Monday, October 03, 2005

Polygamous Love Literature

In medieval literature today, we talked in a very general manner about love, sex, and marriage in art. One interesting thing we realized is that even literature from polygamous societies does not have polygamous love stories. We have stories in which there is polygamy and conflict among wives, or stories in which a shrewish wife is a barrier to taking a new lover, or even stories (like David and Michel or Solomon and the Queen of Sheba) in which there is love between two lovers, but other lovers are curiously absent from the picture. This seemed a significant absence to me, but I'm not sure of its importance.

Some possible exceptions to the rule might be the Arthur-Guenevere-Lancelot triangle (though that becomes doomed as soon as it is made public), some of the stuff in the Tale of Genji (though, again, much of that seems to be behind closed doors), or maybe the Odyssey (in which the goddess appears to have a crush on Odysseus, yet helps him get home to his wife). Still, none of these seem quite right. Are there some obvious examples I am forgetting?


  1. Sounds like a subtle acknowledgement of the less than ideal nature of polygamy. Or that polygamy is seen purely as a social/legal/political issue, not as an issue relating to love in any way. Love isn't particularly related to marriage anyway in many ancient/medieval texts, right?

    For instance, in the Jacob-Rachel-Leah-slave girls polygon, there is constant infighting and posturing related to who Jacob will sleep with and who will bear him children (and Jacob himself seems involved as well, as it's important to him to have children), but it doesn't seem to me that there is any suggestion other than that he loves (in the modern, romantic sense) Rachel alone and her two sons alone.

  2. Well, actually, in much medieval literature, amor IS related to marriage -- inversely. Married people cannot feel love for one another, but people who are married to others seem ideal for love.