chapter  7
30 Pages

“The Effort itself Is Great”

Performance, Sympathy, and Authority in Aelred of Rievaulx’s De spiritali amicitia
WithR. Jacob McDonie

Chapter 7treats the most important literature of medieval friendship, Aelred’s De spiritali amicitia (c. 1164–67), an explicit Christian adaptation of Cicero’s De amicitia. In its comprehensive treatment of friendship, De spiritali amicitia provides an apt summary of many of the themes of friendship that run throughout the book: rhetoric, performance, reading, sympathy, selfhood, and coinherence. Aelred’s dialogue-treatise has been treated either erroneously as a representation of the historical realities of Aelred’s life or as pure doctrine. But Aelred’s construction of friendship is rhetorical and based on performative practices. Friendship is enacted among the participants of the dialogue itself and is understood through the activity of reading and the rhetorical charm and performative opportunities that reading engenders. Aelred explicitly aims for a rhetorical style that is like Cicero’s and takes up topics that Cicero addresses, like the body language of friendship and the deceptive role-playing of a flattering friend, only to expand greatly their performative possibilities. Like any Ciceronian orator, Aelred gives ample space to sympathy and selfhood, which is expanded to include the friend and Christ inhering in the self in a quasi-mystical experience. More than any other writer in this volume, Aelred establishes himself as an auctor who can make authoritative claims on friendship.