55 pages 1 hour read

Andreas Capellanus

The Art of Courtly Love

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1186

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Summary and Study Guide


The Art of Courtly Love by Andreas Capellanus (Andrew the Chaplain, whose true identity remains unknown) was composed in Latin between 1186 and 1190. This study guide refers to the translation by John Jay Parry. The original Latin title, De amore, translates literally to “about” or “concerning” love, which reflects the text’s theme of inquiring into love—what it is, for whom is it possible, how to provoke it, how to sustain and increase it, and why men should avoid it. Substantial debate has surrounded the extent to which the book is intended to be descriptive, didactic, and/or parodic.

The text begins with an Author’s Preface in which Andreas addresses a man called Walter who has fallen in love and does not know what to do about it. Andreas promises to reveal all about love, but he hopes that by doing so, Walter will realize that it is not a proper pursuit for a prudent man. Andreas’s description of love seems specifically to refer to love affairs conducted at court among members of the middle and upper classes. These lovers were not married to each other and had no expectation or intention that their affairs would lead to marriage, since marriages were typically arranged during the Middle Ages. Married couples were not assumed to be in love with each other. Thus, love affairs may have become an outlet for expressing romantic feelings and sexual attraction, which may or may not have been consummated.

The first book, entitled “Introduction to the Treatise on Love,” defines love (it is suffering), explains who love is for (able-bodied members of the opposite sex who are within a specific age-range), what its effects are (it ennobles), and how to acquire love (ideally by good character). The means for acquiring love are enacted through a series of dialogues between men and women of various classes. The dialogues, which make up half of the book, demonstrate the proper way for men to address women, divided by class pairings. The final chapters of Book 1 clarifies whether or how one should conduct love affairs with clergy, nuns, peasants, and prostitutes as well as the consequences of being able to acquire love easily.

Book 2, entitled “How Love May Be Retained,” rests on the assumption that love is always increasing or decreasing. Andreas focuses on identifying the behaviors that fuel love and those that destroy it, specifically in the context of love outside of marriage. In addition to providing practical advice, he discusses 21 cases in which an authority figure judged lovers’ conflicts and enumerates 31 rules of love. Both the cases and the list of rules codify love in a legalistic context reminiscent of the biblical Ten Commandments.

Andreas devotes Book 3, “The Rejection of Love,” to a discussion of why men should avoid love. Love affairs of the type described in the first two books cause men to sin against God and leads to their eternal suffering. Andreas seems to condone marriage as the only acceptable outlet for love and sex until the second half of Book 3, when he presents an extensive critique of women. He proposes that their natures are inherently flawed, that they engage in every vice imaginable, and that as a result they are unable to feel or return feelings of love. For this reason, loving women leads men to suffering in this life and the next, so he proposes that Walter avoid the pursuit of love entirely.