Lancelot: Or, the Knight of the Cart


NOTE: Endnotes supplied by Prof. Foerster are indicated by "(F.)"; all other endnotes are supplied by W.W. Comfort.

(1) Marie, daughter of Louis VII. of France and Eleanor of Aquitaine, married in 1164, Henri I., Count of Champagne. On the poet's own statement below, she furnished him with the subject matter ("maitere") and the manner of treatment ("san") of this romance. (F.)

(2) The situation of Camelot has not been certainly determined. Foerster places it in Somersetshire, while F. Paris identified it with Colchester in Essex. (F.)

(3) The high value here set upon Kay by king Arthur is worth noting in view of the unfavourable light in which Chretien usually portrays him.

(4) This enigmatic exclamation is addressed to the absent Lancelot, who is the secret lover of Guinevere, and who, though he long remains anonymous as "the Knight of the Cart", is really the hero of the poem.

(5) It was not uncommon in old French romances and epic poems for knights to be subjected to the mockery and raillery of the vulgar townspeople (cf. "Aiol", 911-923; id. 2579-2733; and even Moliere in "Monsieur de Pourceaugnac", f. 3).

(6) For magic beds with descending swords, see A. Hertel, "Versauberte Oertlichkeiten", etc., p. 69 f. (Hanover, 1908).

(7) The wounded knight is the defeated seneschal.

(8) Mediaeval knights were such early risers as to cause us astonishment!

(9) Lancelot has constantly in mind the Queen, for whose sake he is enduring all this pain and shame.

(10) i.e., the Queen.

(11) Nothing can here be added to the tentative conjectures of Foerster regarding the nature of these unknown remedies.

(12) A great annual fair at Paris marked the festival, on June 11, of St. Denis, the patron saint of the city. (F.)

(13) "Donbes" (=Dombes) is the reading chosen by Foerster from a number of variants. None of these variants has any significance, but a place-name rhyming with "tonbes" in the preceding verse is required. Modern Dombes is the name of a former principality in Burgundy, between the Rhone and the Saone, while Pampelune is, of course, a Spanish city near the French frontier. (F.)

(14) The topography of the kingdom of Gorre, the land where dwell the captives held by King Bademagu, is much confused. One would suppose at first that the stream traversed by the two perilous bridges formed the frontier of the kingdom. But here (v.2102), before reaching such a frontier, the captives are already met. Foerster suggests that we may be here at a sort of foreground or borderland which is defended by the knight at the ford (v. 735 f.), and which, though not within the limits of the kingdom, is nevertheless beneath the sway of Bademagu. In the sequel the stream with the perilous bridges is placed immediately before the King's palace (cf. Foerster's note and G. Paris in "Romania", xxi. 471 note).

(15) For magic rings, see A. Hertel, op. cit., p. 62 f.

(16) This "dame" was the fairy Vivian, "the lady of the lake". (F.)

(17) A good example of the moral dilemmas in which Chretien delights to place his characters. Under the displeasing shell of allegory and mediaeval casuistry we have here the germ of psychological analysis of motive.

(18) The legendary origin of this ointment, named after Mary Magdelene, Mary the mother of James, and Mary Salome, is mentioned in the epic poem "Mort Aimeri de Narbonne" (ed. "Anciens Textes", p. 86). (F.)

(19) The universities of Montpellier and of Salerno were the chief centres of medical study in the Middle Ages. Salerno is referred to in "Cliges", v. 5818.

(20) The hero of the poem is here first mentioned by name.

(21) The classic love-story of Pyramus and Thisbe, told by Ovid et al., was a favourite in the Middle Ages.

(22) Here he have the explanation of Guinevere's cold reception of Lancelot; he had been faithless to the rigid code of courtesy when he had hesitated for even a moment to cover himself with shame for her sake.

(23) The expression "or est venuz qui aunera", less literally means "who will defeat the entire field". Though Chretien refers to the expression as a current proverb, only two other examples of its use have been found. (Cf. "Romania", xvi. 101, and "Ztsch. fur romanische Philologie", xi. 430.) From this passage G. Paris surmised that Chretien himself was a herald-at-arms ("Journal des Savants", 1902, p. 296), but as Foerster says, the text hardly warrants the supposition.

(24) The evident satisfaction with which Chretien describes in detail the bearings of the knights in the following passage lends colour to Gaston Paris' conjecture that he was a herald as well as a poet.

(25) According to the statement made at the end of the poem by the continuator of Chretien, Godefroi de Leigni, it must have been at about this point that the continuator took up the thread of the story. It is not known why Chretien dropped the poem where he did.

(26) Bade = Bath. (F.)

(27) The situation recalls that in "Aucassin et Nicolette", where Aucassin confined in the tower hears his sweetheart calling to him from outside.

(28) The figure is, of course, taken from the game of throwing dice for high points. For an exhaustive account of dice- playing derived from old French texts, cf. Franz Semrau, "Wurfel und Wurfelspiel in alten Frankreich", "Beiheft" 23 of "Ztsch. fur romanische Philologie (Halle, 1910).

(29) Alexander's horse.