Chivalry is a concept that appeared in countless European texts from the medieval era. Some would say chivalry is still “alive and kicking” others would argue “alive and on life support” and still others see
chivalry as being completely extinct. Lyrics by Nelly Furtado, a modern singer-songwriter, and a statement by Edmund Burke, an 18th century Anglo-Irish author and philosopher suggest, “Chivalry is dead” and “Chivalry is gone.” You could make fervent, legitimate arguments for, or against the existence of chivalry in this modern day and age. In order to ascertain an accurate understanding of whether or not chivalry exists nowadays it would be appropriate to begin by considering the meaning and institution of chivalry.
The word chivalry is derived from the French word Chevelier, originally from the Latin expression caballerius, meaning horseman. This relates to the earliest known existence of chivalry, in the middle ages of European feudal civilization, when knights obeyed a strict code of ethics and virtues based upon socially, religiously and morally proper beliefs. Chivalry was a behavior, or way of carrying yourself, in which to follow knightly conventions; essentially, a warrior code, like that of the Japanese bushido, with additions of ideas from the Christian church. Ideally, a knight was faithful; loyal to, and made sacrifices for, his fellow knights, the king, and god. Knights were also expected to be brave, merciful, modest, and courteous, as well as, and especially, cordial and gentle towards women.
Most of what we know about medieval chivalry comes from ancient legends and literature, mostly referring to the demeanor of the Knights of the Round Table from the cycles of the matter of Britain, better known as the Arthurian legend. Stories such as those about knights’ quests for the Holy Grail and that of Camelot tell the tales of a time in the British Isle when chivalry was prominent. While chivalry was always the aspiration of feudal society, it sometimes fell short. In the aforementioned Arthurian scripts, instances of failed endeavors to attain chivalry are existent. Camelot is an account of a “doomed utopia of chivalric virtue, undone by the fatal flaws of Arthur and Sir Lancelot.” It is being implyed that chivalry never existed as something that could be seen or felt but rather and idea that promotes the right thing. The concept of chivalry is, just that, a concept; the concept of an ideal society.
Ideas and concepts exist on a different level than physical things. Ideas cannot be destroyed like an object. Written documents, a physical manuscript that deals with the rules of chivalry, can most certainly be destroyed. An idea however, will never cease to exist. Therfore chivalry must still exists today. Its on what level or to what degree and in which ways does chivalry still exist today that is ambiguos.
‘Modern’ chivalry, if you will, is still an idea and is still based on the original form that existed thousands of years ago. However, today, chivalry is much more broad than it was. You could now longer read or swear by any specific code of chivalry. No such code exist. Not to mention, no human being could actually live a life of complete chivalry as defined in the medieval era. Nowadays, Chivalry is more of a ‘Gentleman’s etiquette’ and deals almost completely with how a man should act in relation to a woman. Matthew McMillan, a senior history and political sience major and the University of California Santa Barbra, proposes, “The true gentleman is a dying breed.” Nonetheless, gallentry exists. Chivalry is not a simple diplomatic code or rules of conduct; chivalry is multidimensional. You could endlessly argue how chivalry exists, where, and why. However, it is indisputable that chivalry today, though it still exists, is much different than it was millenniums ago.
While in the past stories of chivalry went something like:
“The damsel in distress is trapped in the tower of the evil emperor’s castle. Her only hope for survival is the prince, her knight in shining armor who will climb up the tower to rescue his princess and carry her off into the sunset. And drum roll, please… here he comes, gallivanting his way to the castle. He jumps over the moat, climbs the tower, lifts her up over his shoulder, and props her onto the horse. He slays the dragon and the happy couple are whisked away into the glimmering night sky.” opening the door for a woman on a date, paying her way, saying god bless you when someone sneezes, even helping the old lady to cross the street, and general politeness and good behavior are all modern acts of chivalry.
“Nowhere in this fairytale did the princess say, “I can get onto the horse myself, thank you very much,” nor did the knight say “Hey baby, let’s go back to my place and have some fun (Heidi Muller).” Historically, chivalry was what happened in fairy tales and what you read in Arthurian legends and other literature. Now, chivalry is how a mother tells her son to treat women. Point being, chivalry exists, but there is a distinct difference between the old-fashion days of chivalry and what it has evolved to today.