Roman in the ‘Roman’ce: History of bias against love and its stories

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Whenever in the Indian movies, any girl or boy would go and tell her/his parents that they are in love, the entire discussion would be dismissed as juvenile nonsense.  As an act of low level of human endeavor.  As if romance – i.e. falling in love was not worthy of “thinking, smart and cultured” people.

If one were to look at other cultures, one would also come across some such biases against romantic pursuits by the young or those young at heart.  After all, in a social structure that was predicated on hierarchies – yes even European society was always hierarchical – romantic pursuits opened up opportunities to break through those hierarchies and shake things up really well.  A whole list of plays and stories were written by the worthy literary greats detailing how the romantically inclined took the fight to the entrenched authority.

That is perhaps why the most amazing of the romance stories – that have shaped literature and poetry – have been of tragedy.  After all, how could two people living in some “imaginary world” devoid of any devious tricks and strategies, take on the world which was a master at that?  World always had ways to ward off the influence of this evil called Romance and Love.

When one looks at the etymology of the word Romance, one finds something very interesting.  It is based on one culture.  Roman.  One wonders if there is any link of the word Romance, and the entire history of Romanticism movement in arts and literature with the very idea of Romance as love itself?

It turns out there is.  Wikipedia has a very interesting note on this.

The term “Romance” comes from the Vulgar Latin adverb romanice, derived from Romanicus: for instance, in the expression romanice loqui, “to speak in Roman” (that is, the Latin vernacular), contrasted with latine loqui, “to speak in Latin” (Medieval Latin, the conservative version of the language used in writing and formal contexts or as a lingua franca), and with barbarice loqui, “to speak in Barbarian” (the non-Latin languages of the peoples that conquered the Roman Empire).[1] From this adverb the noun romance originated, which applied initially to anything written romanice, or “in the Roman vernacular”.
The word romance with the modern sense of romance novel or love affair has the same origin. In the medieval literature of Western Europe, serious writing was usually in Latin, while popular tales, often focusing on love, were composed in the vernacular and came to be called “romances”.

A few things become clear –

  • Romantic works were non-serious: After all they weren’t in the Latin language of the classes.  The lowly variation of Latin that was used by the masses for writing – which were love related stories – was the “Roman vernacular”
  • Romance / Love Stories have always been popular: Even when the bias and prejudice against it was structured in the society itself by definition!  Even then, the masses wanted love stories.
  • Negative Connotation of Romance: The negativity of the society and establish authority in general to love and romance may perhaps be an extension of the very step-motherly treatment to the works in Romanicus, the “Vulgar Latin” derivative.

The movement in art and literature of the 18th and the 19th century that was known as “Romanticism”, also had an air of revolt against the established ways of Neoclassicism.  The ways of the lovers was intertwined with the ways of the artists.  This is how the works of that era have been defined:

The German poet Friedrich Schlegel, who is given credit for first using the term romantic to describe literature, defined it as “literature depicting emotional matter in an imaginative form.” This is as accurate a general definition as can be accomplished, although Victor Hugo’s phrase “liberalism in literature” is also apt. Imagination, emotion, and freedom are certainly the focal points of romanticism. Any list of particular characteristics of the literature of romanticism includes subjectivity and an emphasis on individualism; spontaneity; freedom from rules; solitary life rather than life in society; the beliefs that imagination is superior to reason and devotion to beauty; love of and worship of nature; and fascination with the past, especially the myths and mysticism of the middle ages.

It was as if the the protagonist of the Romanticism works was besieged with the ache of the heart where s/he couldn’t help but have an urge for individualism, freedom from rules, spontaneity, and love for the more subtle and emotional ways than reason and structure.  Myth – a way to brush aside the what is conjured up of the past – and mysticism – shroud the transcendental in fog of question – were the ways used to describe how a Romantic thought.

Did the root of the thinking of love and romance go beyond just the word itself in Rome?  Apparently, there is lot more in the history and culture that was linked to “love”, and yet not fully manifested.

The Roman people may not have had anything to do with love, but I think they like to think they did. For example, in Virgil’s work the Aeniad, Aeneis is the son of the goddess Venus, the Roman Aphrodite and eventually leads the Trojans (Romans) to their new home in Italy. Aeneis had a son Iulus who gave name to the long line of the Julii, and it is true that the Julii believed they were descendants of Aeneis and therefore related to Venus. Another interesting fact is that the city Roma spelled backwards is amor, the latin word for love. Hmm. There are examples of love prevailing in Roman stories such as the “rape” of the Sabine women where the Romans basically charm them into being their wives after they capture them by pronouncing their undying love. I think there is a good reason that the word romance is synonomous with love, not merely in relation to the Roman period.

That the certain bias against love stories and writings that weren’t considered serious – and so the reservations against the very endeavor of love itself – originating from the Roman world can be understood.  One wonders how was was love perceived and looked at.  We will look at love over the centuries and millenia in various cultures in our later pieces.  But for starters, we wanted to delve into the interesting connection between the most decadent civilization that man has known and love, a pure and most pleasant of human experiences.

Image Source: Flickr

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