Dec. 8, 2022

#19 - A History of Romance in the West—Part 2 with Kathryn Mogk Wagner

#19 - A History of Romance in the West—Part 2 with Kathryn Mogk Wagner
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But not that kind of western romance…

Pop quiz: Which of the following reasons is a good reason to get married to someone?

  • Because your family or social circle wants you to

  • Because you sexually desire that person (or are already sexually involved)

  • Because you want children (or have them already)

  • Because you need financial stability

  • Because you’re “in love” with that person

  • Because you’re “in love” with someone else

Some of these answers might seem ridiculous, but a hundred or a thousand years ago, people concluded very different things about marriage and romance, depending on the age they live in.

We in the West can bundle together a lot of expectations for romantic partners—they should be your best friend, have romantic attraction, maybe build a family together, share finances, support you emotionally, and on and on. Sometimes we separate out just one or two items—attraction, best-friendship—and focus on that alone. But it hasn’t always been this way. In the scale of human history, our current assumptions about romance and marriage are actually quite young.

In part 2 of this series, we continue our conversation with friend and scholar Kathryn Mogk Wagner, to look through the lens of Western literature at changing perspectives on romance, (Christian) marriage, love, and intimacy through the ages.

This episode is part 2 of 3.  For anyone who has had to work through their expectations for romantic relationships (or other people’s expectations for your relationships!), this episode is for you.



1:45 - The biology of attraction

8:05 - The ancient world: Marriage as economic arrangement

10:35 - The early Christian church: equality in adultery

12:15 - Courtly love and longing in the 11th century

20:05 - Example: King Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere

23:30 - Arranged marriages and consent in the Christian church

30:05- Example: Dante and Beatrice

39:30 - Contemporary Christian emphasis on marriage—does it deserve it?

45:05 - Companionate marriage: Edmund Spenser’s poetry

49:00 - Holiness as celibacy (Catholics) or married life (Protestants)

53:45 - Song of Songs in the church’s imagination

58:05 - The development of the “pure relationship”


Links and References

Kathryn Mogk Wagner:

The Allegory of Love by C.S. Lewis

The Symposium by Plato (wiki)

The Divine Comedy and La Vita Nuova by Dante Alighieri; about Beatrice (wiki)

The story of King Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot is told many places; one is Le Morte d’Arthur (wiki)

Edmund Spenser, poet (wiki)

Anthony Giddens on the “pure relationship


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