Garin le Loherain
Garin le Loherain
(Also Garin le Loheren) Twelfth-century French poem.
One of the lesser known medieval chansons de geste, a category of epic verse concerned with French or classical heroes in historical settings, Garin le Loherain is the central work of the Loherain cycle, a group of poems detailing the heroic exploits of the knightly class in medieval France that also includes La geste des Loherains, Gerbert de Mez, and Hervis de Mes. A tale of two feuding clans, vassals to the ineffectual French ruler Pépin le Bref in the eleventh century, Garin le Loherain concentrates its narrative on the noble Garin, son of Hervis, detailing his family's struggle against the treacherous House of Bordelais. Relatively infrequently studied outside of France in the contemporary period, Garin le Loherain typifies the poetic depiction of strained feudal loyalties in the medieval period, and is noted for its lack of romantic machinery (otherwise typical of the chansons de geste) and remarkable “Death of Begon” episode, praised for its compressed artistic integrity.
While some scholars suggest that a prototype of the epic may have been composed sometime before 1168, the generally accepted date for the earliest extant manuscript of the poem is given as 1180-85. Some critics speculate that Garin le Loherain may have derived from oral tradition as a sung narrative, although modern studies have tended to support its written origins. An assortment of texts exist, numbering about fifty in varying states of emendation—some featuring rhymed as well as more common assonant verse—and several survive from the epic's period of highest popularity in the fourteenth century. Many of the extant manuscripts are fragmentary; of these, four begin with the noted “Death of Begon” episode.
Plot and Major Characters
The poem opens at the royal court of Emperor Pépin le Bref in the mid-eleventh century. Dictatorial but easily manipulated, Pépin heeds the wishes of Hardré, an imperial advisor of the House Bordelais and a nefarious influence on the French ruler. Scheming to weaken his aristocratic rivals, Hardré convinces Pépin not to honor his feudal oaths to protect vassals in southern France against the invading Saracens, claiming that to do so would be too costly. Without assistance, Hervis de Mes, one of these vassals, a member of House Loherain and father of the poem's principal protagonists Garin and Begon, looks to Germany for aid against the aggressors. Later, when Pépin also refuses his obligations to another vassal, Tierri de Morïane, again at the urging of Hardré, a council of knights gathers and protest mounts. Led by Garin and Fromont, the son of Hardré, a combined force sponsored by the Loherain and Bordelais clans rides to aid Tierri in the south against the Moors. In the decisive moment before battle, however, Fromont fails to give his men the order to attack alongside Garin. Fromont's cowardly refusal to confront the enemy, a seminal act of dishonor, precipitates his gradual decline into perfidy. After the invaders have been repelled, Tierri offers his lands and only daughter, Blanchefleur, to Garin; Fromont receives nothing.
Meanwhile, in light of Pépin's recent and unwise appointment of Garin's brother Begon to the position of Duke of Gascony (a vassalage that grants him lands in the territory controlled by the Bordelais), Fromont objects to the marriage, demanding Blanchefleur and her father's lands as a promised concession from the Emperor. The action shifts back to court as Fromont incites the nobles in the royal palace. Infighting erupts and Fromont's father Hardré is killed. In the ensuing melee of interests, Pépin temporarily sides with the Loherain. Shortly thereafter, Archbishop Henri, bribed by his cousin Fromont, convinces the Emperor to marry Blanchefleur as a means to conclude the strife with the Bordelais. Seeking to sway his former friend, Fromont suggests that Garin help him kidnap Blanchefleur for Pépin, and in return promises him the hand of his own sister. An indignant Blanchefleur, however, flatly refuses the scheme. Subsequently, Fromont attempts to brand Garin a traitor, planting a rumor that the knight has attempted to assassinate Pépin. In response, Begon duels to protect the family honor and slays his opponent. Begon, meanwhile, has married Biatrix, daughter of Milon of Blaye, and in so doing has gained still more lands coveted by the Bordelais.
After a period of relative tranquility between the rival houses, Garin's brother experiences a sharp decline in his fortunes, culminating in the renowned “Death of Begon” episode, which forms a stunning dramatic interlude in the epic and in the Loherain cycle as a whole. The episode centers on a melancholy Begon as he endeavors to raise his spirits by visiting Garin after an interval of some seven years and joins in a celebrated boar hunt. Ignoring the protests of his wife, who fears the treachery of his enemies, Begon prepares himself for a journey east. Later, while engaged in the hunt for wild boar, Begon separates from his companions in the forest of Vicogne, a wilderness area that straddles territory owned by Fromont. Mistaken for a poacher, Begon draws the attention of Fromont's seneschal, who dispatches six men—including Thiebaut du Plesseis, Fromont's nephew and a sworn enemy of Begon—to waylay the trespasser. Fighting the men alone with his back to a tree, Begon slays four before being fatally pierced by an arrow. Fromont soon learns of the incident and recognizes the dead man as the brother of Garin. His son Fromondin sharply rebukes Thiebaut for the action, while Fromont himself laments this ignoble death and surely rekindled feud. The Loherains demand Thiebaut as the price for Begon's murder, but Fromont fails to convince his kinsmen to pay this debt of honor. Following their refusal, Fromont descends irrevocably into his role as traitor and antagonist to Garin. The remainder of the epic describes the Loherains’ revenge for Begon's murder. Rigaut, a former peasant and nephew of Begon knighted earlier in the epic, kills Thiebaut's nephews and later raids Bourges, sacking the Bordelais city. (Thiebaut also meets a violent end on the battlefield later in the poem.) Garin himself attacks Guillelme de Blanchefort, a Bordelais clansman supposedly under Pépin's protection at the time. Pépin subsequently shifts his support to the Bordelais. By the work's conclusion, Garin finds himself deeply in debt. His reputation wounded by Fromont's continued treachery, he must mortgage his holdings to the Prince of Cologne. Thereafter, he meets his doom in a church at the hands of a band of traitors
Critics distinguish a number of thematic elements in Garin le Loherain associated with the epic's depiction of a feudal social order in a state of violent disruption. Catastrophic family negotiations, internecine warfare, an acquisitive quest for wives and land, the breakdown of feudal obligations, and a lack of worldly justice are a few of the motifs that exist alongside a principal focus on treachery and revenge. Together Fromont and Garin personify these dual motivations in the poem. Fromont, for all of his treacherous lineage, however, generally appears to make his poor decisions based on circumstance and the dictates of family honor, rather than as the result of his own, internal motivation. For several scholars, Fromont embodies an outward expression of instabilities in the precarious feudal social structure of medieval France—a threat that eclipses even that of invading Saracens. Garin, while brave and steadfast, has little hope of withstanding the forces unleashed by the treachery of the Bordelais, and in opting for vindication, seals his own fate. A complementary theme divides the Frankish society depicted in the poem by gender, with commentators observing that its female characters represent ethical judgment and the wisdom of restraint, while its male figures universally lack these qualities. Invariably, men pay the price for their mistakes in the world of Garin le Loherain with their lives.
Unlike the more renowned of the medieval chansons de geste, which generally feature deeper romantic, nationalistic, or religious elements, Garin le Loherain principally chronicles the daily facets of vassalage and feudal strife without these devices. Mildred K. Pope (1914) examines some of its stylistic qualities in relation to the better-known Chanson de Roland, observing that Garin’s repetitive syntactical formulation and more limited techniques of versification suffer in comparison. In contrast, the poem's compelling storyline and individualized characterizations have been designated as its most outstanding qualities. A favorite in the late medieval period, especially in the fourteenth century, when it enjoyed a phase of extreme popularity, Garin le Loherain has elicited little non-French scholarly interest in the contemporary period. Those critics who have considered the work have generally compared it with other chansons de geste, including Raoul de Cambrai or Aye d'Avignon, which bear certain similarities in terms of subject or theme. Other critics, such as Herman J. Green (1941), have opted for a more archeological approach, tracing the historical or literary lineage of named figures in the poem, especially those of its villains Fromont and Thiebaut, or have examined the textual history of the epic. The “Death of Begon” episode in Garin le Loherain has been considered one of the finer verse movements in the genre. Crafted by the poet in what W. P. Ker (1896) calls “the most varied, as well as the most compact” moment of expression in the epic, the “Death of Begon” scene stands on its own as a moving vignette of heroic action.
SOURCE: Ker, W. P. “The Old French Epic (Chansons de geste.)” In Epic and Romance: Essays on Medieval Literature, pp. 287-320. London: Macmillan, 1922.
[In the following excerpt, originally published in 1896, Ker compares Garin le Loherain with the French epic Raoul de Cambrai, assesses its notable “Death of Begon” episode, and observes that the work bears affinities to Icelandic saga in its concentration on character and lack of strong political, religious, or romantic motivation.]
Garin le Loherain is a story with a [a plot similar to that of Raoul de Cambrai] …—the estrangement and enmity of old friends, “sworn companions.” Though no earlier than Raoul de Cambrai, though belonging in date to the flourishing period of romance, it is a story of the older heroic age, and its contents are epic. Its heroes are unsophisticated, and the incidents, sentiments, and motives are primitive and not of the romantic school. The story is much superior to Raoul de Cambrai in speed and lightness; it does not drag at the critical moments; it has some humour and some grace. Among other things, its gnomic passages represent very fairly the dominant heroic ideas of courage and good temper; it may be appealed to for the humanities of the chansons de geste, expressed in a more fluent and less emphatic shape than Roland. The characters are taken...
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SOURCE: Pope, Mildred K. “Four Chansons de geste: A Study in Old French Epic Versification.” Modern Language Review 9, no. 1 (January 1914): 41-52.
[In the following excerpt, Pope argues that Garin le Loherain represents a formal and stylistic break with the chanson de geste tradition, which includes the Chanson de Willelme and Chanson de Roland.]
GARIN LE LORRAIN1.
With Garin le Lorrain the chronicle stage is all but reached. [chanson de geste] The strophe structure is virtually destroyed, the language often prosaic, the repetitions without trace of emotional appeal.
The repetitions of a kind are by no means infrequent—few, if any, of the numberless encounters can be set before us without recourse to the formulae ‘La veïssiez,’ or ‘Qui veïst (oïst).’
La veïssiez tant paveillons verser, Tant chevaliers morir et craventer Tant Sarrasins et huchier et crier.(2)
Qui done veïst Huon de Cambresis De bon vassal li poïst remembrer.(3)
Every one of the many journeys and goings and comings reaches its conclusion with the phrase ‘Jusqu'à (Tresqu'à) … ne prinrent (prent) fin4.’ One recurrent phrase—‘Merveilles puis oïr’—serves to denote surprise, and the still more frequent ‘a...
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SOURCE: Green, Herman J. “Fromont, a Traitor in the Chansons de geste.” Modern Language Notes 56, no. 5 (May 1941): 329-37.
[In the following essay, Green probes possible historical sources for the treacherous figure of Fromont in Garin le Loherain and related works.]
A character by the name of Fromont plays a rôle of the first importance in Garin le Loherain and throughout the entire Loherain cycle of which Garin forms the nucleus.1 We also find a Fromont in the principal villainous role in Jourdain de Blaivies.2 In Berthe aus grans piés3 a reference is made to this character from the Loherain cycle, while in Gaydon3 there is mention of ‘Fromont dou gaut foillu,’ by which is doubtless meant the forest at Lens where Begon was killed. Langlois, probably on the strength of this, considers him as belonging to the ‘lignage des traîtres.’2 Fromonts are mentioned also in Ogier le Danois, Raoul de Cambrai, and Otinel, but in this latter group there is nothing in the poem to indicate whether they are traitors or sympathetic personages. They are merely spoken of as knights who are killed in battle or are present at the court of Charlemagne.2 Finally, this traitor appears again in the Dutch poem Les Enfants de Limbourg. Huet believes that here the...
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SOURCE: Schwartz, Hillel. “Garin le Loheren: Preliminary Report on a Rhymed Manuscript.” Romania 98, no. 4 (1977): 541-50.
[In the following excerpt, Schwartz investigates the manuscript status of Garin le Loherain and its place between oral and written traditions.]
In 1966 the Bancroft Library of the University of California (Berkeley) acquired from Sotheby's a manuscript of two parts of La geste des Lorrains, Garin le Loheren and Girbert de Mez1. The reappearance of this manuscript solves several problems which have plagued scholars since the 1870's. It promises also to shed some light on the more general issues related to the composition of the chanson de geste.
Listed in the Sotheby catalogue as Phillipps MS 24827 (originally [Cheltenham] 2937), this manuscript is not described in the printed catalogue of the vast collection of that nineteenth century bibliophile, Sir Thomas Phillipps, and must have been one of the numerous manuscripts renumbered in 1872.2 Edmund Stengel in 1873 referred to two manuscripts of Garin le Loheren formerly in the Phillipps library, but neither he nor François Bonnardot in 1874 had precise information about the text of either manuscript3. Both Stengel and Bonnardot did speculate that one of the Phillipps manuscripts derived from the library of the French antiquarian,...
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SOURCE: Schurfranz, Barbara. “Thiebaut du Plesseis in Garin le Loheren: An Echo of La Chanson de Guillaume?” Romance Notes 21, no. 2 (winter 1980): 243-47.
[In the following essay, Schurfranz concentrates on the role of Thiebaut in Garin le Loherain and on links between this figure and Thiebaut de Bourges of La Chanson de Guillame.]
In La Chanson de Guillaume, Thiebaut de Bourges and his nephew Estourmi indirectly cause Vivien's death. Though lacking any heroic qualities whatsoever, these two reprobates did not gain, as did Ganelon, the standing of archtraitor in chanson de geste literature, and mention of either of them in other epics is rare.1
In Garin le Loheren, the death of one of the two central figures, Begon, is caused indirectly by a certain Thiebaut du Plesseis, the brother of an Estourmi. Thiebaut's relatives (the Bordelais) are involved in an intermittent long-standing feud with Begon's family (the Loherens). Thiebaut is first mentioned when Begon marries Biatrix, whom Thiebaut had hoped to marry himself. After the wedding, Thiebaut and his relatives, setting out from Bordeaux, attack the couple on their way south from Blaye to Belin. Begon is seriously wounded, but the attack is repulsed. Thiebaut and the Bordelais then attempt unsuccesfully to take Belin by siege (7202-8090).2
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SOURCE: Jones, Catherine M. “Identity and Disguise in a Late French Epic: Hervis de Mes.” Essays in Medieval Studies 4 (1987): 107-17.
[In the following essay, Jones analyzes the function of disguise and dissimulation as weapons used to exclude the rising bourgeoisie from the world of the aristocracy in Hervis de Mes, a thirteenth-century epic of the Loherain cycle.]
Hervis de Mes is a branch of the provincial epic cycle known as the geste des Loherains. The oldest and most prominent poem in the cycle, Garin le Loherain, depicts the bitter rivalry between two feudal houses during the reign of Pépin le Bref; succeeding branches relate the continuation of this conflict by the descendants of Garin and his enemies. Hervis de Mes was composed in the mid-thirteenth century, after most of the other works in the geste; fictionally, however, it extends the cycle by reverse chronology, recounting the adventures and exploits of Garin's father before the great feud. Such instances of continuation in reverse were common in the formation of epic cycles, and were a tribute to the popularity of their heroes. While Hervis de Mes did not achieve the success of its celebrated predecessor, the assonanced version of the text survives in five manuscripts, and one manuscript preserves its sixteenth-century prose translation.
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SOURCE: Cavanaugh, Susan H. “The Identification of a Lost English Analogue of the ‘Death of Begon’ Episode from the Old French Epic Garin le Loherain.” Medium Ævum 57, no. 1 (1988): 64-67.
[In the following essay, Cavanaugh suggests that a fourteenth-century text once owned by Sir Simon Burly is likely an English translation of the “Death of Begon” episode from Garin le Loherain.]
Of the relatively few inventories of privately owned books that survive from the Middle Ages, one of the better known is that of Sir Simon Burley, a favourite of Richard II who was executed by order of the Merciless Parliament in 1388.1 Burley's inventory is of particular interest, not only because of his intimate association with the king (he served as Richard's tutor from 1380, helped promote the marriage of Richard with Anne of Bohemia and held a lasting place of honour at their court), but also because it contains a relatively high proportion of literary works, in contrast to many similar inventories which consist mainly of liturgical and devotional books.2 Burley's list was drawn up at his own request before his goods were seized by the escheator. For this reason it may be judged to be fairly accurate and complete.
Although Burley's books have been often cited, a number of the works mentioned in the list remain unidentified. Most interesting among these is:...
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SOURCE: Kay, Sarah. “Allies and Enemies.” In The “Chansons de geste” in the Age of Romance: Political Fictions, pp. 175-99. Oxford: Clarenden Press, 1995.
[In the following excerpt, Kay compares Garin le Loherain with Aye d'Avignon in order to highlight its theme of treachery spawned from an internally confused social order.]
GARIN LE LOHEREN
Garin is an altogether more pessimistic narrative [than Aye d'Avignon]. Although as in Aye traitors ally themselves with pagan interest, there is no compensating move on the pagan side to restore order for the non-treacherous Franks. Frankish society is not depicted as any less disorderly or confused than in Aye: on the contrary. But its conflicts are not resolvable by outside intervention. Instead, the size of the traitor force is increased to the point where it dominates not only the royal court, but also the whole realm. Loheren and Bordelais are left to battle it out over 16,000 lines of text with no prospect other than that successive generations, in later poems of the cycle, will have to do the same.
Garin shares with Aye a problematic companionship, since the young Garin is initially conpains (1045) of Fromont, son of the traitor Hardré, and the most prominent member of the younger generation of the treacherous Bordelais clan. Fromont...
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Pohoryles, Bernard M. Demonstrative Pronouns and Adjectives in “Garin le Loheren” and “Gerbert de Mez”: Etymology, Morphology, Syntax, and Comparison with Five Old French Epic Poems and Five Old French ‘Romans.’ New York: Pace College, 1966, 293 p.
In-depth linguistic analysis of Garin le Loherain and its sequel Gerbert de Mez.
Schurfranz, Barbara deMarco. “La Chevalerie Ogier: Verbatim Borrowing from the Geste de Loherains.” Romance Philology 30, no. 3 (February, 1977): 470-74.
Studies extensive verbal duplication between Le Chevalerie Ogier and the Loherain cycle epics Garin le Loherain and Gerbert de Mez.
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