Chretien de Troyes‘ Arthurian Romances
In Erec and Enide, the dwarf is again used as a symbol of evil. This is consistent with what we have seen in Beroul’s Tristan. As Catherine Naber noted in her post, the dwarf seems to have no characteristics other than evil. This aspect makes him rather one-dimensional. We, the readers, are forced to believe that he is evil because we are told that he is. However, we are never shown this to be true, except for the time when we are told that he is ugly. Ugliness is an important signifier in evilness and these two ideas are often related to one another. I know that this is just a style of writing and storytelling, but it still makes me feel a little sad for the dwarf, and dwarfs in general. Being a dwarf must have been hard enough during the Middle Ages without everyone also thinking that you are the symbol of evil, or the embodiment of it. I wonder, however, whether this idea of evil and ugliness also related to women dwarfs. In other words, were little women (female dwarfs) thought of as people who associated with some sort of witchcraft in that time?
In Erec and Enide, hospitality again emerges as a theme, just as it did in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Being welcoming and a good host are considered important values in the society. Thus, when Erec travels to a stranger’s home, he is welcomed and made to feel comfortable. This show of hospitality implies that the home is a safe place to be, and the people who live there are kind and honorable. In return, Eric also acts accordingly. He listens to all that his host has to say, in order to appear polite and thankful (44).
3) Erec and Enide’s Relationship
Erec and Enide’s relationship is characterized by love and status. At first, they are in love with each other, but then they only seem to love the idea of each other. Enide struggles with Erec’s descent down the social ladder and Eric struggles with her reaction to his problems. Eric tries to keep her quiet, wanting to maintain privacy. But instead only alienates Enide. As a result, Enide struggles to understand whether their love was ever real, and whether his professed feelings for her were ever real. This tension between them is presented in a contemporary way.
Beauty is an important consideration in Arthurian Romances and medieval literature as a whole. As I have previously discussed, the dwarf is a symbol of evil probably because he is visually ugly. We are constantly told how ugly the dwarf is, in order to buttress the position that he is indeed evil. In contrast to ugliness, beauty is seen as something that is good. Beauty is objectified (but so is ugliness), and beautiful women are, as a result, seen as something heavenly (the ultimate good). This is definitely the case in Erec and Enide. While traveling, Erec is mesmerized by the daughter’s beauty and a beautiful queen. Beauty is equated with goodness, but I wonder how far this notion can really be taken. Beauty was probably hard to come by in the Middle Ages, but then again maybe goodness was hard to come by as well.
Another emerging concept in Erec and Enide is the idea of humbleness. Brashness and over-confidence seem to be negative traits, very much unlike contemporary America. Erec is presented as someone who is modest and rather quiet. It is unclear whether his modesty is altogether truthful, and it might just be falsely modest. However, even false modesty shows that a society places a value on maintaining a demeanor of modesty and humbleness. Erec turns down free gifts because he feels that it is improper for him to accept things that he cannot repay in free gifts of his own. This notion of owing something to someone for favor that they have done for you is very important for a stable society. Unfortunately, America seems to be lacking this concept altogether. People are encouraged to take what they can get from whoever’s available, only perpetuating greed, unhappiness and discontent throughout the nation. I wish that we could somehow bring back some a sense of humbleness to the world.
What I found to be a particularly interesting aspect of Erec in Erec and Enid is his combination of humbleness and pride. On one hand, Erec appears to be humble and modest, carefully paying attention to the social norms of the world in which he lives. For example, he is a gracious guest who does not accept presents that he does not feel that he could repay. On the other hand, Erec is also proud. His reputation is ruined and he goes to great lengths to save it. I think that this might be a difficult notion for a modern reader to understand (except maybe those who were accused of a crime that they have never committed and are now serving time). Reputation in our world seems to be easily fixable. And if the person is famous enough then, in many cases, there isn’t even anything for them to fix. Instead, many politicians and celebrities appear to revel in the idea of just talking about their misdeeds – talk about pride!
I agree with one of the previous posts by Rhoda. Yes, I think we are seeing a birth of an archetype! DeTroyes seemed to have perfected the story of “the damsel in distress.” On one hand, the stereotype seems to come from a positive place in that women did not have many (if any) rights and honorable men should feel like it is their duty to help those who are weaker than they are, or are in trouble. On the other hand, these kinds of ideas about damsels in distress probably also did some harm in terms of perpetuating certain stereotypes. In certain Germanic stories, it is often the woman who goes after a man who has been caught or trapped somewhere.
8) Guinevere and Enide
Guinevere is a quintessential damsel in distress. In fact, she probably defined the category. She’s abducted and stowed away and requires saving. Her beauty implies her goodness, just like a dwarf’s ugliness implies his evilness. Enide also needs saving. These portrayals create beings in need of rescue, showing the reader that what Catherine Naber said is quite true: “the helplessness of women in Arthurian society is a prevalent theme.” Not only do these women characters need to be rescued, they are also constantly under threat due to their vulnerable position in society. Their status in society depends on the status of their family. Women were given permission to marry by the fathers and then transferred like property to be given permission to do whatever by their husbands. Unfortunately, some of these ideas are still prevalent in our contemporary society. For example, traditional American weddings involve the bride walking down the aisle with her father and then being transferred over to her future husband’s arm as they do their vows.
In Erec and Enide, chivalry is again an important theme. On their travels, they meet many evil knights and their love becomes deeper with each tribulation. Loyalty is a theme that is connected to honor, and loyalty and honor are both part of the notion of what it means to be a chivalrous knight. For example, Erec continues to offer his knights supplies like clothing “fresh chargers to tourney and joust with, regardless of the cost” to keep up appearances (67). Appearances are also kept up at parties where King Arthur distributes gifts of “samite and ermine” mantles and “white sterlings” (DeTroyes 119). DeTroyes explains that King Arthur gives these gifts “because of his great love of Erec” and “because he was extremely noble” (122). Thus, honor, nobility, hospitality are shown to all relate to chivalry.
Feasting and celebration also seem to be connected with chivalry and honor. Arthurian Romances describes the feasts and celebrations at great length, just as we have seen in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and even in Tristan. For example, DeTroye states that “many counts and kings, Normans, Bretons, Scotsmen, Irish. From England and from Cornwall there was a rich gathering of barons, for from Wales all the way to Anjou, in Maine or in Poitou, no important knight or noble lady of fine lineage was left; the best and the most noble of all were at the court at Nantes, for the king had summoned them all” (118). Furthermore, celebration is again related to notion of hospitality and the giving of gifts. For example, King Arthur gives attendees “horses and arms and money, clothes and costly silks of many kinds” (DeTroyes 122).