How a Medieval Troubadour Became a Mathematical Figure

How a Medieval Troubadour Became a Mathematical Figure

By Michael P. Saclolo

Notices of the American Mathematical Society, Volume 58, Number 5 (2011)

Introduction: Lyric poetry of the Middle Ages may seem far removed from subgroups of the symmetric group or primitive roots of finite fields. However, one piece of medieval poetry has led to work in these mathematical disciplines, namely a sestina written in the Romance language of Old Occitan by a troubadour named Arnaut Daniel:

The firm desire that enters
my heart no beak can tear out, no nail
of the slanderer, who speaks his dirt and loses his soul.
And since I dare not beat him with branch or rod,
then in some secret place, at least, where I’ll have no
I’ll have my joy of joy, in a garden or a chamber.

When I am reminded of the chamber
where I know, and this hurts me, no man enters–
no, they’re all more on guard than brother or uncle–
there’s no part of my body that does not tremble, even
my nail,as the child shakes before the rod,
I am that afraid I won’t be hers enough, with all my soul.

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