Allow me, if you will, to show you why.
In one 13th-century tale, a peasant’s wife prepares for a visit from her lover, the local chaplain. But, oh no! Home comes her oafish husband from work in the middle of the day. He feels wretched, so she nurses him, eventually exclaiming that he must be dying. Settling him in bed, she hurries off to fetch the chaplain to give her poor husband his Last Rites. The chaplain arrives and blesses the peasant (but being a man of at least some scruples, he forebears saying the actual prayer for the dying). Soon enough wife and chaplain convince the gullible husband he’s dead, and begin going at it in the straw nearby. The peasant hears noises, opens his eyes, sees the chaplain enjoying his wife, and shouts to the chaplain, “If I weren’t dead, you certainly would catch hell.” The chaplain assures him that if he weren’t dead he wouldn’t be there cuckolding him, and the peasant relapses into contented idiocy.
Then of course there are other sorts of stories of misbegotten lust. True stories.
Take the tale of Peter Abelard, the greatest scholar of the twelfth century who fell into a tangle of lust and love with the brilliant young woman he tutored. Theirs was a torrid affair, furtive between books and lessons, all in secret because Abelard could not marry; it would have ruined his career. Nevertheless, when Heloise became pregnant, he wed her. Discovering it, her guardian feared Abelard meant to hide her away in a convent, and hired a pair of thugs to visit the scholar. In the dark of night, they castrated him. Abelard and Heloise fled to monasteries, but her love never died, her passion remaining undimmed over the years for the man she could no longer have.
One vastly popular story tells of the knight Owein’s greatest adventure. Realizing he’s spent his warrior’s life sinning left and right, the valiant Owein seeks the entrance to Purgatory on earth. Finding it, he plunges in, taking only courage and unwavering faith with him. None of the fiery, vicious torments of the torture chambers can touch him, though. Confident, he walks out a stronger, more valiant knight for the purifying trials he has endured.
Finally, one of my favorites, a true story from a Muslim memoire. We all know of the Templars as mighty warriors. They fought for medieval Christendom like Green Berets today fight for America. And just as Green Berets, many Templars were men of great compassion and understanding too. During the crusades in a city occupied by Christian forces, one day a Muslim warrior entered a former mosque—converted to a church—to say his prayers. A French knight who’d just arrived in the East, full of the conceit of a foreigner, grabbed up the Muslim to throw him out. Five Templars drew swords and came to the Muslim’s defense. They claimed the house of prayer must be for all.
Why do I love history? For its laughter, its passion, its stories of love and pure, unadulterated lust for life. For how it shows us bravery, courage and compassion are human traits, not confined to one era or one culture. For all its marvelous lures.
Why do you love history?