internal monologues of Chrétien de Troyes and Walter Map

Medieval romance flourished in the twelfth century through elite interests in propagating ideology of men being ennobled through brutal suffering in servitude to women (“courtly love”).[1] The most widely read source of Arthurian romance in the twelfth century was Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Latin tale of British kings. However, to reach a broad readership and audience, romances were most frequently written in the natively spoken languages of medieval Europe.[2] Latin, in contrast, was the learned, pan-European language that generated the most subversive, satirical, irreverent, bawdy, and funny literature.

Chrétien de Troyes and Walter Map wrote romances in Old French and Latin, respectively. Both were brilliant twelfth-century European authors learned in Latin and familiar with tales of ladies and knights in local languages. The subversive potential of Chrétien de Troyes’s Old French work is concealed beneath a smooth surface. Walter Map, in contrast, wrote an obviously raucous and disorderly Latin text. Close comparison of internal monologues in Chrétien’s Lancelot and Walter’s tale of Sadius and Galo shows knightly romance in Latin outrageously capping knightly romance in Old French.

Arthurian monologues upon Latin romance

Although Chrétien de Troyes knew well subversive Latin literature, he chose to serve elite power. Chrétien translated from Latin into Old French Ovid’s Art of Love and Ovid’s Metamorphoses.[3] Ovid, the great teacher of love, was regarded as so threatening that he was exiled, castrated, and called a misogynist for defying the goddess Cybele. Chrétien sensibly turned his literary skills to less dangerous work. He superficially presented in French romances the subjects and interpretations that gynocentrism desired. For example, Chrétien took up an assignment from Countess Marie de Champagne, the oldest daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine and nominal King Louis VII. In the prologue to Chrétien’s Lancelot, The Knight of the Cart, Chrétien explained:

Because my lady of Champagne
Wants me to start a new
Romance, I’ll gladly begin one,
For I’m completely her servant
In whatever she wants me to do [4]

Chrétien then signaled his sophistication by flattering Marie de Champagne with the rhetorical figure of apophasis. He added:

What I have to say is that this
Story has been better polished
By her work and wisdom than by mine.

Chrétien understood gynocentric values (“All my success is due to my wife“). Like a good bureaucrat, he fulfilled his job assignments with modesty and cheerfulness. He could have written a Latin romance about a new civilization overcoming the disastrous destruction of men’s lives in a foolish war over Helen. He could have written a Latin romance of men’s friendship and solidarity in the face of oppressive control by the church and women. But such subjects are risky and dangerous to address, in medieval times and even more so in our day, especially in common language that unsophisticated persons think they understand.

In Chrétien’s time, monologues were a well-established literary practice particularly associated with women. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the Colchian princess Medea discussed with herself leaving her father and her father’s kingdom to elope with the Greek foreigner Jason:

Will I betray the kingdom of my father,
only to have the stranger whom I save
set sail without me for another’s bed,
leaving Medea to her punishment?
If he could do that, leave me for another,
let the ingrate die!
But no: that isn’t in him,
not in his face, not in his noble spirit,
not in a man as beautiful as he,
that I should fear duplicity from him,
or his neglecting what I am deserved.
Besides, he’ll give his word to me beforehand,
and I will call the gods as witnesses
of our compact. Why fear, when all is safe?
Prepare for action now, without delay;
you will have Jason’s gratitude forever,
he’ll join himself to you with solemn vows,
and you’ll be praised as his deliverer
by throngs of women throughout all of Greece!
So shall I then sail off, abandoning
my sister, brother, father, gods, and homeland?
My father is cruel and my homeland crude;
my brother is no more than a mere child,
and my sister sides with me in this affair.
Within my breast the greatest of all gods
has found his residence! I do not leave
greatness, but elope with him to seek it! [5]

The Old French Roman d’Enéas, written about 1160, includes twenty-two monologues, twelve of which are about feelings of love. Women speak almost all the monologues about love. Chrétien followed the use of monologues in the Roman d’Enéas, but turned them inward. In Chrétien first romance Erec and Enide, written about 1170, all eight of the monologues the woman Enide speaks to herself.[6]

Chrétien’s subsequent romance Lancelot, The Knight of the Cart thoroughly developed the courtly ideal of men’s subordination to women, while subtly, too subtly, ridiculing the manlet Lancelot. Consider one of Lancelot’s internal monologues:

I should have killed myself
The moment my lady the queen
Showed how deeply she hates me.
There’s got to be some reason;
She wouldn’t have done it for nothing —
And yet I can’t understand.
For had I known what was wrong
I’d have moved heaven and earth
To amend it, however she liked [7]

In medieval Christian understanding, killing oneself is wrong. Suicide was a mortal sin. Today, husbands contemplate suicide and wonder what they did wrong when their wives unilaterally file for divorce. Even the loss of custody of a father’s children and his financial devastation in deeply gender-biased family courts wouldn’t justify a man’s suicide in medieval Christian understanding. Yet men’s suicides generate relatively little social concern. Despite its medieval Christian context, Lancelot has been interpreted as an admirable hero of courtly love.

Lancelot’s beloved Queen Guinevere similarly has a subtle, too subtle, internal monologue. After Lancelot had suffered brutal bodily wounds in successfully rescuing Guinevere, she walked away from him without a word of thanks. Speaking to herself later, she lamented her appalling behavior:

To deny him every attention
Was absolutely mad!
Mad? Better, by God,
To call me cruel, and a traitress.
It was only a joke, a whim,
But he took it deeply to heart
And never forgave me. I know it,
It was I who killed him, who gave him
The mortal blow: I know it!

Could I have dealt him a blow
More mortal? Denying him even
A word was like cutting out
His heart and killing him, then
and there. And so I killed him:
Why hunt for other assassins?
Oh God! Can I ever redeem
This murder, this mortal sin? [8]

Anything is possible with God. Yet if the gynocentric cultural complex didn’t rule medieval Christian society, Guinevere would be remembered only among non-believers and tax collectors. Displaying women’s freedom and license within medieval Christianity, Guinevere, who was married to King Arthur, then relished thoughts of adultery with Lancelot and rationalized not committing suicide:

How good it would be, once —
Just once — before I die,
Were he wrapped in my arms again!
How? Why, both of us naked;
That’s when I’d be the happiest.
But since he’s dead, to go on
Living would simply be wicked.
And why? To be alive
After he’s dead: would that
Injure my beloved — nothing
To delight in except my sorrow?
And yet how sweet that sorrow
Would be, had he been able
To see it when he was alive.
Would it not be wicked
To prefer death to such suffering?
Living as long as I can,
And enduring this pain, will be pleasure
Enough: I should live and suffer,
Not die and be at peace. [9]

Chrétien lacked the freedom to write like Juvenal and retain his commission in the court of Marie de Champagne. He had a job to do for the dominant ideology. Yet he was no mere literary apparatchik-scholar. The wit and subtlety of Chrétien’s monologues can’t be fully appreciated within the elite purpose for the new, vernacular Arthurian romances, nor within the associated dominant ideology of men’s subservience to women.

The long-established, subversive Latin tradition of romance provides necessary context for appreciating Chrétien’s monologues. The story of Apollonius of Tyre, known in Latin probably from no later than the sixth century, included a young man doctor resurrecting a beautiful young woman through erotic treatment. In the middle of the eleventh century, a Germanic poet writing in Latin created Ruodlieb. That courageous, transgressive, and entertaining work explicitly described the workings of gynocentrism and strongly challenged the well-established Greek novel’s sexual symmetry. Close to the time and place of Chrétien de Troyes, Andreas Capellanus writing in Latin outrageously described natural dread game as superior to supernatural dread game and questioned the new understanding of chivalric love in framing a mock-Arthurian romance. Andreas Capellanus also daringly challenged suppression of men’s sexed protest, as did in different ways leading women writers of the Middle Ages. Much of the most outrageous Latin story-telling from the early Middle Ages undoubtedly has been lost. But the diversity and creativity of medieval Latin literature should not be doubted.[10]

Walter Map provides an important, under-appreciated Latin internal monologue for literary comparison with Chrétien de Troyes’s monologues. Walter visited Marie de Champagne’s court at Troyes about the time that Chrétien is thought to have written Lancelot. Walter, who apparently lived on the border of England and Wales, probably knew Celtic legends that went into Arthurian tales. Two poems in the French Lancelot prose cycle were attributed to Walter. He may have written further popular French verse. In any case, several stories in the Latin De nugis curialum, which is securely attributed to Walter, are thematically in the mainstream of Arthurian legends.[11]

Walter’s Arthurian Latin romance of Sadius and Galo includes an internal monologue that outrageously caps Queen Guinevere’s internal monologue on her relationship with Lancelot. In Walter’s story, the queen fell madly in love with the foreign knight Galo. From her position of authority, she pressured him for sex. Galo suffered at length from the queen’s sexual harassment. Desperately seeking to be free from the queen’s sexual harassment of him, Galo conspired that his friend Sadius try to convince the queen that Galo was impotent. The queen resolved to put the matter to a sexual test with a beautiful court girl. After ordering the court girl to pursue the affair, the queen was tormented with jealousy and conflicting thoughts. She threw herself on a bed and said to herself:

Sadius is faithful and truthful: he lost his genitals. The more fool is he, to conceal his disgrace from me, that he cannot be touched, to spurn me that I might not spurn him in return! Truly if he had favored me, I would have been his most closely joined and clinging friend, and if there were a delay in discovering him, a hand could stray that certainly would be able to detect whether he is female or male or neuter.

O, it is not as I believed! Sadius lies, he is a man, the signs are certain that he is a man, intact, without defect. O what a wretch and fool I am to have sent the cleverest of girls on my own errand! … I do not believe, I do not think, I am sure and without doubt, that already she is where I should have been, but for the consecration of my head, but for my being a spouse: but there was his loyalty to keep him back. With her, where is the obstacle? What of this concerns her? Nothing. The damage is done. …

But can Sadius have spoken the truth? No, no! There is nothing in it. It’s obvious that he is potent, or she would have returned long ago. All the good signs are clear: that charming downy growth upon his cheeks, no flabbiness of limb, no jaundiced eye or coward heart. Could an effeminate man have pierced through so many armed phalanxes, outshined the glories of all men, raised his own repute to such a pinnacle of praise? I am sure that Sadius lies. [13]

Compared to Chrétien’s French monologue of the queen, Walter’s Latin monologue of the queen has greater psychological depth and more personal specificity. Chrétien’s monologues generally are closer to a figured conflict between abstract ideas. Walter’s monologue is more realistic and novelistic, more bawdy and transgressive. Given that Chrétien figured Lancelot as a manlet, Walter’s theme of impotence can fairly be interpreted as a wicked Latin capping of Chrétien’s monologue in the French Lancelot.

Vernacular Arthurian romance widely disseminated in late twelfth-century Europe contributed significantly to institutionalizing and naturalizing men’s servitude to women in love. Vernacular Arthurian romance built upon a rich, diverse inheritance of medieval Latin romance. But vernacular literature was more closely tied to socially dominant gynocentric interests. Vernacular literature lacked the diversity and freedom of expression possible in Latin. Emancipating men and women from gynocentrism requires bringing into vernacular romance marginalized medieval Latin literature. Welcoming into vernacular literature scintillating medieval Latin work such as Solomon and Marcolf and Lamentationes Matheoluli is a path to social, cultural, and sexual renewal.

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[1] C. Stephen Jaeger has thoroughly developed this terrible idea. See, e.g. Jaeger (1985) and Jaeger (1999). Here’s a critique of Jaeger’s thinking with respect to Marbod of Rennes’s Liber Decem Capitulorum.

[2] Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote his Historia regum Britannie (History of the Kings of Britain) about 1138. Its prologue declared that it was a historia (history) based on a book in a British tongue. The prologue also warned about other, non-bookish tales of British kings. Latin, the language in which Geoffrey wrote, was the language of learned books. Echard (2011) pp. 1-2. Geoffrey’s Latin Arthurian tale “was an immediate best-seller; it survives in over 250 copies, and was translated and adapted throughout the Middle Ages.” Archibald (2011) p. 132.

Chrétien de Troyes made a similar assertion in the prologue to his Old French Arthurian romance Cliges:

The story I wish to recount to you, we find written down in one of the books in the library of Saint Peter’s Cathedral in Beauvais. The fact that the tale was taken from there is evidence of the truth of the account. Hence its greater credibility.

From French trans. Staines (1990) p. 87. A book from the library of Saint Peter’s Cathedral suggests a book written in Latin, the language of church bureaucrats (clerics). While Chrétien claimed Latin authority, he actually wrote in the commonly spoken language French. Writing in French better served the interests of his royal patrons in broad dissemination.

[3] Chrétien de Troyes stated these facts in his preface to Cliges. He probably translated both Ovid’s Ars Amatoria (Art of Love) and Ovid’s Remedia Amoris (Remedies for Love), as well as several stories from Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Transformations). Staines (1990), Introduction, p. xii.

[4] Chrétien de Troyes, Lancelot, the knight of the cart ll. 1-5, from Old French trans. Raffel (1997) p. 1. The subsequent quote is from id. Countess Marie de Champagne apparently had difficult reading even the Bible in Latin:

Unlike her husband, Marie apparently did not read Latin well and preferred texts in the vernacular. Her requests for biblical translations are among the earliest in French.

McCash (2005) p. 16.

[5] Ovid, Metamorphoses, Bk. 7, ll. 1-73 (Medea’s monologue), excerpt from Latin trans. Martin (2004) p. 225. Tony Kline has generously made his translation freely available online.

[6] Duggan (2001) pp. 140-50.

[7] Chrétien de Troyes, Lancelot ll. 4343-53, from Old French trans. Raffel (1997) p. 137.

[8] Chrétien, Lancelot ll. 4208-16, 4221-28, trans. id. p. 133. The subsequent quote is from ll. 4231-51, trans. id. p. 133-4.

[9] The queen instructed the courtly girl to embrace nakedly Galo. Andreas Capellanus, De amore 1.6.471, advocated chaste contact of that sort. For discussion, see note [3] in my post on Sadius and Galo.

[10] Brooke (2004) and McCash (2005) pp. 20-1 discuss Walter Map’s activities. McCash states:

Walter’s name has long been associated with the prose cycle of the Lancelot, which claims to be ‘translations of a Latin original preserved at the abbey of Salisbury, made “by Walter Map at the request of King Henry his lord”’. Some scholars argue that Walter had little interest in these matters and that it was merely customary for authors to claim such sources. However, given the persistence with which Walter’s name was associated with these materials from the thirteenth through the nineteenth centuries, coupled with the known interest of the Plantagenet court in Arthurian legends, it is logical that Walter may indeed have collected such tales for the court. Whether he ever wrote them down is another matter, but, as a well-known teller of tales, he may have been partly responsible for their dissemination.

Id. p. 20. See also Webster (1940). Archibald, however, states:

It seems particularly ironic that Map was named as the author of parts of the French Vulgate Cycle, an early thirteenth-century compilation that tells the story of the Arthurian world in a way that does not suggest parody or the need for deep interpretation. No modern critic accepts this attribution, which recurs at the end of the Queste del Saint Graal and the beginning and end of the Mort Artu.

Archibald (2015) p. 185. Walter is more plausible as the author of the prose Lancelot cycle than Mary Shelley is as the author of Frankenstein. Walter’s securely attributed Arthurian tales from De nugis curialum are, in addition to the story of Sadius and Galo, the story of Resus and the story of Raso.

[11] Archibald (2011) and Archibald (2015) discuss the literary history of Latin romance and its contribution to Arthurian romance. Archibald’s useful studies, however, work within the dominant gynocentric ideology that has devalued and suppressed men’s literature of sexed protest under the disparaging label “misogyny.” Field insightfully queried:

Why are we so dismissive of clerical culture? … by comparison with the interest lavished on audiences, patrons and women, the clerical writers as a group seem to suffer from the Victorian disapproval of ‘monkish writers’.

Field (2011) pp. 187-8. If the dominant gynocentric ideology weren’t so dismissive of clerical culture (“monkish misogyny”), it would have to recognize scintillating medieval Latin clerical literature of men’s sexed protest.

[12] Walter Map, De nugis curialium 3.2, trans James (1983) pp. 217, 219. I’ve made some changes to the translation to make it more literal and explicit.

[image] Illumination on folio 40v, Yale Beinecke MS.229 Arthurian Romances. Made in France, 1275-1300. Thanks to Manuscript Miniatures (Yale manuscript viewer defunct / useless).


Archibald, Elizabeth. 2011.  “Arthurian Latin Romance.” Ch. 7 (pp. 132-45) in Echard (2011).

Archibald, Elizabeth. 2015. “Ruodlieb and Romance in Latin: Audience and Authorship.” Ch. 12 (pp. 171-86) in Duys, Kathryn A., Elizabeth Emery, and Laurie Postlewate. 2015. Telling the story in the Middle Ages: essays in honor of Evelyn Birge Vitz. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer.

Brooke, C. N. L. 2004. “Map, Walter (d. 1209/10).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.

Duggan, Joseph J. 2001. The romances of Chrétien de Troyes. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Echard, Siân. 2011. “Introduction: The Arthur of Medieval Latin Literature.” Pp. 1-5 in Echard (2011).

Echard, Siân, ed. 2011. The Arthur of medieval Latin literature: the development and dissemination of the Arthurian legend in medieval Latin. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.

Field, Rosalind. 2011. “‘Pur les francs homes amender’: Clerical Authors and the Thirteenth Century.” Ch. 13 (pp. 175-88) in Rhiannon Purdie and Michael Cichon, eds. Medieval romance, medieval contexts. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer.

Jaeger, C. Stephen. 1985. The origins of courtliness: civilizing trends and the formation of courtly ideals, 939-1210. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Jaeger, C. Stephen. 1999. Ennobling love: in search of a lost sensibility. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

James, M. R. trans., C. N. L. Brooke, and R. A. B. Mynors, eds. 1983. Walter Map. De nugis curialium {Courtiers’ trifles}. Oxford, Oxfordshire: Clarendon Press.

Martin, Charles, trans. 2004. Ovid. Metamorphoses. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

McCash, June Hall. 2005. “Chrétien’s Patrons.” Ch. 2 (pp. 15-25) in Lacy, Norris J., and Joan T. Grimbert, eds. 2005. A companion to Chrétien de Troyes. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer.

Raffel, Burton, trans. 1997. Chrétien de Troyes. Lancelot, the knight of the cart. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Staines, David, trans. 1990. The complete romances of Chrétien de Troyes. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Webster, K. G. T. 1940. “Walter Map’s French Things” Speculum. 15 (3): 272-279.

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