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Romance
Erec et Enide
(in English Erec and Enide) is a verse romance written about 1170 by Chrétien de Troyes, usually accepted as the earliest surviving Arthurian romance in French. It tells how Erec, a knight of Arthur surpassed only by Gawain, won Enide as his bride; about difficulties which arose in their marriage and how they were solved; and how Erec achieved the adventure of the Joy of the Court.

The RomanceEdit

Structure of the RomanceEdit

Erec et Enide is basically a bipartite romance followed by a short encore and a glorious conclusion.

The first movement tells how Erec took Enide as a maiden he would defend in his battle against Yder son of Nut and as his bride and how she is recognized as the most beautiful maiden in King Arthur’s court.

The second movement relates how difficulties arose between them when Erec discovers that Enide blames herself for Erec withdrawing from performing knightly deeds. Erec forces Enide to ride with him while he seeks adventure. Eventually, after a string of adventures, Erec realizes that Enide does truly love him.

The encore tells how Erec defeats the knight Mabonagrain, freeing him from his mistress and restoring him to the life of the court, to its joy.

The conclusion comes when word arrives that Erec’s father King Lac has died of old age. Erec and Enide are crowned in Nantes by Arthur as Lac’s successors in a magnificent ceremony.

The First MovementEdit

Arthur is holding court at the castle of Cardigan at Easter and decides to revive the custom of hunting the white stage. This may cause problem, as he who kills the stag must then give kiss to the most beautiful maiden in court, and there are many knights who will contend against their fellows that their own choice is the most beautiful.

The following day Erec, a young knight not yet twenty-five years old, is watching the hunt with Queen Guenevere and one of her maidens. They see a knight armed in blue and gold approaching, accompanied by a damsel and dwarf. Guenevere sends her maiden to ask the knight to speak with her, but the dwarf refuses to allow the maiden to approach the knight and gives her a blow on her arm with his whip. When Erec attempts to approach the knight, the dwarf gives him a blow on the neck and face with his whip. Erec determines to avenge himself, but fears to attempt it unarmed. So he tells Guenevere that he will follow after the knight unarmed until he sees his time.
ErecEtEnide 11

Erec and Guinevere are watched during the stag hunt.

Meanwhile Arthur himself has killed the stag and council is held as to the matter of who should get the kiss. Guenever suggests that no decision be made until Erec returns. Perhaps Arthur’s wife is here showing a power of prophecy such as was previously attributed to Arthur’s wife in the Latin romance De Ortu Waluuanii.

Erec follows the knight into a fortress where he sees him lodged and then himself seeks lodging with a poor vavasour. The vavasour’s daughter is astoundingly beautiful, but dressed in an old gown with holes at the elbows. The vavasour has been impoverished in a war. But there are many who would take his daughter for their wife and enrich her and her father. Indeed, the Count of the town would do so, for she is his niece. But the vavasour is awaiting for a better opportunity for his daughter who he claims is even more intelligent than she is beautiful.

The vavasour explains that there is an annual festival on the morrow in which a sparrowhawk will be awarded to the most beautiful maiden, who may take it. If any oppose her, then the knights who support the two maidens must fight it out. The knight whom Erec has followed has already won the sparrowhawk for two years without opposition and if he wins it a third time, he may claim it every year in the future. The vavasour has good arms in the house which he will lend to Erec. Then Erec asks that he may fight for the vavasour’s daughter because of her peerless beauty and he reveals his identity. The vavasour has heard of Erec and bestows his daughter on him in betrothal.

The following day Erec defeats the knight in battle and wins the sparrowhawk. The knight is forced to promise to yield himself up to the Queen at Cardigan. The knight reveals that his name is Yder son of Nut. Yder then goes to Cardigan where he yields himself up to the Queen and tells her that Erec will return to court tomorrow with a damsel more beautiful than any that he has ever seen. The Queen points out to Arthur that it is well that he has taken her suggestion to wait for Erec before deciding which of the damsels at court is most beautiful. Arthur agrees. He asks that Guenevere release Yder on condition that Yder will now belong to Arthur’s court. This is done.

Back at the fortress, Erec refuses an invitation from the Count of the town, insisting he will lodge with the vavasour. So the Count and his men also spend the evening at the vavasour’s house. There Erec promises to make the vavasour lord of Roadan and Montreval in his father’s kingdom which is far away. Erec wishes to take Enide to court in her old, torn gown, only there to be richly outfitted by the Queen.

The following day Erec sets out for court with his betrothed, refusing all offers to accompany him. Upon arriving at Cardigan, Erec asks the Queen to array this betrothed as best she can. Once nobly dressed, she is introduced to the court. Chrétien gives a list of the best of the Knights of the Round Table who were there at that time. Erec is said to be second only to Gawain and more renowned than Lancelot. The Queen says that now Arthur may indeed give his kiss to the fairest damsel in the court. Arthur agrees, but asks that all those present also agree. All there agree with a single voice.

Arthur gives her the kiss.

The Second MovementEdit

Erec has the vavavsour who is father to his betrothed and his wife sent much wealth and has him guided for three days travel to his father’s kingdom where King Lac gives the cities of Roadan and Montrevel into their keeping. The wedding between Erec and his betrothed is held at court at Pentecost. Chrétien lists many of the nobles who attend. The name of Erec’s betrothed is revealed to be Enide. The Archbishop of Canterbury blesses their marriage and joy and revelry abound.

A tournament is arranged between York and Edinburgh for a month following the wedding, and there, in the plain below Edinburgh, Erec does best of those in the tournament. Among those whom he defeats is the Proud Knight of the Heath. Then Erec and Enide head for his homeland and arrive, on the fifth day, in the city of Carnant (which is likely to be intended to be Caerwent in modern Monmouthshire).

Erec spends almost all his time with Enide, his wife, and no longer shows any interest in tourneying and adventuring, though he richly support his men in doing so. Increasingly Erec is blamed for his uxoriousness. Enide hears some of the talk, and one morning, in bed, blames herself for Erec’s loss of renown and weeps. But Erec, unknown to her, is awake and hears her. He forces her to repeat the charges openly. Then Erec admits that those who blame him are right and Enide is right and orders her to accompanying him wearing her best dress on her best palfrey.

Despite the protests of King Lac and others, Erec departs from the castle with Enide alone, telling her to ride ahead of him and not to speak a word. But Enide, despite Erec’s command speaks to him to warn him about three robber knights who are planning to attack him and then about five robber knights who are planning to attack him. Each time Erec upbraids Enide for her warning and then defeats the knights in single combat. Erec takes their horses and orders Enide to drive all eight of them before her. That night Erec and Enide sleep in the wild, Enide by her will holding reins of the nine horses and her palfrey and keeping watch while Erec sleeps.

The following day Erec meets a squire of Count Galowain who provides him with food which was originally intended for Galowain’s mowers and offers him lodging at a castle belonging to Count Galowain. In return, Erec gives him one of the eight horses. Count Galowain hears of the coming of the knight and the maiden and is curious to see them. He becomes infatuated with Enide and tries to seduce her. Fearing lest Galowain slay Erec, Enide feigns compliance and advises him to have her seized in the morning. That night Enide lies awake all night and then, as dawn approaches, awakens Erec and warns him of Galowain’s planned treachery. Erec sets out, giving his host in his lodging the remaining seven horses in payment.

Count Galowain and a hundred men follow after Erec. But Erec, being warned by Enide, kills Count Galowain’s seneschal in a joust and then knocks down Count Galowain. Count Galowain’s men, seeing that Galowain is not dead, plan to follow Erec and avenge their lord. But Count Galowain, now repentant, forbids them and blames himself for what has happened.

Then a knight of small stature prepares to attack Erec. Again, Enide, despite Erec’s commands to keep silent, warns him. The knights fight for six hours until at last the sword of the small knight breaks and he is forced to yield. The small knight says that he is Guivret the Little, a very rich and powerful lord of the Irish. Erec reveals his identity and Guivret is very pleased. He offers his hospitality, noting that both of them now have need of a doctor. Erec refuses the offer but asks that Guivret come to his aid if ever he hears that Erec is in need of help. They bandage one another.

Erec then chances upon a hunting party of King Arthur’s. Kay, not recognizing Erec, but seeing that he is wounded, somewhat rudely attempts to take him to Arthur. Erec refuses to go, and in the joust which results, Kay is overcome. Gawain then attempts to persuade the stranger knight to halt, and when he sees that the knight will not listen, he has Arthur and his men move their camp into his path so that he will be among them when it is time to seek harbour for the knight. When Erec sees Arthur’s encampment, he realizes he has been deceived and reveals to Gawain that he is Erec. That night Erec remains with them and Arthur has Erec’s wounds treated with an ointment made by his sister Morgain. Arthur would like to keep Erec with him for a fortnight until he is fully healed. But Erec insists on leaving in the morning.

The following day Erec leaves Enide to rescue a knight named Cadoc of Tabriol who is being abducted by two giants and sends him to Arthur. But in his hurry to return to Enide, Erec’s wounds open and he collapses as he comes to her. Enide thinks Erec is dead and, unable to bear this, takes his sword and prepares to end her own life. But Count Oringle and his men, hearing her laments, arrives in time to prevent Enide doing damage to herself.

The count, impressed by Enide’s beauty, offers himself as her husband, and takes Enide and what they believe to be Erec’s corpse to the count’s castle of Limors. Count Oringle announces he will marry Enide at once and has his chaplain sent for. Enide is married by force. But Enide refuses to be comforted or to eat anything, swearing she will not eat until her husband eats, who lies on the dais. Frustrated by Enide’s refusal to respond to his attempts to comfort her, Count Oringle strikes Enide on the face. His men protest. Count Oringle declares that he may strike his wife if it pleases him and hits Enide again. Enide declares she will have nothing to do with the court, regardless of how he treats her, even should he tear her eyes out or flay her alive.

The noise awakens Erec, who grabs his sword and strikes Count Oringle on the head until blood and brains go flying and the count falls down dead. Count Oringle’s men believe that Erec is some sort of demon or devil in the form of a dead man and they all flee from him. Erec and Enide escape from the castle on a single horse.

Erec declares his love for Enide and says that from henceforward, he will be hers to command.

Meanwhile, Guivret the Little hears news that Count Oringle has found a mortally wounded knight and a beautiful woman lamenting in the forest. He suspects these to be Erec and Enide. Guivret sets out with a thousand of his knights to take the castle if Count Oringle refuses to surrender the lady and the body. Seeing the host approaching, Erec has Enide hide herself, and then jousts with the leader who, unknown to him, is Guivret. But Erec, still weak from his wounds, has the worst of it and is unhorsed. Enide jumps from her hiding place and curses Guivrer for harming her husband. Guivret promises she has nothing to fear from him or his company but she should reveal her husband’s name. She tells him it is Erec.

Guivret promptly dismounts and declares to Erec that he was, in fact, going to his aid, for he had heard that Count Oringle had captured a mortally wounded knight and lady and wrongfully planned to marry the lady. Erec says that he forgives Guivret and that he himself has already slain Count Oringle.

Guivret tends the wounded Erec very well that night. On the morrow he takes Erec and Enide to one of his castles where Givret’s two sisters tend Erec’s wounds until, at last, Erec is healed. Then Erec plans to set out for Arthur’s court at Robais or Carlisle with Enide. Guivret and his companions will accompany them.

The EncoreEdit

Erec, Enide, and Guivret travel 30 leagues in their first day. At evening they come upon a great, fortified city, more than four leagues across, surrounded by a river. Guivret identifies the city as Brandigan, the city of King Evrain. Erec wishes to seek lodging there, but Guivret warns him that there is a danger in the city which is known as the “Joy of the Court”, and it has been seven years since anyone who sought adventure in Brandigan returned. Erec is all the more eager to lodge there and Guivret explains that he has heard that King Evrain himself lodges as guests any of high birth who wish to stay there.

When they enter the city, the crowds who see Erec begin to lament his fate, saying that he will be dead tomorrow. King Evrain receives Erec, Enide, and their companions with great courtesy. At the banquet Erec brings up the matter of the “Joy of the Court” and King Evrain advises him not to seek it, for many have died in that adventure. But Erec still desires the adventure.

The following day, in the morning, King Evrain takes Erec to a beautiful garden enclosed by an invisible barrier. Flowers and ripe fruit grow there all year long. In the garden Erec sees a row of stakes, on each stake a man’s helmeted head save for the last stake on which is a horn. King Evrain explains that the heads or those of knights who have previously undertaken the adventure, that the stake with the horn is destined for Erec’s head, and that when Erec’s head is set on the stake, a new stake will be set up with the horn placed on it for the head of whoever next undertakes the adventure.

Erec sets off down the path alone until he comes across a silver bed on which a beautiful damsel is sitting. A knight armed in crimson armour appears, a foot taller than any other knight known who challenges Erec for daring to approach the damsel. Erec fights with the knight until three o’clock in the afternoon when he finally has the knight at his mercy. The knight yields, asking only that Erec tell his name. Erec reveals himself and in turn asks the knight to explain the adventure.

The knight tells that he was for many years a squire at the court of Erec’s father King Lac. He was already in love with the damsel seated on the silver bed and had promised her a boon not then described. When the youth was knighted by his uncle King Evrain in this very garden, his lady love announces that in fulfilment of his promise, the young knight must never leave the garden until he is vanquished by a knight in armed combat. He has therefor dwelt there with his lady love and slain knight after knight. The adventure is known as the “Joy of the Court” because those in the court will derive joy from his release. The name of the knight is Mabonagrain. When Erec blows the horn on the last stake, the adventure will be complete and Mabonagrain will be at liberty.

Erec blows the horn. The crowd presses forward and disarm him. Some of the ladies there compose a lay named “The Lay of Joy”.

Enide goes forward to speak to the damsel on the silver bed who is brooding in sorrow. The damsel thinks she knows Enide and asks who Enide is. Enide says that she is the niece of the Count of Lalut and was born and bred in Lalut, the name Lalut being given here for the first time. On hearing this the damsel realizes that Enide is her cousin, for Enide’s father’s brother was her own father. Mabonagrain, then a child, first came to Lalut among those who came to aid the Count of Lalut in a war. Enide tells her the tale of how she met Erec and the damsel is somewhat consoled.

After three days of joy and celebration, Erec, Enide, and Guivret set out on their way and arrive at King Arthur’s court at Robais after nine days. King Arthur has only five hundred nobles in attendance, less than he has ever previously had. Erec, Enide, and Guivret agree to dwell in Arthur’s court for three or four years.

The ConclusionEdit

Erec, Endide, and Guivret remain at King Arthur’s court until one day, when the court is at Tintagel, twenty days before Chistmas, messages arrive that King Lac has died of old age. Erec is now king. Arthur says that he must next hold court at Nantes in Little Britain and that there Erec and Enide will be crowned. At Christmas Arthur’s barons come to Nantes and many folk from King Lac’s kingdom, including Enide’s parents.

King Arthur dubs four hundred new knights and gives to each two horses and two pairs of robes. In the middle of the court are thirty bushels of silver from which each open may help himself. Arthur is far more generous than Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar.

Two matching thrones of gold and ivory, given to Arthur and Guenevere by Brien of the Isles are set up. Arthur sits on one and Erec sits on the other. Erec is clothed in a gown made by four fays named Geometry, Arithmetic, Music, and Astronomy. Enide is brought in by Gawain, King Cadwallon, the King of Gslloway (Erec’s uncle), Guivret the Little, and Yder son of Nut.

Two gold crowns are obtained, glittering with carbuncles for Erec, and Enide. The Bishop of Nantes annoints Erec and places the crown on his head. Arthur then gives to Erec a magnificent sceptre, carved from a single emerald. Erec then crowns Enide. The bells ring.

Enide's parents weep for joy. Their names are now given as Linconal and Carsenefide.

Possible SourcesEdit

NamesEdit

The name Erec is the Breton name Guerec, usually rendered Weroc or Waroc in French. Historically Waroc was the son of King Maclivius of Vannes in Little Britain. The region of the Vannetais was known from him as Broeric or Bro-Guerech, the “Region of Waroc”.

The name Enide similarly appears to derive from the region of Bro Wened, a name for Vannes. Perhaps a tale in which Erec marries the goddess of the land underlies this, or perhaps a story teller has just used two names extracted from the geography.

That Erec and Enide are crowned at Nantes in Little Britain suggests an older localization there. Carnant, the city of Erec’s father, may also be Nantes.

Chrétien’s geography, except for the coronation, is clearly placed in insular Britain.

Lac means ‘lake”. In Welsh the name Llwch means ‘lake’. In the list of Arthur’s men in the story Culhwch and Olwen are:

... Gweir False-valour, and Gweir White-shaft (uncles of Arthur, his mother’s brothers), the sons of Llwch Windy-hand from beyond the Tyrrhene sea, ...
Or perhaps the sons of Llwch are here unnamed and have nothing to do with the two brothers named Gweir. Arthur’s mother’s father was Amlawdd Wledig in other accounts, not Llwch Windy-hand. But the two Gweirs could be half-brothers.

The Welsh tale of Gereint son of Erbin contains references to a French source. Apparently a Welsh author has attempted to make the tale more at home in British Arthurian romances by replacing Guerec with the native hero Gereint son of Erbin, as a name not too dissimilar. But Dingereint was the name of a place near to the medieval castle of Cardigan

Chrétien’s ModifcationsEdit

Chrétien claims to be telling a better version of the story of Erec that story tellers normally mangle and corrupt before kings and counts. From a tale of adventure Chrétien has created a “molt bele conjointure” whatever Chrétien exactly means by that. Chrétien seems to be talking about some kind of treatment of theme and plot which he believes makes his version of the story superior.

But without knowing the versions of the tale which Chrétien disparages, one cannot know how Chrétien considers his tale to be superior.

It has been noted that Chrétien’s story of Erec et Enide has many resemblances to the story of the Fair Unknown, best known in Renaud de Beaujeu’s le Bel Inconnu. For example, both poems have the story of the combat for the sparrowhawk, the motif of a knight driving a maiden before him and the slaying of two giants. Where Erec et Enide tells near the end how Erec defeats Mabonagrain nephew of King Evrain, Le Bel Inconnu tells how Guinglain defeats the wizards Mabon and Evrain.

Claude Luttrell in his The Creation of the First Arthurian Romance: A Quest attempts to show that Chrétien has drastically modified a version of the Fair Unknown story into his story of Erec et Enide following the precepts of Alain de Lille’s Anticlaudianus. Luttrell’s theory is not generally accepted.

InfluencesEdit

Erec et Enide inspired adaptations into other languages. In about 1190, Hartmann von Aue adapted Erec et Enide into German as Erek. The Welsh adaptation Gereint son of Erbin is to be dated to the thirteenth century. The Norse Erex Saga may be fourteenth century or even later. In the 15th century a French prose adaptation of Chrétien’s romance was produced, known as the Burgundian Prose Erec.

Paricuarly in German literature, Erec remains a common figure in Arthurian verse. The opposite is true in the French prose romances. Erec and events of Erec et Enide are not referred to in any way in the Lancelot-Grail Cycle save possibly for the appearance of King Lac in the Vulgate Merlin. But Lac in this romance is King of Orcanie the Great and rules outside Arthur’s realm.

The author of the Post-Vulgate Cycle introduces Erec son of Lac as a very prominent knight, but appears not to know Chrétien’s romance. Enide is not mentioned. Enide does appear in the first version of the Prose Tristan, but the author again seems not to know Chrétien’s account, only that Enide is Erec’s wife. Accordingly he writes a new account which relates that while Erec was riding on the grail quest, Enide’s father, the Duke of Huiscam, and her brother are slain by a knight named Senehar who wishes to take Enide as his wife. Erec, aided by Galahad, Bliobleheris, and Hector, defeats Senehar’s forces and wins Enide as his bride. He then leaves her, to continue with the grail quest.

ReferencesEdit

In Old French Only:Edit

In Old French and English Translation:Edit

  • Carroll, Carleton W. (Ed. & trans.) (1987). Chrétien de Troyes. Erec et Enide. Garland Library of Medieval Literature, 25A. New York: Garland.

In English Translation Only:Edit

Commentary:Edit

  • Burgess, Glyn S. (1984). Chrétien de Troyes: Erec et Enide. Critical Guides to French Texts 32. London: Grant & Cutler.
  • Maddox, Donald (1978). Structure and Sacring: The Systematic Kingdom in Chrétien’s “Erec et Enide”. French Forum Monographs 8. Lexington, KY: French Forum.
  • Luttrell, C. (1974). The Creation of the First Arthurian Romance: A Quest. Evanston: Northwestern UP.

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