The Stag of Love

The Stag of Love: The Chase in Medieval Literature

Marcelle Thiébaux
Copyright Date: 1974
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
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  • Book Info
    The Stag of Love
    Book Description:

    A sport and a military exercise, hunting involved aggressive action with weapons and dogs, and pursuit to the point of combat and killing, for the sake of recreation, food or conquest.The Stag of Loveexplores the body of erotic metaphor that developed from the hunt together with Ovid's flourishing legacies.

    While representing a range of human experience, the metaphor finds its dominant expression in the literature of love. As Marcelle Thiébaux demonstrates, the hunt's disciplined violence represented sexual desire, along with strategies and arts for getting love, the joys of love, and love's elevating mystique. The genre gave rise to a lavish imagery of footprints and tracking, arrows, nets, dogs and leashes, wounds, dismemberment and blood, that persisted to Shakespeare's day.

    Thiébaux opens with an account of a medieval chase and its ceremonies. She introduces hunt manuals that defined and gentrified the sport, in stages from the party's departure to the ferocity of the struggle to the animal's death. These stages adapted readily to narrative structures in the love chase, showing pursuit, confrontation with the beloved, and consummation. In English literature, Thiébaux considersBeowulf, Aefric'sLife of Saint Eustace,Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and the works of Chaucer. Within continental European literature, she discussesAucassin and Nicolete, Chrétien de Troyes'Erec, Gottfried von Strassburg'sTristan, theNibelungenlied, and Wolfram von Eschenbach's works. She concludes with a scrutiny of newly recovered or little-known narratives of the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

    Originally published in 1974,The Stag of Lovebrings to life a theme of perennial interest to medievalists, and to all readers intrigued by the imaginative treatment of love in the Western world.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-7153-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-6)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 7-10)
  3. Preface
    (pp. 11-16)
    Marcelle Thiébaux
  4. I Literature and the Hunt
    (pp. 17-58)

    The hunt was a literary motif especially favored among writers in the Middle Ages. European literature between the eighth and the fifteenth centuries is full of casual allusions to hunts: Heroes hunt on the way to getting somewhere, they hunt as a means of showing their rank and prowess, of seeking out their enemies in disguise, or of agreeably passing the time. A random episode easily culminates in a human encounter. A knight, hawk on fist, approaches Robin’s Marion to inquire whether there are any “birds” in her vicinity, but it quickly becomes plain that the knight’s preferred game would...

  5. II The Chase in Medieval Narrative
    (pp. 59-88)

    Among Greek and Latin pre-Christian authors, the hunts that are devised by gods usually spell destruction for the mortal who is lured to become involved in them. The hunt’s purposes are retributive and punitive. Sent by an angry deity whose altars have been neglected, the quarry can cause havoc. Before or after the general destruction, however, there may be a moment of recognition, an acknowledgment of the wrong done, or a stunning confrontation with the godhead. One example of such a chase is that described in a legend that Pausanias recorded in hisDescription of Greece. Moved to vengeance by...

  6. III The Love Chase
    (pp. 89-143)

    The hunt of love occurs at least as early as Plato’sSophistwhere the hunt provides an overriding metaphor: human affairs become narrow subdivisions of a great pursuit. All men prey upon one another in diverse ways—through war, tyranny, piracy, oratory, law, and conversation. Love, finally, emerges as one category of the private, persuasive land hunt. “Have you never seen the ways lovers hunt each other ?” is the query rhetorically raised.

    As a simile or metaphor love’s hunting had already been used by Greek playwrights and would continue to reappear in lyric poetry and in prose. Aeschylus writes...

  7. IV Medieval Allegories of the Love Chase
    (pp. 144-228)

    While Chrétien, Gottfried, and Chaucer—their work ranging over the later twelfth, early thirteenth, and late fourteenth centuries—could fuse the love chase imaginatively with other types of symbolic hunt and thereby enrich the texture of their narratives, obscure writers were developing the chase as a single theme in love allegory. It is among such writers that a hunt provides the line of the narrative, and the varied activities of the chase are filled with amatory meaning. Either this meaning is made plain by the author, who may tell us outright that “the hunt is like pursuing a woman,” or...

  8. Epilogue: After Hadamar
    (pp. 229-246)

    The grand scale of theJagd, and the complex effects, both verbal and psychological, that Hadamar achieved, mark the high point of the allegorical love chase. While love poets everywhere continued to exploit hunting conventions and figures, their attempts were more modest than Hadamar’s and generally less original. Those writing in German or Dutch appear to owe their inspiration directly or indirectly to him, tending as they do to isolate some feature of theJagdto develop in briefer compass, though occasionally with touches of individuality. Their work can be grouped under three heads: the lyric, the didactic and the...

  9. Index
    (pp. 247-250)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 251-252)