In Arthurian romance the mystical, magical quest of the Sangreal is a popular story that has its roots in medieval times, though its seeds may be from much earlier. It uses allegories to blend together pagan motifs, Christian tradition and political and social concerns of the day into a story of spiritual evolution for the main protagonists who must remain true to the quest. The Sangreal is another name for the Holy Grail which eventually became conflated with the Holy Chalice. There are several other versions of its name and in different stories it has appeared in different forms such as stone or wood, or as a cup or dish. The earliest of these romances was Le…
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This article was first published under the title of British Legends: Warrior Women — The Battle of Britomart and Radigund the Amazon Queen on #FolkloreThursday.com, 28/02/2019 by zteve t evans
The Faerie Queen
The epic unfinished poem, The Faerie Queeneby Edmund Spenser, published 1590-96, created a parallel of the medieval universe that alluded to events and people in Elizabethan society. The narrative draws on Arthurian influences, legend, myth, history, and politics, alluding to reforms and controversial issues that arose in the times of Elizabeth I and Mary I. It is an allegorical work that both praised and criticised Queen Elizabeth I, who is represented in the poem by Gloriana, the Faerie Queene. The six human virtues of holiness, chastity, friendship, temperance, justice, and courtesy are all represented by a knight. Spenser raises many questions about Elizabethan society, especially…
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The Cauldron of Inspiration by E. Wallcousin, 1912.
Preiddeu Annwfn or The Spoils of Annwn is a cryptic poem of sixty lines composed in Middle Welsh and found in the Book of Taliesin. The poem narrates King Arthur’s storming of Annwn, the Welsh Otherworld, and all the wonders he encounters there. It is attributed to Taliesin, one of the five British poets of renown and a figure of mythic proportions in Welsh tradition.
One of the best known Medieval British poems, its interpretation remains elusive until today due to its haunting allusions and enigmatic references which prove difficult to decode. The date of the poem’s composition is problematic to pin down. Various suggestions have been put forth, from the time of the bard Taliesin in the late 6th century to 1000 AD.
The poem’s first and last stanza begins and ends with two lines of praise to the Lord, generally taken to be Christian. In the last couplet of each stanza except the last, the speaker mentions a dangerous journey into Annwn with Arthur and three boats full of men, of whom only seven return, presumably with the spoils from Annwn. The tragedy that befalls all these men is never explained.
The poem refers to various locations or islands within Annwn’s domain such as the ”Glass Fortress” and the ”Four-Peaked Fortress”. It also refers to famous objects and figures of the Welsh mythology such as the cauldron of inspiration bedecked with pearls which doesn’t boil the food of the coward, Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed, who enters into a lasting friendship and alliance with Arawn, the king of Annwn and the prisoner Gweir.
The Spoils of Annwn is often read as a military expedition. Proof of the matter can be found when we look for similarities between the poem and Bran’s expedition to Ireland in the Second Branch of the Mabinogion. There are only seven survivors, we have the pivotal presence of the cauldron and the uncommunicative sentinel.
Sir John Rhys drew a connection between these campaigns in Ireland with the symbolic “western isles” featuring in the Celtic otherworld. In this sense, The Spoils of Annwn may be associated with the maritime adventure of Immram and Echtra. Rhys also remarked that the Isle of Lundy was once known as Ynys Wair, and was once attributed to be Gweir’s place of imprisonment.
The tale of Culhwch and Olwen also narrates Arthur’s nearby rescue of another of the three famous prisoners, and gives details of another ruler of Annwn, Gwynn ap Nudd, king of the Tylwyth Teg, the fairies in Welsh lore, “whom God has placed over the brood of devils in Annwn lest they should destroy the present race”. Gwynn is also amongst Arthur’s retinue.
In the First Branch of the Mabinogion Pwyll marries an Otherwordly woman, Rhiannon, and their son Pryderi receives a gift of pigs from Arawn. He later enters a mysterious tower where he is trapped by a beautiful golden bowl in an enchanted “blanket of mist” and temporarily vanishes with Rhiannon and the tower itself. This motif has also been compared with that of Gweir/Gwair’s imprisonment.
Roger Sherman Loomis remarks that The Book of Invasions and Historia Britonum both recount a story from Irish mythology in which the Milesians, ancestors of the Irish, come across a glass tower in the middle of the ocean, inhabited by people who don’t speak with them, just like in The Spoils of Annwn where the Glass Fortress is defended by 6.000 men who don’t address Arthur’s crew. The Milesians storm the castle with mortal consequences.
Another fortress, “Caer Sidi”, is often associated because of its name with the Irish fairyland, home of the Tuatha Dé Danann, whom the Milesians eventually conquer.
Sarah Higley claims that Annwn is the land of the old gods and they can bestow on mortals gifts like the gift of poetry. In a poem called “Angar Kyfyndawt”, we read that Annwn is in the deeps below the earth, and that “It is Awen I sing, / from the deep I bring it”. The great ox which is mentioned in The Spoils of Annwn has “seven score links on his collar” while in “Angar Kyfyndawt” awen has “seven score ogyruen“.
In another poem, “Kadeir Teyrnon”, three “awens” come from the ogyruen, just as in the tale regarding Taliesin’s birth, the titular bard receives inspiration in three drops from the cauldron of Ceridwen, the enchantress who gives birth to him.
Some translators and scholars have suggested a connection between The Spoils of Annwn along with the Bran tale and the later stories regarding the Holy Grail. Similarities can be encountered between Bran the Blessed and the keeper of the Holy Grail, the Fisher King. Both receive wounds in their legs and both dwell in a castle of wonders where time doesn’t seem to flow. In Chrétien de Troyes’ s Perceval, the Story of the Grail, the graal shares similar qualities with Bran’s cauldron, and, as in The Spoils of Annwn, the Grail romances conclude with much tragedy and loss of life.
From all the interpretations set on the table and from having some familiarity with the workings of the minds of bards and generally those immersed in the art of poetry, on a deeper reading I stand with those scholars and critics who claim that the poem is about the poet’s vaunting of knowledge and ultimately about the spoils of poetic composition, as has been suggested by Haycock and Higley. All great poets have on various degrees exalted their own genius. Why should the poet of The Spoils of Annwn be an exception?
Last, of particular interest, is Robin Melrose’s interpretation in the The Druids and King Arthur. Melrose cites the Scottish journalist, folklorist and scholar of the occult, Lewis Spencer. Spencer, in The Mysteries of Britain, writes that ”the poem is on the same line as ”The Harrying of Hell”, the descent into the gulf, to cow its evil denizens and carry away its secrets and treasures. It is, indeed, part of the ritual of the candidate for adeptship into the British mysteries.”
With this in mind, Melrose views The Spoils of Annwn as a symbolic voyage, a real or metaphorical initiation into Druidic knowledge and the rituals/mysteries of British religion. The first stop of this symbolic voyage is Caer Sidi, the Mound-Fortress. Caer Sidi has been considered a burial mound, but is actually much more than that. In the Song Before the Sons of Llyr we read that ”around its borders are the streams of the ocean./And the fruitful fountain is above it.” This is an indication of a location that can be both at sea or even in heaven.
If Caer Sidi is both an earthy and a celestial abode, then we can draw some intriguing conclusions about The Spoils of Annwn. The Druids have long been linked to Pythagoras and his doctrines which in turn bear resemblances to Orphism. Orphism was a mystical religion, therefore very little is known about it. However, a few texts do survive including the Petalia tablet. Written on a thin, gold leaf, the tablet reads:
You will find in the halls of Hades a spring on the left,
and standing by it, a glowing white cypress tree;
Do not approach this spring at all.
You will find another, from the lake of Memory
refreshing water flowing forth. But guardians are nearby.
Say: “I am the child of Earth and starry Heaven;
But my race is heavenly; and this you know yourselves.
I am parched with thirst and I perish; but give me quickly
refreshing water flowing forth from the lake of Memory.”
And then they will give you to drink from the divine spring,
And then you will celebrate? [rites? with the other] heroes.
The Caer Sidi, both earthly and celestial embodies one or more of the opposites espoused by the Pythagoreans and refers to the possibility of the kind of rebirth mentioned in the Petalia tablet.
Melrose goes on to talk about Gweir’s imprisonment linking it to that of Pryderi and Rhiannon in the Third Branch of the Mabinogion. The Canadian psychoanalyst Dan Merkur proposes that Gweir’s imprisonment is of a psychological nature, the result of some addiction to a psychedelic substance. Mead is mentioned in the poem and we do know that henbane was a hallucinogenic substance used by the Celts. Consequently, Caer Sidi could very well be a place where one could experience both heaven and hell.
The second stop of the voyage is Caer Pedryuan, the Four-Peaked Fortress. The cauldron there is kindled by the breath of nine maidens, figures who reappear frequently in Celtic tradition. Their connection to the fire may link them to the Irish goddess, Brigit. Her British counterpart is Brigantia, the goddess of the Brigantes tribe. Giraldus informs us that at Kindare there’s a fire that never dies, tended by nineteen nuns, who take turns to watch over the fire for the duration of nineteen nights; Brigit takes her turn every twentienth night. Encircled by a hedge, the fire is made of stakes and brushwood and forms a circle into which no man can step. Only the women have the right to blow the fire, fanning it or using only bellows and not their breaths, unlike the nine maidens we encounter in the verses of The Spoils of Annwn.
Brigit was the goddess of poetry and prophecy. It is possible that here we’re talking about the cauldron of inspiration. A cauldron which doesn’t boil the food of the coward. This suggests that the poet must undertake a perilous, symbolic voyage into the very depths of the Otherworld and partake from the cauldron of regeneration before he can eat or drink from the cauldron of inspiration. Indeed, if the Four-Peaked Fortress is the high point of the voyage, then one needs to have the courage to brave a descent into the depths.
The voyage itself begins at the stop of Caer Vedwit, the Fortress of Mead-Drunkeness. The poet tells us of a state of euphoria, possibly a trance as we’re transported back to the Four-Peaked Fortress, the isle of the ”strong door” which is the gateway to a higher knowledge and the blending of opposites like the water with the jet.
The next stop is Caer Rigor, the Fortress of Hardness. Rigor, among its translations gives us ”hardness” but also ”the stiffness produced by cold”. It’s a possibility that here the poet is talking about the stiffness and coldness that follows a trance.
At this point, the poem shifts thematically. The poet laments because of the existence of ”little men”. The poet is at Caer Wydyr, the Glass Fortress. Communication fails either because the poet has drifted into a trance or because he is symbolically like a small child who cannot talk. Next stop is Caer Golud, the Fortress of Hindrance, which perhaps adds to the problem of communication that has been mentioned.
The poet’s fixation with the little men keeps strong as he continues complaining about them. However, he reaches the last two stops: Caer Vandwy, the Fortress of God’s Peak, and Caer Ochren, the Fortress of Sloping Hill. Has the poet completed his journey? We cannot tell with certainty, but judging from some verses where monks ”howl like a choir of dogs” or ”pack together like young wolves” and others where the poet expresses his sadness, we can surmise that this isn’t the case.
One, reading The Spoils of Annwn for the first time, might consider the poem to be about a military expedition. However, on a deeper level it is the account of a symbolic voyage. The quest revolves around a metaphorical rebirth through the union of the dark forces of Caer Sidi, the Mound Fortress, and the forces of light of Caer Pedryuan, the Four-Cornered Fortress. The voyage, though, doesn’t end happily. It fails just as it failed for Gweir, now incarcerated in the Otherworld.
And what is the reason behind this failure? Here the poet’s fixation with the little men provides the explanation. All the traditions, all this vast wealth of oral poetry and storytelling, all this dreamy culture whose ultimate prize is a mystical cauldron are being ignored and dismissed by ”little men” (later in the poem they are revealed to be monks) who no longer appreciate the cauldron’s value and who have allowed from their memory to languish all the knowledge which has been accumulated throughout the centuries and has been passed down from generation to generation.
The poem’s penultimate verses have their own significance as they provide further explanation regarding the poet’s sadness, though they prove difficult to translate. Sarah Hingley has proposed various alternatives:
The grave of the saint is vanishing, both grave and ground.
The grave of the saint is hidden, both grave and champion.
How many saints in the Otherworld, and how many on earth?
How many saints lost, and how many altars?
How many saints in the void, and how many on earth?
Whatever the meaning, Higley claims that “diuant is a gloomy concept, and the sense expressed here is of sadness and loss, which is confirmed by the last line of the poem (‘that I be not sad’).” The poet is melancholic because those intimate with the old religion (the knowledge of the Druid, the world view of Celtic religion) are perishing and the spiritual legacy is dying.
Melrose concludes that The Spoils of Annwn is ”the closest we will ever get to a Druid text, a glimpse into a vast and ancient tradition gone beyond recall.” If that guess is true, then who was the poem’s creator? As I said in the beginning, the poem is attributed to Taliesin. However, most critics and scholars agree that the poem was composed centuries later, after Taliesin’s birth. Was the poet the historical Taliesin or was he another using the famous bard’s name?
We will probably never know, though we can keep speculating. And if the poem itself is a text about Druidic knowledge and Druidic mysteries, then could Taliesin himself have been a Druid? Melrose claims that this is a possibility. The fact that the poet refers to ”the Lord” and concludes the poem with the verse ”Christ endows me” makes it clear that the poem was composed in a society where the old religion coexisted with the new Christian religion.
The Romans hated the Druids with great passion and took measures to suppress them. The Druids found themselves on the receiving end of a crippling blow. However, they weren’t wiped out. Those who survived probably learnt to hide themselves and moved in secrecy. Melrose tells us that the Druids ”probably survived as an underground movement, and made a comeback when Roman power in Britain declined and paganism was restored in the late 4th century.”
Furthermore, he makes a guess about Taliesin’s identity, telling us that ”he lived perhaps in Gwent around A.D. 700, but grew up listening to stories of the nine maidens of Gloucestershire and their magic cauldron, and of heroic exploits in the underworld. His
family may have been Christians, and he himself may nominally have been a Christian, but his heart was with the old religion and the mysteries of that land called Annwn.”
I’m no scholar myself, but I believe that Melrose’s conjectures make sense and his arguments, based on linguistic evidence, oral tradition, mythology, history and archaeology, sound convincing. If he is right about Taliesin being a Druid and The Spoils of Annwn being about Druidic initiation and mysteries, then that makes me wonder why Taliesin felt the need to commit all this knowledge, albeit in an enigmatic manner, to paper.
We know very little about those mysterious folks called Druids. One of the few things we do know, though, through Julius Ceasar’s accounts is that they didn’t write down their knowledge. Instead, they passed it from generation to generation through oral storytelling, from the Druid’s mouth to the disciple’s ears.
Having that in mind, I cannot help but be curious as to Taliesin’s motives regarding this unusual move. Could it be that Taliesin acted this way out of an acute sense of loss, a desperate act to save and preserve a mystical doctrine that was at its twilight? Perhaps, deep down he knew with certainty that the ways of the old religion were long past their golden era and that soon they would be relegated to a relic of the past, if not altogether forgotten.
Either way, the Druids knew very well how to guard their secrets and, if Taliesin, was, indeed, one of them, he made sure even in writing down the poem, to remain faithful to the teachings and habits of his predecessors.
Art and especially poetry can be interpreted in various ways. The Spoils of Annwn remains a fascinating poem that even today hasn’t yielded to us its secrets. And if, indeed, the poem talks about the mysteries of the Druids (a doctrine about which we possess a scant amount of information), then that is one more reason to study it and do everything in our power to pass this literary legacy to the next generations as well.
The Seven Ravens By H.koppdelaney (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsWe all have dreams that we wish would come true. Sometimes we make a wish and that wish is granted but what we actually get may be the result of how we have made that wish. If we make a detrimental wish against someone or something that wish becomes a curse. Sometimes unforeseen consequences may be unleashed that affect others who have to pay some kind of a price even though they were not the ones who did the wishing. The following is a retelling of a folktale called The Seven Ravens and explores how wishes are made and how they are fulfilled and what can happen when wishes are made in haste or anger. It appeared in Household Tales by Brothers Grimm by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm and is classed as Aarne-Thompson type 451…
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Bird in Cage By Miami U. Libraries – Digital Collections [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsThemes and motifs in folk and fairy tales are devices that help to enrich the story. They are not the story-line but are woven into the narrative to enhance and highlight certain parts, or points the narrator wishes to make, or to provide an overall meaning, which is sometimes deliberately hidden. Presented here is a retelling of a Swedish fairy tale called The Bird “Grip” whose song was said to cure blindness of kings. This tale is classified as Aarne-Thompson folktale type 550, “The Golden Bird”, a Supernatural Helper in the Aarne–Thompson–Uther classification system and it also involves the Grateful Dead (type 505). This is followed by a brief discussion about some of the motifs and themes that appear in the story and what they may mean.
The Quest for the…
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The story of the Holy Grail’s appearance to a young man named Perceval/Parzival/Parsifal, is told in many places, and goes something like this: he comes by chance upon the Grail Castle, and is introduced to a wounded man, the Fisher King; during a feast that night, the Grail appears, and if only Parzival would ask […]
Sir Galahad first appeared in medieval Arthurian romance in the Lancelot-Grail cycle of works and then later in Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory. He was the illegitimate son of Sir Lancelot and Elaine of Corbenic and became one of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table. When he came of age he was considered the best knight in the world and the perfect knight and was renowned for his gallantry and purity becoming one of only three Knights of the Round Table to achieve the Holy Grail. The other two were Sir Bors and Sir Percival. Pieced together here is a brief look at his early life and how through his immaculate behavior he rose to such an exalted status achieving the Holy Grail and a spiritual dimension which remained frustratingly out of reach of King Arthur, Sir Lancelot and most of the the other Knights of the Round Table and concludes by comparing his achievements with those of King Arthur and Sir Lancelot.
King Pelles the lord of Corbenic the Grail Castle, in the land of Listeneise and was Galahad’s maternal grandfather. He was also one of the line of the guardians of the Holy Grail. In some Arthurian romances Joseph of Arimathea brought the Grail to Britain and gave it to Bron, his brother-in-law, to keep safe and Pelles was descended from Bron. In some versions of Arthurian romance Pelles is also known as the Fisher King or Maimed King.
Pelles had been wounded in the legs or groin resulting in a loss of fertility and his impotence was reflected in the well-being his of kingdom making it infertile and a Wasteland. This is why he was sometimes called the Maimed King. The only activity he appeared able to do was go fishing. His servants had to carry him to to the water’s edge and there he would spend his time fishing which is why he is sometimes called the Fisher King. Galahad was important to King Pelles as he was the only one who could heal his wound.
Elaine and Lancelot
King Pelles had a daughter named Elaine and he had been forewarned by magical means that Lancelot would become the father of his daughter’s child. This child would grow to become the world’s best and most perfect knight and be chosen by God to achieve the Holy Grail. He was the chosen one who would be the only one pure enough to be able to heal his wound. There was a problem though. Lancelot was dedicated solely to Guinevere, his true love and would never knowingly sleep with another woman. Nevertheless Pelles was desperate for the liaison to take place and decided to seek magical help from Dame Brusen. She was one of Elaine’s servants who was skilled in the art of sorcery to help his cause. She gives Pelles a magic ring for Elaine to wear which gives her the likeness of Guinevere.
Elaine wears the magic ring and transforms into the a double of Guinevere. Lancelot is fooled by the masquerade and they sleep together. When he discovers the deception he is angry and ashamed and threatens to kill her. She tells hims she is with his child and he relents but leaves Corbenic.
Elaine in due course gives birth to his son who she names Galahad. This is the name Lancelot was baptized with when he was born. It was the Lady of the Lake who fostered and raised Lancelot in her magical realm and it was she who named him Lancelot du Lac, or Lancelot of the Lake.
The madness of Lancelot
Soon afterwards Elaine goes to a feast at Arthur’s court. Although Lancelot is also there he refuses to acknowledge her, making her sorrowful and lovelorn. She calls her servant Dame Brusen to her and tells her how she is feeling and asks for her help. Dame Brusen tells Elaine that she will fix it so Lancelot lies with her that night. Pretending to Lancelot that Guinevere has summoned him she leads him to her chamber, but it is Elaine waiting there for him in bed in the dark and again he sleeps with her.
While he is with Elaine, Guinevere summons him and is furious to discover he is not in his bed chamber and even more so when she discovers him lying with Elaine in hers. She tells him that she never wants to see or talk to him again and will have nothing more to do with him. Lancelot is so upset and disturbed at what has happened and with Guinevere’s admonishments that madness takes him and he leaps out of the window running off into the wilderness.
Lost in madness and consumed by grief and sorrow he wanders alone through the wild places before he eventually reaches Corbenic where Elaine finds him insane her garden. She takes him to a chamber in Corbenic Castle where he is allowed to view the Holy Grail, but only through a veil. Nevertheless this veiled sight of the holy relic is enough to cure him of his insanity. Although he sees it through the veil, having committed adultery he is not pure enough so he can never be the perfect knight that achieves the Grail.
When his son is born he finally forgives Elaine but will not marry her and instead returns to the court of King Arthur. The child is named Galahad, after his father’s former name and given to his great aunt to bring up in a nunnery. Merlin foretells that Galahad will be even more valiant than his father and will achieve the Holy Grail.
Galahad’s quest for the Holy Grail
It was not until Galahad became a young man that he was reunited with Sir Lancelot, his father, who makes him a knight. Lancelot then takes Galahad to Camelot at Pentecost where he joins the court. A veteran knight who accompanied him leads him to the Round Table and unveils an empty chair which is called the Siege Perilous or the Perilous Seat. At the advice of Merlin this seat was kept vacant for the knight who was to achieve the Quest for the Holy Grail.
This was his first test or worthiness as this chair in the past had proved deadly for any who had previously sat there who had hoped to find the Grail. Galahad sits in the seat and survives. King Arthur sees this and is impressed seeing that there is something special about him and leads him down to a river where there is a floating stone with a sword embedded in it which bears an inscription which says,
“Never shall man take me hence but only he by whose side I ought to hang; and he shall be the best knight of the world.”
Galahad tries and takes the sword from the stone and Arthur immediately declares that he is the greatest knight ever. Arthur invites Galahad to become a member of the Round Table which he accepts. Not long after the mystical presence of the Holy Grail is briefly experienced by those at King Arthur’s Court and the quest to find the grail is immediately begun. All the Knights of the Round Table embark on the quest leaving Camelot virtually empty. Arthur is sad because he knows many will die or not return and fears it is the beginning of the end of his kingdom.
Galahad mainly traveled alone and became involved in many adventures. In one he saves Sir Percival when he was attacked by twenty knights and rescued many maidens in distress. Eventually he meets up again with Sir Percival who is accompanied by Sir Bors and together they find the sister of Sir Percival who takes them to a ship that will take them over the sea to a distant shore. Sadly when they reach the shore Percival’s sister has to die that another may live. To ensure she gets a fit and proper burial Sir Bors takes her body back to her homeland.
Sir Galahad and Sir Percival continue the quest and after many adventures arrive at the court of King Pelles and his son Eliazar. Pelles and Eliazar are holy men and take Sir Galahad into a room to show him the Holy Grail and they request that he take it to a holy city called Sarras. After being shown the Grail, Sir Galahad asks that he may he may choose the time of his own death which is granted.
While he is on the journey back to Arthur’s court Joseph of Arimathea comes to him and he experiences such feeling of ecstasy that he asks to die there and then. He says his goodbyes to Sir Percival and Sir Bors and angels appear and he is carried off to heaven as his two friends watch. Although there is nothing to say that the Holy Grail will not once again be seen on earth it was said that since the ascension to heaven of Galahad there has not been another knight with the necessary qualities of achieving the Holy Grail.
Galahad’s achievement of the Holy Grail
Sir Galahad and the quest for the Holy Grail is one of the later stories that appeared as Arthurian romances grew in popularity. The thought is that King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table were not pure enough to achieve such an important religious task. Galahad was introduced into the fold as one of the few who had the purity and personal qualities to qualify him as worthy enough to achieve the Holy Grail. Just as when Arthur drew the sword from the stone and became the chosen one, Galahad did the same and also became the chosen one. He chose the kingdom of God whereas Arthur built a kingdom on earth. In taking up the quest for the Holy Grail the priority is to the spiritual rather than the earthly life and Galahad fulfills the spiritual dimension of Arthurian romance and becomes the example for his contemporaries and those coming after him to aspire to.
The adaptation of the Tristan and Iseult story into a long prose romance, The Romance of Tristan is the first to weave the subject entirely into the arc of the Arthurian legend. One of the most popular, european myths widely spread across the world, it tells the story of the star-crossed lovers, Tristan and Iseult. The author who wrote it down meshes both Celtic paganism and Christian traditions with the customs of the Middle Ages.
The story establishes a rich background by linking the fates of the main characters with Joseph of Arimathea, the lines his descendants established as well as with the quest for the Holy Grail. Tristan’s guardian, Governal, after the tragic death of his parents through which his name translates into sadness, takes him to France, where he is raised in the court of King Pharamond. When he is older, he travels to the court of his uncle Mark, King of Cornwall, and defends his country against the Irish warrior Morholt who demands a heavy sacrifice each year. Wounded in the fight, he travels back to Ireland where Iseult the healer and Morholt’s niece nurses him back to health. When the Irish discover he has slain their warrior, Tristan flees.
Tristan later returns, in disguise, to seek Iseult as a bride for his uncle. When they accidentally consume the love potion prepared for Iseult and Mark, they engage in an ill-fated affair that ends with Tristan being banished to the court of Hoel of Brittany. He eventually consents to marry Hoel’s daughter, also named Iseult of the white hands.
From this point, various episodes of adventures are tied into the narrative. Tristan goes on more adventures where he fights against Knights, joins Arthur’s court and the Round Table, engages in bloody battles with the Saracen knight, Palamides, who vies for Iseult’s love, forms a close friendship with Lancelot against whom he unknowingly fights several times and goes on a quest for the Holy Grail at Arthur’s request while he constantly clashes with king Mark and alternately returns to and flees from Cornwall.
A world where words and promises are regarded sacred, where friendships are strong and everlasting and where courtly love takes the spotlight, The Romance of Tristan provides the reader with a fascinating narrative full of intrigue, adventure, honour and melancholy where emotions and ideals reign supreme.
It’s a story built on the dialectics between love-passion and death. Having read Denis de Rougemont’s Love in the Western World, I was able to view the story under a different light and understand the connotations of the mystical language applied. Rougemont makes a pretty valid point in his scholarly work when he analyzes the myth and concludes that what drives the lovers is not the love they nurture for each other, but a narcissistic love they nurture for themselves.
Passion as suffering. Tristan and Iseult are in love with the idea of love and ultimately with death, towards which their behaviour and all their actions are leading them. Countless reunions and separations and obstacles they themselves place between them fire their passion. Until they consummate their desire in the embrace of death that vindicates and purifies everything.