Erec and Enide
Erec and Enide (French: Érec et Énide) is the first of Chrétien de Troyes' five romance poems, completed around 1170. It is one of three completed works by the author. Consisting of about 7000 lines of Old French, the poem is one of the earliest known Arthurian romances in any language, predated only by the Welsh prose narrative Culhwch and Olwen.
Chrétien de Troyes played a primary role in the formation of Arthurian romance and is influential up until the latest romances. Erec et Enide features many of the common elements of Arthurian romance, such as Arthurian characters, the knightly quest, and women or love as a catalyst to action. While it is not the first story to use conventions of the Arthurian characters and setting, Chrétien de Troyes is credited with the invention of the Arthurian romance genre by establishing expectation with his contemporary audience based on its prior knowledge of the subjects.
Popular in its own day, the poem was translated into several other languages, notably German in Hartmann von Aue's Erec and Welsh in Geraint and Enid, one of the Three Welsh Romances included in the Mabinogion. Many authors explicitly acknowledge their debt to Chrétien, while others, such as the author of Hunbaut, betray their influence by suspiciously emphatic assurance that they are not plagiarizing. However, these tales are not always precisely true to Chrétien's original poem, such as in Geraint and Enid, in which Geraint (unlike Erec) suspects Enid of infidelity.
Manuscripts and editions
Erec and Enide has come down to the present day in seven manuscripts and various fragments. The poem comprises 6,878 octosyllables in rhymed couplets. A prose version was made in the 15th century. The first modern edition dates from 1856 by Immanuel Bekker, followed by an edition in 1890 by Wendelin Foerster.
Courtship and Marriage
Approximately the first quarter of Erec and Enide recounts the tale of Erec son of Lac, and his marriage to Enide, an impoverished daughter of a Vavasor from Lalut. An unarmored Erec is keeping Guinevere company while other knights participate in a stag hunt near Cardigan when a strange knight and his dwarf approach the queen and treat her servant roughly. At the Queen's orders, Erec follows the knight, Yder, to a far off town where he meets and falls in love with Enide. Erec defeats Yder, in a contest to win a falcon for the most beautiful lady in the town. Erec defends Enide's beauty and she steps forward to take the bird. They return to Enide's father, who gives permission for the two to marry. Erec refuses to accept gifts of new clothes for Enide, and takes her to Arthur's court in her ragged chemise. In spite of her appearance, the courtiers recognise Enide's inherent nobility and Queen Guinevere dresses her in one of her own richly embroidered gowns.
The central half of the poem begins some time later when rumors spread that Erec has come to neglect his knightly duties due to his overwhelming love for Enide and desire to be with her. He overhears Enide crying over this and orders her to prepare for a journey to parts unknown. He commands her to be silent throughout, but she disobeys several times to warn him of danger. Erec defeats a string of knights and captures a string of horses, overcomes two counts who in turn attempt to kill him and have Enide, and, after defeating him in a joust, makes a friend of Guivret the Small, an Irish lord with family connections to Pembroke and Scotland.
Joy of the Court
The last quarter of the poem adds another episode, referred to as the "Joy of the Court," in which Erec and Enide set free prisoners and meet relations, before in time they are crowned King and Queen of Nantes in a lavishly described ceremony.
Erec and Enide displays the themes of love and chivalry that Chrétien continues in his later work. Tests play an important part in character development and marital fidelity. Erec's testing of Enide is not condemned in the fictive context of the story, especially when his behaviour is contrasted with some of the more despicable characters, such as Oringle of Limors. Nevertheless, Enide's faithful disobedience of his command to silence saves his life.
Another theme of the work is the Christianity, evidenced by the plot's orientation around the Christian Calendar. When Erec first sets off, it is Easter, at Pentecost he marries Enide, and his coronation occurs at Christmas. Furthermore, in the poem, Erec is killed and then resurrected on a Sunday, an allusion to the story of Jesus Christ.
In the 12th century, conventional love stories tended to have an unmarried heroine, or else one married to a man other than the hero. This was a sort of unapproachable, chaste courtly love. However, in Erec and Enide, Chrétien addressed the less conventionally romantic (for the time period) concept of love within marriage. Erec and Enide marry before even a quarter of the story is over, and their marriage and its consequences are actually the catalysts for the adventures that comprise the rest of the poem.
Wittig has compared aspects of the story to that of Dido, Queen of Carthage and Aeneas in Virgil's Aeneid. Enide does not lose her lover or commit suicide but many connections can be shown between Erec’s gradual maturing process throughout the story and Aeneas’s similar progress.
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- Four Arthurian Romances by Chrétien de Troyes at Project Gutenberg
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- Mandel, Jerome (1977). "The Ethical Context of Erec's Character". The French Review Volume 50 (3), pp. 421–428.
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