jane Austen and Marriage (New York: Continuum, 2009).
185 Ibid.
186 Ibid.
187 Ibid.
188 Ibid.
189 Ibid.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 74
compliments on a lady, but his intention could either be simple gallant
coquetry or an attempt to pay addresses more seriously.190
Next in the sequence of Regency courtship was giving attention to
a woman in social settings and demonstrating an interest with an
application for her hand in dancing.191 All of this still kept to the restrained
etiquette polite society demanded, but that did not mean such practices
were devoid of the danger of being interpreted as more. If a man paid too
much attention to a lady—this could range from asking the lady to dance
more than once, to snubbing other woman to remain in her company—he
could mistakenly raise the expectations of what his intentions towards her
were, either in her family, in the gossiping public, or even in the woman
herself.192 The amiable and wealthy Charles Bingley of Pride and Prejudice is
guilty of doing just that. After openly showing a preference for the lovely
Jane Bennet, he leaves for London most likely never to return, albeit the
fault is not entirely his. Jane is understandably hurt, though she tries to
disguise it, but her mother makes no effort to conceal her disappointed
hopes and bemoans them loudly and often:
. . . the subject [of Bingley] was never alluded to. But as no
such delicacy restrained her mother, an hour seldom
passed in which she did not talk of Bingley, express her
impatience for his arrival, or even require Jane to confess
that if he did not come back, she should think herself very
ill used. It needed all Jane’s steady mildness to bear these
attacks with tolerable tranquility.193
Men with more guarded natures were wary of leaving a trail of scorned
women and their mothers in their wake, and were conscious that there was
an audience watching their every move. Consequently, this impediment
only let them converse with the opposite sex on the most innocuous
topics, namely the weather.194 Discussion of rain and road conditions was
hardly conducive to romantic interludes, but until a man was willing to

190 Harold Bloom, ed. Modern Critical Interpretations: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

(Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987).

191 Jones, Jane Austen and Marriage.
192 Ibid.
193 Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (New York: Peebles Press International Inc., 1968).
194 Jones, Jane Austen and Marriage.
75 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
reveal more explicit proof of attachment with serious intent, that was all
propriety allowed.
As for any sexual relationships, it was simply out of the question in
English upper-class society. For the working lower-class, it was standard
for premarital relations to take place, but it was regarded as promiscuous
and indecent behavior for those who were part of the circles that Darcy
and Elizabeth Bennet moved in.195 If a man from that top tier of society
did indulge in their sexual desires and seduce a young woman, the
discovery of their indiscretion would result in a hastily patched-up
marriage—enforced by their families if necessary—to quiet any rumors of
scandal.196 It is for this reason that when Lydia Bennet runs away with
George Wickham in Pride and Prejudice, the best her distraught family can
hope for is that they did elope and not just run off together because the
repercussions of Lydia’s virtue being compromised would have resulted
the disgrace of her family and most certainly ruin all her sisters’ prospects
of marrying well.197
Others did not prey on women of family and contented
themselves with frequenting brothels.198 Not all men were profligate rakes
like Wickham, and they followed the formalities which bound them from
being too intimate with women of their acquaintance. These repressive
rules limited proper interaction between men and women to touching
hands while dancing, offering an arm to escort a lady, and a chaste kiss on
the hand if he was formally courting her.199
With this preliminary sketch of Plato and Austen’s respective
spheres, one would be justified in wondering what they could possibly
hold in common. As it turns out, the answer is more than would be
supposed. One of the biggest correlations is the significance placed on
conversation. The entirety of The Symposium is a philosophical
expostulation on what love is, and Jane Austen’s characters very often
engaged in lofty exchanges of ideas. For both periods, talking was a way to

195 Jeffrey Weeks, Sex, Politics, and Society: The Regulation of Sexuality Since 1800 (New York:

Longman House, 1981).

196 Ibid.
197 Austen, Pride and Prejudice.
198 Weeks, Sex, Politics, and Society: The Regulation of Sexuality Since 1800.
199 Jones, Jane Austen and Marriage.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 76
display intelligence, to flaunt wit, and to get to know a person better.200
This could very well be one of the reasons Greek men favored young boys
over women: they could engage in discussion with boys that women were
for the most part forbidden to participate in, and by knowing these youths
better, they felt drawn to their acumen in a way they could not experience
with women. On those rare occasions when a woman was given leave to
speak, it was those with a “vigorous mind” that appealed to Greek men.201
The same was true for people of Regency England. While an attractive
physiognomy was a preliminary allure for men and women, something
more substantial was necessary to pique their regard.202 Determining a
person’s true character and their ideas may seem like a tall order for the
confined conversation they were expected to abide by, but the people of
Austen’s era were very skilled with working within these limitations.203
They pieced together what they could gather from opinions of literature,
music, and other socially appropriate topics, and then spoke more in-
depth whenever the opportunity would present itself. In both ages,
eloquence was respected and wit was admired. Demonstrations of
understanding in subjects and clever repartee were prized as desirable
characteristics in the worlds of both Austen and Plato.204 205 Another
similarity that existed in the convention of courtship during both periods
was that whether in public or in the privacy of home, unmarried women
were never left in the presence of a man without the supervision of a
chaperone. 206
On subject of love, everything becomes more complicated. The
people of Plato’s time did not readily agree among their own countrymen
on what love was and what role it should play in their lives, if any, and
neither did those of Austen’s. Ironically, it is by this dissonance that
another commonality between the two can be equated: difference in
opinion is an additional analogy. The characters in Plato’s The Symposium
200 Norman Page, The Language of Jane Austen (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1972).
201 Flacelière, Love in Ancient Greece.
202 Jones, Jane Austen and Marriage.
203 Donald J. Gray, ed., Pride and Prejudice: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds, Reviews, and

Essays in Criticism (New York: Norton, 1966).

204 Plato, The Symposium, Trans. Christopher Gill (New York: Penguin Books, 2003).
205 John Wiltshire, Jane Austen and the Body: The Picture of Health (New York: Cambridge

University Press, 1992).

206 Flacelière, Love in Ancient Greece; Jones, Jane Austen and Marriage.
77 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
seek to give love its true definition, and every one varies. For some ancient
Greeks, only same-sex love between an experienced older man and a
young boy was considered true love.207 Pausanias, Agathon’s boyfriend,
evinces this opinion during his speech, distinguishing two types of love:
Common Love is genuinely “common” and
undiscriminating in its effects; this is the kind of love that
inferior people feel. People like this are attracted to women
as much as boys, and to bodies rather than minds. . . . The
other love derives from the Heavenly goddess, who has
nothing of the female in her but only maleness; so this love
is directed at boys.208
Pausanias completely disregards the female sex of being capable of true
love, and he scorns the men who seek love with women as fools who
desire purely lustful gratification. Not all Greeks felt this was accurate.
Gradually, the idea of women being impure diminished, and a female’s
claim to love became more elevated.209 210 Furthermore, while there was
general acceptance of erotic relationships between men in a temporary
context, particularly among men of the aristocracy, anything more
permanent was seen as unnatural and even gave way to homophobia.211
Alternatively, another speaker in The Symposium, Aristophanes, offers his
perspective through a story. He said that long ago, humans were once
double what they presently were with two faces and eight limbs that could
be male-male, female-female, or male-female.212 That was the way humans
existed until the jealous gods split them in half.213 As a result of this
disrupted original nature, he concludes that humans spend their lifetime
trying to find their “other half” and true love.214 From this, it can be
inferred that Aristophanes’ point of view was that all loves, whether
homosexual or heterosexual, were equal and acceptable.

207 Garrison, Sexual Culture in Ancient Greece.

208 Plato, The Symposium.
209 Denis De Rougemont, Love in the Western World, Trans. Montgomery Belgion

(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983).

210 Garrison, Sexual Culture in Ancient Greece.
211 Davidson, The Greeks and Greek Love: A Bold New Exploration of the Ancient

212 Plato, The Symposium.
213 Ibid.
214 Ibid.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 78
The characters in Pride and Prejudice were no less at odds with each
other over the matter of love. Some, like the ever sensible Charlotte Lucas,
thought love could be developed between any gentleman and lady if they
willed it to be so, and only an afterthought to first being married well
because “once [a woman] is secure of [a man], there will be leisure for
falling in love as much as she chooses”.215 Others felt love was rare
connection to be had with only a select one, and they knew such
sentiments could not be taken lightly. Darcy is testimony to that
perspective all his own. His feelings for Elizabeth Bennet were so
overwhelming and unprecedented an experience that he was driven to
declare his love despite the obstacles he saw. One point that does revert
back to drawing a distinct divide between the English and the Greeks was
the idea of who could be in love. In Regency England, love was the
dominion of a man and a woman, period. While the Greeks ranged from
tolerance to endorsement of love between people of the same sex,
homosexuality was legally and religiously condemned in England as an
abomination and “a sin against nature,” and offenders were prosecuted.216
There is also a seemingly insignificant idiosyncrasy that endured
from the time of Plato to that of Austen in regards to how love began: the
meeting of the eyes. Garrison points out that depictions of the Greeks
making eye contact—especially in scenes of intercourse—imply a superior
degree of intimacy, and he would not be the first to circulate the notion
that the eye is the organ of love.217 In the same way, Elizabeth’s “fine
eyes” are the first thing Darcy notices about her, and he constantly fixates
on that particular feature as he reflects how singular she is in comparison
to all the other women of his acquaintance. Additionally, men from
ancient Greece and Regency England always seemed to fall in love at
some sort of public gathering. Young Greek men frequently found
themselves struck by love at festivals, and men in England could be
depended on to almost always find a woman to capture their heart at a
ball. This resemblance may not be very surprising once the logic is
explained. Virgin women of Greece were not seen in public except for
very special celebrations, like religious ceremonies, and unmarried
Englishwomen, while not quite so sheltered once they were out in society,
215 Austen, Pride and Prejudice.
216 Weeks, Sex, Politics, and Society: The Regulation of Sexuality Since 1800.
217 Ibid.
79 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
were rarely in mixed company except during assemblies that afforded
dancing.218 In light of this information, is it any wonder that men fell head
over heels during public events? They seized the opportunities they were
Matrimony may be the most vivid example of how the ancient
Greeks and Regency English people coincided. Social class was the crucial
consideration for the vast majority of marriages in both periods. More
often than not, advantageous alignments were based on pedigree or wealth
and carefully arranged by the parents of the man and woman like a game
of chess with status as the prize.219 Ancient Greek society was so emphatic
on marriage being a strategy of clout that they even went so far as to only
legally allow “full citizens,” or free adult males of noble ancestry and their
offspring, to marry.220 While the English never went so far as to lawfully
impose that only members of the upper-class could marry, the nobility
then were also of the opinion that families of rank and fortune should join
themselves in marriage. Anyone who attempted to rise above their
station—meaning they married someone wealthier or from a more
reputable lineage than they were from—was seen as a mercenary, and the
marriage a degradation.221 When rumors reached Lady Catherine de
Bourgh that her esteemed nephew had condescended to engage himself to
Elizabeth Bennet, the daughter of an obscure country gentleman and
essentially a nobody, she traveled halfway across the country to treat
Elizabeth to the following invective-strewn tirade:
Honor, decorum, prudence, nay, interest, forbid it. Yes,
Miss Bennet, interest; for do not expect to be noticed by
his family or friends, if you willfully act against the
inclinations of all. You will be censured, slighted, and
despised, by everyone connected with him. Your alliance
will be a disgrace; your name will never even be mentioned
by any of us. . . . The upstart pretensions of a young

218 Flacelière, Love in Ancient Greece; Jones, Jane Austen and Marriage.
219 Davidson, The Greeks and Greek Love: A Bold New Exploration of the Ancient
220 Garrison, Sexual Culture in Ancient Greece.
221 Roger, Sales, Jane Austen and Representations of Regency England (New York: Routledge,

Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 80
woman without family, connections, or fortune. Is this to
be endured! But it must not, shall not be. If you were
sensible of your own good, you would not wish to quit the
sphere in which you have been brought up.222
With relations like these and the whole of society wielding such
great pressure, it was no wonder that many bound themselves in “equal”
marriages though they were not technically forced. Even Darcy upon his
first proposal to Elizabeth could not refrain from expressing the certain
disappointment he knew he would be giving his family in marrying her.223
Women, in turn, were similarly compelled to marry well, but in Regency
England, they were for the most part free to accept or refuse a man’s hand
as long as they did not mind going against their parents.224 If it was in a
displeased English mother or father’s power, they would disinherit their
child for going against their wishes and effectively disgracing their family,
but excepting that rare authority, a parent’s say had either little influence
or none.225 This brings to light another difference between Austen’s time
and ancient Greece: Greek women had no choice whatsoever once their
family set their mind on who they were to marry.226
Other congruous particulars between these two societies were the
ages at which people were expected to marry. During Austen’s and Plato’s
times, a man was older than the wife he took; specifically speaking, males
were seen as ready for marriage around the age of thirty, but a woman
could be married off just a few years after she reached puberty.227 Another
comparison of double-standards can be drawn to both periods regarding
marital faithfulness. Women, whether Greek or English, were expected to
remain loyal to their husbands, and their infidelity was grounds for a
divorce.228 Men, on the other hand, were free to be as adulterous as they

222 Austen, Pride and Prejudice.

223 Austen, Pride and Prejudice.
224 Jones, Jane Austen and Marriage.
225 Gray, Pride and Prejudice: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds, Reviews, and

Essays in Criticism; Jones, Jane Austen and Marriage.

226 Davidson, The Greeks and Greek Love: A Bold New Exploration of the Ancient

227 Flacelière, Love in Ancient Greece.
228 Flacelière, Love in Ancient Greece; Jones, Janes Austen and Marriage.
81 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
liked with whatever courtesan or mistress that took their fancy.229 Whether
they were discreet of their affairs or not, a cheating husband was never in
danger of the penalty of divorce—women were not legally protected from
a philandering spouse.230
Again, opinions varied when it came to the role love had in a
marriage. As previously mentioned, Elizabeth said would only marry for
love, and her sister Jane was of the same mind. When Jane believed
Elizabeth had engaged herself to Darcy for reasons other than love, the
normally reserved girl found the courage to question her sister:
And do you really love him quite well enough? Oh, Lizzy!
Do anything rather than marry without affection. Are you
quite sure that you feel what you ought to do?231
This is not to establish that all women and men of the time felt love to be
an important requirement for matrimony. Marriages of convenience were
still a very real occurrence in Regency England, and many would settle for
what they deemed only a “tolerable” partner—or, even better, a rich
one.232 Both ancient Greece and Regency England were worlds where the
most prominent reasons such alliances were established were the sense of
obligation to marry, to garner the status marriage entailed, and for
procreation.233 Love was considered a rather frivolous luxury, not a
necessity. Charlotte Lucas certainly considered love inconsequential and
believed that even general contentment in a marriage is implausible when
too much is expected:
Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the
dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each
other or ever so similar beforehand, it does not advance
their felicity in the least.234
In short, marriage was a duty, and love in connection to it was
neither here nor there. The Greeks were of the same mind as Charlotte
and felt that a wife, besides being of good status, should be only sensible

229 Garrison, Sexual Culture in Ancient Greece; Weeks, Sex, Politics, and Society: The Regulation of
Sexuality Since 1800.
230 Jones, Jane Austen and Marriage.
231 Austen, Pride and Prejudice.
232 Jones, Jane Austen and Marriage.
233 Flacelière, Love in Ancient Greece.
234 Austen, Pride and Prejudice.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 82
and prudent.235 236 They expected eros to follow the wedding ceremony, if
at all.237 Likewise, the majority of the English thought love could follow
after marriage, but it was hardly indispensible. It is interesting to note that
though the Greeks did not have the degree of choice in marriage that the
English did, literary works like comedies placed a higher value on love
marriages over arranged marriages.238 Clearly the desire for love in a
marriage was there, just not as accessible.
The final point to be analyzed is the idea that love invokes a
change for the better in those who experience it. James Davidson writes
that the Greeks attributed sentiments of honor, self-abasement, and self-
sacrifice as inseparable from love.239 One should be willing to do anything
for the beloved at the cost of their own needs. The Symposium’s Phaedrus
especially champions the idea that love brings out the best qualities in a
man’s nature:
I would claim that there is no greater benefit for a young
man than a good
lover. . . . Neither family bonds nor public status nor
wealth nor anything else is as effective as love in
implanting something which gives lifelong guidance to
those who are to lead good lives. What is this? A sense of
shame at acting disgracefully and pride in acting well.
Without these no individual or city can achieve anything
great or fine.240
Certainly the staid, severe Mr. Darcy is the embodiment of this idea. After
being refused by Elizabeth on his first proposal attempt, instead of turning
bitter and resentful his love for her transforms his arrogance into
something else altogether: she is his reason for improving himself. His
second—and successful—proposal to her is accompanied by this heartfelt
confession of the inestimable good she has done him:

235 Flacelière, Love in Ancient Greece.

236 Wiltshire, Jane Austen and the Body: The Picture of Health.
237 Davidson, The Greeks and Greek Love: A Bold New Exploration of the Ancient

238 Garrison, Sexual Culture in Ancient Greece.
239 Ibid.
240 Plato, The Symposium.
83 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though
not in principle. As a
child I was taught what was right, but I was not taught to
correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to
follow them in pride and conceit. . . . I was spoilt by my
parents, who, though good themselves . . . allowed,
encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and
overbearing; to care for none beyond my own family circle;
to think meanly of all the rest of the world; to wish at least
to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with
my own. Such I was, from eight to eight and twenty; and
such I might still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest
Elizabeth! What do I not owe you! You taught me a lesson,
hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you, I was
properly humbled. I came to you without a doubt of my
reception. You shewed me how insufficient were all my
pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased.241
Elizabeth helps him understand that character, not wealth, should
be used to judge a person. Darcy is not the only one in Pride and Prejudice
who is better for love. While Elizabeth changed Darcy, the improving
influence is reciprocal and it is clear Darcy changed her as well. Her
mistaken initial interpretation of Darcy and her realization of the kind of
gentleman he truly was served to teach her how to temper her own
prejudices.242 She completely credited Darcy as the catalyst for this life-
altering epiphany when she admitted that until he came along to show her
the truth of how things stood, she “never knew herself”.243 All these
changes and enrichments of character are outcomes both Phaedrus and
Darcy attributed completely to love, and though Elizabeth never said it in
so many words, her own transformation was owed to her love for Darcy.
With love, they go through life trying to act virtuous simply to please and
pay tribute to their beloved. Love drives them to be the best they can be.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a person in possession
of human sensibilities must be in want of love. That common thread

241 Austen, Pride and Prejudice.

242 Ashley Tauchert, Romancing Jane Austen (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).
243 Austen, Pride and Prejudice.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 84
weaves together, amid intricacies and disparities, the whole of the human
race, man or woman, young or old, rich or poor. Though the English were
certainly more reticent where the Greeks were candid with their feelings,
the similarities between them on matters of love become more prominent
than the divergences. Is it really so surprising, after all? Yes, they came
from different times and from different countries, but they were all
human, with beating hearts and affected minds. Love was never a simple
subject, and it still is not. All in all, Jane Austen and Plato may have had a
lot more in common than anyone would think.

Works Cited
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. New York: Peebles Press International
Inc., 1968.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Modern Critical Interpretations: Jane Austen’s Pride and
Prejudice. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.
Davidson, James N. The Greeks and Greek Love: A Bold New Exploration of
the Ancient World. New York: Random House, 2007.
De Rougemont, Denis. Love in the Western World. Trans. Montgomery
Belgion. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983.
Flacelière, Robert. Love in Ancient Greece. Trans. James Cleugh. New York:
Crown Publishers, 1962.
Garrison, Daniel H. Sexual Culture in Ancient Greece. Norman: University of
Oklahoma Press, 2000.
Gray, Donald J., ed. Pride and Prejudice: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds,
Reviews, and Essays in Criticism. New York: Norton, 1966.
“How to Think About Love: Max Weismann interviews Mortimer Adler.”
The Mortimer J. Adler Archive. 2 Jan. 2010. The Radical Academy. 9
April 2010.
Jones, Hazel. Jane Austen and Marriage. New York: Continuum, 2009.
Page, Norman. The Language of Jane Austen. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1972.
Plato. The Symposium. Trans. Christopher Gill. New York: Penguin Books,
Sales, Roger. Jane Austen and Representations of Regency England. New York:
Routledge, 1997.
Tauchert, Ashley. Romancing Jane Austen. New York: Palgrave Macmillan,
85 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
Weeks, Jeffrey. Sex, Politics, and Society: The Regulation of Sexuality Since 1800.
New York: Longman House, 1981.
Wiltshire, John. Jane Austen and the Body: The Picture of Health. New York:
Cambridge University Press, 1992.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 86
Love in Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Othello
Debbie Ricketts

Shakespeare’s plays describe love in a variety of ways, and his

characters experience a wide array of romantic encounters. In Romeo and
Juliet, the lovers follow some of the courtly love ideas, and completely
disregard others. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, characters suffer love
through a love potion, much like Tristan and Iseult. In Othello, the
characters confront transcendental love and jealousy.
The relationship between Romeo and Juliet is both similar to and
different from the traditional “courtly love” relationship in several ways.
The courtly love tradition is a 19th century term for the code of behavior
that was followed in most medieval love poetry. Typically, it involves a
knight who falls in love with another noble’s wife. The knight praises his
lady as divine, which represents a shift from erotic to spiritual love. This
tradition is full of contradictions such as the idea of being overly
passionate, while disciplined; physically erotic, but chaste; and illicit yet
morally elevating. These poems place a strong focus on the restraint of
passion, while praising women for their virtue and honor. Women are
treated as allegorical expressions of the divine. Courtly lovers in this
tradition always keep their love secret, usually creating a “screen love”
(another lover toward whom they would direct their public affection) to
hide their secret love. Secrecy was important because of the adulterous
nature of the relationship, as well as the potential for jealousy.
While Romeo is not a knight, he is a skilled swordsman. He proves
himself quite capable of killing grown men, such as Tybalt and Paris.
While Juliet is not another nobleman’s wife, she is betrothed to Paris.
Their relationship most fully imitates courtly love in the necessity for
secrecy. Because their families are fueding, the lovers cannot make their
love public. In addition, the Capulet family prefers Juliet to wed an older,
more respectable man. In this way, Paris functions as a screen love for
Juliet, allowing other people to perceive her love for Romeo as love for
Paris. This becomes apparent in Act IV, Scene I, when she pretends to
visit Friar Lawrence in order to confess about her refusal to marry Paris,
when instead she is meeting with the Friar about a plan to reunite with
Romeo. Romeo also has a screen love in Rosaline. When Romeo meets
87 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
Juliet, he devotes himself fully to her, but his friends Benvolio and
Mercutio believe that he is still in love with Rosaline. They assume that he
is going to seek Rosaline, when instead he is going to watch Juliet at her
However, their relationship differs from the courtly love tradition
too. Their love is purely erotic and physical, with no desire to move
toward a spiritually uplifting love. Romeo loves Juliet, but does not
compare her to the divine or praise her for being virtuous and honorable.
Romeo does not try to restrain his passion for Juliet; he works to
consummate his love as quickly as possible.
Andreas Capellanus describes a list of thirty-one rules for courtly
love. While not all lovers followed these rules exactly, they collectively
represent an ideal courtly relationship. Romeo and Juliet’s love fulfills nine
of these rules.
The first rule is “Marriage is no real excuse for not loving.”244 This
expresses the idea that courtly love is potentially adulterous. Juliet’s
marriage to Paris appears to be loveless; therefore it would not be an
excuse for her to avoid loving someone else. As a true courtly lover, Juliet
would obediently marry Paris, while having an affair with Romeo on the
side. However, Juliet cannot live with this idea, and chooses to reject
marriage to Paris in favor of a loving union with Romeo.
Two other rules are “No one can be bound by a double love,” and
“A new love puts to flight an old one.”245 Romeo is clearly incapable of
loving both Rosaline and Juliet at the same time. He sees Juliet for the first
time while he is still in pursuit of Rosaline, but he seems to immediately
forget her as soon as he sees Juliet: “Did my heart love till now? forswear
it, sight! / For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night” (1.5.55-56). Romeo
shows that he cannot have two loves.
A further rule states, “That which a lover takes against his will of
his beloved has no relish.”246 When Romeo kills Tybalt, he normally may
have rejoiced in slaying a hated rival Capulet. However, since he loves
Juliet at this point, he exclaims, “O, I am fortune's fool!” (3.1.139). He
cannot relish the joy of killing his enemy because this enemy was his love’s

244 Andreas Capellanus, “The Courtly Art of Love,” The Internet Medieval Source Book, Ed.

Paul Halsall (October 1997).

245 Ibid.
246 Ibid.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 88
cousin. This situation also reflects another rule: “A true lover is constantly
and without intermission possessed by the thought of his beloved.”247
Romeo constantly thinks of Juliet, which is why he originally refused to
fight Tybalt. Only the death of Mercutio, Romeo’s close friend, could
provoke Romeo to attack Juliet’s cousin.
An additional rule declares, “No one should be deprived of love
without the very best of reasons.”248 Romeo and Juliet refuse to be
deprived of each other’s love for any reason. Their secret plans are
evidence of their desire to prevent society from destroying their love.
Death is the only reason good enough to deprive them of their love—they
each commit suicide after they believe the other has died.
Andreas Capellanus also states that “it is not proper to love any
woman whom one should be ashamed to seek to marry.”249 This implies
that one should not fall in love with a woman (or man) of a lower social
class. Presumably, since the Montagues and Capulets are feuding, they are
of similar social standing. Therefore, it would not normally be shameful
for Romeo to marry Juliet, had their houses not been feuding.
Another rule of courtly love is that “when made public, love rarely
endures.”250 Romeo and Juliet do not make their love public, because they
fear that it could not endure. They are scared of their families’ reactions
and afraid of a forced separation. If their love had been made public, it
likely would not have endured.
The final rule that Romeo and Juliet follow is, “Nothing forbids
one woman being loved by two men or one man by two women.”251 This
makes it acceptable for both Paris and Romeo to love Juliet.
Some of the other 22 rules which Romeo and Juliet do not adhere
to include the following: “Boys do not love until they arrive at the age of
maturity. When one lover dies, a widowhood of two years is required of
the survivor. He whom the thought of love vexes, eats and sleeps very
little. He who is not jealous cannot love.”252 Capellanus presents many
rules surrounding the theme of jealousy, which is an emotion that Romeo

247 Ibid.
248 Ibid.
249 Ibid.
250 Ibid.
251 Ibid.
252 Ibid.
89 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
rarely displays. While Romeo and Juliet follow only a few of these rules
explicitly, the ones they do follow show the influence of the courtly love
traditions on their relationship.
Barbara Tuchman, a scholar of medieval literature, describes
several stages to courtly love. Romeo and Juliet follow several of these as
well. Tuchman’s first stage is attraction to the lady through sight. Romeo
falls instantly in love with Juliet the first time he sees her. He proclaims
her beauty: “O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright! / It seems she
hangs upon the cheek of night / Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope's
ear; / Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!” (1.5.46-49). This initial
attraction, through love at first sight, is the basis of Romeo’s love for Juliet
throughout the play.
The second stage is worship of the lady from afar. Romeo watches
Juliet at her window and praises her beauty:
But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun

Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven,
Having some business, do entreat her eyes
To twinkle in their spheres till they return.
What if her eyes were there, they in her head?
The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars,
As daylight doth a lamp; her eyes in heaven
Would through the airy region stream so bright
That birds would sing and think it were not night.
See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand!
O, that I were a glove upon that hand,
That I might touch that cheek!
(2.2.3-4, 16-26)
Romeo obviously finds Juliet attractive, but he does not dare approach
her. He watches Juliet stand on her balcony and listens to her. This leads
to Tuchman’s third stage: the passionate declaration of love. However,
here Juliet inadvertently declares her love first, breaking the convention.
She was simply speaking to the darkness to clear her mind, unaware that
Romeo was listening; so she did not intend for it to be a declaration of
love. Nonetheless, the two declare their love for one another.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 90
In the courtly love tradition, the lady would normally be virtuous
at first and reject her lover’s advances. But Juliet does not do this, so the
next three stages do not happen either. These stages include renewed
wooing with oaths of virtue and eternal fealty, moans of approaching
death from unsatisfied desire (and other physical manifestations of
lovesickness) and heroic deeds of valor, which win the lady's heart.
Romeo and Juliet do, however, follow the final two stages. They
consummate their secret love after a secret marriage, and they maintain
their relationship’s secrecy through subterfuge. The most notable of these
secret plans is when Juliet stages her death. She does this so that she and
Romeo can escape to Mantua and live together forever, but her
clandestine plan fails because Romeo never learns that her death was
faked. In this way, their subterfuges exist, but they end quickly.
Although Romeo and Juliet do not follow all of Tuchman’s stages,
Romeo does experience two of them with Rosaline. Rosaline apparently
rejects Romeo’s advances and causes him to feel so lovesick that he “Shuts
up his windows, locks far daylight out /and makes himself an artificial
night.” (1.1.146-47). This lovesickness consumes Romeo until he finds a
better lady to love.
Romeo and Juliet are not ideal examples of courtly lovers. They
fall in love quickly, and they do not try to restrain or moderate their love.
However, the secrecy of their love affair is reminiscent of the courtly
A Midsummer Night’s Dream explores some of these ideas of courtly
love as well. One main idea is the initial attraction through sight. Several
pairs of lovers in this play are entranced with flower juice:
a little western flower,
Before milk-white, now purple with love's wound,
And maidens call it love-in-idleness.
Fetch me that flower; the herb I shew'd thee once:
The juice of it on sleeping eye-lids laid
Will make or man or woman madly dote
Upon the next live creature that it sees.”
91 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
This “love in idleness” is the pansy, whose juice will make people fall
deeply in love with the next thing they see.253 Oberon makes Titania fall in
love with Bottom, who is transformed into an ass. Both Lysander and
Demetrius fall in love with Helena. This potion causes love at first sight,
rather than a development of passion. Titania speaks to Bottom
immediately after awakening from the potion:
Mine ear is much enamour'd of thy note;
So is mine eye enthralled to thy shape;
And thy fair virtue's force perforce doth move me
On the first view to say, to swear, I love thee.
While a sudden onset of passionate love is common in the courtly love
tradition, the lover usually has time to worship from afar before declaring
this love. While most lovers would reject such a sudden declaration of love
as spurious, Bottom accepts it without question. Helena, on the other
hand, declines Lysander’s affections because he switches lovers so quickly:
These vows are Hermia's: will you give her o'er?
Weigh oath with oath, and you will nothing weigh:
Your vows to her and me, put in two scales,
Will even weigh, and both as light as tales.
She does not comprehend how Lysander could possibly love her truly,
when he was completely in love with Hermia only the day before. She
believes he is being untruthful or mocking her, and this continues as
Demetrius also declares his unexpected passionate love for her. She
O spite! O hell! I see you all are bent
To set against me for your merriment:
If you were civil and knew courtesy,
You would not do me thus much injury.
Can you not hate me, as I know you do,
But you must join in souls to mock me too?

Maurice Charney, Shakespeare on Love & Lust (New York: Columbia University Press,

Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 92
This sharp response comes from the unnatural aspects of the love potion
flower. The characters are compelled to love people they would not
normally love.
The love potion is a common element in some traditional courtly
love stories. For example, in the myth of Tristan and Iseult, a love potion
is intended for Iseult and King Mark, her husband. However, when Tristan
and Iseult drink the potion together instead, they fall in love against all
rules of their society. Even though Tristan is fiercely loyal to King Mark,
he is also madly in love with Iseult, who is to be Mark’s queen. Tristan
describes the love potion’s effect: “It seemed to Tristan as though an
ardent briar, sharp-thorned but with flower most sweet smelling, drave
roots into his blood and laced the lovely body of Iseult all round about it
and bound it to his own and to his every thought and desire.”254 (Bédier
2004). This intense attraction to her results in a relationship in the courtly
love tradition, as the couple is forced to love with Iseult’s marriage to
King Mark between them.
In contrast, the courtly love tradition does not dictate much of the
actions in Othello because Othello and Desdemona’s love is publicly
declared. There is no need for secrecy or subterfuge. However, this play
does support Andreas Capellanus’s rule that “love made public rarely
endures.”255 Iago is able to exploit his knowledge of Othello’s love in order
to accomplish his own ends. Desdemona is not attracted to Othello by
sight but by the “visage of the mind” (1.3.272). One could say that
Othello’s heroic deeds in war won Desdemona’s heart after he recounted
various stories of his adventures. However, these stories would also give
her insight into his character, which she fell in love with. Instead of courtly
love, then, Othello explores three other types of emotions: transcendent
love, jealousy, and non-romantic love.
In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis outlines several different types of
love. He describes affection (storge), friendship (philios), romantic love (eros),
and divine love, (caritas or agape). Eros, the feeling of being “in love,” is a
need-based love. Romantic lovers seem to need each other to fulfill their
desires. However, there are other need-based loves as well, such as the
love that exists between a mother and child, because a child needs its
254 M. Joseph Bédier, “The Romance of Tristan and Iseult,” Project Gutenberg (3 Dec.
255 Capellanus, “Art of Courtly Love.”
93 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
mother. Caritas is an altruistic love, based on charity and given as a gift.
Caritas is unconditional and provides for the needs of the beloved.
Desdemona’s love for Othello goes beyond a simple erotic love,
toward caritas. She believes that Othello is worthy of her love, and she
chooses him over her father:
I am hitherto your daughter: but here's my husband,
And so much duty as my mother show'd
To you, preferring you before her father,
So much I challenge that I may profess
Due to the Moor my lord.
Desdemona chooses eros (erotic love) and caritas toward Othello (the
chance to provide for his needs) over the caritas offered by her father.
Desdemona is selfless in caring for Othello: even when he attacks her, she
still strives to protect his reputation. For example, when Emilia says, “O,
who hath done this deed?” Desdemona responds, “Nobody; I myself.
Farewell” (5.2.145). Even in death, Desdemona puts her husband’s desires
above her own.
Othello’s love for Desdemona is similar to a transcendent erotic
love. When Desdemona chooses him over her father, she creates a vision
of him that differs from his own vision of himself, or the vision her father
has of him. Desdemona perceives Othello as a man worthy of her love; he
is valiant and honorable. Her father’s view, however, is different, “O thou
foul thief, where hast thou stow'd my daughter? / Damn'd as thou art,
thou hast enchanted her” (1.2.76-77). He believes that his daughter would
not choose Othello unless she was enchanted or exposed to a love potion.
Because Othello believes in Desdemona’s vision of him, he begins to see
himself as a better person.
However, Othello’s relationship with Iago changes this perception.
Iago slowly manipulates his way into Othello’s trust by creating situations
where his advice proves correct. For example, he provokes Brabantio into
attacking Othello, and then warns Othello of Brabantio’s rage. Iago uses
his influence to change how Othello sees himself, making him feel
unworthy of Desdemona’s love. Othello’s waning confidence leads him to
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 94
believe that Desdemona must have found someone more worthy of her
attention, provoking his jealousy of Cassio.256
Othello’s jealousy emerges from his love of Desdemona. As in the
courtly love tradition, jealousy is inherently a part of his love. Although
Desdemona has not done anything dishonorable with Cassio, Iago’s
manipulations turn innocent actions into perceived adultery. Emilia
explains Othello’s jealousy:
But jealous souls will not be answer'd so;
They are not ever jealous for the cause,
But jealous for they are jealous: 'tis a monster
Begot upon itself, born on itself.
Her explanation implies that lovers do not need a reason to be jealous—
they just are. Author Marcus Nordlund explores several possible
explanations for Othello’s jealousy. He begins with Othello’s feelings of
inadequacy relating to his black skin, comparatively older age, and lack of
eloquence. In Elizabethan times, black skin was associated with inferiority,
wickedness, evil, and sin. White skin, on the other hand, was connected
with knowledge of God. Nordlund concludes, however, that Othello’s
jealousy was so intense because his love made him vulnerable. Iago simply
knew how to exploit this vulnerability and provoke Othello’s madness.
Overall, these plays represent a varied collection of ideas about

Works Cited
Bédier, M. Joseph. “The Romance Of Tristan And Iseult.” Project
Gutenberg. 2004 3-December.
(accessed 2009 5-May).
Capellanus, Andreas. “The Art of Courtly Love.” The Internet Medieval
Source Book. Paul Halsall. 1997 October.
(accessed 2009 5-May).

Arthur Kirsch, “Othello,” Shakespeare and the Experience of Love (Cambridge: Cambridge

University Press, 1981).

95 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
Charney, Maurice. Shakespeare on Love & Lust. New York: Columbia
University Press, 2000.
Hemmingway, Ernest. A Farewell to Arms. New York: Scribner, 1929.
Kirsch, Arthur. “Othello.” In Shakespeare and the Experience of Love.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981.
Markley, Arnold A. An overview of A Farewell to Arms, in an essay for Exploring
Novels. Gale, 1998.
Nordlund, Marcus. Shakespeare and the Nature of Love. Evanston, Illinois:
Northwestern University Press, 2007.
Portolano, Marlana. “Love in Western Literature: Introductory Lecture.”
Honors Seminar on Love in Western Literature. Towson, 2009.
Shakespeare, William. “A Midsummer Night's Dream.” William Shakespeare
Info. 2005.
midsummer-nights-dream.htm (accessed 2009 5-May).
—. “Othello.” William Shakespeare Info. 2005. http://www.william- (accessed 2009 5-May).
—. “Romeo and Juliet.” William Shakespeare Info. 2005.
juliet.htm (accessed 2009 5-May).
“Stages of Courtly Love.” Cambridge Encyclopedia. 2009.
love.html (accessed 2009 5-May). Web. 5 May 2009.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 96
From Courtly Love to Courtesy:
The Evolution of Courtship
Lillian Rosen

Tendrils of sunlight glint on the valiant knight’s metal armor as he

charges the battlefield. Wielding his mighty sword, the knight slays radical
heretics and enemies of his lord alike, with one smooth stroke of his wrist.
He is unfeeling of the bloodshed and destruction he leaves in his wake,
but the sweet words that his lady love has written to him reverberate in his
untenanted mind: “I pray that thee will return unscathed by any adversary thou
encounters. Thou art loved so dearly, fearless knight.” As the lustrous evening sun
sets the sky ablaze, the knight rides away on his noble stead to seek
comfort and solace in the note his fair maiden has left for him beyond the
ivy-clad castle wall.
The essence of what twenty-first century scholars refer to as
courtly love flourished during the Middle Ages when political order and
stability was tumultuous, and the fate of the sovereign state at large, hung
by a thread. Courtly love, inexplicably entwined with chivalry, traces its
origins to feudal societies. The code of chivalry established a guide to
appropriate manners in terms of the defense of weaker beings, which
includes women.
The moral obligations that the code of chivalry demanded of all
knights, laid the foundation for the literary conventions utilized by
troubadours, Provençal poets, and other authors like Abelard and Heloise,
Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarch, William Shakespeare, Kate Chopin,
Gabriel García Márquez and Elizabeth Gilbert. The courtly love
methodology that arose from the glories of knighthood became a promise
of civility towards women in courtship, sometimes at the expense of a
woman’s freedom and unrealistic gender expectations. The components of
courtly love that have evolved through time by authors of this craft have
developed into courtesy customs shown towards women during courtship,
yet misogynistic undertones and listless idealizations of true love that lead
to eventual unfulfillment, overshadow the evolution of courtly love.
Originating in France and Italy, courtly love conventions were
inspired by lyric poets known as troubadours in the early twelfth century.
The transmission of these principles to England was made possible by the
97 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine and the English King Henry in 1152,
when Eleanor brought her own court’s troubadours with her to
England.257 Troubadours and other literary artists narrated tales of
knighthood that revolved around a central romance between a knight and
his fair lady. Love was illustrated to be the powerful, sustaining force that
not only galvanized determination, but also protected a knight from bodily
harm.258 It became the duty of knights and squires in such stories as
Lancelot by Chrétien de Troyes to gain the favor of a lady, married or not,
and become her paramour.259 It remains unclear whether this chivalric
practice did in fact occur between real-life knights and ladies from the
twelfth to the fourteenth century. Real-life knights were theoretically very
busy completing tasks assigned to them by their lord, or by serving on
juries and inquests .260 A knight’s daily obligations would have
undoubtedly prevented him from following courtly love traditions.
However, the narratives composed in this style were used to rally a
knight’s morale and courage prior to battle. 261
The exact definition of courtly love is somewhat elusive, but the
general concept of courtly ideals is largely agreed upon. Courtly love is
“inherent in the soul.”262 The passion that exists between two lovers is
illicit and spiritual. Ethereal and boundless, courtly love is characterized by
the intense, yet chaste emotional love that a couple shares.263
Courtly love influences people. Characters are thus exposed to a
vast range of behaviors. Common symptoms include attraction through
sight, wooing, worshiping a lady from afar, and professing deep, true
desire for the beloved.264 “The highest aspiration of the courtly lover is to
attain the state expressed by poets in the word ‘joy,’ usually denoting a

257 Denis De Rougemont, Love in the Western World. Rev. ed. (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1983).
258 Richard Barber, The Knight and Chivalry (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc,

259 Prestage
260 Prestage
261 Barber, The Knight and Chivalry.
262 Alexander Denomy, "Courtly Love and Courtliness," Speculum 28.1 (1953. 44. JSTOR.

Web. 19 Apr 2010.)

263 De Rougemont, Love in the Western World.
264 Barbara Tuchman, A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. New York: The

Random House Publishing Group, 1979).

Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 98
blissful exaltation of the spirit, rather than the fruit of physical
satisfaction.”265 The term, courtly love, is a nineteenth century invention,
and is used to classify this troubadour-, Cathar-influenced genre.266
The rise of Catharism, a strict Christian belief with monk-like
discipline and seclusion, also played a significant role in the foundations of
courtly love. Provençal poets imitated Cathar standards such as scorning
marriage and traveling by twos.267
The tragic tale of Abelard and Heloise exemplifies the moral
elevation of love and chivalric disregard for a woman’s self-determination.
Upon being hired to instruct and educate Heloise, the renowned scholar,
Abelard, fell in love with his brilliant student Heloise. Various tribulations
threatened the health of their relationship, including the wrath of Heloise’s
uncle Fulbert. Their marriage crumbled when Fulbert ordered his kinsmen
to castrate Abelard. Abelard, sent into a deep depression by all of his
misfortunes, entered the Abbey of St. Dennis and required Heloise to
assume holy orders as the head of a small band of nuns.268 In 1128, a series
of correspondence exchanges occurred between the ill-fated couple that
epitomized the pure devotion and desire of courtly love that ultimately
gave root to spiritual growth.
Heloise confesses that she will “still love [Abelard] with all the
tenderness of [her] soul till the last moment of [her] life,” in her first letter
to Abelard and later reveals that she was “more pleased with possessing
[Abelard’s] heart than with any other happiness, and the man was the
thing I least valued in [him].”269 Heloise’s unfaltering love and fidelity is
palpable from her intense, impassioned language. Heloise is so enraptured
by Abelard that she guarantees the loyalty and faithfulness of her heart
until her dying day. She truly values Abelard’s soul rather than his physical
being and internalizes the responsibility for the separated, monastic lives

265 D.D.R.Owen, Noble Lovers. (New York: New York University Press, 1975).
266 John Moore, “‘Courtly Love’: A Problem of Terminology,” Journal of the History of
Ideas 40.4 (1979. 622. JSTOR. Web. 19 Apr 2010).
267 De Rougemont, Love in the Western World.
268 D.D.R.Owen, Noble Lovers.
269 J. Hare, "The Love Letters of Abelard and Heloise," (2006. 30-95. Blackboard. Web. 19

Apr 2010. <

99 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
that each of them now leads. In the third letter of Abelard and Heloise’s
correspondence sequence, Abelard divulges a similar sentiment of how his
“love burns fiercer amidst the happy indifference of those who surround
me, and my heart is alike pierced with your sorrows and my own.”270
Abelard is truly fighting the urge to continue to love Heloise the
way he once did. It pains him to think about the suffering each of them
has endured over their strained, clandestine love. Out of necessity, to not
only ease his own turmoil, but also to help Heloise and himself to move
forward with their lives, Abelard instructs Heloise in his final letter to
“apply [herself] in good earnest to the business of [her] salvation; this
ought to be [her] whole concern. Banish me, therefore, forever from your
heart—it is the best advice I can give.”271
Abelard’s declaration appears chivalric, by sparing Heloise from
further heartbreak; Abelard diplomatically commands Heloise to cease
contacting and thinking about him. Compelled by love to obey her lover’s
wishes, Heloise surrenders her devotion to Abelard then becomes a
devout servant of God.
Although Abelard wanted to eradicate Heloise’s heartache by
shifting her attentions and focus to godly work, Abelard gave Heloise no
choice in the matter and her fate was simply decided for her. Together, the
couple benefitted from severing all romantic ties with one another, yet
Abelard mainly insisted that Heloise stop loving him for the sake of his
own torment. Abelard is selfish and sexist as he accepts and believes the
Middle Age assumption that “manners and good breeding are established
by women, while principles and laws are settled by men.”272 This theory
insinuates and supports a falsified claim that womankind is frail and
incapable of making reliable, suitable decisions for themselves and for
Dante Alighieri prominently features the emotionally intoxicating
concepts of courtly love and idealization in his remarkable poetic work La
Vita Nuova. In order to fully elucidate his everlasting romantic love for his
adoring Beatrice Portinari, Dante employs poetic lyrics and sonnets,
structural explanations of his poems, and autobiographical depictions of

270 Ibid.
271 Ibid.
272 R. Bloch, Medieval Misogyny and the Invention of Western Romantic Love (Chicago: The

University of Chicago Press, 1991).

Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 100
the events that moved him to create poetry and ruminate on the facets of
love. Dante’s detailed narrative is like no other work in the courtly love
genre and he writes beautifully innovative text to have been composed in
1293. Dante recalls that he was merely nine years old when he said, “the
glorious Lady of my mind was made [to] manifest to mine eyes,” and
caused the chambers of his heart to “tremble so violently.”273 Dante is
physically afflicted by attraction upon his initial glimpse of Beatrice. He
cannot seem to control the torrent of emotions he is feeling. Dante’s
lovesick thoughts lead him to believe that only Beatrice could “awaken
love where it slept” and his subsequent sonnet discloses that Beatrice
“carries love within her eyes; / All that she looks on is made pleasanter; /
…Tis such a new and gracious miracle.”274 Dante is aware of the spiritually
elevating element that Beatrice possesses and is smitten by the mystical
affect she has on the world. She “is a source of both joy and moral
improvement, with her eyes above all reflecting her essential, miraculous
beauty.”275 Beatrice brings ease and peace to Dante’s inner being.
Dante romanticized Beatrice’s pure self to use her as a muse for
his work despite the fact that Dante’s compilation of sonnets to Beatrice
gives the impression of being heartfelt and animated. Dante continues to
worship Beatrice from afar throughout their relationship and never
profoundly interacts with Beatrice in any way. Beatrice is never informed
of Dante’s love for her and the lengths at which Dante goes to keep their
love a complete secret, which is an odd practice to have if one is really in
Dante disguises his love for Beatrice by writing about other
women and generally concealing his inner most thoughts from his peers. It
does not seem plausible for Dante to mask his true feelings for Beatrice if
he loves her as much as he professed that he did. Dante manufactured a
convoluted thought of what the ideal Beatrice he imagined would be like.
Using Beatrice as a muse, allowed for a creative, unrealistic story that
prevented Dante from being disappointed by the attributes of the real
Beatrice. “The adored lady of the troubadours and minnesingers, by

273 Alighieri Dante, La Vita Nuova, Thrift ed. (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc,

274 Ibid.
275 D.D.R.Owen, Noble Lovers.
276 D.D.R.Owen, Noble Lovers.
101 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
contrast, was in the large majority of cases only distantly known to the
poets or was an entirely imaginary figure”277
Following Beatrice’s death, Dante is emotionally wounded and
mourns his loss of Beatrice as his object of true love and desire. He
produces a sonnet in which the heart of the being speaks to the soul and
advises the soul to “Be no more at strive / And all the strength it owns
and all the life / It draweth from the gentle eyes of her / Who, looking on
our grief, hath often grieved.”278 This sonnet attempts to soothe Dante’s
feelings regarding his lady’s death. Dante’s use of a bodily metaphor to
compare his devastated heart and soul to Beatrice’s benevolent eyes
reiterates the powerfulness of Beatrice’s gaze to transcend earthly matters.
Beatrice’s eyes have grieved as much as Dante’s soul and heart have and
now it is time for each of them to accept their destinies.
Similar to Dante in the aspect that his lady acted more as an artistic
stimulus than as a lover, Francesco Petrarch developed and perfected
poetic sonnet structure and reinforced the components of courtly love and
courtesy. Written in 1327, Il Canzoniere contains a collection of Petrarchan
sonnets dedicated to a golden-haired maiden named Laura. Petrarch
demonstrates his vulnerability and weakness against love’s will to Laura
when he admits that he cannot “defend [himself], / because [her] lovely
eyes had bound [him],” then adds, “Lady.”279 Laura’s eyes have snared
Petrarch and he finds it difficult to dislodge himself from this trap.
However, Petrarch seems content to gaze into the windows of Laura’s
Distraught in her absence, Petrarch is envious of “those spirits that
have her sweet sacred company now.”280 Petrarch feels empty and alone
when Laura is absent and grieves until she returns to him. He is very
dramatic and quite shocked that Laura does not devote every free second
of her life to spending time with him and satisfying his needs. Petrarch,
limitless in his affection and admiration of Laura, is prepared to die for
love. Petrarch reveals that he is “already tired of living, / of navigating

277 Herber Moller, "The Meaning of Courtly Love," Journal of American Folklore 73.287
(1960. 40-41. JSTOR. Web. 19 Apr 2010).
278 Dante, La Vita Nuova.
279 Peter Sadlon, "Il Canzoniere," Francesco Petrarch and Laura de Noves (1999. Blackboard.

Web. 19 Apr 2010).

280 Ibid.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 102
through these foul waves: / but gathering up the scattered leaves, / step
by step, like this, [he] follow[s] her.”281 Petrarch believes that having his
soul reunite with Laura in heaven will make death a sweeter affair. The
lovers would be able to continue the impenetrable bond in the afterlife
that they conceived on earth.
Petrarch commits the same fraud as Dante, attempting to pass off
his lover Laura as an unadorned, real human being, instead of woman who
was altered by his imagination. Petrarch defends himself by declaring that
“Laura was for him a model of and inspiration to goodness, never yielding
to his desires but remaining the only true object of his earthly love.”282
Laura’s model-like presence implies that she was used to the expectation
for the great love Petrarch shared with a woman, but that Petrarch would
diverge from the real nature of his muse to idealize and make his sonnets
more compelling.
Shakespeare criticizes females for their alleged indecisiveness and
the fact that “everything a woman says is said with the intention of
deceiving, because she always she always has one thing in her heart and
another on her lips” in Sonnet 138.283 The sonnet describes the mutual
deception that exists between the couple and the poet discloses that
“When my love swears that she is made of truth / I do believe her though
I know she lies.”284 Despite the fact that his lady has professed that she is
being truthful, the poet easily dismisses her confession as an untruth.
Though women have been continually praised, valued, and cherished by
authors of courtly love up to this point in history, women still experience
gender defamation and are at the mercy of single-minded, male opinions.
The poet is agitated and unnerved by his desires for his lady, but wants to
prolong the feeling of love.
Misogynistic currents and lovesickness are key factors of the
construction of William Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Shakespeare’s Sonnets was
published in 1609, indicating that this work was slightly removed from the
height of the courtly love phenomena. The sonnets revolve around the
actions of four characters including a poet, a fair youth, a dark lady, and a

281 Ibid.
282 D.D.R.Owen, Noble Lovers.
283 R. Bloch, Medieval Misogyny and the Invention of Western Romantic Love.
284 William Shakespeare, Shakespeare's Sonnets (New York: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks,

103 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
rival poet. The poet and the fair youth have an unorthodox relationship,
yet the poet cares for, adores, and genuinely loves the fair youth who
seems confused by his position and status as a novice romantic. The
physical manifestations of love’s disease are heightened in Sonnet 147.
The poet is in a state of crazed fever “longing still / For that which longer
nurseth the disease, / … and I desperate[ly] now approve / Desire is
death, which physic did except.”285
The poet is in a state of despair and wants to die, but the antidote
to alleviate his symptoms was protested and rejected by the illness of love.
Pondering over his inevitable death in Sonnet 74, the poet consoles his
beloved by announcing that “The earth can have but earth, which is his
due; / My spirit is thine, the better part of me.”286 The earth will take the
poet’s body because he owes his body to the earth, yet the poet’s spirit will
live on through the poetry that belongs to and is dedicated to the lover.
The poet tries to explain to his beloved that the lover gets to keep the
most prized possession of the poet, his spirit. The poet and the beloved
will never been separated, not even by death.
Edna Pontellier, the woman of self-exploration and discovery in
the short novel The Awakening by Kate Chopin, is the recipient of
chivalrous and courteous acts at the hands of the male characters who
make her acquaintance. Robert Lebrun and Edna unexpectedly fall deeply
in love with each other in the late eighteen hundreds during their summer
vacations and neither of the pair is truly honest with their own feelings
and longings. Out of her comfort zone and contemplating the thought of
independence from societal obligations, Robert kindly asks Edna if she
would like to hear Mademoiselle Reisz play the piano. Robert can tell
before Edna responds, that she does in fact want Mademoiselle Reisz to
play. Robert then abruptly stated, “I’ll ask her. … She likes you. She will
come.”287 Robert not only recognizes Edna’s introverted, solemn behavior,
but he also takes the responsibility upon himself to ask this special favor
of the pianist and reassures Edna that she would be happy to oblige her

285 Ibid.
286 Ibid.
Kate Chopin, The Awakening and Selected Stories of Kate Chopin. (New York: Simon and
Schuster Paperbacks, 2009).
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 104
It is evident that Robert cares for the well-being of Edna. Robert
displays many other courteous manners including holding an umbrella
over Edna to shield her from the sun, accompanying Edna on her travels
and acting as her conversational companion. Alceé Arobin, another
romantic confidant that Edna encounters on her path to spiritual freedom,
escorts Edna safely home to her house after a dinner party and sincerely
apologizes to her when he is forward with her. Robert, like Petrarch, does
not want Edna to leave him when she is asked to visit Madame Ratignolle.
Robert’s love for Edna “had enthralled his senses, had deprived him of
every impulse but the longing to hold her and keep her.”288
Misogynistic currents and lovesickness are key factors of the
construction of William Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Shakespeare’s Sonnets was
published in 1609, indicating that this work was slightly removed from the
height of the courtly love phenomena. The sonnets revolve around the
actions of four characters including a poet, a fair youth, a dark lady, and a
rival poet. The poet and the fair youth have an unorthodox relationship,
yet the poet cares for, adores, and genuinely loves the fair youth who
seems confused by his position and status as a novice romantic. The
physical manifestations of love’s disease are heightened in Sonnet 147.
The poet is in a state of crazed fever “longing still / For that which longer
nurseth the disease, / … and I desperate[ly] now approve / Desire is
death, which physic did except.”289
Love’s intoxication made Robert treasure every minute he spent
with his true love who he almost completely lost contact with forever.
Similar to Abelard in his thinking, Robert leaves a note for Edna after
their brief encounter at the pigeon house reading, “I love you. Good-by—
because I love you.”290 While it was chivalrous to make this heartbreaking
decision to preserve Edna’s life, Edna like Heloise, was not given a choice
to decide her fate. This incident damaged Edna’s psyche and obliterated
her newfound free will, ultimately leading to her suicide.
While women were respected during this era of history, their own
hobbies and thoughts were trivialized. As an aspiring painter, Edna seeks
encouragement from her family and friends. Her husband takes no interest
in her endeavors and is not supportive. He was only courteous “so long as
288 Chopin, The Awakening and Selected Stories of Kate Chopin.
289 Shakespeare, Shakespeare's Sonnets.
290 Chopin, The Awakening and Selected Stories of Kate Chopin.
105 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
he met a certain submissiveness in his wife.”291 “The alliance of woman
with the esthetic sustains the widespread belief that when women do
engage in the arts, their engagement is somehow to be taken less
seriously.”292 Trapped by her marriage and her role as a subordinate being
in life, Edna was unable to express herself without caution and censorship.
Women were not permitted to do as they pleased and were crippled by
societal constraints. Women were considered unfit to comprehend and
handle the abstract concepts that males were determined to possess an
affinity for.293 If Edna had emancipated herself from her mundane
existence, perhaps she would not have taken her own life.
Gabriel García Márquez’s rich novel Love in the Time of Cholera
exemplifies both the inner workings of courtly love and glorified
expectations of love. After the death of her husband in the early 1920s,
Fermina Daza becomes reacquainted with a paramour from youth,
Florentino Ariza. He has been waiting fifty-one years to rekindle the love
they once had for each other. The novel begins by tracing the origin of
their romance from when Fermina and Florentino are teenagers.
Florentino is ill from his love of Fermina, secretive in their chaste letter
exchanges, and committed to his beloved. Florentino drinks himself into a
stupor and “became drunk on Fermina Daza in abrasive swallows.”294
Hopelessly in love, Florentino’s mind commits acts of love impulsively
because he has never felt a passion for anyone like this before. This
romantic life adventure is new to him and so Florentino must take chances
at every opportunity that presents itself to discover something new. The
unrestrained, feverish letters Florentino writes to Fermina are intensely
heartfelt, but are in fact Florentino’s re-workings of the masterpieces
created by courtly love artists and not his own original work. In order to
keep her courtship hidden from her family, Fermina Daza devises a plan
where she will “leave her letter in some hiding place along her daily route
from the house to the Academy, and in that letter she would indicate to
Florentino Ariza where she expected to find his answer.”295 Florentino

291 Ibid.
292 R. Bloch, Medieval Misogyny and the Invention of Western Romantic Love.
293 Ibid.
294 Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera, 1st international ed. (New York:

Random House, Inc, 2003).

295 Ibid.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 106
obeys Fermina’s strategy without fault to preserve the integrity of her
family and to ensure that the line of communication between him and his
beloved is never neglected.
Florentino is depicted as a true gentleman because he is
considerate and understanding of Fermina’s feelings. Fermina becomes
enraptured by Florentino’s charm and his perpetual worship of her. When
Fermina unexpectedly sees and meets Florentino in an open air market,
she is instantly disillusioned by Florentino’s greeting and “instead of the
commotion of love, she [feels] the abyss of disenchantment.”296 Fermina is
disturbed by the fact that she has put so much energy into loving someone
she thought was her perfect match, to have that all dissipate in one fell
swoop by her altered romantic feelings. Fermina designed a flawless
romance in her head with Florentino only to come to find that she was
not in the slightest bit interested in what he had to offer her as a lover and
a soul mate. Fermina disregarded and ignored Florentino and found that
their passion-filled love was merely an illusion.
Unrealistic expectations set people up for failure and
disappointment in real life applications such as online and blind dating.
For instance, a pair of people can begin talking on the phone and establish
a spark, or a connection through discussing their interests and passions
without ever meeting face to face and building a physical dynamic.
A product of twenty-first century culture, Eat, Pray, Love by
Elizabeth Gilbert is a captivating novel that documents the author-
divorcée’s journey across Italy, India, and Indonesia where she exposes
herself to new experiences and finds happiness. In the process of
uncovering her identity and self-worth, Elizabeth finds love with a
Brazilian-native named Felipe in Bali. Riddled with depression from a
failed marriage and another relationship, Elizabeth does not expect to
meet anyone so endearing, so delightful or so compatible with her while
she is on her travels. Felipe’s modern day courtship of Elizabeth is
composed of Felipe taking Elizabeth on road trips, cooking her dinner
and taking care of her needs emotionally and physically. Elizabeth
proclaims that she has “never been loved and adored like this before by
anyone, never with such pleasure and single-minded concentration.”297

296 Ibid.
297 Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love (New York: Penguin Books, 2006).
107 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
Enchanted by Felipe’s kind heart, Elizabeth permits herself to be patient
and to let love take its own course. Whatever happens, happens, and
Elizabeth feels secure enough to banish her imagined, senseless version of
romance from her heart so that she may experience true bliss for the first
time in her life.
Felipe shows courtesy and kindness towards Elizabeth by listening
to her feelings and her yearnings. After making love for the first time as a
couple, Felipe revealed to Elizabeth that she “seemed terribly young but
also open and excited and relieved to be recognized and so tired of being
brave.”298 Felipe attempts to internalize Elizabeth’s feelings, which in turn
enhances their communication skills with one another.
The cognitively constructed irrational love that is evident in many
literary courtly love romances is detrimental to the process and existence
of love between two people in real life. Idealized love is nothing more
than the projected dreams and desires of what a person wants to find in a
mate. This type of illusionary ardor is a “continuation of the old courtly
love games that converts perhaps trifling realities into impressive and
resplendent fictions.”299
Prior to the pair meeting in public, each person has formulated a
list of criteria of what the other person should be like based on the
impressions already made and their own projected wants. What a person
believes and hopes their date will be like does not match up with how
their date is in reality. “In romantic love, the beloved object is not seen
accurately, but through a glamorous mist.”300 The distorted views that
people concoct about prospective partners are not caused by people
misrepresenting themselves in online profiles or phone conversations.
Finally meeting the person that someone has built up so much hope for
becomes the eternal letdown.
Literary-inspired courtly love traditions have undoubtedly shaped
the humanity of love and how lovers relate to one another in terms of
courtesy and gender roles. It is not surprising that the theories resulting
from courtly love etiquette like misogyny and chivalry continue to be hot-

298 Ibid.
299 D.D.R.Owen, Noble Lovers.
300 Bertrand Russell, Marriage and Morals, New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation,

Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 108
button topics that many couples face today because of the technology
movement and the popular culture of this generation. Perhaps
relationships would be more durable if they were established on pretenses
of truths with person-to-person contact instead of gadget-to-gadget.
Perhaps if women stop calling each other negatively connoted derogatory
terms, the male population would not be so inclined to do the same and
would have respect for womankind. Although the evolution of human
kind has ushered in new thought processes and moral codes, the principle
of love has never been modified. Love is innate in every human being; it
just takes the right person to unleash its powers.

Works Cited
Barber, Richard. The Knight and Chivalry. New York, NY: Harper & Row,
Publishers, Inc, 1982.
Bloch, R. Medieval Misogyny and the Invention of Western Romantic Love.
Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1991.
Chopin, Kate. The Awakening and Selected Stories of Kate Chopin. New York,
NY: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 2009.
Dante, Alighieri. La Vita Nuova . Thrift ed. Mineola, NY: Dover
Publications, Inc, 2001.
Denomy, Alexander. "Courtly Love and Courtliness." Speculum 28.1 1953.
44. JSTOR. Web. 19 Apr 2010.
De Rougemont, Denis. Love in the Western World. Rev. ed. Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press, 1983.
García Márquez, Gabriel. Love in the Time of Cholera. 1st international ed.
New York, NY: Random House, Inc, 2003.
Gilbert, Elizabeth. Eat, Pray, Love. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2006.
Hare, J. "The Love Letters of Abelard and Heloise." 2006. 30-95.
Blackboard. Web. 19 Apr 2010.
r%3ftype %3dCourse%26id%3d_28171_1%26url%3d>.
Moller, Herbert. "The Meaning of Courtly Love." Journal of American
Folklore 73.287 1960. 40-41. JSTOR. Web. 19 Apr 2010.
Moore, John. “‘Courtly Love’: A Problem of Terminology.” Journal of the
History of Ideas 40.4 1979. 622. JSTOR. Web. 19 Apr 2010.
109 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
Owen, D.D.R. Noble Lovers . New York, NY: New York University Press,
Prestage, Edgar. Chivalry. Great Britain: Stephen Austin & Sons, Ltd, 1928.
Russell, Bertrand. Marriage and Morals. New York, NY: Liveright
Publishing Corporation, 1957.
Sadlon, Peter. "Il Canzoniere." Francesco Petrarch and Laura de Noves 1999.
Blackboard. Web. 19 Apr 2010.
Shakespeare, William. Shakespeare's Sonnets . New York, NY: Simon and
Schuster Paperbacks, 2009.
Tuchman, Barbara. A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. New
York, NY: The Random House Publishing Group, 1979.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 110
Maturity Through Spiritual Love
Molly Szpara

Love is viewed as the ultimate goal in every person’s life. It is

thought to be the salve for all wounds and is even considered to be God,
or the essence of God, by many spiritual individuals. Though young,
romantic love is accompanied by a certain obsessive madness, love that
endures years and trials, and love that grows with age and becomes
unconditional is the purest ideal of Western civilization. Love does not
grow between people by itself, however. Love grows as two people grow
individually. In turn, experiencing deep affection and caring toward
another person often prompts personal growth, so individual growth and
a relationship’s growth go hand in hand. Dante Alighieri’s La Vita Nuova
demonstrates an unhealthy, immature love experienced by the protagonist,
whereas the love explained through the speakers in Plato’s Symposium
explores many aspects of a mature, spiritual love, even by modern
Love, the spirit or soul, and art are intrinsically connected. In the
Vita Nuova, Dante shows how love can inspire a flame in the soul that
must have a passionate outlet, and that pours forth in his sonnets and
ballads. Each poem is written for his love, Beatrice, with whom he never
interacts beyond a formal introduction, where he faints and swoons from
her presence. Because she is a married woman of higher class status than
he and he is also married at this time, he makes her the object of his
courtly passion and pines from afar. He also composes this after her
death.301 He first meets Beatrice when they are children of nine years old,
and it is then that he experiences the feeling of love at first sight. He
describes the feeling thus: “the vital spirit, the one that dwells in the most
secret chamber of the heart, began to tremble so violently that even the
more minute veins of my body were strongly affected, and trembling, it
spoke these words: Ecce deus fortior me [Here is a God stronger than I who

Thomas G. Bergin, “Alighieri, Dante: Overview,” Literature Resource Center, Ed. Lesley

Henderson, 2nd ed. (New York: St. James Press, 1995).

111 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
comes to rule over me]”.302 This feeling in the beginning of a long and
tortured internal affair with an external, and mostly imagined, lady.
The first image he speaks of, and the most resounding, is the one
of Love feeding Dante’s heart to Beatrice. This image is something of a
shock, but it speaks of what is to come and what Dante had felt shortly
after meeting Beatrice. Just before this dream, Dante feels the implications
of his love for her in his spirit. He says, “Apparuit iam beatitudo vestra [Now
your bliss has appeared]. At this point the natural spirit, the one dwelling
in that part where food is digested, began to weep, and weeping said these
words: Heu miser, quia frequenter impeditus ero deinceps [Alas, wretch, for I shall
be disturbed from now on]!”303 This feeling manifests when Love feeds
Dante’s heart to Beatrice because his love of her will always consume his
heart and he will always be focused on her as his only true, spiritual love.
In some ways the love is pure bliss in his heart, but on the other hand, the
love is a torture. The more practical spirit of his body, or stomach, in this
case, realizes the physical harm that he may experience through the
madness of love. Dante does experience a physical sickness that he blames
wholly on love and keeping it secretly within his heart from all his friends
and family.304
In his poems, he takes readers through all the stages of his love,
from his first inspiration by her presence, to deeming her divine, and then
finally to her death, after which he convinces himself of her immortality
and purity. He places her spirit among those of angels and goddesses.
“Beatrice is, for Dante, an analogue of the Divine. She is an analogue of
the God who is
Love . . . she is that much more than any of the other poetic ladies of the
rich love lyrics tradition that Dante is a part of.”305 The first stage of his
obsession is the link he makes between his soul and Beatrice.
Simply by seeing her in passing on the street, he is able to
convince himself of her morally angelic qualities and create her as a
spiritual role model who is everything a good Christian ought to be. He
describes what her presence does to him when she walks down the same

302 Mark Musa, ed., The Portable Dante (New York: Penguin Group, 1995).
303 Ibid.
304 Ibid.
305 Kaye Howe, “Dante's Beatrice: The Nine and the Ten,” Italica. 52.8. (1975): 364-371.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 112
I, in anticipation of her miraculous greeting, could not
have considered any man my enemy; on the contrary, a
flame of charity lit within me and made me forgive
whoever had offended me.306
Forgiveness is one of the greatest virtues taught to Christians, who learn
that in God and Christ there is forgiveness, and that if one is struck, he
should turn the other cheek. The fact that her presence inspires him to let
go of all anger and vindictiveness shows that he places her only in the
purest circles. Dante is able to release all negative thoughts when around
her, thus being cleansed so he feels worthy in her presence. Dante is
consumed with love and compassion in her presence. He says, “If anyone
had wished to know Love, he might have done so by looking at my
glistening eyes”.307 Still, in the instance of that greeting, he is denied her
words because she has heard of his false attentions to his “screen” lady
and that they were doing this other lady’s reputation harm. This is agony
to him. The changeability and volatility of his emotions and physical
condition around Beatrice is clearly the result of an unfounded obsession.
Though the presence of love within himself serves as an advisor
and teacher, it is not always the most gentle or wise. Love allows Dante to
be battered by his own mistakes, which surround his attempts to deceive
others about his love and keep Beatrice as a selfish secret. He
systematically conceals his love for Beatrice by pretending to love another
lady, and eventually writing “trifles” for sixty other ladies in the city as a
screen when people ask for whom he suffers.308 He counsels with Love
again in a dream and concludes that he needs to write an honest sonnet to
Beatrice that is saturated with love, free of pretense. Only this way, Love
says, will she understand his true feelings.309 Beatrice, however, is never
recorded as responding. Dante continues to write himself in a circle for
her love and attention, when she may view him as an annoyance who
defames her fellow ladies. Here, Dante reaches for the reality of an honest
love by deciding to come clean about his feelings for Beatrice, to Beatrice.
His process, however, has been completely unknown to her, besides a
suspicion that he is infatuated with her. Because his objective is to worship

306 Musa, The Portable Dante.

307 Ibid.
308 Ibid.
309 Ibid.
113 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
her from afar and never really possess her physically or emotionally, this
step is grand, since he would be open about his feelings and open to her
From this work, Dante becomes known as the artist who loves
Beatrice. With each poem he continues to practice and perfect his style, so
that the plotline of the Vita Nuova is almost secondary to the form, which
is a presentation of a sequence of poems. Before each sonnet or ballad he
gives a brief introduction, and at the poems’ ends he explains its parts and
the argument. Dante’s love is more fleshed out with each poem he
presents, and the stage of love is explained further with images of his
experiences. His love guides him through the flame-like passion, the joy
from worshipping her, the pining for her, and finally the sorrow from the
loss of her. He experiences this whole cycle of emotions, and the
experiences add to the tome of his poetry. This emotional roller coaster is
enough for him, and while it is adding to his experience as a person and an
artist, he never truly finds what love is outside his own invention.
There is nothing physical about Dante’s relationship with Beatrice
other than his observations of her beauty, and he does not desire anything
more than this. For her to be a physical presence in his life would bring
her down from the angelic position in which he has placed her. Even so,
by making her his idol, Dante realizes how he strives to be as a person by
instilling her with these virtues, just as Christians are supposed to see such
virtues in Jesus or the Virgin Mary, who were the only humans free of
The proof of Beatrice’s presence in Dante’s life stretches far
beyond her own physical existence, which is chronicled in the Vita Nuova.
She is also the divine guidepost for Dante in the Divina Commedia.311 Dante
is so focused on Beatrice alone that he only regards the death of another
lady in the city because he once saw her walking with Beatrice. If she had
not associated with Beatrice, Dante would not have even considered her
worthy of his time or respect. However, he says, “I resolved to say
something about her death, in recognition of having seen her several times
in the company of my lady,” and this is the introduction of another poem.
At this point it is clear that his obsession with Beatrice is unhealthy. He

310 Howe, “Dante's Beatrice: The Nine and the Ten.”

311 Ibid.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 114
loses himself in her, rather than in what life has to offer him from day to
day. His only respect for others comes from their association with
Beatrice, who he singles out as the only human being worth respecting. It
is clear from his worship of her that he is a man in need of guidance and
who has not found enough within his religion to guide his spirit. So he
creates, with Beatrice, a new romantic religion to which he pledges himself
Frequently Dante’s “spirit” or different elements of his spirit are
named and given dialogue. There is the spirit of his heart, which is in bliss,
and the spirit of his body, which is in torment from the unattainable lady.
Besides these, Love himself becomes yet another “spirit” within Dante
and gives him direction, as the other spirits reveal truths. This incarnation
of Love first appears in his dream, feeding his heart to Beatrice, and then
lives inside him, directing him later to makes other ladies screens and to
keep hiding his true love for Beatrice. This spirit of Love seems to be
defending him against harsh reality. While Love seems to Dante some
outside being that counsels him, Love is really a reflection of himself, or
the manifestation of his thoughts on Beatrice, and confusion as how to
proceed in his one-sided affair.
Whether he gains any self-actualizing maturity here is doubtful,
since he, in this sweeping passion, allows himself to be hurt many times
and yet never ceases to worship Beatrice and love no others but her. He
rarely considers his own well-being. In fact, he scolds himself for
considering another woman even after Beatrice dies:
Though Dante describes . . . his infidelity to Beatrice a year
after her death, it is his desire for her, and hidden under
Beatrice as sign, what she in analogy of, that draws him to
the spiritual heights achieved in his Commedia.312
All that Dante gains from his love for Beatrice is artistic
inspiration from the soul-wrenching experiences he creates somewhere
between worshipping and longing to be worthy. Dante’s love for Beatrice
does mature him artistically for the rest of his career, since she does truly
always consume his heart and in that way is his eternal muse. This
inspiration, however, is always distant, and he wallows in his own sorrow
and limitations in never being able to possess her. The cycle of Dante’s

312 Ibid.
115 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
infatuation with Beatrice is neither deeply spiritual nor healthy, so it does
not serve him at all. On the contrary, he continually hurts himself and
most likely others with him escapism. If he makes himself physically sick
with both longing and grief for this unattainable lady, how would he be
able to function as a husband or citizen? In this entanglement that he calls
love, he thinks only of himself, since he is the only participating half of the
Love serves as the foundation for artistic expression, creation, and
wholeness in Plato’s Symposium, rather than a distracting and somewhat
harmful force, as it was to Dante. Where Dante’s series of poems about
Beatrice circle around and imitate the feelings of lovers, the dialogues in
the Symposium discuss realistic definitions of love that all serve to further
spiritual growth and eventually lead to maturity. The ultimate example of
this is voiced by Socrates as learned from Diotima. Love, he says, makes
everyone pregnant, whether they are male or female, because it is
pregnancy of the mind and heart which drives the world. Whether physical
or spiritual, love is linked with wisdom, whether physical or spiritual, and
love of wisdom is the first qualification of being in love. In modern terms,
wisdom is gained through love and other emotions when we come to
embrace them, rather than limiting ourselves and rejecting the emotions or
condemning them, as Dante would have any physical feelings he had felt
toward Beatrice. Modern Buddhist spiritual teacher Pema Chödrön says:
What we need to do is to neither reject nor indulge in our
own emotional energy, but instead come to know it. Then,
as Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche taught, we can transmute
the confusion of emotions into wisdom.313
Plato’s definition of love was close to this, as he asserted through his
characters and their dialogues that love was always a positive force when
distinguished from mere lust or infatuation, and that it did indeed bring
Diotima’s view is that loving is the only way to create, both
artistically and physically. The most basic evidence of this, she says, is
demonstrated by parents. Physical love is mankind’s ultimate expression of

Pema Chödrön, “Choosing Peace,” Shambhala Sun, November 2007,


Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 116
love and shows the immortality of love. People create other people as
testaments to their love, and through the new births, love is born again
and perpetuated in children. The cycle repeats with each generation. It is
natural, Diotima explains, for people to want to create with the ones they
love because of a deep desire to experience that shared love forever.
Rather than always focusing on each other, however, the lovers are
inspired to turn outwards and create not only for their benefits, but for the
benefit of everyone.
Diotima explains how Love transforms people from selfish lovers
intoxicated with Eros to beings driven toward the service of others, with
Love as their motivation:
From one body to two and from two to all beautiful
bodies, then from beautiful bodies to beautiful customs,
and from customs to learning beautiful things, and from
these lessons he arrives in the end at this lesson, which is
learning of this very Beauty, so that in the end he comes to
know just what it is to be beautiful.314
This is the clearest sign that love is crucial to becoming a mature,
self-actualized person. Experiencing a love that one wishes would be
immortal is the pinnacle of life. Not only does this love create lasting
happiness for those in the relationship, but it also allows them to see the
world through a new lens unclouded by negative filters through which an
incomplete, unloved person may see, where love is something over which
to suffer, and the beloved is someone to be possessed.
Loving truly, Plato explains through Pausanias’s dialogue, leads to
spiritual discernment and maturity when with lovers. Noble love is love of
the spirit and the person within, as well as the body. Dishonest love, he
says, begins with an attraction and ends with boredom with the body. This
is called Common Love, whereas the opposite is Heavenly Love.315
Therefore, one gains the ability to make a distinction between love of the
body and love of the soul from the intentions of other lovers.
Before Socrates related Diotima’s wisdom, Erixymachus explains
his view of love through his experience as a physician. Just as Diotima
speaks of love as the motivation behind all creation, he explains Love as
314 John M. Cooper, ed. Plato: Complete Works. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing
Company, Inc., 1997.
315 Ibid.
117 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
harmony in the entire universe, from the animal and plant kingdoms to
humans as well. Health, he describes, is the product of Love.
“Everything sound and healthy in the body must be encouraged and
gratified; this is precisely the object of medicine”.316
This is a comparison to Pausanias’s description of distinguishing between
the noble lovers and the selfish ones. He explains further that love in the
body is mutual harmony between its elements and that music, with its
harmonies, are the proof of agreements. This harmony is “the science of
the effects of love.”
Love then, while remaining a divine and sweeping passion, is also a
practical force in the universe, Erixymachus says. Love is basically positive
or effective functionality between all things and people, and when people
can find such a connection by distinguishing between the healthy and
unhealthy types of love, they too live in greater harmony. This harmony
begets peace and is the way the world would function if, as in Phaedrus’s
utopian wish, that society were made up of youths and their lovers, love
was perpetuated everywhere, rather than violence and war. When in love:
they would hold back from all that is shameful, and seek
honor in each other’s eyes. . . . No one is so base that true
Love could not inspire him with courage, and make him as
brave as if he’d been born a hero. When Homer says a god
‘breathes might’ into some of the heroes, this is really
Love’s gift to every lover.317
This mentality could be called both mature and wise by modern
standards, where every lover is inspired by his beloved to act honorably,
thus creating a habitual peace in his life and the lives of those with whom
he interacts. Indeed, spiritual teachers all preach love as the key to living a
fulfilled life. Pema Chödrön says:
Our basic wisdom . . . can grow and expand and become
more accessible to us as a tool of peacemaking and a tool
of happiness for ourselves and for others. But

316 Ibid.
317 Ibid.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 118
this intelligence is obscured by emotional reactivity when
our experience becomes more about us than about them,
more about self than about other. That is war.318
The opposite of this internal war, Phaedrus asserts, is love, and the acts
that follow being in love.
All of this leads not only to an emotional discernment, but also an
intellectual growth. The whole point of relationships between men lovers
and their youth beloveds is for the beloved’s growth in wisdom and
maturity, as their lover becomes their mentor through life. Though the
older lovers would not take the youths as lovers for long, they would be in
a relationship long enough to impart wisdom on everything from politics
to personal integrity. Phaedrus outlines this relationship the most
thoroughly, while discussing the respect lovers gain by making themselves
vulnerable to the will of their beloveds:
There is a certain guidance each person needs for his
whole life, if he is to live well; and nothing imparts this
guidance as well as Love. What guidance do I mean? I
mean a sense of shame at acting shamefully, a sense of
pride from acting well. Without these, nothing fine or great
can be accomplished, in public or in private. 319
According to Phaedrus, the older men lovers act as emotional and
moral coaches for their young beloveds, so rather than the youths live
apart, without the guidance, and learn from life by experiencing hardship
or shame, wisdom is imparted to them by lovers more gently. “A lover is
more godlike than his boy, you see, because he is inspired by a god.”320
This quote clearly shows that love between older men and younger boys
was not only accepted, but thought of as completely healthy and divinely
inspired. Rather than a “tough-love,” method, these boys are honored
enough to be trained in life just as apprentices are trained in a certain
The most striking description and definition of love by modern
standards is most likely Aristophanes’. As a comic dramatist, he tells an
endearing fable about how all people, at creation, were bodily connected,
and called androgynous. Then, however, they split into the two sexes, but
318 Chödrön, “Choosing Peace.”
319 Cooper, Plato: Complete Works.
320 Ibid.
119 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
always hearkened back to their original form as a form of spiritual
completion. This is how soul mates are explained and how a person’s
individual quest for the “right” person is a deep-seated longing for the
soul with whom he or she was originally bound.
There is no discrimination between men being linked to other men
or women to other women, there are only halves wandering the earth
searching for the other. True love, he says, is found between lovers who
do not know what they really desire from the other because it certainly is
not merely sex or companionship:
When a person meets the half that is his very own . . . then
something wonderful happens: the two are struck by the
sense of love, by a sense of belonging to one another, and
by desire, they don’t want to be separate from one another,
not even for a moment.321
Love, then, to Aristophanes, is the idea of wholeness, and a
complete sense of self only achieved when joined with one’s other half.
This notion is closest to the modern inclination to wish for completion
and is much more developed than Dante’s long-distant idea of love, since
it asserts that it is possible to thrive with one lover that one concentrates
his or her entire being upon or to which he or she devotes their time and
honest love. Wholeness, like Love, is a common pursuit. Some may define
it as self-actualization, while others may see it as a necessary element on
the path to self-actualization. One thing is certain, however, and that is
that the feeling of wholeness leads to a definite self-worth and a
contentment with life that allows for greater self-discovery and growth
While Dante continues to pine after the romanticized and
moralized ideal of Beatrice, he never truly attains or experiences a healthy
love with her that is requited, in which there is mutual affection and
communication. Dante’s idea of a deep, abiding love falls short by modern
standards as well as ancient Greek standards, as is evidenced in Plato’s
Symposium. In Eckhart Tolle’s terms, Dante creates an unreal attachment to
Beatrice, thus not appreciating her as a real person but as a fantasy:
We cannot really honor things if we use them as a mean to
self-enhancement, that is to say, if we try to find ourselves

321 Ibid.
Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue 120
through them. . . . Ego-identification with things creates
attachment to things, obsession with things, which in turn
creates our consumer society and economic structures
where the only measure of progress is more.322
Dante’s obsession disassociates his person with the world around him.
Even after Beatrice’s death, even though he had never gotten to know her
as a person, he suffers from her memory and enslaves himself with it,
thinking it noble to stay faithful to his imagined lover.
All of the speakers at the Symposium seemed to understood that
love was not only a selfish feeling to hoard, but that it could be much
more for the people involved, as well as the world around. Where Dante
stopped, Arisophanes picked up, defining Love as a spiritual wholeness,
which eventually, according to Erixymachus, became Oneness, or a sense
that all of its effects are working together in perfect harmony with all of
humanity and nature. Finally, according to Diotima through Socrates, love
motivates lovers and beloveds to create physically as well as artistically,
turning their self-centered Eros love into a much more social and inclusive
kind of love that is shared and made immortal through this creation. Even
if Phaedrus’s lover and beloved utopian society has never been and never
will be achieved, it is clear from all the points of view from Plato that
Love is, once it is properly realized, first and foremost a positive and
maturing force. Dante certainly had the potential for healthy love from the
natural ardor of his feelings, but his social/marital position and desire to
remain unworthy to Beatrice confined him to the position of lover from
afar who will never truly gain the bliss he desires.

Works Cited
Bergin, Thomas G. “Alighieri, Dante: Overview.” Literature Resource Center.
Ed. Lesley Henderson. 2nd ed. New York: St. James Press, 1995.
Chödrön, Pema. “Choosing Peace.” Shambhala Sun. November 2007.
Cooper, John M., ed. Plato: Complete Works. Indianapolis: Hackett
Publishing Company, Inc., 1997.

Tolle, Eckhart, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, (Plume: New York,

121 Calvert Quarterly, Volume 1, Pilot Issue
Howe, Kaye. “Dante's Beatrice: The Nine and the Ten.” Italica. 52.8.
(1975): 364-371.
Musa, Mark, ed. The Portable Dante. New York: Penguin Group, 1995.
Tolle, Eckhart. A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. Plume: New
York, NY, 2005.