Part I: Vv. 1 - Vv. 2278
Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #22
(Vv. 1-44.) He who wrote of Erec and Enide, and translated into French the commands of Ovid and the Art of Love, and wrote the Shoulder Bite, (2) and about King Mark and the fair Iseut, (3) and about the metamorphosis of the Lapwing, (4) the Swallow, and the Nightingale, will tell another story now about a youth who lived in Greece and was a member of King Arthur's line. But before I tell you aught of him, you shall hear of his father's life, whence he came and of what family. He was so bold and so ambitious that he left Greece and went to England, which was called Britain in those days, in order to win fame and renown. This story, which I intend to relate to you, we find written in one of the books of the library of my lord Saint Peter at Beauvais. (5) From there the material was drawn of which Chretien has made this romance. The book is very old in which the story is told, and this adds to its authority. (6) From such books which have been preserved we learn the deeds of men of old and of the times long since gone by. Our books have informed us that the pre-eminence in chivalry and learning once belonged to Greece. Then chivalry passed to Rome, together with that highest learning which now has come to France. God grant that it may be cherished here, and that it may be made so welcome here that the honour which has taken refuge with us may never depart from France: God had awarded it as another's share, but of Greeks and Romans no more is heard, their fame is passed, and their glowing ash is dead.
(Vv. 45-134.) Chretien begins his story as we find it in the history, which tells of an emperor powerful in wealth and honour who ruled over Greece and Constantinople. A very noble empress, too, there was, by whom the emperor had two children. But the elder son was already so far advanced before the younger one was born that, if he had wished, he might have become a knight and held all the empire beneath his sway. The name of the elder was Alexander, and the other's name was Alis. Alexander, too, was the father's name, and the mother's name was Tantalis. I shall now say nothing more of the emperor and of Alis; but I shall speak of Alexander, who was so bold and proud that he scorned to become a knight in his own country. He had heard of King Arthur, who reigned in those days, and of the knights whom he always kept about him, thus causing his court to be feared and famed throughout the world. However, the affair may result and whatever fortune may await him, nothing can restrain Alexander from his desire to go into Britain, but he must obtain his father's consent before proceeding to Britain and Cornwall. So Alexander, fair and brave, goes to speak with the emperor in order to ask and obtain his leave. Now he will tell him of his desire and what he wishes to do and undertake. "Fair sire," he says, "in quest of honour and fame and praise I dare to ask you a boon, which I desire you to give me now without delay, if you are willing to grant it to me." The emperor thinks no harm will come from this request: he ought rather to desire and long for his son's honour. "Fair son," he says, "I grant you your desire; so tell me now what you wish me to give you." Now the youth has accomplished his purpose, and is greatly pleased when the boon is granted him which he so greatly desired. "Sire," says he, "do you wish to know what it is that you have promised me? I wish to have a great plenty of gold and silver, and such companions from among your men as I will select; for I wish to go forth from your empire, and to present my service to the king who rules over Britain, in order that he may make me a knight. I promise you never in my life to wear armour on my face or helmet upon my head until King Arthur shall gird on my sword, if he will graciously do so. For from no other than from him will I accept my arms." Without hesitation the emperor replies: "Fair son, for God's sake, speak not so! This country all belongs to you, as well as rich Constantinople. You ought not to think me mean, when I am ready to make you such a gift. I shall be ready soon to have you crowned, and to-morrow you shall be a knight. All Greece will be in your hands, and you shall receive from your nobles, as is right, their homage and oaths of allegiance. Whoever refuses such an offer is not wise."
(Vv. 135-168.) The youth hears the promise how the next morning after Mass his father is ready to dub him knight; but he says he will seek his fortune for better or worse in another land. "If you are willing in this matter to grant the boon I have asked of you, then give me mottled and grey furs, some good horses and silken stuffs: for before I become a knight I wish to enrol in King Arthur's service. Nor have I yet sufficient strength to bear arms. No one could induce me by prayer or flattery not to go to the foreign land to see his nobles and that king whose fame is so great for courtesy and prowess. Many men of high degree lose through sloth the great renown which they might win, were they to wander about the world. (7) Repose and glory ill agree, as it seems to me; for a man of wealth adds nothing to his reputation if he spends all his days at ease. Prowess is irksome to the ignoble man, and cowardice is a burden to the man of spirit; thus the two are contrary and opposite. He is the slave of his wealth who spends his days in storing and increasing it. Fair father, so long as I have the chance, and so long as my rigour lasts, I wish to devote my effort and energy to the pursuit of fame."
(Vv. 169-234.) Upon hearing this; the emperor doubtless feels both joy and grief: he is glad that his son's intention is fixed upon honour, and on the other hand he is sorrowful because his son is about to be separated from him. Yet, because of the promise which he made, despite the grief he feels, he must grant his request; for an emperor must keep his word. "Fair son," he says, "I must not fail to do your pleasure, when I see you thus striving for honour. From my treasure you may have two barges full of gold and silver; but take care to be generous and courteous and well-behaved." Now the youth is very happy when his father promises him so much, and places his treasure at his disposal, and bids him urgently to give and spend generously. And his father explains his reason for this: "Fair son," he says, "believe me, that generosity is the dame and queen which sheds glory upon all the other virtues. And the proof of this is not far to seek. For where could you find a man, be he never so rich and powerful, who is not blamed if he is mean? Nor could you find one, however ungracious he may be, whom generosity will not bring into fair repute? Thus largess makes the gentleman, which result can be accomplished neither by high birth, courtesy, knowledge, gentility, money, strength, chivalry, boldness, dominion, beauty, or anything else. (8) But just as the rose is fairer than any other flower when it is fresh and newly blown, so there, where largess dwells, it takes its place above all other virtues, and increases five hundred fold the value of other good traits which it finds in the man who acquits himself well. So great is the merit of generosity that I could not tell you the half of it." The young man has now successfully concluded the negotiations for what he wished; for his father has acceded to all his desires. But the empress was sorely grieved when she heard of the journey which her son was about to take. Yet, whoever may grieve or sorrow, and whoever may attribute his intention to youthful folly, and ever may blame and seek to dissuade him, the youth ordered his ships to be made ready as soon as possible, desiring to tarry no longer in his native land. At his command the ships were freighted that very night with wine, meat, and biscuit.
(Vv. 235-338.) The ships were loaded in the port, and the next morning Alexander came to the strand in high spirits, accompanied by his companions, who were happy over the prospective voyage. They were escorted by the emperor and the empress in her grief. At the port they find the sailors in the ships drawn up beside the cliff. The sea was calm and smooth, the wind was light, and the weather clear. When he had taken leave of his father, and bidden farewell to the empress, whose heart was heavy in her bosom, Alexander first stepped from the small boat into the skip; then all his companions hastened by fours, threes, and twos to embark without delay. Soon the sail was spread and the anchor raised. Those on shore whose heart is heavy because of the men whom they watch depart, follow them with their gaze as long as they can: and in order to watch them longer, they all climb a high hill behind the beach. From there they sadly gaze, as long as their eyes can follow them. With sorrow, indeed, they watch them go, being solicitous for the youths, that God may bring them to their haven without accident and without peril. All of April and part of May they spent at sea. Without any great danger or mishap they came to port at Southampton. (9) One day, between three o'clock and vespers, they cast anchor and went ashore. The young men, who had never been accustomed to endure discomfort or pain, had suffered so long from their life at sea that they had all lost their colour, and even the strongest and most vigorous were weak and faint. In spite of that, they rejoice to have escaped from the sea and to have arrived where they wished to be. Because of their depleted state, they spend the night at Southampton in happy frame, and make inquiries whether the King is in England. They are told that he is at Winchester, and that they can reach there in a very short time if they will start early in the morning and keep to the straight road. At this news they are greatly pleased, and the next morning at daybreak the youths wake early, and prepare and equip themselves. And when they were ready, they left Southampton, and kept to the direct road until they reached Winchester, where the King was. Before six o'clock in the morning the Greeks had arrived at the court. The squires with the horses remain below in the yard, while the youths go up into the presence of the King, who was the best that ever was or ever will be in the world. And when the King sees them coming, they please him greatly, and meet with his favour. But before approaching the King's presence, they remove the cloaks from about their necks, lest they should be considered ill-bred. Thus, all unmantled, they came before the King, while all the nobles present held their peace, greatly pleased at the sight of these handsome and well-behaved young men. They suppose that of course they are all sons of counts or kings; and, to be sure, so they were, and of a very charming age, with graceful and shapely forms. And the clothes they wore were all of the same stuff and cut of the same appearance and colour. There were twelve of them beside their lord, of whom I need tell you no more than that there was none better than he. With modesty and orderly mien, he was handsome and shapely as he stood uncovered before the King. Then he kneeled before him, and all the others, for honour's sake, did the same beside their lord.
(Vv. 339-384.) Alexander, with his tongue well skilled in speaking fair and wisely, salutes the King. "King," he says, "unless the report is false that spreads abroad your fame, since God created the first man there was never born a God-fearing man of such puissance as yours. King, your widespread renown has drawn me to serve and honour you in your court, and if you will accept my service, I would fain remain here until I be dubbed a knight by your hand and by no one else. For unless I receive this honour from your hand, I shall renounce all intention of being knighted. If you will accept my service until you are willing to dub me a knight, retain me now, oh gentle King, and my companions gathered here." To which at once the King replies: "Friend, I refuse neither you nor your companions. Be welcome all. For surely you seem, and I doubt it not, to be sons of high-born men. Whence do you come?" "From Greece." "From Greece?" "Yes." "Who is thy father?" "Upon my word, sire, the emperor." "And what is thy name, fair friend?" "Alexander is the name that was given me when I received the salt and holy oil, and Christianity and baptism." "Alexander, my dear, fair friend. I will keep you with me very gladly, with great pleasure and delight. For you have done me signal honour in thus coming to my court. I wish you to be honoured here, as free vassals who are wise and gentle. You have been too long upon your knees; now, at my command, and henceforth make your home with man and in my court; it is well that you have come to us."
(Vv. 385-440.) Then the Greeks rise up, joyful that the King has so kindly invited them to stay. Alexander did well to come; for he lacks nothing that he desires, and there is no noble at the court who does not address him kindly and welcome him. He is not so foolish as to be puffed up, nor does he vaunt himself nor boast. He makes acquaintance with my lord Gawain and with the others, one by one. He gains the good graces of them all, but my lord Gawain grows so fond of him that he chooses him as his friend and companion. (10) The Greeks took the best lodgings to be had, with a citizen of the town. Alexander had brought great possessions with him from Constantinople, intending to give heed above all to the advice and counsel of the Emperor, that his heart should be ever ready to give and dispense his riches well. To this end he devotes his efforts, living well in his lodgings, and giving and spending liberally, as is fitting in one so rich, and as his heart dictates. The entire court wonders where he got all the wealth that he bestows; for on all sides he presents the valuable horses which he had brought from his own land. So much did Alexander do, in the performance of his service, that the King, the Queen, and the nobles bear him great affection. King Arthur about this time desired to cross over into Brittany. So he summons all his barons together to take counsel and inquire to whom he may entrust England to be kept in peace and safety until his return. By common consent, it seems, the trust was assigned to Count Angres of Windsor, for it was their judgement that there was no more trustworthy lord in all the King's realm. When this man had received the land, King Arthur set out the next day accompanied by the Queen and her damsels. The Bretons make great rejoicing upon hearing the news in Brittany that the King and his barons are on the way.
(Vv. 441-540.) Into the ship in which the King sailed there entered no youth or maiden save only Alexander and Soredamors, whom the Queen brought with her. This maiden was scornful of love, for she had never heard of any man whom she would deign to love, whatever might be his beauty, prowess, lordship, or birth. And yet the damsel was so charming and fair that she might fitly have learned of love, if it had pleased her to lend a willing ear; but she would never give a thought to love. Now Love will make her grieve, and will avenge himself for all the pride and scorn with which she has always treated him. Carefully Love has aimed his dart with which he pierced her to the heart. Now she grows pale and trembles, and in spite of herself must succumb to Love. Only with great difficulty can she restrain herself from casting a glance toward Alexander; but she must be on her guard against her brother, my lord Gawain. Dearly she pays and atones for her great pride and disdain. Love has heated for her a bath which heats and burns her painfully. At first it is grateful to her, and then it hurts; one moment she likes it, and the next she will have none of it. She accuses her eyes of treason, and says: (11) "My eyes, you have betrayed me now! My heart, usually so faithful, now bears me ill-will because of you. Now what I see distresses me. Distresses? Nay, verily, rather do I like it well. And if I actually see something that distresses me, can I not control my eyes? My strength must indeed have failed, and little should I esteem myself, if I cannot control my eyes and make them turn their glance elsewhere. Thus, I shall be able to baffle Love in his efforts to get control of me. The heart feels no pain when the eye does not see; so, if I do not look at him, no harm will come to me. He addresses me no request or prayer, as he would do were he in love with me. And since he neither loves nor esteems me, shall I love him without return? If his beauty allures my eyes, and my eyes listen to the call, shall I say that I love him just for that? Nay, for that would be a lie. Therefore, he has no ground for complaint, nor can I make any claim against him. One cannot love with the eyes alone. What crime, then, have my eyes committed, if their glance but follows my desire? What is their fault and what their sin? Ought I to blame them, then? Nay, verily. Who, then, should be blamed? Surely myself, who have them in control. My eye glances at nothing unless it gives my heart delight. My heart ought not to have any desire which would give me pain. Yet its desire causes me pain. Pain? Upon my faith, I must be mad, if to please my heart I wish for something which troubles me. If I can, I ought to banish any wish that distresses me. If I can? Mad one, what have I said? I must, indeed, have little power if I have no control over myself. Does Love think to set me in the same path which is wont to lead others astray? Others he may lead astray, but not me who care not for him. Never shall I be his, nor ever was, and I shall never seek his friendship." Thus she argues with herself, one moment loving, and hating the next. She is in such doubt that she does not know which course she had better adopt. She thinks to be on the defence against Love, but defence is not what she wants. God! She does not know that Alexander is thinking of her too! Love bestows upon them equally such a share as is their due. He treats them very fairly and justly, for each one loves and desires the other. And this love would be true and right if only each one knew what was the other's wish. But he does not know what her desire is, and she knows not the cause of his distress.
(Vv. 541-574.) The Queen takes note of them and sees them often blanch and pale and heave deep sighs and tremble. But she knows no reason why they should do so, unless it be because of the sea where they are. I think she would have divined the cause had the sea not thrown her off her guard, but the sea deceives and tricks her, so that she does not discover love because of the sea; and it is from love that comes the bitter pain that distresses them. (12) But of the three concerned, the Queen puts all the blame upon the sea; for the other two accuse the third to her, and hold it alone responsible for their guilt. Some one who is not at fault is often blamed for another's wrong. Thus, the Queen lays all the blame and guilt upon the sea, but it is unfair to put the blame upon the sea, for it is guilty of no misdeed. Soredamors' deep distress continued until the vessel came to port. As for the King, it is well known that the Bretons were greatly pleased, and served him gladly as their liege lord. But of King Arthur I will not longer speak in this place; rather shall you hear me tell how Love distresses these two lovers whom he has attacked.
(Vv. 575-872.) Alexander loves and desires her; and she, too, pines for the love of him, but he knows it not, nor will he know it until he has suffered many a pain and many a grief. It is for her sake that he renders to the Queen loving service, as well as to her maids-in-waiting; but to her on whom his thoughts are fixed, he dares not speak or address a word. If she but dared to assert to him the right which she thinks she has, she would gladly inform him of the truth; but she does not dare, and cannot do it. They dare neither speak nor act in accordance with what each sees in the other -- which works a great hardship to them both, and their love but grows and flames the more. However, it is the custom of all lovers to feast their eyes gladly with gazing, if they can do no more; and they assume that, because they find pleasure in that which causes their love to be born and grow, therefore it must be to their advantage; whereas it only harms them more, just as he who approaches and draws close beside the fire burns himself more than he who holds aloof. Their love waxes and grows anon; but each is abashed before the other, and so much is hidden and concealed that no flame or smoke arises from the coals beneath the ashes. The heat is no less on this account, but rather is better sustained beneath the ashes than above. Both of them are in great torment; for, in order that none may perceive their trouble, they are forced to deceive people by a feigned bearing; but at night comes the bitter moan, which each one makes within his breast. Of Alexander I will tell you first how he complains and vents his grief. Love presents before his mind her for whom he is in such distress; it is she who has filched his heart away, and grants him no rest upon his bed, because, forsooth, he delights to recall the beauty and the grace of her who, he has no hope, will ever bring him any joy. "I may as well hold myself a madman." he exclaims. "A madman? Truly, I am beside myself, when I dare not speak what I have in mind; for it would speedily fare worse with me (if I held my peace). I have engaged my thoughts in a mad emprise. But is it not better to keep my thoughts to myself than to be called a fool? My wish will never then be known. Shall I then conceal the cause of my distress, and not dare to seek aid and healing for my wound? He is mad who feels himself afflicted, and seeks not what will bring him health, if perchance he may find it anywhere; but many a one seeks his welfare by striving for his heart's desire, who pursues only that which brings him woe instead. And why should one ask for advice, who does not expect to gain his health? He would only exert himself in vain. I feel my own illness to be so grievous that I shall never be healed by any medicine or draught, by any herb or root. For some ills there is no remedy, and mine lies so deep within that it is beyond the reach of medicine. Is there no help, then? Methinks I have lied. When first I felt this malady, if I had dared to make mention of it. I might have spoken with a physician who could have completely cured me. But I like not to discuss such matters; I think he would pay me no heed and would not consent to accept a fee. No wonder, then, if I am terrified; for I am very ill, yet I do not know what disease this is which has me in its grip, and I know not whence this pain has come. I do not know? I know full well that it is Love who does me this injury. How is that? Can Love do harm? Is he not gentle and well-bred? I used to think that there was naught but good in Love; but I have found him full of enmity. He who has not had experience of him does not know what tricks Love plays. He is a fool who joins his ranks; for he always seeks to harm his followers. Upon my faith, his tricks are bad. It is poor sport to play with him, for his game will only do me harm. What shall I do, then? Shall I retreat? I think it would be wise to do so, but I know not how to do it. If Love chastens and threatens me in order to teach and instruct me, ought I to disdain my teacher? He is a fool who scorns his master. I ought to keep and cherish the lesson which Love teaches me, for great good may soon come of it. But I am frightened because he beats me so. And dost thou complain, when no sign of blow or wound appears? Art thou not mistaken? Nay, for he has wounded me so deep that he has shot his dart to my very heart, and has not yet drawn it out again. (13) How has he pierced thy body with it, when no wound appears without? Tell me that, for I wish to know. How did he make it enter in? Through the eye. Through the eye? But he has not put it out? He did not harm the eye at all, but all the pain is in the heart. Then tell me, if the dart passed through the eye, how is it that the eye itself is not injured or put out. If the dart entered through the eye, why does the heart in the breast complain, when the eye, which received the first effect, makes no complaint of it at all? I can readily account for that: the eye is not concerned with the understanding, nor has it any part in it; but it is the mirror of the heart, and through this mirror passes, without doing harm or injury, the flame which sets the heart on fire. For is not the heart placed in the breast just like a lighted candle which is set in a lantern? If you take the candle away no light will shine from the lantern; but so long as the candle lasts the lantern is not dark at all, and the flame which shines within does it no harm or injury. Likewise with a pane of glass, which might be very strong and solid, and yet a ray of the sun could pass through it without cracking it at all; yet a piece of glass will never be so bright as to enable one to see, unless a stronger light strikes its surface. Know that the same thing is true of the eyes as of the glass and the lantern; for the light strikes the eyes in which the heart is accustomed to see itself reflected, and lo! it sees some light outside, and many other things, some green, some purple, others red or blue; and some it dislikes, and some it likes, scorning some and prizing others. But many an object seems fair to it when it looks at it in the glass, which will deceive it if it is not on its guard. My mirror has greatly deceived me; for in it my heart saw a ray of light with which I am afflicted, and which has penetrated deep within me, causing me to lose my wits. I am ill-treated by my friend, who deserts me for my enemy. I may well accuse him of felony for the wrong he has done to me. I thought I had three friends, my heart and my two eyes together; but it seems that they hate me. Where shall I ever find a friend, when these three are my enemies, belonging to me, yet putting me to death? My servants mock at my authority, in doing what they please without consulting my desire. After my experience with these who have done me wrong, I know full well that a good man's love may be befouled by wicked servants in his employ. He who is attended by a wicked servant will surely have cause to rue it, sooner or later. Now I will tell you how the arrow, which has come into my keeping and possession, is made and fashioned; but I fear greatly that I shall fail in the attempt; for the fashion of it is so fine that it will be no wonder if I fail. Yet I shall devote all my effort to telling you how it seems to me. The notch and the feathers are so close together, when carefully examined, that the line of separation is as fine as a hair's breadth; but the notch is so smooth and straight that in it surely no improvement could be made. The feathers are coloured as if they were of gold or gilt; but gilt is here beside the mark, for I know these feathers were more brilliant than any gilt. This dart is barbed with the golden tresses that I saw the other day at sea. That is the dart which awakes my love. God! What a treasure to possess! Would he who could gain such a prize crave other riches his whole life long? For my part I could swear that I should desire nothing else; I would not give up even the barb and the notch for all the gold of Antioch. And if I prize so highly these two things, who could estimate the value of what remains? That is so fair and full of charm, so dear and precious, that I yearn and long to gaze again upon her brow, which God's hand has made so clear that it were vain to compare with it any mirror, emerald, or topaz. But all this is of little worth to him who sees her flashing eyes; to all who gaze on them they seem like twin candles burning. And whose tongue is so expert as to describe the fashion of her well-shaped nose and radiant face, in which the rose suffuses the lily so as to efface it somewhat, and thus enhance the glory of her visage? And who shall speak of her laughing mouth, which God shaped with such great skill that none might see it and not suppose that she was laughing? And what about her teeth? They are so close to one another that it seems they are all of one solid piece, and in order that the effect might still be enhanced Nature added her handiwork; for any one, to see her part her lips, would suppose that the teeth were of ivory or of silver. There is so much to be said were I to portray each detailed charm of chin and ears, that it would not be strange were I to pass over some little thing. Of her throat I shall only say that crystal beside it looks opaque. And her neck beneath her hair is four times as white as ivory. Between the border of her gown and the buckle at the parted throat, I saw her bosom left exposed and whiter than new-fallen snow. My pain would be indeed assuaged, if I had seen the dart entire. Gladly would I tell, if I but knew, what was the nature of the shaft. But I did nor see it, and it is not my fault if I do not attempt to describe something I have never seen. At that time Love showed me only the notch and the barb; for the shaft was hidden in the quiver, to wit, in the robe and shift in which the damsel was arrayed. Upon my faith, malady which tortures me is the arrow -- it is the dart at which I am a wretch to be enraged. I am ungrateful to be incensed. Never shall a straw be broken because of any distrust or quarrel that may arise between Love and me. Now let Love do what he will with me as with one who belongs to him; for I wish it, and so it pleases me. I hope that this malady may never leave me, but that it may thus always maintain its hold, and that health may never come to me except from the source of my illness."
(Vv. 873-1046.) Alexander's complaint is long enough; but that of the maiden is nothing less. All night she lies in such distress that she cannot sleep or get repose. Love has confined within her heart a struggle and conflict which disturbs her breast, and which causes her such pain and anguish that she weeps and moans all night, and tosses about with sudden starts, so that she is almost beside herself. And when she has tossed and sobbed and groaned and started up and sighed again then she looked within her heart to see who and what manner of man it was for whom Love was tormenting her. And when she has refreshed herself somewhat with thinking to her heart's content, she stretches and tosses about again, and ridicules all the thoughts she has had. Then she takes another course, and says: "Silly one, what matters it to me if this youth is of good birth and wise and courteous and valorous? All this is simply to his honour and credit. And as for his beauty, what care I? Let his beauty be gone with him! But if so, it will be against my will, for it is not my wish to deprive him of anything. Deprive? No, indeed! That I surely will not do. If he had the wisdom of Solomon, and if Nature had bestowed on him all the beauty she can place in human form, and if God had put in my power to undo it all, yet would I not injure him; but I would gladly, if I could, make him still more wise and fair. In faith, then, I do not hate him! And am I for that reason his friend? Nay, I am not his any more than any other man's. Then what do I think of him so much, if he pleases me no more than other men? I do not know; I am all confused; for I never thought so much about any man in the world, and if I had my will, I should see him all the time, and never take my eyes from him. I feel such joy at the sight of him! Is this love? Yes, I believe it is. I should not appeal to him so often, if I did not love him above all others. So I love him, then, let it be agreed. Then shall I not do what I please? Yes, provided he does not refuse. This intention of mine is wrong; but Love has so filled my heart that I am mad and beside myself, nor will any defence avail me now, if I must endure the assault of Love. I have demeaned myself prudently toward Love so long, and would never accede to his will; but now I am more than kindly disposed toward him. And what thanks will he owe to me, if he cannot have my loving service and good-will? By force he has humbled my pride, and now I must follow his pleasure. Now I am ready to love, and I have a master, and Love will teach me -- but what? How I am to serve his will. But of that I am very well informed, and am so expert in serving him that no one could find fault with me. I need learn no more of that. Love would have it, and so would I, that I should be sensible and modest and kind and approachable to all for the sake of one I love. Shall I love all men, then, for the sake of one? I should be pleasant to every one, but Love does not bid me be the true friend of every one. Love's lessons are only good. It is not without significance that I am called by the name of Soredamors. (14) I am destined to love and be loved in turn, and I intend to prove it by my name, if I can find the explanation there. There is some significance in the fact that the first part of my name is of golden colour; for what is golden is the best. For this reason I highly esteem my name, because it begins with that colour with which the purest gold harmonises. And the end of the name calls Love to my mind; for whoever calls me by my right name always refreshes me with love. And one half gilds the other with a bright coat of yellow gold; for Soredamors has the meaning of `one gilded over with Love.' Love has highly honoured me in gilding me over with himself. A gilding of real gold is not so fine as that which makes me radiant. And I shall henceforth do my best to be his gilding, and shall never again complain of it. Now I love and ever more shall love. Whom? Truly, that is a fine question! Him whom Love bids me love, for no other shall ever have my love. What will he care in his ignorance, unless I tell him of it myself? What shall I do, if l do not make to him my prayer? Whoever desires anything ought to ask for it and make request. What? Shall I beseech him, then? Nay. Why? Did ever such a thing come about that a woman should be so forward as to make love to any man; unless she were clean beside herself. I should be mad beyond question if I uttered anything for which I might be reproached. If he should know the truth through word of mine I think he would hold me in slight esteem, and would often reproach me with having solicited his love. May love never be so base that I should be the first to prefer a request which would lower me in his eyes! Alas, God! How will he ever know the truth, since I shall not tell him of it? As yet I have very little cause to complain. I will wait until his attention is aroused, if ever it is to be aroused. He will surely guess the truth, I think, if ever he has had commerce with Love, or has heard of it by word of mouth. Heard of it? That is a foolish thing to say. Love is not of such easy access that any one may claim acquaintance by hear-say only and without personal experience. I have come to know that well enough myself; for I could never learn anything of love through flattery and wooing words, though I have often been in the school of experience, and have been flattered many a time. But I have always stood aloof, and now he makes me pay a heavy penalty: now I know more about it than does the ox of ploughing. But one thing causes me despair: I fear he has never been in love. And if he is not in love, and never has been so, then I have sowed in the sea where no seed can take root. So there is nothing to do but wait and suffer, until I see whether I can lead him on by hints and covered words. I shall continue this until he is sure of my love and dares to ask me for it. So there is nothing more about the matter, but that I love him and am his. If he loves me not, yet will I love him."
(Vv. 1047-1066.) Thus he and she utter their complaint, unhappy at night and worse by day, each hiding the truth from the other's eyes. In such distress they remained a long time in Brittany, I believe, until the end of the summer came. At the beginning of October there came messengers by Dover from London and Canterbury, bearing to the King news which troubled him. The messengers told him that he might be tarrying too long in Brittany; for, he to whom he had entrusted the kingdom was intending to withstand him, and had already summoned a great army of his vassals and friends, and had established himself in London for the purpose of defending the city against Arthur when he should return.
(Vv. 1067-1092.) When the King heard this news, angry and sore displeased he summons all his knights. In order the better to spur them on to punish the traitor, he tells them that they are entirely to blame for his trouble and strife; for on their advice he entrusted his land to the hands of the traitor, who is worse than Ganelon. (15) There is not a single one who does not agree that the King is right, for he had only followed their advice; but now this man is to be outlawed, and you may be sure that no town or city will avail to save his body from being dragged out by force. Thus they all assure the King, giving him their word upon oath, that they will deliver the traitor to him, or never again claim their fiefs. And the King proclaims throughout Brittany that no one who can bear arms shall refuse to follow him at once.
(Vv. 1093-1146.) All Brittany is now astir. Never was such an army seen as King Arthur brought together. When the ships came to set sail, it seemed that the whole world was putting out to sea; for even the water was hid from view, being covered with the multitude of ships. It is certainly true that, to judge by the commotion, all Brittany is under way. Now the ships have crossed the Channel, and the assembled host is quartered on the shore. Alexander bethought himself to go and pray the King to make him a knight, for if ever he should win renown it will be in this war. Prompted by his desire, he takes his companions with him to accomplish what he has in mind. On reaching the King's quarters, they found him seated before his tent. When he saw the Greeks approaching, he summoned them to him, saying: "Gentlemen, do not conceal what business has brought you here." Alexander replied on behalf of all, and told him his desire: "I have come," he says, "to request of you, as I ought to do of my liege lord, on behalf of my companions and myself, that you should make us knights." The King replies: "Very gladly; nor shall there be any delay about it, since you have preferred your request." Then the King commands that equipment shall be furnished for twelve knights. Straightway the King's command is done. As each one asks for his equipment, it is handed to him -- rich arms and a good horse: thus each one received his outfit. The arms and robes and horse were of equal value for each of the twelve; but the harness for Alexander s body, if it should be valued or sold, was alone worth as much as that of all the other twelve. At the water's edge they stripped, and then washed and bathed themselves. Not wishing that any other bath should be heated for them, they washed in the sea and used it as their tub. (16)
(Vv. 1147-1196.) All this is known to the Queen, who bears Alexander no ill will, but rather loves, esteems, and values him. She wishes to make Alexander a gift, but it is far more precious than she thinks. She seeks and delves in all her boxes until she finds a white silk shirt, well made of delicate texture, and very soft. Every thread in the stitching of it was of gold, or of silver at least. Soredamors had taken a hand in the stitching of it here and there, and at intervals, in the sleeves and neck, she had inserted beside the gold a strand of her own hair, to see if any man could be found who, by close examination, could detect the difference. For the hair was quite as bright and golden as the thread of gold itself. The Queen takes the shirt and presents it to Alexander. Ah, God! What joy would Alexander have felt had he known what the Queen was giving him! And how glad would she, too, have been, who had inserted her own hair, if she had known that her lover was to own and wear it! She could then have taken great comfort; for she would not have cared so much for all the hair she still possessed as for the little that Alexander had. But, more is the pity, neither of them knew the truth. The Queen's messenger finds the youths on the shore where they are bathing, and gives the shirt to Alexander. He is greatly pleased with it, esteeming the present all the more because it was given him by the Queen. But if he had known the rest, he would have valued it still more; in exchange for it he would not have taken the whole world, but rather would have made a shrine of it and worshipped it, doubtless, day and night.
(Vv. 1197-1260.) Alexander delays no longer, but dresses himself at once. When he was dressed and ready, he returned to the King's tent with all his companions. The Queen, it seems, had come there, too, wishing to see the new knights present themselves. They might all be called handsome, but Alexander with his shapely body was the fairest of them all. Well, now that they are knights I will say no more of them for the present, but will tell of the King and of his host which came to London. Most of the people remained faithful to him, though many allied themselves with the opposition. Count Angres assembled his forces, consisting of all those whose influence could be gained by promises or gifts. When he had gathered all his strength, he slipped away quietly at night, fearing to be betrayed by the many who hated him. But before he made off, he sacked London as completely as possible of provisions, gold and silver, which he divided among his followers. This news was told to the King, how the traitor had escaped with all his forces, and that he had carried off from the city so many supplies that the distressed citizens were impoverished and destitute. Then the King replied that he would not take a ransom for the traitor, but rather hang him, if he could catch him or lay hands on him. Thereupon, all the army proceeded to Windsor. However it may be now, in those days the castle was not easy to take when any one chose to defend it. The traitor made it secure, as soon as he planned his treacherous deed, with a triple line of walls and moats, and had so braced the walls inside with sharpened stakes that catapults could not throw them down. They had taken great pains with the fortifications, spending all of June, July, and August in building walls and barricades, making moats and drawbridges, ditches, obstructions, and barriers, and iron portcullises and a great square tower of stone. The gate was never closed from fear or against assault. The castle stood upon a high hill, and around beneath it flows the Thames. The host encamped on the river bank, and that day they have time only to pitch camp and set up the tents.
(Vv. 1261-1348.) The army is in camp beside the Thames, and all the meadow is filled with green and red tents. The sun, striking on the colours, causes the river to flash for more than a league around. Those in the town had come down to disport themselves upon the river bank with only their lances in their hands and their shields grasped before their breasts, and carrying no other arms at all. In coming thus, they showed those without the walls that they stood in no fear of them. Alexander stood aloof and watched the knights disporting themselves at feats of arms. He yearns to attack them, and summons his companions one by one by name. First Cornix, whom he dearly loved, then the doughty Licorides, then Nabunal of Mvcene, and Acorionde of Athens, and Ferolin of Salonica, and Calcedor from Africa, Parmenides and Francagel, mighty Torin and Pinabel, Nerius and Neriolis. "My lords," he says, "I feel the call to go with shield and lance to make the acquaintance of those who disport themselves yonder before our eyes. I see they scorn us and hold us in slight esteem, when they come thus without their arms to exercise before our very eyes. We have just been knighted, and have not yet given an account of ourselves against any knight or manikin. (17) We have kept our first lances too long intact. And for what were our shields intended? As yet, they have not a hole or crack to show. There is no use in having them except in a combat or a fight. Let's cross the ford and rush at them!" "We shall not fail you," all reply; and each one adds: "So help me God, who fails you now is no friend of yours." Then they fasten on their swords, tighten their saddles and girths, and mount their steeds with shields in hand. When they had hung the shields about their necks, and taken their lances with the gaily coloured ensigns, they all proceed to the ford at once. Those on the farther side lower their lances, and quickly ride to strike at them. But they (on the hither bank) knew how to pay them back, not sparing nor avoiding them, nor yielding to them a foot of ground. Rather, each man struck his opponent so fiercely that there is no knight so brave but is compelled to leave the saddle. They did not underestimate the experience, skill, and bravery of their antagonists, but made their first blows count, and unhorsed thirteen of them. The report spread to the camp of the fight and of the blows that were being struck. There would soon have been a merry strife if the others had dared to stand their ground. All through the camp they run to arms, and raising a shout they cross the ford. And those on the farther bank take to flight, seeing no advantage in staying where they are. And the Greeks pursue them with blows of lance and sword. Though they struck off many a head they themselves did not receive a wound, and gave a good account of themselves that day. But Alexander distinguished himself, who by his own efforts led off four captive knights in bonds. The sands are strewn with headless dead, while many others lie wounded and injured.
(Vv. 1349-1418.) Alexander courteously presents the victims of his first conquest to the Queen, not wishing them to fall into the hands of the King, who would have had them all hanged. The Queen, however, had them seized and safely kept under guard, as being charged with treason. Throughout the camp they talk of the Greeks, and all maintain that Alexander acted very courteously and wisely in not surrendering the knights whom he had captured to the King, who would surely have had them burned or hanged. But the King is not so well satisfied, and sending promptly to the Queen he bids her come into his presence and not detain those who have proved treacherous towards him, for either she must give them up or offend him by keeping them. While the Queen was in conference with the King, as was necessary, about the traitors, the Greeks remained in the Queen's tent with her maids-in- waiting. While his twelve companions conversed with them, Alexander uttered not a word. Soredamors took note of this, seated as she was close by his side. Her head resting upon her hand, it was plain that she was lost in thought. (18) Thus they sat a long time, until Soredamors saw on his sleeve and about his neck the hair which she had stitched into the shirt. Then she drew a little closer thinking now to find an excuse for speaking a word to him. She considers how she can address him first, and what the first word is to be -- whether she should address him by his name; and thus she takes counsel with herself: "What shall I say first?" she says; "shall I address him by his name, or shall I call him `friend'? Friend? Not I. How then? Shall I call him by his name? God! The name of `friend' is fair and sweet to take upon the lips. If I should dare to call him `friend.! Should I dare? What forbids me to do so? The fact that that implies a lie. A lie? I know not what the result will be, but I shall be sorry if I do not speak the truth. Therefore, it is best to admit that I should not like to speak a lie. God! yet he would not speak a lie were he to call me his sweet friend! And should I lie in thus addressing him? We ought both to tell the truth. But if I lie the fault is his. But why does his name seem so hard to me that I should wish to replace it by a surname? I think it is because it is so long that I should stop in the middle. But if I simply called him `friend', I could soon utter so short a name. Fearing lest I should break down in uttering his proper name, I would fain shed my blood if his name were simply `my sweet friend.'"
(Vv. 1419-1448.) She turns this thought over in her mind until the Queen returns from the King who had summoned her. Alexander, seeing her come, goes to meet her, and inquires what is the King's command concerning the prisoners, and what is to be their fate. "Friend," says she, "he requires of me to surrender them at his discretion, and to let his justice be carried out. Indeed, he is much incensed that I have not already handed them over. So I must needs send them to him, since I see no help for it." Thus they passed that day; and the next day there was a great assembly of all the good and loyal knights before the royal tent to sit in judgment and decide by what punishment and torture the four traitors should die. Some hold that they should be flayed alive, and others that they should be hanged or burned. And the King, for his part, maintains that traitors ought to be torn asunder. Then he commands them to be brought in. When they are brought, he orders them to be bound, and says that they shall not be torn asunder until they are taken beneath the town, so that those within may see the sight. (19)
(Vv. 1449-1472.) When this sentence was pronounced, the King addresses Alexander, calling him his dear friend. "My friend," he says, "yesterday I saw you attack and defend yourself with great bravery. I wish now to reward your action! I will add to your company five hundred Welsh knights and one thousand troopers from that land. In addition to what I have given you, when the war is over I will crown you king of the best kingdom in Wales. Towns and castles, cities and halls will I give you until the time you receive the land which your father holds, and of which you are to be emperor." Alexander's companions join him in thanking the King kindly for this boon, and all the nobles of the court say that the honour which the King has bestowed upon Alexander is well deserved.
(Vv. 1473-1490.) As soon as Alexander sees his force, consisting of the companions and the men-at-arms whom it had pleased the King to give him, straightway they begin to sound the horns and trumpets throughout the camp. Men of Wales and Britain, of Scotland and Cornwall, both good and bad without exception -- all take arms, for the forces of the host were recruited from all quarters. The Thames was low because of the drought resulting from a summer without rain, so that all the fish were dead, and the ships were stranded upon the shore, and it was possible to ford the stream even in the widest part.
(Vv. 1491-1514.) After fording the Thames, the army divided, some taking possession of the valley, and others occupying the high ground. Those in the town take notice of them, and when they see approaching the wonderful array, bent upon reducing and taking the town, they prepare on their side to defend it. But before any assault is made, the King has the traitors drawn by four horses through the valleys and over the hills and unploughed fields. At this Count Angres is much distressed, when he sees those whom he held dear dragged around outside the town. And his people, too, are much dismayed, but in spite of the anxiety which they feel, they have no mind to yield the place. They must needs defend themselves, for the King makes it plain to all that he is angry, and ill-disposed, and they see that if he should lay hands upon them he would make them die a shameful death.
(Vv.1515-1552.) When the four had been torn asunder and their limbs lay strewn upon the field, then the assault begins. But all their labour is in vain, for no matter how much they cast and shoot, their efforts are of no effect. Yet they strive to do their utmost, hurling their javelins amain, and shooting darts and bolts. On all sides is heard the din of cross-bows and slings as the arrows and the round stones fly thick, like rain mixed with hail. Thus all day long the struggle of attack and defence continues, until the night separates them. And the King causes to be proclaimed what gift he will bestow upon him who shall effect the surrender of the town: a cup of great price weighing fifteen marks of gold, the richest in his treasure, shall be his reward. The cup will be very fine and rich, and, to tell the truth, the cup is to be esteemed for the workmanship rather than for the material of which it is made. But good as the workmanship may be, and fine though the gold, if the truth be told, the precious stones set in the outside of the cup were of most value. He through whose efforts the town shall be taken is to have the cup, if he be only a foot soldier; and if the town is taken by a knight, with the cup in his possession he shall never seek his fortune in vain, if there is any to be found in the world.
(Vv. 1553-1712.) When this news was announced, Alexander had not forgotten his custom of going to see the Queen each evening. That night, too, he had gone thither and was seated beside the Queen. Soredamors was sitting alone close by them, looking at him with such satisfaction that she would not have exchanged her lot for Paradise. The Queen took Alexander by the hand, and examined the golden thread which was showing the effects of wear; but the strand of hair was becoming more lustrous, while the golden thread was tarnishing. And she laughed as she happened to recall that the embroidery was the work of Soredamors. Alexander noticed this, and begged her to tell him, if suitable, why she laughed. The Queen was slow to make reply, and looking toward Soredamors, bade her come to her. Gladly she went and knelt before her. Alexander was overjoyed when he saw her draw so near that he could have touched her. But he is not so bold as even to look at her; but rather does he so lose his senses that he is well-nigh speechless. And she, for her part, is so overcome that she has not the use of her eyes; but she casts her glance upon the ground without fastening it upon anything. The Queen marvels greatly at seeing her now pale, now crimson, and she notes well in her heart the bearing and expression of each of them. She notices and thinks she sees that these changes of colour are the fruit of love. But not wishing to embarrass them, she pretends to understand nothing of what she sees. In this she did well, for she gave no evidence of what was in her mind beyond saying: "Look here, damsel, and tell us truly where the shirt was sewed that this knight has on, and if you had any hand in it or worked anything of yours into it." Though the maiden feels some shame, yet she tells the story gladly; for she wishes the truth to be known by him, who, when he hears her tell of how the shirt was made, can hardly restrain himself for joy from worshipping and adoring the golden hair. His companions and the Queen, who were with him, annoy him and embarrass him; for their presence prevents him from raising the hair to his eyes and mouth, as he would fain have done, had he not thought that it would be remarked. He is glad to have so much of his lady, but he does not hope or expect ever to receive more from her: his very desire makes him dubious. Yet, when he has left the Queen and is by himself, he kisses it more than a hundred thousand times, feeling how fortunate he is. All night long he makes much of it, but is careful that no one shall see him. As he lies upon his bed, he finds a vain delight and solace in what can give him no satisfaction. All night he presses the shirt in his arms, and when he looks at the golden hair, he feels like the lord of the whole wide world. Thus Love makes a fool of this sensible man, who finds his delight in a single hair and is in ecstasy over its possession. But this charm will come to an end for him before the sun's bright dawn. For the traitors are met in council to discuss what they can do; and what their prospects are. To be sure they will be able to make a long defence of the town if they determine so to do; but they know the King's purpose to be so firm that he will not give up his efforts to take the town so long as he lives, and when that time comes they needs must die. And if they should surrender the town, they need expect no mercy for doing so. Thus either outcome looks dark indeed, for they see no help, but only death in either case. But this decision at last is reached, that the next morning, before dawn appears, they shall issue secretly from the town and find the camp disarmed, and the knights still sleeping in their beds. Before they wake and get their armour on there will have been such slaughter done that posterity will always speak of the battle of that night. Having no further confidence in life, the traitors as a last resort all subscribe to this design. Despair emboldened them to fight, whatever the result might be; for they see nothing sure in store for them save death or imprisonment. Such an outcome is not attractive; nor do they see any use in flight, for they see no place where they could find refuge should they betake themselves to flight, being completely surrounded by the water and their enemies. So they spend no more time in talk, but arm and equip themselves and make a sally by an old postern gate (20) toward the north-west, that being the side where they thought the camp would least expect attack. In serried ranks they sallied forth, and divided their force into five companies, each consisting of two thousand well armed foot, in addition to a thousand knights. That night neither star nor moon had shed a ray across the sky. But before they reached the tents, the moon began to show itself, and I think it was to work them woe that it rose sooner than was its wont. Thus God, who opposed their enterprise, illumined the darkness of the night, having no love for these evil men, but rather hating them for their sin. For God hates traitors and treachery more than any other sin. So the moon began to shine in order to hamper their enterprise.
(Vv. 1713-1858.) They are much hampered by the moon, as it shines upon their shields, and they are handicapped by their helmets, too, as they glitter in the moonlight. They are detected by the pickets keeping watch over the host, who now shout throughout the camp: "Up. knights, up! Rise quickly, take your arms and arm yourselves! The traitors are upon us." Through all the camp they run to arms, and hastily strive to equip themselves in the urgent need; but not a single one of them left his place until they were all comfortably armed and mounted upon their steeds. While they are arming themselves, the attacking forces are eager for battle and press forward, hoping to catch them off their guard and find them disarmed. They bring up from different directions the five companies into which they had divided their troops: some hug the woods, others follow the river, the third company deploys upon the plain, while the fourth enters a valley, and the fifth proceeds beside a rocky cliff. For they planned to fall upon the tents suddenly with great fury. But they did not find the path clear. For the King's men resist them, defying them courageously and reproaching them for their treason. Their iron lance-tips are splintered and shattered as they meet; they come together with swords drawn, striking each other and casting each other down upon the face. They rush upon each other with the fury of lions, which devour whatever they capture. In this first rush there was heavy slaughter on both sides. When they can no longer maintain themselves, help comes to the traitors, who are defending themselves bravely and selling their lives dearly. They see their troops from four sides arrive to succour them. And the King's men ride hard with spur to attack them. They deal such blows upon their shields that, beside the wounded, they unhorse more than five hundred of them. Alexander, with his Greeks, has no thought of sparing them, making every effort to prevail into the thickest of the fight he goes to strike a knave whose shield and hauberk are of no avail to keep him from falling to the earth. When he has finished with him, he offers his service to another freely and without stint, and serves him, too, so savagely that he drives the soul from his body quite, and leaves the apartment without a tenant. After these two, he addresses himself to another, piercing a noble and courteous knight clean through and through, so that the blood spurts out on the other side, and his expiring soul takes leave of the body. Many he killed and many stunned, for like a flying thunderbolt he blasts all those whom he seeks out. Neither coat of mail nor shield can protect him whom he strikes with lance or sword. His companions, too, are generous in the spilling of blood and brains, for they, too, know well how to deal their blows. And the royal troops butcher so many of them that they break them up and scatter them like low-born folk who have lost their heads. So many dead lay about the fields, and so long did the battle rage, that long before the day dawned the ranks were so cut in pieces that the rows of dead stretched for five leagues along the stream. Count Angres leaves his banner on the field and steals away, accompanied by only seven of his men. Towards his town he made his way by a secret path, thinking that no one could see him. But Alexander notices this, and sees them escaping from the troops, and he thinks that if he can slip away without the knowledge of any one, he will go to catch up with them. But before he got down into the valley, he saw thirty knights following him down the path, of whom six were Greeks, and twenty-four were men of Wales. These intended to follow him at a distance until he should stand in need of them. When Alexander saw them coming, he stopped to wait for them, without failing to observe what course was taken by those who were making their way back to the town. Finally, he saw them enter it. Then he began to plan a very daring deed and a very marvellous design. And when he had made up his mind, he turned toward his companions and thus addressed them: "My lords," says he, "whether it be folly or wisdom, frankly grant me my desire if you care for my good-will." And they promised him never to oppose his will in aught. Then he says: "Let us change our outer gear, by taking the shields and lances from the traitors whom we have killed. Thus, when we approach the town, the traitors within will suppose that we are of their party, and regardless of the fate in store for them, they will throw open the gates for us. And do you know what reward we shall offer them? If God so will we shall take them all dead or alive. Now, if any of you repents of his promise, be sure that, so long as I live, I shall never hold him dear."
(Vv. 1859-1954.) All the others grant his boon, and, despoiling the corpses of their shields, they arm themselves with them instead. The men within the town had mounted to the battlements, and, recognising the shields, suppose that they belong to their party, never dreaming of the ruse hidden beneath the shields. The gatekeeper opens the gate for them and admits them to the town. He is beguiled and deceived in not addressing them a word; for no one of them speaks to him, but silently and mute they pass, making such a show of grief that they trail their lances after them and support themselves upon their shields. Thus it seems that they are in great distress, as they pass on at their own sweet will until they are within the triple walls. Inside they find a number of men-at-arms and knights with the Count. I cannot tell you just how many; but they were unarmed, except eight of them who had just returned from the fight, and even they were preparing to remove their arms. But their haste was ill considered; for now the other party make no further pretence, but without any challenge by way of warning, they brace themselves in the stirrups, and let their horses charge straight at them, attacking them with such rigour that they lay low more than thirty-one of them. The traitors in great dismay shout out: "We are betrayed, betrayed!" But the assailants take no heed of this, and let those whom they find unarmed feel the temper of their swords. Indeed, three of those whom they found still armed were so roughly handled that but five remained alive. Count Angres rushed at Calcedor, and in the sight of all struck him upon his golden shield with such violence that he stretched him dead upon the ground. Alexander is greatly troubled, and is almost beside himself with rage when he sees his companion dead; his blood boils with anger, but his strength and courage are doubled as he strikes the Count with such fury that he breaks his lance. If possible, he would avenge his friend. But the Count was a powerful man and a good and hardy knight, whose match it would have been hard to find, had he not been a base traitor. He now returns the blow, making his lance double up so that it splits and breaks; but the other's shield holds firm, and neither gives way before the other any more than a rock would do, for both men were passing strong. But the fact that the Count was in the wrong disturbs him greatly and troubles him. (21) The anger of each rises higher as they both draw their swords after their lances had been broken. No escape would have been possible if these two swordsmen had persisted in continuing the fight. But at last one or the other must die. The Count dares not longer hold his ground, when he sees lying dead about him his men who had been caught unarmed. Meanwhile the others press them hard, cutting, slashing, and carving them, spilling their brains, and reproaching the Count for his treachery. When he hears himself accused of treason, he flees for safety to his tower, followed by his men. And their enemies follow after them, fiercely charging them from the rear, and not letting a single one escape of all upon whom they lay their hands. They kill and slay so many of them that I guess not more than seven made good their escape.
(Vv. 1955-2056.) When they had got inside the tower, they made a stand at the gate; for those who were coming close behind had followed so closely after them that they too would have pressed in had the gateway been left exposed. The traitors make a brave defence, waiting for succour from their friends, who were arming themselves down in the town. But upon the advice of Nabunal, who was a Greek of great wisdom, the approach was blocked so that relief could not arrive in time; for those below had tarried too long, either from cowardice or sloth. Now there was only one entrance to the stronghold; so that, if they stop that entrance- way, they need have no fear that any force shall approach to do them harm. Nabunal bids and exhorts twenty of them to hold the gate; for soon such a company might arrive with force as would do them harm by their assault and attack. While these twenty hold the gate, the remaining ten should attack the tower and prevent the Count from barricading himself inside. Nabunal's advice is taken: ten remain to continue the assault at the entrance of the tower, while twenty go to defend the gate. In doing so, they delay almost too long; for they see approaching, furious and keen for the fight, a company containing many cross-bow men and foot soldiers of different grades who carried arms of divers sorts. Some carried light missiles, and others Danish axes, lances and Turkish swords, bolts for cross-bows, arrows and javelins. The Greeks would have had to pay a heavy score, if this crowd had actually fallen upon them; but they did not reach the place in time. Nabunal by his foresight and counsel had blocked their plans, and they were forced to remain outside. When they see that they are shut out, they pause in their advance, as it is evident they can gain nothing by making an assault. Then there begins such weeping and wailing of women and young children, of old men and youths, that those in the town could not have heard a thunder-clap from heaven. At this the Greeks are overjoyed; for now they know of a certainty that the Count by no good luck can escape capture. Four of them mount the walls to keep watch lest those outside by any means or ruse should enter the stronghold and fall upon them. The remaining sixteen returned to where the ten were fighting. The day was already breaking, and the ten had fought so well that they had forced their way within the tower. The Count took his stand against a post, and, armed with a battleaxe, defended himself with great bravery. Those whom he reaches, he splits in half. And his men line up about him, and are not slow to avenge themselves in this last stand of the day, Alexander's men have reason to complain, for of the original sixteen there remain now but thirteen. Alexander is almost beside himself when he sees the havoc wrought among his dead or exhausted followers. Yet his thoughts are fixed on vengeance: finding at hand a long heavy club, he struck one of the rascals with it so fiercely that neither shield nor hauberk was worth a button in preventing him from failing to the ground. After finishing with him, he pursues the Count, and raising his club to strike him he deals him such a blow with his square club that the axe falls from his hands; and he was so stunned and bewildered that he could not have stood up unless he had leaned against the wall.
(Vv. 2057-2146.) After this blow the battle ceases. Alexander leaps at the Count and holds him so that he cannot move. Of the others nothing need be said, for they were easily mastered when they saw the capture of their lord. All are made prisoners with the Count and led away in disgrace, in accordance with their deserts. Of all this the men outside knew nothing. But when morning came they found their companions shields lying among the slain when the battle was over. Then the Greeks, misled, made a great lament for their lord. Recognising his shield, all are in an agony of grief, swooning at sight of his shield and saying that now they have lived too long. Cornix and Nerius first swoon, then, recovering their senses, wish they were dead. So do Torin and Acorionde. The tears run down in floods from their eyes upon their breasts. Life and joy seem hateful now. And Parmenides more than the rest tore his hair in dire distress. No greater grief could be shown than that of these five for their lord. Yet, their dismay is groundless, for it is another's body which they bear away when they think to have their lord. Their distress is further increased by the sight of the other shields, which cause them to mistake these corpses for their companions. So over them they lament and swoon. But they are deceived by all these shields, for of their men only one was killed, whose name was Neriolis. Him, indeed, they would have borne away had they known the truth. But they are in as great anxiety for the others as for him; so they bore them all away. In every case but one they were misled. But like the man who dreams and takes a fiction for the truth, so the shields cause them to suppose this illusion to be a reality. It is the shields, then, that cause this mistake. (22) Carrying the corpses, they move away and come to their tents, where there was a sorrowing troop. Upon hearing the lament raised by the Greeks, soon all the others gathered, until there was but one great outcry. Now Saredamors thinks of her wretched estate when she hears the cry and lament over her lover. Their anguish and distress cause her to lose her senses and her colour, and her grief and sorrow are increased because she dares not openly show a trace of her distress. She shut up her grief within her heart. Had any one looked at her, he could have seen by the expression of her face what agony she was in; but every one was so engrossed with his own sorrow that he had no care for another's grief. Each one lamented his own loss. For they find the river bank covered with their relatives and friends, who had been wounded or roughly treated. Each one wept for his own heavy and bitter loss: here is a son weeping for a father, there a father for a son; one swoons at the sight of his cousin, another over his nephew. Thus fathers, brothers, and relatives bemoan their loss on every side. But above all is noticeable the sorrow of the Greeks; and yet they might have anticipated great joy, for the deepest grief of all the camp will soon be changed into rejoicing.
(Vv. 2147-2200.) The Greeks outside continue their lament, while those inside strive to let them know the news which will cause them to rejoice. They disarm and bind their prisoners, who pray and beg of them to strike off their heads straightway. But the Greeks are unwilling, and disdain their entreaties, saying that them will keep then under guard and hand them over to the King, who will grant them such recompense as shall require their services. When they had disarmed them all they made them go up on the wall that they might be seen by the troops below. This privilege is not to their liking, and when they saw their lord bound as a prisoner, they were unhappy men. Alexander upon the walls swears to God and all the saints that he will not let one of them live, but will kill them all speedily, unless they will go to surrender to the King before he can seize them. "Go," says he, "confidently to the King at my command, and cast yourselves upon his mercy. None of you, except the Count, has deserved to die. You shall not lose either life or limb if you surrender to the King. If you do not deliver yourselves from death by crying for mercy, you need have little hope of saving your lives or bodies. Go forth disarmed to meet the King, and tell him from me that Alexander sends you to him. Your action will not be in vain; for my lord the King is so gentle and courteous that he will lay aside his wrath and anger. But if you wish to act otherwise, you must expect to die, for his heart will be closed to pity." All agree in accepting this advice, and do not hesitate until they come to the King's tent, where they all fall at his feet. The story they told was soon known throughout the camp. The King and all his men mounted and spurred their horses to the town without delay.
(Vv. 2201-2248.) Alexander goes out from the town to meet the King, who was greatly pleased, and to surrender to him the Count. The King did not delay in fitly punishing him. But Alexander is congratulated and praised by the King and all the others who esteem him highly. Their joy drives away the grief which they had felt not long before. But no joy of the others can compare with the exultation of the Greeks. The King presents him with the precious cup, weighing fifteen marks, and tells him confidently that there is nothing in his possession so valuable that he would not place it in his hands upon request -- save only the crown and the Queen. Alexander dares not mention his heart's desire, though he knows well that he would not be refused in asking for his sweetheart's hand. But he fears so much lest he might displease her, whose heart would have been made glad, that he prefers to suffer without her rather than to win her against her will. Therefore, he asks for a little time, not wishing to prefer his request until he is sure of her pleasure. But he asked for no respite or delay in accepting the cup of gold. He takes the cup, and courteously begs my lord Gawain to accept this cup as a gift from him, which Gawain did most reluctantly. When Soredamors learned the truth about Alexander she was greatly pleased and delighted. When she heard that he was alive, she was so happy that it seemed to her as though she could never be sad again. But she reflects that he is slower in coming than is his wont. Yet in good time she will have her wish, for both of them in rivalry are occupied with one common thought.
(Vv. 2249-2278.) It seemed to Alexander an age before he could feast his eyes with even one soft glance from her. Long ago he would fain have gone to the Queen's tent, if he had not been detained elsewhere. He was much put out by this delay, and as soon as he could, he betook himself to the Queen in her tent. The Queen went to greet him, and, without his having confided in her, she had already read his thoughts, and knew what was passing in his mind. She greets him at the entrance of the tent, and strives to make him welcome, well knowing for what purpose he has come. Desirous of according him a favour, she beckons Soredamors to join them, and they three engage in conversation at some distance from the rest. The Queen first speaks, in whose mind there was no doubt that this couple were in love. Of this fact she is quite sure, and is persuaded moreover that Soredamors could not have a better lover. She took her place between the two and began to say what was appropriate.
Go to Part II
NOTE: Endnotes supplied by Prof. Foerster are indicated by "(F.)"; all other endnotes are supplied by W.W. Comfort.
(1) There is no English version corresponding to the old French "Cliges". The English metrical romance "Sir Cleges" has nothing to do with the French romance.
(2) Ovid in "Metamorphosis", vi. 404, relates how Tantalus at a feast to the gods offered them the shoulder of his own son. It is not certain, however, that Chretien is referring here to this slight episode of the "Metamorphosis".
(3) This allusion is generally taken as evidence that the poet had written previously of the love of Tristan and Iseut. Gaston Paris, however, in one of his last utterances ("Journal des Savants", 1902, p. 297), says: "Je n'hesite pas a dire que l'existence d'un poeme sur Tristan par Chretien de Troies, a laquelle j'ai cru comme presque tout le monde, me parait aujourd'hui fort peu probable; j'en vais donner les raisons."
(4) The story of Philomela or Philomena, familiar in Chaucer's "Legende of Good Women", is told by Ovid in "Metamorphosis", vi. 426-674. Cretiens li Gois is cited by the author of the "Ovide moralise" as the author of the episode of Philomena incorporated in his long didactic poem. This episode has been ascribed to Chretien de Troyes by many recent critics, and has been separately edited by C. de Boer, who offers in his Introduction a lengthy discussion of its authorship. See C. de Boer, "Philomena, conte raconte d'apres Ovide par Chretien de Troyes" (Paris, 1909).
(5) The present cathedral of Beauvais is dedicated to St. Peter, and its construction was begun in 1227. The earlier structure here referred to, destroyed in 1118, probably was also dedicated to the same saint. (F.)
(6) The real kernal of the Cliges story, stripped of its lengthy introduction concerning Alexandre and Soredamors, is told in a few lines in "Marques de Rome", p. 135 (ed. J. Alton in "Lit. Verein in Stuttgart", No. 187, Tubingen, 1889), as one of the tales or "exempla" recounted by the Empress of Rome to the Emperor and the Seven Sages. No names are given except that of Cliges himself; the version owes nothing to Chretien's poem, and seems to rest upon a story which the author may have heard orally. See Foerster's "Einleitung to Cliges" (1910), p. 32 f.
(7) This criticism of ignoble leisure on the part of a warrior is found also in "Erec et Enide" and "Yvain".
(8) This allegorical tribute to "largesse" is quite in the spirit of the age. When professional poets lived upon the bounty of their patrons, it is not strange that their poetry should dwell upon the importance of generosity in their heroes. For an exhaustive collection of "chastisements" or "enseignements", such as that here given to Alexandre by his father, see Eugen Altner, "Ueber die chastiements in den altfranzosischen chansons de geste" (Leipzig, 1885).
(9) As Miss Weston has remarked ("The Three Days' Tournament", p. 45), the peculiar georgraphy of this poem "is distinctly Anglo-Norman rather than Arthurian".
(10) For this intimate relation between heroes, so common in the old French heroic and romantic poems, see Jacques Flach, "Le compagnonnage dans les chansons de geste" in "Etudes romances dediees a Gaston Paris" (Paris, 1891). Reviewed in "Romania", xxii. 145.
(11) Here begins one of those long dialogues, where one person is represented as taking both sides of an argument. This rhetorical device, so wearisome to modern readers, is used by Chretien preferably when some sentiment or deep emotion is to be portrayed. Ovid may well have suggested the device, but Ovid never abuses it as does the more prolix mediaeval poet. For the part playing by the eyes in mediaeval love sophistry, see J.F. Hanford, "The Debate of Heart and Eye" in "Modern Language Notes", xxvi. 161-165; and H.R. Lang, "The Eyes as Generators of Love." id. xxiii. 126-127.
(12) For play upon words and for fanciful derivation of proper names in mediaeval romance literature, see the interesting article of Adolf Tobler in "Vermischte Beitrage", ii. 211- 266. Gaston Paris ("Journal des Savants", 1902, p. 354) points out that Thomas used the same scene and the play upon the same words "mer", "amer", and "amers" in his "Tristan" and was later imitated by Gottfried von Strassburg.
(13) According to the 12th century troubadours, the shafts of Love entered the victim's body through the eyes, and thence pierced the heart.
(14) For fanciful derivation of proper names, cf. A. Tobler, "Vermischte Beitrage", ii. 211-266.
(15) Ganelon, the traitor in the "Chanson de Roland", to whose charge is laid the defeat of Charlemagne's rear-guard at Ronceval, became the arch-traitor of mediaeval literature. It will be recalled that Dante places him in the lowest pit of Hell ("Inferno", xxxii. 122). (NOTE: There is a slight time discrepance here. Roland, Ganelon, and the Battle of Ronceval were said to have happened in 8th Century A.D., fully 300 years after Arthur and the Round Table. -- DBK).
(16) For the ceremonies attendant upon the conferring of knighthood, see Karl Treis, "Die Formalitaten des Ritterschlags in der altfranzosischen Epik" (Berlin, 1887).
(17) The "quintainne" was "a manikin mounted on a pivot and armed with a club in such a way that, when a man struck it unskilfully with his lance, it turned and landed a blow upon his back" (Larousse).
(18) This conventional attitude of one engaged in thought or a prey to sadness has been referred to by G.L. Hamilton in "Ztsch fur romanische Philologie", xxxiv. 571-572.
(19) Many traitors in old French literature suffered the same punishments as Ganelon, and were drawn asunder by horses ("Roland", 3960-74).
(20) The same rare words "galerne" and "posterne" occur in rhyme in the "Roman de Thebes", 1471-72.
(21) This qualified praise is often used in speaking of traitors and of Saracens.
(22) The failure to identify the warriors is due to the fact that the knights are totally encased in armour.