Philology Phriday––Love

20 Aug

We have heard the words before. That song that questions the very core of our romantic longings, our pursuits of affection, and our idealization of something called the heart that doesn’t refer at all really to the organ pumping blood through webs and highways of veins. What is love? Baby, it don’t hurt me. Don’t Hurt Me. No more.

The word has been the distillation of many roots, many of which seem intriguingly tangential to our now present conception of love. There’s the Old Saxon “luba” which meant something similar to inclination or proclivity toward another human. “Luba” shares a root with the Old Saxon “lubig” that was used in mainly religious contexts to denote someone who is willing and pious. There are other instances of this quasi-religious connotation with love’s roots. The Old English “lufen” and its Gothic counterpart “lof” (the most likely precursor to our “love”) both meant hope.

With these terms swirling around in everyday use, our earliest known notions of love were centered on hope and willingness and piety, all things which we can properly connect to romantic love if we are given the right bits of insight into societal norms back then. Most states were feudal in the Middle Ages, around then time these terms were starting to be used. The feudal state had tiny microcosms, little peripatetic courtly societies. Each court had a hierarchy. There was the lord, his knights, and of course the lady. With these characters cast, the tale of love is fairly simple. In fact, as Georges Duby writes in Love and Marriage in the Middle Ages, romantic love, courtly love, fine amour, was a literary movement spurred on by the prevailing social norms of the society. Court poets, commonly known as troubadours, wrote tales of knights fighting for the favors of the lady. And these poems were widely accepted and heavily affective on the reading (or shall we say listening) public of those times. In fact, Duby goes on to say, these courtly romances were written to inspire knights by playing on their most gelatinous insides––their minds and their hearts.

But this inspiration was grounded in a strange kind of imperative that the lady be as suppressed in her desires as possible. To make the situation inspiring, it had to be mostly devoid of hope. To increase the need for aggression, the idea of it had to be fruitless. What could be more frustrating than something that is tantalizingly unsatisfying? Why is love so frustrating?

What else is love? Baby, it don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt me. No more.

Watch the video. You’ll see what I’m talking about.


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