contributor.author: John Ford

title.none: Sadlek, Idleness Working (John Ford)

identifier.other: baj9928.0603.003 06.03.03

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: John Ford, Center Universitaire Jean-Fancois Champollion, jhnford@aol.com

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Sadlek, Gregory M. Idleness Working: The Discourse of Love's Labor from Ovid through Chaucer and Gower. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2004. Pp. xii, 298. 64.95 0-8132-1373-8. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.03.03

Sadlek, Gregory M. Idleness Working: The Discourse of Love's Labor from Ovid through Chaucer and Gower. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2004. Pp. xii, 298. 64.95 0-8132-1373-8. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

John Ford
Center Universitaire Jean-Fancois Champollion
jhnford@aol.com

While there is an abundance of works treating certain concepts of love and their development from antiquity to the Middle Ages, as well as an abundance of studies focusing on the realities and concepts of "work" in all its various guises, there are relatively few studies on the discourse of love as labor. While the description of love as a malady or madness in medieval texts is regularly expounded upon, scholars frequently overlook the very common analogy of love with various forms of work. Sadlek's excellent volume offers a meaningful contribution to the scholarly body of knowledge in this area. Tracing the development of the concept of love as described in seminal works from Ovid through Chaucer, the book provides as much a commentary on attitudes towards work in Western Europe--particularly in Augustan Rome, 12th and 13th-century France and 14th-century England--as it is a text on the "art" of love. This is because a basic understanding of the concept of work in these various ages and places is essential for truly understanding the corresponding (and often consequential) conceptions of love as expressed by the various auctorités of each society.

Treating the cultural context(s) in the first chapter, Sadlek explains that while each author is inevitably influenced by his own time and culture, all of them are also influenced by those of earlier ages, whose works they consult and whom they often cite. Drawing on the discursive treatment advocated by Bakhtin, Sadlek employs the term "double-voicing" to refer to the evident incorporation of earlier assertions and conceptions in the work of any given author, including the influence of contemporaries as well as of those more distant in time and place. Before arguing that the pronouncements made by the individual authors are wholly reflective of the zeitgeist of their respective societies, Sadlek also offers a caveat: the authors themselves were 1) invariably male and their discourses are fundamentally male-oriented, and 2) they had usually enjoyed a privileged background, a situation which often engendered disdain for the lower classes in earlier periods, but which did not always translated into deference for the upper classes after the rise of the bourgeoisie. Ultimately, however, his claim is convincing that the various authors' pronouncements are both reflective of their individual society's norms and their personal reactions to them.

In the second chapter, Sadlek focuses specifically on the works of Ovid, especially the Ars Amatoria. He notes that Ovid's work was highly influenced by Virgil's Georgics, itself a didactic treatise on agriculture. Agriculture in Ovid's Rome was considered a noble endeavor for those who were leisured enough to enjoy it as a hobby; such a leisured condition, known as "otium," was the mark of the aristocrat. Sadlek points out, however, that the Romans distinguished productive "otium negotiosum" (usually unpaid service for the greater good) from "otium otiosum"--non-productive leisure, which though still appropriate to the aristocrat, was disparaged as unfruitful idleness. While love itself had traditionally been associated with otium otiosum, and thus an activity of the aristocrat more than the toiling freeman or the slave, Ovid playfully seeks to redeem it by likening its labors to those of agriculture. He identifies three main labors of love: finding a lover, gaining a lover, and keeping a lover. He also likens the various labors of love to those of a solider, another respectable endeavor for a Roman citizen. By thus equating the deeds of love to strenuous military duties or to the worthwhile activities of the aristocratic farmer, Ovid presents the pursuit of love as an actual antidote to otium otiosum in that it requires effort, has a goal, and cannot be accomplished by pure idleness. Furthermore, by treating love in a didactic poem as an occupation that can be learned and taught, much as agriculture is presented in Virgil's Georgics, Ovid effectively raises the status of love from a wasteful dalliance in "otium otiosum" to a noble endeavor, indeed, an art to be mastered.

Sadlek then skips a millennium, picking up with the De amore of Andreas Capellanus in 12th-century France. Although ostensibly a cleric, Andreas was writing at a time when a new humanism was leading to a re-examination (if not an actual celebration) of numerous ancient texts, which had been forgotten with the rise of Christianity. Andreas' text itself shows the clear imprint of Ovid's Ars in both structure and content. Although it skips over Ovid's first labor of finding love (in his Book I), it too has three books: the first on winning love (like Ovid's Book II), the second on keeping love (like Ovid's Book III), and the third on the remedy for love (drawn from Ovid's separate Remedia Amoris). Much of Ovid's allusions are reproduced, though the new work is also infused with Christian ideals and reflects the new social reality of the three estates model. For example, while any arduous effort directed to achieving a particular goal was perceived of as good, particularly as an antidote to sinful idleness, humanity's need to work was nevertheless considered a result of mankind's fallen state. Furthermore, there was a new hierarchy of labor. Contemplative effort, essentially the prerogative of the clerical 1st estate, was viewed as superior to other forms of work; but of course clerics shouldn't be lovers (though Andreas does include a mention of it). Farming, on the other hand, which had been considered a noble occupation of the aristocratic Roman, was for Andreas the most ignoble form of manual labor, an exclusive "office" of the 3rd estate, whose members were not leisured enough to enjoy any form of love other than copulation. Andreas therefore steadfastly refuses to define lover in terms of manual labor. Between these two groups were the aristocracy, a knightly caste whose military office was as noble as that of Ovid's soldiers. Like Ovid, Andreas uses martial analogies to define love's labors, even borrowing the expression "militia amoris" from his predecessor. He insists that lovers be actual soldiers of Love, performing "services" and duties to society in the name of love and the beloved that will cultivate their good character and make them genuinely worthy of reward. This runs counter to Ovid, for whom only the semblance of good character is necessary if it aids the lover achieve his goal (seduction), but for whom "service" is a dirty word and moral integrity negligible. It also reveals a Christian ideology of just rewards in receiving suitable wages for services rendered. Finally, changing cultural norms are also seen in Andreas' inclusion of the "middle class"--de facto members of the third estate--as worthy soldiers in love's army; though obliged to work, their labor is superior to the mindless subsistence toil of the serf or servant, presumably because it is more cerebral, industrious and gainful. Overall, however, love and its labors are most appropriate to members of the 2nd estate, who have enough leisure to pursue them in earnest.

The fourth chapter treats Alan of Lille's De planctu naturae, which predates Andreas' De amore by a decade or two. This text probably shows a purer strain of pious 12th-century medieval rhetoric in respect to morality, society and labor ideology than Andreas' work, heavily influenced by the rising cult of courtly ideals and rediscovered pagan texts. Its structure is reminiscent of Boethius' 5th-century De Consolatione Philosophiae, which although a Neo-Platonic text, had never ceased to be translated and incorporated into Christian thought in Christian Europe. It would therefore seem logical to place this chapter before that dealing with Andreas, but the two are such near contemporaries that the inversion is hardly problematic.

De planctu is not at all a playful love manual like Ars Amatoria or De amore, both of which to some extent sought to loosen social constraints governing sexuality. Rather than a didactic treatise on finding, winning and keeping love, it is a dogmatic attack on "unnatural" or "non-productive" love, particularly "the widespread practice of homosexuality sodomy." Alan does not worry about courtship; he is primarily concerned that all sexual activity be "natural," i.e., reproductive. Natural love is therefore good work because results in children, while unnatural love is idle work because it cannot. In this Alan upholds the ideal that work is not only praiseworthy as an antidote to idleness, but also as a means of creating a useful product for society--a relatively new concern reflective of changing mores. Changing attitudes towards work can also be seen in the analogies Alan uses to represent intercourse. Instead of farming or soldiering, Alan likens the act of love to a blacksmith's hammer on an anvil or a scribe's stylus on parchment. This suggests a rise in prestige for such skilled urban occupations, and hints that Alan was more in touch with this class of workers, and presumably their mores, than courtly Andreas. This could be considered the beginning of what Sadlek refers to as "the embourgeoisement de l'eros."

Turning to the Roman de la rose, Sadlek notices significant divergence between Guillaume de Lorris' first part and Jean de Meun's lengthier continuation. Writing around 1230, Guillaume essentially upholds Ovidian ideals in respect to love and its travails. He might even surpass Ovid in his character Idleness, thanks to whom aristocrats have the leisure (otium) to pursue love. Like Andreas and Guillaume, Jean initially continues to praise Ovidian precepts in his dialogues, repeating the metaphor of love as a game of strategy and counseling the love to do whatever he needs to do to win. He injects a strain of Alan's thoughts, however, in having Nature and Genius support such an approach on the condition that the ultimate union lead to procreation. In this, he even surpasses Alan, condemning not only homosexuality but also priestly celibacy.

Coming into late 14th-century England with Gower's Confessio Amantis, we again see the blended strains of an Ovidian tradition fashionable with the courtly aristocracy and the more moralistic view backed by Christian ethics espoused by Alan. In Book IV, the lover is encouraged to unflaggingly pursue his goal; any letting up is a sign of "acedia," slothfulness. This resembles De planctu in terms of Christian morality (indeed, all but one book fall under headings of the Seven Deadly Sins), but also shares a similarity to Ovid and Andreas in letting the ends justify the means. Furthermore, the stated goal here is success in courtship, not necessarily procreation; thus, in a sense, the work is a goal in itself. This fits nicely with the emergent work ethic germinating in Alan's writings, but it is particularly apt in Gower's age, where that beginning had developed into a greater esteem for industriousness, particularly in respect to time management, a concept that was revolutionized by the increasing reliance on mechanical clocks. But much as in the Romance de la Rose, a midstream change takes place before the work's end. By Book VIII, "Nature" and "Genius" again insist that the work of love should only be undertaken in a manner leading to reproduction. Here, therefore, the lover is encouraged to cease his pursuit not because his fashion of loving is "unnatural," but because he is too old to be able to father children.

Sadlek treats Gower's friend Chaucer in the following chapter, beginning by demonstrating attitudes towards work, workers and industry through portraits of various pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales. The embourgeoisement de l'eros is then effectively demonstrated in analyzing the dispute in the Parlement of Foules. The aristocratic birds of prey with their courtly love pretensions are parodied for their preoccupations with form and military service (so important to Ovid and his ilk), while the common birds with their "natural" inclinations are shown to be much happier for sensibly getting along with the business of choosing mates and having offspring. Finally, Sadlek shows the embourgeoisement de l'eros in Troilus and Criseyde. Troilus might be a great soldier and a perfect gentleman with noble ideals, but as a lover he is an abysmal failure. And while Diomedes is more of a scoundrel and less successful on the battlefield, he (and, to some extent, Pandarus) can succeed as a lover by focusing on the real goal of loving rather than idealized but contrived forms. The book then ends with a short conclusion that synthesizes the key arguments elaborated in the individual chapters and indicates how the discourse of love as work continued to evolve after the Middle Ages, notably in Shakespeare.

There are few drawbacks to the volume, most of which are nitpicky. "Guillaume" is once rendered "Guillaumes" (137); once the character name "Rose" needs capitalization (163). Translations of short illustrative quotations are omitted in two instances (93, 140), though otherwise Sadlek conscientiously provides original text with accurate renderings. While the vocabulary of work and leisure are fully explored, taking into account the semantic drift of words such as "labor," "service," "travail" and "otium" in terms of denotation and connotation across time and cultures, as well as the incorporation of neologisms such as "business," "occupation" and "idleness" in the discourse of love as work, the connotations of various appellations of love are not as fully explored (e.g., "eros," "amour," "agape" and "lust"). In fact, "love" is generically used to refer to emotion, courtship, seduction and sex, though aspects such as "Venus," "Cupid," "Iocus" are clarified, and in any case, the majority of readers should already be familiar with these nuanced distinctions through their frequent treatment elsewhere. In terms of material, one might like to see more on procreative illicit love, e.g., incest (though, alas, Ford's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore is decidedly outside the temporal constraints of the study) or extramarital relations e.g., Tristan and Yseult. Indeed, one might expect more on Chretien de Troyes, though Sadlek quite rightly points out that thematic studies relating to his courtly love ideal are well covered elsewhere. Overall, however, the pros of Sadlek's study greatly outweigh the cons. This highly readable volume is entirely accessible to non-specialists and of real value to medievalists. The work as a whole is well thought out and well organized, and each succeeding chapter building upon its predecessors to provide a clear and easy-to-follow study through complex arguments. Sadlek demonstrates a thorough knowledge of the primary sources and their interrelation, as well as remaining highly attentive to modern scholarly debate treating love and labor in all their different guises and manifestations in the various cultures and periods treated.