Erec testing Enide: the ultimate reverse shit-test

rhinoceras drawing

“Do I look fat?”

“No, no, you don’t look fat. You’re just b..b…beautiful!”

“You always say that. Tell me the truth.”

Now what do you say? Most men have faced these sort of tests. Experts in the applied literary art of seduction call these tests “shit-tests.” A woman throws crap at a man to test his manliness. Many men today handle such crap clumsily and earn women’s contempt.

Men typically don’t shit-test women. If a woman continually, annoyingly nags a rough, crude, unlearned man — a man who hasn’t studied medieval literature — he might turn to her, look her straight in the eyes, and say, “Shut the fuck up.” He would then slowly and deliberately turn back to cleaning and lubricating his power tools. Most men, especially today, aren’t like that.

To learn how to handle shit-tests with sophistication and success, men should read closely and ponder deeply Chrétien de Troyes’s medieval masterpiece Erec et Enide. Colossal misunderstanding of Chrétien de Troyes’s romances across centuries has promoted the love-destroying, men-abasing ideology of courtly love. Erec et Enide, truly understood, is an astonishing twelfth-century challenge to social currents then sweeping away the traditional, humane understanding of chivalry. Chided for his dedication to traditional chivalry after marrying Enide, Erec constructed a brilliantly sophisticated shit-test for Enide. Passing through the ordeal of this shit-test gained for them enduring, true love.

After their large, lavish wedding, Erec and Enide settled into a life of conjugal love. Erec as a husband stopped serving in wars and participating in sports. He even stopped watching sports. Erec focused on loving his wife:

All he wanted was his wife,
who’d become both lover and friend.
Every waking moment
went into hugging and kissing.
He needed nothing else.

{ a sa fame volt dosnoier,
si an fist s’amie et sa drue;
en li a mise s’antendue,
en acoler et an beisier;
ne se quierent d’el aeisier. }[1]

Erec’s men friends lamented that he no longer served in the army with them, nor spent much time with them in other activities. Some said that Erec had gotten lazy. Bitters spinsters spread rumors that Erec was fighting with Enide rather than engaging in violence against foreign men-enemies. In short, society disparaged Erec for his dedication to traditional chivalry.

Enide was upset about her husband’s loss of social status. She wanted him to be honored and respected as he was before they married. Erec’s husbandly dedication to having sex with her caused her to lose sleep:

In bed, where they’d taken great pleasure,
wrapped in each other’s arms,
their lips together, lovers
sharing and delighting in love,
Erec slept. Enide didn’t,
remembering words she’d heard
spoken, up and down
the land, about her lord.
And the memory made her weep
in spite of herself. She could
not stop. Indeed, those words
so weighed on her mind that, as luck
would have it, her lips murmured
a few, intending no harm,
and certainly not what happened.

{ la ou il jurent an .i. lit,
qu’il orent eü maint delit;
boche a boche antre braz gisoient,
come cil qui mout s’antreamoient.
Cil dormi et cele veilla;
de la parole li manbra
que disoient de son seignor
par la contree li plusor.
Quant il l’an prist a sovenir,
de plorer ne se pot tenir;
tel duel en ot et tel pesance
qu’il li avint par mescheance
qu’ele dist lors une parole
dom ele se tint puis por fole;
mes ele n’i pansoit nul mal. }

Enide’s tears and words awakened Erec. He said to her:

My love, my dear, my sweet,
tell me what’s caused these tears.
What’s made you so angry? So sad?
I need to know, my beloved.
So tell me, my sweet, tell me.
Don’t keep such sorrow secret.

{ Dites moi, dolce amie chiere,
por coi plorez an tel meniere?
De coi avez ire ne duel?
Certes, je le savrai, mon vuel.
Dites le moi, ma dolce amie,
gardez nel me celez vos mie }

Enide denied everything. She claimed that Erec had dreamed that she was crying and speaking of him lacking interest in engaging in violence against men. Erec refused to accept his wife’s lying:

Now you’re feeding me lies.
I know you’re lying. I can hear it,
and you’ll be terribly sorry
later, unless you admit it.

{ Or me servez vos de mançonges:
apertemant vos oi mantir;
mes tart vandroiz au repantir
se voir ne me reconuissiez. }

Enide confessed that she had lied. Then she told him the truth:

Everyone — blonde, brunet,
and redhead — declares you’ve damaged
your name by laying down
your arms. Your reputation,
your name, have tumbled to the ground.
Last year, all year, they all
were saying no one knew
a better knight, or a braver.
No one alive was your equal.
Now you’re a joke: young
and old, short and tall,
call you a coward, a traitor.
Was it possible not to be pained,
hearing my lord despised?

{ li blonc et li mor et li ros,
que granz domages est de vos
que voz armes antrelessiez.
Vostre pris est mout abessiez:
tuit soloient dire l’autre an
qu’an tot le mont ne savoit l’an
meillor chevalier ne plus preu;
vostres parauz n’estoit nul leu.
Or se vont tuit de vos gabant,
juesne et chenu, petit et grant;
recreant vos apelent tuit.
Cuidiez vos qu’il ne m’an enuit
quant j’oi dire de vos despit? }

Erec not exposing himself to serious risk of bodily harm hurt Enide greatly:

Their words pressed on my heart —
and all the more because
they laid the blame on me.
That was deeply painful —
everyone saying I
was the only cause, I
had taken you captive, I
had stolen your strength away
and left you thinking of nothing
but me.

{ Mout me poise quant an l’an dit
et por ce m’an poise ancor plus
qu’il m’an metent le blasme sus;
blasmee an sui, ce poise moi,
et dïent tuit reison por coi,
car si vos ai lacié et pris
que vos an perdez vostre pris
ne ne querez a el antandre. }

What does it matter if others disparage him for giving up violence against men and turning to vigorously loving his wife? They’re vicious, jealous idiots. Let them fight their own battles and wallow in their lovelessness. They should be ignored.[2]

Enide, however, viewed the matter according to ideology that has oppressed men throughout the ages. Men must seek and retain social status in gynocentric, men-killing society. Enide instructed Erec:

Consider, now,
how best to efface this slander
and restore your good name, for I’ve heard
terrible things said
and never dared to tell you.
Often, remembering those words,
I could barely keep from crying.

{ Or vos an estuet consoil prandre,
que vos puissiez ce blasme estaindre
et vostre premier los ataindre,
car trop vos ai oï blasmer.
Onques nel vos osai mostrer;
sovantes foiz, quant m’an sovient,
d’angoisse plorer me covient }

When a woman cries, weak men will do whatever she wants them to do. Erec was a smart, savvy man, righteously pissed off at his wife’s ridiculous status-seeking. He prepared for her a complex, arduous shit-test — a shit-test far greater than all the shit-tests that all the women throughout the ages have flung at their men.

Erec resolved to set off on a long journey. He gave Enide the choice to come with him, or not, as she wished. She chose to go with him. Erec dressed in full armor and gathered his weapons, but refused his fellow knights’ pleas to accompany him to lessen the danger. He told Enide to put on her best dress and mount her finest horse. Enide, pale and weeping and worried about what was to come, dallied in getting dressed. Through a servant, Erec sent her a stern message:

“Valet,” he said, “go, run quickly
to the chamber by the tower,
where my wife is. Go, and tell her
I’ve waited too long here.
She’s had enough time to get dressed.
Tell her to come and mount
her horse. I’m waiting.”

{ Vaslez, fet il, va tost et cor
an la chanbre delez la tor
ou ma fame est. Va, se li di
que trop me fet demorer ci,
trop a mis a li atorner.
Di li qu’el veigne tost monter,
que ge l’atant. }

When Enide was finally ready, they departed on a dangerous journey.

Erec gave Enide puzzling instructions. He told her to ride out in front of him in the middle of the road. Doing that, she was sure to attract the attention of brigands and enemy knights. Yet Erec told her:

“Ride rapidly,” he said,
“and be careful,
whatever you see, say
not a word. Speak
to me only if
and when I speak to you.”

{ Alez, fet il, grant aleüre,
et gardez ne soiez tant ose
que, se vos veez nule chose,
ne me dites ne ce ne quoi;
tenez vos de parler a moi,
se ge ne vos aresne avant. }

What if she saw some danger approaching? How could she say nothing? That could mean death for her and him!

Three armed knights who lived by robbing saw them. The robbers sought their horses and their expensive furnishings. One, particularly eager for plunder, charged forward:

Seeing the thieves, Enide
was seized with terrible fear:
“My God!” she thought. “Should I speak?
They’ll kill or capture my lord,
they being three and he
alone. It isn’t fair
for a single knight to fight three
at once. And that one’s attacking,
although my lord can’t see him.
Lord! Can I sit and say nothing?
Am I such an utter coward?
No, I can’t do it,
I have to warn him, that can’t
be wrong.”

{ Enyde vit les robeors;
mout l’an est prise granz peors.
Dex, fet ele, que porrai dire?
Or iert ja morz ou pris mes sire,
car cil sont troi et il est seus;
n’est pas a droit partiz li jeus
d’un chevalier ancontre trois.
Cil le ferra ja demenois,
que mes sires ne s’an prant garde.
Dex! serai je donc si coarde
que dire ne li oserai?
Ja si coarde ne serai;
jel li dirai, nel leirai pas. }

Enide thus warned her husband of their immediate, mortal peril. Erec harshly criticized his wife for her words:

“What?” said Erec. “What?
Do you think so little of me?
How bold you’ve become, breaking
my prohibition, defying
the command I solemnly gave you.
Well, I’ll pardon you once.
But let it happen again
and there’ll be no pardon. I warn you.”

{ Cui? fet Erec, qu’avez vos dit?
Or me prisiez vos trop petit.
Trop avez fet grant hardemant,
qui avez mon comandemant
et ma desfanse trespassee.
Ceste foiz vos iert pardonee,
mes s’autre foiz vos avenoit,
ja pardoné ne vos seroit. }

Erec then turned and drove his spear into the attacking knight and killed him. Erec killed the second man and wounded the third after chasing after him. He then returned to his wife:

And he warned her, fiercely, not
to disobey him, but hold
her tongue, speaking no word
whatever without his permission.

{ et mout la prist a menacier
qu’ele ne soit plus si hardie
c’un seul mot de la boche die
se il ne l’an done congié. }

That’s a terrifying shit-test. How could Enide pass it?

A little while later, five knights attacked Enide and Erec. Erec pretended not to see them coming. Enide was perplexed and scared:

Misery! What can I do?
What can I say? My lord
has warned me not to make him
angry by speaking a single
word, no matter what.
And yet, if they kill my lord,
there’ll be no one and nothing to help me.
I’ll be as good as dead.

{ Lasse, fet ele, que ferai?
Ne sai que die ne que face,
que mes sires mout me menace
et dit qu’il me fera enui
se je de rien paroil a lui.
Mes se mes sires ert ci morz,
de moi ne seroit nus conforz,
morte seroie et malbaillie. }

For Enide, the issue ultimately was all about her. She continued in her thoughts:

Oh God! My lord sees nothing.
Why are you waiting, idiot?
Why worry about that promise?
It’s been so long since I said
a thing! And surely these men
mean to do him harm.
Lord, how can I tell him?
He’ll kill me. Then let him kill me!
How can I keep from telling him?

{ Dex! mes sire ne le voit mie;
qu’atant je dons, malveise fole?
Trop ai or chiere ma parole
quant je ne li ai dit pieç’a.
Bien sai que cil qui vienent ça
sont de mal faire ancoragié.
Ha! Dex, comant li dirai gié?
Il m’ocirra. Asez m’ocie!
ne leirai que je ne li die. }

Medieval literature of men’s sexed protest tells of men’s concerns about women failing to keep secrets. Five knights attacking Enide and Erec was no secret. Enide, in mortal danger, couldn’t resist speaking of it:

So she said, softly, “My lord!”
“What? What do you want?”
“Have mercy, my lord! It’s just
that five bold men have ridden
out of the forest, and they frighten me.
I’ve watched them coming and I’m sure
they propose to pick a fight
with you. Four have hung back,
and the fifth one’s coming toward you
as fast as his horse can carry him.
He’ll be here any minute.
And those four who stayed behind
are still so very close.
They could all help if they had to.”

{ Lors l’apele dolcemant: “Sire.
— Cui? fet il, que volez vos dire?
— Sire, merci! dire vos vuel
que desbunchié sont de ce bruel
.v. chevalier, don je m’esmai.
Bien pans et aparceü ai
qu’il se voelent a vos conbatre;
arrieres sont remés li quatre,
et li cinquiesmes a vos muet
tant con chevax porter le puet;
ne gart l’ore que il vos fiere;
li catre sont remés arriere,
mes ne sont gaires de ci loing:
tuit le secorront au besoing.” }

In response, Erec criticized his wife Enide. He even told her that he hated her:

You’ve done wrong,
breaking once again
the silence I laid upon you.
I’ve always known you thought me
worth remarkably little.
You’ll win no thanks from me,
giving such warnings. Listen,
and understand: I hate you.

{ Mar le pansastes,
que ma parole trespassastes,
ce que desfandu vos avoie;
et neporquant tres bien savoie
que gueres ne me priseiez.
Cest servise mal anpleiez,
que ge ne vos an sai nul gré;
bien sachiez que ge vos an hé }

He continued:

I’ve told you before, and I tell you
once more. I’ll pardon you
again, but next time watch out.
Stop looking at me. It makes you
act like a fool, because
I loathe the words you speak.

{ dit le vos ai et di ancore.
Ancor le vos pardonrai ore,
mes autre foiz vos an gardez
ne ja vers moi ne regardez,
que vos feriez mout que fole,
car je n’aim pas vostre parole. }

Erec calmly killed four of the attacking men and left the fifth face down in the dirt. He then angrily told his wife to “hold her tongue or live to regret it {de parler a lui se taigne, / que max ou enuiz ne l’an vaigne}.”

This sort of shit-testing played out two more times, but the final battle was different. A dwarf knight gravely injured Erec in a brutal, drawn-out man-to-man battle. Before she went with Erec on their journey, Enide lamented:

What a fool
I am! Life was too good.
I had whatever I wanted.
Ah me! What made me so bold
that I spoke such insane words?
My God! Could my husband be too much
in love? Yes. He is.
So now he’ll send me away!
But not seeing my lord,
who loved me better than anyone
else in the world, will be
the worst pain of all.
The best man ever
born was so caught up
with me that he cared for no one
else. Nothing was missing —
a happiness more than complete —
until pride welled up, and pushed me,
And I said such intemperate things.
My pride’s become my punishment,
one I deserve. Suffering
allows you to understand pleasure.

{ Dex! don ne m’amoit trop mes sire?
Par foi, lasse, trop m’amoit il.
Or m’estuet aler an essil;
mes de ce ai ge duel greignor
que ge ne verrai mon seignor,
qui tant m’amoit de grant meniere
que nule rien n’avoit tant chiere.
Li miaudres qui onques fust nez
s’estoit si a moi atornez
que d’autre rien ne li chaloit.
Nule chose ne me failloit,
mout estoie boene eüree;
mes trop m’a orguialz alevee,
quant ge ai dit si grant oltraige;
an mon orguel avrai domaige
et mout est bien droiz que je l’aie:
ne set qu’est biens qui mal n’essaie. }

Now Erec, his body lacerated and bleeding, was suffering terribly. He was nearly dead. Enide then understood:

I’ve killed my lord. My own
folly has killed him. He’d still
be alive — but stupid, arrogant
fool that I am, I spoke
the fatal words that spurred him
to make this journey. No one’s
ever been hurt by a wise
silence, but words do enormous
damage. And oh, I’ve proved this
over and over again.

{ de mon seignor sui omecide,
par ma folie l’ai ocis :
ancor fust or mes sires vis
se ge, come outrageuse et fole,
n’eüsse dite la parole
por coi mes sires ça s’esmut.
Ainz boens teisirs home ne nut,
mes parlests nuist mainte foiee;
ceste chose ai bien essaiee
et esprovee an mainte guise. }

Enide’s words dominate Chrétien de Troyes’s romance Erec et Enide. She has eight interior monologues. Erec has none.[3]

Words mean nothing compared to the marital love of traditional chivalry. Erec shit-tested his wife with words that starkly forbid imperatives of love. Enide repeatedly ignored those words. She could do likewise to words of those who belittled Erec for devotedly loving his wife rather than spending time with war and sports. Erec, in turn, could ignore any of his wife’s words of concern about social status. Both Enide and Erec were awakened to the enlightened wisdom of traditional chivalry. Just as for Menelaus and Helen, all that ultimately mattered was being in bed together.

Chrétien, believing
men should think, and learn,
and use their tongues well,
and teach others, has found
this lovely tale of adventure,
beautifully put together.
It proves beyond a doubt
that no one granted wisdom
and grace by the mercy of God
should ever refuse to share it.

{ Por ce dist Crestiens de Troies
que reisons est que tote voies
doit chascuns panser et antandre
a bien dire et a bien aprandre,
et tret d’un conte d’avanture
une mout bele conjointure
par qu’an puet prover et savoir
que cil ne fet mie savoir
qui s’escience n’abandone
tant con Dex la grasce l’an done. }

In conclusion, just say: “Go ahead, eat a big bowel of ice cream, you need it!”

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:

Notes:

[1] Chrétien de Troyes, Erec et Enide ll. 2437-41, Old French text from Kunstmann (2009, English (modified slightly) from Raffel (1997) p. 77. The line numbers are for Raffel’s translation. Those line numbers are close to the line numbers of the Old French text. W. W. Comfort’s English translation (1914) of Erec et Enide is freely available online

Subsequent quotes are similarly sourced. They from Erec et Enide ll. (in Raffel’s translation) 2474-88, p. 79 (In bed…); ll. 2513-18, p. 80 (My love, my dear…); ll. 2534-7, p. 80 (Now you’re feeding me lies…); ll. 2542-55, p. 81 (Everyone…); ll. 2556-65, p. 81 (Their words…); ll. 2565-71, pp. 81-2 (Consider, now…); ll. 2665-8, p. 85 (Tell her I’ve waited…);  ll. 2765-69, p. 88 (Be careful…); ll. 2826-39, p. 90 (Seeing the thieves…); ll. 2844-51, p. 90 (“What?” said Erec…); ll. 2912-15, p. 92 (And {he} warned her…);  ll. 2959-66, p. 94 (Misery! What can I do?…); ll. 2967-75, p. 94 (Oh god!…); ll. 2976-89, pp. 94-5 (So she said…);  ll. 2990-97, p. 95 (You’ve done me wrong…); ll. 2998-3003, p. 95 (I’ve told you before…); ll. 3072-3 (to hold / Her tongue…); ll. 2588-2608, pp. 82-3 (What a fool…); ll. 4598-4607, p. 145 (I’ve killed my lord…); ll. 9-18 (Chrétien, believing…). On Erec giving Enide the choice as to whether to accompany him on the journey, l. 2691, p. 85.

[2] On the eve of the massive, brutal slaughter of men in World War I, Professor Sheldon at Harvard pondered, “Why Does Chrétien’s Erec Treat Enide so Harshly?” Sheldon (1914). As the men-killing horrors of World War I drew near to an end, Professor Ogle at the University of Vermont discerned that the motive for Erec and Enide’s ordeal was Erec’s “sloth.” But Erec overcame his sloth and achieved a “moral awakening”:

Erec and Enide love each as deeply as before, but this love is now no selfish passion making him recreant to his knightly honor, but rather an incentive to brave, unselfish deeds, deeds that may lead to death. … the value of the episode dealing with the life of Erec and Enide in the castle of Penevric, which, as I have noted is a replica of their life in Erec’s own home, and of the Joie de la Cour; taken together these furnish concrete evidence that the moral awakening of the hero is a real awakening, that his love, although as great as before, no longer brings sloth, but acts as an incentive to high endeavor and makes him willing to face deadly peril for the sake of knightly glory.

Ogle (1918) pp. 6, 20. So much for the men-killing battlefields of the Great War. Now let us all praise the Spartan mothers! Professor Nitze at the University of Chicago responded quickly and harshly to Ogle’s claims. Nitze strongly denied that he interpreted Erec et Enide to imply that Erec challenged women’s rule. He emphasize that Enide was innocent of any wrong. She was only “the innocent {emphasis added} cause of her husband’s fall from grace.” Nitze (1919) p. 27. Women prostitutes were similarly innocent of any wrong-doing in pioneering, nineteenth-century social science. None of these early twentieth-century interpretations of Erec et Enide shows any awareness of the traditional, humane understanding of chivalry.

[3] Adhering to the orientation of their early-twentieth-century forefathers, more recent interpretations of Erec et Enide have remained resolutely gynocentric while adding more overt hostility toward men. Ramey declared:

Rather than continuing to insist upon recovering Chrétien as courtly romance writer, it would be instructive to admit the possibility that Chrétien’s work is misogynistic and to focus instead on the economic and social implications of his writing.

Ramey (1993) p. 378. Misogyny is a concept constructed to buttress the myth of patriarchy. In fact, Chrétien de Troyes shows keen appreciation for economic and social reality and the injustices of gender-based domination:

The episode of the Joie de la Cour illustrates in no uncertain terms the disaster which comes from women in power over men. … Chrétien’s response to female power is incontrovertible and entirely negative.

Id. pp. 385-6. Nonetheless, Chrétien’s romances have been widely interpreted to support men’s self-abasement to women under courtly love ideology.

Much recent literary scholarship merely recycles utterly conventional and wholly tedious anti-meninist assertions. E.g. Burrell (1997) on the male gaze and women’s silence. Such scholarship apparently led professors at the University of Michigan to approve a 111-page (body text, double spaced) Ph.D. thesis filled with mind-numbing proposals and claims:

I want to investigate whether it is possible to locate Enide’s agency (and pleasure) in her gaze even though, as Stanbury argues, her gaze is one that is inhibited by her status as a female character within a gendered narrative structure. … This dissertation builds upon the work of feminist medievalists as well as other literary and cultural scholars to argue that sight, and objects that are seen, articulate love relationships between characters in medieval romance, and that seeing is also frequently a locus of resistance to gender norms the texts both establish and refuse to accept.

Human (2010) pp. 15, 19.

[image] Rhinoceros that Sultan Muzafar of Kamboja in India gave to King Emanuel I of Portugal. Drawing by Albrecht Dürer, 1515. British Museum, #SL,5218.161, via Web Gallery of Art and Wikimedia Commons.

References:

Burrell, Margaret. 1997. “The Specular Heroine: Self-Creation Versus Silence in Le Pèlerinage de Charlemagne and Erec et Enide.” Parergon. 15 (1): 83-99.

Human, Julie L. 2010. Looking Back: Medieval French Romance and the Dynamics of Seeing. Ph.D. Thesis. Romance Languages and Literatures, University of Michigan.

Kunstmann, Pierre, ed. 2009. Chrétien de Troyes. Erec et Enide. Ottawa/Nancy, Université d’Ottawa / Laboratoire de français ancien, ATILF, 2009. Publié en ligne par l’ENS de Lyon dans la Base de français médiéval, dernière révision le 16-6-2013.

Nitze, William Albert. 1919. “Erec’s Treatment of Enide.” Romanic Review. 10(1): 26-37.

Ogle, M. B. (Marbury Bladen). 1918. “The Sloth of Erec.” Romanic Review. 9(1): 1-20.

Raffel, Burton, trans. 1997. Chrétien de Troyes. Erec and Enide. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Ramey, Lynn Tarte. 1993. “Representations of women in Chrétien’s Erec et Enide: courtly literature or misogyny?” Romanic Review. 377-386.

Roques, Mario. 1955. Chrétien de Troyes. Les Romans … éd. d’après la copie de Guiot (Bibl. nat. r. 794). 1, 1. Paris: H. Champion.

Sheldon, E. S. (Edward Stevens). 1914. “Why Does Chrétien’s Erec Treat Enide so Harshly?” Romanic Review 5(2): 115-126.

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