Erec and Enide Analysis
by Chrétien de Troyes

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Erec and Enide Analysis

Erec and Enide by Chretien de Troyes is a slice of the legend of King Arthur, as told by the author. If you can cope with Medieval French, you should read it in the original. If that's not possible, there are modern French and English translations available, which are a lot easier to read. You should also check out the excellent study guide available on this website.

They don't call the first versions of the Arthurian legend "romances" for nothing. Before King Arthur was a superhero or the mythical father of modern Britain, he was an uxorious West Country war chieftain with a magical friend. His knights had their own loves and adventures, but all of them are copies of the main narrative. There's a knight, a woman, and an unattainable object of devotion. There's a quest, adventures, a climactic struggle, and a resolution meant to impart a moral lesson.

In Erec and Enide, the unattainable object is perfect Christian charity or love. The two main characters are already married, so there's no question of a chaste knight embarking on a quest for the Holy Grail to impress a lady, as did other knights in the Arthurian legend. Here, Erec and Enide ride off on adventures together, and their fights and meetings are steps on the way to the ultimate act of charity, in which they set free prisoners, and the ultimate "sacrifice," in which they agree to be crowned king and queen of the Kingdom of Nantes and dedicate their lives to public service, in imitation of Arthur and Guinevere.

The moral lesson which ties it all together goes something like, "Be faithful and humble, and you'll win in the end." This applies to Enide more than to Erec, who is suspicious of her throughout the story, but if you read "faithful" as "dedicated to your purpose," then you can count Eric's killing of bad knights and his making of strategic friendships. Both the main characters, each in their own way, were faithful and humble, and they got rewarded with "the kingdom," which in the story is in France but is meant to stand metaphorically for "the kingdom of Heaven."

The Poem

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

One Easter season, while King Arthur holds his court in the royal town of Cardigan, he summons all of his knights to a hunt for the white stag. Sir Gawain, hearing of the king’s wish, is displeased and says that no good will come of that ancient custom, for the law of the hunt decrees that the successful hunter must also kiss the lady whom he considers the most beautiful damsel of the court. As Sir Gawain notes, there is likely to be dissension among the assembled knights and each, believing his own true love as the loveliest and gentlest lady in the land, will be angered by the slight if she is not so considered by the others.

At daybreak, the hunters set out. After them rides Queen Guinevere, attended by Erec, a fair and brave knight, and one of the queen’s damsels. While they wait by the wayside to hear the baying of the hounds or the call of a bugle, they see coming toward them a strange knight, his lady, and a dwarf who carries a knotted scourge. The queen sends her damsel to ask who the knight and his fair companion might be, but the dwarf, barring her way, strikes the damsel across the hand with his whip. Then Erec rides forward and the dwarf lashes him across the face and neck. Being unarmed, Erec makes no attempt to chastise the dwarf or his haughty master, but he vows that he will follow the strange knight until he can find arms to hire or to borrow that he might avenge the insult to the queen.

In the fair town to which the strange knight and his companions presently lead him, Erec finds lodgings with a vavasor, who tells him the reason for all the stir and bustle that Erec saw as he rode through the gates. On the next day, a fine sparrow hawk will be given to the knight who can defend against all comers the beauty and goodness of his lady. The haughty knight won the bird in two successive years and will be allowed to keep it if his challenge goes unanswered the next day. At the home of the...

(The entire section is 2,866 words.)