The “Wound” of Love

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Medieval Romance: Magic and the Supernatural (YHU2309)

A motif that frequently recurs in many medieval romances, wound imagery is closely intertwined with the paradoxical experience of love. Love inflicts an amorous wound on unsuspecting lovers; yet, love also heals a pining lover’s aching afflictions.

In Marie de France’s Guigemar, we encounter a knight who is physically wounded during a hunt and prophesied to be incurable save for the cure of true love. As the “wound” of love trope would have it, when Guigemar first meets his beloved, he laments that the languishing of love’s “wound” far supersedes his physical injury. Reflecting the ideals of courtly love, the wound imagery associates nobility with one’s dedication and willingness to suffer for love. Often, in descriptions where love is personified as an assailant, love is portrayed as an inescapable force of nature. Without agency or alternative, Marie’s lovers are afflicted with amorous longing for another and have no choice but to give in to their passionate desires.

While it may be assumed that it was Marie’s Lais that first introduced the motif of love’s “wound” into the medieval romance canon, the motif pre-dates medieval texts and finds its roots in multiple origins. In fact, the image of Cupid’s arrows, which we still find relevant to modern conceptions of love today, can be traced back to the ancient depictions of Aphrodite’s and Eros’ love wounds in Greek mythology1. In Guigemar, Marie herself draws inspiration from Ovidian epics, Celtic myth, and the lyric tropes of Northern French trouvères2. For instance, commentators have identified reminiscence to Ovidian love and suffering when the white hind – itself a common Celtic reference to the supernatural – prophesies about Guigemar’s mortal wound.

Tristan vs. Morold.

Similar to Marie’s lais, wound imagery in Gottfried von Stassburg’s Tristan nods to classical literature. However, Gottfried’s Tristan stands apart for its religious undertones that blend amatory wound with the spirituality of Christological wounds3. Gottfried is intentional in physically manifesting this metaphor in his narrative. In the case of Tristan’s biological parents, though they experience the metaphorical wound of love, Rivalin’s physical gash is what brings them together. Brought together by this grievous injury, Rivalin and Blancheflor consummate their love and Tristan is conceived. After this, Rivalin succumbs to his injuries and Blancheflor dies of heartbreak. Thus imbued with a sacrificial quality, Tristan’s life is born from his parent’s death. Like his father, Tristan and his beloved are brought together because of major physical afflictions. Three battles bring about their union: Tristan’s battle with Morold, Tristan’s slaying of the dragon, and Tristan’s battle with Estult l’ Orgillus. Since Tristan’s eventual demise is caused by the injuries he sustains from his final battle with Orgillus, earlier wounds foreshadow this tale’s tragic end where the spirits of the lovers, separated by their circumstances, can finally be joined together in death. With an added element of spirituality, Gottfried’s account melds together wound imagery of different genealogies.

Today, the wound of love is still a motif deeply embedded in mainstream cultural imaginations and modern literary consciousness. Despite its evolution through contemporary renditions, its origin can be traced to the flourishing of romance in the Middle Ages and even further back in antiquity. Ultimately, its longevity speaks volumes to a timeless and universal experience of love in all its various expressions.


1Sinka, Margit M. “Wound Imagery in Gottfried von Strassburg’s ‘Tristan.’” South Atlantic Bulletin, vol. 42, no. 2, 1977, pp. 3–10, Accessed 8 Apr. 2022.

2Krueger, Roberta L. “Chapter Three. The Wound, The Knot, And The Book: Marie De France And Literary Traditions Of Love In The Lais”. A Companion to Marie de France. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2011. Web.

3Sinka, Margit M. “Wound Imagery in Gottfried von Strassburg’s ‘Tristan.’” South Atlantic Bulletin, vol. 42, no. 2, 1977, pp. 3–10, Accessed 8 Apr. 2022.


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