Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The French invented love as we know it

So, you like the idea of romance, but you don't think much of the vicious ancient Romans. Where do you think the word ROMANce came from?
Actually, it came from France. The French literally invented what we now think of as romance or romantic love.
What was it before the Franks and Gauls of Gaul (modern day France) began using the concept in what we now call Old French? Mostly just lust, possession, at best a special kind of friendship. But romantic love? No such thing.
When the Franks invaded the territory of the Gauls after the collapse of the Roman Empire, two vernaculars collided. Those who spoke a (corrupt) version of Latin (the Gauls) were said to speak in the "Roman manner."
Eventually, all written material in that form was called "romanz."
A popular narrative form for novels in those days was the kind that described the adventures of some chivalrous hero. The hero, usually a knight, was alway devoted to winning the love of a Lady. He gave his life over to this purpose (at least in the novels of the time, if not in real life).
The French loved it. In fact, so did the rest of Europe's reading population. The style became so popular that the genre was known as "romance."
From there, the people of the western world gradually developed the concept of romantic love. This is a concept that is known all over the world today, but is certainly not known by everyone, nor is it embraced by all cultures. It's barely known in countries that arrange marriages rather than have young adults choose their own mates, for example.
I must wonder if this new concept of love, precursor of the capitalist and liberal styles that are common in western countries today, was the beginning of life as those of us in western cultures know it today.
Romance puts a woman on an equal but different footing from a man.
We aren't yet all the way to equality of the sexes (or of anything else), but we're well along the path.
We also extend our concept of love beyond romance, beyond what non-western peoples think of as love. In an English dictionary, "love" traditionally takes more space than any other word.
We in the west can expect resistance to our style of romantic love and democracy from those who live in coutnries that don't practise them. It took western countries over 1000 years to get where we are today. The rest of the world is about 600 - 800 years behind us, but their direction is the same one westerners began 1200 - 1400 years ago.
When a Christian says "Love thy neighbour," and non-Christians have a problem understanding that, maybe it's because they come from countries where love, like the sun, is still struggling to come above their horizon.
To a person from a western country it is almost inconceivable that anyone would not understand our meanings of love. Yet it's true.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to teach love to the world.
Learn more at http://billallin.com/cgi/index.pl

No comments: