Ullrich Langer

title.none: Hyatte, The Arts of Friendship

identifier.other: baj9928.9502.002 95.02.02

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Ullrich Langer, University of Wisconsin, Madison

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1995

identifier.citation: Hyatte, Reginald. The Arts of Friendship: The Idealization of Friendship in Medieval and Early Renaissance Literature. Leiden New York Köln: E. J. Brill, 1994. Pp. 249.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 95.02.02

Hyatte, Reginald. The Arts of Friendship: The Idealization of Friendship in Medieval and Early Renaissance Literature. Leiden New York Köln: E. J. Brill, 1994. Pp. 249.

Reviewed by:

Ullrich Langer
University of Wisconsin, Madison

This book is an important contribution to the study of ethics in medieval literary culture; more specifically, it is the only detailed study of medieval treatises on friendship and their relationship to medieval literature. Brian Patrick McGuire's Friendship and Community: The Monastic Experience 350-1250 (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1988) contains an illuminating study of Aelred of Rievaulx and monastic concepts and practices of friendship, but it is not really concerned with imaginative literature. Hyatte's book summarizes classical debates over and definitions of friendship, analyzes the relationship between friendship and the love of God in the 12th and 13th centuries, investigates chivalric friendship in Thomas' Tristan, the prose Lancelot, and Ami and Amile. He continues by focussing on three early Renaissance figures: Boccaccio (novella 10,8 from the Decameron), Laurent de Premierfait (his French translation of Cicero's Laelius de amicitia), and Leon Battista Alberti (the fourth of the Libri della famiglia, entitled De amicitia). After a brief appendix on didactic works and translations of works on friendship in the 13th century, Hyatte concludes by providing an English translation of Laurent de Premierfait's prefaces to his French translation of the Laelius.

Hyatte begins his study with a survey of the definition and understanding of friendship in (among others) the works of Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Valerius Maximus, and Seneca. The accounts seem generally unobjectionable and useful summaries. The diversity noted by Hyatte among classical writers and philosophers will not be reproduced in the medieval or even Renaissance understanding of them: for the Middle Ages and, in essence, for the Renaissance, Aristotle, Cicero, and Seneca all seemed to be saying more or less the same thing about "ideal" friendship. It is a durable relationship between men who are similar in virtue, who love each other for their own sake, who help each other in need, who are honest to each other, and whose love represents a civic or political example. It is distinct from relationships that are motivated only by pleasure or by usefulness.

In the Christian Middle Ages, Hyatte charts the sometimes confusing relationship between charity, God's love, and friendship, by focussing on Aquinas, Abelard, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Aelred of Rievaulx. Confusion arises especially because the terminology (caritas, amicitia, etc.) tends to overlap. The exclusiveness and resemblance of classical friends present a problem, since charity enjoins human beings to love the other as they would love themselves, whether the other happens to be virtuous or not. Friendship can function, however, as an analogy of amicitia Dei, of the special love that God offers certain creatures (pp. 56-57). Sometimes the analogy seems somewhat vague to me (especially p. 68), but on the whole these are enlightening discussions. My only criticism is a certain neglect of the scholastic tradition (with the exception of Aquinas), which discussed with much vigor and in interesting ways the a-teleological nature of love, in the commentaries on Lombard's first distinction (I dist 1 cap 1-3), between fruitio and usus. Lombard is picking up on a distinction made by Augustine at the beginning of his De doctrina christiana. This is relevant to any understanding of what "perfect" love may have meant to the Middle Ages, not simply to the schoolmen but to someone like Bernard of Clairvaux himself (see the quotation reproduced in Hyatte, pp. 53-54). Another area of discussion that might have been helpful, especially in the transition between the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, is the commentary on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Hyatte does touch upon this, in his appendix on 13th-century texts; I have found, however, John Buridan's commentary of the fourteenth century to be a valuable forerunner to treatments of ethical problems we find among the early humanists.

Hyatte proceeds to show in a nuanced and detailed way how these models account for behavior in the medieval romance, especially in the friendships between Lancelot and Galehout, and, of course, between Ami and Amile. In the former, the affection between the friends is underlined, but it is secondary to other relationships. In Ami and Amile, however, the friendship stands more on its own.

When Hyatte moves to the early Renaissance, he emphasizes the more purely classical tone of representations and discussions of friendship, and their settings in a civic or political sphere. There is an excellent analysis of the role of rhetoric in Boccaccio's Tito and Gisippo story (pp. 146-163): Gisippo's speech to Tito, Tito's speech to the Athenians, and Filomena's concluding speech are good examples of the incarnation of virtue in effective oratory, as practiced or at least intended by the early humanists. Hyatte classifies Premierfait's prologues according to the type of accessus ad auctores it represents, and notes the absence of any reference to the often bloody struggles in contemporary France.

Hyatte concludes his section on early Renaissance writers by retracing the arguments in the fourth book of Alberti's Libri della famiglia, rightly emphasizing the practical, non-idealized version of friendship that seems to emerge from the Alberti family's symposium. According to Hyatte, when precise references are made to classical sources, often the "negative moral import of the ancient citation" (p. 187) is left out, so that what is treated as at least questionable in ancient sources is given as practical advice in the various speeches of the Alberti men (see especially the discourse of Piero). While this is mostly true, it is also the case that classical moral philosophy, too, had its "countertradition": I am thinking, for example, of Lucian's dialogues (such as the teacher of rhetoric), of Quintus Cicero's Commentariolum petitionis (of which there is a quotation in Alberti). This counter-tradition is much more cynical than the standard classical texts on friendship, and it fits in well with the sort of politics the Alberti family was obliged to follow.

In the second appendix of the book, Hyatte gives us his English translation of Laurent de Premierfait's prologues to his translation into French of the Laelius. Premierfait is known mostly because of his French translation of the Decameron; his translation of the Laelius is only available in manuscript form, since the text was never printed. In the French 16th century Jean Collin translated the Laelius in 1537, and his translation was used in editions of Cicero until the translation of Blaise de Vigenere in 1579. Since Premierfait's text seems not to have had much of a posterity in the world of printing, it would have been preferable, I think, to provide at least one original text of the translation, and at least one of the prefaces, alongside the English translation provided by Hyatte.

I have learned much from this book; some quibbles aside, I think it will be a useful guide to medieval definitions and representations of friendship.