The "Lai d'Ignaure"

In his article "The Lure of the Heart," Miland Doueihi interprets the gruesome story of Ignaure told in an early 12th-century French lai by the troubadour Renaut.

Twelve ladies decide to play a game in which one of them assumes the role of a priest and each of the others confesses to her the name of her secret lover. In this way, and to the great surprise of all the ladies, it becomes clear that Ignaure is secretly courting each of them. They are so outraged at him for being unfaithful, that they plot together to kill him. Ambushed, Ignaure cleverly escapes death at their hands by explaining that he loves each of them equally. The ladies resolve to remedy the unusual situation, however, and demand that he choose only one of them to whom he must thenceforth be loyal. Ignaure complies with their demand only to find that the eleven spurned lovers seek their own revenge by telling their husbands of Ignaure's illicit affair. The husbands, after talking among themselves, realize what has happened and have Ignaure taken prisoner and murdered. His heart and penis are then ground into a paste which is served the next evening to the twelve women. After eating, the ladies are horrified to learn the true nature of the feast's ingredients. They refuse to eat again and soon die of starvation.

The husbands never consider eating their rival's organs to gain his power. Instead, they trick their wives into ingesting Ignaure's heart and penis (those organs which are most representative of the women's fascination with their lover). The husbands, in this act of violence, attempt to eradicate and "correct" the situation through the preparation of the ghastly meal. It is meant as a punishment for the ladies' transgressions, but in its secrecy becomes a bizarre manifestation of transgressive behavior in itself. This action is a perversion of the Last Supper and, by association, of the Eucharist; here, eating "the body" only creates greater loss and all sense of redemption is negated. The bodies of Ignaure's ladies, on the other hand, become a strangely appropriate "tomb" for his body in that, through their self-sacrifice, their deaths thwart the plans of the husbands and in a sense allow them to regain a certain measure of noble dignity.

(C. Sa.) Doueihi, Milad. "The Lure of the Heart." Stanford French Review 14 (Spring-Fall 1990): 51-60.

Eaten Heart Motif in Medieval Literature:

Further Considerations of the Motif: