By Chrétien de Troyes, William W. Kibler, Carleton W. Carroll
Fantastic adventures abound in those courtly romances: Erec and Enide, Cligés, The Knight of the Cart, The Knight with the Lion, and The tale of the Grail.
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And it was at Regensburg, also evoked in the poem, that Marie de Champagne’s parents met the Byzantine ambassadors during the Second Crusade. Chrétien’s audience would not have failed to identify the fierce Duke of Saxony to whom Fenice was originally promised with Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony since 1142 and a cousin of Frederick Barbarossa, with whom he was generally at odds. In 1168 Henry the Lion was married to Mathilda of England, a half-sister of Marie de Champagne, but this did not keep Marie’s husband, Henri the Liberal, from supporting Frederick in his struggles against his cousin.
Where allegory was an organized science in the Middle Ages, symbolism was an art in which poetic sensitivity, imagination and invention played a significant part. Among Chrétien’s greatest achievements must be counted his mastery of the octosyllabic rhymed couplet. Although our translations are into prose, our usual medium today for a lengthy narrative, Chrétien naturally employed the medium of his own day, which had been consecrated before him by use in the rhymed chronicles and the romances of antiquity from which, as we have seen, he drew so much of his inspiration.
In The Story of the Grail, Perceval’s youthful naïveté comes across in his questions to the knights and his conversation with the maiden in the tent. In that same romance the catty exchanges between Tiebaut of Tintagel’s two daughters could not be more true to life. Chrétien gives his dialogues a familiar ring through his choice of appropriate vocabulary and a generous sprinkling of proverbial expressions. In Erec’s defiance of Maboagrain, he incorporates five proverbial expressions in only ten lines of dialogue (ll.