The Use of Courtly Language in Le Mirouer des simples ames anienties

The Use of Courtly Language in Le Mirouer des simples ames anienties

Babinsky, Ellen Louise

Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 4 (1987)


What we know about Marguerite Porete comes to us from the inquisitorial documents: she was a beguine from Hainaut. There is no indication that someone else wrote the text of the Mirouer from the author’s dictation, which gives us reason to believe she was well educated. Le Mirouer des simples ames anienties was written sometime between 1296 and 1306. While Godefroid de Fontaines, a scholastic at Paris between 1285 and 1306, gave his approval to the text, he also counseled the author to use caution in her expressions. The text received approval from two other lesser known orthodox churchmen as well. The approvals were not universally shared, however, and the text was condemned and burned in the author’s presence at Valenciennes by the Bishop of Cambrai, with the warning not to disseminate her views under threat of being turned over to the secular arm. Apparently the author continued to promulgate her theology, for she was committed to the flames in Paris on May 30, 1310. Marguerite wrote Le Mirouer des simples ames anienties in Old French and the work enjoyed fairly widespread popularity, for it was translated into Middle English, Italian, and Latin, and copies were made in Old French. The Mirouer is a theological treatise which analyzes how love in human beings is related to divine love, and how by means of this relation the human soul may experience union with God in this life, without a mediary. The basic format of the text is a dialogue in the Boethian tradition among the allegorical figures of Reason, Love, and the Soul and the fundamental structure of the discourse is grounded in traditional Neoplatonist philosophy. Since the argument is articulated by means of the French courtly expressions, the Mirouer can be seen as a significant example of one way in which French courtly language was used to express Neoplatonist categories of religious experience and it is this aspect of the text to which I give attention.

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