Obilot in love with Gawan triumphed over her sister Obie

Gawan, an honored knight of King Arthur’s Round Table, approached the castle at Bearosche. The haughty young princess Obie disparagingly told her mother that Gawan looked like a merchant. Obie’s younger sister Obilot, only about seven years old, was wise beyond her years in love and respect for men. She reprimanded her older sister:

Sister, you should be ashamed of yourself!
He never earned a merchant’s name.
He has so lovely looks —
I want to have him as my knight!
May desire reward his love-service here, and
I’ll grant him that with affection.

{ swester, des mahtu dich schamen:
er gewan nie koufmannes namen.
er ist sô minneclîch getân,
ich wil in zeime ritter hân.
sîn dienst mac hie lônes gern:
des wil ich in durch liebe wern. }[1]

By not treating with affection King Meljanz of Liz, Obie had prompted extensive violence against men. A squire explained:

One day it came to the point
that the young king asked Obie
for her love in return for his service.
She cursed his sense,
asking him what he was thinking,
why he was so dispensing with sense.
She said to him, “If you were so old
that under your shield you
had spent many hours worthily
with helmet buckled to your head
facing arduous perils
in days numbering five years,
if you had won fame in such a way
and returned at my command,
were I then at last to say “yes,”
that would be too early
for me to grant you your desire.

{ eins tages gedêhez an die stat
daz si der junge künec bat
nâch sîme dienste mînne.
si verfluochte im sîne sinne,
unde vrâgte in wes er wânde,
war umb er sich sinnes ânde.
Si sprach hin zim “wært ir sô alt,
daz under schilde wære bezalt
in werdeclîchen stunden,
mit helm ûf houbt gebunden
gein herteclîchen vâren,
iwer tage in fünf jâren,
daz ir den prîs dâ het genomn,
und wært ir danne wider komn
ze mîm gebote gewesen dâ,
spræche ich denne alrêste jâ,
des iwer wille gerte,
alze fruo ich iuch gewerte.” }

Women should not encourage men to engage in violence against men. Men should not have to engage in dangerous quests to prove that they are worthy of women’s love. Men are intrinsically worthy of women’s love. Women should value highly loving men. The young girl Obilot rightly condemned her older sister’s behavior:

Boorishness has commanded still more of her.
Upon King Meljanz of Liz
she inflicted her arrogant behavior
when he asked her for love.
A curse upon such cold feelings!

{ unfuoge ir dennoch mêr gebôt:
geim künege Meljanz von Lîz
si kêrte ir hôchverte vlîz,
dô er si bat ir minne.
gunêrt sîn sölhe sinne! }

Obie actually loved Meljanz, but she was acting haughty and playing hard to love. Her folly prompted Meljanz in anger to declare war on her father. As always, women’s heartlessness leads to men’s deaths. Men’s lives should matter.

Women who lack compassion toward men are prone to domestic violence. In our benighted and gender-bigoted age, women are socially constructed as angels incapable of physical violence, unless of course they righteously seek to be media-lionized as professional football players or military commandos. When Obilot suggested that Gawan was a better knight than Meljanz, Obie violently attacked her:

And then the elder one began,
and hot with anger now was she:
“You, brat, you’ve the effrontery
and may it prove your downfall too,
to dare to scorn a young man so,
whom I have sought to praise,” cried she.
“Take this then for now, and see
you hold your tongue another time.”
And she slapped her cheek, meantime,
so all her fingers left a mark.

{ Et cele maintenant li vient
et dist con anflamee et chaude:
“Vos, garce, vos fustes si baude
que par vostre male avanture
osastes nule criature
blasmer que j’eüsse loee!
Si an tenez ceste joee
et vos an gardez autre foiz.”
Lors la fiert si que toz les doiz
li a enz el vis seelez }[2]

Women should not commit domestic violence against their sisters or against men. Persons sincerely concerned about gender equality should be particularly concerned about violence against men.

Even as a seven-year-old medieval girl, Obilot understood fundamentals of gender equality. Rejecting men’s traditional gender burden of soliciting amorous relationships, Obilot on her own initiative, like the great medieval woman hero Malgherita Spolatina, asked Gawan for his love:

As God knows full well,
you, lord, are the first man
with whom I have intimately conversed.
If my courtesy can be preserved,
and my sense of modesty as well,
I will profit in happiness,
for my governess told me
that speech is the mind’s clothing.
Sir, I plead with both you and me.
Acute pain teaches me to do so,
pain that I will name, if you so please.
If you think worse of me for that,
know that I have kept within proper limits,
for when I plead with you, I plead with myself.
You in truth are I,
although the names diverge.
You must posses my person’s name.
Be now both maiden and man.
I request that of both you and me.
If you let me, lord, depart from you
shamefully without reward,
your fame must answer to
to your courtesy
since I am a virgin seeking your favor.
If your pleasure, lord, is so inclined,
I will give you my love
with heartfelt affection.

{ got sich des wol versinnen kan:
hêrre, ir sît der êrste man
der ie mîn redegeselle wart:
ist mîn zuht dar an bewart,
und och mîn schamlîcher sin,
daz gît an freuden mir gewin:
wan mir mîn meisterin verjach,
diu rede wære des sinnes dach.
hêr, ich bit iwer unde mîn:
daz lêrt mich endehafter pîn.
den nenne ich iu, geruochet irs:
habt ir mich ihtes deste wirs,
ich var doch ûf der mâze pfat,
wande ich dâ ziu mîn selber bat.
ir sît mit der wârheit ich,
swie die namen teilen sich.
mîns lîbes namen sult ir hân:
nu sît maget unde man.
ich hân iwer und mîn gegert.
lât ir mich, hêrre, ungewert
nu schamlîche von iu gên,
dar umbe muoz ze rehte stên
iwer prîs vor iwer selbes zuht,
sît mîn magtuomlîchiu fluht
iwer genâde suochet.
ob ir des, hêrre, ruochet,
ich wil iu geben minne
mit herzenlîchem sinne. }[3]

Medieval Christianity taught the biblical unity of male and female persons in love. The seven-year-old Obilot requested that the famed knight Gawan unite with her person. That’s what love meant to Obilot, wise beyond her years. This bold girl didn’t simply present herself naked to the man she loved. She clothed her acute love pain for him with a sophisticated understanding of love.

Gawan had previously pledged to serve only another woman, the vicious, abusive Orgeluse. Obilot’s bold initiative and sophisticated understanding of love warmed Gawan’s heart. Nonetheless, he thought about one of his bodily interests as a man:

Yet supposing that my service and affection
would turn to your love,
before you could give love in return,
you must live for another five years.
That’s the count for your love season’s arrival.

{ doch lât mich dienst unde sinne
kêren gegen iwerre minne:
ê daz ir minne megt gegebn,
ir müezet fünf jar ê lebn:
deist iwerr minne zît ein zal. }

No pedophile, Gawan wasn’t going to have sex with a seven-year-old girl. Nor was he going to endure five years of sexless marriage, to say nothing of six. The five-year waiting period that Gawan proposed parallels the five years of violence that Obie said wouldn’t be enough for her beloved Meljanz. Obilot rewound Obie’s lack of loving generosity.

Men in fact are not dogs. While he wouldn’t seek bodily unity with Obilot for at least five years, Gawan embraced her understanding of unity in love:

He vowed to the little maiden
that he would fight for her.
He went on to say to her:
“Let my sword be in your hands.
If any knight desires to joust against me,
you must ride in that charge.
You must fight in my place.
People may see me in battle there,
but it must fall to you to fight for me.

{ dô lobter dem freuwelîn,
er wolde durch si wâpen tragen.
er begunde ir fürbaz mêre sagen
“in iwerre hende sî mîn swert.
ob iemen tjoste gein mir gert,
den poynder müezt ir rîten,
ir sult dâ für mich strîten.
man mac mich dâ in strîte sehn:
der muoz mînhalp von iu geschehn.” }

As a proto-meninist, Obilot wouldn’t support men-only military conscription. She would stand with her man and fight at her man’s side. She would strive to keep her man safe:

She said, “I fear little in doing that.
I am your protection and your shield,
and your heart and your solace,
now that you have redeemed me from doubt.
Guarding you against mishap,
I am your guide and your companion,
a roof against misfortune’s storm.
I am your easeful resting-place.
My love shall protect you,
give you good fortune in peril,
so that your courage will not fail,
even if only the castle-master remains alive.
I am castle-master and castle-mistress
and will be by your side in battle.
If you hold to this hope,
fortune and courage will not desert you.”

{ Si sprach “vil wênc mich des bevilt.
ich pin iur scherm und iwer schilt
und iwer herze und iwer trôst,
sît ir mich zwîvels hât erlôst.
ich pin für ungevelle
iwer geleite und iwer geselle,
für ungelückes schûr ein dach
bin ich iu senfteclîch gemach.
mîn minne sol iu fride bern,
gelückes vor der angest wern,
daz iwer ellen niht verbirt
irn wert iuch vaste unz an den wirt.
ich pin wirt und wirtîn
und wil in strîte bî iu sîn.
swenne ir des gedingen hât,
sælde und ellen iuch niht lât.” }

Gawan held her little hand between his big hands. That was a feudal gesture of his subservience to her. She generously refrained from rebuking him for that affront to gender equality. Intent on acquiring a suitable love-token to give to him to take into battle, she told him that she had to leave because she had important work to do. Gawan understood the importance of her work. He wasn’t offended by her abruptly leaving him.

Obilot went away with her playmate Clauditte. Clauditte was a generous young girl who supported Obilot’s love for Gawan. She sought to help her little friend:

She said, “Now tell me, my lady,
what do you have in mind to give him?
Since we have nothing but dolls,
if any one of mine is more beautiful,
give that one to him. I don’t mind.
There wouldn’t be any quarreling over that.”

{ diu sprach “nu saget mir, frouwe mîn,
wes habt ir im ze gebne wân?
sît daz wir niht wan tocken hân,
sîn die mîne iht schœner baz,
die gebt im âne mînen haz:
dâ wirt vil wênec nâch gestriten.” }

Obilot was a more sophisticated girl. She asked her father Prince Lyppaut for help. Obilot wanted to show her love for Gawan tangibly, and she didn’t know how:

If I have nothing to give him,
what use am I alive,
since he has offered me love-service?
Indeed I must blush for shame
if I have nothing to give him.
Never was a man so dear to a maiden!

{ hân ich im niht ze gebenne,
waz toug ich dan ze lebenne,
sît er mir dienst hât geboten?
sô muoz ich schämeliche roten,
ob ich im niht ze gebne hân.
nie magede wart sô liep ein man. }

Fathers typically do whatever they can to please their daughters. Her father went to Obilot’s mother, his wife, and asked for help. Mothers ruled medieval households.

Not at all existing merely as her husband’s chattel-property, Lyppaut’s duchess-wife apparently was independently wealthy and unafraid to express her own views. Lyppaut emphasized his love for Obilot in appealing to his wife:

Lyppaut went before the duchess,
along with Obilot his daughter.
He said, “Lady, give us both your aid.
My heart cried out for joy
when God gave me this girl-child
and removed my sorrow.”

{ Lyppaut gienc für die herzogîn,
unt Obylôt diu tohter sîn.
dô sprach er “frouwe, stiurt uns zwei.
mîn herze nâch freuden schrei,
dô mich got dirre magt beriet
und mich von ungemüete schiet.” }

Less expressive and more practical, Lyppaut’s wife responded:

What would you have of my property?

{ waz welt ir mînes guotes hân? }

Sumptuary laws have never been sustained historically because men like to give women fancy clothes. Lyppaut responded:

Lady, if you are willing to help us,
Obilot would like better clothes.
She’s thinks she’s worthy of them,
since such a worthy man desires her love
and offers her much love-service
and desires from her a love-token.

{ frouwe, sît irs uns bereit,
Obylôt wil bezzer kleit.
si dunket si’s mit wirde wert,
sît sô werder man ir minne gert
und er ir biutet dienstes vil
und ouch ir kleinœte wil. }

Well-connected to household gossip, the mother knew that her daughter Obilot was in love with Gawan. She praised Gawan’s male gaze: “His glance is truly like May’s gleam {sîn blic ist reht ein meien glast}!” She ordered for Obilot an outfit made from samite from the banks of the Tiber, furs from India, and silk woven with gold from the Caucasus. Obilot had Clauditte take to Gawan a sleeve from that dress. Gawan bowed again and again to Clauditte to express his delight. He pinned Obilot’s sleeve to his shield.

The next morning, Gawan fought strongly against the enemy besieging Obilot’s mother’s castle at Bearosche. Many men were killed:

All the worthy men who lost their lives
paid ignobly for Obie’s anger,
because her foolish arrogance
brought hardship to many.

{ swelch wert man dâ den lîp verlôs,
Obîen zorn unsanfte er kôs,
wande ir tumbiu lôsheit
vil liute brâht in arbeit. }

Joisting againt King Meljanz, Gawan speared him in the arm. In subsequently sword-fighting, Gawan forced Meljanz to surrender. That was only one of Gawan’s noted victories.[4]

Back at the castle that evening, Gawan asked to see Obilot. She was delighted to come to him:

He pressed the well-favored child
like a doll to his breast,
as loving inclination prompted him.

{ er dructez kint wol gevar
als ein tockn an sîne brust:
des twang in friwentlîch gelust. }

Gawan ordered King Meljanz to surrender to the seven-year-old girl Obilot:

“You must acknowledge that none
but her hand took you captive here,”
said the worthy Gawan.
“My fame she alone must possess.”

{ “ir sult si dâ für hân erkant,
iuch envienc hie niemen wan ir hant:”
sus sprach der werde Gâwân
“mînen prîs sol si al eine hân.” }

Husbands today commonly give all the credit for their achievements to their wives. That’s been a practice under gynocentrism going all the way back to classical Rome. Gawan explained to King Meljanz:

Your hand has surrendered to me.
Be free of that oath, grant it here instead.
The guarantor of all of my joys
sits here in my arms.
It’s her prisoner you must be!

{ iwer hant mir sicherheite jach:
der sît nu ledec, und gebt si her.
aller mîner freuden wer
sitzet an dem arme mîn:
ir gevangen sult ir sîn. }

Although a proto-meninist, Obilot didn’t insist that she and Gawan maintain separate credit accounts. She sought to promote love:

She commanded that Meljanz
his oath of surrender
that he had made to her hand
be transferred to her sister Obie.
“You must have her as your lover
so as to win knightly fame.
She must have you as her lord and lover
always and willingly.
I’ll except no excuse from either of you!”

{ Meljanze si dâ nâch gebôt
daz er sicherheit verjæhe,
diu in ir hant geschæhe,
ir swester Obîen.
“zeiner âmîen
sult ir si hân durch ritters prîs:
zeim hêrren und zeim âmîs
sol si iuch immer gerne hân.
ine wils iuch dwederhalp erlân.” }

Obilot thus reconciled Obie and Meljanz. Obie wept and kissed Meljanz’s arm where he had been wounded. They subsequently married.

Despite Obilot’s commendable actions as a strong, independent little girl, she wasn’t able eliminate the systemic structure of ongoing violence against men. In the fighting around her mother’s castle at Bearosche, Gawan or Meljanz could have been killed. Many other men were killed. Moreover, Gawan didn’t renounce fighting as a knight and take up gardening as he waited for Obilot to reach sexual maturity. Gawan instead departed to do more violence against men out of his foolish love for the vicious, abusive Orgeluse. What could Obilot do?

At this Obilot wept profusely,
saying, “Now take me away with you!”
But the young, sweet maiden’s wish
Gawan refused.
Her mother scarcely could tear her away from him.
Gawan said his farewells to all.

{ Obilôt des weinde vil:
si sprach “nu füert mich mit iu hin.”
dô wart der jungen süezen magt
diu bete von Gâwâne versagt:
ir muoters kûm von im gebrach.
urloup er dô zin allen sprach. }

One little girl cannot easily transform the world. Obilot at least saved her mother’s castle from siege and reconciled Obie and Meljanz. Yet to end violence against men and to promote respect and love for men, much work remains to be done.

Remember Obilot. Take Obilot away with you!

Gawan rides away with Orgeluse in Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival

* * * * *

Read more:

Notes:

[1] Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival 352.21-6 (Bk. 7), Middle High German text from Lachmann (1833 / 1891), English translation (modified) from Edwards (2004). For Parzival English translations freely available online, Kline (2020), Zeydel & Morgan (1951) (some passages omitted), and Weston (1894).

Subsequent quotes from Parzival are similarly sourced, unless otherwise noted. Those above are, cited by section.verse: 345.27-346.14 (One day it came to the point…), 353.18-22 (Boorishness has commanded…), 369.3-30 (As God knows full well…), 370.13-7 (Yet supposing that my service and affection…), 370.22-30 (He vowed to the little maiden…), 371.1-16 (She said, “I fear little in doing that….), 372.16-21 (She said, “Now tell me, my lady…), 373.21-6 (If I have nothing to give him…), 374.6-12 (Lyppaut went before the duchess…), 374.14 (What would you have of my property?), 374.15-20 (Lady, if you are willing to help us…), 374.24 (His glance is truly like May’s gleam!), 386.15-8 (All the worthy men who lost their lives…), 395.22-4 (He pressed the well-favored child…), 394.17-20 (You must acknowledge that none…), 395.26-30 (Your hand has surrendered to me…), 396.10-8 (She commanded that Meljanz…), 397.15-20 (At this Obilot wept profusely…).

[2] Chrétien de Troyes, Perceval (Percival) or the story of the Grail {Perceval ou le Conte du Graal} vv. 5010-19, Old French text (MS Paris, BnF, fr. 794) of Kunstmann (2009), English translation (modified) from Kline (2019). For a comparison of the Obilot / Obie stories in Chrétien de Troyes and Wolfram von Eschenbach, Morgan (1913) pp. 189-192.

[3] Gurnemanz, a knight and the Prince of Graharz, instructed the young Parzival:

Man and women are all one,
just like the sun that shone today
and the name that denotes day.
Neither of these may be separated from the other.
The blossom from a single seed.
Mark this with discernment.

{ man und wîp diu sint al ein;
als diu sunn diu hiute schein,
und ouch der name der heizet tac.
der enwederz sich gescheiden mac:
si blüent ûz eime kerne gar.
des nemet künsteclîche war. }

Parzival, 173.1-6 in Bk. 3. The seven-years-old Obilot knew that wisdom. On the wise young girl in medieval German literature, Hughes (2003). On the education of noble girls in Chrétien de Troyes, Polets (2008) Ch. 3.

[4] Obie taunted her sister Obilot when it appeared that Meljanz had outperformed Gawan in violence against men. Obilot responded:

He may well make amends.
I’m still confident that he’s courageous enough
to redeem himself from your scorn.
He shall render me service,
and I will increase his joy.
Since you say he is a merchant,
he shall market my reward.

{ er mac si’s wol erholn:
ich gib im noch gein ellen trôst,
daz er dîns spottes wirt erlôst.
er sol dienst gein mir kêren,
unde ich wil im freude mêren.
sît du gihst er sî ein koufman,
er sol mîns lônes market hân. }

Parzival, 358.8-14 in Bk. 7. Obilot surely didn’t intend to suggest that Gawan would market her sexually to others (prostitute her). As a proto-meninist, she probably didn’t truly support violence against men, either.

[image] Gawan rides away with Orgeluse. Illustration made in 1443-1446 in Diebold Lauber’s workshop in Hagenau near the German border of present-day France. Detail from folio 449v in Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 339 (part 1, part 2).

References:

Edwards, Cyril W., trans. 2004. Wolfram von Eschenbach. Parzival and Titurel. Oxford World’s Classics (2006 edition). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Hughes, Jolyon Timothy. 2003. “Wîse Maget.” Quidditas. 24 (5): 55-83.

Kline, A. S., trans. 2019. Chrétien de Troyes. Perceval (Or The Story of the Grail). Poetry in Translation. Online.

Kline, A. S., trans. 2020. Wolfram von Eschenbach. Parzival. Poetry in Translation. Online.

Kunstmann, Pierre. 2009. Chrétien de Troyes. Conte du Graal (Perceval). Ottawa, Canada: Université d’Ottawa, Laboratoire de Français Ancien. Publié en ligne par l’ENS de Lyon dans la Base de français médiéval, dernière révision le 2020-03-01. Alternate presentation.

Lachmann, Karl, ed. 1833. Wolfram von Eschenbach. Lieder, Parzival, Titurel, Willehalm. Berlin: G. Reimer. 5th edition (1891); alternate presentation.

Morgan, Bayard Quincy. 1913. “Some Women in Parzival.” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology. 12 (2): 175-198.

Polets, Iryna. 2008. Constructing the Ideal of Noble Youth: Chrétien de Troyes and His Influences on Thirteenth Century Educational Literature. MA Thesis in Medeival Studies. Central European University, Budapest, Hungary.

Weston, Jessie L., trans. 1894. Wolfram von Eschenbach. Parzival: A Knightly Epic. 2 vol. London: D. Nutt. Vol. 1. Vol. 2.

Zeydel, Edwin H., with Bayard Quincy Morgan, trans. 1951. The Parzival of Wolfram von Eschenbach: Translated into English Verse with Introduction, Notes, Connecting Summaries. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Alternate online presentation.

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