Symbolism of the Ring in Marie de France’s “Milun”

In reading Marie de France’s narrative Milun, many themes and values are strongly highlighted.  Through the use of a tangible object, it being the ring, Marie is able to able to provide important insight to the Anglo-Normans’s way of living.  This ring given to Milun’s son does not only signify the outward love between Milun and his mistress, but it also resembles a greater meaning of the family’s relationship, which proves to parallel the high Middle Age morals and standards.  In lines 39-41, Marie narrates how Milun sends a gold ring to his lover to express his promise of love and devotion to her.  The actual shape of the ring accounts for the endless and relentless love that Milun and his mistress experience.  Their love for each other persists and never ceases just as the round shape of the ring is infinite and boundless.  Even when the mistress and Milun are forced into separation due to the baby they conceive together, the love between them still remains.  A particular instance in the story where the ring exemplifies the significance of love and loyalty takes place when the parents give it to their son as a baby.  The mother explains that “When he is full grown, and has arrived at the age when he can listen to reason, [his aunt] should give him the ring and the letter and command him to keep them so that he can find his father (lines 81-85).  Instead of abandoning the child without any connection to his own parents, they remain devoted to him by allowing the baby’s aunt to give it to him when he is of age.  Now this promise of love that was initially only given to Milun’s mistress is passed on to their son.  The parents’ characteristics of faithful and steadfast love has been passed down to the child so once he has grown and matured, he becomes passionate about finding his father and mother.  The son wants to return his love and appreciation back to the people who gave him life.  The ring also unifies Milun to his mistress and the son to his parents.  This unification sheds light on the high value placed on the family unit in this society.  Another aspect that is important to consider in this part of the story is inheritance.  Just as Milun proves to be a strong and well-respected warrior, his son also embodies these same characteristics.  In the story, Milun is described as “a good knight, so bold, hardy, and proud that there was no one who exceeded him in worth or valor anywhere” (lines 299-302) while his son is explained to be “excelled in refined and honorable behavior” (line 334) and also “excelled in prowess, goodness, and generosity” (lines 339-340).  This idea of inheritance is very much symbolized by the ring through its shape again. If one is a male in this society, it is ideal to inherit qualities from his father so that they can continue the strong reputation already held up within the family line.  The warrior-like traits from his father and the commitment and love from both parents are passed down to the young man and will remain in their family bloodline forever.  Although in reality the ring is a material and worldly object, it still successfully represents the tight bondage, loyalty, and love within a family living in the Anglo-Norman society.

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2 responses to “Symbolism of the Ring in Marie de France’s “Milun”

  1. Another significance of the ring in Milun could be the start of Romantic love, between a man and a woman instead of brotherly love between two men in readings from previous ages. For example, in the Wanderer, love was more brotherly and between two men who had been through battle together as opposed to in Milun where love is Romantic love between a man and a woman who cannot be together until the end of the poem.

  2. I love how you incorporated not only the symbolism of an infinite love between man and woman through the ring, but also how it symbolized their relationship and bond with their son. The ring is such a vital object in the story since it allows Milun further clarification that his jousting opponent was indeed his son. Great post!

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