We might start with the tale of Geraint ac Enid, the French counterpart of which is Chrétrien’s Romance of Erec et Enide. Of all the three Welsh Romances, Geraint is the most closely related to its Old French equivalent, following the structure of Chrétien’s tale episode by episode, and in some cases phrase by phrase. Thus, out of all the three rhamantau, there is the strongest case for regarding Geraint as a direct derivation from Chrétien’s corpus. But even here, we have the complicating factor of the prior influence of some kind of Welsh, Breton or Cornish original clearly underlying Chrétien’s work itself.i The Welsh romancer effectively stripped Chrétien’s tale down to its basic Brythonic narrative foundations, and incorporated a judicious input from his own stock of lore, including the name of the hero himself – Geraint fab Erbin – a traditional, possibly historical, figure with deep-rooted connections to the Devon/Cornwall area .ii Certain minor characters appearing in this tale, such as Glewlwyd the porter, were clearly drawn from the Welsh Arthurian tradition as represented by Culhwch ac Olwen rather than any continental source. Further local colour is provided by a detailed description of the Usk Valley and Caerleon area, which imply a detailed first-hand knowledge of this quintessentially Arthurian landscape. Finally we have reference to specifically Welsh social institutions practices, echoing the native law codes found in the Book of Iorwerth and related sourcesiii, further evidence of the degree of ‘re-Cymricisation’ of this tale.
More significant than any of these details, however, is the style of the story-telling itself. There is a distinctive mode of prose writing that characterises the Welsh chwedlau, as we have already considered. For now it is enough to simply affirm that in all significant respects Geraint adheres to this style. We even find specific stock-formulae and referential devices that also occur in the Four Branches, such as the self-consciously literary dywedassam ni uchod ‘as we saw above’, and the recurrence of that distinctive formula for describing the end of a feast a phan amserach kymryt hun no cheuedach, y gyscu yd aethant ‘and when it became more timely to sleep than to carouse, to sleep they went’ (and variations thereof). This distinctive phraseology punctuates the Mabinogi, and features with some regularity in the Welsh Romances as well.
Against this evidence for a traditional Welsh narrative-rhetorical system into which this tale was effectively absorbed, we should also note the details in Geraint which nod self-consciously towards the lavish courtly culture of the French romances. Certain details of armaments (e.g. the closed helm), architecture (glazed windows) and fighting styles (the tournament) signal distinctively thirteenth-century fashions and technologies: reflecting an unabashed desire to equip these traditional Welsh heroes with the latest continental accoutrements – an aspiration that we might recognise as wholly characteristic of the Age of the Llywelyns. The balance between local and contemporary styles – a constant tension within any marginal culture – can be seen tipping decisively towards the centre during this time, reflecting the process of internal and constitutional change discussed in relation to the Third and Fourth Branches of the Mabinogi.
Both Geraint ac Enid and Erec et Enide might be described as containing the outline of a traditional Brythonic tale garlanded with decorous features of this kind, giving the end result a ‘contemporary’ feel in which the inner contradictions of chivalric feudalism played out in an appropriately gilded arena. The story begins (as do most of the other Arthurian Romances) with Arthur’s court in Caerleon-on-Usk, before moving into the profoundly traditional ‘Chase of the White Stag’ scenario. This, as we have seen in our discussion of the First Branch, was a Celtic motif of considerable antiquity – which begins with the hunting of magical animal (usually a white or golden deer of some kind), before certain members of the hunting party become separated, leading to some kind of otherworld encounter. There is, as we have seen, a strong association between this motif and the mythical fantasies of the sovereignty complex in the Celtic world. Later on in the story, considerable symbolic importance is attached to the head of the stag, which is given to Geraint’s wife Enid in what appears to be a legitimisation of her sovereign status.
In this instance, the pursuit of the shining white stag causes the Queen Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere), her handmaiden and a young knight (the hero Geraint ab Erbin) to become separate from the rest of the hunting party. This was a cue for medieval Celtic audiences (following the well-worn plotline of the White Stag scenario) to expect some kind of encounter with the Otherworld, and sure enough an extraordinary-looking knight appears – supernaturally tall, and clad in outlandish full-body armour. He is accompanied by a proud-looking lady on a palfrey and an ill-aspected dwarf. The latter insults first Gwenhwyfar’s handmaiden, then Geraint himself – striking at each of them violently and refusing to divulge the identity of the knight, whose face remains hidden behind his visor. Geraint vows to avenge this insult and follows the knight into his domain.
This begins an important section of the story, in which Geraint meets and wins his wife-to-be, the lady Enid (Enide in the Old French tale). He arrives in a town in which a tournament seems to be in progress, under the patronage the local earl. He is informed that in order to gain entry to the games, a potential contender should arrive accompanied by ‘the lady he loves best’. The victor of these contests wins the falcon that sits on a silver rod in the middle of the tournament meadow for his lady, and becomes ‘the Knight of the Sparrowhawk’. The man who has won this honour for the last two years and, it is explained, is the very same knight who insulted the queen during the hunting of the white stag. If he wins a third time he will gain the status of the Knight of Sparrowhawk on a permanent basis.
That night Geraint lodges with an elderly couple who turn out to be dispossessed landowners, ousted and reduced to poverty by the young earl who is patron of the tournament and (now) ruler of the town and surrounding country. Geraint is granted permission to champion their daughter, Enid, at the tournament. The next day, the Knight of the Sparrowhawk is about to claim the falcon for his lady, when Geraint arrives, issuing the following challenge:
“Fetch it not,” said Geraint. “There is a maiden here who is fairer and and more comely and of nobler lineage than thou, and has a better to claim to [the falcon]” iv
Combat ensues, and Geraint eventually unhorses his opponent whom he sends, beaten and bloodstained, to the court of Arthur to demonstrate that Gwenhwyfar has been avenged. Geraint, for his part, is invited to the court of the young earl of the town. In the aftermath of the tournament this young earl seems curiously compliant with Geraint’s demands which, significantly, include the restitution of the old earl’s status and property. Geraint refuses his offer of hospitality, and insists instead that victuals be delivered to the house of Enid’s parents. New clothes are offered to the threadbare family of the old earl. Rather curiously, Geraint insists that Enid remains clothed in her old garments, while her parents are freshly equipped. Enid, Geraint explains, must ‘remain as she is until she comes to Arthur’s court. And I want Arthur and Gwenhwyfar to give the maiden away’.
After this, the action is transferred to the court of Arthur at Caerleon-on-Usk. We rejoin the tail-end of the hunt for the white stag (which Geraint had earlier abandoned) with Arthur being described as killing and capturing the beast, and the knights of the court arguing about who should have the right to give the head of the stag to his beloved (note the parallel with the sparrowhawk tournament). The following day, the former Knight of the Sparrowhawk appears, mortally wounded from combat with Geraint. The queen is deemed to have been appropriately avenged. The next day, Geraint himself arrives at Caerleon with Enid. She is clothed and looked after by Gwenhwyfar, and the young couple are given at sumptuous wedding at the royal court. The coveted stag’s head is given to Enid after which ‘her reputation increased, and because of that she had more companions than before.’
The intense symbolic value placed on these animal tokens (the stag’s head and the sparrowhawk) reminds us that behind its High Medieval veneer, we have the archaic hallmarks of the magical plot, as described in the previous article. The underlying fantasy at the heart of all plots of this kind is the assumption of sovereignty: in its primitive sense of a violent deposition of the king followed by the sexual possession of the queen. The fulfilment of this desire is depicted in a more-or-less codified form in all magical plots, but equally important are the various displacement strategies which are used to conceal it. This effectively distracts and by-passes the censoring action of the socialised superego; feeding the instinctual unconscious with the frisson of the forbidden desire while neutralising the sense of guilt that would otherwise accompany the indulgence of the transgressive fantasy.
The sequence here starts, if we remember, with the hero alone in the forest with the queen herself, accompanied only by her personal chambermaid – and this within the highly-charged and suggestive narrative apparatus of the Chase of the White Stage scenario. Within this context, the ‘insult’ to the queen by the Sparrowhawk Knight might be seen as a precursor to a sexual act. This impels the hero onto the next move, where he achieves the primal goal of magical plot – i.e. the usurpation of a senior male rival, and the acquisition of a totemic female figure, in this case the daughter of the disposed earl (whose former status is subsequently restored). Although these actions take place (as is so often the case in Romance literature) in a displaced, ritualised context (in this case, the Tournament of the Sparrowhawk Knight) this apparently inconsequential adventure is dovetailed with the violent acquisition of property (a key aspect of the sovereignty complex) via the back-story of the old earl and his dispossession. The hero’s kindness to the old man satisfies the demands of the moral superego, allowing the Geraint to play the respectable role of the Christian knight parfait – defender of the poor, upholder of justice, over-thrower of tyrants. Yet, by the end of sequence, Geraint has effectively become the Sparrowhawk Knight (through his victory at the tournament), and through this been instrumental in the transfer of property from the incumbent earl. The career of the young earl, we might note, parallels that of the Sparrowhawk Knight – the two seem to rise and fall together. An effective blurring of identities takes place between the original Sparrowhawk Knight and the land-grabbing young earl – and between both of these figures and the hero himself. Through these doublets the hero is able to act out the transgressive aspects of the sovereignty fantasy (violent seizure of land and sexual prerogative), while on the conscious surface of the tale maintaining the clean conscience of the noble Christian hero.
The blurring of identities with the Sparrow Hawk knight is particularly interesting given the name and provenance of the latter. Edern fab Nudd (Yder fils Nut in the French tale) is the name he eventually discloses, and this places the episode firmly in the context of the most archaic stratum of medieval Welsh tradition. Ederyn/Yder appears to have been an established Arthurian figure – who was remembered by both Wace and William of Malmesbury as well as (briefly) by Geoffrey of Monmouth. In a folktale recalled in William of Malmesbury’s ‘Antiquity of the Church of Glastonbury’, a certain Yder fis Nuth is described as fighting three giants on the hill of Brentenol (identified with ‘Brent Knoll’ in Somerset), after having been knighted by Arthur. Rather like Geraint in a later episode (who also is represented fighting multitudes of giants), he is described as prevailing in this battle, but falling unconscious as a result of his wounds. The king, racked with guilt at the idea that he may have sent this young nobleman to his death, enlists a battalion of monks to pray for his revival, and when he recovers makes a generous grant of lands to the monastery involved. Significantly, perhaps, this event is described as taking place soon after 'the feast of the nativity', i.e. Christmas or midwinter. (The events of Geraint are also associated with seasonal festivities, though in this case the feast day is that of Whitsuntide).
While a hagiographic origin for this legend may well be suspected, as with so much from the Early British tradition, there is also the distinct trace on an older, pre-Christian underlay. The patronymic Nudd, most authorities agree, is derived from the name of the Romano-British diety Nodens, the remains of whose fourth-century temple/healing spa complex can still be seen in Lydney Park in the Forest of Dean, just a few miles from the setting of this story. Another son of Nudd, who was almost certainly also revered as a pagan diety in his own right, was Gwyn ap Nudd, of whom the following account is given in Culhwch ac Olwen:
A little while before that Creiddylad daughter of Llud Law Ereint went off with Gwythyr son of Greidol, but before he could sleep with her Gwyn son of Nudd came and took her by force. Gwythyr son of Greidol gathered a host, and came to fight against Gwyn son of Nud, and Gwyn triumphed, and captured Greid son of Eri, and Glinneu son of Taran, and Gwrgwst Ledlum and Dyfnarth his son. And when he captured Pen son of Nethog, and Nwython, and Cyledyr Wllyt his son, and he killed Mwython and cut out his heart, and forced Cyledyr to eat his father’s heart, and because of that Cyledyr went mad. Arthur heard of this and came to the North and summoned Gwyn son of Nudd to him and Gwythyr son of Greidol. This is the agreement that was made: the maiden was to be left in her father’s house, untouched by either party, and there was to be battle between Gwyn and Gwythyr every May Day forever from that day forth until Judgement Day, and the one that triumphed on Judgement Day would take the maiden.v
This passage leaves little room for doubt as to the savage, pre-Christian background of the figure of Gwyn son of Nudd. Elsewhere in the same text the same figure is described as housing ‘all the devils of Annwfn’ in his breast ‘so that the world can be spared’. His sinister reputation persists in later Welsh tradition: in which he is represented as a demonic wild huntsman, leading a pack of white-and-red dogs across the skies on stormy winter nights. He also appears as a pagan faery king, emerging out of Glastonbury Tor to tempt St. Collen at various stages in the latter’s late medieval Vita.
There can be little doubt, then, that the unmasking of the Sparrowhawk Knight as Edern fab Nudd would have carried at least a hint of this sinister aura. But the key point here was the structural echo between the ritualistic encounter between Gwyn ap Nudd and his mortal adversary Gwythyr son of Greidol, and that of his brother Edern in his guise as the Knight of the Sparrowhawk. At the bottom of each is that most archaic and powerfully-charged of mythic configurations: the Love Triangle scenario, in which the Old King (representing the Winter) contends with Hero (representing the Spring), a seasonal ritual drama which would have heralded the commencement of the libidinous vernal festivities in the ancient world. That the Queen Guinevere should appear at the heart of this Love Triangle scenario in more than one medieval reworking of the Arthurian material should come as no surprise to the student of the magical plot. vi
We should remind ourselves at this stage is that the circumstances of the social structure of High Medieval Europe – with its class of landless knights, jockeying for a place in the settled world of propertied adults – lent myths of this kind a special kind of potency within the court community. The reality of the life of the knight-errant – that is to say, the knight born without land or the prospect of inheritance – meant that both property and legitimate sexual opportunity were prizes that needed to be won, often by force, either within or beyond the confines of the court community. The chivalric imagination remained obsessed, consciously or otherwise, by the essentially primitive concept of the seizure of sovereignty through the aggressive supplanting of the incumbent king, leading to the appropriation of the latter’s economic and sexual privileges. The wealth and political power of the king and the sexual magnetism of the queen were concepts that remained hopelessly conflated in the medieval mind, creating a powerful fantasy structure represented by this primitive sovereignty myth. As can be seen quite clearly in this first section of Geraint, the job of the magical plot was to procure this fantasy in an acceptable format – partially concealed by a process of displacement, but with enough echoes, clues and symbolic tokens to offer the feed the wish-fulfilment fantasies of the landless feudal aristocracy, who would have constituted its primary audience.
If the guilt arising from the regicidal fantasy of the sovereignty complex represents the chief problem at the heart of the first section of the chwedl, a slightly different but also by no means unrelated tension lies at the heart of the second section – which represents the centre of gravity of this Romance. We have already alluded to the mythological commonplace which would represent sovereignty as a timeless divine female figure, taking on each successive king as her lover. We have also suggested that this particular mytheme carried a special potency in the particular context of the feudal court community – where primogeniture created a class of landless knights whose sexual opportunities as well as rights of property were severely curtailed by punitive canon law. The majority of these younger sons of the feudal nobility were destined to remain attached to households of their landed siblings. On reaching manhood they would pass through a series of initiation rites: vigils, oaths, dubbing ceremonies etc. leading to their acceptance within the warrior society of knighthood – the status of which was powerfully reinforced in the chansons de gestes, the ‘mainstream’ heroic literature of medieval Europe.
Many within this group, however, would remain both unmarried and without property for the remainder of their lives. Their energies would be diverted hunting, tournaments or (more rarely) war; and long winter nights would be passed in the hall of their liege-lord, drinking and feasting alongside the other members of the retinue. While the knight-errant occupied a reasonably elevated position within the wider court community, in most cases he would rise no further. Barring the remote possibility of marriage to an eligible widower (like the Empress of Constantinople in Peredur) or a brotherless dowager (like the earl’s daughter in Geraint) such men would, despite their knightly status, end their days as essentially landless retainers, sleeping on straw in another man’s hall.
It is perhaps not surprising that allegiance to the männerbund of their fellow household knights remained the most important mainstay for many of these hoary-headed warriors as they passed into disappointed middle age. For many of these older members of the household chivalry, the simple martial values of the chansons de gestes would have offered a more palatable ideal than the gynocentric fantasies of the Romance. One can also imagine these aging battle-scarred cynics deriving some enjoyment the popular thirteenth century ‘beast epics’ mocking the sentiments and pretensions of the Arthurian Romance (these are primarily an Old French innovation, though translations exist in the Medieval Welsh corpus as well). A streak of misogyny runs through much of this thirteenth-century court literature, one of the less ambiguous examples being the parody romance, Le Chevalier qui fist parler les cons, in which the eponymous hero is given the power to converse directly with the vagina and anus of a woman, thereby revealing aspects of her sex life that she might otherwise have preferred to remain undisclosed. Other examples of court entertainment, notably the thirteenth century Ipomedon and Trubert, go further still in critiquing the value-system of amor courteois, with its habits of elevating the unworthy female into an object of almost religious devotion.
These examples are mentioned merely to remind us of the other value system which intersected the central topos of the Romance, that is the intense attraction between the landless knight and his cherished amie. For even the married knight or landed nobleman was a member of a warband as well as being a husband or a lover. It is the contradiction or tension between these respective roles which defines the action of the Geraint, just as in its Old French correlate Erec et Enide.
The second section of Geraint begins with the hero being summoned back to his father’s kingdom while he is sojourning with his newly-wedded wife at the court of Arthur. Erbin’s emissaries are received, clothed and given accommodation, while Arthur himself weighs up the loss that the young couple’s departure would represent for the court. Geraint then gathers a body of retainers to escort him to his native Cornish court, and a debate then ensues about whether or not Edern son of Nudd, the erstwhile Sparrowhawk Knight, should be included in their number. Once they have arrived at Erbin’s West Country court, the retinue are obliged to stay while Geraint receives homage from his new subjects. When they finally leave they are accompanied by Geraint as far as the border at Dynganwyr.vii
Geraint’s rather protracted departure from Arthur’s court to his father’s kingdom signals the tension which will be played out throughout this section – that is the dichotomy between Geraint’s role as a (potential) sovereign and husband, and his continued affiliation to the value-system of the court and the retinue. His reluctance to make this transition in roles is stated explicitly in his first meeting with his father on his arrival at the Dumnonian court:
Early the next day Erbin got up and summoned Geraint to him, and the noblemen that had escorted him; and he said to Geraint, ‘I am a man heavy with age,’ he said, ‘and while I was able to maintain my kingdom for you and for myself, I did so. But you are a young man, and in the prime of life and flower of youth. You must maintain your kingdom now.’ ‘Well,’ said Geraint, ‘if it were my choice, you would not be placing control of your kingdom into my hands at this moment, nor would you have taken me from Arthur’s court just yet.’viii
Despite this reluctance to part from Arthur’s court, Geraint eventually accepts his role as sovereign and guardian of his family domain – accepting the homage of his subjects and being shown round the borders of his kingdom. Having undertaken this somewhat cursory tour of duty, Geraint immediately immerses himself back in the courtly dolce vita – excelling once again on the tournament circuit ‘as had been his custom at Arthur’s court’. He ensures that his court and its retinue are kitted out in the finest accoutrements – recreating in effect a second Caerleon. However, once this aim has been achieved, Geraint begins to increasingly ‘enjoy relaxation and leisure – for there was no-one worth fighting – and making love to his wife and being at peace in his court with songs and entertainment.’ix These somewhat unheroic pastimes – in particular his increasing withdrawl to the luxuria of the marital bedchamber – begin to unsettle his subjects. Enid is alerted to the feelings of her subjects, and in what is to set a pattern for the remainder of tale, she is torn as to whether to risk affronting the pride of her husband by warning him of this growing hostility, or to risk possible harm and ill-repute to his person through her continued silence. In a sequence of unusual descriptive intensity, her dilemmas come to a head as she watches her lover sleeping:
One morning in the summer they were in bed (he on the edge, and Enid had not slept) in a chamber of glassx , and the sun shining on the bed; and the bedclothes had slipped off his chest and arms, and he was asleep. She gazed at this handsome and wonderful sight, and said, ‘Woe is me,’ she said ‘if it is on my account that these arms and chest are losing fame and prowess they once possessed.’
When Geraint wakes and finds her weeping by her bed, he tragically misconstrues the situation – jealously believing her to be pining for another.
Then Geraint’s mind became disturbed, and he called on one of his squires who came to him.
‘See to it’, he said ‘that my horse and armour are prepared quickly, and that they are ready. And get up,’ he said to Enid, ‘and get dressed, and see to it that your horse is prepared, and bring with you the worst dress you own, to go riding. And shame on me,’ he said ‘if you return until you find out whether I have lost my strength as completely as you claim, and further, if it will be as easy as you hoped to seek a meeting alone with the one you were thinking of.’xi
And thus begins a protracted period of wandering abroad undertaken by Geraint, with his long-suffering wife before him. This commences with a series of encounters with robber knights on the road, all of whom are defeated by Geraint, with their horses and armour taken as bounty (by the end of this sequence, Geraint has a veritable caravan train of twelve sets of horses and armour to sell – all of which is put in the charge of the hapless Enid). Before each encounter takes place, Enid catches sight of the lurking brigands and attempts to alert her husband. He in turn admonishes her rudely – accusing her again of speaking out of turn and even wishing him dead. This sets the tone for the entire middle section of the Romance, in which Geraint’s appalling boorishness is as much a keynote as his martial prowess, offsetting by contrast Enid’s astonishing loyalty and forbearance.
In the next part of this second section, Enid and Geraint arrive at the town of ‘the Dun Earl’ (such generic identities are altogether typical of the Welsh Romance), where they are welcomed, fed and given accommodation. Geraint dismisses Enid by sending her to the other end of the hall. Later on, the theme of sexual jealousy emerges once again here, as the earl catches sight of Enid, whom he presumes to be estranged from Geraint. The hero affects indifference, but Enid herself remains loyal to her husband – refusing the earl’s offer of marriage, wealth and material comfort. Piqued by her refusal, the earl threatens to kill Geraint and take Enid by force. She withdraws and the night warns her husband of the earl’s intentions. They leave early the next morning, pursued by the Dun Earl and his eighty knights, each of whom are otherthrown by Geraint, one after another.
The next encounter in this sequence is with a knight called Y Brenhin Bychan, the Little King. Interestingly enough, his French name is also given (Gwiffred Petit) – one of the strongest indicators we have that a French or Anglo-Norman version of the tale was known to the author of Geraint (the equivalent character in Erec is ‘Guivret le Petit’). This lilliputian warrior refuses to let Geraint pass (‘for it is his custom to fight every knight that comes onto his land’) and the two then fall into combat. Geraint eventually defeats the Little King, and the latter swears fealty to him, joining him as a retainer.
At this point, Geraint encounters some of Arthur’s men, who are engaged in hunting in a forest. This recalls the opening episode of the Romance as a whole, and it is possibly significant that Geraint and his small party bear some resemblance to the Sparrowhawk Knight with his female companion and dwarf, when they were first met in forests of Glamorgan. Such blurring of identities, as we have seen, represents a characteristic manoeuvre of the magic plot. By this stage, furthermore, Geraint is behaving as rudely and outlandishly as the Sparrowhawk Knight in the opening episode – through his mental disarray and itinerant wandering he has become ‘Other’. His conduct rouses the temper of the notoriously irascible Cai. Geraint comes close to blows with Arthur’s knights until the situation is calmed by the intervention of the king himself. Geraint is ordered to return to Arthur’s court, along with Enid, for some much-needed rest and recuperation.
When he is finally released, Geraint leaves the court to continue the journey back his kingdom, where he encounters three giants who have just killed a fellow knight and abandoned his screaming mistress. Geraint defeats these monsters but is severely wounded in the process. When he and Enid take shelter at a nearby castle we have a re-run of the episode with the Dun Earl, in which Enid becomes a target for the lustful designs of their aristocratic host, the Earl Limwris xii, as Geraint lies unconscious on a stretcher beside her. Once again Enid’s chastity is tested, and she proves loyal to Geraint, even while the latter is at death’s door. The earl loses patience with her stubborn refusal of his advances, and strikes her on the ear. Her scream reawakens Geraint, who immediately overcomes the earl. This brings about the reconciliation of the young couple – with Geraint finally coming to his senses and ceasing the boorish and hostile treatment of his blameless wife.
So what then was the purpose of this prolonged derangement on the part of Geraint? Why the boorish treatment of Enid, which is represented so persistently throughout the bulk of this second section? There are several possible answers to this question but by far the least problematic would start with a recognition of the socio-cultural tension alluded to above, i.e. between the roles of a landed knight as husband and sovereign on one hand; and warrior and retinue member on the other. In one respect, Geraint’s storming out of the court in hot pursuit of a series of essentially fruitless adventures might be seen in terms of a kind of mid-life crisis or second adolescence – a rejection of both the rewards and responsibilities of his role as a member of the married, propertied elite. He is regressing, essentially, to an earlier phase of life – that of the landless knight errant.
Such a gesture can hardly have failed to have brought some cheer to the bachelor knights and veterans within the court community who would have seen this development as a triumph of the values of the warband over those of the boudoir and the marital chamber. It also serves a useful narratological purpose, providing as it does an overall ‘frame-tale’ for an episodic series of shorter adventures (rather as the injunctions of Ysbaddaden offer a premise for an entertaining sequence of challenges for the heroes in Culhwch ac Olwen). On more than one occasion during this sequence, Geraint describes himself as “just seeing what chance brings…and taking part in whatever adventures I like.”xiii Not only does this capture the footloose spirit of knight errantry, it also offers a premise for the inclusion of any number of semi-autonomous episodic adventures, which can be drawn out, truncated or omitted altogether depending on the storyteller’s needs.
However, it also serves a deeper purpose in terms of the underlying magical plot. We have seen how the narrative dynamics of the magical plot circumnavigate the pagan sovereignty complex with such obsessive persistence, and how a variety of stratagems are deployed in order to neutralise the guilt associated with this transgressive fantasy. We have also seen how this complex is touched on in various ways in the opening sequence of Geraintalong with his boorish treatment of Enid – themselves serve as an important counterweight to this fantasy. As such, the sequence might be considered an important part of the psychological machinery of the magical plot underlying the Romance of Geraint as a whole.
Within the psychodynamics of the sovereignty myth, a heady combination of sexual allure and the promise of material power found its embodiment in the figure of the queen – most often represented in the Arthurian context by the person of Gwenhwyfar/Guinevere or one of her doublets. The magnetic attractiveness of this sovereignty-made-flesh pervades the Romances, and it is she who might be regarded as both the beginning and the end of the chivalric impulse. And yet, as we have seen, the sovereignty complex was an atavistic fantasy – subversively incompatible with the feudal oaths that bound together the male members of the court community, as well as the Christian moral code of fidelity and chastity that governed the relations between the sexes. The magical plot essentially worked by stoking the fires of this transgressive fantasy, and then converting it (through a series of rituals and displacements) into a socially acceptable narrative trajectory. The middle section of Geraint – in which the hero sets off on his impulsive, directionless wanderings with his long-suffering wife in tow – effectively represents a forceful neutralisation of the appeal of the central figure in the sovereignty complex – that of the Lady herself.
We might remember that Geraint’s original hostility towards his mistress is expressed in terms of sexual jealousy – he becomes convinced that she pines for the love of another, and wishes for his death in order to clear the way for this imaginary rival. Such, of course, would be the inevitable outcome if the sovereignty complex were to be literally realised: one lover being replaced by another, just as one season follows the next. However, Enid’s love for Geraint is not that of the pagan sovereignty goddess for her regal consort – it is the love of a Christian woman for her all-too-human husband. The chief purpose of the sequence is to demonstrate this distinction.
We might recall the significance of clothing in this Romance.xiv The author is careful to note that when she is first discovered by Geraint, Enid is clothed in ragged attire (‘a smock and linen mantle which was quite old and beginning to fall apart’xv). He is equally careful to note that Geraint insists on having her clothed by the queen herself – which might be regarded as a process of reconstructing her status as a sovereignty icon, a doublet of Gwenhwyfar herself. Having built her up thus (bringing her into the field of associations that constitute the sovereignty complex) the author now sets about discharging this dangerously magnetic aura – and the first step in this process is to have Geraint instruct her change into ‘the worst dress she owns’ for the purpose of their journey.
A recurrent feature of this sequence is the injunction upon Enid to ride on a good way ahead of him ‘and whatever you see or hear about me…do not turn back. And unless I speak to you, do not utter a single word.’ This is, of course, an injunction that she is repeatedly forced to break. There may be symbolic or magical significance to this injunction (as there was with the various changes of clothing described above). However, even if we are to read this as simply a further manifestation of Geraint’s boorishness, it is not without purpose in the subterranean dynamics of the magical plot. Functionally, it serves to further reduce Enid’s status – sapping her of the numinosity acquired through the rituals in the first section of the tale. This is further accompanied by the sheer ardour of the ordeals of the road. At the end of this section, after Geraint has recovered his senses, we are told (rather poignantly) that ‘he felt sorrowful on two accounts – first on seeing how Enid had lost her colour and appearance, and secondly on realizing then that she was in the right’.xvi
The final section of the tale demonstrates with particular clarity a number of characteristics of this Romance, and as such warrants closer investigation. It takes place after the reconciliation of Geraint and Enid, and thus in some senses might be regarded as a coda or appending ruhepunkt to the main narrative process. In other respects, however, it might be seen to encapsulate the chief problem at the heart of the magical plot – which (following the ‘exorcism’ enacted in the middle section) can now be safely reiterated, and dealt with by the hero in an externalised form.
The sequence in question begins with Geraint (along with Enid and Y Brenin Bychan) encountering a traveller at the fork of a road, who advises them not to take the lower road:
“Down there,” he said “is a hedge of mist, and within it are enchanted games. And no man who has gone there has ever come back. And Earl Owain’s court is there, and he allows no-one to take lodgings in the town except those who stay with him at his court.” xvii
Needless to say, Geraint (in the manner of all adventure heroes) finds this challenge impossible to resist, and chooses the lower path without hesitation. The party arrive at the town and are directed to the court of Earl Owain. While dining here, Geraint is again thinks about the Enchanted Game:
And he stopped eating because of that. The earl looked at him and pondered, and presumed it was because of not going to the game that Geraint was not eating; and he was sorry that he had ever created those games, if only so as not to lose a lad as good as Geraint.xviii
As Geraint will not be dissuaded from seeking out these mysterious ‘games’ they proceed at once to the hedge of mist, which stretches up to the sky and is decorated (in macabre pagan style) with the severed heads of men. On passing through the hedge, Geraint is presented with the following Otherworld scene:
When he emerged from the mist, he came to a great orchard. He could see a clearing in the orchard, and a pavilion of brocaded silk with a red canopy in the clearing, and he saw that the entrance to the pavilion was open. And there was an apple-tree facing the entrance to the pavilion, and on a branch of the apple-tree was a large hunting horn. Then he dismounted and entered the pavilion. There was no one inside the pavilion except a single maiden, sitting on a golden chair, and an empty chair facing her.
Geraint sits in the empty chair, despite the warnings of the maiden. At that point a knight appears and, affronted by this ‘insult’, attacks the hero. Geraint eventually prevails, and the unnamed knight is held at his mercy. Geraint then makes the following request:
“I want only that this game is gone from here for ever,” he replied “together with hedge of mist, and the magic and enchantment which have existed.”
“You shall have that gladly, lord.”
“Then make the mist disappear from here,” he said.
“Blow that horn,” he said, “and the moment you sound it, the mist will disappear. And until a knight who had overthrown me sounded it, the mist would never disappear from here.” xix
There are some important details missing from this version of the episode, as we shall see, but even in the form in which it is presented here, the nature of this encounter is at least partially apparent. The first and most obvious point is the parallelism between this episode and the Sparrowhawk Knight sequence at the beginning of the tale. Both episodes depict local cultural practices euphemistically described ‘games’. These games, instituted by the local earl, take the form of ritualised single combat against a somewhat unearthly local champion. In both cases, though in rather different ways, the pagan character of these games obliquely suggested – in the case of the Sparrowhawk jousts this is suggested by the identity of the reigning champion (Edern fab Nudd); while in the case of the second episode it is the strange hedge of mist with its adornment of severed heads, along with the repeated suggestion of ‘enchantment’ which reinforce the impression of sinister heathen magic. This becomes clearer still when we examine the (somewhat more detailed) French version of the Hedge Mist episode, in which the champion is described as Mabonagrain – clearly related in some way to the pagan Romano-British figure Apollo Maponus. We will consider this Old French parallel in more detail below, as it has more that it can tell us about the significance of this final episode.
The Hedge of Mist itself is redolent of a recurrent complex in British Otherworld mythology – where devices such as the Glass Island (Ynys Wytrein), the Glastonbury home of magical beings such as Melwas or Gwyn ap Nudd. Similar images would include the caer wydyr (glass citadel) mentioned in the Book of Taliesin or the mysterious turris vitriae (glass tower) witnessed by arrivals to the coasts of Britain, as described in the ninth-century Historia Brittonum. The inhabitants of these Otherworld domains, such as Gwyn ap Nudd or Melwas/Meleagant, might be understood to represent or suggest the pagan alter-egos or love-rivals of certain mortal Christian kings. In more than one medieval account the Queen Guinivere is represented as being abducted by (or eloping with) such a figure – bringing us back to the realms of the Love Triangle, a key configuration within the sovereignty complex. Similarly curious abductions and magical imprisonments are represented elsewhere in the Mabinogion corpus – notably in the subterranean imprisonment of Mabon ap Modron in Culhwch ac Olwen, and the entrapment of Rhiannon and Pryderi in the magical caer half way through the Third Branch. A later medieval variant of this particular theme, found chiefly in the continental literature, is the tradition of the imprisonment of Merlin in a tower of air.
A significant if not immediately obvious parallel can be found earlier on this tale, where the newly-weds Geraint and Enid are depicted making love in ‘the chamber of glass’ (ystauell wydrin). On one hand, this might be read as an evocation of the sumptuous luxury of Arthur’s court. But the congruence with the otherworld imagery of the caer wydyr is perhaps not coincidental. The introverted love of Geraint and Enid at this stage in the narrative is being compared to a kind of otherworld imprisonment.
That something similar is being represented here becomes clear when we consider the fuller account given in Chrétien’s version of the tale. On his release from the air-walled garden (the equivalent of the mist-hedge in the French story), Mabonagrain makes the following confession:
“Now let me tell you what kept me so long in this garden…that maiden sitting over there loved me from childhood, and I her, and this was a source of pleasure for us both. Our love grew and developed and she asked me a favour, but without naming it…and when I’d agreed, she wanted me to go further and swear to it…I made her the pledge without knowing what. In time I was knighted. King Evrain, whose nephew I am, dubbed me in the presence of many worthy men in this very garden where we are. My damsel sitting there immediately took me up on my word, saying I’d pledged her never to leave this place until some knight should vanquish me in armed combat. In this way my damsel intended me to stay here for a long while; she thought the day would never arrive when a knight would be able to overcome me.”xx
Thus the pagan sovereignty complex, with its echoes of the hallowed Grove of Nemi, overlaps here with the Brythonic mythology of the magical prisoner – confined in the caer wydyr in a state of suspended animation.
The important point here is that Geraint’s defeat of Mist Hedge champion is not a disguised bid for sovereignty, in the way that the defeat of the Sparrowhawk Knight might be seen to be. It is essentially that staple of Arthurian heroic endeavour – the release of the magical prisoner, and the consequent banishment of the (pagan) otherworld influence over the land. A parallel here is release of Rhiannon and Pryderi at the end of the Third Branch, with Manawydan’s careful stipulation that there should ‘never be magic and enchantment over the land of Dyfed [again]’. This was the banishment of lingering pagan magic, associated perhaps with the more primitive aspects of the sovereignty complex. It is with this final gesture that the magical plot of Geraint is finally resolved.
There are two further points of significance regarding this final episode, which are worth examining for what they can reveal about the development of Geraint, and the general problem of the mabinogionfrage – that is, the question of the relative degree of influence exerted by the French and Welsh traditions respectively on the rhamantau. The first point relates to the function of the episode in intratextual terms, as a means of synthesising the various thematic strands within the work, and resolving these into a satisfactory conclusion. The Mist Hedge episode – or more particularly its equivilant episode in the Old French tale – does precisely this. The Mist Hedge knight and his lover represents an embodiment of the dual tendencies explored in this Romance – on one hand, the aggressive and territorial paganism of the sovereign complex; and on the other the introverted self-absorption of married luxuria. Both of these morally-perilous tendencies are evoked in Geraint and then systematically exorcised through the course of the story. Here, in this final section, the hero is in a position to face a combined embodiment of both of vices in a wholly externalised form, in the person of the Mist Hedge knight. This brings about a satisfactory conclusion to the tale – not only resolving its tensions at the level of the magical plot, but also unifiying the two main themes of the story, using a variety of structural and thematic interlacing techniques which came to characterise the Romance as a literary form.
Critics have pointed often suggested that the Welsh Romances tend to be less well synthesised than their Continental counterparts, and this might be said to be true in relation to the relative merits of Geraint versus Erec. Here, perhaps, we have the key to the French contribution to the development of the Arthurian Romance. In the other rhamantau – Peredur in particular – there is a sense of a somewhat rough-and-ready conglomeration of semi-independent episodic adventures, rather as we found in Culhwch ac Olwen. ‘Today,’ as Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan suggests ‘we might expect these sideshoots to be linked back eventually to the trunk, so that all the various plots and sub-plots are brought together and concluded in the final sections, but there is no reason to suppose that the alternative, of leaving some branches to grow freely, perhaps sometimes crossing other branches, was not equally acceptable to the Welsh public for which Peredur in its present form was intended’ xxi It would appear most likely that the sources used by Chrétien for the composition of Erec and the other Romances were conglomerations of this kind, which the French Romancer tidied up and reworked until a more thorough-going textual coherence was achieved. While, as we have seen in the case of the Four Branches, Welsh authors were perfectly capable of using of structural and thematic interlace when it was required, it is also quite clear that this kind of Aristotelian unity was less fundamental to native narrative aesthetics than it might have been to Chrétien’s courtly audience. Likewise, the hints of meaning and significance in the Welsh tales remain just that – laconic hints, clarified occasionally by the direct speech of the protagonists themselves, but never spelled out by the authorial voice. For Chrétien’s audience, on the other hand, there was a greater need for the sens or meaning of the narrative to be clearly explained, and here the explicatory longeurs feature in the French texts in a way that would be completely alien to the form and ethos of the Welsh literary spirit. In the same spirit, hints of emblematic allegory is present in some of Chrétien’s worksxxii – a tendency that becomes fully developed in later continental works such as Roman de la Rose. Again, such symbolic transparency would be repellent to the Welsh literary sensibility, in which (as Gerald of Wales) describes it ‘the essence of art is to conceal’.
So if Chrétien ‘improved’ these works by weaving greater structural and thematic coherence, as well as including clarifying their inner meaning with overt explicatory passages, what can be said of his original Brythonic source material? By his own admission acknowledges that this tale was not his own invention, and he appears to suggest that a number of versions (sometimes contradictory) were in oral circulation in own time. As has often been noted, Chrétien was far from complimentary about the efforts of these ‘storytellers’ (conteurs) who ‘habitually fragment and corrupt [the tale] in the presence of kings and counts’ . We might imagine, then, something like the alarmingly diverse versions of Peredur we find in the manuscript tradition – where the language varies wildly between different recensions, and some omit entire episodes. Chrétien sought, in his own words ‘to fashion a very elegant composition’ from this ‘tale of adventure’.xxiii The question is, can we be sure that this ‘tale of adventure’ was a genuine Welsh tale, rather than being (as some critics have attempted to suggest) a purely learned, courtly invention?
To this answer, the material of this final episode provides some evidence for a positive answer. Specifically, the episode itself would appear to have its origin in the foggy background of the Hen Gogledd, the Brythonic traditions of the sub-Roman North. This much is made clear from the name of the otherworld knight in Erec’s tale (Mabonagrain, which is clearly derived from Maponus) but also the name of the earl, Evain, who we are told instituted these games. This Evrain (Owain in the Welsh version) is clearly the well-known Owain son of Urien, king of Rheged, scion of a Dark Age royal dynasty whom the Welsh tradition links with the mythological figure of Mabon son of Modron. We might wonder if the origin of this association between Mabon and the House of Rheged might not have its origin in some kind of pagan cult affiliation – a possibility that is reinforced by the fact that the Rheged area appears to have been a centre for the worship of Apollo Maponus in Romano-British times.xxiv
Owain son of Urien, of course, plays a leading in another one the rhamantau, the Iarlles y Ffynawn (‘Countess of the Fountain’), which we will be examining in the next section. As we shall see, there is ample evidence that both this character and his association with the lady of the fountain has its origins in the mythical background of the Brythonic Old North. The appearance of Mabon(agrain) in this Romance, and his dark connection with Evrain (Owain) – which goes considerably further than the whispered hints of early Welsh verse – reminds us that Chrétien must have had access to some kind of bona fide insular British source (whether direct or indirect, oral or written we may never know). This impression is further backed up by the treatment of the Hunting of the White Stag episode, in which Chrétien again appears to show a deeper knowledge of this medieval Celtic mytheme and its connection to the sovereignty complex, than is explicitly visible in Geraint.xxv Along with the references to that other clearly native British pre-christian figure, Yder fils Nut (=Edern map Nudd) we have a fairly unimpeachable grounds for believing that Chrétien would have had access to some kind of source or informant with a deep understanding of the more shadowy aspects of the native Arthurian tradition. Crucially, it would also appear to be the case that this material was being linked to the sovereignty complex even prior to its importation into the Continental milieu.
iIt has been suggested, though by no means conclusively established, that the name of hero, Erec, is derived from the Breton name Guerec/Weroc, ‘borne most notably by the ruler who gave his name to the territory around Vannes (Bro Weroc), meaning ‘land of *(G)weroc’ …’. The same theory goes on to suggest that the name Enid (French Enide) can be obtained in similar fashion from the alternative name of this same territory (Bro Wened, ‘land of the Veneti’), see Roger Middleton Chwedl Geraint ab Erbin in Arthur of the Welsh (University Press, Cardiff:1991) p.149. According to this theory, Chrétien would taken this Breton tale and transposed the action to South Wales, the traditional setting of Arthurian Romance. If these suggestive derivations can be sustained, then they could be taken as evidence that some kind of Breton sovereignty myth may lie at the root of this tale.
Against this interpretation, we might note the presence of what would appear to be a prototype of Erec’s combat with the giants (ll.4306-4472) and subsequent collapse and recovery at the court of Arthur. This is found in an ecclesiastical tale from the West Country, cited by William of Malmesbury. This fragment is discussed in more detail further on the main body of the text. .
ii‘Geraint’ is a name that occurs several times in the genealogies and hagiogrpahy of the Dumnonian royal houses of Cornwall and Southwest England. The name seems to derive from Gerontius, of an early 5th century Romano-British general who rebelled against the Emperor Constantine. From a slightly later era we have mention of a Geraint filius Erbin, defender of the port of Llangborth (Longport in Somerset) against the Anglo-Saxon invader. This battle is described in a tenth century poem from the Black Book of Carmarthern, in which his followers are described as ‘brave men from the land of Devon’ (guir deur o odir diwneint)
iiiibid. p. 150. Specifically, the traditional swydawg llys mentioned in these sources are described as officiating at Arthur’s court at Caerleon
ivMabinogion (trans. Jones and Jones) p.237. It is noteworthy that sovereignty here is being claimed on the basis of beauty and nobility of the female party.
vMabinogion (trans. Sionedd Davies) p.207.
viOf particular relevance here is the legend of the abduction of Guinivere, by the faery king Melwas – traces of which can be found in the hagiography and early poetry of Wales.
viiThis location has not been identified, to the best of my knowledge, though it might be supposed to be somewhere on the eastern borders of the Dumnonian territory, perhaps somewhere among the complex of hilltop fortresses in the Somerset area. The sub-Roman settlement at Cannington on the River Parrett is one possiblity.
viiiMabinogion (trans. Sionedd Davies) p.156
xThis recalls the dreamlike ambiance of the caer wydyr ‘castle of glass’ found in many British visions of the Otherworld.
xiMabinogion (trans. Davies) p.158
xii Davies (ibid. p.259) points out that the initial L- in this name (as opposed to the more usual Welsh Ll-) is suggestive of a non-Welsh source. The name Limors occurs in Erec et Ened, but as the name of a castle rather than an earl
xiii e.g. Mabinogion (Davies) p.164
xiv Relevant here may be the study of the Jacques Le Goff ‘Vestimentary and Alimentary Codes in Erec et Enide’ pp.132 ff. in The Medieval Imagination (University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London: 1988)
xvMabinogion (Davies) p.144
xixibid. p.178. The similarity of this magical manoeuvre to that of Manwydan at the end of the Third Branch might be noted.
xxChrétien De Troyes’ Arthurian Romances (trans. D. D. R Owen, London : 1987)
xxi'Narrative Structure in Peredur' Zeitschrift fur Celtischphilologie 38, 1981 p.231
xxiiIn a recent study by K. Sarah-Jane Murray From Plato to Lancelot (Syracuse, New York: 2008), it has been suggested that Chrétien reworked the inherited Brythonic legend along the lines of the late-antique allegory De nuptiis Mercurii et Philologiae, with each of the seven main encounters in the middle section corresponding to one of the seven liberal arts. This allegorical reading – which would be entirely foreign to the Welsh literary spirit – is borne out by an explicit reference at the end of Chrétien’s tale, in which the four-fold pattern on Eric’s cloak, which we are told corresponds to the four mathematical arts of the quadrivium. Such references in the work would have been aimed at the educated (mainly clerical) members of the court community – an important subgroup within Chrétien’s readership.
xxiiiD.D.R Owen trans. p.1
xxivSee TYP 433-435 A reference in the Old Welsh poem ‘Pa Gur’ describes ‘Mabon am Modron’ as guas Uithir Pendragon ‘a vassal of Uther Pendragon’. Elsewhere, in the Book of Taliesin, Mabon is described as a supernatural defender of Rheged. A 15th century account of the birth of Owain describes his father Urien as meeting a sinister ‘washer at the ford’ figure, who turns out to be Modron Avallach, the mother of Mabon, who has been waiting for ‘a baptized Christian’ with whom she will sleep in order to conceive a prophesied hero.
xxvIn Erec, the White Stag Hunt is described as an archaic custom (costume) which Arthur is reviving. Its links to the licentious aspect of the sovereignty complex are made more explicit, with the most successful huntsmen winning the right to kiss the most beautiful maiden in the court ‘come what may’.