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Love Cures: Healing and Love Magic in Old French Romance by Laine E. Doggett (review)

From: Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft
Volume 8, Number 2, Winter 2013
pp. 202-204 | 10.1353/mrw.2013.0017

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Much as the punning title of the book itself does, Laine E. Doggett’s Love Cures functions on two discursive levels. On the one hand, Doggett pursues a thesis about Old French Romances including Cligès, Tristan and Iseut, Roman de Silence, and Amadas et Ydoine, arguing that the female healers are not to be read as charlatans, as they often have been in the past, but as representations of real empiric healers. On the other hand, we are presented with a skillful weaving of the complex scholarly discourses that surround practices of healing and magic in the medieval period. Translations—the author’s and others—allow those untrained in the primary languages of the work to enjoy Doggett’s close reading, a method favored in Love Cures.

Love Cures’ introduction and first chapter offer a review of the rich literature on magic and medicine in the Middle Ages. Following Richard Kieckhefer, Karen Jolly, and others, Doggett spends considerable time articulating relations between the spheres of medicine and magic and problematizing the notion of difference between them. While the approach is sometimes basic, for those teaching these topics and interested in digestive texts for students, these would be an excellent means to quickly and effectively immerse them in the conversation. However, as Doggett points out, a scholar already well-versed in the subject can pass them over without losing the thread of her argument.

The following chapters of Love Cures each focus on at least one representative character from a particular literary work. Within each text, Doggett focuses on the character of the female healer (such as Thessala in Cligès or Euphemie in the Roman de Silence), comparing the representations of these women and their practices to those of empirical practitioners of medicine and magic. Ultimately, she argues that the depictions of empiric healers in Cligès, the Roman de Tristan, and the Roman de Silence are largely derived from the practices of actual healers in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In contrast, Amadas et Ydoine, argued by Doggett to be a “travesty” of earlier models of empiric healers, features instead the bonae mulieres of traditional folklore.

The overarching thrust of Doggett’s argument consists of three points. First, Doggett argues that the female healers in the analyzed works make use of common practices that would have been employed by actual historical empiric healers, and should be taken seriously as reflections of empiric healing practices, rather than dismissed as the fanciful imaginings of the authors. Doggett further argues that the categories of physician (trained in an academic fashion and having access to elite medical practices and theory) and empiric practitioner (working within a tradition of folk medical knowledge) were not sharply distinguished. In fact, many of the subjects of Doggett’s analysis refer to themselves as “physicians.” Furthermore, there would have been very little difference between the practices of either, as they would have employed many of the same healing techniques (both “magical” and “medicinal”). Finally, these arguments taken together lay the ground for the author’s final conclusion, namely, that modern attitudes have resulted in an ahistorical scholarly reading of such practices. Rather than being perceived as “charlatans” when compared to trained physicians, empiric practitioners were trusted members of the community respected for their medical knowledge.

If there is a single substantive complaint that I would lodge against Love Cures, it would be that Doggett occasionally loses track of the distinction between empiric healer and fictional representations of healers. For instance, Doggett claims in her third chapter that the potion that Tristan and Iseut imbibe could have been crafted based on medieval medical knowledge. Such a love potion, Doggett claims, would have worked to heighten feelings of love through the release of PEA, an “infatuation chemical” that produces feelings of euphoria. With this framing, Doggett proceeds to analyze the euphoric feelings described by the couple. Yet, we might ask, where is the distinction to be drawn between empiric practices and the fictional representation thereof ? Granted, we can accept that actual empiric healers knew of such potions and their effects. However, it is important to remember that we are receiving this information through a fictional genre—romance—which has...



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