Analysis

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 361

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...

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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

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2087

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 vavasor, Erec meets his host’s daughter, Enide, who is despite her tattered garments the most radiantly beautiful damsel Erec ever saw. With her as his lady and with arms borrowed from his host, Erec challenges and defeats in single combat the arrogant knight, whose name is Yder. Then Erec dispatches the vanquished knight, along with his lady and his dwarf, to Queen Guinevere to do with as she pleases. He also sends word that he will return with his beautiful bride, the damsel Enide.

Erec promises Enide’s father great riches and two towns to rule in his own land, but he refuses all offers to have Enide dressed in robes suitable to her new station: He wishes all in King Arthur’s court to see that even in her humble garments she is the most beautiful lady who ever lived. So great is her beauty that King Arthur, who killed the White Stag, kisses her, and there is no demur from the assembled knights and ladies. The king also grants Eric the boon of a speedy marriage, so eager is the young knight for the love of his promised bride. The ceremony is performed by the archbishop of Canterbury at the time of the Pentecost before an assemblage of knights and ladies from every corner of the kingdom, and the celebration continues for a fortnight.

A month after Pentecost, a great tournament is held near Tenebroc, and in the lists there Erec shows himself the most valiant of all the knights assembled. On his return, he receives from the king permission to visit his own land, and he and Enide set out with an escort of sixty knights. On the fifth day, they arrive in Carnant, where King Lac welcomes his son and Enide with much honor. Erec finds so much pleasure in his wife’s company that he has no thought for other pastimes. When tournaments are held in the region around, he sends his knights to the forays but he remains behind in dalliance with the fair Enide. At last people begin to gossip and say that he turned a craven in arms. These reports so distress Enide that one morning while they are still abed she begins to lament the way in which the brave and hardy knight changed because of his love for her. Hearing her words, Erec is moved to anger, and he tells her to rise and prepare herself at once to take the road with him on a journey of knight-errantry in search of whatever perils he might encounter by chance. At the beginning of the journey he gives orders that she is never to tell him of anything she might see, nor to speak to him unless he addresses her first.

As Enide rides ahead, forbidden to speak, she laments her disclosure and the sudden loss of the life she enjoyed with her loving husband. She disobeys him, however, when they are about to be attacked by three robber knights, and again when they are assailed by five recreants. Erec, overcoming all who oppose him, feels no gratitude for her wifely warnings and fears for his safety and speaks harshly to her because she disobeyed his command.

That night, since they know of no town or shelter nearby, they sleep in an open field. There, the squire of Count Galoin comes upon them the next day and conducts them to lodgings in the town where the count is master. That nobleman, going to pay his respects to the strange knight and his lovely lady, is much smitten with Enide’s beauty, so much so that, going to the place where she sits apart, he expresses his pity for her obvious distress and offers to make her mistress of all his lands. When Enide refuses, he declares that he will take her by force. Fearing for her husband’s life, Enide pretends to accede to his wishes. It is arranged that on the next day the count’s knights are to overtake the travelers and seize Enide. Erec, coming to her rescue, will be killed, and she will be free to take the count as her lord. Once again, Enide disobeys her husband and tells him of Count Galoin’s plan. Forewarned, Erec overcomes his assailants and knocks the count senseless from his steed. When Galoin’s followers pursue Erec and Enide, the count restrains them, praising Enide’s prudence and virtue and the bravery of her knight.

Departing from Count Galoin’s lands, the travelers come to a castle from which the lord comes riding on a great steed to offer Erec combat at arms. Enide sees him coming but does not dare tell her husband for fear of his wrath. At last she does speak, however, and Erec realizes that it is her love for him that makes her disobedient to his commands. The knight who challenges Erec, Guivret the Little, is of small stature but stout heart, and both he and Erec are wounded in the fight. Though the courageous little knight loses, he puts up such a good fight that he and Erec become friends. Guivret invites Erec to have his wounds dressed and to rest at his castle, but Erec thanks him courteously and rides on with Enide.

At length, they arrive at a wood where King Arthur comes with a large hunting party. By then, Erec is so begrimed and bloodied that Sir Kay the seneschal does not recognize him. He would take the wounded knight to the king’s camp, but Erec refuses and they fight until Sir Kay is unhorsed. Sir Gawain then rides out to encounter the strange knight, and he is able to bring Erec to the place where the king ordered tents set up in anticipation of their coming. There is great joy in that meeting for the king and Queen Guinevere, but there is also distress at Erec’s wounds. Although the king pleads with Erec to rest there until his hurts are healed, the knight refuses to be turned aside or delayed on his journey, and early the next morning he and Enide set out once more.

In a strange forest, they hear the cries of a lady in distress. Leaving Enide to await his return, Erec rides in the direction of the sound and finds a damsel weeping because two giants carried away her knight. Riding in pursuit, Erec kills the giants and rescues the knight, whose name is Cadoc of Tabriol. Later, he sends Cadoc and the damsel to King Arthur’s camp, to tell the story of how he fares. Meanwhile, Erec’s wounds reopen, and he loses so much blood that he falls from his horse in a swoon.

While Enide is weeping over his prostrate body, a count with his suite comes riding through the forest. The nobleman gives orders that the body is to be taken to Limors and prepared for burial. On their arrival at the palace, the count declares his intention of espousing Enide at once. Although she refuses to give her consent, the ceremony is performed in great haste and guests are summoned to a wedding banquet that night.

Erec, recovering from his deep swoon, awakens in time to see the count strike Enide across the face because in her great grief she can neither eat nor drink at her new husband’s bidding. Springing from the funeral bier, he draws his sword and strikes the count on the head with such force that blood and brains gush out. While the other guests retreat in fear of the ghostly presence that so suddenly returns to life, Erec and Enide make their escape. Erec assures his wife that he is now convinced of her devotion and love.

Guivret the Little receives word that a mortally wounded knight was found in the forest and that the lord of Limors carried off the dead man’s wife. Coming to see that the fallen knight receives proper burial and to aid his lady if she is in distress, the doughty little knight comes upon Erec, whom he fails to recognize in the murky moonlight, and strikes a blow that knocks Erec unconscious. Enide and Guivret remain by the stricken man all that night, and in the morning they proceed to Guivret’s castle. There Erec is nursed back to health by Enide and Guivret’s sisters. After his recovery, escorted by Guivret and burdened with gifts, the couple prepare to return to King Arthur’s court.

Toward nightfall, the travelers see in the distance the towers of a great fortress. Guivret says that the town is named Brandigant and that there is a perilous passage called the “Joy of the Court.” King Evrain welcomes the travelers with great courtesy, but that night, while they feast, he also warns Erec against attempting the mysterious feat that no knight thus far survived. Despite the disapproval of his friend and his host, Erec swears to attempt the passage.

The next morning he is conducted into a magic garden filled with all manner of fruits and flowers, past the heads and helmets of the unfortunate knights who braved danger to blow the magic horn whose blast would signify joy to King Evrain’s land. At the end of a path he finds a beautiful damsel seated on a couch. While he stands looking at her, a knight appears to engage him in combat. They fight until the hour of noon passes; then the knight falls exhausted. He reveals that he was held in thrall in the garden by an oath given to his mistress, whose one wish is his eternal presence by her side. Erec then blows the horn and all the people rejoice to find him safe. There is great joy also when the knight of the garden is released from his bondage and the beautiful damsel identifies herself as the cousin of Enide.

Erec and Enide, accompanied by Guivret, continue their journey to the court of King Arthur, where they are received with gladness and honor. When his father dies, Erec returns to reign in his own land. There he and Enide are crowned in a ceremony of royal splendor in the presence of King Arthur and all the nobles of his realm.

Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 163

*Cardigan

*Cardigan. King Arthur’s castle, which not only represents the splendor and honor that is so much a part of his legendary reign and of Chrétien’s romances, but also the actual setting in Wales that exists at the present time. It signifies tradition and celebration. In addition, it is where the tale opens and the legendary white stag hunt custom is to begin. Erec and Enide are married there as well.

*Edinburgh

*Edinburgh. Another real locale in Scotland that is the perfect blend of modern and medieval aspects; it is a place of rich diversity and culture, as well as the place where the tournament is held and Erec is declared the victor of all attending knights.

Wilderness

Wilderness. This location seems deep and unknowable, just like the experiences that Erec and Enide face here.

*Nantes

*Nantes (nant). Port in Brittany, across the English Channel from Great Britain. Erec and Enide are crowned king and queen there on Christmas Day.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 255

Buckbee, Edward J. “Erec et Enide.” In The Romances of Chrétien de Troyes: A Symposium, edited by Douglas Kelly. Lexington, Ky.: French Forum, 1985. Buckbee argues that Erec and Enide are a perfect couple who fit the ideal of Arthur’s elite society of knights and ladies, but he also notes that the characterization is ambiguous because Chrétien does not state their motives clearly.

Frappier, Jean. “Chrétien de Troyes.” In Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages, edited by R. S. Loomis. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1959. Provides a good overview of Chrétien’s work and deals primarily with his sources. An admirable starting point for new readers.

Loomis, Roger Sherman. Arthurian Tradition and Chrétien de Troyes. New York: Columbia University Press, 1949. Loomis shows how most episodes in Chrétien’s romances have their parallels in other Irish, Welsh, and Breton stories. Some of Loomis’ work has been questioned, but he remains an acknowledged authority in the field.

Luttrell, Claude. The Creation of the First Arthurian Romance: A Quest. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1974. A study specifically of Erec and Enide, which focuses on Chrétien’s sources and the meaning as revealed by the poem’s structure. Also discusses romances that resemble Erec and Enide.

Noble, Peter S. Love and Marriage in Chrétien de Troyes. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1982. Examines the theme of love and marriage in all of Chrétien’s romances. Concludes that Erec and Enide is a celebration of married rather than unmarried or pre-marital “courtly love.”

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