[LMB] Arthurian history

Lois Aleta Fundis lfundis at weir.net
Wed Sep 24 07:21:15 BST 2008

I wrote:
> At 03:17 AM 24/09/2008, Elizabeth Holden wrote:
>> Ietyn called Chrétien de Troyes a plagiarist:
>> What makes him more or less a plagiarist than anyone else?
> As I said, I'm a little unfair. He did the equivalent of re-writing tWA 
> from Bazs point of view, and with him resopnsable for the heroics and 
> success/failures.
Actually, in our terms, Chretien was more of a fanfic writer. The 
Arthurian cycle (as literary historians call it) was already very 
popular when Chretien lived. So Chretien wrote new stories in that 
"fandom," sometimes using existing characters, sometimes making them up. 
IIRC -- it's been a long time since that term paper I did!* -- Lancelot 
was one of the ones he invented himself, and the 
Lancelot/Guinevere/Arthur triangle with it. Though again, IIRC, in 
other, older stories, there was a hint of such a triangle but with 
another one of the knights.

When Chretien lived, the idea of romantic love was hugely important in a 
way it had never been before -- some scholars have been so bold as to 
declare that the concept never existed before, which is, frankly, 
stupid. And it often, one could say almost always, took the form of 
adultery. This was because most marriages were arranged (to create 
alliances between families and their lands and money!) and so, since 
love was seldom a factor in marriage, it had to be found outside it. 
Because adultery was a sin, there would be consequences that the lovers 
had to endure, and often the love was not requited or at least not 
consummated, because the loved one, especially if she were of higher 
rank, was idealized ("put on a pedestal").

Nowadays, with copyright and all, maybe Chretien's works would be 
considered plagiarism. But the Arthur legend's roots went back centuries 
before Chretien, and other authors of Chretien's day were also 
committing similar "fanfic". The ideas of copyrighting or trademarking 
stories and characters were centuries in the future.

It really wasn't until Malory compiled the tales (as they had come down 
to him in 15th Century England) into one narrative that the Arthurian 
legend actually became codified into the way we think of it now, and 
Malory lived 200 or more years after Chretien.

*1968. I was a senior in high school. But I learned some middle French 
as well as some middle English to try to read at least some of Chretien 
and Malory in the original. For example: the first e in Chretien's name 
has a circumflex (^) over it. Why? In his time it was spelled 
"Chrestien" (it's the French equivalent of "Christian") but as French 
evolved into its modern form, the "s" got elided away. The circumflex 
shows that the letter used to be there. Almost everywhere in French that 
you see a circumflex, there's been a letter disappeared, and it was 
almost always an s.

Lois Fundis	lfundis at weir.net or lfundis at verizon.net

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