Review of Conquered Conquerors: Love and War in the Song of Songs by Danilo Verde

March 22, 2023

Verde, Danilo. Conquered Conquerors: Love and War in the Song of Songs. Atlanta: SBL, 2020, pp. 271, $40, paperback.


Danilo Verde is a postdoctoral associate with the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO) at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies in KU Leuven, Belgium, in addition to being a member of the Biblical Studies research group at the same university. In this revised edition of his dissertation that advances the frontiers of scholarship in Biblical Metaphor Studies, Verde provides readers with an insight into the military metaphors, similes and scenarios undergirding the Song of Songs’ depiction of human love, for which no extensive research using cognitive linguistics exists. Conceptual metaphor theory and blending theory were mainly employed by Verde to demonstrate that the root metaphor LOVE IS WAR undergirds the Song’s conceptualization of both the Song’s lovers and their love, marking the Song as both conceptually unitary and thematically coherent, despite its seeming fragmentary composition. In organizing his argument, Verde adduces four surface metaphors – WOMAN IS FORTIFIED CITY (pp. 45–102), MAN IS CONQUEROR (pp. 103–132), WOMAN IS CONQUEROR (pp. 133–168), and LOVE IS STRIFE (pp. 169–202) – which he claims serve not only to sustain the aforementioned root metaphor throughout the Song but ultimately held the Song together as a literary piece.

With respect to the strengths of this monograph, Verde’s stimulating observations and extensive analysis on how the Song’s source domain of war interacts with its target domain of love to create blended concepts of the lovers as both conquerors and conquered is impressive, particularly at the level of detail drawn from the field of cognitive linguistics, the Hebrew Bible and cognate literature. The author clearly demonstrated to what extent the Song’s warlike imagery is conventional in the conceptual world of its Umwelt, as well as aspects in which the Song’s unconventional perception of eros and gender roles shines the brightest (pp. 45, 96–99, 130, 200). While the expression of love as strife is not entirely alien to the biblical tradition and cognate literature in the ancient Near East, what makes Verde’s work stand out is his exposition of the unconventional trends unique to the Song’s characterization of eros in warlike terms. This is done by portraying both the male and female lovers as simultaneously conquerors and conquered in a never-ending game of love; thus, reconfiguring gender stereotypes and constructions in the socio-cultural milieu from which the Song draws its inspiration (pp. 37, 103, 130–131, 216).

Another feature that sets the book apart is its creative recognition and interpretation of the Song’s military language, in which the implication of the Song’s warlike imagery is constructed from the encounter between the world of the author and the world of the book (p. 41). And by exhaustively analysing the Song’s military metaphors based on their clausal constructions, underlying conceptualizations and communicative purposes, Verde effectively established that the Song’s understanding of love as warlike strife is revealed internally in the perpetual tension between the lovers themselves, and externally in the tension between the lovers and their environment (p. 201). As Verde sees it, the above three-level analysis helped to shed light on the underlying mechanism veiling some problematic texts within the Song’s complex literary compositions, such as the unclear scene of the bride in a litter of military escort in Song 3:6–8 and the puzzling military dance of Song 7:1 (pp. 169–172, 216).

Similarly, the organization of the book, which shows how the root metaphor LOVE IS WAR is portrayed through the abovementioned four surface metaphors, with each surface metaphor being made evident through a number of figurative expressions, makes most of the author’s argument both succinct and compelling (p. 31). At the same time, the author’s use of recent developments in cognitive metaphor studies, particularly the blending theory and Gerald Steen’s three-dimensional model, helped in the analysis of the undercurrent metaphor LOVE IS WAR in greater depth such that it is seen to underlie all the clusters of surface metaphors already mentioned.

Unfortunately, some of Verde’s analyses seem less compelling than others. A good example is his argument that the female lover receives a novel portrayal with regard to her personality and sexuality in the Song, which is minimized by his admission that it is only through the eyes of the male lover that such recognition is acknowledged (p. 218). Likewise, a few of his analytical reasonings, leading to some of the blended concepts he drew from the Song, are less easily accessible than others. For instance, it is somewhat less convincing to the reviewer how he arrives at the blended concept love subjugates all in Song 8:6–7 (pp. 187–201). Moreover, it is hard to see the direct relevance of discussing the dialectic of the Song’s warlike metaphors and the Song’s troublesome metaphors under the concluding chapter when they could have been explored in more depth in a separate chapter.

On balance, in spite of some negligible shortcomings, the richness and range of Verde’s work is remarkable. His monograph definitely makes up for the scant attention commentators have paid to the Song’s military language. Not only is it a welcome addition to the literature on Biblical Metaphor Studies, but it will also prove an invaluable resource for anyone interested in Hebrew Bible metaphors in general and the Song of Songs in particular. For this reason, Verde’s monograph could count as a seminal text in the field of Biblical Metaphor Studies.

Joseph Nnamdi Mokwe, KU Leuven, Belgium


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