Chretien De Troyes
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Pages (PDF): 95
Publication Date: 1966. This translation was published with no copyright notice by L. J. Gardiner.
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Cligès, by the medieval French poet Chrétien de Troyes, daties from around 1176. It is the second of five Arthurian Romances; Erec and Enide, Cligès, Yvain, Lancelot and Perceval. The poem tells the story of the knight Cligès and his love for his uncle's wife, Fenice.
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THE clerk who wrote the tale of Erec and Enid, and translated the Commandments of Ovid and the Art of Love, and composed the Bite of the Shoulder, and sang of King Mark and of the blonde Iseult, and of the metamorphosis of the Hoopoe and of the Swallow and of the Nightingale, is now beginning a new tale of a youth who was in Greece of the lineage of King Arthur. But before I tell you anything of him, you shall hear his father's life—whence he was and of what lineage. So valiant was he and of such proud spirit, that to win worth and praise he went from Greece to England, which was then called Britain. We find this story that I desire to tell and to relate to you, recorded in one of the books of the library of my lord Saint Peter at Beauvais. Thence was taken the tale from which Chretien framed this romance. The book, which truthfully bears witness to the story, is very ancient; for this reason it is all the more to be believed. From the books which we possess, we know the deeds of the ancients and of the world which aforetime was. This our books have taught us: that Greece had the first renown in chivalry and in learning. Then came chivalry to Rome, and the heyday of learning, which now is come into France. God grant that she be maintained there; and that her home there please her so much that never may depart from France the honour which has there taken up its abode. God had lent that glory to others; but no man talks any longer either more or less about Greeks and Romans; talk of them has ceased, and the bright glow is extinct.
Chretien begins his tale—as the story relates to us—which tells of an emperor mighty in wealth and honour, who ruled Greece and Constantinople. There was a very noble empress by whom the emperor had two children. But the first was of such an age before the other was born, that if he had willed he might have become a knight and held all the empire. The first was named Alexander; the younger was called Alis. The father too had for name Alexander; and the mother had for name Tantalis. I will straight-away leave speaking of the empress Tantalis, of the emperor, and of Alis. I will speak to you of Alexander, who was so great-hearted and proud that he did not stoop to become a knight in his own realm. He had heard mention made of King Arthur, who was reigning at that time; and of the barons which he ever maintained in his retinue wherefore his Court was feared and famed throughout the world. Howe'er the end may fall out for him, and whate'er may come of it for the lad, there is nought that will hold him from his yearning to go to Britain; but it is meet that he take leave of his father before he goes to Britain or to Cornwall. Alexander the fair, the valiant, goes to speak to the emperor in order to ask permission and to take his leave. Now will he tell him what is his vow, and what he would fain do and take in hand. "Fair sire, that I may be schooled in honour and win worth and renown, a boon," quoth he, "I venture to crave of you—a boon that I would have you give me; never defer it now for me if you are destined to grant it." The emperor had no thought of being vexed for that, either much or little; he is bound to desire and to covet honour for his son above aught else. He would deem himself to be acting well—would deem? ay, and he would be so acting—if he increased his son's honour. "Fair son," quoth he, "I grant you your good pleasure, and tell me what you would have me give you." Now the lad has done his work well; and right glad was he of it when is granted him the boon that he so longed to have. "Sire," quoth he, "would you know what you have promised me? I wish to have in great store of your gold and of your silver and comrades from your retinue such as I shall will to choose; for I wish to go forth from your empire, and I shall go to offer my service to the king who reigns over Britain, that he may dub me knight. Never, indeed, on any day as long as I live shall I wear visor on my face or helm on my head, I warrant you, till King Arthur gird on my sword if he deign to do it; for I will receive arms of no other." The emperor without more ado replies: "Fair son, in God's name, say not so. This land and mighty are diverse and contrary. And that man is a slave. Constantinople is wholly yours. You must not hold me a niggard when I would fain give you so fair a boon. Soon will I have you crowned; and a knight shall you be to-morrow. All Greece shall be in your hand; and you shall receive from your barons—as indeed you ought to receive—their oaths and homage. He who refuses this is no wise man."
The lad hears the promise—namely, that his father will dub him knight on the morrow after Mass—but says that he will prove himself coward or hero in another land than his own. "If you will grant my boon in that matter in which I have asked you; then give me fur both grey and of divers colour and good steeds and silken attire; for before I am knight I will fain serve King Arthur. Not yet have I so great valour that I can bear arms. None by entreaty or by fair words could persuade me not to go into the foreign land to see the king and his barons, whose renown for courtesy and for prowess is so great. Many high men through their idleness lose great praise that they might have if they wandered o'er the world. Repose and praise agree all together, as it seems to me; for a man of might who is ever resting in no wise becomes famous. Prowess is a burden to a cowardly man; and cowardice is a burden to the brave; thus the twain to his possessions who is ever heaping them up and increasing them. Fair sire, as long as I am allowed to win renown, if I can avail so much, I will give my pains and diligence to it."
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