Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Chrétien de Troyes ~ Yvain, the Knight of the Lion





As I have said many times before, Arthur is not just an English story. He belongs to Wales, Scotland, and Brittany as well.

The French poet, Chrétien de Troyes, tells a very fascinating story in his epic poem, Yvain, the Knight of the Lion. If you would like to read a translation of this poem then you can do so here.


The poem starts in Wales and travels to Brittany. It follows the fortunes, and misfortunes, of Yvain – as per normal, he is a noble knight. There's a beautiful lady who he instantly falls in love with. 



He forgets his promise to the said lady while he goes and seeks his glory. He is then driven mad by remorse when she want's nothing more to do with him. 

"The king might take his body with him but there was no way he could have the heart, because it clung so tightly to the heart of her who remained behind that he had no power to take it with him. Once the body is without the heart, it cannot possibly stay alive, and no man had ever before seen a body live on without its heart.”

And then there's that whole business with the lion.
 

Yvain, the Knight of the Lion, has all the usual magic and adventure associated with Arthurian tales. It is full of noble deeds and wise words. This is one of my favourite quotes…

“The dungheap will always smell, wasps will always sting and hornets buzz, and a cad will always slander and vex others…”

Can you hazard a guess as to which Knight of the Round Table, Calogrenant, Yvain’s cousin, is referring too?


Yes, you guessed it. Sir Kay! The poor Knight, he really takes a hammering in de Troyes work! He is a thoroughly unpleasant chap, but Yvain does not respond with his fist... 


"…Indeed, my lady, I don’t pay any heed to his insults. My lord Kay is so clever and able and worthy in all courts that he will never be deaf or dumb. He knows how to answer insults with wisdom and courtesy, and has never done otherwise. But I have no wish to quarrel or start something foolish; because it isn’t the man who delivers the first blow who starts the fight, but he who strikes back..."

But, in a world where honour is everything, Yvain's words seem a little bit well - what's the word - philosophical?

...A man who insults his friend would gladly quarrel with a stranger. I don’t want to behave like the mastiff who bristles and snarls when another dog shows its teeth…”

 But Yvain's bravery in unquestionable. He did  rescue a lion from the mouth of a dragon, after all. The Lion shows his gratitude to Yvain by.. 

“...it stood up upon its hind paws, bowed its head, joined its forepaws and extended them towards Yvain, in an act of total submission.  Then it knelt down and its whole face was bathed in tears of humility...”



Yvain and the Lion come to each others aid several times. The Lion is used as a metaphor - if you look after nature then nature will look after you. Isn't it amazing to think that there were people, all those years ago, who were interested in protecting the environment ~ being "green" is not such a new thing as we first thought.

“(the lion) is mine, and I am his…”

It sounds like a scene from Outlander!

De Troye certainly has a lot to say. He goes on to describe the injustice of the world.

…We stay awake much of the night and all day long to earn his profit, for he has threatened us with torture if we rest…” 

He goes on to talk about the 'rights' of women. Rights might be to strong a word, but they are certainly very influential.

I do find this all rather fascinating. Maybe the past , as L. P. Hartley once said, isn't such a foreign  place after all.

Do check out the story, I think it will surprise you!

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Mary xx