When I first heard about The Tale of Two Lovers it was as the erotic story written by a man whom later became pope, and tried to bury it. I expected a sexy romp akin to a Harlequin-novel, that was only popular because who doesn’t want to read bad erotic fiction written by the pope? What I got was a poet laureate, who turned to the cloth after he was 40. Aeneas Silvius, as he was called before he was Pope Pius II, was a fairly popular writer and the book would probably have sold well even without the whole “being pope” thing hanging over it.
The Tale of Two Lovers is about Lucretia and Euryalus, who meet at a funeral and falls in love by sending loving glances over the corps. The only problem is that Lucretia is married to a very jealous, much older man. The story is about how they deal with that, and it’s so quotable:
“I loved, thinking I was loved, for who is there so stony or so iron, that would not love, when he is loved?”
“That you love me does not surprise me, for you are not the first, nor the only one, that my beauty has led astray.”
“My wishes urge me one way, my thoughts another, and knowing what is best, I pursue the worst.”
The book is surprisingly well written, at least to me as a modern reader with very little knowledge of medieval literature. While the characters of Lucretia and Euryalus for a big part of the book sounds like love-sick idiots, they are supposed to. Having no way to actually talk to one another, they write doting love letters. This book is in big parts, but not wholly, an epistolary novel. The letters are at times a bit much, but again it fits. I have yet read or heard anyone in love sound like Einstein.
“You make so little of my love. For, although many love you, none of their fires is to be compared with mine.”
Now Aeneas Silvius is quite an interesting character. He seemed to be quite a free spirit
with children out of wedlock. Then he turned 40 and choose to turn his back on woman and why not also take the order. When he was younger he wrote to a friend:”He who has never truly felt the flames of love is but a stone, or a beast.”, but when he became a priest he started writing things like: “When you see a woman, think that you see a devil.”. He does have spots where he generalizes women, but this didn’t bother me. First, because it can’t compare to other medieval literature I’ve read. Second, because he balances it out by pointing out that women are unfaithful to their older husbands because they are kept under lock and key. That if they are given their freedom, they wouldn’t have to rebel.
Give them a free rein, and they are less likely to transgress. Hence it is about as easy to guard an unwilling woman as to watch a flock of fleas in the broiling sun. Unless his wife is naturally chaste, it is in vain that a husband strives to bolt her in. Compel her? but who will watch the watchmen? For a wife is cunning, and begins with them. Woman is an ungovernable animal, whom no reins can control.
It’s by no means Simone de Beauvoir. What he points to here, and in general in the story, is the fact that even birds in golden cages will fight their captor. That’s surprisingly modern for a pope in 1444 who compared women to snakes.