Chivalric Bonds and the Ideals of Friendship

  • Richard E. Zeikowitz
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Two important classical treatises on friendship are Books VIII and XI from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Cicero’s De amicitia. Some of the ideas regarding male—male intimate relations expressed in these texts are reformulated by medieval clerics and dramatized in chivalric romances such as Amys and Amylion and the Prose Lancelot. According to Aristotle, there are three types of friendship, which are distinguished by whether the object of love is based on utility, pleasure, or good. The first two, he maintains, are not ideal because they cannot last: “these sorts of friendships are easily dissolved, when the friends do not remain similar [to what they were]; for if someone is no longer pleasant or useful, the other stops loving him.”1 It is only the last one that can lead to true, long-lasting friendship, for “these people’s friendship lasts as long as they are good; and virtue is enduring.”2 The three types are, however, not mutually exclusive. Ideal friendship based on moral goodness encompasses the other less-perfect types and raises them to a perfect whole: “good people are both unconditionally good and advantageous for each other. They are pleasant in the same ways too, since good people are pleasant both unconditionally and for each other.”3 As H. H. Joachim aptly summarizes: “The main characteristic of ideal friendship is its inclusiveness: each friend loves the other because that other is what he is, i.e. the whole character or personality of each friend is comprehended in the union.”4


True Friendship Amorous Relationship Erotic Love Mutual Love Arthurian Romance 
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  1. 1.
    Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Terence Irwin (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1985) VIII.9.32. All subsequent quotations unless otherwise noted are from this edition. For a detailed discussion of Aristotle’s concept of “perfect friendship,” especially looking at the relation of an individual to another self, see A. W Price, Love and Friendship in Plato and Aristotle (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), pp. 103–30. See also the useful brief summaries in Reginald Hyatte, The Arts of Friendship: The Idealization of Friendship in Medieval and Early Renaissance Literature (Leiden: Brill, 1994), pp. 16–21, and Philip Culbertson, New Adam: The Future of Male Spirituality (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), pp. 92–94. For a fine study of a wide variety of classical and medieval texts on friendship, see Adele Fiske, “Paradisus Homo Amicus,” Speculum 40 (1965): 436–59.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    H. H. Joachim, Aristotle: The Nicomachean Ethics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1951), p. 247. Joachim provides a detailed, nearly line-by-line commentary on the complete work.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Marcus Tullius Cicero, Laelius de amicitia, in De senectute, De amicitia, De divinatione, trans. William Armistead Falconer, Loeb Classical Library, vol. 20 (1923; repr. Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press, 1959) V.18. For a brief discussion of Cicero’s treatise, see Hyatte, The Arts of Friendship, pp. 26–33. For a good overview of classical theories of friendship, see Carolinne White, Christian Friendship in the Fourth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 13–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 8.
    Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics VIII.9.35. Thomas Aquinas highlights the motivating force of love inherent in Aristotle’s concept of friendship, noting that “et quia amicitiae actus est amatio, consequens est quod etiam sint tres species amicitiae aequales numero amabilibus…in singulis enim horum salvatur ratio amicitiae supra posita, quia secundum unumquodque horum trium potest esse redamatio non latens” [because love is an act of friendship, there will be three kinds of friendship equal to the three objects of love (i.e. good, useful, pleasant)…. In each of these the definition of friendship…is fulfilled, because in each of the three a recognized return of love by someone is possible] (Sententia libri ethicorum, Opera omnia, vol. 47 [Rome, 1969] p. 1156a 11. 6.31–33, 35–38); Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics, trans. C. I. Litzinger, vol. 2 (Chicago: Henry Regency, 1964), p. 714.Google Scholar
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    Cicero, De officiis, trans. Walter Miller, Loeb Classical Library, vol. 21 (1913; repr. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961) I.XVII.56.Google Scholar
  6. 30.
    Robert Grosseteste, the Oxford scholar, translated Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics in the mid-thirteenth century and, “[i]t became in its original or in a revised form the standard version in the Middle Ages,” according to Bernard G. Dod, “Aristoteles latinus,” in The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy, ed. Norman Kretzmann, Anthony Kenny, and Jan Pinborg (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), p. 61 [45–79]. Dod indicates that Grosseteste’s translation survives in 33 manuscripts as well as an additional 246, which are revised versions (“Aristoteles latinus,” p. 77). Nevertheless, the two medieval discourses on friendship I examine in the next section refer only to Cicero’s text.Google Scholar
  7. 31.
    The title of Aelred’s text often appears as De spirituali amicitia. Mark Williams dates Aelred’s text between 1147 and 1157. Aelred of Rievaulx’s Spiritual Friendship, trans. Mark F. Williams (Scranton: University of Scranton Press, 1994), p. 16. D. D. R. Owen notes that scholars currently date Chretien’s Arthurian romances between 1170 and 1182 (“Introduction,” in Chrétien de Troyes, Arthurian Romances [London: Dent & Sons, 1987], p. x). For a thorough discussion of Aelred’s concept of friendship, see Adele M. Fiske, Friends and Friendship in the Monastic Tradition (Cuernavaca, Mexico: CIDOC, 1970) 18, pp. 1–49. She provides extensive excerpts and commentary drawing on both De spiritali amicitia and De speculo caritatis. For a brief treatment of Aelred’s work, see Hyatte, The Arts of Friendship, pp. 62–69.Google Scholar
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    Douglass Roby, “Introduction,” Aelred of Rievaulx: Spiritual Friendship, trans. Mary Eugenia Laker (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1977), p. 38.Google Scholar
  9. 33.
    Aelred of Rievaulx, De spiritali amicitia, Aelredi Rievallensis opera omnia, ed. A. Hoste and C. H. Talbot, Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Mediaevalis, vol. 1 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1971) 1.45; Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship, trans. Mary Eugenia Laker (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1977).Google Scholar
  10. 45.
    Brian Patrick McGuire, Brother and Lover: Aelred of Rievaulx (New York: Crossroad Press, 1994), pp. 114–15.Google Scholar
  11. 47.
    Alan T. Gaylord, “Friendship in Chaucer’s Troilus,” Chaucer Review 3 (1968–69): 245 [239–64]. Gaylord offers a fine list, although somewhat dated, of studies examining medieval appropriations of the classical concept of ideal friendship; see “Friendship in Chaucer’s Troilus,” 247 n6. For a reference to medieval texts that draw on Cicero’s idea that ideal friendship can occur only between virtuous men, see Robert G. Cook, “Chaucer’s Pandarus and the Medieval Ideal of Friendship,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 69 (1970): 410 [407–24].Google Scholar
  12. 55.
    See the introduction in Amy’s and Amylion, ed. François Le Saux (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1993). Le Saux also provides summaries of the Latin, French, and Anglo-Norman versions in the appendix. See also the introduction in Amis and Amiloun, ed. MacEdward Leech, EETS 203 (London: Oxford University Press, 1937).Google Scholar
  13. 58.
    Amys and Amylion, ed. François Le Saux (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1993) 5, 3. All quotations are taken from this edition and subsequent citations will be given in the text by stanza and line number. I follow the spelling of the protagonists’ names in Le Saux’s edition.Google Scholar
  14. 59.
    For a discussion of the chivalric ideal of “truth” and its expression in Amys and Amylion, see Dean R. Baldwin, “Amis and Amiloun: The Testing of Treupe,” Papers on Language and Literature 16 (1980): 353–65. Baldwin does not examine the actual bond of friendship between the two protagonists, but rather is concerned with the moral world of the romance. He concludes that it “tests treuþe on several levels. It shows the value of unswerving loyalty to a sworn oath while insisting that adherence to the spirit of the vow is more important than mere fidelity to the letter. More importantly, it tests the virtue of treuþe itself, showing it to be an imperfect substitute for faith and grace, and requiring the tempering of ‘kinde’” (365).Google Scholar
  15. 64.
    Augustine recounts how he mourned the passing of his beloved friend: “mirabar enim ceteros morales vivere, quia ille, quern quasi non moriturum dilexeram, mortuus erat, et me magis, quia ille alter eram, vivere illo mortuo mirabar” [I was astonished that other mortals lived, since he whom I loved, as if he would never die, was dead; and I wondered still more that I, who was to him a second self, could live when he was dead]. Augustine, Confessions, ed. James J. O’Donnell (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992) IV.6.11; Confessions, trans. Vernon J. Burke (New York: Fathers of the Church, 1953). After Basil leaves Gregory to assume his position as bishop of Caesarea, Gregory writes Basil: “Equidum ipse te magis quam aerem spiro, idque solum vivo, quod tecum sum, vel coram, vel absens per animi simulacrum” [I would rather breathe you than the air, and only live while I am with you, either actually in your presence, or virtually by your likeness in your absence]. Gregory of Nazianzus, Epistle VI, Epistolae, Patrologiae cursus completes, series Graeca, ed. J. P. Migne, vol. 37 (Paris, 1857); A Selection from the Letters of Saint Gregory Nazianzen, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, vol. 7, 2nd series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961).Google Scholar
  16. 65.
    Gretchen Mieszkowski, “The Prose Lancelot’s Galehot, Malory’s Lavain, and the Queering of Late Medieval Literature,” Arthuriana 5.1 (1995): 21; 28 [21–51]. Mieszkowski offers an excellent, convincing reading of Galehot and Lancelot’s relationship in the non-cyclic Prose Lancelot—a relationship, she argues, that is decidedly unbalanced because Galehot’s love for Lancelot is far more intense than Lancelot’s love for Galehot. She maintains that although Lancelot loves Galehot, he always privileges his relationship with Guinevere. I am drawing on the expanded version of the story in the cyclic Prose Lancelot that offers evidence that the love the two knights have for each other is more equal.Google Scholar
  17. 66.
    Le Livre de Lancelot del Lac, The Vulgate Version of the Arthurian Romances, ed. H. Oskar Sommer, vols. 3, 4 (Washington DC: Carnegie Institution, 1910) 3:13–15, p. 247; Sir Lancelot of the Lake: A French Prose Romance of the Thirteenth Century, trans. Lucy Allen Paton (London: Routledge, 1929), p. 186. For a relatively recent edition of the non-cyclic Prose Lancelot, see Lancelot do Lac: The Non-Cyclic Old French Prose Romance, ed. Elspeth Kennedy, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1980).Google Scholar
  18. 78.
    Le Livre de Lancelot del Lac, 4:39–42; 1–3, pp. 276 and 277; Sir Lancelot of the Lake, trans. Paton, pp. 297–98. Compare Achilles grieving the death of his beloved Patroclus: “and the black cloud of sorrow closed on Achilleus./In both hands he caught up the grimy dust and poured it/over his head and face, and fouled his handsome countenance,/and the black ashes were scattered over his immortal tunic. / And he himself, mightily in his might, in the dust lay/at length, and took and tore at his hair with his hands, and defiled it” (Homer, The Iliad, trans. Richard Lattimore [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951] XVIII, 11. 22–27).Google Scholar
  19. 81.
    Aelred of Rievaulx, De speculo caritatis, Aelredi Rievallensis Opera omnia, ed. A. Hoste and C. H. Talbot, Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Mediaevalis, vol. 1 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1971) III. 109; trans. Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, p. 225.Google Scholar

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© Richard E. Zeikowitz 2003

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