Biography Bernard de Ventadorn

Bernard de Ventadorn

photo of Bernard de Ventadorn
  • Time Period1150 - 1195
  • Place
  • CountryFrance

Poet Biography

Bernard and the troubadours
Ever since the middle ages, the troubadours of Provence have exerted a special kind of fascination for historians, poets, and lovers of music and literature. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, this relatively small coterie of creative spirits composed several thousand rhymed, strophic works, most of them delicate love poetry. They wrote in a magnificent, expressive literary language that was once a kind of Esperanto of Southern Europe, but that is now nearly forgotten, the Occitan (Provençal) of Southern France. The troubadours and their love lyrics left an enormous influence on the speech, the sound, the mannners, the values, and the lifestyles of succeeding generations, right down to our own day.
What is more, the troubadours helped to create a poeticized, romantic image of the Middle Ages that continues to hold sway in popular culture, from books and films to high-tech video games. Yet the troubadours were in most respects non- conformists, working and living against the grain of most medieval life. In his best known song, the greatest of the troubadours, Bernard (Bernatz) de Ventadorn, compares himself to the fool on the bridge. Most folks, we infer from Bernard's metaphor, cross the bridge lengthwise, from one riverbank to the next. The fool, instead, moves sideways, and he takes a plunge!

Like the other troubadours, Bernard De Ventadorn had good reason for feeling and describing himself as someone different. Medieval society was by and large very harsh; the masses of men and women struggled for subsistence, and most men of higher station strove for power and riches. Bernard, on the other hand, created for himself, and for a tiny circle of connoisseurs, and exquisite dream worle, one of subtle feeling, self-contemplation, and diffused erotic yearning. The life-path of a "normal" medieval man was often centered around pillage and plunder. Marriage was a form of real estate, and sexual experience for most -- to paraphrase Thomas Hobbes -- was nasty, brutish, and short. Bernard chose instead the evanescent pleasures of sound and rhyme, a bachelor's existence, and the pursuit of idealized love with already-married women.