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Chapter 2 Taxonomies ofDesire in Les Echecs amoureux Marriage, which is necessarily overt, public, ceremonious, surrounded by special words and deeds, is at the center ofany system ofvalues, at the junction between the material and the spiritual. It regulates the transmission ofwealth from one generation to another, and so underlies and cannot be dissociated from a society's "infrastructures." -Georges Duby It is as ifthe insensible could not yet knock at the doors ofthe poetic consciousness without transforming itselfinto the likeness ofthe sensible: as ifmen could not easily grasp the reality ofmoods and emotions without turning them into shadowy persons. -C. S. Lewis Sometime in the late fourteenth century, an anonymous poet composed Les Echecs amoureux (The Chess ofLove), a 30,o6o-line poem that takes as its subject the nature of romantic desire.1 Much like the poem it emulates, the thirteenth-century Roman de laRose, the story begins with a poet who travels to a garden. Here he meets Venus's two sons, Deduis (Mirth) and Cupido (Love). While in the garden, the poet watches Deduis play chess with a beautiful woman. The game ends in a tie, after which the poet himself plays against the lady, who easily defeats him. Cupido comes to comfort the distraught poet, advising him how best to play the chess game. Cupido's lecture ended, the goddess Pallas Athena appears and chastises the poet for listening to Cupido, insisting that he should follow une vie contemplative instead of une vie voluptueuse. If this proves too difficult, she adds, he should follow la vie active. At this point Pallas starts to outline the components of a civic community, which she sees as the basis for an active life; the poem breaks offwhen she begins to discuss the importance ofeconomic exchange.2 58 Chapter 2 Roughly fifty years after the appearance of Les Echecs amoureux, a prose Commentary on the poem began to circulate.3 Most likely composed by Evrart de Conty, a member of the medical faculty at the University of Paris, the Les Echecs Commentary methodically explicates the poem and was used independently as a didactic work in its own right for many years.4 Like the poem, the Commentary covers a wide range of subjects and includes detailed discussions of the physical universe, music, and philosophy. Chess takes a more prominent place than it does in the poem, and Evrart spends over one third of his Commentary analyzing the various moves in the match between the lady and narrator and the symbolism behind their game.5 Whereas the poet in Les Echecs describes the physical appearance of the pieces, which represent the players' emotions, and gives a description of the game, Evrart spells out in meticulous detail the meaning behind the symbols on each piece (Table 2). On the shields of the lady's two auphins (bishops), for example , are pictures of a dove and a pelican respectively, and Evrart interprets these birds as signs of"Generosity of Soul" and "Pity," virtues appropriate to clergymen. The dove found on Generosity's shield "has no gall or bitterness at all in it, and never wounds anything either with its talons or beak" ["n'a point en ly de fiel ne de amertume, n'il ne blesce nulli ne de ongle ne de bee"] (669). For its part, Pity, like the pelican on his shield, who wounds its breast to feed its young, nourishes lovers through difficult times. Working together these two pieces "make lovers live for a long time" ["font vivre longuement les amoureux"] (674) and "protect the lover from misery and despair" ["gardent I'amant de cheir en desesperance"] (674). By tying the pieces' symbols to specific attributes, Evrart draws attention to the connection between outward appearance and inner desires. Yet the lady's bishops do not represent romantic emotions alone, and Evrart notes that the chess pieces also symbolize the social classes, trades, and members ofa civic body. Drawing parallels between the meanings ofthe pieces in these different categories, he does not prioritize one set of meanings over the other. Instead, the pieces and their insignia function simultaneously within two different semiotic systems. In the description of Generosity and Pity, we see how Evrart describes the bishops as representative of both individual emotions and civic order: Briefment, ces deux eschecs sont appelles auffins en l'eschiquier d'amours, pour ce que tout aussi que les roes des esches representent les lieutenans et les vicaires d'un roy qui a un...


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