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Love in the Time of Demons: Thirteenth-Century Approaches to the Capacity for Love in Fallen Angels

Love in the Time of Demons: Thirteenth-Century Approaches to the Capacity for Love in Fallen Angels



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Love in the Time of Demons: Thirteenth-Century Approaches to the Capacity for Love in Fallen Angels

By Juanita Feros Ruys

Mirabilia, Vol. 15 (2012)

Abstract: Demons in the Middle Ages were primarily known as creatures that could feel only envy, anger, and malicious glee. But there remained an undercurrent in both scholastic thought and monastic tales that also understood demons as creatures once capable−and perhaps still so−of love. This paper examines the capacity for love and friendship attributed to demons in the thirteenth century. It shows how love could be seen as the motivating emotion in their original fall from Heaven, and explores the role love is subsequently thought to have played in both their relationships with each other and their amatory and sexual relationships with humans.

Devils that glare at passers-by from church facades or leer maliciously at unfortunate sinners in medieval artworks and manuscript illuminations constitute the familiar faces of medieval demons. From the miracle tales of medieval monastic culture to high medieval scholastic explorations of the nature of the supernatural world and its inhabitants, demons are overwhelmingly characterized as irascible and malevolent beings, fuelled solely by envy, wrath, and hatred. Yet there remains a line of thought−albeit tenuous−running through these genres that remembers demons otherwise: as beings possessed of both a facility and a desire for that finest of emotions, love. This article explores the capacity for love attributed by thirteenth-century writers to demons in the time before their fall from Heaven, while they were still angels, following their fall as a cohort united in a single aim of persecution and misery, and in their troubled relations with humans.

Thinkers in the twelfth century had explored the boundlessness of love that existed between God and the human soul in the dawning of mystic theology, the nature of desire in the flowering of both hetero- and homosexual erotic Latin verse, and the power of friendship (amicitia) between men (and even, in Heloise’s case, between men and women), particularly within monastic contexts. Yet when it comes to conceptualizing demonic love in the thirteenth century, these ideas take a darker turn, and thinkers find the obverse to the unbounded, ineffable, invigorating love of the twelfth century.


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