Lovesickness in “Troilus”
Seventy years ago, in 1913, John Livingston Lowes wrote his classic article on the ‘Loveres Maladys of Hereos,’ in which he brought to light a tradition of medical texts which contain descriptions of an illness called amor hereos, or erotic love.’ Although Lowes pointed out Chaucer’s use of the tradition in Troilus and the Knight’s Tale, he did not undertake to interpret the significance of a medical paradigm of love in either text. I would like to propose that the medical model of love provided Chaucer with a materialistic, deterministic, and ethically neutral view of love which he used to shape the thematic development of Troilus and Criseyde. Love figured as illness is of course a commonplace of medieval literature. One need go no further than Ovid and the Romance of the Rose for literary sources of love symptoms and cures which Chaucer certainly knew and certainly drew upon for Troilus and Criseyde. The flourishing medical tradition of amor hereos duplicates much in the literary tradition at the level of symptoms and cures: one might say that the Ovidian and the medical “codes” of love overlap to a certain extent. In this paper I would like to focus on a particular constellation of attitudes toward passionate love that seem to be distinctively medical, and which Chaucer manipulates precisely for its contrast to other forms of discourse on love which he uses in the poem.