N I G H T B R I N G E R . S E
Celtic Arthurian Literature
To a degree, all of the countries that produced Arthurian literature in the Middle Ages were once occupied by the Celts. Celtic tribes and their kingdoms were dominant from the Iberian peninsula to the Balkans, from Cisalpine Gaul to the British Isles. The Romans changed much of that, however, and by the beginning of the Christian era Celtic strengths lay chiefly in the British Isles. By the end of the Dark Ages, the Celtic regions had further shrunk to western and northern Britain, Ireland, and northwestern France (Brittany). To scholars, the term "Celtic" is essentially a linguistic one, though that implies a cultural unity as well. The two main branches of Celtic (a sister language group to Germanic, Italic, Indo-Iranian, etc, in the Indo-European family) are Goidelic and Brythonic. The former includes in its modern descendants Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic, and Manx Gaelic; the latter, Welsh, Cornish, and Breton. The traditions about King Arthur arose among the Brythonic Celts, and it is therefore in that context that we speak of Celtic Arthuriana. Where then do we find Arthur in the early Celtic sources, and what is his nature?
The problem that faces the scholar here is that of dating. The earliest manuscripts written in the veracular and mentioning Arthur are not much earlier than the middle of the thirteenth century, although in some instances (e.g., the tale of Culhwch and Olwen) it can be demonstrated on linguistic grounds that the material belongs to a considerably earlier period. Some of the material, such as the "Dialogue of Arthur and Gwenhwyfar", is found only in late manuscripts. Perhaps the oldest reference to Arthur in our Celtic sources is a line in the Gododdin to the effect that a particular hero fought bravely, "though he was no Arthur". Tradition ascribes this poem to the late sixth century, though it exists in a manuscript of the late thirteenth century, in a language that cannot be older than the ninth to tenth century. But if it is authentic and if tradition is true, then this would surely be the earliest reference to Arthur, portrayed here as a paragon of heroic vritues.
The Welsh Triads contribute an important source of early information about the native Arthur. Their editor has demonstrated that the manuscript transmission of the Triads goes back to the early twelfth century, but it is clear that this body of traditional lore in triadic form has its roots in much earlier oral tradition. It is also clear that some of the Triads are late and owe their existence to such literary texts as Geoffrey's Historia Regum Britanniae. In all, there are some two dozen mentions of Arthur and his court in the Triads, plus another eigh Triads that form a text known as the "Twenty-four Knights of Arthur's Court". Taken together, they constitute an important body of tantalizing references to the Arthur of native Celtic tradition.
Arthur figures prominently in one poem and is mentioned in several others in the mid-thirteenth-century manuscrips known as the Black Book of Carmarthen. In "The Stanzas of the Graves", a poem about the burial places of a number of heroes, it is said that the grave of Arthur is an eternal wonder - that is, no one knows where it is. Another series of stanzas speak of the hero Geraint, and one of the stanzas claims that Arthur was present with Geraint at a battle in a placed called Llongborth (site unknown). The most important poem in the Black Book of Carmarthen is in the form of a dialogue between Arthur and Glewlwyd Gafaelfawr ("Glewlwyd of the mighty grasp"). In Culhwch and Olwen, Glewlwyd is Arthur's own porter; here, he is porter of a fortress to which Arthur and his men seek admission. In the ninety surviving lines of this poem, Arthur identifies his retinue for the porter, naming Cei and Bedwyr (Kay and Bedivere), Mabon son of Modron, Manawydan son of Llyr (Lear), and other characters known from various texts that reflect Celtic mythological tradition. The poem also celebrates adventures with witches, lions, a fierce cat, dog-headed warriors, and the like.
The Book of Taliesin, a manuscript of about 1275, contains several arcane poems that mention Arthur, treating him as an eminent figure, the object of the adulation of certain sages. For example, Arthur is named toward the end of the poem known as Cad Goddeu ("The Battle of the Trees"), a poem in which Gwydion and Math from the fourth branch of the Mabinogi are named as prominent magicians. Much of this poetry is obscure, though it is clear at times that the setting is the Celtic otherworld and that some of the characters named in them belong to inherited myth. One of these poems, clearer than the others, has attracted considerable attention and has been edited and translated several times; it is known as The Spoils of Annwfn (Annwfn being the name for the otherworld in Welsh). This remarkable poem tells of a raid by Arthur and his men on Annwfn to acquire its spoils ro treasures. Several things deserve notice here: Annwfn is depicted as a place located at sea or across water, for Arthur and his men travel there in his ship Prydwen (the name given to Arthur's shield in Geoffrey's Historia!). Annwfn is variously called in this poem "the fairy fort", "the fort of intoxication", and "the glassy fort". In it is the well-outfitted pirson of a certain Gweir. Among its treasures is a beautifully decorated cauldron from which emanates poetic inspiration and which contains a special sword; the cauldron, it is stated, will not boil the food of a coward. Three boatloads of men went with Arthur. The fort was guarded by 600 men, and from the expidition only seven returned.
The Spoils of Annwfn is set squarely in the mainstream of Celtic tradition in Wales, and it has clear analogues in Welsh literature. It makes reference to the tale of Pwyll, the central figure of the first branch of the Mabinogi, and his son, Pryderi, who is also mentioned in the second, third, and fourth branches. In the second branch, Branwen, we hear of a raid by Bendigeidfran ("Bran the Blessed") on Ireland, nominally to avenge his sister's churlish treatment at the hands of her husband, Matholwch the Irishman. Branwen's son, Gwern, is there, too, and a pivotal role is played by a cauldron, one into which dead warriors are cast and from which they are taken revivified. When the treacherous Efnisien is thrown back into it, he breaks it. The forces of Bendigeidfran defeat the Irish in a dire battle, and from it only seven escape. In the tale of Culhwch and Olwen, one of the tasks set by the giant is to acquire the cauldron of Di-wrnach the Irishman and the sword of Wrnach, names that would appear to be doublets. Arthur and his men set out for Ireland and finish by taking the cauldron - full of Irish treasures - by force, thanks to the magical use of another sword. The parallels between the three texts are obvious, and it has been suggested that in Branwen and Culhwch and Olwen we have a euhemerized version of the raid on the otherworld - that is, that Ireland has been substituted in those tales for the Annwfn of the Book of Taliesin poem.
The reference to the otherworld as "the glassy fortress" is significant. Giraldus Cambrensis, in his De Principis Instructione (1195), states that Glastonbury was the site of the legendary Avalon. In the British tongue, he wrote, it was called the glassy isle, and that is why the Saxons called it afterward Glæstingabyrig ('the fort of glass'). According to Welsh tradition, Merlin was imprisoned by his lover in a glass house, where he was also custodian of the thirteenth treasures of the Isle of Britain - treasures, perhaps, like those that Arthur sought from "the glassy fort".
Surely, the most important text that belongs to Celtic Arthuriana is the tale of Culhwch and Olwen. Though it is found in manuscripts of the fourteentch century, scholars generally agree on linguistic grounds that it belongs at least to the early eleventh century in its present form. The tale is remarkable in several ways. At one level, it has been recognized as a tale type of the Giant's Daughter. A destiny is sworn upon the hero that he will wed the giant's daughter; her father imposes a series of "impossible" tasks, hoping thereby to destroy the unwanted suitor; but with supernatural assistance the hero accomplishes the task, the giant is slain, and the bride is won. In this instance, the supernatural aid comes from Arthur and his men, and Culhwch and his bride-to-be are forgotten for much of the story. In fact, the largest single episode in the tale is the pursuit of the giant boar Twrch Trwyth. Traditions of this boar, which date back to Nennius's Historia Brittonum (ca. 800), are evocative of other supernatural pigs in Celtic tradition, including some from Gaul and Ireland. The boar's human characteristics are "explained" in the story by the statement that the beast had been a king, but God turned him into a boar because of his sins. In other exploits on Culhwch's behalf, Arthur frees Mabon son of Modron (who had been imprisoned in a stronghold located in a body of water), destroyes a powerful witch, and in general participates in a world very much like that of the dialogue poem with the porter and the otherwordly Annwfn. His companions include Cei and Bedwyr and a catalogue of other heroes capable of supernatural feats. His court is located at Celliwig (site unknown) in Cornwall, and though it is well provisioned it is much more primitive than the resplendent courts of later English and continental romance.
The Dream of Rhonabwy is a literary composition that belongs to the early thirteenth century. It is unique in that its geographical and historical background is indicated clearly. Also, it employs a dream-vision form not at all common in traditional Welsh literature. The story within the story, Rhonabwy's dream, is a surrealistic presentation of Arthur and his field court just before the battle of Mount Badon; the battle of Camlann has already taken place, and in that respect the story indulges in an anachronism. The strange events that transpire invite an allegorical interpretation, and a colophon confirms the fact that the story is the creation of an individual author whose penchant was for richly descriptive detail.
The poem known as the "Dialogue of Arthur and Gwenhwyfar" is probably in reality a dialogue between Gwenhwyfar and her abductor Melwas, reflecting an episode known from Caradoc's Vita Gildae and Chrétien de Troyes's Lancelot. The "Dialogue of Arthur and the Eagle", in which the Eagle identifies himself as a grandson of Uther Pendragon, is essentially a religious poem. Both poems exist in manuscript only from the sixteenth century, though both are surely older.
Celtic traditions concerning Merlin existed independent of Arthurian connections, though that character was eventually drawn into the Arthurian orbit. The earlier Merlin is a prophet and madman, mad in the sense of frenzied or possessed. This is a state associated with the practice of divinely inspired poetry and supernatural wisdom and is one well documented in Celtic tradition. Most of the poetry attributed to this Merlin is vaticinatory and supports political themes for the most part. In Welsh tradition, Taliesin and Merlin were presumed to be the same person (archetypal poet) alive or living among men at different periods. Both are said to have lived during the time of Arthur, and to both are ascribed political prophecies.
It can be seen from this brief summary that Arthur's appearances in early Welsh literature place him firmly in the mythological traditions of the Celts. He operates largely in the supernatural community, abetted by a retinue of supernaturally gifted heroes. His opponents are giants, witches, princes of the otherworld, and men-turned-beasts. Like the Arthur of romance, his origins were obsure and his end a mystery. By the twelfth century, the Bretons wer eagerly awaiting Arthur's return, and among the Welsh poets of the twelfth to fourteenth century Arthur was held up as a paragon of heroic and courtly virtues.
Finally, it should be pointed out that, while Arthur's origins are to be found among the British Celts, his name itself may not be Celtic. It is assumed that the name is one of several in the post-Roman period (after, say, AD 410) that derive from Latin - in this case, from Artorius; Patricius is another noteworthy example. Still, it must be rememebered that the Welsh form of the name, "Arthur", is evocative of the Welsh word for "bear", arth, and that in Celtic tradition gods were often assimilated to certain animals - that is, they had a zoomorphic aspect. The bear was one of these, and in Gaul there were ¨divinities with such names as Dea Artio 'bear goddess', Andarta 'powerful bear', Artgenos 'bear's son', and Artaios 'bearlike'. In this connection, it is perhaps significant that our Arthur has no patronymic prior to Geoffrey of Monmouth's work and that there is no mention of Arthur at all in the early Welsh genealogies. SEE ALSO ARTHUR, ORIGINS OF LEGEND.
FRÅN WIKIPEDIA: CELTIC LITERATURE
In the strictly academic context of Celtic studies, the term Celtic literature is used by Celticists to denote any number of bodies of literature written in a Celtic language, encompassing the Irish, Welsh, Cornish, Manx, Scottish Gaelic and Breton languages in either their modern or earlier forms.
Alternatively, the term is often used in a popular context to refer to literature which is written in a non-Celtic language, but originates nonetheless from the Celtic nations or else displays subjects or themes identified as "Celtic". Examples of these literatures include the medieval Arthurian romances written in the French language, which drew heavily from Celtic sources, or in a modern context literature in the English language by writers of Irish, Welsh, Cornish, Manx, Scottish or Breton extraction. Literature in Scots and Ulster Scots may also be included within the concept. In this broader sense, the applicability of the term "Celtic literature" can vary as widely as the use of the term "Celt" itself.
Albrecht von Scharfenberg
Author of Der jüngere Titurel. Composed around 1270, the work was inspired by Wolfram von Eschenbach's Titurel fragments, which focus on the love of Sigune and Schionatulander, two characters appearing in Parzival. The Jüngerer Titurel, consisting of some 6,000 stanzas that are imitative of Wolfram's so-called Titurel stanzas, tells in leisurely fashion the entire life history of both Sigune and Schionatulander. The enormous novel, which has intimidated critics and editors alike, transforms courtly romance into a vehicle of didacticism that instructs by means of exampla. Throughout the work, the author assumes the identity of Wolfram von Eschenbach; he steps forward as "ich, Wolfram" and is addressed as "her Wolfram" who hails from "Eschenbach". Not until almost the very end, in stanza 5883, does the author reveal that he is one "Albrecht", whom scholars identify with Albrecht von Scharfenberg, a pious, clerically oriented man - to judge by the tenor of his work - whose patron was Ludwig II of Bavaria. Because Albrecht used the persons of Wolfram throughout most of the Jüngerer Titurel, the work was attributed in the Middle Ages - and even as late as the nineteenth century - to Wolfram. It is plausible that the author's identification of himself in stanza 5883 may have been interpreted as an indication that Wolfram had left the work incomplete and that it was finished by Albrecht. Although the pious tone and extraordinary verbosity of the Jüngerer Titurel strike modern critics as tedious, the compendious narrative was extremely popular in the Middle Ages. Berthold von Regensburg, who died in 1272, already knew the work and quoted from it in his German sermons. One of Albrecht's Arthurian episodes, in which the knights' virtue or lack thereof is revealed when t hey cross a magic bridge, inspired Hans Sachs to compose a Meisterlied on the subject.
Author of De Amore (Latin prose, ca. 1185). This important (if not entirely serious) treatise on courtly love includes a brief story about a young knight who must win the prize hawk from Arthur's court for his lady - but first he must slay two knights in double combat, obtain the hawk's gauntlet, and finally prove his lady's greater beauty in jousts at Arthur's court. When the knight finally achieves the hawk, he finds a parchment tied to it on which are written the rules of love. SEE ALSO COURTLY LOVE
(1474-1533) A member of the Este court in Ferrara and a major figure in the evolution of vernacular theater in modern Europe. He completed the first edition of the Orlando Furioso early in the sixteenth century (published in 1516) and revised it for a second edition published in 1522; major emendations and additions were incorporated into the final edition of 1532. A continuation of Matteo Maria Boiardo's Orlando Innamorato, the Orlando Furioso is recognized as the masterpiece of Italian chivalric romance, a blend of medieval Carolingian epic, matière de Bretagne, and the popular narrative traditions (cantari) of the Italian late Middle Ages. Structured upon three basic narrative lines - the war between Christian and pagan forces; the pursuit of the elusive Angelica by the love-crazed protagonist, Orlando; and the encomiastic celebration of the Este line in the marriage of Ruggiero and Bradamante - the forty-six-canto poem in octaves (ottave) is richly imbued with the structural and thematic elements of Arthurian romance. Borrowing from Italian versions of Arthurian literature - in particular the Vita di Merlino, Palamedes, Tristan, the Tavola Ritonda, and the Prose Lancelot - the poem centers on the vagaries and vicissitudes of numerous victims of love, using the motif to underscore the multifaceted nature of human emotions and as a metaphor for the dichotomy between the ideals of chivalric tradition and the realities of a politically unstable Italy in the early decades of the sixteenth century. The titular hero, driven mad by a frustrated love and modeled after, among others, the lover of Iseult in the Prose Tristan, embarks upon a series of quests that, like those of his combrades Rinaldo and Ruggiero, reflect a personal voyage toward understanding, maturation, and, in his particular case, disillusionment. Ariosto borrows structural techniques from Arthurian tradition, especially interlace and a complex system of thematic cross-referencing. Of particular significance is the Arthurian tradition of enchantment and magic, which in Ariosto underscores the relativity and variable nature of the world. Numerous episodes derive directly from Arthurian sources in late medieval cantari, including Rinaldo's adventures in the Caledonian Wood (Canto IV), based on Tristan's sojourn in the Forest of Danantes; names, such as that of the heroine Ginevra, whose story in Canto IV also contains numerous Arthurian elements; and figures with magical powers, such as the Arthurian sage Merlin.
Bek, Thomas, of Castleford
A Yorkshireman who wrote a verse chronicle of British, Scottish, and English history ca 1327. 39,674 lines survive in a single manuscript. Although the later part of the chronicle does not follow any known source closely, the account of Arthur follows Geoffrey of Monmouth, with some details taken from Wace, Robert of Gloucester, Pierre de Langtoft, and others. Like the later part, it shows the author's interest in Scotland and York. Only the part of the chronicle covering the coronation of Arthur through the death of Cadwallader has been edited, but Perrin gives a detailed account of the contests of the manuscripts.
Author of a late twelfth-century Tristan romance, written in Anglo-Norman French and preserved in fragmentary form. It belongs to what is generally called the version commune or the version primitive of the Tristan legend. That is, it is presumed that this text belongs to a more primitive, noncourtly stage of the legend, whereas that of Thomas d'Angleterre integrates the work thoroughly into the current of courtly love. Béroul's text is an extensive fragment. It relates the encounter of Tristan and Isolde under the tree in which her husband, Mark, is hiding; the episode in which the dwarf spreads flour on Isolde's floor in order to detect Tristan's footprints (in the event he visits her at night); the scene in which Tristan, having been taken prisoner, asks permission to enter a chapel and pray, whereupon he leaps to freedom from a window; Mark's delivering Isolde to a colony of lepers, for their pleasure and her punishment; the lovers' life in the forest (including Mark's discovery of them and his erroneous conclusion that they are guiltless) and their eventual repentance, caused by the waning of the love potion that they had drunk long ago; and the long episode in which Isolde is tested and in which she exonerates herself by swearing an equivocal oath.
The structure of the work is cyclical. Tristan and Isolde, despite their best intentions, repeatedly fall back into their sinful ways. Mark becomes suspicious, initially refuses to believe he is being betrayed (by both of them: Isolde is his wife, and Tristan is both his vassal and his nephew), and is finally convinced. The lovers resolve to reform. After a period of abstinence on their part, the cycle repeats itself. This is a highly ironic and ambiguous text. Appearances are always deceiving: when the lovers appear most innocent, they are consistently the most guilty. When Mark thinks them innocent, he is being tricked, or else he is misinterpreting the evidence. Even the lovers' desire to refom is motivated by less than noble impulses: they have no particular desire to live a life of Christian purity and virtue, but they are willing to make the effort if that will return them to a life of luxury at the court.
Author of the 580-line Lai du cor ("The Lai of the Horn"), composed during the second half of the twelfth century. The lai is an early setting of the Arthurian chastity test, involving a drinking horn, made by a fay, which will spill its contents on cuckolds. Arthur tries to drink from it and is thoroughly soaked, after which Guinevere explains that she is guilty of having once given a ring to a young man. Arthur forgives her, especially when the horn also empties its content on all the other men at court except Caradoc.
The Lai du cor is notable for its unusual (and archaic) six-syllable line and for Robert's humorous irreverence toward Arthur. Variants of the test are found in "The Boy and the Mantle", Caradoc, Ain Hupsches Vasnachtspill von Künig Arthus, Dis Ist Frauw Tristerat Horn von Saphoien, and The Romance of Sir Corneus.
(1313-1375) Although Boccaccio certainly had French romances available to him during his youth at the Angevin court of Naples, his use of Arthurian materials began only after his return to Florence, continuing then to the end of his life. The Amorosa Visione (1342) lists many Arthurian knights and ladies in its triumph of Fame (Canto 11), while Lancelot and Tristan reappear in the triumph of Love (Canto 29). Both categories are subsequently overturned in the triumph of Fortune, and the narrator is urged by his guide to turn from these worldly matters to the pursuit of salvation. In the Elegia di Madonna Fiammetta (1343-44), the heroine compares her love tragedy to Isolt's (Chapter 8) and that of other tragic heroines in order to claim pridefully that her own misery is greater than all others'. Like Dante's Francesca, Fiammetta is an example of the destructive powers of obsessive passion, who, although still alive at the end of her tale, has clearly descended into a state of damnation and despair. The lusty widow of the Corbaccio (1355) is satirically characterized as reading Arthurian love stories instead of prayer-books, and as becoming sexually aroused by these readings. The book is a misogynistic tirade intended to cure a hapless lover of his erroneous love.
More complex is the use of Arthurian materials in the Decameron (1349-51). The book's subtitle, "Prencipe Galeotto" (Prince Galehaut), has been variously interpreted as a defense of the work's erotic contents (Boccaccio is a go-between, a friend to lovers) or as a reference to Inferno (Canto 5), and thereby a warning about the reader's moral responsibility for the way one reads and acts. The latter interpretation seems reinforced by Tale 10.6, in which a king falls in love with two sisters named Ginevra and Isotta (Guenevere and Isolde) but then vanquishes his own lust and has them honorably married. He thus avoids Francesca's sinful imitation of the Arthurian lovers' example and becomes explicitly a positive example of behavior to be imitated. Hollander has pointed out that Boccaccio in his preface begs his women readers not to let the plague description frighten them from reading on ("di più avanti leggere") - thus negatively evoking the last line of Francesca's speech in hell: "that day we read no farther" ("quel giorno più non vi leggemmo avante"). The use of the Lancelot story as pornography by the bawdy widow of the Corbaccio further supports the connection between allusions to this tale and the problem - already recognized by Dante - of authors' versus readers' responsibility for the influence of literature on behavior. It has even been suggested that "Galeotto" unmasks the dangerous seductions of fiction itself, and that the Decameron narrators therefore distance themselves from the historical world to emphasize the distinction between reality and fiction. There is som disagreement as to the relevance of Dante's Inferno, Canto 5, to Boccaccio's subtitle; but Boccaccio's continual imitation of Dante's writing makes such an allusion probable. Thus, Dante would be a formative influence on Boccaccio's own views of the Lancelot legend, making moral questions paramount. The Amorosa Visione seems to reinforce this concern with moral interpretation. For the Elegia, too, it is important that the famous Arthurian love stories are tragedies. The Decameron narrator claims to be finally freed from the miseries of excessive love and, alluding to Ovid's Remedia Amores, offers to help distract ladies from such melancholy passion. He is thus scarcely a go-between to their loves.
Besides the "Galeotto" subtitle, the Decameron contains very little Arthurian reference; but a few tales bear perhaps some resemblance to Arthurian materials. An indirect connection has been suggested between the story of Alatiel and strands of a complex romance within the Old French Prose Tristan of the previous century. The theme of the eaten heart, occuring in a tale derived from the Provençal vida of Guillem de Cabestaing, can also be found in the "Lai Guiron" sung by Ysolt in the marriage segment of Thomas's Tristan. In any case, even though the Novellino an earlier collection of Italien novelle known to Boccaccio, had drawn directly from Arthurian legends for a number of tales, Arthurian stories were not a major or direct source for the Decameron.
De Casibus Virorum Illustrium (1355-62) recounts the history of King Arthur, drawn mainly from Geoffrey of Monmouth, but adds to it the twelve rules of the Round Table. Boccaccio's chapter was cited in turn by Lydgate. Boccaccio avoids any reference to fabulous adventures and prefaces the narrative by commenting that Arthur's fame makes his inclusion in this book of histories seem necessary despite serious doubts about the historical truth of the matter. Emphasizing Arthur's military career, he suggests that Arthur's pride in conquest abroad led to his destruction at home. His final moral is that only humble things endure.
In all, Boccaccio's treatment of Arthurian materials seems remarkably negative. The famous King and his loving knights offer moral examples of what to avoid, not what to imitate. Dante may well have been a powerful influence on this attitude.
Boiardo, Matteo Maria
(1441-1494) He was associated at various periods of his life with the Este court at Ferrara, serving from 1480 to 1492 as Ercole d'Este's representative in the city of Modena and from 1487 until his death as governor of Reggio. His literary fame rests on an influential collection of love poems, the Amorum libri tres or Canzoniere, which are noteworthy examples of Petrarchan lyrics of courtly elegance, and on the most significant chivalric romance of the fifteenth century, the Orlando Innamorato, which, left unfinished at the poet's death, served as the starting point for the composition of Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, completed early in the following century. Traditionally, Boiardo has been credited with having realized in his lengthy poem (three books totaling sixty-nine cantos) a fusion of Carolingian epic tradition and the matière de Bretagne, creating thereby a unique Italian genre. Though in truth such a fusion occurs in works predating the Orlando Innamorato, Boiardo's poem, in its reflection of the culture and ideals of Italian Rennaissance court life during the golden age of Este patronage, is the first masterpiece of the Italian romance genre and the earliest to manifest a sophisticated use of such narrative techniques as interlace. It is well known that Ferrara and similar northern Italian courts were fascinated by medieval epic traditions and that the Este library contained numerous Arthurian romance familiar to Boiardo and other courtiers. Boiardo's work continued and developed the fourteenth- and fifteenth-century cantari tradition and also served the literary and aesthetic tastes of a court audience. The framework of the poem is essentially Carolingian, recounting the struggle of the Christian forces of Charlemagne with those of the pagan Agramante. However, the focus of the romance is on the Arthurian elements, including the innumerable fantastic adventures of knights-errant, magic fountains and enchanted forests, and particularly love, which has frequently been seen as the motive force behind a highly energized series of complex episodes, commencing with that of the hero-protagonist, Orlando. A transformation of the French Roland, Orlando becomes a victim of the ineluctable forces of love, represented by Angelica, the daughter of the King of Cathay, sent to undermine the valor of the Christian armies. Boiardo borrows episodes, locales, and characters from Arthurian tradition, transforming them into a tapestry of courtly elegance and sensibility with a markedly international Gothic flavor.
Active during the first half of the thirteenth century, produced in 1226 a Norwegian translation of Thomas's Tristan entitled Tristrams Saga. This translation, the only complete version of the Thomas-branch of the legend, influenced the dissemination of Tristan material in Scandinavia and especially exerted influence on Iceland, where a ballad, "Tristram kvæði", and a prose adaption, Saga of Tristram ok Ísodd, were produced. Robert's name also appears in Elis saga (a translation of Elie de St. Gille, a chanson de geste). Scholars have associated Robert with the Norwegian translations of several Arthurian works made during King Hákon's reign (1217-63): Ívens saga and Percevals saga (based on Chrétien de Troyes's Yvain and Perceval), Möttuls saga (a version of the fabliau Le Mantel mautaillié), and Strengleikar (a collection of twenty-one lais). His nationality is unknown, but his name suggests Anglo-Norman origins. Given theties with England during Hákon's reign, Brother Robert may have been a cleric associated with Norwegian monasteries, at Lyse or Hovedoya, which maintained close ties with England. Although the scope of Robert's known translations is modest, his activity attests the importance of Hákon's interest in French romance and is crucial to the transmission of Arthurian material in Scandinavia.
(1393-1464) Augustinian friar from Norfolk whose works include saints' lives, biblical commentaries, theological treatises, the Nova Legenda Angliae (SEE De Santo Joseph ab Arimathia), and the De Illustribus Henricis. He is the author of the English Abbreuiacion of Cronicles (1462-63), drawn primarily from the Chronicon Pontificum et Imperatorum of Martinus Polonus and the St. Albans chronicles of Thomas Walsingham. Capgrave gives a brief account of Arthur's conquests and of his being wounded and taken to Avalon, and he also tells of the twelfth-century discovery of Arthur's body at Glastonbury and of Edward III's interest in the Round Table.
Caradoc of Llancarfan
Author of the Vita Gildae ("Life of St. Gildas"), a work (ca. 1140) drawing on romance literature and hagiography. This is the first known text to associate King Arthur with Glastonbury. According to the Vita, King Melwas of the Summer Region carried off Guinevere, and Arthur, "the tyrant", brought all the forces of Devon and Cornwall to Glastonbury to retrieve her; the abbot of Glastonbury, however, accompanied by Gildas, obtained her release. In this episode, Caradoc explains that the origin of the name "Glastonbury" is from "Isle of Glass" (and by implication that "Somerset" derives from "Summer Region"). The etymologies both carry otherwordly implications, which paved the way for the later association of Glastonbury with Avalon.
(Ca. 1422-1491) Though the thirty years Caxton spent as a mercerer are often eclipsed by his introduction of printing to England, the dimplomacy and business sense he gained during this period are at least partially responsible for the success of his midde-age venture. After serving as Governor of the English Nation at Bruges for nine years, Caxton began a translantion of the Recuyell of the Histories of Troy, demand for which caused him to take up printing. Having learned the trade under Johan Veldener, he opened a shop in Bruges, where he printed five other books beside the Recuyell. Two years later, he introduced printing to England, choosing Chaucer's Canterbury Tales as his first title in folio, and opened a shop at Westminster, from which he issued over 100 (extant) titles.
For a pioneer printer, Caxton had a remarkable range of tastes - or certainly a clear sense of the tastes of his readership. He published the works of the great writers of antiquity in translation (including Ovid, Vergil, and Cicero), prose romances (Blanchard and Eglantyne, The Four Sons of Aymon), mythical stories (The History of Jason), beast fables (Reynard the Fox, Aesop's Fables, religious and philosophical works (The Curial, Boethius's Consolation, The Moral Proverbs of Christine de Pizan), historical works (Trevisa's translation of Higden's Polychronicon, a Description of Britain), chivalric romances (Paris and Vienne), and also grammar books, vocabularies, statues of the realm, indulgences, and other miscellaneous pieces. Most of all, he published the best literature England had to offer at the time, including the Canterbury Tales, Troilus and Criseyde, Confessio Amantis, Le Morte Darthur, and many of the minor works of Chaucer and Lydgate.
Universal as Caxton's tastes were, he showed a marked preference for chivalric literature, an interest that dates at least as far back as his association with the Duchess of Burgundy (ca. 1470) and probably farther. Before publishing Le Morte Darthur in 1485, he translated and printed Godfrey of Bouillon and The Ordre of Chyualry (in whose prologue and epilogue, respectively, he mentioned the stories of Arthur), and afterward Charles the Grete, Paris and Vienne, and The Fayttes of Armes and Chyualry. The works on Godfrey, Charlemagne, and Arthur were apparently planned as a series designed to honor the three Christian Worthies. It should not be surprising that the work honoring the English Worthy, Sir Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur, is the one for which Caxton is most remembered.
Caxton finished printing Le Morte Darthur on 31 July 1485; the book most likely took about ten months to print. Only one typeface was used, type 4*, probably because there are no running heads or titles. Five-line woodcut initials are used at the beginning of each of the twenty-one books, and a similar three-line series is used for chapter beginnings. Otherwise, the folio is not decorated: there are no illustrations or borders, which suggests that there was no decoration in the manuscript Caxton printed from. This book survives in two extant copies: the only complete one is housed in the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York; the other, which lacks eleven of the original leaves, is in the John Rylands University Library in Manchester. Aside from two sheets that were completely reset, there are few variant readings between the two copies.
Caxton divided Malory's text into twenty-one books and 506 chapters and added a table of rubrics, a prologue, and a colophon. The table and prologue were printed after the rest of the text was set, as the signatures indicate; this may account for the discrepancies between the table and the text itself. The basis for Caxtonäs layout cannot be fully determined, since his exemplar is no longer extant, but it is worth noting that nineteen of the twenty book divisions have some counterpart in the only manuscript version of Malory's work, wh ich was in his office while the Morte was being printed.
Caxton's role as editor of Le Morte Darthur is unclear. His English is a more "standard" dialect than that of the manuscript, and his version is generally regarded as the more readable; but without his copy text we cannot ascertain how much of the revision can be assigned to Caxton. The section in which the two versions differ most is that of Arthur's War with Lucius, Caxton's Book V, which is twice as long in the manuscript as it is in the printed text. Scholarly debate on this issue has produced two conflicting arguments. Some, after comparing his text with the manuscript, have charged Caxton with revising the Roman War episode and by extension the entire work. Others, citing Caxton's statement in his prologue and his editorial habits with other texts, believe that he did in fact print "according to his copy", and that someone else - perhaps Malory himself - revised the text he printed. Even if we follow Caxton's critics, the revision attributed to him is not an unreasonable exercise of editorial duty.
Caxton's prologue to Le Morte Darthur is unlike his others, notably in what he leaves out. He fails to identify a patron, though Anthony Wydville is surely the "certain gentleman" he mentions. This may be because Richard III, who had ordered Wydville's execution two years earlier, still had the crown when the Morte was published. He also fails to dedicate the work, perhaps because the most likely recipient of such praise would have been Edward IV. And he gives us very little information about the author, though Malory's own political connections may have prevented this. Such political risks, along with other hesitations expressed in his prologue, make us wonder that Caxton decided to publish Le Morte Darthur at all. Had he not, Arthurian literature from the sixteenth century to the present might well have been deprived of its major English source.
(1340?-1400) In two stories from the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer makes use of Arthurian material. In The Squire's Tale, the youthful Squire tells a chivalric romance of suitably amorous aspiration. Gawain and Lancelot are cited as exemplars of courtesy and courtly behavior but seen as distant, remote, and long-gone. As with The Wife of Bath's Tale, discussed below, Chaucer's later Arthurian allusions are oblique and wry in comparison with those of the Chaucerian Roman de la Rose translation.
The Wife of Bath's Tale offers a short (408 lines) but complex reworking of the Loathly Lady theme. Unlike his counterparts in ballad and Middle English romance (The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell, "The Marriage of Sir Gawain"), the protagonist is not Gawain but an unnamed Arthurian knight. Having raped a maiden, he is granted his life by the Queen if he can say what it is that all women desire. Tutored by an old hag, the knight gives the correct answer to the assembled ladies of the court but is appalled when, as her promised reward, the hag claims him in marriage. On their wedding night, she answers his objections to her low birth, poverty, and age with a sermon principally on the theme that "he is gentil that dooth gentil dedis" and offers him the choice of having her ugly and faithful, or fair and sought-after. Resigning the choice to her, the knight effectively gives her the sovereignty women desire; she promises him permanent fairness and constancy.
Other Middle English Arthurian narratives (notably Sir Gawain and the Green Knight) use the delayed articulation of female roles to revise the ethical categories of chivalric protagonists. Here, the knight's initial act of rape provokes reconsideration of personal identity and its consequent rights and obligations in the more general terms of marriage rather than chivalry. Chaucer juxtaposes folkloric, patrisic, and courtly elements in a complex redirection of romance, affecting nonchivalric identities. The Loathly Lady's entirely inner-directed account of what constitutes a person challenges the knight's sense of how far birth, possessions, and appearance make identity, but she nonetheless acknowledges his creaturely need in her permanent fairness. The tale's Arthurian setting functions to place this realistic and accommodating application of the ideology of gentilesse as possible nowhere but in Faery, where mutual rights, obligations, and identities can be renegotiated. Often seen as wish-fulfillment for its teller, the tale is less a romance illustrating an individual psyche than an exemplum to provoke reevaluation of the ideologies of personal and social identity in us all.
Generally conceded to be the author of Libeaus Desconus and Sir Launfal. Libeaus Desconus is a late fourteenth-century stanzaic tail-rhyme version of the Fair Unknown story. The English version includes more motifs than Renaut de Beaujeu's Le Bel Inconnu, and Chestre probably used several variant versions of Fair Unknown romances. Though not always highly regarded by modern critics, Chestre's text survives in one seventeenth- and five fifteenth-century manuscripts.
Lybeaus is announced by the narrator to be Gawain's son, Gyngalyn, but he himself remains ignorant of his identity in a solitary rural upbringing, in which his mother calls him Bewfiz. He is named Lybeaus Desconus by King Arthur when he requests knighthood and the next Arthurian adventure. Initially scorned by this adventure's maiden and dwarf messengers, Lybeaus nonetheless successfully undertakes an escalating series of prowess-testing encounters en route to rescuing the Lady of Synadoun from imprisonment. He defeats Sir William Salebraunche, William's three brothers, and two giants, sending them vanquished to Arthur's court. His messenger-damsel fails to win a beauty contest, but he defeats the winning lady's knight in combat and sends Arthur the prize gerfalcon. He also fights to retain the hound of Sir Otes de Lyle the huntsman, thus indicating competence for another chivalric pursuit.
Lybeaus further experiences the interrelations of knightly prowess and love in a long recreantise from his quest with the Ile d'Or sorceress Dame Amoure. Rebuked by his messenger-damsel, Lybeaus re-proves himself, in a long joust with the steward of Synadoun, as being worthy of hospitality, worthy of the quest, and worthy of being Gawain's kin. He then tackles the two clerks oppressing the Lady of Synadoun; after earthquakes, other deceptive appearances, and difficult combats, he prevails and with his kiss frees the Lady of Synadoun from existence as a lamia. The romance concludes with their bridal feast and Arthurian rejoicing.
Sir Launfal is a fourteenth-century lay of 1,044 lines that survives in a single manuscript. It is the work of a minstrel who identifies himself at the conclusion of the piece as Thomas Chestre. Though is primary source was an English couplet version of Sir Landeval, Chestre recounts his lay in the stanzaic form characteristic of the English tail-rhyme romances - i.e., in twelve-line stanzas rhyming aabccbddbeeb, aabaabccbddb, or aabaabccbccb.
From Sir Landeval, Chestre derived the rudiments of his narrative of the magnanimous young Sir Launfal, who leaves Arthur's court in disgrace, takes a fairy mistress during his absence from Carlisle, loses his mistress as a consequence of boasting about her to Guenevere, and is ultimately reunited with his lover and vindicated by her of the false charges leveled against him by the Queen. As all students of the poem have recognized, Chestre's indebtedness to Sir Landeval is marked: the later poet omits few of the details found in his original and in some passages takes over whole lines and fragments of lines from his primary source. Indeed, the verbal similarities between Chestre's poem and Sir Landeval are such that it would appear that Chestre was working with a version of Sir Landeval very similar to that which survives in Bodl. Libr. MS Rawlinson C 86.
To the version of the Launfal story preserved in Sir Landeval, however, Chestre added a good deal of material borrowed from other sources. From the anonymous lay of Graelent, for example, Chestre derived the motif of Guinevere's animosity toward Launfal, most of the incidents that take place at the mayor's dwelling during Launfal's exile from Arthur's court, and the account of the disappearance of Gyfre after Launfal's fateful encounter with the amoral Guinevere. According to Roger Sherman Loomis, the tournament and Sir Valentine episodes in Sir Launfal are also borrowed, in this case from a source or sources no longer extant. In short, the only parts of the poem believed to be of Chestre's own invention are the episodes concerning Launfal's relations with Sir Hugh and Sir John and with his former servant, the mayor.
Interestingly, however, it is not Chestre's lack of originality but his lack of refinement that has most frequently occasioned comment by critics of Sir Launfal. With only a few exceptions, studens of the poem have charged that the work is unsophisticated and that, given the behavior of its principal characters, its moral tone is dubious at best. Although there is an element of validity in thse charges, particularly when Sir Launfal is compared with extant romances intnded for an aristocratic audience, we ought always to bear in mind that this lay was almost certainly composed for and recited to a popular audience acquainted only through fiction with the principles of chivalric action and decorum.
Chrétien de Troyes
By general agreement the greatest French writer of medieval romance. Some would consider him the inventor of the genre, although that would do a serious injustice to the authors of the romances of antiquity, composed around, and shortly after, the middle of the twelfth century. In any event, Chrétien was without a doubt instrumental both in the elaboration of the Arthurian legend and in the establishment of the ideal form for the diffusion of that legend.
We know virtually nothing of Chrétien's life, although some information can be drawn from his own references to his work. For example, in the prologue to Cligés he tells us that he had translated or adapted several Ovidian works (entitled in his text Les Commandemanz d'Ovide, L'Art d'amors, and Le Mors de l'espaule) and that he had composed a work about Isolde and King Mark; none of these works is extant. He also lists another Ovidian adaption, the metamorphosis (or muance) "de la hupe et l'aronde et del rossignol"; this text, from Ovid's Philomela story, does not exist in a version that may be his. In addition, we have from Chrétien two brief lyric poems and the five Arthurian romances for which he known today. A romance entitled Guillaume d'Angleterre (a pseudo-hagiographic narrative) bears the name "Crestiiens", and scholars disagree about the identification of this author with Chrétien de Troyes. His romances are written in octosyballic couplets, the standard narrative form of the period.
Presumably, Chrétien was from Troyes or at least had spent a good part of his active life there; both his name and certain dialectal features of his language support this contention. We do not know when he was born. Although some scholars (e.g., Luttrell) suggest that Chrétien primary literary activity took place in the 1180s, he probably composed his romances between the late 1150s - in the Chevalier de la charrete he refers to Marie de Champagne as ma dame de Chanpaigne, indicating that her marriage to Henry the Liberal, which took place as early as 1159, predated the composition of this work - and about 1190. His final romance, Le Conte del Graal, was dedicated to Philip of Flanders, who died in 1191.
There are certain common threads running through Chrétien's romances, despite differences of tone, subject matter, and artistic maturity. The most obvious of these threads is the Arthurian setting and the author''s literary exploration of the notion of Arthurian chivalry. Arthur and his court remain at the center of the society explored by Chrétien, but Arthur himself is never the center of a romance (indeed, in Yvain he becomes something of a doddering, ineffective old man, although his authority is never questioned and the respect he receives diminishes only slightly). Chrétien's emphasis is instead on the trials, errors, and ultimate triumphs of his hero, on the hero's love interests, and on the relationship (often uncomfortable until perfected through trials or pain) of that love with the social demands of chivalry. It is also possible to see the works as exploring the problem of the individual vs. the couple, the couple vs. society, or self-interest vs. the social utility of knighthood. Generalizing further, we can state that, while Chrétien's works may not include a genuine Bildungsroman, they do generally trace the development of characters from naïveté to sophisticiation and from ignorance to understanding. This is true to a significant degree even for the heroes who, like Yvain or Lancelot, are knights accomplished and respected - but nonetheless flawed - even when we first meet them.
Erec et Enide develops with clarity the potential conflicts between love and chivalry (the latter term taken to include service to others, the quest for adventure, and concern for one's reputation). Once Erec wins his bride, he neglects his public duties, causing others to grumble. Enide herself laments the rumors about him and the responsibility she may bear for those rumors. Overhearing her expression of concern, and presumably doubting her love and devotion, he commands her - without explanation - to prepare to leave with him. There follows a period of wandering, hardship, and pain. Erec imposes silence on Enide, but she repeatedly disobeys him in order to warn him of approaching danger. Ironically, it is through disobedience (indicating concern for his welfare rather than for her own) that she proves her love for him.
The period of wandering in fact constitutes a test for both of them, providing proof of her love and of his chivalric (i.e., public, active) competence, of his ability to tend to his public duties while remaining the loving husband. Readers, not surprisingly, have frequently thought him to have an odd way of expressing his love: her husband requires Enide to go without sleep and indulge his apparently petulant actions. But neither the narrator nor Enide herself appears to entertain any doubts in this regard. In exploring ways to reconcile the lover's devotion with the knight's duty, Chrétien's first romance dramatizes a problem that will concern him repeatedly while at the same time offering the first of several solutions to that problem.
Chrétien's next romance, Cligés, resembles his first in a number of ways but also differs from it significantly. The primary differense is in the structure: Chrétien recounts the story of Alexander (Cligés's father) before that of the hero himself. In so doing, Chrétien appears to be making systematic reference to the Tristan story, and some critics have contended in fact that he is composing an "anti-Tristan". Yet, despite this bipartite division, the poem's general complexion, both technical and ideological, identifies it as Chrétien's composition.
The similiarity of this work to Erec et Enide resides in the dramatization of a "before/after" duality; here, however, the contrast is not between an earlier and a later stage of a single knight's development but between the levels of courtly sophistication of two consecutive generations. The first is Alexandre's which is non- or "proto-courtly" (in Peter Haidu's term). The work is Chrétien's most rhetorical romance, with Alexandre, among others, indulging in extensive and self-conscious interior monologues on the subject of love and his beloved. In the course of his monologues, he grapples poorly with the subject, although his lack of subtlety in no way diminishes the intensity of his love. By contrast, Cligés proves himself a comfortable inhabitant of the courtly world, dealing easily and adroitly with the rhetoric and with the sensations of love.
The romance offers more specific reminiscens of the Tristan legend (in addition to a number of explicit references to it). Cligés loves Fénice, but she is married to his uncle Alis (Isolde had of course been the wife of Tristan's uncle). Fénice loves him, also, but she insists that she will not repeat the actions of Isolde, whose body was possessed by one man while her heart belonged to another. This dilemma provides the principal ethical problem of the second part of the romance, and Fénice does indeed find a solution.
That solotuion involves her taking a potion that causes her to appear to be dead. Once her "death" is established, she is free to live with Cligés - Fénice, the Phoenix, survives her death - and fully indulge her love for him. Clearly, the solution is somewhat equivocal and not entirely honorable. The lovers have in fact succeeded not in solving their problem but only in evading it. On the other hand, Fénice is apparently more interested in her reputation than in her ethics, and therein she has been successful: people cannot say (as they said of Isolde) that she divided her love between two men.
Le Chevalier de la charrete ("The Knight of the Cart"), or Lancelot, may well be Chrétien's best-known romance. It is known, first of all, for its dedication to Marie de Champagne and, second, for its depiction and apparent glorification of adulterous love. In a quest for Guenevere, who has been abducted from the court, Lancelos has the opportunity to find her more quickly if he accepts a ride in a cart reserved ordinarily for criminals. Mindful of his status and reputation, he hesitates briefly but then steps into the cart. When he eventually arrives in Guenevere's presence, she rejects him, and we learn that it is because of his reluctance to ride in the cart. Apparently, he has offended her by putting concern for himself (i.e., for his reputation) before concern for her. The remainder of the romance is a series of trials undertaken to expiate his offense. Among his adventures, for example, is a tourney in which the Queen commands him to do "his worst", proving thereby that he is now willing to suffer for her sake the humiliation he had avoided before.
Near the end, Chrétien left off the writing of this romance, for reasons unknown to us (although the lack of evidence has not prevented some critics from speculating that he personally disapprovved of the subject, imposed on him by his patroness). Godefroy de Leigny finished the romance according to a plan (he tells us) provided him by Chrétien.
There is some indication that Chrétien may have been composing Lancelot and Yvain (also known as Le Chevalier au lion at the same time. Yet the two romances differ considerably. The Lancelot has a discursive, somewhat loose structure, whereas Yvain is highly composed and almost "classicallý" structured. Moreover, the adulterous relationship of the former is replaced by marital love in Yvain. The latter work is in fact closer, in inspiration and subject matter, to Erec et Enide than to Lancelot; indeed, it is from certain points of view the mirror image of Erec et Enide. On the other hand, all these works share (with Chrétien's other romances) a binary opposition between two stages of the hero's progress, a "before/after" opposition, with the dividing line being an offense or error committed by the hero.
Erec, as we have seen, neglects chivalry in favor of love: Yvain does the opposite. He wins Laudine's love (after killing her husband), but immediately after his marriage he yields to the persuasive powers of Gauvain, who has asked his friend to accompany him in his quest for adventure. Laudine reluctantly gives him leave for one year; he later loses her love when he fails to return within the time granted him. The remainder of the romance depicts Yvain's grief and madness and his subsequent attempts to expiate his offense. During his wandering, he is accompanied and aided by a lion whose life he had saved. (The lion, thought by some to represent Christ or grace, more likely symbolizes Yvain's own perfected ideal of service and devotion). The adventures through which Yvain accomplishes his expiation are intricately interlaced with one another in a pattern that gives clear evidence, if evidence were needed, of Chrétien's attention not only to elaboration of theme but to structure and composition as well.
If, in terms of form and the effective elaborations of theme, Yvain is Chrétien's best romance, his final romance, Perceval, or Le Conte del Graal, has proved the most fascinating. Part of its fascination is doubtless due to the intriguing possibilities of its unfinished state - possibilities that were exploited in a number of Continuations and adaptions when Chrétien (whether because of death or for other reasons) left his romance without an ending. The character of Perceval himself has also appealed to audiences, as he develops from comical bumpkin to Grail knight. Yet the primary appeal of the work must be the Grail itself.
Although the word "grail" existed before Chrétien, it originally meant simply "dish"; it was Chrétien who first attached special significance to the word. (It must be pointed out in passing that it was not, in his work, the chalice of the Last Supper or the vessel in which Christ's blood was collected: those were innovations made by writers of Chrétien: see GRAIL, ROBERT DE BORON). For him, it was a beautiful and mysterious vessel, whose function is initially unknown to Perceval. In fact, the very mystery of the Grail, rather than its specific use, is of prime importance in the work. And the Grail procession itself, in a mysterious disappearing castke, with a bleeding lance and a strange infirm host, provides a fascinating narrative core for this remarkable work.
It is entirely appropriate for the Grail to be a mystery to Perceval. Although endowed with exceptional physical gifts, he is seriously deficient in knowledge and insight. At the beginning of the work, he does not even know what knights and churches are. When he learns about knights, he immediately resolves to become one; typically, however, he confuses the possession of armor with the status of knighthood. In valuing the trappings of chivalry (equipment, reputation, and the thrill of combat) over its ethical and social concerns, he shares a failing with a number of Chrétien's other characters, from Gauvain to the early Lancelot; the distinction between Perceval and the others resides in his naïveté and in the consistent comedy of his actions.
When he decides not to inquire about the Grail procession, he is acting typically, since he had been told that a knight is careful not to talk excessively. His failure to ask that question is the critical turning point of the work (as he later learns that the question would have cured the Fisher King, the castle's inhabitant, and would have restored the fertility of his land). This error corresponds to the crisis that we have noted in Chrétien's other works, and it requires a similar expiation. In this case, however, the hero's errors are multiple, for in addition to failing to cure the Fisher King Perceval learns that his abrupt departure from home had caused the death of his own mother. Furthermore, he had along the way taken a lady, Blancheflor, as his love, and yet he repeatedly postpones his return to her, just as he had postponed the Grail question and his return to his mother.
Perceval's adventures are abruptly interrupted, and the author turns his attentions to Gauvain, who undergoes an extraordinary series of adventures in a strange realm. The suddenness of this shift has led a good many critics to conclude that the story of Gauvain was intended to be a separate romance, but that the vagaries of manuscript transmission had fused the two sequences into one. Specific structural and thematic correspondences between the two halves provide evidence, however, that they were intended to be part of the same romance, even if the opportunity for further revision might have permitted Chrétien to provide a more graceful transition.
Gauvain's adventures are interrupted in turn by a brief (300-line) but central return to Perceval. In this episode, which takes place on Good Friday, Perceval speaks with a holy hermit, rediscovers God, and hears the explanation of the Grail castle and of his own past failings. This episode alone in responsible for imbuing the work with a largely religious meaning. Afterward, the focus return to Gauvain, and we learn no more of Perceval in the remainder of this unfinished romance.
Perceval may have been interrupted by Chrétien's death; in any case, the poet's career obviously ended at this point. Yet during that career Chrétien was largely responsible for perfecting a literary form that was to remain central to French literature from that time on. His mastery of narrative form and style, his ability to fuse humor with high seriousness, the subtlety of his psychological portraits, and the appeal of his themes established him as a consummate artist. Those who came after developed numerous varieties of romance, but they all owed a good deal to Chrétien de Troyes, and it is reasonable to conclude that they could not have accomplished what they did were it not for their illustrious precursor.
Colin, Philipp, and Claus Wisse
Between 1331 and 1336, they translated and adapted two of the French continuators of Chrétien's Perceval, Wauchier de Denain and Manessier, into German. Helping them in the translation was a Strassburg Jew, Sampson Pine. The result of their efforts, Der nüwe Parzefal (36,426 lines), was inserted between Books 14 and 15 of Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival, which also was revised in many places and received a specific dialect coloring (Alsatian).
Colin and Wisse were both from Strassburg goldsmith families that are attested in Strassburg documents from 1265 and 1148, respectively. In his epilogue, Colin reports that Lady Love and Lady Generosity have chosen his patrin, Ulrich von Rappoltstein, to provide for the production of this work of literature. Ulrich, a member of the high nobility, was indeed touched by Lady Generosity and paid 200 pounds for the task.
The episode nature of the Nüwe Parzefal is its most striking characteristic. It is a bourgeois work by bourgeois authors, and as a result the adventurous and the fantastic are given great play. Parzefal must cede equal time and space - indeed sometimes more - to Gawan, whose adventures are narrated in great detail. In this work, both Gawan and Parzefal achieve entry into the Grail castle, and on the third occasion Parzefal is offered the crown, which he refuses in order to ride out on more adventures. The original concept of the hero is found in Wolfram's work - that only the best knight, who has conquered his own deficiencies, is worthy of the Grail - is lost. Further, the inner integrity and value of the courtly-chivalric world, which is the key element in Wolfram's Parzival, disappears behind the bourgeois coating of the Colin-Wisse version. Der nüwe Parzefal is found in the Donaueschingen Hs. 97, from the fourteenth century and is presumed to be the original. A copy, likewise from the fourteenth century is found in the Bibliotheca Casanatensis in Rome.
(1265-1321) Dante alluded to Arthurian romance no more than some half-dozen times, yet no student of medieval literature can fail to wonder about the relationship between the greatest body of medieval secular literature and the man who was arguably the greatest secular poet of the age. Dante is known for his insistence that morally and intellectually serious literature could be written in the vernacular and for his realization in the Divine Comedy of this notion, still controversial in the early fourteenth century. Did he see Arthurian literature as an illustrious example of what he wished vernacular literature to do, or instead as a dangerous countermodel?
An attempt to answer this perennial question must be based on a survey of Dante's allusions to Arthurian literature. Three are rather minor. In Inferno, Canto 5, l. 67, he pairs Tristan with Paris, to end the parade of those damned through love. He alludes Mordred and names Arthur in a periphrasis (Inferno, Canto 32, ll. 61-62), affirming that two damned souls encountered deep in the infernal realm of treachery called "Caina" were even more worthy to be there than Mordred. In a different vein, in a lyric poem addressed to his "first friend", Guido Cavalcanti, Dante expresses the wish that the two of them, with their friend Lapo Gianni, might by enchantment be put together in a marvelous boat ("Guido, i' vorrei che tu e Lapo ed io´/ fossimo presi per incantamento/ e messi in un vasel...") and that "il buono incantatore" would then send certain ladies to join´in their fantastic journey; it is entirely possible that the setting Dante evokes is derived from Arthurian romance and that the "good enchanter" is Merlin.
More suggestive of Dante's view of the Arthurian corpus than these minor allusions are a key of reference in the treatise on the vernacular known as the Vulgari Eloquentia and a cluster of allusions (in Inferno, Paradiso, and Convivo) to the Lancelot romance. Dante probably first grappled with the problem that his linguistic treatise tries to resolve under the influence of Brunetto Latini, the learned Florentine writer and public servant whom Dante (Inferno, Canto 15, ll. 82-85) mentions as having taught him much; for Brunetto, an exile in France from 1260 to about the time of Dante's birth (1265), wrote his famous encyclopedic work, the Livre dou Tresor, in French, affirming that language's superiority for didactic purposes to his native Tuscan. By implication, it might seem that Dante came to disagree with his "master", if the Comedy, in Italian, is taken be didactic, even encyclopedic, in character - though his explicit disagreement with Brunetto in matters of language has to do not with Brunetto's championing of French but instead (Vulgari Eloquentia, Book 13) with his decision to write (probably another work, the didactic poem entitled Il Tesoretto) in a merely municipal, Florentine, dialect. In any case, Brunetto raised the question of the adequacy of the Romance vernaculars to specific literary genres, and Dante makes a preliminary attempt to answer it early in the Vulgari Eloquentia (Book 9, Chapter 2), stating that Italian, Provençal, and French each might be legitimately seen as the best vernacular for different reasons: Italian because it is the closest to (Latin) grammar and therefore the most logical; Provençal because it was the language of the foremost love poets, both didactic and narrative. It is in this context that Dante cites (together with instances of the matière d'antiquité) Arthurian romance ("Arturi regis ambages pulcerrimae"). This allusion (tangentially suggesting, not surprisingly, that Dante did not know the verse texts of the Arthurian cycle, including the work of Chrétien) indicates that Dante thought Arthurian prose literature a very important achievement indeed, establishing French as a major language by revealing, together with other prose works, a narrative capacity in the langue d'oil comparable in quality to the rigorous grammaticality of the language of the Italian peninsula.
In this context, Dante's most famous allusion to Arthurian romance, in the Paolo and Francesca episode of Inferno, Canto 5, has puzzled many who have taken Dante, through the voice of Francesca, to be condemning the Lancelot romance and its author for an immorality that has led her to eternal damnantion: "Galeotto fu il libro, e chi lo scrisse" ("A Galehaut was the book and the one who wrote it"). Dante, however, is here by no means condemning Arthurian literature but rather a pair of its readers: he puts Paolo and Francesca in hell, not the Lancelot author. The Paolo and Francesca episode is related to and illuminated by two other Dantesque allusions to the Lancelot cycle. In Paradiso, Canto 16, ll. 14-15, Dante compares Beatrice's laugh to the Lady of Malohaut's cough at the moment of Guenevere's "first mistake" ("primo fallo"); however this comparison is to be interpreted, it suggests Dante's awareness that characters within the story are alert to Guenevere's "mistake", implying that readers are not obliged to adopt the viewpoint of the sinning protagonists of the episode. More conclusive in this regard is Dante's allusion in his vernacular treatise on the nature of poetry, Convivio, Book IV, Chapter 28, Section 8, to Lancelot's end, as a monk repentant of the adultery that kept him from fulfilling his high mission. Dante makes clear that Paolo and Francesca miss the warning provided by the disastrous conclusion of Lancelot and Guenevere's relationship because they do not finish reading the book: "non vi leggemmo piu avanti" ("we read no farther"). He is himself fully aware that the Lancelot author provided such a warning, and his reader must be, too, if Paolo and Francesca's situation is to succeed in teaching the reader anything important. Thus, the high judgment of Arthurian literature expressed in the Vulgari Eloquentia is not diminished in any way by the Paolo and Francesca episode.
Eilhart von Oberge
In line 9446 of the Middle High German Tristrant, the author names himself as "von Hobergin her Eylhart". Despite scholarly efforts on the one hand to identify the author with a certain Eilhart attested in documents as hailing from Oberg near Braunschweig, and on the other hand to seek his home in the middle Rhine area, his identity and origins remain uncertain.
Abendländische Tausend und Eine Nacht
By Lyser, Johann Peter.
This clumsily put together Latin work is ascribed to Nennius, and it dates from, perhaps, the ninth century. The work purports to give an account of British history from the time of Julius Caesar to towards the end of the seventh century. It gives a mythical account of the origins of the British people and recounts the Roman occupation, the settlement of the Saxons and King Arthur's twelve victories. Although it contains fanciful material of doubtful historical significance, its real value lies in its preservation of material needed for the study of early Celtic literature in general and the Arthurian legends in particular.
A Latin romance that tells of the adventures of Meriadoc, the foster son of Kay.
Historia Regum Britanniae
History of the Kings of Britain, the eleventh-century Latin work by Geoffrey of Monmouth that gives the first coherent narrative of the legends surrounding King Arthur as they are still known today.
A thirteen-century French verse romance that deals with the adventures of Hunbaut and, more particularly, his companion Gawain.
Huon de Bordeaux
Thirteenth-century French romance concerning the ascension of Huon to the throne of Fairyland, called Momur in this work, in preference to Arthur.
An alternative name for the Suite Du Merlin.
Middle High German romance by the late twelfth- and early thirteenth-century poet Hartmann von Aue that clearly follows the earlier works of Chrétien de Troyes. The hero of this work is usually known as Owain.
Important work by the twelfth-century Burgundian Robert de Boron that deals with the Grail legends, particularly those surrounding the biblical associations of Joseph of Arimathea.
An opera written in 1691 by John Dryden, with music by Henry Purcell, which has little actual Arthurian content. In it, Arthur is in love with the blind Emmeline, daughter of Duke Conon of Cornwall. She is carried off by Oswald, the Saxon King of Kent and Arthur's enemy. While she is held captive, her sight is restored to her by Merlin, and she is eventually rescued when Arthur finally defeats Oswald.
King Arthur and (the) King (of) Cornwall
A sixteenth-century English ballad that featured Arthur and the sorcerer King Cornwall.
Lancelot of the Laik
An anonymous fifteenth-century Scottish verse romance.
Le Morte d'Arthur
Completed in 1470 and published by Caxton in 1485 as one of the first books to use modern printing, this fifteenth-century work by Sir Thomas Malory comprises a series of episodes from the legendary life of King Arthur. It is regarded as the first great prose work in English literature, but in actual fact only the last eight books of the series are titled Le Morte d'Arthur. The series omits a few of the tales, and contains many inconsistencies, particularly its multitude of women named Elaine and wounded kings. However, it still remains the main English source of the Arthurian legends and is an undoubted literary masterpiece.
Le Tornoiment de l'Antichrist
A French poem by Huon de Mery that tells how he, the poet, went to an enchanted spring in Broceliande, where Bras-de-fer, the chamberlain of the Antichrist, rode up. Together they rode to the scene of a mighty battle, where the forces of Heaven, which included Arthur and his knights, were fighting the forces of Hell.
Lestoire de Merlin
A part of the Vulgate Version that gives one version of the history of Merlin.
Li jus Aden
Thirteenth-century French romance that says that Hellekin, already an established figure in Teutonic lore, was a fairy king who became the lover of Morgan Le Fay, whose companions are named as Arsile and Maglore.
Life of Saint Cadoc
According to this work, which details the life of the eponymous Saint Cadoc, the son of Gwynllym and Saint Gwladys, Ligessac sought and found sanctuary from Arthur with Saint Cadoc for ten years after he had killed some of Arthur's followers.
Life of Saint Carannog
A medieval work which states that Cado, who is possibly cognate with Cadwy, co-ruled the West Country alongside King Arthur.
Life of Saint Kentigern
According to this work by Jocelyn, which details the life of Saint Kentigern, Lot was the father of Thaney, and thus Kentigern's grandfather.
A French Continuation to Robert de Boron's work Merlin.
Llud and Llefelys
A part of the Mabinogion that tells how every May Day eve a scream was heard, the source of which could not be located. Llefelys, the King of France, told Llud that the scream was caused by fighting dragons. These were eventually caught and interred at Dinas Emrys.
The fourteenth-century English poem concerning the adventures of a hero having the same name.
One of the most important of all Welsh and Arthurian source texts, although it was not compiled until the mid-nineteenth century. The name comes from the Welsh word mabinogi, which means 'instruction for young poets'. Drawing on two much earlier manuscripts, the White Book of Rhydderch (1300-1325) and the Red Book of Hergest (1375-1425), the Mabinogion is a collection of medieval Welsh myths and folk tales. Strictly speaking the Mabinogion consists of four branches or tales, three of which concern the hero Pryderi. The four stories are those of Pwyll, Branwen, Manawydan fab Llyr and Math fab Mathonwy. Later editions of the Mabinogion have been extended to include much Arthurian material, although these undoubtedly draw on earlier and entirely relevant material. The extensions include the stories Gereint and Enid, Culhwch and Olwen, Owain, Peredur and the Dream of Rhonabwy. The most famous translation of the Mabinogion, that made by Lady Charlotte Guest, also includes the story of Taliesin.
A thirteenth-century French verse romance concering a hero having the same name as the title of the work.
Important twelfth-century romance by the Burgundian author Robert de Boron.
Merveilles de Rigomer
A thirteenth-century French verse romance, normally simply referred to as Rigomer, by an obscure poet named Jehan. It tells the story of the adventures of Gawain and Lancelot.
Midsummer Night's Dream, A
Comedy by William Shakespeare that was first performed in 1595 or 1596. Although not directly connected with the Arthurian legends, it is of great interest because of the inclusion of characters such as Puck, Oberon and Titania.
A part of the French Vulgate Version of Arthurian romance.
A Middle English Arthurian poem by Thomas Heywood (c. 1574-1641) that was written towards the close of the sixteenth century.
Mule sans Frein
A twelfth-century French poem concerning the quest of Gawain to locate a missing bridle. The author is usually given as Paien de Maisière, but this could be a pseudonym.
Ogier le Danois
Important Carolingian romance that details the life of the Danish Duke Ogier.
Italian Carolingian romance by Ludovico Ariosto that forms a sequel to the unfinished Orlando Innamorato of Boiardo and was published in 1532. Featuring some Arthurian material, the poem describes the unrequited love of Orlande for Angelica, set against the war between the Saracens and Christians during Charlemagne's reign. It influenced Shakespeare, Byron and Milton, and is considered to be the perfect poetic expression of the Italian Renaissance.
A Welsh prose romance thought to date from the thirteenth century that is found in the Mabinogion and concerns Owain, the son of Urien.
A famous Welsh poem that tells how Cei (Kay) travelled to Anglesey with a view to killing lions, especially preparing himself for an encounter with the Cath Palug, a monstrous feline creature.
An opera by Richard Wagner that is based on the legends surrounding Perceval and was first performed in 1882, just one year before the sudden death of the composer.
A thirteenth-century work by Wolfram von Eschenbach recounting Arthurian tales, particularly those conserning Sir Perceval.
Pedwar Marchog ar Hugan Llys Arthur
Important fifteenth-century, or earlier, Welsh work that gives a list of knights at Arthur's court. These knights, thought to represent a company formed before the Knights of the Round Table, are collectively known as the Twenty-Four Knights.
A fourteenth-century French romance describing the early history of Britain, including the fictitious invasion of the island by Alexander the Great.
Unfinished work by Chrétien de Troyes, probably better known as Le Conte de Graal. Written for Philip, Count of Flanders, and started c. 1180, it remained unfinished because of the author's death c 1183. Several Continuations subsequently appeared, each attempting to finish what Chrétien de Troyes had started.
A Welsh romance concerning the exploits and quests of Peredur, which has become included in the Mabinogion.
A thirteenth-century French prose romance concerning the Quest for the Holy Grail.
A French chronicle of the Arthurian period by Rauf de Boun.
The Spoils of Annwfn, an early Welsh poem dating from c. 900, which was allegedly written by Taliesin. The poem, which obviously uses an earlier legend as its basis, concerns an expedition Arthur made to the Otherworld to secure a magic cauldron. The Preiddeu Annwfn is particularly important to Celtic study because it gives one of the clearest descriptions of the various realms within the Otherworld. There are the glass fort of Caer Wydyr and the paradisiacal land where the fountain runs with wine and no one ever knows old age or sickness, this region being known as either Caer Feddwidd (the Fort of Carousal) or Caer Siddi. It is thought that this story forms one of the sources for the later Grail legends.
Prophécies de Merlin
A thirteenth-century French work detailing the prophecies made by Merlin. It was allegedly written by Richard of Ireland.
A thirteenth-century French work that forms a part of the Vulgate Version.
The name given to two medieval romances about Merlin, one English and one French.
A large thirteenth-century French work that desribes the career of Tristan.
Queste del Sainte Graal
A thirteenth-century French romance that forms a part of the Vulgate Version, and that describes the Quest for the Holy Grail. It introduces Galahad as the hero who achieved the object of the quest and is thought to have been written by a Cistercian.
Red Book of Hergest, The
A fourteenth-century manuscript that, along with the White Book of Rhydderch, contains the Mabinogion cycle.
The shortened, popularised version of Merveilles de Rigomer.
Robert de Boron
The Burgundian author (fl. 1200) of two very important Arthurian romances, about whose life very little is known. His works were Joseph d'Arimathia, which deals with the Grail legends, and Merlin. It is thought that he may also have been responsible for writing the Didot Perceval.
Roman de Brut
Written in French by the twelfth-century writer Wace, this work contains the first reference to the Round Table. It was quickly translated and expanded by Layamon in his Brut, which was written between 1189 and 1199.
Roman des fils du roi Constant
Medieval French romance that names the wife of Ban of Brittany as Sabe and gives him a daughter named Liban.
Rusticiano de Pisa
An Italian writer who was certainly flourishing in 1298. Best known for having written down Marco Polo's Travels at the latter's dictation, he also produced a less well known Compilation of Arthurian romances.
Saga of Tristan and Isodd
An Icelandic version of the story of Tristan and Iseult that names Blenzibly as the mother of Tristan by Kalegras.
Saga of Tristram
The title of two renditions of the story of Tristan and Iseult. One is Norwegian in origin and dates from 1266, while the other, undates, has an Icelandic provenance. These two works are generally confused with each other and are commonly simply referred to as Tristram's Saga.
Written by the Scottish historian Hector Boece (d. 1536), this work is interesting in that it contains Arthurian material from an anti-Arthur viewpoint.
Born in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, and living between 1564 and 1616, Shakespeare is perhaps the best-known playwright ever to have lived. He appears to have drawn on Arthurian literature and legend during the composition of A Midsummer Night's Dream, for here Oberon has much the same role as he does in other Arthurian literature.
Sir Gawain and the Carl of Carlisle
An unfinished English romance dating from c. 1400 that relates the tale of Gawain and his dealings with the Carl of Carlisle. It was later followed in the sixteenth century by a new version, again incomplete, called the Carl of Carlisle.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Also Sir Gawayne and the Greene Knight. A famous, but anonymous, English poem dating from c. 1346 that deals with the beheading contest undertaken by Gawain, and perhaps recalling memories of an ancient fertility ritual. It was followed approximately 100 years later by The Green Knight, though this is a much inferior telling of the story.
Sir Gawayne and the Greene Knight
The original spelling of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
Sir Perceval of Galles
A fourteenth-century English romance that tells the story of Perceval, but makes no mention of the Grail, or Perceval's part in the quest for that holy vessel.
An English poet (c. 1552-99) who, though not much read in modern times, was esteemed as the Virgil of his day, enjoying great popularity among other poets. His most famous work, the epic, unfinished allegory the Faerie Queene, features the uncrowned King Arthur.
Stanzaic Morte Arthur
An English poem, possibly dating from the fourteenth century, that, in its 3,969 lines, deals with the latter part of Arthur's career.