The Nonexistent Knight

by Italo Calvino

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

After Raimbaut experiences some disappointment regarding the honor of knights, Torrismund, another young knight, says

"What d'you expect to be sure of? [...]. Insignia, ranks, titles . . . All mere show. Those paladins' shields with armorial bearings and mottoes are not made of iron; they're just paper, you can put your finger through them."

Raimbaut came to battle expecting to see chivalrous knights and glorious fights. Instead, he has found -- for the most part -- lazy and slovenly men largely without honor. Ironically, the most honorable knight he's found is "nonexistent." Despite his sage advice to Raimbaut, Torrismund has similar expectations when he goes in search of the Knights of the Grail. However, when he finds them his hope is dashed by their behavior. They do not protect but only exploit. Then they become violent toward the poor when their own needs are not met. So, Torrismund

Again [...] began his wandering among nations. Till now he had despised every honor and pleasure, his sole ideal being the Sacred Order of the Knights of the Grail. And now that ideal had vanished.

Thus we see that idealism is typical of youth, and it is bound to vanish when they gain more experience with the world.

When Raimbaut insists that Charlemagne's imperial army is fighting for a just and holy cause, defending Christianity, Torrismund tells him

"There's no defense or offense about it, or sense in anything at all [...]. The war will last for centuries, and nobody will win or lose; we'll all sit here face to face forever. Without one or the other there'd be nothing, and yet both we and they have forgotten by now why we're fighting [...]."

In a world where people have been fighting over religion for centuries -- even millenia -- such a statement seems especially salient. Is there a need to fight over religion? Cannot each group simply worship in the way they deem best without seeking to impose their religion on another group? Torrismund sees that such fighting has no purpose and will have no end. He's pretty worldly in some ways -- one might wonder, perhaps, if the "-mund" part of his name has come from the Latin root for "world."

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