‘A wonderful catastrophe’

Jessica Rosenfeld on the history of love

Love stories get a bad rap.

“We often think about genres of love narratives, whether they’re films or novels, as frivolous,” said Jessica Rosenfeld, associate professor of English in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. 

“But in the Middle Ages, love stories, love narratives, love songs, were invested with the highest seriousness,” Rosenfeld continued. “They were the height of cultural production. And they were the place to think about everything that was important to human life.”

In this video, Rosenfeld, who studies the history of emotions, discusses medieval literature, artistic empathy and love as “a wonderful catastrophe.”

“Cupid for us is kind of this cute, kind of chubby little baby figure hovering around with a bow and arrow,” Rosenfeld said. But for medieval audiences, “the god of love is a huge, terrifying hunter. He’s hiding behind trees, and he’s seeking after you, and he has poison-tipped arrows. 

“If it’s really love, then you’re suffering.”

See also: Rosenfeld writes about “quarantine envy.”

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