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Back into storyland giants have fled …1

The old hymn is about how knights were supposed to be virtuous as well as valiant. Medieval romances may (or not) have been ‘escape literature’, but nobody escaped from the habits of religion. Even outside the Grail romances, and the ‘pious romances’ in which the hero’s adventures are in some sense a penance or pilgrimage, knights would hear Mass before setting off on their exploits. Grace would be said at meals; one was expected to confess one’s sins regularly,2 baptize foundlings, and reverence all in holy orders. Furthermore, knights were frequent visitors at monasteries; some retired into a religious life once their campaigning days were over.3

Having met some giants in the History chapter, we meet more of them in this chapter. The texts chosen include passages from lesser-known romances: the first is from ‘antiquity’, followed by one that takes themes and episodes from a wealth of sources and recounts a rambling series of adventures (included here because it has not been widely studied). The third romance is Arthurian, but not one of the best known; last comes a full-length story extracted from a Tristan romance. Tristan is not among the heroes of Arthurian romance at this date,4 and Arthur does not appear in any of the Tristan pieces I have included. There are a number of ‘ancestral’ romances in Anglo-Norman, which give the history of an Insular hero; these may have been composed as part of the Norman settlers’ process of adapting and adopting the history of their new country as the next generations after the Conquest settled into their new culture.5 I have not included any of these because they are widely anthologized. Legge’s Background gives a comprehensive account of them.6

Roman de Thèbes (Amphiarax)

Written probably around 1150, the romance has been deemed the earliest in French.7 The editor considers it to be Anglo-Norman, judging that it is from Henry II’s court.8 I have chosen it because, according to Dean, French texts existing in Insular MSS may be regarded as Anglo-Norman if they are of sufficient (insular) interest.9 It is clear this romance was known and read, even if not originally composed, in Britain. These two extracts (one introductory) give the story of Amphiarax, ‘archbishop’ of the Argive army (vv. 2119–49, & 5042–309 in Mora-Lebrun’s edition). Some details about the romance, and of the MS in question, are taken from Mora-Lebrun’s Introduction. The narrator delights in learned references, to names of the Liberal Arts, and to names such as Turpin and Godfrey from other stories. But this does not necessarily mean the audience was highly learned; the narrator delights in showing off, and some of the battle descriptions are pure Boys’ Own stuff.10

The author does not leave us his (or her) name, nor any dedication, but there are indications s/he was part of Henry II’s intellectual circle (pp. 6–7). Clues indicating an audience both warlike and educated include the sword of Tydeus and a motif on Eteocles’ shield; above all, the editor judges that the strife between Oedipus’ sons recalls strife among William the Conqueror’s successors (p. 7). Thèbes was the first of three ‘romans antiques’; next came Eneas, c. 1156–60; last was Troie, c. 1165 (p. 8); here, Statius’ Thebaïd is transported to an Anglo-Norman milieu (p. 9).

The base MS for this edition belongs to the tradition of the ‘rédaction courte’ (p. 10). Mora-Lebrun discusses inter al. some ‘souvenirs’ of the First Crusade (pp. 16–17): for example, the mention of Godfrey de Bouillon in comparison with Amphiarax (vv. 5184–5 and note). There is also a comparison (pp. 21–2), drawn from the Chanson de Roland, with Turpin (vv. 5186–9); but the writer distances himself from chansons de geste (pp. 26–7). Notable passages of ekphrasis (pp. 29–30) include the description of Amphiarax’s chariot.11 This description becomes more and more vivid as the pictures come alive, as if it were cinema, with passages of direct speech, rivalling and somehow reflecting the real action taking place in the war of Thebes. Notes to Mora-Lebrun’s edition and translation offer information about the writer’s debt to Ovid, and other matters of interest. A startling passage in Euripides’ The Phoenician Women (which cannot be a source for the romance) reminds us how vivid such pictures could be, whether in contemporary life or in literature: Antigone watches, from a roof-top in Thebes, the arrival of the enemy warriors led by her brother. Noticing one of them, she exclaims ‘How prideful, how hateful to see! Like an earth-born giant hurling flame in a picture …’ (my emphasis).12 Compare the passage at vv. 5062–85, below. The latter part of the passage is unique to this manuscript, being inspired not only by the Thebaïd but also by Aeneas’ descent into the nether world in Virgil’s Aeneid.13 A translation of Thèbes into English was made by John Smartt Coley,14 but not of our MS S; he translates the version in Constans’ first volume.15

The Roman de Troie may be read in comparison.16 The edition cited here gives approximately half the romance, using the Anglo-Norman copy as its base text. It contains magnificent set-pieces, for example: description of the Chambre des Beautés, and the tomb of Hector. But the images, although vividly detailed, do not come alive and speak on the page as the figures do on the chariot of Amphiarax. An American MA thesis, available online,17 studies this romance and Chrétien’s Erec et Enide (see especially her chapter 2). Extracts from the story of Amphiarax, with translation, are given in an appendix. But the version cited in this thesis gives no dialogue to the painted figures (the author’s bibliography lists her sources).

MS S is of relatively recent date (late fourteenth century) but appears to follow closely an earlier (twelfth-century) French MS from the West or North-West. It has rare interpolation from a ‘purement français’ MS of intervening date (pp. 33–4). Mora-Lebrun attributes this to the fact that the copyist is English and, not knowing French very well, copies very carefully. The language is Anglo-Norman (p. 34; examples of typical forms are given at p. 35). Further, she considers that a mixture of ‘tu’ and ‘vous’ in speech is typical of Anglo-Norman (p. 37).

I have copied the text from the edition, slightly modifying only certain of the punctuation to conform to English usage; the arrangement into paragraphs is editorial, and folio numbers are not marked. Page numbers refer to the edition, which gives translation into modern French.


Amphiarax Introduced18

2119Amphyarax manda li reis,

un archevesque molt corteis.

Cil estoit maistre de lour lei,

del ciel saveit tout le secrei,


et reviller fait hommes morz;

des oiseals entent le latin:

2125soz ciel n’aveit meillor devin.

Li reis lui prie qu’il li die

come iert del host, ne li ceilt mie.

Amphiarax forment sospire,

enbroncha sei, ne li volt dire;

2130mais li reis forment le conjure

qu’il li di veir del augure.


The king sent for Amphiarax, a noble archbishop. This man was an expert on all their laws; he knew all the secrets of Heaven, and how to revive the dead. He understood the language of birds;20 there was no better sorcerer in all the world.

The king asked him to tell him everything about the army, and not to conceal anything from him. Amphiarax sighed deeply, hanging his head: he had no desire to tell. But the king commanded him sternly to tell the truth revealed in the oracles.


‘Sire,’ fait-il, ‘jel vous dirrai,

de rien ne vous en menterai.

Ceste gent que vous veiez,

2135si vous a Thebes les menez,

si je onques rien de augurie soi,

molt en retornera cea poi.

Car tu perdras Capaneüs,

Polynicés et Tydeüs;

2140Ypomedon cil y morra

et Parthonopex si ferra;

et des autres y morra tant,

ne puisse dire par nul semblant.

Et g’i morrai, si tu me menez,

2145ne viverai mie deux semaignes;

et ja nus homme m’ocira,

mais la terre me sorbira;

sorbira mei et mon cheval,

jusqu’en parfounde abisme aval.’


‘My lord,’ he said, ‘I’ll tell you, and I’ll tell you no lies. These people you see here, if you lead them to Thebes — if I ever understood anything about the oracles — hardly any of them will come back here afterwards. For you will lose Capaneus, Polynices, and Tydeus. Ipomedon will die there, and Parthonope will too. And so many others will die that I cannot begin to say. I shall die too, if you take me there; I shan’t live two weeks. No man will ever kill me, but the earth will swallow me up. It will swallow up me and my horse, down into the deep abyss below.’


Doom of Amphiarax21

5042D’Amphiarax dirre vous dei,

come se contint a cel tornei.

En un curre ert Amphiarax,

5045qui fu fait outre Seint Thomas;

Vulcans le fist par grant porpens

et a lui faire myst grant tens.

Par estudie, par grant cunseil,

i myst la lune et soleil,

5050et tregieta le firmament

par art et par enchantement.

Noef esperes par ordre y myst,

en la maior les signes fist;

es autres set, que sont menors,

5055fist les planetes et les cours.

La noefme assist en mie le monde:

ceo est la terre et miere parfonde;

en terre peinst hommes et bestes,

en mer peissons, venz et tempestes.

5060Qui de fisique sot entendre

es peintures poet molt aprendre.


Doom of Amphiarax

I must tell you about Amphiarax, and how he fared in this battle. Amphiarax was in a chariot which was made far away beyond the Indies.22 Vulcan built it after careful planning, and it took him a long time to make. Having studied hard, and thought long, he decorated it with the moon and sun; he conjured up the firmament by his art and his magic.23 He placed nine spheres in order there, with the signs of the Zodiac in the greatest of them. In the next seven, smaller ones, he made the planets and their courses. He put the ninth in the middle of the universe: this is the Earth and the deep sea. He painted men and beasts in the earth, and in the sea he painted fish and winds and tempests. If you understand natural philosophy, you can learn a great deal from such pictures.


Li jaiant sont en l’autre pan,

tout plain d’orgoil et de boban:

les diex volent desheriter

5065et par force del ciel jetter.

A poier sius ont fait eschale;

onc homme qui vive ne vit tale,

car un mont ont sur autre mys,

— plus de sept en y ont assis —

5070et montent sius pur les diex prendre,

si de eux ne se poent defendre.

Jupiter est de l’autre part,

une foieldre tient et un dart;

Mars et Pallas y sount aprés,

5075cil dui sustienent tout le fés.

Tout liu autre [qui]24 el ciel regnent

isnelment lor armes pernent;

cel d’els n’i ad qui quierge essoine,

tout se combatent par le trone.


The giants, all full of pride and boasting, were pictured on the other panel. They want to usurp the gods, and throw them out of Heaven! To climb up there they made a ladder. No man had ever seen anything like it, for they piled one mountain onto another (seven altogether), and up they went, to get at the gods — unless they were able to defend themselves against this attack.

On the other side we find Jupiter, holding a thunderbolt and a lance; then came Mars and Pallas next, holding the defence between them.25 All the other gods who reigned in heaven hurried to take arms, and not one of them sought an excuse: they were all in the battle for the throne.26


5080Fort se combatent li jaiant,

maces de plom font faire ardant;

gietent as diex iriement,

car cil y claiment chasement;

gietent brandons et ardanz çoches,

5085et rouges flambes par lour bouches,

car vers les diex ount plus grant ire

que je ne puisse penser ne dire.

Tanz pesanz pierres lour enveient

que la menor ne portereient

5090sés boefs ne dis, treze ne quinze:

quant qu’aconseut froisse et demince.

Contre les dex forment s’iraissent

por le trone, qu’il ne lor laissent.

Li dieu trestout ensius se traient,

5095car li jaiant pas nes manaient.

Conseil pernent tout ensemble;

li plius hardis de poour tremble,

car il n’ont pas escus de chesne,

espiés de fer, hanstes [de] fresne,

5100glaives ne lances ne espees,

maces de fer ne granz plomees,


The giants fought furiously, heating red-hot their leaden maces. Then they hurl them angrily at the gods, because these want to hold onto their own domain! They throw firebrands and burning branches, and shoot red flames from their mouths! They are so frenzied against the gods I can’t even imagine how to tell you.27

They lobbed such heavy stones; the least of them couldn’t be carried by six or ten oxen — no, not even by thirteen or fifteen! Even the smallest would smash into tiny pieces anything it hit. They were utterly enraged against the gods, for the domain they wouldn’t give up to them.28 The gods all withdraw, because the giants are relentless, and they hold a council together. The bravest of them is trembling with fear, because they have no oaken shields, no iron lances with shafts of ash, no blades or pikes or swords, no iron maces or great leaden clubs.


fors solement danz Jupiter,

qui tint un dart agu de fer.

Mars fu dejoste lui a destre,

5105la proz Pallas fu a senestre;

cil dui vailent en la bataille

plus que toute l’autre raschaille

et que les autres diex salvages

qui habitent en ces boscages.

5110Phebus y fu, molt bons archers

qui fu vaillanz, hardis et fiers;

cil tint son arc tenduement,

cels esguarde molt fierment,

atant une saiete encolche.

5115Al jaiant vait prendre une roche;

Phebus li dist par grant contraire:

‘Ja savras come je sai bien traire!’

E cil respont par grant orgoil:

‘Je te deffi, car mal je voil;

5120je ne redot tei ne tes darz,

car fils es Jupiter bastarz;


Only Lord Jupiter grasps a sharp iron dart. Mars was beside him on his right, and gallant Pallas on his left. These two were more worthy in battle than all the rest of the mob, including all the other wild gods living in these woods.

Phoebus was there, a champion archer who was brave and hardy and proud, holding his drawn bow. He casts a fierce eye at the giants, and fits an arrow to the string. To the giant who is about to pick up a rock Phoebus cries angrily ‘Now you’ll see I’m a good shot!’

That one shouts back arrogantly ‘I defy you! I wish you ill! I’m not scared of you or your darts — you’re a bastard of Jupiter’s,


il t’engendra en la putain

qui ot de toi le ventre plain.

Par patremoine le ciel claimes,

5125mes compaignons ne moy nen aimez.’

Li jaianz finist sa parole;

Phebus destent et li darz vole:

si le ferist parmi la longe

que n’i ot puis par lui chalonge;

5130aprés lui dist: ‘Poi a duré,

ce m’est avis, vostre fierté.’

Mars et Pallas forment s’airassent,

darz esmoluz corre lor laissent;

foildres gettent cil autre dé,

5135fort defendent lour majesté;

morz les oscient rubatant:

n’en puet nul ester en estant.

Jupiter molt s’en esleesce,

cil qui il fiert pas ne se dresce;

5140si en fiert un par la pectrine,

ne li ot puis mestier mecine.


by the trollop whose belly was filled with you! You want the heavens as your birthright, and you hate both me and my companions!’

As the giant finished speaking, Phoebus loosed and the arrow flew. It struck him right through his spine,29 so he could never challenge ever again! Then he cried ‘I don’t think that pride of yours lasted very long!’30

Mars and Pallas were whipped to fury, and let fly against them with sharpened darts. The other gods dashed forth thunderbolts, strongly defending their royal status. They felled them all dead; not one was left who could stand up. Jupiter was full of battle-joy: whomever he hit never rose again, and any he pierced through the heart had no more need of doctors.


Ne vous en quier faire longe plait:

tous les monz asseeir refait.

El curre fu ceste peinture,

5145Vulcans l’entailla par grant cure.

Et a pierres et a esmals

fu faitz darriere li frontals,

et enlevees les sept ars:

Gramaire y est peinte oue ses pars.

5150Dialetique oue argumenz,

Rethorique oue jugemenz;

l’abaque tint Arimetique,

par la gamme chante Musique:

peint y est diatesseron,

5155dyapenté, dyapason;

une verge ot Geometrie,

un autre en ot Astronomie:

l’une en terre mette sa mesure,

l’autre es esteilles ad sa cure.

El curre ot molt sotil entaille:5160

bien fu ovré, onc n’i ot faille.


To make a long story short, they put all the mountains back where they had come from.

This story was painted on the chariot, engraved by Vulcan with the greatest care. The inside of the front panel was made with precious stones and enamel-work; with the Seven Arts in relief.31 Grammar is shown there with all her parts; Dialectic with arguments, Rhetoric with judgement. Arithmetic holds an abacus, and Music sings her scales; they are all painted there: the fourth, the fifth, and the octave. Geometry is holding a rod, and Astronomy has another.32 One of them uses her measure for the earth, and the other does the same for the stars.

There was so much subtle carving all over the chariot; it was so beautifully made there was not one flaw in it.


Un ymage i ot tregetee

qui vait cornant a la mené,

une autre qui tout tens frestele,

5165plius douce que rote ne vïele.

L’ovre del curre oue la matiere

vaut bien Thebes oue tout l’empere,

car li pan sont d’or fin trifoire

et li timon de blanc yvoire;

5170les roes sount de crisopase,

colour ount de fu qui embrase.

Le curre traient quatre azeivre;

l’esclos ne poet homme aperceivre

en sablon ne en terre mole,

5175car plius tost vont qu’oiseals qui vole.

Amphiarax point et s’eslaisse

la ou vit le meillor presse.

Trait l’espié que fu forbie,

del bien ferir pas ne s’oublie;

5180por doner grantz coups maintenant

sont tout liu autre aprenant.


He had contrived an image, of one who went blowing his horn to summon the hounds. Another whistled continuously on a flute, more sweetly than any rote or viol.33 The decorative art on this chariot, and the quality of the materials, were worth more than Thebes and all its empire put together. For the walls of the chariot were of encrusted gold filigree, and the shafts were of white ivory. The wheels were of chrysoprase, the colour of flaming fire.34 Four zebras drew the chariot! Nobody could ever see their hoofprints, even in sand or soft earth, for they went more swiftly than the bird that flies.35

Amphiarax spurs forward, charging where he can see the best of the mêlée. He draws his well-burnished sword: he won’t forget to strike well! All the others can take lessons from him when it comes to dealing great blows!


Molt trencha bien le jour s’espé,

a ceux dedenz fu molt privé:

onc l’espé al duc Godefrei

5185ne mist les Turs en tiel effrei,

ne taunz gentz coups ne fist Torpins

en Espaigne sur Sarazins

come fist l’archevesque le jour

sur ceux de Thebes en l’estour.

5190Molt fu appareilliés d’armes,

des meillors que l’en fait a Parmes;

al col ot un escu vermeil

que molt reluist countre soleil;

bocles d’or i ot plius de set,

5195n’i ad cele ou dis mars n’en eit;

sis haubers fu forz et legiers

et plus luisanz que argent mers:

qui l’ad vestue ne dote plaie.

A entresigne ot un daumaie,

5200et soz son healme un veloset

de sei blaunche bien toset.


That sword chopped magnificently all day, making itself well known to those besieged inside. Never did Duke Godfrey’s sword strike such terror into the Turks, and nor did Turpin deal such knightly blows upon the Saracens in Spain, as the archbishop did that day upon the Thebans in battle.36 He was brilliantly equipped with armour, the best that was ever made in Parma: at his neck was a bright red shield that glowed in the sunshine; there were at least seven buckles upon it, not one of them less than ten marks.37 His hauberk, strong and light, shone brighter than pure silver; whoever wears this hauberk need fear no wound. He was distinguished by a dalmatic robe,38 and wore a fine veil of close-napped white silk under his helmet.


Li soleilz lust cler come en mai,

el curre d’or fierent li rai:

reflambist en sius la montaigne

5205et de desouz tote la plaigne.

Del curre et de ses guarnemenz

s’esbahissent tout cil dedenz;

cil dedenz s’esbahissent tout,

li plius hardiz avant li fuit,

5210car quident que seit asquuns deux

qui se combate por les Grex.

Amphiarax sot bien par sort

qu’a ycel jour receivra mort;

par augure sot li guerriers

5215que ceo esteit sis jors darriers.

Puis que certeinement le sot,

emploia le come il mielz poet;

de ceux dedenz fait grant martire,

ne veil ne joefne n’en revire.

5220Quant qu’il en trove en sa veie

en enfern avant sei enveie.


The sun was as bright as May, throwing its rays upon the golden chariot; the splendour flashed to the mountains above and all over the plain beneath. Everybody inside the city marvelled at the chariot with its adornment, and the boldest fled before it: they thought it must be some god, who had come to fight for the Greeks!

Amphiarax knew, through his own divination, he was certain to meet his death that day. The great warrior had learned from the auguries that the day would be his last. Because he knew this for certain, he used it to the full as best he could! He made enormous slaughter among the besieged, and neither old nor young survived it. Whomever he found in his path, he drove them to Hell ahead of himself.


Grant perte y refont cil dehors

de lor chevals et de lour cors,

mais a nïent le tenissant

5225si il lui sol ne perdissant.

Molt en furent desconseillé:

de ce se sont molt esmerveillé

que il morit en tiel maniere,

que sa mort fust horrible et fiere.

5230Car al vespre, soentre none,

la terre crosle et li ciels tone

et, si come Dex l’ot destiné

et cil l’ot dit et deviné,

terre le sorbit sanz enjan,

5235si come Abiron et Datan.

Cil qui cele merveille virent

s’espo[e]nterent et foïrent;

molt foïrent a grant desrei,

car chescuns ot poor de sei.


The besiegers suffered huge losses, of horses and men; but they would have made nothing of that if only they could save him alone from being lost. They were in despair, and what filled them with horror was that he died so: his death was savage and frightful. For in the evening, soon after the ninth hour,39 the earth shuddered and the skies thundered. And, as if God had decreed it and as he himself had spoken and foretold, the earth swallowed him up … no word of a lie! Just like Abiram and Dathan!40

Everybody who saw this awful thing was terrified,41 and fled; they fled in great disarray, for each was terrified for himself.


5240En enfer chiet Amphiarax,

ou li chaitif sount et li las;

en enfer chiete, l’espé trete

dont il ot grant ocise faite.

Mais la veie fu molt hidouse,

5245de forz trespas et tenebrose:

a la porte trove un portier

qui le comencie a abaier,

tant laidement come il plus poet,

oue treis testes que li fels ot.

5250Par sa porte estuet touz passer

cels qui illoec deivent entrer;

Amphiarax par cel pertus

avant passa, non par autre us.

Idonc entra en un sentier

5255ou oït almes traveillier;

puis passe avant, a une planche,

l’eve Acheron, que n’est pas blanche:

cest Acheron, que molt s’enbrive,

laide est et grant et loing la rive,

5260et de serpenz mordantz fu pleine.


Amphiarax fell down into Hell, where all the wretched and miserable are. He fell down into Hell, holding the drawn sword with which he had done so much slaughter. But the way down was ghastly, a shadowy and dreadful passage. At the gate he encountered a porter, which began to bark at him as horribly as it could with its three heads,42 the brute! Through this gate all must pass who have to go into that place. Amphiarax went through this gate, as there was no other way in. Then he followed a path, where he could hear souls groaning in travail. Then he went on to where there is a plank to cross the water of Acheron, so black. This is Acheron, a rushing river: ugly, huge, whose banks are so far apart; it is full of biting snakes.


Cel passa a quelque peine,

cil et toute sa compaignie

qu’enfern sorbit en la champaigne.

A un flueve revint aprés

5265qui d’Acheron estoit molt prés;

bestes y ot de mil maniers,

qui lor font molt horrible chers.

Notoniers en fut Acheron,

il et sis compaigns Acharon;

5270ent[r]e els deux out un nacele,

oue quel passent la gent meisele.

Cochiton ot non ycil fluvies,

fiers estoit plius que nuls deluvies;

cist est ardant a toutes leis

5275assez plus que nuls fous grezeis;

molt sont chaitis qui ainz remaignent,

molt sospirent fort et se plaignent.


He passed it with difficulty, he and all his company whom Hell had swallowed in the battle. Then he came to a river that was quite close to Acheron. It was full of a thousand kinds of creatures, that glared hideously at them. The ferryman here was Acheron, with his companion Charon.43 The pair of them had a skiff, which served for all those wretches to pass over. This river is called Cocytus, and is fiercer than any deluge. It blazes all over its surface, worse than any Greek fire.44 So terribly tortured are those in there, and they sigh and groan piteously.


Amphiarax ceste eve passe,

et des autres oue lui grant masse;

5280mais Amphiarax vait premiers,

qui fut noveals gonfanoers.

A un trespas vint molt pudnés,

ou mil dragons movent lour becs;

neir fut et grant et molt horrible.

5285Une eve i ot qui fait molt grant rible;

plius est trenchanz que nuls rasours,

plus tost cort que ne vole ostours:

Styx l’apelent tout li autor,

et li petit et li graignor.

5290Sur cele n’ot planche ne pont,

ne nul rien qui mot li sont.

Thesiphoné illoec se baigne

et ses crins de serpenz aplaigne;

come lou ule et crie et brait,

5295et vers Amphiarax se trait.


Amphiarax passes across this water, together with a great mass of others. But Amphiarax goes first, as a new standard-bearer. He came to a filthy passageway where a thousand dragons wriggled their snouts; it was huge, black, and horrible. There was another river, flowing fiercely, which was sharper than any razor and swifter than any goshawk in flight. All the authors, great and small, call it the Styx. Over this one is neither plank nor bridge, nor is there any living thing to speak to him. Tisiphone is bathing there,45 and smoothing her serpent locks. She howls like a wolf, screaming and shouting, and draws close to Amphiarax.


Amphiarax fort s’effroït

quant le Sathan venir oït,

car pleine fu de marrement

et dist lui molt iriement:

5300‘Mar entras cea ens a cheval,

molt y avras pullent ostal.’

Amphiarax oue grant poor

s’en passa outre et [oue] dolour;46

atant parvint davant le rei,

5305trestouz armez de son conrei.

Pluto li reis oue son trident

d’Amphiarax prist vengement:

des puis qu’Amphiarax fu morz,

n’en poet il puis garder en sorz.


Amphiarax is terrified when he hears this devil coming, for she is filled with viciousness and says angrily to him ‘Curse you for coming in here on your horse! You’ll get nasty smelly lodging!’

Fearfully, painfully, Amphiarax passes her by. At length, still armed in all his war-gear, he comes before the king; this king, Pluto, takes vengeance on Amphiarax with his trident.

Now Amphiarax is dead, and he can no longer gaze into the future.


The Severed Head47

The long and rambling romance of Protheselaus (Dean 163) contains some hidden treasures, and I include one in this book in order to help it become better known. Further, to remind readers that Anglo-Norman is a French of other parts of Britain and not just of England, its author represents Wales. Critics have not been kind to Protheselaus;48 I would like to do something to redeem it. Hue de Rotelande’s first romance, Ipomedon, also composed at the end of the twelfth century, was vastly more popular.49 Because much of the Protheselaus material is drawn from ‘romans d’antiquité’, and other themes are from folk-tale, Arthurian romance, and so on, I have placed the present excerpt between Thèbes and Yder so as to keep an approximate generic grouping. Neither of those romances is in Dean; although Thèbes arguably does not count as Anglo-Norman, it is important to realise it was read, if not composed, here. Hue borrows some names from Thèbes, therefore he must have known it (or a version of it), and assumed his readers knew it too. He may have taken names from Statius, but either situation is possible. This is further evidence that texts written in Continental France were known and read and copied in Anglo-Norman Britain.

The passage I have chosen is found elsewhere as a folk-tale, ‘Le conte du mari trompé’; sixteen versions have been recorded and examined.50 Hue’s version, according to Holden, is only a faint echo of the original tale: the theme is of a wicked wife helped out of her predicament by the intervention of a stranger (here, the hero Protheselaus).51 The present version predates, but is unlikely to be a source for, the version in Gesta.52 Lecoy says Gower’s version, which goes back ultimately to Paul the Deacon (eighth century), is ‘un autre thème’ (p. 479, note 1); he judges this tale of Hue’s to be the earliest known example. He does not suggest Hue invented it, but that he was telling and adapting only part of an existing tale (unknown before this date, p. 504). I have been unable to trace the motif, either of this or of the Gower version, in Thompson, Motif-Index.

An interesting early lexical item, in this very passage, is the use of two words ‘guage’ and ‘plege’ occurring together in a situation of dispute and its resolution (vv. 4970–86). It has been remarked that twelfth-century appearances of ‘gage’ clearly predate its legal specialization, it and ‘plege’ are already associated in the Leis Willelme (before 1189).53 Protheselaus followed hard on the heels of Ipomedon, which was probably composed in the 1180s (Dean 162); this puts it very close in time to the Leis.

The episode is in Holden’s vol. I (notes pp. 52–3 in vol. III); the events that took place before the beginning of this extract are explained in conversation. The base manuscript is Holden’s A (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, fr. 2169, see p. 10 of the Introduction),54 which is incomplete.55


[38c] Li Blois s’est asis al manger.

Protheselaüs od lui set,

Merveilles ora, ainz qu’il liet.

Ey vus un vassal fort e grant!

4804De vers la cambre vent portant

Une chaiere grant de ivoire

Uvree de fin or a triffoire;

En la chaere un oreiller

4808A fin or broisdé bon e cher;

De fin or i ot meint boton

Ovré de l’ovre Salomon.

Cil qui la chaere porta [38d]

4812Devant le Bloi asise l’a;

Protheselaüs, que ço vit,

S’esmerveille, mes mot n’en dit.

Wastels, walfres e simenels

4816E vins e mes pleners e bels,

Cum al Bloi memes la maniere,

Aset l’em devant la chaere;

N’i set dame ne chevaler,

4820Si y venent lé mes plener.


The Blond Knight sat down to dinner, and Protheselaus sat with him. He will hear something amazing before he gets up again! Here comes a great strong knight, who arrives in the chamber carrying a big ivory chair worked with fine gold inlay; in the chair is a pillow richly and beautifully worked with gold thread, and ornamented with golden buttons made in Solomon’s style.56 He who was carrying the chair set it down in front of the Blond Knight; Protheselaus, who saw this, was astonished but said not a word.57 Several kinds of cake were served,58 together with delicious meats and wines a-plenty, placed before the chair as well as before the Knight. There was not a lady or gentleman at the table for whom the dishes did not arrive in abundance.


Protheselaüs en pes set,

Il verra el, ainz qu’il se let.

Vers la cusine en un effrei

4824Dous palteners a grant desrei

Menent une meschine avant

A mult grant hunte demenant.

Ben semblot franche dammeisele,

4828Mult esteit alingné e bele,

Mult ot en li bele figure,

Mais mult ot povre vesteüre

E mult esteit a grant mesaise;

4832Chemise ot neire e malveise,

Unes pels ot mult enfumees

De gros mutuns e mult usees.

Cil paltener, que mult sunt grant,

4836La butent, ferent de vergant,

Laidissent d’estrange guise;

Enmi cel aire l’unt assise,

Tut par sei a un escamel,

4840N’i ot dubler ne laid ne bel,

Mult s’est asise murnement.


Protheselaus sat there quietly — he will see something else before he gets up! Then there is a rumpus from the kitchen, and a couple of rogues come violently dragging forth a young girl. It is a shameful business; the girl looks like a noble damsel, fair and elegant. She has a lovely face but wretched clothes, and seems in a very unhappy state; her chemise is filthy and ragged, and her smoky old furs are of coarse and worn-out sheepskin. These huge scoundrels push her, beating her with sticks and insulting her outlandishly. They seat her in the middle of the place all by herself on a stool. No tablecloth for her, neither fine nor fair; she sat down miserably.


A mes li vent priveement [39a]

Une teste tute sanglente;

4844Quant la vit la pucele gente,

De joie li mua color,

Un poi suzrist par grant dulçur.

Li Blois Chevaler l’esgarda,

4848Ire ot, mes mot ne parla.

Protheselaüs l’aparçut,

Mervaille s’en que c’estre dut;

Pur la pucele alques se dolt

4852Mais un mot parler ne volt.

Neir pain d’orge devant li mistrent

E mes mult fiebles i asistrent;

N’i aveit guaires de moré.

4856Saillent cil paltener devé;

Par les tresces sus l’aracent,

Arere od lur verganz la chacent.

Protheselaüs tel dol a

4860Unques puis ne but ne manga;

E li Blois en ot tel pité

N’ad guaires beü ne mangé;


A special dish arrived for her: a head, all bloody! When the gentle damsel saw it, her colour rose for joy and she gave a sweet little smile. The Blond Knight was watching, angrily, but he said never a word. Protheselaus saw it, and wondered what on earth it could be all about. He was rather upset for the girl, but he didn’t want to say anything. They put black rye bread before her, and gave her very inadequate fare; there wasn’t much spiced wine for her! Then the rough chaps sprang forward, grabbing her up by her hair and chasing her back with their sticks.

Protheselaus was so distressed he couldn’t eat or drink any more, and the Knight had such pity for him59 he had hardly eaten or drunk anything.


Ben veit que Protheselaüs

4864Est tant dolent qu’il ne pot plus.

‘Bels sire,’ fait il, ‘qu’avez vus?

Mult vus vei murne e anguissus.

Dites, sire, que vus avez!

4868Del tut ferrai voz volentez.’

Protheselaüs li dit: ‘Sire,

Or vus dirrai dunt ai cest’ ire,

Quel qu’a ben u mal me turt:

4872Merveilles vei en ceste curt.’

Li Bloi dit: ‘Sire chevaler, [39b]

Ne vus devez pas merveiller.

Le veir del tut vus conuistrai

4876E l’ovre vus descoverai:

Vus veïstes la dameisele,

Jo vi l’ure que mult fu bele;

Certes, el m’esteit si amie

4880Que plus l’amoie que ma vie;


He could see that Protheselaus was so sorrowful he couldn’t bear it.

‘Good sir,’ he said, ‘What’s the matter? I can see you’re very anxious and unhappy. Tell me what’s wrong, friend! I’ll do whatever you want.’ Protheselaus said ‘Friend, I will tell you what’s distressing me, whatever happens for good or ill: I have seen something awful in this court!’

The Blond Knight said ‘Sir knight, don’t be astonished. I shall make the whole truth known to you, and show you the whole affair. You saw that damsel: I saw her when she was so beautiful. Yes, it’s true she was my sweetheart, so much that I loved her more than my life.


A mult grant onur la tenee,

Devant mei servir la fesee

Sor ceste chaere doree,

4884Tant cum mon cors fu onuree.

Ces dous guainnuns que pendu sunt,

Que veïstes al chef del punt,

Deüssent ma cambre guaiter

4888Que n’i entrast cel chevaler

Ki vus enterrastes al gué;

N’en firent pru, sin fu gabbé,

E jo pur ço d’els m’en vengai,

4892Cum veïstes, pendu les ai.

Les dols qui pendent armez

Furent sor tuz de mei privez,

De m’onur durent guarde prendre;

4896Nel firent, pur ço sis fis pendre.

Cil chevaler qui sul i pent

Ot tut a sun cummandement

E mei e trestute ma terre,

4900Ne lassa pas ma honte a quere;


I held her in the highest honour, and had her served before me on that golden chair, as if I were honouring my own self.60 Those two mastiffs you saw hanging by the end of the drawbridge? They were supposed to guard my chamber so that knight should not enter: that knight whom you buried at the ford.61 The devil they did! I was tricked, and so I took my revenge and hanged them, as you saw. Those poor wretches hanged in their armour were among my special men. They were supposed to guard my honour and they didn’t, so I had them hanged.62 The knight hanging there alone was one who had everything he wanted, of me and of all my territory; but he never ceased his efforts to shame me, and humiliated me every way he could. I discovered it, and hanged him. Let me tell you the damsel was then so graceful and lovely, but because of foolish things he heard from them about her he — that knight I told you about — loved her. I forbade him my lands, but he wanted nothing but to shame me.


A tot son poër me honi

E jo l’aperceu, sil pendi.

Sacez que ceste dammeisele

4904A cel’ ure esteit gente e bele, [39c]

Mais par cunseil fol que d’eus ot

Cel vassal, dunt vus di, amot.

Defendue li oi ma terre,

4908Mais ne volt fors ma hunte quere;

Mais qu’il guaitai al païs,

A li cumbati, si l’occis.

Chescun jor de la semaine e feste

4912Devant li faz mettre la teste;

Mais ele en fait joie grant

E j’en sui vif desvé par tant.

Ja n’avra al quor tel dolur,

4916Si tost cum el la veit le jor,

De joie li estait si ben

De la dolor n’i est ren;

C’est la ren dunt plus su marri,

4920Kar s’el vosist crier merci,

De ren si haitez ne serreie,

Al premier mot li pardoree.’


However, even though he kept a close watch about the place,63 I fought him. And I killed him. Every day, weekday or feast-day, I have his head put in front of her. But she is so delighted with it, it maddens me! No matter how much pain she feels in her heart, as soon as she sees it that day she is so joyful that grief doesn’t matter to her. That’s what distresses me more than anything; if she would only beg forgiveness it would be the happiest moment of my life. I would forgive her at the first word.’


Protheselaüs dit: ‘Bels sire,

4924Nel tenez a curuz ne a ire;

Donez mei de parler congé

A li, kar j’en ai grant pité.’

Li Bloi dit: ‘Sire chevalers,

4928Parlez! Mult le voil volenters.

Se poez son quer aturner

Que sulement me voille amer,

Grez e merci vus renderee,

4932Tot le forfait li pardurroie.’

Protheselaüs est levez,

Desqu’a la meschine est alez;

Cum el le vit, sus se dresça,

4936Curteisement le salua. [39d]

Protheselaüs s’est asis,

La pucele regarde al vis;

Sa grant belté mult li agree,

4940Mais feblement fu atournee.

Il la mist tost a raison.


Protheselaus said ‘Good sir, please don’t be angry or offended: give me permission to speak to her, because I feel so sorry for her.’

The Knight said ‘Speak, sir knight! I would very much like you to do so. If you can turn her heart, just so she will love me, I’ll render you most grateful thanks, and I’ll forgive her all her punishment.’64

Protheselaus got up and went across to the damsel. When she saw him, she arose and greeted him courteously. Protheselaus sat and looked into the girl’s face. Her great beauty pleased him, even though she was poorly arrayed. He began to speak straight away:


‘Bele, jo vus requer un don.

Unc mais de mes oilz ne vus vi,

4944Certes, jo vus erc bon ami;

M’amur vus ert a tot dis preste

Se faire volez ma requeste.’

La meschine respont sanz ire:

4948‘Sire, ne saverez ren dire

Que jo ne face volenters,

Kar mult semblez franc chevalers.’

‘Dameisele, vostre merci!

4952J’ai mult parlé a vostre ami;

De vus se pleint mult durement,

Mais c’est son major marrement

Quant vus vers lui forfait avez,

4956Que merci ne li demandez.

Dameisele, tant ai enquis,

De ses paroles tant apris:

Se vus merci li demandez,

4960Tut ferra quant que vus vodrez.’


‘My fair one, I would ask for a favour. I have never set eyes on you before, but I will certainly be a good friend to you. My love will always be at your service if you will agree to my request.’ The damsel was not offended, and replied ‘My lord, there is nothing you could say that I would not do gladly for you, because you seem to be a noble knight.’

‘Thank you, dear lady! I have spoken freely to your friend, and he complains bitterly about you. But the worst thing for him is that you have done him wrong and you will not ask his forgiveness. Lady, I have asked many questions, and I have learned from his words: if you ask his forgiveness he would do anything for you!’


La dameisele lui respont:

‘Sire, si Deus onur me dunt,

J’en ai esté si treshuntuse,

4964De mon mesfait si vergonduse,

De honte parler ne pooie,

Ne ne puis, mais que morir deie.’

‘Avoi, bele, ne seez fole!

4968Jo musterai vostre parole; [40a]

Mar ferez for agenuler,

Guage ofrez, lassez mei parler!’

Fait la meschine: ‘Vez me preste.

4972Vostre voler, vostre requeste

Ferai jo, sire, n’en sai plus.’

Dunc leve Protheselaüs,

Fait la pucele od li venir,

4976Eissent de cambrë, a l’eisir

Li Blois les ad aparceüz,

De grant joie est tut esperduz;

La dameisele ne s’ublie,

4980A ses pez chet tut espasmie,

Son guage tent, mes n’en dit ren;

Protheselaüs le dit ben:


The damsel replied to him ‘My lord, God give me grace, I have been so very ashamed, and so cast down by my own fault, I cannot speak for shame. I couldn’t if I should die for it!’

‘Oh come, lovely, don’t be a fool! I will tell him your words. All you have to do is kneel down, and offer a token;65 let me do the talking!’

The damsel said ‘I am ready. I will do what you want, and grant your request, sir; I don’t know what else to do.’

Then Protheselaus got up, making the girl come with him. They went out of the chamber, and as they went out the Blond Knight saw them. He was quite mad with joy, and the girl didn’t lose any time — she fell fainting at his feet. She held out the token, but didn’t speak. Protheselaus said it beautifully:


‘Sire, pur Deu, sire, merci!

4984Tut son mesfait pardonez li

Par tel covant cum vus dirrai:

Jo meme plege en serrai

Qu’a tuz les jorz mais de sa vie

4988Vus ert leale e bone amie.’

Li Blois regarda la meschine

K’il ama de grant amur fine;

Veit la plurer mult tendrement,

4992De li ad grant pité forment;

Des oilz plure par grant tendrur,

Kar mult l’ama de grant amur.

Conseil ne demanda a nulli,

4996Il l’ot tut prest ensemble od li;

La meschine par la main prent,

Si l’en leva mult bonement;

Son maltalent li pardona,

5000Plus de dous cent feiz la baisa. [40b]

Par la sale sunt haité tuit,

Grant joie i ad e grant deduit.


‘My lord! For God’s sake have mercy, my lord! Forgive her all her misdeeds, on such a condition that I shall tell you: I myself shall be guarantee for her, that for all the days of her life she will be a good and faithful lover to you.’

The Knight looked at the lady, whom he loved with great and true love.66 He saw how she wept bitterly, and was filled with pity for her; his eyes wept with tenderness, for he loved her very dearly. He didn’t need to ask anybody’s advice, because he had his decision ready: he took the lady by the hand. Raising her up, he forgave her all her transgressions;67 he kissed her a thousand times. Everybody present in the hall was pleased, and there was great happiness and rejoicing.

Le Roman de Fergus

This romance is best known for its Scottish setting, another reminder that Anglo-Norman is not to be thought of as the French of England only.68 It is dated between 1200 and 1233 by Frescoln, and simply ‘thirteenth century’ by Dean. Frescoln edits the Chantilly version (MS Musée Condé 472) with some corrections from the Paris version (BN f. fr. 1553). Unfortunately only these two Continental MSS survive. It is by Guillaume le Clerc, who names himself at the end of the work.69

Owen points out that its literary merit has been overshadowed by the geographical considerations that have interested so many readers,70 therefore I have picked out from it an adventure that could have taken place anywhere.71 In his account of this romance,72 Owen remarks that Guillaume has abandoned a typically vague Arthurian geography for a setting designed to draw a Scottish audience into the action. In this, the earliest extant Scottish literary fiction, he invites his public to pursue debate on the place of women in society.

The episode chosen here nicely encapsulates much of the plot, because the dwarf tells some of what has happened and much of what is going to happen.73 Fergus takes its place after Protheselaus in Dean’s ordering, conveniently moving us towards Arthur’s court and other Matter of Britain in this chapter.74

Fergus predictably encounters dragons and giants, including a fearful giantess; in the present episode he meets a dwarf whose helpful advice contrasts with the unpleasant behaviour of dwarfs in the two Tristan stories, below. The episode has something in common with dream-visions: the atmosphere is magical, and the beautiful spring has precious stones for pebbles. A famous description of a spring filled with precious stones is the setting for Pearl.75 Another is in a parody of such romantic excess: ‘The Land of Cockaygne’ (see its Introduction for analogues).76 In line with Chrétien de Troyes,77 whose work Guillaume clearly knew well, there is much to be said for calling it the romance of The Knight with the Splendid Shield (… chevalier au biel escu); this is what Guillaume calls it at the end of the text.78 The audience’s discovery of the hero’s name, or his discovery of his own name, is an important theme of many romances.79 Our hero first appears at v. 355 but is not named until vv. 736–9;80 further, the narrator does not use the name until Fergus himself has announced it. Unsurprisingly (to those who are familiar with the stock traits of Arthurian knights), Kay is his usual ill-mannered self: he angers the hero by his mocking words, and Gawain is furious on his behalf. In this romance Arthur is polite to the newcomer; in Yder, below, we shall see that Arthur behaves as badly as Kay does.


3655[f.111e] En tel dolor et en tel cure

Et en tele mesaventure

Fu Fergus un an trestot plain,

Que onques n’i manga de pain

De car cuite car ne l’avoit.

3660Mais quant li grant fains l’argüoit,

Si chaçoit tant que il prendroit

Dain u cervreul dont le mangoit

Comme ciens la car tote crue.

3664Maigre avoit le ciere et velue

Por ço qu’il n’ert res ne tondus;

Et li blïaus dont fu vestus

Estoit ronpus et descirés.

3668L’aubers li bat as nus costés

Qu’il ot grailles et amagris.

Tos est alés et desnorris,

Et ses chevals tot autretel,

3672Qu’il ot eü mal ostel.

Un an ot ja passé et plus.

Par le bois chevaucho[i]t Fergus,


In such pain and such care, in such evil fortune, Fergus had now spent a whole year. He never ate bread, nor cooked meat, for he had none. But when fierce hunger tormented him, he went hunting until he had caught a buck or a stag, and ate its flesh all raw like a dog. His face was haggard and hairy, for he was neither shaved nor barbered, and the shirt he was wearing was ragged and torn. His hauberk rattled against his bare ribs, that were so thin and skinny. He was completely haggard and starved, and so was his horse, for he had enjoyed pretty bad lodgings. This had been going on for a year or more.

Through the forest rode Fergus,


Le plus bel et le mius follu

3676Que onques nus hom ot veü

Puis que Dius le premier forma.

En cel bois une fontainne a

Qui sordoit devers orïant;

3680N’a plus biele, mien ensïant,

Desi que la u Dius fu nés.

Et tels pooirs li fu donnés

Que nule autre fontainne n’a

3684Que ja nus hom tant [ne] serra

Malades ne mesa[a]issiés,

S’il en boit, qui ne soit haitiés.

Fergus s’en vint a la fontainne,

3688Qui molt estoit et clere et sainne,

Non pas por ço qu’il le quesist;

Mais Fortune la le tramist

Que des mals le voloit saner

3692Qu’ele li ot fait endurer.


the loveliest and the leafiest that ever human eye had seen since God created the very first one. In this forest there was a fountain, gushing out towards the East. There is none more beautiful, I’d say, between here and the place where God was born. It was endowed with a power that no other fountain had: never was there any man so ill or suffering who would not, if he drank from it, be cured. Fergus came towards the fountain, that was so clear and clean, but not because he was looking for it. Fortune sent him there, wanting to heal him of his hurts, that she had made him suffer for so long.


Lonc tans li ot esté contraire;

Or li est doce et deboinaire.

Fortune le veult ellever

3696Si haut com le porra monter.

Fergus esgarde l’iaue biele

Qui sort sor molt haute graviele,

Qui ert de pieres presiouses,

3700Molt gentes et molt vertüousses

Et bieles de mainte maniere;

El mont n’a presiouse piere

[f.111f] Qui ne fust sor la fonteniele.

3704Sor la rive ot une capiele

Faite del tans anchïenor.

Uns nains le garde nuit et jor

Qui devinoit tot sans mentir

3708Ço qui estoit a avenir

A cels qui illuec trespasoient

Et de la fontainne bevoient.


She has been against him for so long, but now she is sweet and mild to him. Fortune wants to raise him up as high as he can possibly be lifted.81 Fergus looks at the beautiful water gushing out onto a high bank of gravel; this was all of precious stones, that were kindly and virtuous,82 all of them lovely in their different ways. There was no precious gem in the whole world that could not be found at that little spring.

On the bank stood a small chapel, built in ancient times. Night and day it is guarded by a dwarf who can tell everything, no lie, about what the future holds for those who pass by there and drink of that spring.


Mais s’aucuns illuec trespassast,

3712Si n’en beüst ne ne goistast

De la fontenele corant,

Ne li desist ne tant ne quant;

Ja tant nel seüst araisnier.

3716Fergus voit l’iaue formoier

Et aler arie[re] et avant.

Por sa biauté l’en prist talant

Qu’il en beüst un petitet;

3720Del destrier pié a terre met

Et vint a l’iaue, si en but

A la main tant com il lui plut.

Maintenant qu’il en ot gosté,

3724Tot son corage et son pens[é]

Et sa force et son hardiment

Li revint el cors eranment;

Or fu bials et liés et joians

3728Et plus legiers et plus tornans

Que ne soit uns esmerillons

Et fu plus fiers que uns lions.

Totë a oblïee sa cure.


But if one passes who drinks not, nor even tastes of that flowing fountain, he won’t say a thing however much that one tries to persuade him.

Fergus sees the water swirling back and forth; it is so lovely that he is seized with desire to drink just a sip. He alights from his horse and goes to the water, then he drinks some from his hand, as much as he wants. But now he has drunk, all his heart and thought, all his force and hardihood, immediately return to his body! Now he is handsome and happy and joyful, and he is lighter and swifter than a merlin, fiercer than a lion. He has forgotten all his troubles!


3732Ains s’afice forment et jure

Qu’il n’a el monde chevalier,

S’or se voloit vers lui drecier,

Que grant estor ne li rendist.

3736Atant fors de la capiele ist

Li nains. Si l’a reconneü

Et dist: ‘Vasal, bien aies tu,

Li fuis au vilain de Pelande!

3740Joie et baudors et honors grande

T’est aprestee, bien le di.

Je te connois mius que tu mi

Et bien sai que tu vas querant

3744Galïene o le cors vaillant,

A cui t’escondesis t’amor;

Mainte painne, mainte dolor

Et mainte plue et maint oré

3748Aras soufert et enduré,

Et mainte cop t’este[v]ra avoir

Ançois que le puisse[s] ravoir.


Rather, he asserts himself proudly, swearing that there is no knight in the world he would not take on and give a good drubbing to, should he stand up against him.

Then, out from the chapel came the dwarf! He recognized him, saying ‘Noble youth, may the good be with thee, villein of Pelande’s son!83 Much joy and gladness, and great honours, are in waiting for you, I can tell you that! I know you better than you know me,84 and I know you’re in search of the shapely Galiene, to whom you refused your love.85 You will have suffered much pain and endured much suffering, many a rain and many a tempest, and you will have to undergo hard knocks, before you can possess her again!


Mais ce saces, par moi saras

3752La maniere par coi l’aras:

Se tu es tant preus et tant sages

Et s’en toi est tels vaselages

[f.112a] Qu’a Dunottre vuelles aler

3756Por le blanc escu conquester,

Que garde la vi[e]lle moussue,

Encor poras avoir ta drue.

Se ne vius enprendre cest fais

3760Por li ne t’en travelle mais.’

Quant Fergus ot que li nains dist

Molt durement s’en esjoïst;

Il cuide et croit en sa pensee

3764Que li nains est cose faee.

Se li plaist molt a escouter

Ço que li nains li veut conter

Que il ravra encor s’amie;

3768Qui li donnast tote Pavie,

Nel fesist on pas plus joiant.


But pay attention, for it is from me that you shall learn how to get her back. If you are wise and bold enough, with sufficient bravery to be prepared to go to Dunottre,86 to achieve the White Shield, that is guarded by the hairy old hag, then you’ll be able to win your sweetheart. But if you don’t want to undertake this task then there’ll be no point your undertaking any further travails for her.’

When Fergus heard what the dwarf had to say, he was absolutely delighted! He believed, and thought to himself, that the dwarf was a fairy creature.87 So he was pleased to listen to what the dwarf wanted to tell him, how he was going to get his sweetheart back; he couldn’t be more joyful if you had given him the whole of Pavia!


Mais savoir veut comfaitement

Il le porra mius recouvrer,

3772Et le liu u le puist trover.

Et dist au nain ‘Cose petite,

Foi que tu dois Sainte Esperite,

Quant tu le dis et je t’en croi

3776Que mius me connois que je toi

Et par mon non m’as apielé,

Se il te vient en volenté,

Ensaigne moi sans demorer

3780Le liu u le porrai trover;

Car nule rien tant ne desir.

Se Damesdius par son plaisir

Me voloit avuec lui posser

3784Et tos mes mesfais pardonner

Que je onques vers lui mespris;

Se Galïene o le clers vis

Fust en infer en tenebror,

3788S’iroïe je; por soie amor

Lairoie paradiss la sus

Por venir avuec li ça jus

Soufrir mal et painne et torm[en]t

3792Dusques au grant forjugement.


But he wanted to know exactly how he could best go about recovering her, and the place where he would find her. He said to the dwarf: ‘Little man, by the faith you owe to the Holy Ghost,88 when you tell me, and I believe you, that you know me better than I know you, and you’ve called me by my name, if it’s your will then tell me quickly the place where I can find her! She is the one I desire more than any other!89 If it pleased the Lord God to wish to place me with him, and forgive all the wickedness that I had ever sinned against him, and if the bright-faced Galiene was in the shadows of Hell, then I would go there too. For her love I would leave Paradise there above, to come down there below with her, to suffer ills and pain and torment until the great Day of Judgement.90


Ensigniés le moi, bien ferés;

Puis que vos mon consel savés

Et que autre chose ne quier

3796Bien le me devés ensignier,

Et je serrai vos hom tenans

Trestos les jors qu’ere vivans.’

Li nains li respont: ‘Chevalier,

3800Tres bien vos saro[i]e avoier

De ço que vos me requerés.

Mais ce saciés, pas ne l’arés

Si souavet que vos cuidiés;

3804Ançois en ert escus perciés,

Et ce est en peril de mort,

Que vos puissiés avoir confort

[f.112b] Ne joie ne envoisseüre

3808De celi u metés vo cure.

Saciés de voir, il n’i a tor:

Il couvient acater bon jor

A celui qui le veut avoir.


Teach me all about it, you’ll do well to do so. Since you know what’s in my heart, and that there is nothing else I seek, you are bound to tell me; and I will be your liege man all the days that I live.’

The dwarf replies: ‘Sir Knight, I know very well how to guide you in what you ask of me. But understand this: you shan’t get her as easily as you think. Before that, there will be shields pierced, and that in peril of death, before you can enjoy the comfort, the joy and pleasure, of her you care so much about. This is the truth, there’s nothing else for it: one must pay at length for what one wants.


3812Et vos l’a[ca]terés por voir,

Ains que l’aiés, molt cierement,

Et si n’ert pas d’or ne d’argent.

Mais ce saciés dou cors demainne.

3816Ja sanc ne jeterés de vainne

Por plaie que ja recevés:

Seürement vos combatés

Se vos pöés venir en leu.

3820Molt vos este[v]ra estre preu,

Se jamais avoir le volés.

Par proëche le conquerés;

Car por loier ne por doner

3824Ne pöés a li recovrer,

Par hardement ne par vertu

Se vos n’avés le bel escu

Qu’en la tor de Dunostre pent;

3828Ja nel raverés autrement

Par cose que je vos en die.’


And you shall well and truly pay before you get her, that’s quite clear, and not by gold or silver either: you shall pay by means of your own body. But you shall not shed the blood of your veins from any wound you receive; you’ll fight safely if you can come to the right place. You will have to demonstrate great prowess, if ever you want to get her. You’ll win her by prowess, for you can’t win her by any money either paid or given, nor even by strength and force,91 unless you have got the splendid shield that hangs in the Tower of Dunottre. Not otherwise shall you have her, whatever I may say to you!’


Quant cil ot qu’il ne rara mie

S’amie se cel escu n’a

3832Lors dist au nain que il l’ara

Se ja nus hom le doit avoir;

Mais il veut encore savoir

Le vertu que cil escus a

3836Et en quel liu le trovera.

Li nains li dist tot a estrous:

‘Li escus est si vertuous

Que cil qui l’avra en baillie

3840Ja par armes ne perdra vie

Ne n’iert abatus de ceval

Por nul homme vivant carnal.

Encor a il autre nature

3844Que ja la nuis n’iert si oscure

Qu’il n’ait clarté entor la tor,

Atant par nuit comme par jor,

U li escus est en repos.

3848Saciés que de trestoute l’os

D’Engleterre estoit asanblee

S’eüssent vostre mort juree,


When he heard he would never get his sweetheart without getting the shield, then he said to the dwarf that he would win it if any man could! But he still wants to know about the virtue of this shield, and in what place he might find it. The dwarf told him right away:

‘The shield is so powerful that whoever has it in his possession can never lose his life in armed combat, nor can he ever be knocked off his horse by any mortal man alive. What’s more, it has another property: no night can ever be so dark that there is not light around the tower, as bright by night as by day, where the shield is lodged. Believe me, if the whole host of the English were gathered, having sworn your death,


Mais tant d’avantage eüssiés

3852Que dedens cele tor fuissiés

Si eüssiés levé le pont;

N’ariés garde de tot le mont

Perueuc qu’eussiés a manger.

3856Cele tors siet sor un rocier,

Se li bat la mers environ.

Par une porte i entre l’on,

[f.112c] Car il n’i a que une entree;

3860Mais cele est forment encombree:

C’une vielle — que maufés [l’]arde! —

La porte et la tornele garde

Si que nus n’i ose aprocier.

3864Ele tient une fauç d’acier

Qui a pié et demi de lé;

Sous ciel n’a homme si armé

Ne chevalier, tant hardis soit,

3868Se la vielle a cop l’ataignoit

Que le ne trençast par le bu.


you would have such an advantage if you were inside that tower and had raised the drawbridge, you could care nothing for the lot of them providing you had enough to eat. The tower is established upon a rock, and the sea beats all around it. You go in by one gate, for there is only one entrance, but this is most formidably blockaded! Both gate and turret are guarded by an old hag, may the Devil burn her! such a one that none dares approach it. She wields a steel scythe, a foot and a half wide. There’s no man under Heaven so well armed, nor any horse however powerful it is, that wouldn’t be sliced through the body if that old lady got in a blow at him.


Ço est la garde de l’escu.

Se tu le veus avoir sans faille,

3872De vos deus serra la bataille,

Et molt le troveras pesant;

N’enduras tele en ton vivant,

Ne mais n’eüs si grant paor

3876Com tu ara[s] a icel jor

Que la bataille ert de vos deus.

Sacés que ce n’iert mie jeus

De quintainne ne de tornoi;

3880La vi[e]lle est de molt grant bueffoi.

Ains que departe la bataille

Aras bel escu sans faille.

Or fai do mius que tu poras;

3884Car autre noviele n’oras

Par moi de t’amie la gente.’

Atant en la capiele en entre.

Fergus le siut deriere au dos;

3888Mais a l’encontre li est clos

Uns huis de fer tot de son gre.


That is the guardian of the shield! If you are determined to have it, the battle will be between the two of you, and thou shalt find it tremendously hard.92 You’ll never endure anything like it again in your life, nor such great fear as you’ll feel that day when the battle is between the two of you. I promise it will be no game of quintain or tourney:93 the old lady is absolutely ferocious. As soon as the battle is over, you’ll get the shield without fail. So, do the best you can, for you’ll get no more advice from me about your lovely friend.’

With that, he went off into the chapel. Fergus was close behind him, but when he got there a great iron door had shut of its own accord against him.


Molt i a feru et hurté.

Au nain dist qu’il li laist entrer;

3892Car encor veut a lui parler.

Molt est dolans qu’il est repus;

Et quant voit qu’il n’en fera plus,

Si est sor son ceval montés,

3896Qui au pont estoit aregnés.

Fergus cevauce le boschage;94

Tot son pensé et son corage

A torné a chevalerie.

3900Et nequedent pas ne s’oublie

S’amie la gente, la sage;

Amors un poi le rasouage,

Et saciés bien qu’il aime asés.

3904Or est ses travaus atenprés

Por ce qu’il set qu’ele n’est morte.


He knocked and beat hard at it, calling the dwarf to let him in because he wanted to go on talking to him. He is devastated at this response, and when he sees he’ll get no further then he goes to mount his horse, that has been tied up at the bridge.

Fergus rides away through the woods. All his thought and all his heart is now turned towards chivalry. Nevertheless, he doesn’t forget his lover, so sweet and wise.95 Love comforts him somewhat, and you can be sure he is loving enough! His troubles are lightened because he knows she is not dead.


Bonne esperance le conforte,

Et li nains qui dit li avoit

3908Que par l’escu recoverroit

Cele ke tant ot desiree.

Cevauçant vait par la contree;

[f.112c] Molt chevauça par ses jornees

3912Et trespassa maintes contree[s]

Et se herberga en maint liu.

Mais ce ne me sanbleroit preu

Se ci vos avoie aconté

3916Tos les lius u [l’]ont ostelé.


Sweet hope comforts him, and the dwarf who has told him that by the shield he will recover her whom he so desires.

He goes riding through the land. He rode all day every day, traversing many regions, and sheltering in many places. But I don’t think there’d be much point if I told you all the places that gave him lodging.96

Le Roman du reis Yder97

Although this romance is not among the best known, and we lack the beginning of the only extant manuscript copy, it is a splendid adventure story.98 Reviews of Adams’ version (now superseded by Lemaire’s) welcomed it as a valuable text and translation of a neglected romance. It was omitted from Dean’s catalogue, but Tony Hunt believes it should have been included.99 Because the episode with the bear, and the rather disturbing story of the hero kicking a lady, are comparatively well known even if only by reputation, I have chosen the exciting story of Yder’s fight with the giants and what happened afterwards because of Kay’s treachery.100 The adventure begins with Arthur’s journey to the giants’ lair, accompanied by Kay, Gawain, Yvain, and Yder; they are to kill the giants, and win the knife Yder’s beloved has demanded in return for her hand in marriage. Kay is, as always, bitterly jealous of any knight who is better than he is (that is, every other knight he ever meets); Arthur is bitterly jealous of Yder because Guinevere has said she admires him.

The passage chosen is vv. 5415–923, omitting the author’s digression about the evils of jealousy because I wanted to keep the impetus of the story going. The battle is real, in the story-world, unlike the battle between gods and giants in Thèbes, that is a pictorial accompaniment to war between nations. It is skilfully told, keeping readers in suspense; the author resists the temptation to say ‘Ah, but you will see he isn’t dead!’ It will be noticed that Yder’s friends swoon onto his body, which modern readers might find a little excessive. It is surprising that critics of medieval literature even today retain a tendency to think that men swooning, or weeping, feminizes them. On the contrary, such behaviour is appropriate manly homage to the greatness of the object of their grief (or other strong emotion).101 Weiss discusses the topic in ‘Swooning’, and so does Mills as recently as 2014 (‘Male Weeping’).

My text below is copied from Lemaire’s edition; I preserve the spelling and punctuation, altering only spacing of the latter to ordinary English usage. I have also altered the quotation marks, because English readers may find the French convention less easy to read (for example, keeping track of which person is speaking). The text, with facing-page translation into modern French, is found on Lemaire’s pp. 340–69; those wishing to consult Adams’ version, see her pp. 198–213.102 Paragraphs in the text follow the edition, although I have added extra paragraph divisions in my translation.


5415[f.43va] … E tant ont le chemin tenu

Que a la forte maison sunt venu

Ou li dui giant repairoent

Qui le païs entor gastoent.

De fors virent monz de os de bestes

5420Qu’il manjöent; mult i ot testes

Sor pels aguz, qui d’omes furent.

Al baile de fors s’aresturent;

Chefs i ot bien plus de treis cenz.

5424‘Keis,’ dist li reis, ‘vos irrés enz;

Il vos i covient sol monter,

Lor estre nos vendréz conter.

Keis, si vos en avéz bosoing,

5428Nos ne vos serrom pas trop loing.’

Tarjant, grosçant, s’en torne Keis,

Car il i vait mult sor son peis

N’en deit avoir ne los ne gré.

5432A cheval vint desqu’al degré,

Del chief a regardé ariere;

Freior le prist de grant maniere

Quant il n’i vit entor sei home:

5436Mels volsist estre dela Rome.


And they kept going until they arrived at the fortified house where the two giants lived, who ravaged the country all around. Outside they saw heaps of bones, from animals the giants had been eating, and there were a lot of heads stuck on sharpened stakes — these were the heads of men! At the bailey outside they stopped; there were more than three hundred heads.

‘Kay’, said the king, ‘you go in! It’s best if you go up there alone, then you can come back and tell us about them. Kay, if you need us we shan’t be far away.’

Grumbling and dragging his feet, Kay goes. He goes very much against his will; and he won’t be getting much praise or thanks for it. He approached the steps, on his horse; he turned his head and looked behind him. He could see nobody about, and overwhelming terror seized him. He wished he was as far away as the other side of Rome.


Il veit la cort laide e soltive;

Sor le degré out une eschive,

Large la vit com un portal,

5440La s’ensbusche tot a cheval

Si qu’il onques n’i descendi.

Al rei Artur qui l’atendi

Fu avis qu’il demorolt mult.

5444Il ont pris longement escolt

N’i ont oi noise ne temuire.

Ne quiert més que Yder i muire.

5479[f.44ra] ‘Seignors,’ ço dist li reis Arturs,

‘Jo ne sui pas tresbien seürs

De Kei, qu’il seit pas retenuz;

Bien peüst estre revenuz,

S’il eüst de soi pöesté.’

5484Gagain dist: ‘Mult a demoré;

Quant pechie a qu’il part de ci,

Més nos n’avons laienz oï,

Pus que ço fu, ne cri ne noise;


He saw a courtyard, ugly and deserted; he saw a corner103 on the stairs that was as wide as a doorway, so he crept into it, horse and all. He never got down from there!

King Arthur, waiting for him, thought he was taking his time. He and the others listened out, for a long while, but could hear no noise or fearful sound.104 Arthur no longer wanted Yder to die in there.


‘My lords,’ says King Arthur, ‘I don’t feel at all easy about Kay. Perhaps he’s got held up? He ought to be back by now, if he’s in a fit state.’

Gawain says ‘He’s been a long time. Since he left here a while ago, we haven’t heard a sound from in there. Nothing at all, not a cry and not a whisper.


5488E c’il vos plaist que jo i voise,

Jo irrai volentiers en prés lui.’

‘Jo voil un altre envoyer cui:

Sire Yder en ai jo esleu.’

5492Yder en ad grant joie eü

Quant il l’entent, si l’en mercie.

Il entre en la cort enhermie;

Al degré descent del destrier;

5496Quant il ne troeve o atachier

N’il n’a esquier ne garçon,

La reigne passe ultre l’arçon:

Lors n’a garde qu’il puis se moeve.

5500Il vient sus el palais, si troeve

Coste a coste les dous jaians;

Sinquante piéz ot li mains grans

De longor, o cinquante o plus.

5504Lor dos eurent torné vers l’us.

D’un grant senglier sunt andui keu:

Li uns torne l’espei al feu,

Qui fu fait d’un gros bleteron,

5508E li autre trait le carbon

Al porc que sis compains tornoie.


If you’ll please let me, I’ll happily go in after him.’

‘I want to send somebody else in there; I have chosen Sir Yder.’

Yder was delighted to hear this, and thanked him. He went into the wasted courtyard, and got off his warhorse by the steps. Not finding anywhere to tether him — there was no groom or boy — he threw the rein over the saddle; after that he didn’t expect him to go anywhere.

He went up into the palace. There were the two giants, side by side! The smaller of them was fifty foot long; fifty, or even more! Their backs were turned to the door; they had a large wild boar, and they were both being the cook. One was turning the spit in the fire, which was made from an enormous branch; the other was pulling the hot coals up round the pig as his companion turned it.


Od le peil fu e od la seeie. [f.44rb]

De lor espei lever se grevassent

5512Dui fort home, s’il le levassent.

Sil qui le feu apparailot

Veit Yder qui s’esmerveilot

De la grandor dont il estoient

5516E de la grossor qu’il avoient.

Yder les escrie e cil saut,

Son tisonier a lievé haut:

A Yder en fera haschie.

5520Reisnablement en fust chargie

Une charette a un cheval.

De halt l’en gete un cop aval:

L’escu li ad par tot fendu

5524Que Yder li out avant tendu

Si com il vit le cop venir;

Ne l’i volt pas a ferm tenir,

Car tost le peüst afoler;

5528L’escu li fait del col voler.


It had its skin on, and its hair. As for their spit, two strong men would have had a job to lift it.

The giant tending the fire saw Yder, who was watching in amazement at the size of them and their thickness! He shouted to them, and this one leaped at him, raising his poker high in the air. He’s going to make mincemeat of him — it would have been more sensible to load a horse-drawn cart with that thing! He smashed it down in a blow that split the shield; Yder had just swung it forward as he saw the blow coming. He didn’t want to hold it tightly, because the giant could crush it instantly — he had already sent it flying from his neck.


Bien veit Yder, se cil recoevre,

Que a cort terme il aura malovre.

Yder le requiert come proz

5532Nel poet grever fors par desoz:

De l’espee qu’il ot traite

Li ad une grant plaie faite

D’un pié desoz le braël;

5536Il le ferist plus haut son voel.

Li jaiant brait qui le cop cent,

Abaissiéz s’eist irreement.

Si come il le volt enbrasier,

5540Le fiert Yder del brant d’acier:

Del col li a sevré l’espaule.

Li reis ot le fruis en la haule [f.44va]

De l’aversiers qui chaüz est.

5544Gagains e Ywains furent prest

D’aler i, ce li reis volsist;

Més n’ireient pas, ço lor dist.

Yder vait le jaiant overt,

5548Dedens le veit a descovert,

La plaie esgarde, si li bote

Desciqu’al poign l’espee tote.


Yder can see that if the giant gets another blow ready then he will quickly be in frightful trouble. So he attacks him like a gallant warrior. It’s impossible to get at him except from below, so quickly drawing his sword he swipes him a dreadful gash below the belt, about a foot long; he’d have stabbed higher up if he could. The giant howled as he felt the wound, and grabbed downwards in fury as if he wanted to embrace Yder. So he stabs again with his steel sword, and slashes the shoulder off from his neck.

The king hears the racket going on in the hall, as the enemy crashes to the ground. Gawain and Yvain were all ready to rush in, if the king wished it. But no, he says they are not to go. Yder sees that the giant has a wound wide open, all his insides showing. He considers the wound for a moment, then stabs his sword into the giant right up to the hilt.


A peine avint al cuer le more,

5552Li autre jaiant li cort sore.

Yder s’estut e cil li vient:

Morz est Yder se cil le tient.

Un cop a vers Yder rüé

5556Dont il le dut avoir grevé,

Més un las qui desus pendi

Toli le cop quil deffendi,

Més ne fu pas si deffenduz

5560Q’il ne chaïst tot estenduz.

Li jaianz le volt prendre a mains,

Yder resalt en piéz tot sains;

Corage ot fier e bone espee,

5564Ire li a force doblee:

Halt gete por lui damagier,

Més ço le trait a l’esragier

Qu’il nel damage a geter halt;

5568Li cops est vains o del tot falt.


No sooner had its blade reached the heart, than the other giant rushed at him.

Yder stands his ground as he comes at him. He is dead if he gets hold of him! The blow he hurled at Yder would have caused quite an injury, had it not been for a rope hanging just up there which deflected the blow and so saved his life. But not enough to block it altogether: Yder measured his length on the floor. The giant was trying to grab hold of him when Yder jumped to his feet safe and sound. His courage was high and his sword was good; fury gave him the strength of two men! He struck high up, to wound him, but the blow only infuriated him: if he can’t wound him by striking high, his stroke is in vain or fails altogether.


Veirs est que l’aïr n’a il pas,

Que cil qui par mesure est bas

Ne veit coment grever le pusse;

5572Il li gete un cop a la cuisse,

E il trait son cop e si l’a plié

Qu’il li a la cuisse trenchié.


Sil le volt prendre, si s’abaisse;

5576Yder le veit, vers li s’eslaisse:

Al relever l’a si ferru

Qu’il li part le chief del beu.

Il se desarme demaneis,

5580Ses armes pent desor un deis

Que sist sor piliers el costé

De la sale; si en a osté

Un riche cotel qu’il i vit:

5584Ço fu cel dont s’amie ot dist.

Ains qu’il l’en porte aura ennui.

Quant Yder l’ot mis en estui,

Al feu s’est assis en un banc;

5588Od les breses estert le sanc

De s’espee qu’il out mult chiere.


It is vain because he hasn’t the stature he needs: he is so much shorter that he can’t see how to injure the giant. He makes a thrust at his thigh, stabbing and twisting so that he cuts it right off. The giant tries to get at him by bending down; seeing this, Yder goes for him, and chops off his head from his body as he tries to stand up again!

Yder took his armour off straight away, and hung it on a pillared daïs at one side of the hall. He picked up a fine knife he saw there — this is the knife his lady spoke of! But before he can take it to her he will face further troubles. When he’d put it in its sheath, he sat down on a bench by the fire. He cleaned the blood off his well-beloved sword, using the embers.


Quant il l’ot mise el foere ariere,

El banc la coche delés sei;

5592Iloec atent Yder le rei.

Li reis e cil qui od li furent

Onc por la noise ne s’esmurent,

E Keis, qui dedenz ot sauté;

5596Oï oerent e escoté

Les cris des jaians e les braiz

Qu’ils geterent e granz e laiz,

E l’espee qui resonout

5600Des cops quë Yder lor donot.

La noeise öent remise tote;

Li reis lor dit qu’il set sanz dote

Que la bataille fu finee,

5604Sor cui que cort la destinee.

Gagains, que molt fu angoissos,

Ad dist al rei: ‘Que ferom nos? [f.45ra]

Trop l’aurom fait vilainement;

5608Oï avons apertement

Qu’il i out lasus fier champ tenu.

Jo criem qu’il seit mesavenu

As noz, quant nuls d’els ne repaire.’


Then he returned it to its scabbard and put it down beside him. So Yder sits there, waiting for the king.

The king, and the others who were with him, didn’t stir a finger for all the noise that was going on; Kay likewise, who had hopped into cover. They heard, and listened to the howling and loud ugly yelling of the giants, and the sword that clanged with blows as Yder dealt them. Then the noise ceased! The king told them he was quite sure the battle was now over, whoever had met his fate there.

Gawain, desperately anxious, said to the king ‘What are we to do? We’ll have behaved villainously, since we heard, clear as anything, that he was holding the field like a hero up there. I’m afraid harm has come to our men, since neither has come back yet.’


5612‘E quei porrom,’ dist li reis, ‘faire?’

Ywains respont: ‘Laïnz irrons

Por delivrer noz compainons,

Si li dui jaiant lé ont pris,

5616O venger les, s’il sunt occis.’

El baille sunt entré tuit trei.

Keis ot esté en grant effrei:

La noise out oï el palais;

5620E quant il out qu’il est a pais,

Son chief met hors. Li reis le veit,

Vers l’eschive vait a lui droit

E si dui compaignon ovoec.

5624Li reis enquiert qu’il fait illoec.

Keis li a respondu en bas:

‘Poör ai grant, jo n’en ment pas,

Muscié me sui en ceste eschive.

5628Il n’est home qui en terre vive

N’esteüst de poör trembler,

S’il estoveit assembler

Od ces monstrez sanz grant efforz;


‘But what could we do?’ said the king.

Yvain answers ‘Let’s go in there to rescue our companions, if those two giants have captured them. Or avenge them, if they’ve been killed!’

So they all three went into the fortress. Kay had been scared stiff; he could hear the noise in the palace. When he heard that it had all gone quiet, he put his head out. The king saw him, and went straight to the hiding-place with his two companions. He asked what he was doing there!

Kay replied in a low voice ‘I was so frightened! I can’t tell a lie! So I hid myself in this corner. No living man could have faced that without shaking with fear, having to tackle those monsters without considerable reinforcements.


5632E jo vos di que cil est morz

Qui vos i avïéz tramis:

Ceürement m’en aramis.’

‘Hee, Deus!’ dist Gagain, ‘quel damage!

5636Deu! tant mar fu son vassalage!

Ho! sire Ywains, malement vait;

Vilanie li avoms fait. [f.45rb]

Poi a duré la compaignie

5640Que fu entre nos treis plevie!’

Li reis respont: ‘Gagains, bials niés,

S’il i ad mal, il fust mult pis

S’ore i fuissiéz ovec lui.’

5644‘Ja ne sont li jaiant que dui,’

Dist Ywains, ‘e nos sumes quatre;

Tot sols s’ala od els combatre:

Veirs est qu’il fist trop grant enprise.

5648S’ore n’i alons, de coardise

Ne nos porrons jamés deffendre,

Quant uns sols tant osa enprendre.’


I tell you he’s dead, that man you sent in, I swear it!’

‘Ah, God!’ said Gawain, ‘What a loss! God, what a waste of such valour!106 Oh, Sir Yvain, it has turned out dreadfully; we have done the most awful thing to him. That pact we made among the three of us, it hasn’t lasted long!’

The king said ‘Gawain, my dear nephew, if he has come to harm only think how much worse it would be if you’d gone in with him just now.’

‘But there were only two giants,’ said Yvain, ‘and there are four of us! He went to fight them all alone; it’s true that it was an enormous undertaking. If we don’t go in now, we’ll never be able to hold up against a charge of cowardice, since one alone dared to take on so much!’


‘Ja Deus ne voille,’ dist li reis,

5652‘Tant com jo aie od moi vos treis,

Que coardise i ait pensee!

Puis ne me soit vie tensee

Que li miens coers la pensera!

5656Gart chascons com il le fra,

Car jo descent tot premerains!’

Od le rei descendi Gagains,

Ywains descent, Keis fu a pié;

5660Les degrés puient tuit rengié,

Sor lor chefs ont mis lor escuz,

Es poinz tienent les branz tot nuz.

El palais veenent tot errant,

5664Al feu troevent Yder sëant;

Desarméz iert e tot seürs.

Grant freior ot li reis Arturs

E li altre qui od li furent

5668Des monstrez qui el palais jeurent.

Yder s’est encontr’els levéz;

Li reis quide qu’il seit grevéz [f.45va]

E Keis, més il fust mort lor voil,

5672Tost en eüssent fait le doel.


‘God forbid,’ said the king, ‘that anybody should think cowardice of me, when I’ve got you three with me! Let my life no longer be protected, if such a thought ever entered my heart! You others, be careful what you do — I’ll be the first to dismount.’

The king and Gawain got off their horses, Yvain dismounted, Kay got down onto his feet; one by one they went up the steps. They had put their helmets on, and held their naked swords in their hands.

They went straight into the palace hall, and found Yder sitting there disarmed and looking pleased with himself. King Arthur, and the others with him, were horrified at the sight of those monsters lying on the floor of the hall. Yder got up to meet them. The king thought he would be wounded; so did Kay. But, if he had been as dead as they wanted him, they would quickly have expressed grief.


De son estre li demanderent

Li dui qui fëelment l’amerent,

Ço furent Ywains e Gagains.

5676Yder respont qu’il est tot sains.

Il se desarment de maneis,

Lor armes metent sor le deis;

El palais mainent grant lëesce.

5680‘Or n’i ait lius,’ dist Keis, ‘peresce:

Nos avons l’ostel a delivre,

Sachons s’il ad point de vivre.

Il n’i a qui en face deffens.’

5684Yder respont: ‘Bien est, e tens!

Vespre est: li soleil se resconse;

Jo en recoil bien vostre semonse.

Véz moi od vos apparaillié.’

5688Il ont un us destoreillié,

En une chambre sont entré;

Gastials i troevent a plenté,

Vins freis e clers e granz pastéz,

5692E dé chapons e dé lardez,

Tant que riche hostel ont eü.


The two who loved him faithfully, that’s Yvain and Gawain, asked him how he was. Yder said he was perfectly all right. Then they all took off their armour, and piled the pieces on the daïs. Now everybody in the palace can rejoice!

‘No time to hang about,’ said Kay, ‘We’ve got the hostelry to ourselves! Let’s see if there’s anything to eat — nobody’s going to stop us!’

Yder replies ‘Good idea, and about time too! It’s about the hour for Vespers,107 and the sun’s going down. I accept your suggestion; shall I come with you? I’m ready!’

They unlocked a door and went into another room, where they found all sorts of cakes; there was fine cool wine, and great pies; capons and roasts with bacon; so much, that it was a splendid lodging they had!


Cele nuit ont illoec jeü.

Le feu firent grant e paleis;

5696Al rei Artur fu uns liz fais.

Il dormi, li altre veillerent:

Por freior des jaians gaiterent;

Il les voldrent tramer fors,

5700Més tant furent pesanz les cors

Qu’il nes peürent remüer.

L’om peüst un somier tüer [f.45vb]

A chargier le d’un sol des chiefs.

5704Lors i avint trop grant meschiefs.

Tant se furent al feu deduit,

Mienuit fu e plus, çoe cuit:

A Yder prist une grant sei,

5708‘Que i ferai, Keis?’ dit cil. ‘De quei?’

‘Seif ai trop grant.’ ‘Si bevéz donc!’

‘Dont la porreie esteindre donc?’

‘La fontaine vos en guarra;

5712Jo vos en dorrai.’ ‘Ore i parra’

Dist cil, qui le pensé ne seet

De Kei, qui mortelment le het.


That night they stayed in the place.

They banked the fire up high in the hall, and made a bed for Arthur. He slept, but the others kept watch for fear of the giants. They wanted to drag them outside, but the bodies were so heavy they couldn’t budge them. You’d kill a pack-horse if you loaded it with even one of those heads!

Then disaster struck.

They were having such a good time round the fire that it was midnight or later, I think, when Yder was seized with a raging thirst.

‘Kay, what am I going to do?’


‘I’m so thirsty!’

‘Have a drink, go on!’

‘What will really quench it, then?’

‘The fountain will do it for you — I’ll get you some.’

‘We’ll see’, says he, never guessing what was in Kay’s mind, who hated him so.


Sor une grant table de sap

5716Vit Keis adenté un hanap

De blanc marre; Keis vait, sil prent,

Les desgréz del palais descent.

Jus de la cort vint soz un arbre:

5720Desoz out un perom de marbre

E deléz sort une fontaine

Dont l’eve estoit e clere e saine;

Un hanap de boce estoit dedenz,

5724De cele peurent beivre genz.

Més un autre fontaine i aveit

De l’altre part, qui Keis saveit,

Car il l’avoit de cels apris

5728Qui s’en fuirent de cel païs,

Car veirs estoit qu’il n’en beüst

Nuls qui la mort n’en eüst.

De fort entosche ert entoschee:

5732Tote en ert l’herbe entor sechee,

E grieve i estoit l’avenue

Por ço qu’ele estoit deffendue. [f.46ra]


On the big pine table Kay saw an upturned goblet of pale maple-wood.108 He went over and took it, then went down the stairs outside the hall. At the end of the courtyard he stepped beneath a tree, where there was a block of marble. Beside it a fountain flowed out, whose water was clean and sweet; there was a goblet in it,109 so that people could drink from this. But there was another fountain on the other side [of the courtyard],110 which Kay knew about. He’d heard of it from some people who were fleeing this land.111 It’s true, nobody drank from it who did not die! It was poisoned with such strong poison that all the grass around it was scorched; the way to it was perilous, because it was forbidden.


Més se Keis poet, en soi prendra

5736Engin, com il i avendra:

Il nel larreit por nule chose.

De pels le fontaine fu enclose,

Més Keis fu fels a grant mervele:

5740Od s’espëe colpe la reille

Ou les chevilles tindrent sus,

As pïels se prent, s’abat jus

Une joëe tote entiere;

5744Le hanap emple e vait ariere.

El poing met le beivre mortel

A Yder qui ne coveiteit el

E mult li avoit ennoié.

5748Il a tot le hanap voidié;

L’entosche li corrumpt les veines,

Sempres furent del venim plaines.

Li venims fu de male part:

5752Li cors li frist dedenz e art.

Colchier se vait, mult est grevéz:


But if he can, Kay is hatching a plot in his heart come what may; he won’t abandon this for anything! The fountain is surrounded with stakes, but Kay is incredibly cunning. He cuts through the support of these stakes with his sword, and swipes out a whole row of them. He fills the cup and returns, putting it in Yder’s hand. He wanted nothing better, having been tormented fiercely by his thirst. He has drunk the whole cupful!

The poison seeps into his veins, which are rapidly filled with poison. It is a fearful poison, making him shudder and burn inside. He goes to lie down, in awful pain.


De la char li est sus levéz

Li cuiers que del venim li emple;

5756Li cols li est prés a la temple,

Nis ne li est el vis remés

Semblant qu’il onques eüst nés

N’a sor li leus ou pous li bate.

5760Qu’en feroie longe barate?

Ne li remaint, c’en est la some,

Nëis seemblant de forme d’ome.

Li reis s’eveille a l’enjorner;

5764Il a somons Keis d’atorner

Qu’il se peüsse metre el repaire.

‘Sire,’ dist Keis, ‘bien est a faire: [f.46rb]

Nos avons ci asséz esté.’

5768Li chevals furent apresté;

Li reis, Gagains, Ywains e Keis

Se sunt armé devant le deis.

‘Ore fait,’ dist Keis, ‘a merveillier

5772Ke Yder ne se puet esveiler.’

‘Jo l’esveillerai,’ dist Gagains.


His flesh is all puffed out because full of poison, and his neck is swollen up to his temples. There’s no trace of where his nose used to be on his face, and nowhere on his whole body is there any point where his pulse beats. How much more must I tell you? All I can say is, there is nothing left of him that looks like a man.

The king woke up when it was morning. He called for Kay, asking him to get everything together to begin their journey home.

‘That’s a good thing, Sir,’ said Kay, ‘we’ve been here quite long enough.’

The horses were got ready; the king, Gawain, Yvain, and Kay armed themselves in front of the daïs.

‘Now that’s funny,’ said Kay, ‘Yder can’t seem to wake up.’

‘I’ll wake him,’ said Gawain.


Li traïtres, qui fu certains

Qu’il ert el some de la mort,

5776A respondu: ‘Ore a il tort:

Li reis l’atent, hastéz le nos,

Quë ore est il trop demoros.’

Gagains vint la o Yder jut,

5780Més ne sot dire que ço fut:

Ne mie fut, més que ço iert,

Mult fu altres qu’il lores ne piert.

Gagains le veit deffiguré,

5784Mult se claime maleüré;

‘Mar vit’, ço dist, ‘la söe mort!’

Çom piz debat, ses poinz detort,

Mult plaint la pröesce de lui.

5788‘Yder,’ dist il, ‘mar vos conui:

Jameis ceste siecle n’amerai,

Trop est mavois. Deus, que ferai?

Las! jo ne puis remaindre ici

5792E coment larrai mon ami?’


The traitor, who was certain he was in his death-throes, replied ‘He’s causing trouble now. Hurry him up — the king is waiting! What a time to be lingering in bed!’

Gawain went to where Yder was lying, but he couldn’t tell what it was there. He couldn’t tell what it was, except that Yder was there; he usually looked so different from what was now revealed. Gawain saw him deformed!

He lamented his evil fortune, crying ‘How wretched is this death!’ He beat his own breast, wringing his hands; he lamented Yder’s prowess. ‘Yder,’ he said, ‘wretched is this day that I recognize you! I shall never joy in this world again — it is so wicked. Oh God, what am I to do? Alas, I can’t stay here, but how can I abandon my friend?’


Li reis estoit jus en la cort;

Al doel qu’il out que hon fait acort!

‘A il més si bien non?’ dist il.

5796Gagains respont: ‘Certes, oïl:

Nos laissom ci trop grant treü.’

Quant li reis a Yder veü,

Seignié c’est, pus c’est trait ariere; [f.46va]

5800Esbahi est de grant maniere.

Mult plore Ywains; Keis lor a dit:

‘Seignors, dit il, si Deus me aït,

Sire Yder a fait grant efforz

5804De ces dous jaians qu’il a morz:

Forz e fiers ierent e engrés,

Més ne poeit pas vivre aprés.

Venim portöent, mors en est:

5808Mult entent poi qui ne voit cest.

Tant l’a ja le venim sopris

Que ne li piert ou il out vis:

Le cuir en voi plain e nerci.


The king was below, in the courtyard. May all acquiesce in the grief he felt! ‘Is something not well with him?’ he asked.

‘Indeed, yes,’ said Gawain. ‘We are leaving here the great price we’ve paid.’

When the king saw Yder, he crossed himself and drew back, horrified. Yvain was in tears.

‘My lords,’ said Kay, ‘as God is my help, Yder made a supreme effort when he took on these giants he has killed. They were strong and fierce, ferocious. But he couldn’t survive them. They were poisonous, and he died of it; you’d be a fool not to realise that. The poison attacked him so quickly that you can no longer see where his face was. Look how the skin is swollen and black!


5812Ore priom Deu qu’Il ait merci

E del cors e de l’alme ambore!

Nel poöm més de plus socore;

Més tant poöm ci demorer

5816Que nos aurom plus a plorer.

Ore vos en ai dit ma purté:

N’en i ai nule seürté,

Anceis me doel, e por le rei

5820E por vos dous, e plus por moi;

Jo ne vos en quier ja mentir:

A tart en iert le repentir

Quant l’en iert sopris de la mort.’

5824‘Keis, dist li reis, n’avéz pas tort.’

Le cors a seignié, si s’en part;

Il prie Deu que l’alme en gart

Des mals e des peines d’enfer.

5828Gagain se priesme al cors Yder,

Son piz bat e destoert ses mains.

‘Yder, mar vos vi’, dist Gagains.

Ywains acort qui forment plore; [f.46vb]

5832Andui se sunt pasmé desure.


Let us beseech God to have mercy on him, body and soul! There’s nothing more we can do for him, but let’s stay long enough to finish mourning him. I’ve told you the truth as I see it, though I can’t be absolutely certain of it. But I am sorry for it, for the king and for you two — most of all for myself. I’m not lying to you! It would be too late to repent of that when Death takes a man by surprise.’

‘You are quite right, Kay’, said the king. He made the sign of the cross over the body, and went away. He was praying that God would guard Yder’s soul from the pains and torments of Hell.

Gawain approached Yder’s body, beating his breast and wringing his hands. ‘Oh Yder,’ he cried, ‘I met you only for your misfortune!’

Ywain ran forward, weeping unrestrainedly; both of them fell senseless on the corpse.


Li reis les en a trait a peine,

Més tant a fait qu’il les amaigne;

Monter les fait, od li s’en vont,

5836Més mult est grant le doel qu’il font.

N’out erré li reis si poi non

Quant venu sunt a la maison

Dui chevalier qui furent frere:

5840Un rei d’Yrlande oerent a pere.

Cil rei fu apelés Alvréz

E li ainsnéz fiz Miröéz;

Li altre appelent Kamelin,

5844Beals chevaliers fu de grant fin;

Chevaliers furent mult avable,

E per de la ronde Table.

Cinc anz aveit en l’esté,

5848Qu’il n’avoient a cort esté,

Si fu en l’entree dë yver.

Sus el paleis troevent Yder,

De l’autre part troevent gisanz

5852Coste a coste lé dous gianz.


The king had some trouble getting them off him, but managed to drag them away. He made them get on their horses, and they went off with him. But they were lamenting bitterly.

The king had not gone far before two knights, brothers, arrived at the fortified house. Their father was a king of Ireland, named Alfred; the elder son was Miroet, and the younger was called Kamelin, an extremely handsome knight. They were very able knights, and peers of the Round Table. But it was five years that summer since they had been to court, and now it was the beginning of winter.

Up in the hall they find Yder. At the other end they find the two giants, lying side by side.


Freior ont grant quant il les veient:

N’est merveille s’il s’en effroient,

Grant e laid sunt a desmesure.

5856Onc Deus ne fist la crëature

Qui sens eüst, tant fust hardie,

S’il les eüst veüz en vie,

Que hisdor n’en eüst trop grande.

5860Li ainéz fiz au rei de Irlaunde

C’est del cors Yder merveillié,

Car si mal est apparaillié

Qu’il n’a menbre que de home pere.


5864Miröéz apele i son frere.

‘Il n’a, dit il, gaire de tens

Que cist iert vifs, si com jo pens.’

Kamelins dist: ‘Quidéz vos donc

5868Que ço seit home? Mielz semble un tronc:

Il n’a boche ne il n’a vis.’

Miröéz ot bien son avis:

Sa main met a sa mamele,

5872As temples taste e soz l’aissele,


They viewed them with horror; it isn’t surprising they were horrified, because the giants were so enormous and unbelievably hideous. God never made any sensible creature, however bold, who could have seen them alive without being terrified out of his wits.

The elder son of the Irish king marvelled at the body of Yder, which was in such a state it looked nothing like a man in any part. Miroet calls his brother.

‘It’s not long since this was alive, I’d say.’

Kamelin said ‘Do you really think this is a man? It looks more like a tree-trunk! It hasn’t got a mouth, or even a face!’

Miroet heard his opinion, but he put his hand on its chest. Then he felt the temples, and under the armpit.


Le cuer i sent qui se combat

Od le venim, feblement bat;

Il n’a més vers la mort defense,

5876Si Deus hastivement n’en pense.

‘Il vit, dist il a Kamelin,

Més mult par est prés de la fin;

Mult a males gardez eü,

5880Bien sai qu’il a venim beü.

Més jo l’en quit mult bien curer;

Car venims ne porreit durer,

Ja ne saureit estre si pesmes,

5884Vers rien de l’isle dont nos emes.

De Deu a don de tel maniere,

E joen ai ci en m’almoniere

Une racine que jo pris

5888Quant nos partimes del païs,

Se il en eüse, garis est.’

‘Veéz moi, dist Kamelin, tot prest,

Si m’aïde valeir vos poet.’


He can feel a heart, struggling with the poison, that beats feebly — it can’t hold out against death any longer, unless God will take thought for him very quickly.

‘He’s alive!’ says he to Kamelin, ‘but he’s almost at death’s door. He has been very ill-used, and I’m sure he’s drunk poison. I think I can cure him, because poison can’t resist — unless it’s the very deadliest — something of the island’s where we come from. God gave it such virtue, and I’ve got some in my scrip: a root I gathered when we left home. If he can take it, he is saved!’

‘I’m ready to help,’ said Kamelin, ‘if there’s anything useful I can do.’


5892Miröéz dist: ‘Ewe m’estoet,

Ou jo peusse l’erbe quasser;

Il n’en porreit le col passer,

Se n’iert par acune licor.’


5896‘Franz home, dist il, car vos i cor!’

Lors a mostré a Kamelin

En la salë un blanc bacin

Que sor un deis fu adentéz;

5900E cil le prent, mult s’est hastéz.

Il est corruz a la fontaine,

Cele qu’il troeve plus procaine,

Que jus al pee del degré sort;

5904La male estoit loin en la cort.

Il peusse e vient a Miröet.

Miröéz trait son kenivet,

En l’iaue ret de la racine,

5908Desor le cor Yder s’acline,

Le chief li lieve, bien l’avise,

Des lievres trove la devise;


Miroet said ‘I need water, so I can crush the herb in it. It won’t go down his throat unless it’s in some liquid.’

‘Good man!’ he says, ‘I’ll run for it!’

Then he showed Kamelin a white vessel, upside-down on a table in the hall. He took it and rushed off, running to the fountain. He went to the nearest one, which sprang up just by the foot of the steps; the bad one was away down the courtyard. He dipped, and came back to Miroet. Miroet takes his knife and slivers some of the root in water, then he bends over Yder’s body. Raising the head, he peers at it and finds the trace of the lips.


Od le cotel oevre les dens,

5912L’ewe li fait coler dedenz.

Li venims sent la medicine,

Par la boche ist a grant ravine.

Andui le lievent sor le deis.

5916Le venim voide de maneis

Ne poet durer; li kuirs s’asiet

Si com li venims defiet.

Tot a recovré son semblant

5920E sain se sent plus que devant.

Li boivres l’ad resanicié

Qu’il le venim ad desnicié.

5923Yder se dresce sor les piéz …


Opening the teeth with his knife, he pours the water in.112

The poison feels the medicine, and rushes out through the mouth! Both raise him up on the daïs. The poison purges, it can’t resist. The skin returns to normal as the poison loses hold. He now looks like himself! He feels better than he ever did; the drink that chased out the poison filled him with new health!

Yder got to his feet …113

The Anglo-Norman Folie Tristan

There are two texts known as the Folie Tristan: this one (known as d’Oxford), and one of Berne; Dean’s 159 and 160.114 Because the former is published as an ANTS Plain Text (PTS 10), it is not furnished with a glossary; therefore a partial translation may be useful, though other translations are available.115 I follow Short’s text; sections, separated by a blank line, begin with a letter in bold type.

Tristan was originally independent of the developing stories about Arthur and his knights, but in later romance cycles this hero joins the Round Table. There are a few parallels, not least that both legends end in tragedy: Tristan and Ysolt die while still sundered by marriage and by society. Arthur is fatally wounded by Mordred, and rumours of his survival and future return are not generally believed.116 Common themes include, notably, a hero in love with a king’s wife; and an episode involving tell-tale blood in the lady’s bed is found in both cases.117

As so often with medieval heroes, collectors and compilers of this legend borrowed from classical literature. There is a parallel with the hero Philoctetes:118 during the expedition to Troy, he was bitten by a serpent and the wound would not heal; the stench of it caused the Greeks to abandon him (cf. Tristan’s wound, dealt by a ‘serpent’ that is a dragon, and his exile). During his exile on the island of Lemnos he supported himself with a bow and arrows that never missed their mark (cf. Tristan’s ‘arc ki ne falt’). Some of these details were noted by Gertrude Schoepperle, who spotted the resemblance between our heroes in the matter of the wound and exile. But she does not remark that the bow used by the Greek during his exile resembles the one Tristan had.119 Details differ from one version of the legend to another: here Tristan’s unhealed wound is dealt by the Morholt, and the bow is not mentioned.

One of the beauties of the present text is the way the story is re-narrated by the hero in disguise. This meta-narrative, or story within story, provides a specular version which shows us how a medieval author wanted the story to be retold and remembered. Three extracts represent this specular narrative.

Tristan has been away from his beloved queen for too long, and resolves to visit her. He changes clothes with a fisherman, and shaves his head (189–209).120 He also dyes his skin with a special herb, and changes his voice (212–24); nobody could recognize him now! When he arrives at the court of King Mark and Queen Ysolt, even the text disguises him by suppressing his name: he is ‘li fol’ and not ‘Tristan’ (226ff). He begins to play the fool, telling Mark he will swap Ysolt for his own lovely sister (282–894), and describes the magic place where he will take her. He explains that he loves her, and that his name is Trantris (317–18). Mark does not react to this, and Ysolt pretends not to understand.


Part One

[14d] Puis dit aprés: ‘Raïne Ysolt,

328Trantris sui ki amer vus solt.

Membrez vus dait quant fui nauvrez —

maint hom le saveit assez —

quant me combati al Morhout

332ki vostre trëu aver volt:

a tel höur me cumbati

ke je le ocis, pas nel ni.

Malement i fu je navrés,

336kar li bran en fu envenimés:

l’os de la hanche me entamat,

e li fors veninz eschauffat,

en le os s’erst, nercir le fist

340e tel dolur puis i assist

ki ne pout mire guarir,

si quidai ben murir.

En mer me mis, la voil murir,

344tant par m’enüat le languir.

Li venz levat turment’ grant

e chaçat ma nef en Irlant.


Part One

Then he said ‘Queen Ysolt, I am Trantris who used to love you. You must remember, when I was wounded — there were many who knew about it — when I fought the Morholt, who wanted to take tribute from you. It was my good fortune to kill him when I attacked him, I can’t deny that. But I was badly wounded because the blade was poisoned. He injured my hip-joint, and the strong venom heated up; it got into the bone and rotted it black. There was such pain, and no doctor could heal me; I thought I was going to die. I set out to sea, thinking to die there, I was so enervated by suffering. Then the wind got up and became a storm, chasing my ship to Ireland.


Al païs me estot ariver

348ke jo deveie plus duter,

kar je avei’ ocis le Morholt —

vostre uncle fu, raïne Ysolt —

pur ço dutai mult le païs;

352mais jo fu naufrez e chitifs.

Od ma harpe me delitoie; —

je n’oi confort ki tant amoie —

[15a] ben tost en oïst parler

356ke mult savoie ben harper;

je fu sempres a curt mandez,

tut issi cum ere navrez;

la raïne la me guari

360de ma plaie, süe merci.

Bons lais de harpe vus apris,

lais bretuns de nostre païs.

Menbrer vus dait, dame raïne,

364cum je guarri par la meschine.

Iloc me numai je Trantris;

366Ne sui je ço? Ke vus est vis?’


I was going to arrive in the land where I most dreaded to be, for I had killed the Morholt. He was your uncle, Queen Ysolt, and so I was very afraid of the place. But I was wounded, and I was wretched. I took up my harp so as to have some delight, but there was no pleasure in what I loved so much. But by and by the word went round that I knew how to play well. Immediately I was summoned to the court, all wounded as I was; the queen cured me, for which I bless her.121 I taught you good harp-tunes, Breton lays from our country. Don’t you remember, my lady queen, how I was healed by the medicine? Then, my name was Trantris — am I not he? What do you think?’


415[15b] dunc dit aprés sifaitement:

416‘Raïne dame, del serpent

menbrer vus dait ke je le ocis

quant jo vinc en vostre païs.

La teste la severai del cors,

420la lange trenchai e pris hors;

dedenz ma chauce le botai,

e del venim si eschaufai

ben quidai estre morz en fin:

424paumés me jeu lez le chemin.

Vostre mere e vus me vistes

e de la mort me guaristes;

par grant meschine e par engin

428me garistes del venim.

Del bain vus menbre u enz jo sis?

Iloc me avïez pres ocis:

merveile grant volïez faire

432quant alastes me espeie traire;


Then he said this: ‘Lady queen, don’t you remember the dragon I killed when I came to your country? I cut its head off its body, then I cut the tongue and pulled it out. This I stuffed into my hose, but the poison so burned me that I thought it would kill me. I lay fainting beside the way. You and your mother saw me, and saved me from death: with powerful medicine and skill you healed me from the poison.

‘Do you remember the bath I was sitting in? You nearly killed me in it! You wanted to do me a great mischief,122 when you went to draw my sword.123


e quant vus le avïez sachee, [15c]

si la trovastes oschee,

dunc pensastes — e ço a dreit —

436ke Morholt ocis en esteit;

tost purpensastes grant engin

si defermastes vostre escrin:

la pece dedenz truvastes

440ke del teste al Morholt ostastes;

la pece junsistes al brant:

cele se joinst demaintenant;

mult par fustes granment osee

444quant enz el bain od ma espee

me voilez sempres ocire!

Mult par est femme de grant ire!

La raïne en vint al cri

448kar ele vus aveit ben oï;

ben savez ke je me acordai

kar suvent merci vus crïai.


When you’d pulled it out you saw that it was notched. You realised, quite rightly, that the Morholt was killed with it. You had a bright idea, and you unlocked your little box. Inside you found the piece you’d taken out of the Morholt’s head. You joined it to the blade, and it fitted perfectly. You were greatly daring, when you suddenly wanted to kill me in the bath with my own sword — women are such angry creatures! The queen came, hearing you cry out. You know I admitted it, for I repeatedly begged for mercy.


E je vus deveie defendre

452vers celui ki vus voleit prendre:

vus nel prendrïez en nul fuur,

kar il vus ert encuntre quor.

Ysolt, jo vus en defendi —

456n’est vair iço ke vus di?’

[15c]N’est pas vair, einz est mensunge!

Mais vus recuntez vostre sunge:

anuit fustes ivre al cucher,

460e le ivreze vus fist sunger.’

‘Vers est: de itel baivre sui ivre

dunt je ne quid estre delivre!

Ne menbre vus quant vostre pere

464me baillat vus, e vostre mere?

En la nef nus mistrent en mer:

al rai ici vus dui mener.

Quant en haute mer nus meïmes,

468ben vus dirrai quai nus feïmes:

li jur fu beus e fesait chaut,

e nus fumes ben en haut;


And more: I was to defend you against somebody who wanted to take you, and you wouldn’t have him at any price because you found him repellent.124 Ysolt, I saved you from him — isn’t it true what I’m saying?’

‘It’s not true! It’s a lie! You’re telling us your dream; you were drunk at bedtime last night, and the drunkenness gave you dreams!’

‘Yes, it’s true, I am drunk from that drink, and I don’t think I shall ever be sober.125

‘Don’t you remember when your father and your mother entrusted you to me? They put us to sea in a boat, and I was to bring you to this king here. When we were well out to sea, I’ll tell you what we did. It was a beautiful day and very hot, so we were on the high seas;


pur la chalur ëustes sei —

472ne vus menbre, fille de rai? —

de un hanap bumes andui:

vus en bëustes, e je en bui.

Ivrë ai esté tut tens puis,

476mais mal’ ivreze mult i truis!’


you felt thirsty because of the heat. Don’t you remember, king’s daughter? We drank from the same cup: you drank, and I drank. I have been drunk ever since then, but I find it a very unhappy drunkenness!’

[The fool continues by telling Mark about how he manages in the wilderness, and how he plays the harp (491–532). Mark decides to go out, and Ysolt goes to her room lamenting. Brengain the maid, who knows the whole affair, thinks it is indeed Tristan! Ysolt sends her to talk to him (600ff). He reminds her about more things in the story (626–59), and convinces her. She brings him back to Ysolt, who still insists she can see no resemblance to her lover.]


Part Two


713Tristran respunt: ‘Raïne Ysolt,

je sui Tristran ke amer vus solt.

Ne vus menbre del seneschal?

716Vers le rei nus teneit mal:

mis conpainz fu en un ostel, —

fumes junes126 par üel —

par une nuit, quant me issi,

720il levat sus si me siwi;

il out negez, si me trazat:

al paliz vint, utre passat,

en vostre chambre nus enguatat

724e l’endemain nus encusat.

Ço fu li premer ki al rei

nus encusat, sicum je crei.


Part Two

Tristan says: ‘Queen Ysolt, I am Tristan, who has loved you so much.

‘Don’t you remember the seneschal? He embroiled us with the king. We were companions in the same lodging, and shared a bed.127 One night, when I went out, he got up and followed me; it had snowed so he could track me. He came to the fence and passed beyond; he waited for us in your chamber, and next day he denounced us. I think he was the first to accuse us to the king.


Del naim vus redait ben menbrer

728ke vus solïez tant duter.

Il ne amad pas mun deduit,

entur nus fu e jur e nuit:

mis i fu nus aguaiter

732e servit de mult fol mester.

Senez fumes a une faiz:

cum amans ki sunt destraiz

purpensent de mainte veidise,

736de engin, de art, de cuintise,

cum il purunt entreassembler,

parler, envaiser e jüer,

si feïmes nus: senez fumes

740en vostre chambrë u sumes.

Mais li fol naims de pute orine

entre noz liz pudrat farine

ke par tant quidat saver

744le amur de nus, si ço fust veir;

mais je de ço m’en averti: [17c]


‘But you must remember the dwarf? You were very suspicious of him! He didn’t approve of my pleasures, and he was at our heels day and night. He had been set to watch us, and he used the maddest methods. One day we had been bled.128 We were distracted as lovers are, always thinking of ways and means, of tricks and artful devices, how to get together so as to talk, to play, and to enjoy. So it was with us, and there we were after blood-letting in your chamber. But this maniac dwarf, the son of a bitch, he sprinkled flour between our beds so anybody could see the evidence that we were lovers, if it was true. But I realised it was there,


a vostre lit joinz peez sailli;

al sailer le braz me crevat

748e vostre lit ensenglantat;

arere saili ensement

e le men lit refis sanglant.

Li reis Marke i survint atant

752e vostre lit truvat sanglant;

al men en vint eneslepas

e si truvat sanglant mes dras.

Raïne, pur vostre amité

756fu de la curt lores chascé.

Ne menbre vus, ma bele amie,

de un’ petit’ drüerie

kë une faiz vus envaiai,

760un chenet ke vus purchaçai?

E ço fu le Petitcru

ke vus tant cher avez ëu.

E suvenir vus dait ben,

764amie Ysolt, de un’ ren:


and lifting my feet I jumped into your bed.129 The jump broke the wound in my arm and I bled all over your bed; when I jumped back, I bloodied my own!

‘King Mark came in immediately and found your bed bloodied. He came to mine straight away, and saw my bloody sheets. For your love, my queen, I was driven away from the court. Don’t you remember, my sweetheart, a little love-token I sent you once? I bought you a dog, and that was Petitcru, whom you are so fond of. And you must remember, darling Ysolt, something else:


Quant cil de Irland’ a la curt vint,

li reis onurrat, cher le tint:

harpëur fu, harper saveit;

768ben savïez ke cil esteit.

Li reis vus dunat al harpeur,

cil vus amenat par baldur

tresque a sa nef e dut entrer;

772en bois fu si le oï cunter:

une rote pris, vinc aprés

sur mun destrer le grant elez.

Cunquis’ vus out par harper,

776e je vus cunquis par roter.

Raïne, suvenir vus dait

quant li rais congïé me aveit

e jë ere mult anguisus,

780amie, de parler od ’us

e quis engin, vinc el vergez

u suvent eimes enveisez;


‘When the Irishman came to court the king made much of him and held him dear. He was a harper, and played well; you know who I’m talking about. The king gave you to the harper, who took you joyfully all the way to his boat; he was about to go on board. I was in the forest when I heard of this; I snatched an instrument and came after you full tilt on my war-horse. He got you by playing the harp; I got you by playing the fiddle!130 You must remember, my queen, when the king sent me away and I was so anxious, my friend, for a chance to talk to you. I made a plan, and came to the orchard where we often used to pass delightful hours.


desus un pin en le umbre sis,

784de mun cnivet les cospels fis [17d]

k’erent enseignes entre nus

quant me plaiseit venir a vus.

Une funteine iloc surdeit

788ki delez la chambre curreit;

en ewe jetai les cospels,

aval les porta li rusels:

quant veïez la dolëure

792si savïez ben a dreiture

ke jo vendreie la nuit

pur envaiser par mun deduit.

Li neims sempres s’en aperceut,

796al rei Marke cunter le curut;

li rais vint la nuit el gardin

e si est munté el pin;

jo vinc aprés, ke mot ne soi,

800mais sicum je oi esté un poi,

si aperceu le umbre le roi

ke seét el pin ultre moi;


I sat under the shade of a pine tree, and made little slips with my penknife, which were the messages between us when I wanted to come to you. A fountain sprang up there, which flowed close to your chamber. I tossed the slips into the water and the stream bore them away. When you saw these chippings, you knew for certain I’d come that night to take pleasure with you.

‘The dwarf spotted this right away, and ran to tell King Mark. The king came that night into the garden, and got up into the pine-tree. Then I came along, knowing nothing of this, but when I’d been there a little while I noticed the shadow of the king sitting in the pine above me.


de l’autre part venistes vus;

804certes, je ere dunc pöerus

kar je dutoie, sachez,

ke vus trop vus hastisez,

mais Deus nel volt, süe merci:

808le umbre veïstes ke je vi

si vus en traisistes arere,

e vus mustrai ma praiere

ke vus al rai me acordissez,

812si vus fare le püussez,

u il mes guages aquitast

e del regne aler me lessast.

Pur tant fumes lores sauvez,

816e al rei Marke fu acordez.

Isolt, menbre vus de la lai

ke feïtes, bele, pur mai?

Quant vus eisistes de la nef,

820entre mes bras vus tinc süef; —

je me ere ben desguisee,

cum vus me avïez mandé:


You came from the other direction; I can tell you, I was terrified. You see, I thought you were in too much of a hurry. But God was with us this time, mercifully: you saw the shadow that I could see, and you drew back. I showed you my prayer,131 that I wanted you to make peace between me and the king, if you could; or that he should free me of my obligations and let me leave the kingdom. That is how we were saved, and I was reconciled with King Mark.

‘Ysolt, do you remember the oath you made for me, my lovely? When you were coming ashore from the boat, I held you sweetly in my arms. I was in deep disguise, as you’d advised.


le chef tenei’ mult enbrunc — [18a]

824ben sai quai me deïstes dunc:

ke od vus me laissasse chair; —

Ysolt amie, n’est ço vair? —

süef a la terre chaïstes

828e voz quissettes me auveristes,

e m’i laissai chaïr dedenz,

e ço virent tuz les genz.

Par tant fustes, ce je le entent,

832Ysolt, guari’ al jugement

del serment e de la lai

ke feïstes en la curt le rai.’

857‘Mais jo vi ja, bele, cel jur

ke vus me amastes par amur:

quant rei Marke nus out conjeiét

860e de sa curt nus out chascez,

as mains ensemble nus preïmes

e hors de la sale en eissimes; [18b]


I had my head bent right down; I remember what you said to me then: that I must let you fall with me. Ysolt, darling, isn’t that right? You fell gently to the ground, opening your legs to me, and I let myself fall between them. Everybody saw that. You were acquitted in the judgement, Ysolt, by the oath you swore in the king’s court.’132

‘But then I knew days when you truly loved me, darling. When King Mark accused us and drove us from his court, we took each other’s hands and went out of the hall.


al forest puis en alames

864e mult bel liu i truvames:

en une roche fu cavee,

devant ert estraite le entree;

dedenz fu voltisse e ben faite,

868tant bele cum se fust purtraite;

le entailëure de la pere

esteit bele de grant manere;

en ce volte conversames

872tant cum en bois nus surjurnames.

Hudein, mun chen ke tant oi cher,

iloc le afaitai senz crïer:

od mun chen, od mun ostëur

876nus pessoie chascun jur.

Reïne dame, ben savez

cum nus aprés fumes trovez:

li reis meïmes nus trovat,

880e li naim ke l’i menat;

mais Deus aveit uvré pur nus,

quant truvat le espee entre nus

e nus rejumes de loins;


We went into the forest, and we found a wonderful place: there was a cave in a rock, with a narrow entrance in front, and inside it was well-shaped and beautifully vaulted, as if it had been made on purpose. The carving of the stone was fine and grand. We lived in this hall as long as we stayed in the woods. Hudenc, my beloved dog, I trained [to hunt] without barking; with my dog and my hawk I fed us every day.

‘Lady queen, you remember how we were found, later? The king himself found us, and the dwarf who had led him there. But God was working for us, because he found the sword between us, and we were lying far apart.


884li reis prist le gaunt de sun poing

e sur la face le vus mist

tant süef ke un mot ne dit,

kar il vit un rai de soleil

888ke out hallé e fait vermeil;

li reis s’en est alez atant

si nus laissat dormant;

puis ne out nul’ suspezïun

892ke entre nus öust si ben nun:

sun maltalent nus pardonat

e sempres pur nus envoiat.

Isolt, menbrer vus dait ben

896dunt vus donai Huden, mun chen;

ke en avez fet? Mustrez le mai!’


The king took the glove from his fist and put it over your face, gently and without a word, because he saw that a sunbeam was burning and reddening you. Then the king went away, leaving us asleep, having no suspicion there was anything but innocence between us. He forgave us, forgetting his anger,133 and soon had us sent for.

‘Ysolt, have you forgotten that I gave you Hudenc, my dog? What have you done with him? Show him to me!’134


Part Three


Remenbre vus cum al vergez

944u ensemble fumes cuchez

li rais survint si nus trovat

e tost arere returnat?

Si pensa grant felunnie:

948occire vus volt par envie;

mais Deus nel volt, süe merci,

kar je sempres m’en averti.

Bele, dunc vus estot departir,

952kar li rais nus volt hunir.

Lores me donastes vostre anel

de or esmeré ben fait e bel,

e je le reçui si m’en alai

956e al vair Deu vus cumandai.’


Part Three

‘Do you remember how, in the orchard, where we were lying together, the king arrived and found us? He went away directly. He planned a terrible thing, wanting to kill you in his jealous rage. But God didn’t wish it, praise him! Luckily I realised in time. We had to be separated, my lovely, for the king longed to shame us. Then you gave me your ring, of fine gold well worked and beautiful; I took it, and I went away, commending you to the true God.’

[My extract ends with the lovers’ parting, to chime with the tragic end of the story in almost all the many versions. The ending of this Folie is a happy one: although Ysolt is terribly distressed when she sees the ring, thinking the fool must have taken it from her dead lover, Tristan at last changes his voice back to normal and her remaining doubts dissolve. They go off to bed together.]


1 Songs of Praise, number 377.

2 Certain kinds of warfare (especially against the Infidel) were considered to be godly, and therefore gained indulgence from the Church. See, for example, the context of Roland’s confession in Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle, ed. Short (p. 63): the ritual was undertaken by all knights before battle.

3 An example in GL (Supp), p. 196, is the story of Saint Theophilus. Interestingly, the first thing the monks do is try and teach the illiterate knight to say his Pater Noster. The historical Guillaume d’Orange, hero of a chanson de geste cycle, withdrew into monastic life and founded an abbey. Colegate, A Pelican in the Wilderness, includes a number of examples of retired soldiers across the centuries.

4 There is a reference to Tristan in Fergus (at v. 4216), but he does not appear in person.

5 ‘The pride and curiosity of the Norman conquerors prompted them to inquire into the ancient history of Britain …’ (Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, vol. 4, pp. 94–5). Gibbon’s chapter XXXVIII continues with a vision of Europe as one great republic (p. 107), a poignant comment for our times.

6 Legge, pp. 139–75.

7 Le Roman de Thèbes, ed. and tr. Mora-Lebrun, published by Livre de Poche (Paris). Kelly, Medieval French Romance, gives 1150–55; Gaunt, Retelling the Tale, gives 1160. Both scholars list a few earlier romances and a number of earlier chansons.

8 The MS is mentioned in Dean (her number 706r, see below), but not Thèbes itself.

9 Her Introduction sets out the criteria she and Boulton use. The romance is not in her catalogue, although the manuscript (S) Mora-Lebrun uses for her edition and translation is mentioned in her index (see 706r). This, also used by Studer and Waters (Historical French Reader), is London, BL, Add. 34114 (ex-Spalding).

10 Petit, Aux origines du roman, contains a valuable range of (previously published, and collected) articles on this romance.

11 Ekphrasis is the representation of an artwork, of any kind, in a literary work. This example illustrates the meaning ‘to speak out’ with extraordinary force, because the figures really do ‘speak out’: they shout and fight.

12 Euripides: Three Tragedies, ed. Greene and Lattimore, p. 77. Amphiarax (Amphiaraus) is among the figures watched by Antigone.

13 See note to v. 5240 in the edition.

14 New York, Garland, 1986.

15 Le Roman de Thèbes; the verses special to MS S, which include the most vivid passages of my extract below, are printed in an appendix to Constans’ vol. II. Constans vol. I (only) is available online.

16 Le Roman de Troie, Extraits, ed. and tr. Baumgartner and Vielliard.

17 Mayrhofer, ‘From Ekphrasis to Fetishism’. The author takes for granted that not only Thèbes, but also the works of Chrétien, and even of Wace, are written ‘in the Anglo-Norman tradition’ and of course for an Anglo-Norman audience.

18 pp. 168–71.

19 A break of (at least) one line is presumed here, indicated by dots. There is no rhyme-word for ‘morz’, so something must have got lost.

20 It is very common for the song of birds to be called their ‘latin’. The idea of any strange language being thought of as Latin is reflected in the word for ‘translator’ or ‘interpreter’: ‘latimier’ (and the still-current proper name Latimer).

21 pp. 340–57.

22 St Thomas was said to have evangelized India (note to v. 5045). Vulcan was the blacksmith of the gods.

23 The word ‘tregieta’ (see ‘tregetee’ below, v. 5162) has a number of different spellings; meanings include casting in metal or making by magic (AND).

24 ‘qui’ absent from MS, supplied from Constans’ edition (see note).

25 The goddess Pallas Athene was known as a fierce warrior.

26 Note to v. 5079 remarks (inter al.) on the improbable dialogue that follows.

27 Nevertheless, the writer continues with vivid description.

28 ‘trone’ is translated as ‘heaven’ by Mora-Lebrun. Literally ‘throne’, it seems to have a flexible meaning (victory, dominion, as well as the royal place being fought for).

29 ‘longe’ means back or spine, but it could be an alternative spelling of ‘lange’ (tongue; Larousse, and AND). If the latter, such a wound would explain why the giant could make no challenge.

30 Phoebus calls the giant ‘thou’ in his first speech; he says ‘you’ here; he may be meaning ‘the pride of you all’.

31 See note to v. 5148 for personification of the Arts.

32 Geometry and Astronomy are shown to be strict teachers, as well as scholars of space. A rod is an instrument of correction, and also a measure of both length and area (OED, rod, 2a and 2b). The note to v. 5156 explains that (French) ‘verge’ has a similar semantic range: a tangible stick, and a term of measurement.

33 See Introduction, above, for the rote; the vïele may be a viol, or a vielle (similar to a hurdy-gurdy). Here too the picture takes on a voice.

34 OED says chrysoprase is green, but it is a rhyme-word so the writer may simply have chosen a suitably exotic gem-stone.

35 This description is drawn from Ovid’s Metamorphoses (note to v. 5175).

36 References are to Godfrey de Bouillon (leader of the First Crusade), and Archbishop Turpin’s participation in the battle of Roncesvalles (told in the Chanson de Roland).

37 A mark was an eight-ounce measure of gold or silver (see note to this line).

38 This ecclesiastical garment was originally of Dalmatian wool.

39 The canonical hour of None (the ninth hour of the day, about three o’clock) was the hour of Christ’s death on the Cross (editor’s note to this line); ‘vespre’ here means late afternoon or evening, not the hour of Vespers.

40 Num. 16:23–33.

41 ‘merveille’ in its bad sense: disaster, calamity, terrible event.

42 The three-headed dog was called Cerberus.

43 The poet has made two ferrymen out of one (note to this line).

44 Greek fire, unquenchable, was a legendary and deadly weapon; it is not known how it was made.

45 Tisiphone is one of the Furies (variously named and described by classical authors); OCL, s.v. Furies.

46 ‘oue’ missing from the MS, supplied by the editor.

47 vv. 4800–5002.

48 Hue de Rotelande, ed. Holden, p. 3; the Introduction is in vol. III (ANTS 47–9). But see Weiss, ‘A reappraisal of Protheselaus, for an appreciative study of the romance.

49 See Legge, pp. 85–96, for both Hue’s romances.

50 Lecoy, ‘Un épisode du Protheselaus et le conte du mari trompé’. The version in Gesta Romanorum (ed. and tr. Swan and Hooper), is number 56; the Middle English collection of the same name (ed. Herrtage, p. 519) does not contain it. It also appears in Gower’s Confessio Amantis (ed. Macaulay; but see Lecoy).

51 See Introduction, pp. 5–10 (on Sources).

52 See also Gowans, ‘Sir Uallabh O Còrn: A Hebridean Tale of Sir Gawain’.

53 Hyams, ‘Thinking Law’, pp. 184–5 and note 41.

54 Dean dates this MS to the first third of the thirteenth century.

55 The end of the poem is missing in the base MS, but this does not signify for the passage chosen here.

56 This, together with the inlay work of the chair, matches descriptions found in Romances of Antiquity (Holden’s note), and elsewhere. For example, Le Roman de Troie, Extraits, Benoît de Sainte-Maure (pp. 96–7, v. 1818 and note); another in Marie de France, Lais, ed. Ewert (Guigemar, v. 172 and note on p. 166).

57 The scene is reminiscent of where, in the Grail story, Perceval witnesses marvels but fails to ask the timely and relevant question.

58 Holden’s glossary does not specify; they appear to be: cakes (wastels = gâteaux), waffles or wafers (walfres), and simnel-cake (made with fine flour). In Receptaria, ‘wastel’ is glossed as ‘bread of the finest flour’, and ‘simnel’ as ‘bread of light flour’ (p. 124).

59 ‘en’, unclear; this could in fact be pity for her.

60 ‘cum mon cors’: this expression usually means ‘myself’.

61 At vv. 4575–85, & 4615–20 (the episode begins at v. 4534).

62 ‘sis’ is ‘si les’ (not six); the narrative earlier specifies two of them (v. 4769). The hero and his companions saw them, the dogs, and the single hanged man, on their way in.

63 Holden say this line is defective, and suggests a reading from another MS.

64 This not uncommon formula means he will forgive her everything for which he is punishing her.

65 Holden suggests the ‘gage’ may have been a glove or similar token of submission.

66 ‘amur fine’ is an example of the much-discussed term sometimes translated as ‘courtly love’. It is often used to contrast the true love of God with mere earthly love (for example, in La Vie d’Edouard, ed. Södergård); here it underlines the genuine nature of the knight’s feelings.

67 See note to v. 4932: ‘pardoner son maltalent’ appears to mean he forgave her his [own] bad feelings; he forgives her [the thing that causes] his bad feelings. In Folie Tristan, below (v. 893), we cannot reasonably translate ‘he forgave us for his anger.’ A similarly elliptical expression obtains in Middle English: to pardon can mean to put aside or cease to harbour one’s own ‘euylle wylle’ (see The Book of the Knight of the Tower, ed. Offord, heading to chapter 102 and note). See also Audiau, Les Troubadours et l’Angleterre, note 1 on p. 55: the lover says ‘Je vous demande pardon de vos torts’.

68 Dean 167, and Legge’s brief account (her pp. 161–2); see also Owen, ‘The Craft of Fergus. My text is taken from The Romance of Fergus, ed. Frescoln (published by William Allen), with some notes from The Romance of Fergus’, tr. Owen.

69 Douglas Gray’s anthology includes two passages, translation only, from Fergus (Norman Conquest, ed. Gray, pp. 251–7). His passages leapfrog mine presented here, happening before and after the incident.

70 Including the surmise that it was written on this side of the Channel (Frescoln’s Introduction deals with this and other matters).

71 The passage is vv. 3655–916 in the edition (Owen’s translation pp. 133–6). Frescoln points to parallels with Le Chevalier au Lion (his p. 25).

72 Burgess and Pratt, eds, The Arthur of the French, pp. 426–9.

73 Another specular narrative is retold by Tristan, below.

74 Jean Bodel divided the matter of romance into ‘generic’ areas: romances of antiquity, and the Charlemagne material that includes many chansons de geste; then, anything to do with Arthur and his knights was deemed to be ‘of Brittany’ (see the opening of La Chanson des Saisnes, ed. Brasseur). The ‘ancestral’ romances (Legge classifies Fergus among these, although it probably does not belong there) have been dubbed ‘Matter of England’ by more recent scholars.

75 In [Gawain] Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo, ed. Tolkien.

76 The Kildare Manuscript, ed. Turville-Petre, pp. 3–9, at vv. 83–94.

77 Neither Le Chevalier de la Charrete nor Le Chevalier au Lion gives away the hero’s name in the title, although they are often called Lancelot and Yvain by modern readers. Perceval’s subtitle, Le Conte du Graal, conceals the hero’s name (as in the story); this title Perceval obscures Gawain’s place as its other hero. Chrétien clearly thought a dramatic placing, of the revelation of heroes’ names, to be of crucial significance.

78 Frescoln’s Introduction, p. 1.

79 See my Naming and Namelessness, passim.

80 Owen’s translation, note on p. 174.

81 The reference is to Fortune’s wheel, on which lucky individuals are raised to the top when she spins it; the unlucky ones who had been at the top are thus dashed to the bottom.

82 Stones had medicinal powers (lists of these were called Lapidaries); for example, the amethyst is supposed to prevent intoxication (OED).

83 The dwarf begins speaking in the second person singular; Fergus replies in kind but later they both shift to the ‘vos’ form. Frescoln (note to v. 3738) remarks that the author occasionally intermixes singular and plural forms.

84 So far, the dwarf has identified him, and named his lady, but has not named him Fergus.

85 She fell in love with him (vv. 1495–2044), but he refused her advances saying he had to go and meet a Black Knight (Frescoln’s Analyse, p. 18; Owen’s translation, pp. 108–14).

86 Dunottar Castle, Kinkardineshire (editor’s note to v. 3755).

87 Contrast this wise and benevolent dwarf, and the affectionate tone of this conversation, with the nasty creature in the Tristan stories, below.

88 It is possible Fergus is taking a precaution here: if the creature is a demon then the Name of God will frighten it away.

89 ‘rien’ (thing) is less derogatory than it sounds, and is often used for a person as well as for an object. The line could also mean ‘there is nothing I desire more’.

90 This is blasphemy: it was considered sinful even to pray for souls in Hell, let alone make a vow like this (only souls in Purgatory could be helped by prayer). Owen considers this passage an example of Guillaume’s humorous attitude to the exaggerated love-language of chivalric romance.

91 ‘vertu’ can mean strength, or ‘virtue’ (see Mark 5:30 & Luke 6:19).

92 The dwarf has again switched back to ‘tu’ (the editor suggests no reason).

93 Quintain is a kind of target-practice, and tourneys are mock-battles.

94 After a blank line in the edited text, this line begins with a large capital.

95 The editor notes that Fergus has now achieved the proper balance between love and chivalry.

96 Needless to say, things turn out as the dwarf has foretold, and Fergus wins both shield and lady.

97 I have consulted both editions: ed. and tr. Lemaire; and ed. and tr. Adams. The text is copied from Lemaire; Adams’ notes and introduction contain useful material.

98 See Archibald, ‘Variations’, for criticism of Arthur and other comments pertinent to Yder; I am preparing an article on the role of women in this text and its mockery of dishonourable behaviour (Bliss, ‘Honour, Humour, and Women in the Romance of Yder).

99 ‘Review: Anglo-Norman Literature, Ruth Dean and Maureen Boulton’, and his ‘Review: The Romance of Yder, Alison Adams’.

100 For an explanation of Kay’s conventionally dreadful behaviour, see my note on the foal suckled by an ass in Bozon’s Conte, below.

101 This is parodied in Roman des Franceis (below), when Frollo faints before a battle: he boasts that it is because of his great strength. A real-life albeit fictionalized king swoons for grief after the death of his mistress (in The French Chronicle of London). See for example Le Roman de Troie, passim, for heroes swooning.

102 As usual, I have consulted but not copied her translation (facing-page into modern English).

103 ‘eschive’; Adams gives ‘hiding-place’ (her note suggests a kind of fortification). Lemaire gives ‘fortification de bois’. Either could be correct; since ‘eschiver’ can mean ‘to turn aside’, I have rendered it as ‘corner’ (sc. where one turns).

104 ‘temuire’; its meaning has been debated (notes in both Adams and Lemaire for v. 5445). I compromise: fearful can mean either frightening or frightened.

105 Here I have omitted a passage on the subject of Jealousy.

106 ‘tant mar fu …’; this epic formula expresses regret (for example, La Vie seint Edmund le Rei, ed. Russell, v. 896 and note: ‘destined from birth for this tragic end’; and see Larousse, ‘marer’ I).

107 ‘vespre’ means both ‘evening’ and the canonical Hour of evening prayer.

108 ‘marre’ is unattested according to Lemaire’s note. The mazer was commonly made of maple-wood, so I follow Adams’ translation.

109 Both translators say this was a cup, or vase, of wood; Lemaire’s note says ‘boce’ as a form of ‘wood’ is not in the dictionaries. It could perhaps be a form of ‘bocel’, also meaning vase? However, wood seems a likely material for this sort of vessel.

110 Its position is clarified, below.

111 This suggestive detail implies that Kay has been associating with criminals, now exiled. They may have been using the very roads on which safe-conduct for such people was guaranteed (in Description, above).

112 Receptaria, p. 23 (number 167), gives the following remedy in Latin: ‘Chop up betony very finely, let him drink it and the poison will be forced out’ (my translation). Betony was not found exclusively in Ireland, however, and the book contains a number of other remedies for poisoning.

113 After a line-break, the first line of the next paragraph is the beginning of Yder’s next adventures.

114 [Tristan] The Anglo-Norman Folie Tristan (d’Oxford), ed. Short; and [Tristan] La Folie Tristan de Berne, ed. Hoepffner.

115 The Birth of Romance, tr. Weiss, pp. 139–53, introduced on pp. 12–20; translation only (snippets of text are provided in an appendix). There is a translation into modern French, with the original text in small print at the bottom of the page (Tristan et Yseut, ed. Marchello-Nizia et al., pp. 217–43; notes on pp. 1325–42), but this is not an easy book to use. However, it provides cross-references among all versions, tracing themes and motifs, so it is recommended for anybody wishing to study the legend further (see also Legge, pp. 121–8).

116 For the Welsh hope of his return, see towards the end of Description, above.

117 DMH contains useful summaries of both legends and their development, with principal characters. See (inter al.) Paradisi, ‘Les premiers romans tristaniens’, for discussion of the Folies and other Tristan texts.

118 OCL, p. 418, q.v.

119 Tristan and Isolt: a study. There is an online version; the reference is in vol. 2. Part of this work was presented as her thesis in 1909; it was expanded into a second edition in 1960, with bibliography and critical essay by R. S. Loomis.

120 The tonsure is in the shape of a cross. This was threatened as punishment for Yder, if he failed the test of King Ivenant’s wife (v. 231 and notes, in both editions of Yder: Adams says it is the mark of a criminal, and Lemaire that it is the mark of an adulterer).

121 The queen was Ysolt’s mother, also called Ysolt.

122 A ‘merveile’ is not always ‘marvellous’.

123 The sense must be that she drew the sword out of curiosity, and wanted to kill Tristan only after realising it had killed her uncle.

124 This was the man who pretended to have killed the dragon.

125 The drink was a love-potion, poured for the couple by mistake; it was intended for Mark and Ysolt on their wedding night.

126 Var. ‘jeümes’.

127 MS ‘junes’ would mean ‘we fasted together’, which makes little sense here. For the better ‘jumes’, there is a note to this line on p. 28 of the edition; and note a (for p. 236) on p. 1339 of the Marchello-Nizia volume.

128 This was a routine health procedure in the Middle Ages, and even into more recent times.

129 ‘joinz peez’ (feet joined); this common phrase distinguishes the standing jump from the leap with one leg leading.

130 ‘rote’; see my Introduction (there is also a rote in the Amphiarax story; see ‘musicians’ in my index). In some cases it would have been an early violin-type instrument (crwth).

131 Mark is intended to think their meeting was only for Tristan to beg for a reconciliation; they know he can hear what they say.

132 ‘lai’ often means a lay or song, but here it is clearly another kind of narrative: she says ‘That is the only man apart from my husband who has ever lain between my legs’. Tristan was disguised as a leper.

133 Compare the use of this expression in Protheselaus, v. 4999 (above), and my note.

134 When Brengain fetches the dog, he recognizes his master joyfully.