Maka Elbakidze                                                                                                                                                                         # 3

 On the Interrelationship of Love and Poetry in the Medieval Secular Literature

It is common knowledge that love holds priority among the motifs of medieval secular literature. Also it has been noted that whereas in earlier literary works love had the function of a schematic literary image, at the turn of the 13th  century it acquired the significance of one of basic, leading motifs. This is largely attributed to the changes that had occurred in the socio-political life of the period, confronting literature with fresh demands. The rise of chivalrous ideology, and hence the establishment of norms and rules characteristic of vassal institutions in all spheres of life brought about specific inter-human relations. Love relations between man and woman assumed the sense form as the interrelationship of vassal and suzerain. The lady, with whom a knight had fallen in love and whose heart she had captured, turned at the same time into a seignioress of the enamored person or his master, obedience to whose will was prescribed from the knight by the so-called  Code of Nobleness. The lover was obliged to fulfill any wish of his lady without demur – even capricious and absurd, put up silently with her unjust reproaches, and ask only for her favour as the price for his self-sacrifice or modesty. The service done to the beloved resembled very much the obligation assumed by the vassal before his suzerain. Thus, the loved one was not only the lady of her lover but a midons (sovereign) as well. Such relationship or, in other words, feudalization of love, was considered an inalienable attribute of the royal court (Lewis 1973: 2).

Along with modesty, silence and patience were one of the most basic condition and means of winning the beloved’s favour. The enamoured knight was obliged to treat his lady with awe and deference and, even in the hardest situations, suppress in himself the feeling of pride. Besides, silence was one of the conditions of preserving love, for the latter belonged to such secrets that should be kept from envious and evil eyes (Shishmarev 1965: 195). It may be said that the terms domnei-donnei express most clearly such differential attitude of the knight to the beloved, this meaning service done to the lady in the feudal sense of the word. The courtesy carries  the same (feudal) meaning, which, along the humility and patience constitutes one of the principal elements of the new convention of love. Furthermore, all the points of the code of courtly nobleness according to which the true knight must not be only brave, loyal and generous but courteous, gallant, sensitive, of refined manners.

Besides, the lover is required to praise his beloved in poetic speech. “It is impossible to be a poet and not love”, - declares the 12th-century Provencal poet Bernart de Ventadorn, - but it is impossible to be genuinely in love without this sentiment giving rise to a fine song in your heart" (Shishmarev 1965: 196). This point of view, taking shape in the poetry of early troubadours and trouvéres, was handed down to the later generations as well – love and poetry turned into and indispensable condition of a courtly society. Major importance was attached to these two factors in the process of the formation of man’s spiritual world. In the first place, love was considered a phenomenon that ennobles man and elevates him spiritually, poetry being an excellent medium for the expression of spiritual attitude. It is into the lines of this poem that the poet weaves his feelings and sentiments, exalts and adorns his ideal, the object of his love, asking from her nothing in return but favourable disposition. If, fortunately, the lady views the man with favour the latter’s life turns into a festival, his heart filling with joy and happiness, while his soul is transformed so much as to come close to moral ideal (Shishmarev 1965: 205).

The traditional model of courtly love, as well as of the courtly lover – laid down by the theorists of love: Andreas Cappelanus, Matfré Ermengaud, and in other theoretical works, as well as in the works of the early troubadours and trouvérs was taken over almost unchanged by the medieval chivalrous romance, assuming the form of a kind of theoretical doctrine as a result of literary treatment.

What is the situation in this respect in Georgian literature? It should be noted that, like the European chivalry  romance, love in Georgian classical period literature "was a cultural-historical phenomenon – a social institution – with its socially established rules and, probably with more-or-less conventional forms of expression (Natadze 1966: 3).

Although no theoretical work on love has survived in Georgian, Rustaveli's The Knight in the Panther's Skin helps  form a full idea on the subject of our present interest. The Prologue of the poem may be said to play the role of a theoretical treatise shedding light on the essence of the love presented in the poem. The more so that the articles of this Treatise are ordered according to a definite principle, much resembling the above-discussed theoretical works on love.

First Rustaveli describes the variety of love celebrated in his poem ("of lower frenzies" – Rustaveli: quatr.28) separating in from other types of love, he at the same time draws the reader's attention to the common points that the love "praised"  in the poem has with heavenly love and carnal love.

Further, Rustaveli lists the characteristics of true lover, using it as a scheme or model to create the literary images of the characters. In Rustaveli's "code" the knight's physical perfection, wisdom and intelligence are combined with a generosity, eloquence, leisure, patience and prowess. thus, the so-called Code given in the Prologue of The Knight in the Panther's Skin evinces great affinity with the qualities considered to be indispensable to the courtly knight (However, it should be noted here that individual details of Rustaveli's conception bear a clear imprint of oriental culture – the reference to the main characters as mijnur , an Arabic word denoting one maddened by love, motifs of shedding tears of blood , ranging, etc.).

The Prologue also contains the principal features characteristic of the conception of love or mijnuroba of The Knight in the Panther's Skin, serving as images in the development of the plot of the poem. These are loyalty, self-sacrifice, patience and non-manifestation in love, fainting, dying, burning, flaming – all from afar, suffering for love, ranging.

The principle of the close relationship of poetry and love – laid down in medieval literature – is strictly adhered to in Rustaveli's poem. Moreover, the quatrain dealing with this problem functions as a link between two theoretical questions of poetry and love, set out in the Prologue. The part of the Prologue which deals with three types of poesy is directly followed by quatrain 18 in the Georgian edition, and 25 in Wardrop's translation: "The  poet must not spend his toil in vain. On should seem to him worthy of love; he must be devoted to one, he must employ all his art for her, he must praise her, he must set forth the glory of his beloved; he must wish for enough else, for her alone must his tongue be tuneful".

This quatrain in the Prologue is followed by another praise of the object of his love, and then a discourse of love. Notably enough, no matter how the various editions of the poem may differ in their composition of quatrains, the quatrain just quoted is preserved invariably in all of them and, which is most important, in links Rustaveli's theoretical views on poetry and love (shairoba and mijnuroba).

As is clear from first sight, the cited quatrain of Rustaveli's poem evinces rather close affinity with the view of the early troubadours and trouvérs. This affinity may be set down in three points:

1. Love imparts poetic creativity to man, which should be directed at praising the beloved (Bernart de Ventadorn).

"he must employ all his art for her,

he must praise, he must set forth

the glory of his beloved" (Rustaveli 1966: quatr. 25)

2.One in love must have only one object – faithfulness is one of the unshakable principles of the courtly conception of love (Rambald de Orange, Bernart de Ventadorn).

"he must be devoted to one, he must employ all his art for her"

(Rustaveli1966: quatr. 25).

3. The one in love must tire in the service of his beloved, without asking anything in return (Bernart de Ventadorn, Rambald de Orange, Giaraut de Borneilh).

"he must wish for naught else, for her

alone must his tongue be tuneful" (Rustaveli 1966: quatr.  25).

The  similarity of the above viewpoints should be accounted for not so much by literary influence as by the wind of  new times – an epoch that set new demands to art and literature, subjecting the latter two to knightly ideology and moral. This was an epoch unfolding to the new man unexpected and unusual prospects and, finally, an epoch that gave birth to Renaissance thought – a highly progressive unique phenomenon of major importance in the history of world civilization.


Lewis 1973: Lewis C.S. The allegory of Love, Oxford University Press, London, Oxford, New York, 1973

Natadze 1966: Natadze N. Rustaveli Love and Renaissance, Tbilisi, 1966

Rustaveli 1966: Shota Rustaveli, The Man in the Panther's Skin, A Close Rendering from the Georgian Attempted by Marjory Scott Wardrop, Tbilisi, 1966

Shishmarev 1965: Shishmarev V. Towards the History of Love Theories of Romance in the Middle Ages. Selected papers,1, Moscow-Leningrad,1962


A troubadour playing his fiddle.

A medieval description of Bernart de Ventadorn



Volume 2, issue 1


Rustaveli Institute of Georgian Literature

Georgian Electronic Journal of Literature