The Merry Maiden, in Italian the Pulzella Gaia, appears only in Italian Arthurian literature where she is the daughter of Morgain the Fay, and the fairy mistress of Gawain.

In Tivolo RitondoEdit

In the Italian Tavolo Ritondo in chapter lxxx, when Tristan (Tristano) is imprisoned by Morgain the Fay (Fata Morgana), the author introduces a twelve-year old girl, blonder than golden thread, with lovely dark eyes who waits on Tristan with a companion maiden. The maiden’s voice is low and sweet. Morgain has previously stated her own love for Tristan, but indicated that nothing will come of it since Tristan has given himself fully to Iseult (Isotta) the Blond.

Morgain, perceiving that Tristan looks on the twelve-year old girl with admiration, now introduces her to Tristan as her daughter and offers her to Tristan as his wife. Tristan refuses, because he already has a wife, Iseult White-hands. Morgain tells Tristan that Iseult White-hands is now dead, having died of sorrow because Tristan abandoned her, but continues that Tristan indeed may have no love other than Iseult the Blond.

Later , in chapter lxxxi, on leaving Morgain to take part in the Tournament at the Hard Rock, Tristan is challenged by Morgain’s lover, Huneson (Oneson) who is here said to be the father of the Merry Maiden (Pulzella Gaia), by whom is presumably meant the twelve-year old girl whom Tristan has just met.

After Tristan has slain Huneson, there follows an episode not found in other Tristan stories. Tristan encounters a knight with a white shield with one vermillion garland. The knight is seeking another knight with a white shield with two vermillion bands, that is Lancelot of the Lake (Lancillotto de Lago) on whom the knight wishes to avenge himself.

Tristan promises that if the knight will tell him his reason of seeking vengeance, Tristan will direct the knight either to Lancelot or to the knight whom Lancelot loves best.

The knight responds that he loved the Merry Maiden, the daughter of Huneson by Morgain the Fay, for more than a year. One day, he saw her in the garden of the castle of Palaus, and abducted her from three of her maiden companions. Although the Merry Maiden wept continually, the knight rode off with her. Three leagues from the castle, the knight dismounted by a spring where he tried to wash away her tears and where he promised her his service. He undressed her and prepared to take her by force. At that point Lancelot happened to pass by and prevented the rape. During the battle between Lancelot and the knight, Huneson came onto the field and took his daughter back.

The knight and Lancelot break off the battle to rest and call a truce swearing that they would fight to the death the next time they met.

Tristan offers himself in Lancelot’s place, although Tristan claims to recognize that Lancelot has wronged the knight and that it is not like Lancelot to do such a thing. The knight accepts, wrongly believing that Tristan must be Lancelot. Tristan utterly defeats the knight whom he sends to Camelot (Camelotto) to yield himself to Lancelot. The knight reveals himself as Burlet of the Wilderness (Burletta della Diserta), nephew of the Giant Lucan (Lucano) the Tall. In despair of his loss, Burlet throws himself into a river and drowns. In chapter cxxiv, when Tristan and Hector of the Fens (Astore di Mare) depart under truce from a castle of Brehu the Merciless (Breus sans Pietà), Brehu mentions that it was not long since Sir Gawain (Calvano) stole the Merry Damsel (Gaia Donzella) from Morgain the Fay. The reference seems to be to a version of the tale told below.

In Pulzella GaiaEdit

The Merry Maiden / Pulzella Gaia in extant texts appears mainly in one of the earliest cantari called Pulzella Gaia, probably to be dated to the middle of the 14th century.

In this poem, in the court of King Arthur (Artú), two of his knights named Gawain (Galvano) and Trojan (Troiano) agree to stake their heads on a wager over which one will bring back a more worthy trophy from the hunt than any other knight. Trojan slays a white doe which he brings back and presents to Guenevere (Zenevre).

Meanwhile Gawain comes across a monstrous snake which he battles, expecting to kill it and so win the wager. But the snake wounds Gawain and appears ready to slay him. It then speaks, asking his name. Gawain responds that he is Lancelot (Lancilotto). The serpent does not believe him, and Gawain admits that he is indeed Gawain. Immediately the serpent transforms in a beautiful damsel and reveals that she has long desired Gawain and that she is the Merry Maiden (Pulzella Gaia), the daughter of Morgain the Fay (fata Morgana).

Gawain, lying in her arms, remembers his wager with Trojan, and that he must die for it. But the Merry Maiden gives to Gawain a ring which will provide him with anything he wishes, including transporting her to his side. But it will lose its power, if Gawain ever speaks of the joy he has with her. Then the Merry Maiden takes back her serpent form.

Gawain uses the ring to gain a new charger, a company of captive knights, and a dead monster as his hunting trophy. Arriving back in court, Gawain is named victor and Trojan departs from the court. Gawain often uses the ring in secret to bring the Merry Maiden to his side and they enjoy their love. The Merry Maiden again warns Gawain to say nothing of their love.

But Guenevere then makes sexual advances to Gawain, who rejects her. Guenevere holds a tournament and orders that each knight there must tell of his greatest treasure. Gawain, angered by the Queen’s taunts, tells of the Merry Maiden whom he claims to be superior to all others. The Queen then declares that anyone who cannot prove that what he boasted is true within three days will be beheaded.

Gawain discovers that, because he has revealed his love affair, the ring no longer works. King Arthur has preparations made for Gawain’s execution. Gawain, kneeling by the block, admits that he deserves his fate and that if he could only see his lady once again, he would die happy.

Suddenly the Merry Maiden reappears with an army of Faërie, and rescues Gawain. But the Merry Maiden says that she will be imprisoned by her mother, now that the truth is known. She then vanishes with her host, declaring that Gawain must find another lady love for he will never see her again.

Up until this point, the tale is a variant of the stories told of Graalent, Guingamor, Lanval, and Desiré. But this tale has a different ending. The Merry Maiden returns without Gawain to her mother Morgain, who imprisons her in a dungeon up to her waist in water, her lower half transformed into the shape of a fish.

Gawain, rebuked by Arthur, goes seeking the Merry Maiden. Gawain is challenged by Brehu the Merciless, whom he defeats. After wandering for six months, Gawain is harbored in a castle where he overhears damsels mourning for the imprisonment of the Merry Maiden and cursing the disloyalty of Gawain.

At another castle, the lady of the castle curses all knights for Gawain’s sake. Gawain names himself as a friend of Gawain, whereupon the lady summons a hundred knights to take and slay this poor knight (povero cavaliere). But when the poor knight easily defeats all of the hundred knights, the lady falls in love with the poor knight and directs him to the city of Pela Orso where the Merry Maiden is imprisoned.

Gawain, disguised as a merchant, tries to conquer the city. Failing at that, he besieges it for four years. Finally, aided by a letter sent to him by the Merry Maiden, Gawain disguises himself as the Lady of the Lake and disguises his followers as her maidens. So disguised, he is able to enter the castle, free the Merry Maiden, and take Morgain captive. Morgain is imprisoned in place of the Merry Maiden.

Gawain and the Merry Maiden return to Camelot where there is great rejoicing. It is not actually said that they wed.


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