Article

Chrétien de Troyes

Keith Busby

in Medieval Studies

ISBN: 9780195396584
Published online June 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0063
Chrétien de Troyes

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)
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Chrétien de Troyes, fl. c. 1160–c. 1181, was the author of five Arthurian romances in verse (Erec et Enide, Cligés, Yvain (Le chevalier au lion), Lancelot (Le chevalier de la charrette), Perceval (Le conte du Graal), and a version of the Philomela story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The tale of Guillaume d’Angleterre has also been attributed to Chrétien with more or less plausibility, as have a number of courtly lyrics. Less credible is the attribution of two shorter Arthurian romances of Gauvain (Gawain), Le chevalier à l’épée and La mule sans frein, the latter by “Paien de Maisières” (pagan from Maisières). The dating and order of Chrétien’s works are based on dedications to patrons and internal evidence; none are dated with precision. Lancelot is dedicated to Marie de Champagne (b. 1145–d. 1198), the daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Louis VII, and the unfinished Perceval to Philippe d’Alsace, Count of Flanders (b. 1145–d. 1198). Little is known of Chrétien’s life. He names himself in Erec et Enide as “Crestïens de Troies,” suggesting that he was from the town of Troyes in Champagne. This has also been taken as a pun (a Christian from Troy; compare the pagan from Maisières). He seems to have died in the early 1180s, judging from the prologue of Perceval. His two named patrons situate his activity in the highest echelons of courtly society. Chrétien was the first to write episodic verse romances about individual heroes of the Arthurian court rather than about Arthur himself, the story of whose kingdom had been related in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniæ (c. 1135) and its vernacular adaptation, Brut, by the Jersey poet Wace (c. 1155). Chrétien’s originality lies in the reworking of traditional, mainly Celtic, material, with the help of techniques derived from the Latin arts of poetry, articulating contemporary concerns about the relationships among love, marriage, knighthood, and social obligations. His are the first surviving versions of the stories of Lancelot’s love for Guinevere and Perceval’s quest for the Grail. In France his legacy is directly visible in a number of 13th-century verse romances written in his wake by authors responding to him in different ways, sometimes by means of parody and less directly in the great Arthurian prose cycles of the same period. Four authors continued the story of Perceval, finally bringing it to a conclusion by c. 1225. Erec et Enide and Cligés were put into prose for the Burgundian court in the 15th century. Outside of France, Chrétien’s romances were adapted into Middle High German, Old Norse, Middle English, Middle Dutch, and Middle Welsh.

Article.  9819 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) ; Literary Studies (Early and Medieval) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy ; Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400) ; Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

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