If the definition of an important book is that it pushes the reader to ask hard questions, then Bardell's edition of the Cort d'amor is an important book. The Cort d'Amor is an allegorical romance whose critical history has been remarkably spare, although editors all concur that it is an important example of Occitan narrative literature. Edited in the nineteenth century and again in the twentieth, Matthew Bardell offers us a twenty-first-century edition. I suspect each editor has hoped that his would be the edition that would bring the work the attention it merits; time will tell if Bardell succeeds where Constans and Jones failed.
The Cort d'amor is an allegorical discussion of love, related to works such as knight-clerk debates, La Fablel dou Dieu d'amors, De Vénus la déesse d'amor and the Romance of the Rose. The work begins with a description of the Court of Love. Love addresses ten barons, exhorting them in their work on behalf of love. A group of ladies asks Love for a set of laws, and Love delegates this task to Courtliness. Love's barons are discussing love when Mercy arrives to complain of two enemies of love, Covetousness and Pride. Laughter and Distraction also complain, this time about slanderers; various behaviors that interfere with love are condemned. Honor arrives at the court, and Love attempts a seduction, but is rebuffed. Then follows advice to ladies in general, offered by servants of Love including Merit and Prowess. Love vows to wage war on Pride. But as the preparations begin, the text breaks off.
Readers of this synopsis will connect the text with the Romance of the Rose, the most well-known allegorical romance. In a fairly brief introduction, Bardell argues that the text is actually significantly earlier than has previously been posited and that the Cort d'amor certainly predates Guillaume de Lorris (Bardell would place composition at the end of the twelfth century). Bardell sees the work is a response to Andreas Capellaneas' De arte. Noting what he considers a large number of gallicisms in the Occitan text (for which he provides a specific glossary, with 24 entries; omitted is the use of "viii.xx" [l. 23], the earliest Occitan example of counting by scores and, I suspect, another gallicism), the editor argues that the work was composed in Northern France, probably at the Court of Champagne. This particular bombshell is dropped on pp. 4-5, but the argument is barely developed; I, for one, am not fully convinced. Given what Bardell tells readers in his preface, that this edition is an MA thesis that became a focus of his doctoral work and that the edition published here is that MA, revised, I wonder if we are supposed to be waiting now for the publication of the (longer) work, in which this argument will be developed more completely.
Both Jones and Bardell agree that the manuscript of the Cort d'amor (Chansonnier N, now M. 819 in the Pierpont Morgan Library) was copied in Northern Italy, perhaps in Padua. Given this region's importance for literature in Franco-Italian, is it not possible that the gallicisms identified by Bardell stem from that interference rather than from a compositional site in Northern France? Certainly I cannot easily think of other examples of Occitan literature composed at the very literary court of Champagne. Or, if the Cort d'amor is a response to Andreas Capellanus, could Andreas's work have traveled early to the south? Though current scholarship suggests that De arte was not well known until mid to late thirteenth century, what prevents us from thinking that Andreas was received in Occitania, and that the only evidence of this early southern reception is the Cort d'amor? While the suggestion that the Cort d'amor as a response to Andreas is creative, I would like to see more support for it.
A real issue and one that Bardell addresses head on is that of questions of gender in the Cort d'amor. Why is the principle character, Fin'Amor, of ambiguous gender? Amor is a feminine noun in Occitan; one expects a feminine character. Yet the behavior and interactions of this character in the story are remarkably masculine; at times masculine pronouns are used to refer to Fin'Amor. How does an editor/translator approach this problem? Bardell criticizes Jones at length on this issue; she chose to translate Fin'Amor as a female character throughout, where Bardell sees Fin'Amor as a male. But I wonder if both editors/translators are not over-emphasizing a matter that may not have mattered to a medieval Occitan audience. I remind TMR readers that in troubadour lyrics, the female object of affection is frequently referred to as midons, a decidedly masculine term. As midons (frequently interpreted as "my lord"), the lady is both male and female. Since the lady of troubadour lyric is the embodiment of fin'amor, why is it so difficult for Fin'Amor to play with both genders in the narrative of the Cort d'amor?
The most intriguing suggestion by Bardell is that the Cort d'amor as we now have it is the victim of medieval editorial suppression. The text, extant in only one manuscript, is missing its ending, and "there is certainly evidence of censorship in the lacunae in the rest of the text" (23). Would that Bardell had developed this idea further.
As for the edition itself, Bardell presents his Occitan text neatly, using elements from the manuscript to help the reader understand the presentation of the Cort d'amor in its original context. He indents lines that are "indented in the manuscript for the never-executed miniature and initials" (39). The translation is on the facing page and follows the same convention. Bardell works to respect the manuscript as much as possible, correcting rarely and "privileging the source text in the translation" (39). He admits having done the edition from a film copy (39); still, it is trustworthy. The edition is quite readable, punctuated according to contemporary English usage. The translation is readable and accurate, tending to stay close to the original, although I would have preferred fewer square brackets and slashes to mark alternate interpretations, e.g.
...and they have invented new arguments [as to] how love [/Love] can be legitimate [/loyal]. (ll. 24-25)
I would argue that it is the job of the editor/translator to make decisions. This example might force a student to check the original text (where amors has no capital -- clearly the editor decided even if the translator didn't) or cease reading entirely. Fortunately, examples of this idiosyncracy decrease (and become less distracting) as one reads on. Related to this quibble is Bardell's choice to retain the orthography of the manuscript (37), even when convention might argue against. I refer specifically to initial I-, which Bardell keeps, even when he prints lines like these:
Que l'autrer nos dis Iohanitz, que leon(s) aucis la formitz. Don Iois, aisso dig contra vos.... (ll. 107-109).
These lines (and the possible fable they may refer to) have intrigued scholars to no end, but if Bardell was seeking "to facilitate reading" (38), then adopting a spelling of Johanitz and Jois would have been logical, regardless of how one interprets the lion and the ant. (Note that even Alexandre Huber, in his thorough survey of Occitan fable literature, does not not quite know what to make of this fable reference.)
It may seem that I have harped on trivialities in this review; these were but occasional issues. There are places where I am not convinced by Bardell. But he has made readily available an Occitan text of great interest to modern scholars, interesting for a number of reasons. The Cort d'amor is an important example of narrative literature in a medieval language that does not have a lot of narratives to its credit. The narrative itself is fascinating for the questions it invites us to ask about relations between literatures in Old French, Latin and Occitan. So it is a good thing that Matthew Bardell has made the work available in a format that makes it affordable. I'm grateful and am pleased to have it on my shelf; it is an important book.
Constans, Léopold, ed. Les Manuscrits provençaux de Cheltenham (Angleterre). Paris: Maisonneuve, 1882.
Huber, Alexandre. La Fable dans la littérature provençale du Moyen Age. Publications provençales 2. Lausanne: Faculté des lettres, 2001.
Jones, Lowanne E., ed. The 'Cort d'amor': A Thirteenth-Century Allegorical Art of Love. North Carolina Studies in the Romance Languages and Literatures 185. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1977.