Amor’s Commandments in “Le Roman de la Rose”

One in a series of blogs about confluences between The Avengers and random medieval stuff.

Le Roman de la Rose (Romance of the Rose) was one of the most influential texts of the Middle Ages. Written in the thirteenth century, this French verse narrative has two parts, the first of which was written by Jean de Meun, and the second of which is a continuation and expansion of the story by Guillaume de Lorris. The Roman recounts the dream of a Lover (Amant) who is drawn into the Garden of Delight (Deduiz), and his adventures as he journeys closer and closer to his prize: a perfect rosebud. (And yes, the lover finding and plucking the rosebud is an allegory for exactly what you think it allegorizes. Ahem.)

Once the Lover has been ushered inside the garden, he meets a variety of allegorical characters (Sweet Looks, Idleness, Delight, and many others) as well as Amor (Love) himself, who takes the Lover as his vassal. Amor tells the Lover that if he is to be perfect in the art of love, he needs to follow the commandments of love. The Lover begs for instruction, which is then given in detail by Amor himself.

Although some of Amor’s instruction is dated and only relevant to the medieval culture that produced it, quite a bit of it has worn well. Indeed, the art of fin’ amours or courtly love described by Amor in the Roman is one of the origins of our modern concept of romantic love. (The word “romantic” actually has its origins in the word “roman” of the poem’s title; it originally referred to a verse narrative, usually about chivalry and written in the vernacular instead of Latin.)

I thought it would be fun to go through Amor’s commandments and see how many of them Mr. Steed has been keeping. It turns out Steed is a pretty good student. (Surprise.) I picked out ten of the ones that most apply to Steed, and I list them below. Although it would be possible to put multiple screencaps and gifs with each of these, I’m contenting myself with one each. Well, maybe “contenting” isn’t quite the right word. Forcing myself to use only one. Yes. That’s more accurate.

Harley 4425 f.5vAmor instructs the Lover. London, British Library MS Harley 4425, f. 25v.

“[Y]ou must abandon villainy forever. I curse and excommunicate all those who love villainy. Since villainy makes them base, it is not right that I love it. A villain is cruel and pitiless; he does not understand the idea of service or friendship.”

romandelarose.01Steed has this one pretty sewn up. In fact his job is to stop villains in their tracks, and he definitely has strong senses of both service and friendship. There are too many instances of those to count throughout the series, so I’m going to use a clip showing that Steed is on the same page as Amor, in a very large way.

Here Steed is talking to the Major, a military man who belongs to a group called “the Danger Makers.” They set up stunts and challenges for each other with no regard for their own safety or the safety of those around them, and if they fail their missions, the penalty is death. Steed loathes the Major with all his being. Here he looks like he’s about ready to spit in the Major’s eye, preparatory to pulverizing him. If the Major knew Steed at all, he’d realize that getting as far away from him as possible would be a really, really good idea right now.


“Be reasonable and easy to know, soft-spoken and just toward men of both high and low rank.”

romandelarose.02Steed is a very easy-going and friendly guy. He treats everyone with the same respect and courtesy, from shop girls to members of Parliament to aristocrats, and even enemy agents like Ivan, to whom Steed offers a glass of wine. Well, it’s the least he can do after Mrs Peel has flung the poor man bodily into that chair. (An aside: Philip Madoc’s expression here, tho.)


romandelarose.03

“Cultivate the habit, when you go along the streets, of being the first to greet other people.”


romandelarose.04“Honor all women and exert yourself to serve them.”

Where to begin with this one? Okay. Here. (See why I had to set a limit? Otherwise y’all would be scrolling until the cows came home.) Although I’m fairly sure that this isn’t quite the type of service envisioned by the folks who practiced fin’ amours in the thirteenth century. (At least it wasn’t supposed to be, technically.)


“He, however, who wants to take trouble for love must conduct himself with elegance. The man who seeks love is worth nothing without elegance.”

Every image, moving or otherwise, of Steed, ever. Ever.

But I’ll content myself with this one. Because of elegant Steed. In an elegant tux. And his elegant stance at the desk, while elegantly whacking Peever on the head with his elegant shoe.

romandelarose.05


“Outfit yourself beautifully, according to your income, in both dress and footwear…. Therefore you should give your clothes to someone who knows how to do good tailoring.”

Yeah, this is one of those “every image of Steed ever” ones, too.

romandelarose.06


romandelarose.07“Next, you should remember to keep a spirit of liveliness. Seek out joy and delight.”

Steed has a tough and sometimes violent job. He’s a tough and sometimes violent guy, when the situation calls for it. He has also been subjected to torture himself. But none of that has soured or bent him. He has a deep joy in life, and finds it easy to take delight in any number of things, even very small and sometimes odd things.


“If you feel yourself active and light, don’t resist the impulse to jump…

romandelarose.08


 …if you are a good horseman, you should spur your mount over hill and dale.”

romandelarose.09


romandelarose.10“And in order that you may be a pure lover, I wish and command you to put your heart in a single place so that it be not divided, but whole and without deceit, for I do not like division.”

Steed does give his whole heart to Emma. Although I know there is some disagreement about when exactly this happens, he does do it, willingly and joyfully. Mrs. Peel is the rose at the center of Steed’s garden.


Harley 4425 f.184vThe Lover finds the Rose. London, British Library MS Harley 4425, f. 184v.

Text from the Roman de la Rose taken from the prose translation by Charles Dahlberg, 3rd ed. (Princeton University Press, 1995).


blogs in this series
Preux Chevaliers, concerning Emma, Steed, and knightliness
The Story of the Beautiful Knight, about Emma Peel as Steed’s Bel Cavalher
Amor’s Commandments in Le Roman de la Rose, wherein we see how well Steed measures up in the practice of fin’ amours
John Steed and the “Douce Ennemie”: Cathy, Emma, and Steed through the lens of a Machaut virelai, plus an analysis of the opening fencing scene in “Town of No Return”
Courtly Love in The Avengers: Steed’s relationships with his partners through the lens of amour courtois