Courtly Love isn’t about Love, You Piece of Shit

Here’s another article on the past and how you are wrong about it.

[Also: if you want to help me in my eternal quest to not starve/be homeless, you can buy my book about American History, buy my other book about World Mythology, or just stuff money in my Patreon. I’m not choosy, just jam it in there. Also this is my Twitter.]

Right, where was I? Oh yeah, Courtly Love.

The laws of chivalry themselves have basically nothing to do with romance. They’re all about trying to regulate just how much of an asshole a guy on a horse can be. The secret ingredient that links chivalry to romance in our tiny brains is called courtly love. It’s the great-great granddaddy of “Nice Guy Syndrome,” and it has always been fucked.

OKAY SO WHAT IS COURTLY LOVE?

According to the thousands of poems, songs, and stories about courtly love, the process goes something like this:

1. Pick a total babe who is married to someone better than you.
2. Pine after said babe until you are literally ill.
3. Babe virtuously rejects you because, let’s be clear, this is a terrible idea and also her husband is better than you.
4. Do a bunch of heroic shit that nobody asked you to do, to make yourself worthy of babe.
5. Babe still says no, and you go write a fucking poem about it. OR
5b. Babe is finally like “okay fine,” in which case, great job Romeo, now you have to bust your ass to keep from getting caught. OR
5c. You get caught and the whole world catches on fire.

Courtly love was originally dreamed up by horny poets in the early 1400s, but it flourished because it served a social purpose. Most popular stories, myth and legend especially, survive because they illustrate rules that we think are important for keeping our society together. Coincidentally, most of these rules have to do with humping.

So whose social purpose is served by this miserable dicktease of a courtship ritual? Who comes out a winner? The lady is locked into a straightjacket of protocol that makes actual consent super hard to suss out, the knight is running around murdering dudes nobody asked him to murder because he’s too proud to just jack off into his helmet, and if the two of them ever do get together, every example we have shows it ending apocalyptically. No, you know who’s the real winner here? The husband.

WHAT COURTLY LOVE IS ABOUT: SECURING YOUR HOT WIFE

Think about this from the perspective of a Medieval monarch: you have a smoking hot wife who your buddy gave you because he wanted to use your beach house, and you also employ about a hundred of the best-armed, best-trained psychopaths in the world. These people all live inside of your home with you. At some point, at least one of these psychopaths is going to want to have sex with your wife. And these aren’t just regular psychopaths, either. These are handsome, fit, wealthy psychopaths, in an era where “wealthy” means “everybody else sleeps in mud, and I am the one who pees in that mud.” And your wife, let me reiterate, is married to you because her dad wants to use your beach house. If your stable of monsters starts spitting game at your wife, it is highly likely that your wife will want to sex them back. You need a game plan.

You can’t just tell these guys to cut it out. You hired these guys because they’re unstoppable bastards. You can’t just stand aside and let them fuck your wife, either, because then you look like a weenie, and nobody wants to bow down to King Weiner. Plus there’s all the shit with heirs and succession. It’s a logistical nightmare. But how are you gonna stop them? Put them in jail? These dudes own their own jails. Send another knight after the knight who fucks your wife? Spoiler alert: the second knight also wants to fuck your wife.

What you can do, though, is control the culture by advocating for an elaborate code of etiquette that lets these handsome nightmare people do everything *but* fuck your wife. This is, at the core, what courtly love is: a code of behavior that provides a dubiously healthy outlet for all that pent up wife-fuck-want. Every part of courtly love reinforces the same message: “you can look, but if you touch then I will chop your fucking hand off.” This is perfect for our hypothetical king with his hypothetically hot wife, because it lets him turn a blind eye to all the erotic roleplay as long as it stays “virtuous,” while reserving the right to bring the hammer down as soon as shit goes public.

WHAT COURTLY LOVE IS NOT ABOUT: GETTING YOUR DICK TOUCHED

What I’m trying to get at is this: Despite what everybody seems to think these days, courtly love was *never* designed to help you get laid. It is a system explicitly designed to prevent people from getting laid. The entire process is an erotic Rube Goldberg machine that is a thousand times more likely to chop off your dick than fondle it, and maybe you also kill a bear, I don’t know. If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a thousand times: DO NOT LOOK TO MEDIEVAL EUROPE FOR SEX TIPS.

And yet pretty much every movie produced in the 90s is an ode to courtly love with one key point altered: where the old stories had tragic consequences, the new stories have zero consequences. The Wedding Singer, Wet Hot American Summer, Revenge of the Nerds, The Fucking Karate Kid, and about a million other movies all follow the courtly love formula, right up to the point where the love is consummated and there is NO NEGATIVE FALLOUT. The 90s took “If you fuck someone’s honey, bad things will happen” and turned it into “If you fuck someone’s honey … you will have fucked someone’s honey?”

What we’ve done, and where the whole “Nice Guy” thing comes from, is we’ve taken the purpose and the outcome of courtly love and flipped them. We act like because our love is noble, we deserve satisfaction. Courtly love says “your love is evil and you will never be satisfied, so you might as well make it noble.” Neither one is super healthy, as evidenced by the amount of death and vitriol both camps have dealt out, but at least courtly love is honest about what you can expect.

Look, I’m not saying you shouldn’t try to fuck your boss’s spouse. Fuck away, for all I care. All I’m saying is that our modern conception of hopeless romance, of the tormented lover pining away in the night, striving to become worthy of the unattainable beloved, is based on a ridiculous, outdated, socially motivated code of behavior that was invented at a time when marriages were business mergers and adultery carried the god damn death penalty. And I get that it feels good to feel bad, to experience the exquisite pain of loving somebody you know you can never be with. I’ve done it loads of times, and I got some great poetry out of it. Just, for God’s sake, don’t pretend like your secret pain has a noble lineage. The noble lineage is inbred.

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23 thoughts on “Courtly Love isn’t about Love, You Piece of Shit

  1. I’m loving these explanations of old concepts that people get wrong all the time. I didn’t know what chivalry and courtly love were exactly until now. So thanks!

  2. Welp, its been fun Ovid. You used to be a funny and irreverent reteller of all things classical.

    But I see you’ve fallen for the crazy American SJW nonsense that is so pervasive these days, and so terribly lacking in common sense.

    Time to remove this link from my bookmarks and occasionally reminisce nostalgically about those funny old retelling Ovid used to tell.

  3. Interesting. I would love to see you do an article on what the Knighthood/Chivalry was in reality, rather than poetically. Chivalry and Knighthood in those days, did not stop anybody from being a complete wanker. Many were armed thugs, and essentially just supported the Status Quo. There are examples of two Chivalrous Armies trapping thousands in a no-mans land, and letting them slowly starve to death. Infidels were whomever you decided they were. Etc. etc.

  4. This is BRILLIANT! Will laugh for another ten minutes (revisiting choice sections, like “DO NOT LOOK TO MEDIEVAL EUROPE FOR SEX TIPS”), then will go seek older posts. And I will share, because the world desperately needs this kind of straight-forwardness. And, yes, we need the giggles and cackles, too. (Oh, and I’ll be back.)

    • Look, I’m as much for gay rights, progressive taxation and anti-racism as anyone sensible.

      But you American SJWs take it to an utterly ridiculous level. Rape culture? Institutionalized racism? Gender wage gap? What are you even talking about, thats a load of nonsense.

      • Hi, welcome to the world. The three things you mentioned are (sadly) quite real indeed.
        If you’re lucky enough to not suffer from them, you should still be smart enough to see them.

        btw, I’m not from the US and these shits are not an US-exclusive thing. I’m preeeetty sure they exist right where you live – wherever that is.

        • Wage gap isnt real. Do even a little bit of reading on it. Its true men earn more money generally per year in a job than women, but its generally to do with men working more hours and taking more risks.
          Women and men are paid the same per hour. Its illegal to not do so.

          And sure, rape culture exists in Saudi Arabia, but I’m pretty sure the West is not some rapey hell hole where women are unsafe at all times.

          SJWs should stop bitching so damn much about ifintisimal problems in the west, and maybe take some action about real problems. I’ve yet to hear SJWs take any kind of action about ISIS and its raping and selling of women. Violence toward women in gaming is apparently a way more important problem.

          These people lack all common sense is my point.

          • Yes it’s true that men work more hours, and take more risks, and often dominate the more lucrative fields. But just because you’ve identified the literal cause doesn’t mean that the wage gap is necessarily “solved”. Saying “When controlling for all factors that make a difference, there’s no difference” is technically true but not particularly meaningful. Why do men work more hours? Why do men take more risks? Why are male-dominated fields generally paid better?

            You can generally take either the stance that there’s some inherent difference between men and women that this can be attributed to, or that there’s social factors that push each gender in different directions. While gender essentialism is difficult to prove one way or the other, it’s verifiably true that, historically, women have faced many barriers to entry in fields like science, technology, and business, and that traditionally “women’s work” is not valued as highly. So, it then stands to reason that at least some of the current wage gap can be attributed to social factors, which in turn we can work towards changing.

            Also, “rape culture” isn’t about violent rape being more common or tolerated, it’s about various cultural attitudes that make it easier for rapists to perform the crime, and more difficult for victims to access adequate recourse. It’s the fact that the majority of rape is committed by someone that knows the victim, yet the common depiction of a “rapist” is a violent stranger. It’s when a victim’s every action is questioned, making every attempt to shift the blame (What were they wearing? Were they in a bad part of town? Were they walking alone? Did they refuse strongly enough? Did they fight back? Did they give mixed signals?) It’s the poor sex education that leads way too many teens to have a poor idea of what consent is and how to obtain it. It’s the pressure we put on young men to attain sex, and the fear that’s put into young women of what will happen if they say no. It’s the transactional nature we ascribe to sex that leads to men feeling entitled to it for a myriad of reasons.

            I could go on, but hopefully you get the picture. It’s nothing so overt. It’s the hundreds of tiny insidious things that add up to something more subtle but at the same time more entrenched and accepted.

            I can’t comment too much on the response to ISIS; if there has been a lack of focus there then that’s something I disagree with. However, that doesn’t invalidate domestic concerns. I still feel hungry when there’s starving people elsewhere, yes? Just because someone else faces something worse than I do doesn’t make my own problems go away.

          • dlouwe, its just a choice, and yes men and women are different.

            Take for example wikipedia editors: 90% of them are male. And this is in a completely anonymous, elective environment where no one know your gender or identity, so no social pressure can possibly exists.

            Men and women just enjoy different things. Men are generally more competitive and ambitious. Hence the risk taking.

          • Yes, we’ve established that men and women act differently, but you haven’t provided any real reason of *why* it is so. Is it nature or is it nurture? Hormone levels? Socialization during formative years? Some combination thereof?

            As I said above, proving that men and women are different solely due to biology is pretty damn difficult to prove, but it’s easy to see the differences in how we raise boys and girls, and how we encourage different traits in each. The extent to which our culture tries to enforce what it means to be a man or a woman is very significant. I unfortunately don’t have any studies I can cite, but hopefully you can at least see it as plausible that if you raise a group of people – regardless of gender – and encourage a focused set of traits (such as risk-taking and competition) that they’ll grow up to generally exhibit those traits more strongly than a group without that kind of focused encouragement. So following that, I think that it’s definitely useful to look at not just the social pressures on people at the moment of making a decision, but also at the culmination of all the pressures they’ve faced during their life to that point. At the very least, I hope the idea can introduce reasonable doubt into the idea that men and women are “just different”.

        • dlouwe

          I dont see what the damn problem is with men and women acting different. Yeah, hormone levels make a massive difference. I am an amateur powerlifter, just looking at people around me who inject steroids (testosterone) the amount that amplifies not only physical male traits but male behaviour (aggressiveness, dominance) is staggering.

          And how do they make transexuals feminine? Estrogen.
          Men and women differ on a fundamental level, and there is nothing wrong with that.

          Fucking tabula rasa SJWs.

          • Never said there was anything wrong with men and women acting differently; we were discussing the wage gap. But if you want to ignore my point that hard, enjoy.

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