Thursday, January 16, 2014

Erec et Enide

Erec is very comfy at home with Enide
Erec et Enide, by Chretien de Troyes

Erec et Enide is the first story in my book of Chretien de Troyes' Arthurian Romances, and one of the earliest tales in the tradition.  I may have read it in college, but I don't remember doing so, so it certainly felt like the first time.  Erec has pretty much fallen out of the Arthurian tradition; I don't know that he appears in Malory and you certainly don't run into him in the modern retellings, so here is a quick summary:

King Arthur declares a stag hunt, and Erec keeps the queen company as they watch the hunt.  A strange knight comes by and insults them; Erec cannot retaliate because he is unarmed, but he vows a quick revenge.  Once the hunt is over, he arms himself and sets out to follow the knight, and ends up in a town where he defeats the knight and meets Enide, a poor but gentle girl.  Erec takes her back to Camelot, where they marry before setting out to go to Erec's home kingdom.  There, Erec is so enamored of his lovely wife that he stays home with her until people start gossiping about his lack of valor.  This makes Enide cry and they set out together to find some adventure.  Erec orders Enide not to speak to him, but when danger threatens, she cannot help warning her beloved husband though it earns her his anger.  Eventually they arrive at a town with a deadly peril called "The Joy of the Court."  Erec defeats the peril, discovers some relatives, and goes back to Camelot until his father dies and he becomes king of Nantes.

It's a very typical story in many ways, and unusual in others.  Erec and Enide are married near the start of the story, and they are never separated, nor does Erec ever suspect Enide of unfaithfulness (though he is angry at her for a while).  I fully expected Erec to spend most of the story trying to rescue Enide from captivity or peril, and then marry her at the end.

Also, they visit towns which are full of people!  Usually, Arthurian stories have the court, the wilderness, churches, and various knightly manors, but actual towns are not common.  Nor are ordinary people--you meet knights, damsels, hermits, and so on, but not plain old peasants. That is still true here; the towns are filled with knights and ladies, not ordinary folks.  Peasants and merchants do not rate a mention in a courtly romance!  It gives you this interesting image of a sort of fairy-tale town that matches the fairy-tale wilderness of most Arthurian romances.  No real 12th-century town was ever like that, which is probably why there aren't many in the stories.

As far as I know, only Culhwch and Olwen is earlier in the romantic tradition.  I need to get that!  But for now, I'm going to stick with Chretien and read the next story in the book, Cligรจs.


6 comments:

Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

Towns! Now that is weird.

Have you read Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival, by chance? I mention it because it is the extreme case among the Arthurian books I have read of a landscape that makes no sense whatsoever. Almost dream-like. And it certainly has no towns!

Jean said...

I have only read Chretien's version. I should put that on the list, a German romance would be great.

I know--towns! Two of them!

JNC said...

I was supposed to read the romances of Chretien de Troyes during a semester-long course entitled "Medieval Chivalry and Courtly Love." I must admit, I didn't get through them all, and I remember even less. :)

Jean said...

Oh, you should try them again sometime! You could do it easily, they're not hard.

I can no longer remember if I read these in the general medieval lit course I took, which did feature something with Arthur, or in the one I audited that was entirely Arthurian. Same instructor.

Fariba Kanga said...

I haven't read Eric et Enid but I have read Le Chevalier de la Charette (The Knight and the Cart). I love Medieval French epic poems and lais. I need to read all of Chretien de Troy's works. Currently, I'm reading La Chanson de Roland (The Song of Roland).

Ruth said...

I just finished Eric and Enide of my Arthurian Romances, and I expected there to be more dangerous conflict, too; however, in each case, Erec was easily victorious. A true fairy tale, but it is sweet to imagine.