|Text (Part of The Lais of Marie de France)
|Marie de France
|Late 12th Century
|Literature and Humanities 1 (YCC1111);
Medieval Romance: Magic and the Supernatural (YHU2309)
“Les Deus Amanz” is one of the Lais of Marie de France. It is the sixth lai in the collection, coming after “Lanval” and preceding “Yönec”. The lai is memorable for its tragic ending and features the use of magical herbs and potion.
The female protagonist is a single child whose existence brings solace to a grieving king who had lost his wife. The king is very emotionally dependent on her and even devises a plan to make it impossible for the girl to be courted—that anyone who wishes to seek her daughter’s hand in marriage must carry her in their arms and climb up the mountain without stopping. None have succeeded. The male protagonist is the son of a count who is valued greatly by the king himself. After falling in love with the girl and concealing their love for some time, the young man suggests for them to elope, but the girl refuses out of her love for her father and asks him to take on her father’s challenge. She sends the young man to visit her aunt in Salerno, who strengthens the young man with her medicine and gives him a potion for stamina recovery.
The king instructs all across the land to spectate after the young man returns and initiates the challenge, and the girl fasts ahead of time to make her body lighter. During the climb however, when the girl begs her lover to drink the potion that she held for him, he refuses out of pride and the thirst to prove his love despite his growing exhaustion. The lai ends with the young man collapsing at the summit, his heart bursting out and the girl, shrieking and throwing the potion after realising it was of no use anymore, kissed him repeatedly and then died of heartbreak. They were buried in a marble tomb and the mountain, as Marie writes, honours the lovers with its name “Deus Amanz”.
Interestingly, Marie spends quite a bit of time detailing the setting in this lai, and it is actually a real location that still exists today. The repetition of the word “still” in line 17 to 20, along with how her story about the lovers is apparently a version of the local tale that has been invented to explain the name of the mountain as its origin had been forgotten (Marie de France 82), seems to suggest that the preservation and passing down of history and folklore is one of constant revival, rework, reinvention, and translation.
Marie exerts a more visible authorial voice in this lai, revealing that the lovers’ will end up dying at the start, and injects her presence again when the mountain climbing begins in lines 188 to 190, with “[i]n the end / it will do little good, I fear; / [o]ur youth lacked judgment and mesure”, cautioning against the young man’s actions and reminding the reader that the lai will end in tragedy. This, along with the unusually violent depiction of the young man’s heart bursting from his body, seems to give the lai a more didactic tone than usual, which condemns love that is selfish and love without mesure. The king is an evident example of having a love that is selfish, depriving his daughter of finding love outside and keeping it all for himself. The result is ironic and self-serving, where the king who protects his daughter so intensely out of grief ends up killing her, bringing him further grief. In her footnotes, Dorothy Gilbert defines the term mesure as having “a sense of proportion of the right action or degree of action at the right time and place” (87). In the actions of the young man, this is clearly absent when he takes the romance convention of suffering as a test of love to the extreme. From here, it is clear that Marie does not condone or promote the kind of love that overwhelms reason and requires death as testament. Rather, she supports love that is inexcessive and one that has a good grasp and sense of the proper time and place, not unlike how the female protagonist has known of the way to overcome her father’s challenge all along, but only reveals and utilises it when the time is right.
Marie de France. Marie de France: Poetry. Translated by Dorothy Gilbert, W. W. Norton & Company, 2015.
[Featured Image & Fig. 1] https://www.nga.gov/collection/art-object-page.45791.html
CONTRIBUTED BY TOH HONG JIN (’23)