The Mad Lovers of the Ovidian Lais

  • Tracy Adams
Part of the Studies in Arthurian and Courtly Cultures book series (SACC)


Romance composers borrowed their symptoms of amor principally from Ovid’s love writings. Scholars generally have considered these borrowings to be conventions or decorations rather than transmitters of serious philosophy of love and have sometimes noted the incongruity between courtly love and the satirical and misogynistic version of the emotion promoted by Ovid. Yet for many medieval readers, Ovid represented a philosopher rather than the duplicitous and elusive love expert modern readers generally understand him to be. I will argue that Ovid as read by romance composers was a philosopher who theorized upon love from a Neoplatonic perspective.1 But romance composers also incorporated another Ovidian persona familiar to modern readers into their version of Ovid, that is, the Magister amoris of the love works, creating a sort of “Super-Ovid.” Ovid, as romance composers read him, then, was a combination of these two well-know Ovidian figures, and, seeing the Magister amoris as an aspect of their Super-Ovid, romance composers viewed his advice on how to manage love in positive light, as offering models for mitigating amor, the imperious urge to consummate unleashed by elemental forces.


Sexual Desire Twelfth Century Modern Reader Human Love Courtly Love 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 7.
    Winthrop Wetherbee, Platonism and Poetry in the Twelfth Century (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1972), p. 13.Google Scholar
  2. 8.
    Robert Hanning, “I Shal Finde it in a Maner Glose,” Medieval Texts and Contemporary Readers, ed. Laurie A. Finke and Martin B. Schichtman (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1987), p. 51.Google Scholar
  3. 13.
    Bernardus Silvestris, The Cosmographia of Bernardus Silvestris, trans., introduction and notes Winthrop Wetherbee (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1973), p. 113.Google Scholar
  4. 34.
    Per Nykrog, “The Rise of Literary Fiction,” Renaissance and Renewal in the Twelfth Century, ed. Robert L. Benson, Giles Constable, and Carol D. Lanham (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982), p. 599.Google Scholar
  5. 38.
    Robert Glendinning, “Pyramus and Thisbe in the Medieval Classroom,” Speculum 61 (1986): 71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 40.
    Helen Laurie, “Piramus et Tisbé,” Modern Language Review 55 (1960): 29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 46.
    Michael Camille, The Gothic Idol: Ideology and Image-Making in Medieval Art (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), pp. 220–221.Google Scholar
  8. 51.
    Pierre Hadot, “Le Mythe de Narcisse et son interprétation par Plotin,” Nouvelle Revue de Psychanalyse 13 (1976): 107–108. My translation.Google Scholar
  9. 52.
    Pierre Hadot, Plotin ou la simplicité du regard (Paris: Etudes Augustiennes, 1989), p. 65.Google Scholar
  10. 55.
    Julia Kristeva, Histoires d’amour (Paris, Denoël, 1983), p. 102. My translation.Google Scholar
  11. 65.
    Peggy McCracken, “Engendering Sacrifice: Blood, Lineage, and Infanticide in Old French Literature,” Speculum 77 (2002): 67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 66.
    René Girard, Violence and the Sacred, trans. Patrick Gregory (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977), p. 37.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Tracy Adams 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tracy Adams

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations