Chrétien de Troyes
Chrétien de Troyes (French: [kʁe.tjɛ̃ də.tʁwa]) was a late-12th-century French poet and trouvère known for his work on Arthurian subjects, and for originating the character Lancelot. This work represents some of the best-regarded of medieval literature. His use of structure, particularly in Yvain, the Knight of the Lion, has been seen as a step towards the modern novel. Little is known of his life, but he seems to have been from Troyes, or at least intimately connected with it, and between 1160 and 1172 he served at the court of his patroness Marie of France, Countess of Champagne, daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine, perhaps as herald-at-arms (as Gaston Paris speculated).
|“||Like Wace and Benoît de Sainte-Maure before him, Chrétien de Troyes was a court poet, that is, a clerc attached to a noble court, in his case the court of the count and countess of Champagne (and later, after the death of Henri le Libéral de Champagne, the court of Philippe d'Alsace, count of Flanders). Wace had described himself as a cler lisant, by which he probably meant a school-trained man of letters whose principal job was to praise his patrons and their lineage in vernacular narratives, as well as to provide them with spiritually edifying stories (principally, saints' lives). By Chrétien's time (the 1160s and 1170s), such values as courtoisie (courtesy and "courtliness") and fin'amor, as well as honorable chevalerie and its counterpart, learned clergie, had come to predominate in the aristocratic ideals of, first, the French-speaking English nobility and, next, the noblesse of Continental France and, somewhat later, that of Germany. It was incumbent upon the clerc to celebrate these values and to analyse them in works of narrative (and at times even in lyric song). To this end old stories of Celtic origin--Tristan and Iseut, Arthurian tales--offered a seemingly inexhaustible reserve of material, and romance narrative, a genre well conceived to explore the possible discrepancies between what appears to be so and what actually is, fastened upon them--especially in the work of Chrétien de Troyes. These stories also surely appealed to the imagination of clercs who, like Chrétien, obviously delighted in them: they must have seemed ready-made for the display of poetic fireworks to be found in all his romances--Chrétien's sheer artfulness.||”|
|“||A French narrative poet of the twelfth century had three categories of subject-matter from which to choose: legends connected with the history of France ("matiere de France"), legends connected with Arthur and other Celtic heroes ("matiere de Bretagne"), and stories culled from the history or mythology of Greece and Rome, current in Latin and French translations ("matiere de Rome la grant"). Chretien tells us in Cliges that his first essays as a poet were the translations into French of certain parts of Ovid's most popular works: the Metamorphoses, the Ars Amatoria, and perhaps the Remedia Amoris. But he appears early to have chosen as his special field the stories of Celtic origin dealing with Arthur, the Round Table, and other features of Celtic folk-lore. Not only was he alive to the literary interest of this material when rationalised to suit the taste of French readers; his is further the credit of having given to somewhat crude folk-lore that polish and elegance which is peculiarly French, and which is inseparably associated with the Arthurian legends in all modern literature. Though Beroul, and perhaps other poets, had previously based romantic poems upon individual Celtic heroes like Tristan, nevertheless to Chretien, so far as we can see, is due the considerable honour of having constituted Arthur's court as a literary centre and rallying-point for an innumerable company of knights and ladies engaged in a never-ending series of amorous adventures and dangerous quests. Rather than unqualifiedly attribute to Chretien this important literary convention, one should bear in mind that all his poems imply familiarity on the part of his readers with the heroes of the court of which he speaks. One would suppose that other stories, told before his versions, were current. Some critics would go so far as to maintain that Chretien came toward the close, rather than at the beginning, of a school of French writers of Arthurian romances. But, if so, we do not possess these earlier versions, and for lack of rivals Chretien may be hailed as an innovator in the current schools of poetry.||”|
Chrétien's works include five major poems in rhyming eight-syllable couplets. Four of these are complete: Erec and Enide (c. 1170); Cligès (c. 1176), Yvain, the Knight of the Lion and Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart, the latter two written simultaneously between 1177 and 1181. Yvain is generally considered Chrétien's most masterful work. Chrétien's final romance was Perceval, the Story of the Grail, written between 1181 and 1190, but left unfinished, though some scholars have disputed this. It is dedicated to Philip, Count of Flanders, to whom Chrétien may have been attached in his last years. He finished only 9,000 lines of the work, but four successors of varying talents added 54,000 additional lines in what are known as the Four Continuations. Similarly, the last thousand lines of Lancelot were written by Godefroi de Leigni, apparently by arrangement with Chrétien. In the case of Perceval, one continuer says the poet's death prevented him from completing the work; in the case of Lancelot, no reason is given. This has not stopped speculation that Chrétien did not approve of Lancelot's adulterous subject.
There are also several lesser works, not all of which can be securely ascribed to Chrétien. Philomela is the only one of his four poems based on Ovid's Metamorphoses that has survived. Two short-lyric chansons on the subject of love are also very likely his, but the attribution of the pious romance Guillaume d'Angleterre to him is now widely doubted. It has also been suggested that Chrétien might be the author of two short verse romances called Le Chevalier á l'épée and La Mule sans frein, but this theory has not found much support. Chrétien names his treatments of Ovid in the introduction to Cligès, where he also mentions his work about King Mark and Iseult. The latter is presumably related to the Tristan and Iseult legend, though Tristan is not named. Chrétien's Tristan has not survived, though in the introduction of Cligès, Chrétien himself says that his treatment of Tristan was not well received, possibly explaining why it does not survive. Chrétien's works are written in vernacular Old French, although it is marked by traits of the regional Champenois dialect (which is still fairly similar to the "standard" French of Paris).
The immediate and specific source for his romances are uncertain. He speaks in the vaguest way of the materials he used, and though Celtic influence is detectable in the stories, there is no direct evidence that he had Celtic written sources. Geoffrey of Monmouth or Wace might have supplied some of the names, but neither author mentioned Erec, Lancelot, Gornemant and many others who play an important role in Chrétien's narratives. One is left to guess about Latin or French literary originals which are now lost, or upon continental lore that goes back to a Celtic source in the case of Béroul, an Anglo-Norman who wrote around 1150. However, Chrétien found his sources immediately at hand, without much understanding of its primitive spirit, but appreciating it as a setting for the ideal society dreamed of, although not realized, in his own day. And Chrétien's five romances together form the most complete expression from a single author of the ideals of French chivalry. Though so far there has been little critical attention paid to the subject, it is not inaccurate to say that Chrétien was influenced by the changing face of secular and canonical law in the 12th century. This is particularly relevant for his Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart which makes repeated use of the customary law prevalent in Chrétien's day.
Comfort praised "his significance as a literary artist and as the founder of a precious literary tradition [which] distinguishes him from all other poets of the Latin races between the close of the Empire and the arrival of Dante."
Chrétien's writing was very popular, as evidenced by the high number of surviving copies of his romances and their many adaptations into other languages. Three of Middle High German literature's finest examples, Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival and Hartmann von Aue's Erec and Iwein, were based on Perceval, Erec, and Yvain; the Three Welsh Romances associated with the Mabinogion, Peredur, son of Efrawg, Geraint and Enid, and Owain, or the Lady of the Fountain are derived from the same trio. Especially in the case of Peredur, however, the connection between the Welsh romances and their source is probably not direct, and has never been satisfactorily delineated. Chrétien also has the distinction of being the first writer to mention the Holy Grail (Perceval) and the love affair between Queen Guinevere and Lancelot (Lancelot), subjects of household recognition even today.
There is a specific Classical influence in Chrétien's romances the likes of which (The Iliad, The Aeneid, Metamorphoses) were "translated into the Old French vernacular during the 1150s". Foster Guyer argues that specifically Yvain, the Knight of the Lion contains definite Ovidian influence: "Yvain was filled with grief and showed the Ovidian love symptoms of weeping and sighing so bitterly that he could scarcely speak. He declared that he would never stay away a full year. Using words like those of Leander in the seventeenth of Ovid's Epistles he said: 'If only I had the wings of a dove/to fly back to you at will/Many and many a time I would come'."
Anticipating the modern novel
Chrétien has been termed "the inventor of the modern novel" and Karl Uitti argues: "With [Chrétien's work] a new era opens in the history of European story telling… this poem reinvents the genre we call narrative romance; in some important respects it also initiates the vernacular novel." The main quality of the above-mentioned Celtic influences was that of a sort of incompleteness. A "story" could be anything from a single battle scene, to a prologue, to a minimally cohesive tale with little to no chronological layout. Uitti argues that Yvain is Chrétien's "most carefully contrived romance… It has a beginning, a middle, and an end: we are in no doubt that Yvain's story is over". This very method of having three definite parts including the build in the middle leading to the climax of the story is in large part why Chrétien is seen to be a writer of novels five centuries before novels, as we know them, existed.
- From "Four Arthurian Romances" gutenberg.org. Retrieved March 29, 2007.
- agora.qc.ca: "Chrétien de Troyes", by Ernest Muret
- Karl D. Uitti: "Background Information on Chrétien de Troyes's Le Chevalier de la Charrette", 22 Jan 1997
- Chrétien; Cline, Ruth Harwood (1975-01-01). Yvain: or, The knight with the lion. Athens: University of Georgia Press. ISBN 0820303275.
- Frappier, Jean (1974) . "Chrétien de Troyes". In Loomis, Roger Sherman. Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages: A Collaborative History. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 159. ISBN 0198115881.
- Owen, D. D. R. (trans.) (1987). Chrétien de Troyes Arthurian Romances. London: Dent. p. x. ISBN 0460116983.
- Arthur, Ross G., ed. (1996). Three Arthurian Romances: Poems from Medieval France. London: Everyman. p. 211. ISBN 0460875779.
- Johnston, R. C.; Owen, D. D. R., eds. (1972). Two Old French Gauvain Romances. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press. pp. 23–26. ISBN 0701118717.
- Cohen, Esther. The Crossroads of Justice: Law and Culture in Late Medieval France. Boston:Brill Publishing, 1992, 27
- "William Wistar Comfort Papers 1867-1941". Haverford College. Retrieved 17 January 2016.
- Uitti, Chrétien de Troyes Revisited
- Guyer, Foster Erwin (1960). Chrétien de Troyes: Inventor of the Modern Novel. London: Vision Press. p. 101. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
- M. Altieri, Les Romans de Chrétien de Troyes: Leur perspective proverbiale et gnomique (1976, A G Nizet, Paris).
- Jean Frappier, "Chrétien de Troyes" in Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages, Roger S. Loomis (ed.). Clarendon Press: Oxford University. 1959. ISBN 0-19-811588-1
- Jean Frappier, Chrétien de Troyes: The Man and His Work. Translated by Raymond J. Cormier. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1982.
- Idris Llewelyn Foster, "Gereint, Owein and Peredur" in Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages, Roger S. Loomis (ed.). Clarendon Press: Oxford University. 1959.
- K. Sarah-Jane Murray, "A Preface to Chretien de Troyes," Syracuse University Press, 2008. ISBN 0-8156-3160-X
- Gerald Seaman, "Signs of a New Literary Paradigm: The 'Christian' Figures in Chrétien de Troyes," in: Nominalism and Literary Discourse, ed. Hugo Keiper, Christoph Bode, and Richard Utz (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1997), pp. 87–109.
- Albert W. Thompson, "The Additions to Chrétien's Perceval" in Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages, Roger S. Loomis (ed.). Clarendon Press: Oxford University. 1959
- Karl D. Uitti, Chrétien de Troyes Revisited, Twain: New York, 1995. ISBN 0-8057-4307-3
This article incorporates material from an essay by W. W. Comfort, published in 1914.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Chrétien de Troyes|
|Wikisource has original works written by or about:
Chrétien de Troyes
- The Charrette Project 2 at Baylor University
- Works by Chrétien de Troyes at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about Chrétien de Troyes at Internet Archive
- Works by Chrétien de Troyes at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
- Perceval excerpts in English
- Dictionnaire Électronique de Chrétien de Troyes complete lexicon and transcriptions of the five romances of this Old French author by ATILF/CNRS-Université de Lorraine and LFA/University of Ottawa.
- Bibliography of his works on Archives de littérature du Moyen Âge