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Cligès is a poem by the medieval French poet Chrétien de Troyes, dating from around 1176. Cligès is the second of five Arthurian Romances; Erec and Enide, Cligès, Yvain, Lancelot and Perceval. It tells the story of the knight Cligès and his love for his uncle's wife, Fenice. Because of the story's de-romanticized depiction of adultery, it has been called a criticism or parody of the Tristan and Isolde romances[citation needed]. Cligès scholar Lucie Polak not only verifies the Tristan and Isolde reworking found in the text, but also suggests that Cligès may be modeled after Ovid's character Narcissus. Cligès opening lines give some of the only extant information on the creator's biography and earlier work.

The story starts with Alexander, the son of the Greek emperor (also called Alexander), who comes to King Arthur's realm and marries and has a child with Arthur's niece. This child is Cligès, who is raised in Greece but follows his father's footsteps to Arthur's kingdom when he is old enough to be knighted. Alexander had inherited the throne of Greece when his father died but passes away himself a few years later, leaving Constantinople in the hands of his brother Alis, who is to rule the kingdom until Cligès matures. Cligès falls in love with his uncle Alis' wife, Fenice, but Fenice must pretend she is dead for them to consummate their love. They hide in a tower but are found by Bertrand, who tells Alis; Cligès goes to Arthur to ask for help in getting his kingdom back from his uncle, but Alis dies while he is away. Cligès and Fenice are free to marry.

Cligès can be better understood by dividing the text into two parts, or two nearly separate stories. The first story consists of Cligès's father's adventures and the second story consists of Cligès's adventures. Cligès scholar Z.P. Zaddy supports the dual story approach, but also divides the text even further. Zaddy creates a new structure where the two stories are divided into 8 episodes. This approach is intended to make the text read more dramatically.

There are many stylistic techniques that set Chrétien de Troyes and his work Cligès apart from his contemporaries and their work. Chrétien used many Latin writing techniques such as nature topos, portraiture, conjointure, amplificato and interpretatio to convey a realistic romance story.

Cligès has come down to us through seven manuscripts and various fragments. The poem comprises 6,664 octosyllables in rhymed couplets. A 15th century prose version also exists. The first modern edition of Cligès was in 1884 by Wendelin Foerster.

Another version of the romance is known, a few fragments of a German version. The character Cligès himself appears in other stories. In the fifteenth century, an unknown Burgundian author created a prose version of Chrétien's Cligés, under the title "Le Livre de Alixandre Empereur de Constentinoble et de Cligés Son Filz". This prose version differs from the original in several aspects, and the story is thought to have been adapted to the cultural and political circumstances of the Burgundian court at the time.

See also[edit]


  • Chrétien de Troyes; Owen, D. D. R. (translator) (1988). Arthurian Romances. New York: Everyman's Library. ISBN 0-460-87389-X.
  • Colombo Timelli, Maria. Le Livre de Alixandre Empereur de Constentinoble et de Cligés Son Filz. Genève: Librairie Droz, 2004.
  • Lacy, Norris J. (1991). "Chrétien de Troyes". In Norris J. Lacy, The New Arthurian Encyclopedia, pp. 88–91. New York: Garland. ISBN 0-8240-4377-4.
  • Luttrell, Claude. The Creation of the First Arthurian Romance: A Quest.(Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1974)
  • Polak, Lucie. Chrétien de Troyes: Cligés. (London: Grant & Cutler Ltd, 1982).
  • Zaddy, Z.P. Chrétien Studies: Problems of Form and Meaning in Erec, Yvain, Cligés and the Charrete. (Glasgow: University of Glasgow Press, 1973), 159-183.

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