Agravain is first mentioned in Chrétien de Troyes’ Perceval where he offers to take Gawain’s place in battle when Gawain is accused in Arthur’s court by Guinganbresil of killing Guinganbresil’s lord treacherously. At a later point Gawain says that his brothers are Agravain/Engrevain, Gaheriet, and Guerrehet. This is a normal list of Gawain’s brothers in many later romances, though the two final brothers may be reversed in sequence and one early listing in the Post-Vulgate Arthurian Cycle claiming to list the brothers in order of birth, lists Gaheriet before Agravain and Guerrehet. But later in this romance Agravain is said to be the elder.
Agravain and MordredEdit
Agravain sometimes appears as normal Arthurian knight in early verse romances, but sometimes appears as an anti-Gawain, proud and haughty where Gawain is courteous. For example, in the First Continuation to Chrétien de Troyes’ Perceval in the story of Caradoc, as translated by Ross G. Arthur, in the tournament at Caerleon:
Sir Kay the Seneschal acted like a good knight, for in his first charge, I tell you truly, he faced off against a most quarrelsome man, Agravain the Proud. No better match could be found: one was puffed up with vanity and the other even more so! They were both equally quarrelsome, always disagreeable and full of mockery.
These characteristics may have caused him to be identified with the treacherous Mordred who is Gawain’s only named brother in most Arthurian pseudo-historical texts but who is entirely unknown to early verse romance, except for Robert de Boron’s Merlin which appears to attempt to reconcile pseudo-historical tradition and romance tradition. Alexandre Micha’s edition, supposedly representing what appears to be the earliest texts, lists the brothers as “Mordrez et mes sires Gauvains et Gareés et Gaheriez.” Mordret, Guerrehet, and Gaheriet are also present in the sequel, the Didot Perceval, while Agravain is still absent.
If these do represent a tradition identifying Agravain with Mordred, the tradition is not followed in later texts. Some later verse romances mention Mordred (and Agravain), and Agravain and Mordred appear as separate characters in the Prose Lancelot and later prose romances.
How Agravain was KnightedEdit
Vulgate Merlin VersionEdit
According to the Vulgate Merlin, Gawain and all his brothers came to court together as squires and were knighted together. In a section following, Gawain asks his brothers what they would do if alone with a damsel. Agravain responds that he would make love to her right now if he wanted. Gaheriet jokes about this in respect to occasions where Agravain has not shown great prowess. Agravain has a murderous rage and attacks Gaheriet and knocks him down, only to be knocked down in turn by Gawain who rages at Agravain for his proud ways and bullying nature.
Post-Vulgate Arthurian Cycle VersionEdit
In the Post-Vulgate Arthurian Cycle, Gaheriet, by word brought from Merlin, is to be knighted to seek for his brother Gawain and to free him from captivity. Agravain is very jealous, and declares that he could rescue Gawain as well or better, that Merlin had always unfairly favored Gaheriet, and that in any case, since Gaheriet was younger than him, it would only mean that he himself would be knighted sooner. On Christmas Eve, the three brothers are to be knighted, and Agravain, relying on his age, puts himself forward first. Thereupon a madman at court, who has not spoken for fifteen years, begins to prophecy, grabs King Arthur’s sword, and says that Gaheriet must be knighted first, and then Gaheriet should knight his brothers. Guerrehet accepts this but Agravain absolutely refuses. But he cannot stop Arthur from knighting Gaheriet first. Then Gaheriet knights his brother Guerrehet and the other squires who were to be knighted, but Agravain still insists that he, himself, must be knighted by Arthur. So Arthur knights Agravain.
Agravain then follows Gaheriet secretly when Gaheriet sets out on his quest, determined that he will change his arms once away from court, and then will fight with Gaheriet to prove that he is the better knight. Then he will cut Gaheriet’s head off. However Gaheriet defeats Agravain in a joust, not knowing that the knight with whom he has jousted is his brother. Later Agravain attacks Gaheriet a second time when Gaheriet is weary after defeating a knight named Baudon. Gaheriet has no lance. But Agravain’s lance splinters and Gaheriet gives him a good beating with his sword, pulls off Agravain’s helm and brutally hits him on the face with the helm, again and again. Gaheriet then grabs Agravain by the shoulders and tosses him onto the road. Gaheriet does not realize the knight he has defeated is Agravain.
Agravain Punished and HealedEdit
The Prose Lancelot ascribes an important adventure of Lancelot which is here retold in the order in which it is supposed to have occurred, rather than the textual order which includes explanations told by Agravain at the end.
At one time, Agravain fights against a knight and wounds him in one arm. A damsel arrives whom Agravain believes is the knight’s lady, and tells Agravain that if Agravain will live another year, he will never joke about the wound he has inflicted on the knight’s arm. Later, when searching for adventures in the Forest of the Fair Heath, Agravain sees a very beautiful maiden, followed by a knight. Desiring the maiden, Agravain grabs her reins. The knight opposes Agravain, so they fight, and Agravain defeats the knight. Agravain sets the damsel down in a thicket and prepares to force her, despite her resistance. But when he uncovers her bare leg, he finds it covered with hideous scabs. Agravain, disgusted, says to her that now he would no more touch her than he would a leper and that he wishes dishonor on any knight that would lower himself to lie with her. She responds that if Agravain may live another year, he would give anything not to have his own leg uglier or worse infected than hers.
Later Agravain learns that his lady love, the daughter of King Tradelmant of North Wales, is seeking for Agravain to rescue her; for her father has bestowed her on a knight whom she does not want. Agravain manages to win her for himself. With his lady’s men, Agravain joins the Duke of Cambenic who is at war with King Tradelmant, and the Duke gives to Agravain a large house and tower within a bailey which the Duke had won from King Tradelmant. Agravain, his young brother Mordred who is sill a squire, Agravain’s lady, and the lady’s men live in that house.
At the beginning of August, on a very hot day, Agravain, unarmed and alone in a forest near his home, except for a single squire, falls asleep. Two damsels come riding up on palfreys. The squire wrongly thinks they are Agravain’s lady and one of her maidens, but in fact they seem to be the two damsels who had previously cursed Agravain. One anoints Agravain’s arm and the other his leg with salve from two boxes that they hold. Then they ride off. The one who anointed Agravain’s arm says that Agravain will suffer in his arm until Agravain’s arm is anointed with the blood of the best knight alive and the other says that Agravain will suffer in his leg until the leg is anointed with the blood of the second-best knight alive. The squire hears this. When the squire awakens Agravain, Agravain finds his left arm and right leg so swollen and filled with wounds that he cannot move them. The wounds stink badly.
Agravain’s lady tells Agravain that Gawain must be one of the knights whose blood is needed, but Agravain says there are many knights worthier than Gawain. They decide, in any case, to send a damsel to Carlisle to seek for Gawain, and to also seek for the knight who carried the day in Galehaut’s war with Arthur (that is Lancelot). That damsel should also bring along any other knights she thinks good to their house, and the knights there will force them to give blood.
The messenger damsel very soon chances to meet with Gawain. She does not recognize him, but impressed by him and his ardor, has him follow her back to Agravain’s house. There the knights within fall on Gawain, but Gawain fights magnificently in a long battle, killing many of the knights. Finally Agravain’s lady stops the fighting and explains to Gawain that he must give blood. Gawain, courteously agrees, wounds himself in the thigh, and bleeds into his helmet. The blood heals Agravain’s leg, showing that Gawain is the second-best knight alive. Then Agravain’s lady tends Gawain’s wounds. The young Mordred, who alone has recognized Gawain, weeps, believing Gawain will die of his wounds. Mordred tells Agravain that it is their brother Gawain who has partially healed Agravain. Agravain then reveals who he is to Gawain, for in the darkness of the room Gawain had not known Agravain. Gawain is overjoyed, but once he has heard everything, greatly blames Agravain for Agravain’s haughtiness and bad temper.
Gawain, after finally finding Lancelot with Galehaut in the land of Sorelois, persuades Lancelot, Galehaut, and Hector to join him in the healthy pastime of being bled. Then Gawain, without telling Lancelot or Galehaut, has the blood which was taken from Lancelot sent back to Agravain to heal his left arm. The blood does its job, proving that Lancelot is indeed the best knight alive.
Description of AgravainEdit
The Prose Lancelot says of Agravain (as translated by Roberta L. Kruegar in volume III of Norris J. Lacy’s Lancelot-Grail):
The next eldest after him [Gawain] was Agravain. He was taller than Gawain, and his body was somewhat misshapen; he was quite a fine knight. But he was too arrogant and full of evil words, and was jealous of all other men, which caused his death at the hand of Lancelot himself, as the story will tell you later on. Agravain was without pity or love and had no good qualities, save for his beauty, his chivalry, and his quick tongue.
Agravain’s Continued Hatred for GaherietEdit
In the Post-Vulgate Arthurian Cycle, after Gaheriet has killed his mother, Gawain openly promises to avenge his mother’s death on Gaheriet. Agravain is not angry at all about the deed, for though Agravain had loved his mother, he hated Gaheriet more and was glad to see that Gaheriet had done such a deed for which he hoped to see Arthur and Gawain put Gaheriet to death. However Lamorat talks Gawain out of it. Gawain says to Agravain and Mordred who are at the point of beheading Gaheriet that they should not take on the shame of killing one who was their brother and who is recognized as one of the good knights of the world. So Agravain and Mordred are forced to draw back, although both of them hate Gaheriet mortally from envy.
Fighting Against King ClaudasEdit
One day during the war of the Knights of the Round Table against King Claudas, when those fighting against Claudas are talking of the knightly exploits that they have seen that day, Agravain claims that Hector has not performed so well as he usually does. Gawain sharply upbraids Agravain, praising Hector’s deeds that day highly, and calling Hector one of the best knights in the world.
The Killing of PalamedesEdit
In the Post-Vulgate Grail Quest, Agravain and Gawain see that Palamedes is wounded and attack him together on horseback. Palamedes tells them that he is now a Knight of the Round Table and so they should not fight him, but Gawain cares nothing of this Round Table oath. Palamedes is so badly beaten by Gawain and Agravain, that he falls to earth as if dead. Gawain dismounts, rips off Palamedes’s helmet in order to behead Palamedes. For the only time, in the prose cyclic romances, Agravain shows compassion. He says that Palamedes is already dying, so that Gawain should hold back from beheading him. But Gawain refuses to listen and beheads Palamedes. Agravain says he is grieved because Palamedes was such a good knight and also, more practically, he is grieved because this deed will be hard to conceal.
The Killing of DinadanEdit
E. Loseth in his Le Roman en prose de Tristan finds in some manuscripts that after the end of the Grail quest, Dinadan was returning from Cornwall to Camelot, hoping to persuade King Arthur to reverse his ruling which had again set King Mark on the throne of Cornwall. Agravain and Mordred see Dinadan outside of Camelot, somewhat wounded from a battle with Brehu the Merciless. Agravain and Mordred both hate Dinadan and Agravain sees it as a good time to take vengeance as Arthur’s court believes that Dinadan is still in Cornwall. However, in jousts, Dinadan knocks down both Agravain and Mordred, breaking his lance. But he does not know who the two knights are. Arriving within sight of Camelot, Dinadan begins to feel poorly and dismounts to rest. Agravain and Mordred reappear, Dinadan mounts his horse, but is now to weak to stand up to both of them. Mordred knocks Dinadan from his horse and Agravain leaps down and races off Dinadan’s helmet. Agravain wounds Dinadan mortally, and then Agravain and Mordred race back to Yvain son of Urien’s hostel where they are currently living.
Hector finds the mortally wounded Dinadan, who blames Agravain and Mordred. Hector takes Dinadan to Camelot where he dies in Lancelot’s arms. Agravain and Mordred excuse themselves by saying that Dinadan was mistaken in blaming them, that it must have been two other knights.
The “Agravain” Division of the Prose LancelotEdit
The three divisions of the Prose Lancelot are known as the “Galehaut”, the “Charette”, and the “Agravain”. The “Agravain” section is apparently so called because it begins with some minor adventures of Agravain. It seems that the division between the “Charette” and the so-called “Agravain” was arbitrary in origin, having to do with dividing the Lancelot-Grail Arthurian Cycle into two volumes of approximately equal size, with the second volume containing the “Agravain” section of the Prose Lancelot, the Quest of the Holy Grail, and the Vulgate Mort Artu. However the “Agravain” does begin by introducing Agravain as departing from his companions who are presumably the other eight of the nine knights who have set out to search for Lancelot according to a passage near the end of the “Charette”. But Agravain is not listed in that passage. This might be an indication that the “Agravain” section is indeed in origin a later continuation, perhaps originally written for a variant list of the nine knights. However the seventh knight on the list, the Ugly Brave, is never mentioned again in the quest, and may have been inserted by an ignorant scribe in place of Agravain who had fallen out. Or perhaps an earlier text listed ten knights, including Agravain.
The Death of AgravainEdit
In the French Vulgate Mort Artu and in works based on it, Agravain is one of the knights who realizes that Lancelot and Queen Guenevere are lovers. His envy and hatred of Lancelot lead him to believe that they should tell King Arthur about this. He discusses this with his brothers, and Gawain is very much opposed, as it could lead to a civil war. Gaheriet agrees with Gawain. However Mordred and Guerrehet agree with Agravain. (In the English Stanzaic Morte Arthur, Guerrehet sides with Gawain rather than with Agravain.)
When Arthur happens to wander into the argument, he demands to know what it is that he shouldn’t be told about. Gawain and Gaheriet (and Guerrehet in the Stanzaic Morte Arthur) refuse and they leave. Agravain tells Arthur about Lancelot and Guenevere, and a plot is hatched according to which Arthur will go hunting all night without taking Lancelot, and Agravain and a group of knights will keep watch on the Queen in order to entrap Lancelot when he comes to her and so prove Agravain’s accusation.
In the English Stanzaic Morte Arthur and in Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, Lancelot is trapped and kills all the knights except Mordred who have lain in wait, including Agravain. But in the French Vulgate Mort Artu, Lancelot only kills one knight (Tanaguins) and the rest, in fear, refuse to attack Lancelot. Agravain is among the barons who sentence Guenevere to be burned, and King Arthur tells Agravain to pick forty knights to serve as a guard during the burning. Agrvain agrees, but insists that Arthur order Gaheriet to accompany him as one of the party. He does so, and Gaheriet agrees though he tells Agrarvain that he is not willing to do battle should Lancelot attack.
When Lancelot and his party of thirty-eight knights attack, Lancelot, riding ahead of the others, charges deliberately at Agravain whom he recognizes, and strikes Agravain though his body with his lance. Agravain falls from his horse, dead.
When King Arthur finds Agravain dead, he falls to the ground in a faint, and says (in E. Jane Burns’ translation in Norris Lacy’s Lancelot-Grail):
Oh, fair nephew, how he hated you who stuck you so! Everyone must know that he who deprived my kinsmen of such a knight as you are has inflicted terrible grief on me.
Agravain’s body is buried in a very rich tomb in the church of St. Stephen in Camelot.
Some Name VariationsEdit
FRENCH: Agravain, -s, z, Aggravains, Agravein, Agreains, Agrevain, -s, -z, Agrevaint, Engrevain, -s, -z; ENGLISH: Agreuain, Agrauain,-s, Agrevein, Agrauains, Agravayn, -s, Agravayns, Agrawaynȝ, Agravains, Agrevayn(e), -s, Agrauayn, Agrauain, Agrauuayn, Agrawayne Aggrawayne, Agrevaynes, Agrevains, Agreveyn(e), Agrafain, Granayns, Sagravayns; MALORY: Agrauayn(e), Agravayne, Aggravayne, Agrauayye; SPANISH: Agravain; PORTUGUESE: Agravaym; ITALIAN: Agravano, Agravan; WELSH: =? Gwalhafed (Gwalhavet).