Gaheris // (Old French: Gaheriet or Gaheriez) is a character in the Arthurian legend, a nephew of King Arthur and a Knight of the Round Table. As the third son of Arthur's sister or half-sister Morgause and her husband Lot, King of Orkney and Lothian, he is the younger brother of Gawain and Agravaine, and the older brother of Gareth and half-brother of Mordred.
Gaheris is mentioned in Chrétien de Troyes's Perceval, the Story of the Grail. Several of his adventures are narrated in the Lancelot-Grail cycle. In the prose Lancelot, he is described as valiant, agile, handsome, reticent in speech, prone to excess when angered, and possessing a right arm longer than the left. His death at the hands of Lancelot (during Lancelot's rescue of the queen from being burned at the stake) is related in the Death of Arthur, the final volume of the cycle. The Lancelot and the Death of Arthur sections of the Lancelot-Grail cycle differ in their characterization of Gaheris: in the Lancelot, his younger brother Guerrehet/Gareth is Gawain's most cherished brother; in the Death of Arthur, Gaheris is represented as the most cherished, and his death anguishes Gawain profoundly.
Gaheris in Malory
In Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, Gaheris is squire to his elder brother Gawain, whose fiery temper he helps moderate, before being knighted himself. He participates in the revenge killing of King Pellinore, his father's slayer, and Sir Lamorak, Pellinore's son and his mother's lover. More notorious is his beheading of his own mother, Morgause, after catching her in flagrante delicto with the youthful and handsome Lamorak, who meanwhile escapes. Believing him to be their mother's murderer, Lamorak is hunted down by all of the brothers except Gareth, and Mordred stabs him in the back. Since, in Malory, Lamorak is greater than any knight except Lancelot and Tristram, the Orkney brothers' act of revenge is deemed cowardly and a blot on their honour. When Arthur and the brothers discover Gaheris is Morgause's slayer, he is banished from court.
Despite being exiled, Gaheris appears later in the narrative—when he and his brother Gareth are accidentally killed by Lancelot during the rescue of Guinevere. Gaheris and Gareth will have nothing to do with Agravaine and Mordred's plot to entrap Lancelot and Guinevere, and when Arthur asks the brothers to help guard the Queen's execution, Gaheris and Gareth reluctantly agree, though Gawain refuses. They decline to wear armor, and Lancelot (unable to distinguish friend from foe in his blind wrath, and rush to save the woman he loves), cuts down the unarmored princes. When he is later told what happened, Lancelot is emotionally anguished, because he loved Gareth almost like a son. Gawain's fury at this outrage is terrible and the resulting feud largely destroys the Round Table.
Gaheris is often little more than a supporting character to his brothers Gawain and Gareth, with the murder of Morgause an odd exception, leading modern authors such as T. H. White (who repeatedly describes Gaheris as "dull" or "dull-witted") to attribute the act of matricide to Agravaine instead. Again, White gives his own individual interpretation to the story, depicting Agravaine as having an unhealthy love/lust obsession for his own mother. Gaheris even marries the sister of Gareth's wife Lyonors, the haughty damsel Lynette. It is likely Gaheris and Gareth were the same character in origin, as their names in French sources, Guerrehet (Gareth, usually) and Gaheriet (Gaheris, usually), are easy to confuse and adventures ascribed to the brothers are often interchangeable. Furthermore, only one brother is ever named for Gwalchmai ap Gwyar, the character from Welsh mythology traditionally identified with Gawain. This character, Gwalchafed, is a likely source for Gaheris and Gareth if Gawain did indeed derive from Gwalchmai.
In other media
- Gaheris, the brother of Gawain, should not be confused with a different character in the Death of Arthur, Gaheris of Karaheu (brother of Mador de la Porte), who is killed by eating a poisoned fruit offered to him (unknowingly) by the queen.
Notes and References
- Spelling varies according to sources and declension. In the Old French La Mort le roi Artu: "Gaheriet" in the oblique case, "Gaheriez" in the nominative case (Jean Frappier, ed., La Mort le roi Artu, Paris: Droz, 1996, p.291. ISBN 2600001832).
- An enumeration of the four brothers (excluding Mordred) can be found in Chrétien de Troyes's Perceval, the Story of the Grail when Gawain tells the "white-haired queen" (his grandmother Igraine) the names of the four brothers ("Gawain is the oldest, the second Agravain the Proud [...], Gaheriet and Guerehet are the names of the following two." (verses 8139-8142 in the Dufournet edition; verses 8056-8060 in the Méla edition)); a brief portrait of the five brothers (including Mordred) can be found in the prose Lancelot (see: Norris J. Lacy, ed., Lancelot-Grail: Lancelot Parts III and IV, Volume 4 of Lancelot-Grail: The Old French Arthurian Vulgate and Post-Vulgate in Translation, Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 2010, pp. 392-4. ISBN 9781843842354.)
- See above.
- Norris J. Lacy, ed. and trans., Lancelot-Grail: The Death of Arthur, Volume 7 of Lancelot-Grail: The Old French Arthurian Vulgate and Post-Vulgate in Translation, Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 2010, p. 69-70. ISBN 9780859917704.
- Norris J. Lacy, ed., Lancelot-Grail: Lancelot Parts III and IV, pp. 393-4.
- IMDB, "Sir Gaheris (Character)".
- Frappier, pp 75-6, p. 291.