Yvain, or the Knight With the Lion
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Completed in the year 1181, Yvain, Or the Knight of the Lion is an epic poem by Chrétian De Troyes that tells the story of Yvain, one of King Arthur’s knights, and the many great deeds he performs as he attempts to earn the love of the Lady Laudine. One of the founding stories of the Arthurian legend, Yvain paints a vivid picture of the knightly code of chivalry during the Middle Ages. Its high adventure and intense love story set the tone for the romantic literature that followed.
A poet and wandering entertainer, De Troyes served in more than one noble house, including that of Marie, Countess of Champagne, daughter of Elinor of Aquitaine. In 1181 De Troyes published two of his famous additions to Arthurian legend, Yvain and Lancelot, Knight of the Cart, which introduced these legendary characters to readers. De Troyes also created the story of Perceval and the Holy Grail. Yvain is widely considered his finest work; its structure and style set the foundations for the later development of the novel as a literary form. The ebook version of the 2019 translation by A. S. Kline forms the basis for this study guide. All citations refer to line numbers.
At King Arthur’s court, the knight Calogrenant relates his misadventure in the Brocéliande Forest. There searching for a worthy quest, he comes upon a magical fountain whose waters, when sprinkled on a huge emerald set nearby, cause a terrible storm to rip through the forest and uproot trees. The fountain’s defender, Esclados the Red, appears and attacks Calogrenant, who barely escapes with his life.
Sir Yvain, hearing this tale, decides to avenge Calogrenant. He travels to Brocéliande, where he overpowers Esclados and chases him back to his castle, where Esclados dies of his wounds and Yvain becomes trapped. A young lady in waiting, Lunete, recognizes him as the noble Yvain, son of King Urien, and gives him a finger ring that makes the wearer invisible. He escapes capture but observes Esclados’s beautiful wife, Laudine, as she grieves in deep anguish. His heart goes out to her, and he falls in love with her. Lunete knows her lady needs a new champion, and what stronger one can be found than the man who defeated Esclados? The killer is otherwise a man of great honor and virtue, so Lunete arranges for Yvain and Laudine to meet, work out their differences, and fall in love.
They marry and discover a blissful life together. Sir Gawain, another of Arthur’s knights, fears Yvain will enjoy domesticity too much and become soft, so he convinces his good friend to join him on the jousting circuit. Yvain obtains Laudine’s leave on condition that he return in no more than one year’s time. She gives him the magic ring to protect him from capture or other delay.
Yvain enjoys great success at jousting and soon forgets his promise. Months after the year has passed, a messenger maiden tells Yvain he is no longer welcome at Laudine’s castle, and she retrieves the ring. Yvain, beside himself with remorse, becomes insane and lives for weeks as a savage in the woods. A noblewoman, out riding, finds Yvain half naked and asleep on the ground; she has him revived with a special potion that cures his madness. Yvain thanks her by defending her castle against an evil count, whom he defeats in combat.
Yvain travels in search of quests by which he might further redeem himself. He rescues a lion from a dragon, and the lion becomes his faithful companion and comrade in battle; he fights and slays a giant that has threatened a castle and its people; he rescues Lunete from execution on false charges; and he saves another castle from two demons, killing them in a brutal fight. He becomes known as the Knight of the Lion, and his fame spreads.
Yvain agrees to fight for a woman whose older sister has stolen her inheritance. The case goes before King Arthur, who decrees that the two women’s champions will meet in combat to decide the issue. The defending knight is Gawain, but neither man recognizes the other’s armor. They battle for hours, but neither can gain the advantage. At sunset, battered and bleeding, both agree to cease fighting. When they learn each other’s identity, both offer to surrender; they embrace and declare they would never have fought had they known. The king decides the case in favor of Yvain’s client.
Yvain travels back to Brocéliande and stirs up a storm, hoping to force Laudine’s hand. Lunete meets with him and realizes he has reformed. She tells Laudine that she has found her a champion, but that he suffers from the loss of his beloved, and that she must swear to do everything in her power to rid him of that sadness. Laudine agrees, and Lunete brings Yvain to her. Surprised and angry, but still in love with him, Laudine decides to abide by her promise, and the two lovers are reunited.
As one of the first Arthurian tales, Yvain is widely admired for its colorful action, drama, and wit; its structure and pacing anticipate the romantic literature that followed. Though less well known than De Troyes’s stories about Lancelot and Percival, Yvain stands as an archetype of the knights-in-armor stories still popular today.