Yvain: sources and analogues

Outline of a story about a fairy lover

At the end of this outline is a table tracking the main motifs of Chretien’s Yvain.

Texts considered in the outline: Yvain, or the Knight of the Lion by Chretien de Troyes; Lanval and Guigemar, by Marie de France; three anonymous lais, Desiré, Graelant Mor, Guingamor; Three of these begin in locations in the north of Britain or lowlands Scotland (Yvain, Lanval, and Desiré). One point is noted about a story in which Perceval tries to prevent Morgan le Fay’s lover Urban from defending a ford (in the “Didot Perceval”). The association of fairy ladies with islands or bodies of water is widespread in folklore (sirens, selkies, the goddess Diana and her nymphs, Venus, etc.), and female saints are also often associated with springs or wells.

When this came up on the Arthurnet list, part of the effort was to look at how this type of story might be reflected in the story of the begetting of St. Kentigern: Owein, son of Urien (the same hero as Yvain) disguises himself as a woman in order to meet Teneu, daughter of King Leudonus (a name very similar to that of Yvain’s wife’s father, Laudunet de Landuc); Owein meets Teneu at a fountain and rapes or seduces her, begetting the saint, and then drops out of her life. In the course of her many travails while pregnant, Teneu is also thrown off a cliff and, in landing, causes a spring to start up where her foot touches it. In the stories considered here, only Desiré’s lover bears him children, though in Marie de France’s lai Yonec a married woman bears a child to a fairy lover, who comes to her disguised as a bird; she calls him Yonec, a form based on Yvain.

The hero is isolated from society.

  •    His lord’s wife tries to seduce him–Potiphar’s wife motif (Graelant Mor, Guingamor; also Lanval later in the story)
  •    He is not being heard or attended to in Arthur’s court (Lanval, Yvain)
  •    He has never known love –Narcissus motif (Guigemar, Graelant Mor, Guingamor)

The hero goes off on his own.

  •    He wanders cheerfully (Desiré)
  •    He wanders sadly (Lanval)
  •    He is on a quest (Yvain)
  •   He hunts an unusual animal (Guigemar, Graelant Mor, Guingamor)

The hero comes to a body of water

  • A fountain or spring (Yvain, Desiré, Graelant Mor, Guingamor)
  • A river or stream (Lanval)
  • The sea with a ship on it (Guigemar)
  • A ford or a fountain defended on behalf of a lady by her husband (Yvain, Didot Perceval)

He finds a woman or women

  • with basins and/or towels (Lanval, Desiré)
  • bathing–Diana motif (Graelant Mor, Guingamor)
  • associated with a castle, who helps him (Guigemar, Yvain)
  • whom he assaults:
    • tries to rape secondary woman (Desiré)
    • rapes the lady (Graelant Mor)
    • tries to steal clothes but does not rape (Guingamor)
    • causes storm which distresses lady (Yvain)

He becomes the lover or husband of the lady (all stories)

The lady exacts a promise from the hero before he leaves her.

  • Never to tell (Desiré, Graelant Mor, Lanval)
  • To remain in the area for a year (Graelant Mor)
  • To eat nothing (Guingamor)
  • To return to her within a year (Yvain) or 3 days (Guingamor)
  • To love only the woman who can undo the knot she puts in his shirt (Guigemar)

The hero breaks the promise (all stories) and suffers

  • Goes mad (Yvain)
  • Is sad and languishes (Desiré, Graelant Mor, Lanval, Guigemar)
  • Is suddenly 300 years old (Guingamor)

The lady rescues her lover

  • By coming to church or court (Desiré, Graelant Mor, Lanval)
    • Note: in Yvain, a different lady heals the hero and when he meets his own lady at a court she does not recognize him.
  • By sending her maidens to bring him back to fairyland (Guingamor)
  •  At a chance meeting (Guigemar)

The hero returns to the lady’s world

  •  Riding on the same horse (Desiré, Lanval)
  • Riding on two horses (Graelant Mor)
  • In a boat (Guingamor)
  • By returning to defend her fountain (Yvain).

 Table of motifs and their possible sources or analogues in the first half of Chretien de Troyes’ Yvain

Yvain is about 6800 lines long. Morgan le Fay’s ointment, which brings Yvain back to his senses, is applied  by line 3020.

Motif, names, etc. in Chretien’s Yvain
Possible sources/analogues
Arthur asleep at Pentecost Contradicts tradition of Arthurian display at this feast, from Geoffrey of Monmouth
Knights telling stories classical dialogues?
The ugly herdsman Custennin the son of Dyfnedig, in Culwch and Olwen? Rhetorical exercise in describing ugliness.
The marvelous fountain in Broceliande (water causes storm) Wace, Roman de Rou (direct quotation)
Birds singing in harmony Voyage of St. Brendan
Husband defending lady associated w/body of water Diana of Nemi, cf. Ovid
Desire to avenge cousin
Desire to beat Arthur to the marvel
Desire to travel to see the marvels described St. Brendan
Horse cut in two by portcullis
Room within castle wall
Yvain & Laudine & a fountain Life of St. Kentigern
Laudine difficult of access, requiring duplicity Kentigern
Ring of invisibility (stone turned in or out) Gyges story in Cicero’s De Officiis
Female bestows protective invisibility on man while he encounters hostile but desirable woman ruler Virgil’s Aeneid I
Man falls in love with woman seen through window Pyramus & Thisbe? (from Ovid or the French lai of Piramus)
Body bleeds in presence of murderer Nibelungenlied? Folklore
Hero kills eminent man, marries widow Gyges (various versions)
Hero kills defender of woman/water; becomes defender Nemi
Woman persuades widow to remarry to defend her lands Anna and Dido in the Aeneid
Widow grieves violently then bonds immediately to new man Widow of Ephesus fable (Marie de France)
Arthur comes to visit marvel Chretien’s Erec
Kay & Gauvain fight hero Chretien’s Erec and Perceval
Gauvain flirts Chretien’s Perceval
Conflict of uxoriousness and chivalry Chretien’s Erec);  Mercury rebuking Aeneas?
Protective ring of love Scottish Lai of  Desiré, Marie de France’s Yonec
Lover forgets/betrays promise, loses woman’s love Desiré, Marie de France’s Lai of Lanval 
Ring withdrawn by maiden
Lover goes mad on losing ring, becomes “wild man” Desiré; images of wild men with rings cited by Ken Waldron
Raw and cooked meat; vegetarianism Ovid’s interest in meat-eating?
Hermit cares for knight/madman Saints’ lives (e.g. Lailoken episode of life of St. Kentigern)
Ointment to recover senses
Morgan’s ointment Chretien’s Erec