Bene versus Orgeluse: Gawan preferred abuse and pain in love

The ferryman Plippalinot told his daughter Bene to serve well their honored guest, the battle-weary Gawan. She led him to a bedroom and helped him to take off his armor. He thanked the sweet young woman for serving him as her father had commanded. She responded:

For your favor,
sir, I serve you more
than for any other reason.

{ ich diene iu mêre,
hêr, nâch iweren hulden
dan von andern schulden. }[1]

In medieval courtly culture, men were socially constructed as feudal serfs in relation to women. Bene, in contrast, transgressively and warmly engaged in love-service for Gawan.

Bene and Gawan expressed their willingness to do anything for each other. Gawan asked her to remain with him for his meal before sleeping. She asked him to send to her mother one of the three crested larks he was eating. He did so:

He said to the well-favored maiden
that he would do gladly as she wished,
be it in this or any other request.

{ er sprach zer meide wol gevar,
daz er gern ir willen tæte
dar an ode swes si bæte. }

After that sumptuous bedroom meal, the evening lengthened into night:

Gawan all alone, I am told,
remained there with the maiden.
If he had asked anything of her,
I believe she would have granted it to him.
He must indeed sleep, if he can.

{ Gâwân al eine, ist mir gesagt,
beleip aldâ, mit im diu magt.
het er iht hin zir gegert,
ich wæn si hetes in gewert.
er sol ouch slâfen, ob er mac. }

Gawan slept that night under Bene’s cloak. She had given it to him to help keep him warm.

Embraced by the maiden’s cloak, Gawan slept into the early morning. Wolfram von Eschenbach marveled at Bene’s womanly courage early that morning:

The maiden did not neglect her service.
On the carpet before Gawan’s bed sat
that lustrous young woman.
As for me, I seldom see, neither
in the evening nor early in the morning,
such an adventure creeping to my side.

{ Diu magt ir diens niht vergaz:
fürz bette ûfen teppech saz
diu clâre juncfrouwe.
bî mir ich selten schouwe
daz mir âbents oder fruo
sölch âventiure slîche zuo. }

Gawan was still asleep. When he awoke, he saw Bene sitting next to him. He thanked her for her service and said that he was undeserving of her favor. She responded:

I want none of your service.
I don’t desire anything but your favor.
Lord, command me.
Whatever you command, I will undertake.

{ iwers diens wil ich enbern:
ich ensol niwan hulde gern.
hêrre, gebietet über mich:
swaz ir gebiet, daz leist ich. }

The greatest commandment in Christian understanding is to love.[2] Parzival had failed to inquire compassionately about the suffering of the castrated Grail King Anfortas. Renowned as a lover, Gawan inquired to Bene about love. He inquired about the many lovely ladies glumly sitting high above him in the great hall of the “Castle of Marvels {Schastel Marveile}.” That’s not what lovely Bene wanted to hear. She begged him not to ask such questions, for they would lead him to grief. She wept in fear for him. Her loving concern for Gawan was real and right.

Love often entails forgiveness. Bene’s father Plippalinot was willing to grant Gawan extraordinary forgiveness:

It was still very early in the morning
when into the bedroom came Bene’s father.
He would not have been at all annoyed
if his well-favored maiden
had been forced to do anything there,
or if any wrestling had taken place.
She acted as if something such had happened,
that maiden rich in courtesy,
for she was sitting close to the bed.
Her father had no objection.
He said to her, “Daughter, don’t weep.
if something like this happens in jest,
if at first it provokes anger,
it is soon forgiven afterwards.”

{ dennoch was ez harte fruo:
innen des gienc ir vater zuo.
der liezez âne zürnen gar,
ob diu maget wol gevar
ihts dâ wære betwungen,
und ob dâ was gerungen:
dem gebârt se gelîche,
diu maget zühte rîche,
wand si dem bette nâhe saz.
daz liez ir vater âne haz.
dô sprach er “tohter, wein et niht.
swaz in schimpfe alsus geschiht,
ob daz von êrste bringet zorn,
der ist schier dâ nâch verkorn.” }

Those are outrageous words. Men historically have been castrated for consensual but illicit sexual affairs. Even a false accusation of rape would put a man in serious danger. Gawan quickly attempted to clarify the situation:

Gawan said, “Nothing’s happened here,
except what we would gladly tell you.
I put a few questions to this maiden.
She thought that boded ill for me
and asked me to desist.”

{ Gâwân sprach “hiest niht geschehn,
wan des wir vor iu wellen jehn.
ich vrâgte dise magt ein teil:
daz dûhte si mîn unheil,
und bat mich daz ichz lieze.” }

He asked, and when she said stop, he stopped.[3] Gawan then started asking her father about the maidens in the great hall. Anticipating Gawan’s response, as Bene had, Plippalinot reluctantly explained that they were damsels in distress. Gawan resolved to rescue those damsels in distress with much pain to himself. As Gawan armed and left, Bene lamented greatly Gawan’s foolish chivalry.[4]

Disappointing the warmly receptive and generous young Bene, Gawan loved the viciously abusive and selfishly manipulative Orgeluse. One day Gawan saw her sitting outside the Schastel Marveile:

Gawan offered her his greeting.
He said, “If I may dismount
by your good favor, lady,
if I see you disposed to accept my company,
great grief will desert me,
leaving me in joy.
Never would a knight be so happy.
May I be destined to die
if ever a woman pleased me better.

{ Gâwân bôt ir sînen gruoz.
er sprach “ob ich erbeizen muoz
mit iweren hulden, frouwe,
ob ich iuch des willen schouwe
daz ir mich gerne bî iu hât,
grôz riwe mich bî freuden lât:
sone wart nie rîter mêr sô frô.
mîn lîp muoz ersterben sô
daz mir nimmer wîp gevellet baz.” }[5]

Orgeluse, with a name derived from the Old French word for “proud,” disparaged Gawan for extravagantly praising her:

You are in the presence of my heart,
but far outside it, not within.
If you desire my love,
how have you earned love from me?
Many a man hurls his eyes
such that he might project them
with a gentler trajectory on a catapult,
if he were to avoid such looking
as wounds his heart.
Let your feeble desire trundle
in search of other love than mine.
If your hand serves for love,
if such adventure has sent you in
search of chivalrous deeds for love,
you will obtain no such reward from me.
Indeed you may well win disgrace here,
if I am to tell you the truth.

{ ir sît mînem herzen bî,
verre ûzerhalp, niht drinne.
gert ir mîner minne,
Wie habt ir minne an mich erholt?
maneger sîniu ougen bolt,
er möhts ûf einer slingen
ze senfterm wurfe bringen,
ob er sehen niht vermîdet
daz im sîn herze snîdet.
lât walzen iwer kranken gir
ûf ander minne dan ze mir.
dient nâch minne iwer hant,
hât iuch âventiure gesant
nâch minne ûf rîterlîche tât,
des lônes ir an mir niht hât:
ir mugt wol laster hie bejagn,
muoz ich iu die wârheit sagn. }

Men should not have to earn women’s love. Men are intrinsically worthy of women’s love. Gawan should have gotten back on his horse and left without saying another word to the haughty, ogre-like Orgeluse.

Gawan lacked self-respect in relation to beautiful women. He told Orgeluse that she had taken him prisoner by her looks. He put himself at her mercy. He declared himself unworthy of freely given love:

What man can have love unearned?
If I may say so to you,
such a man carries it off with sin.
If a man hastens after worthy love,
he must serve, both before and after.

{ wer mac minne ungedienet hân?
muoz ich iu daz künden,
der treit si hin mit sünden.
swem ist ze werder minne gâch,
dâ hœret dienst vor unde nâch. }

Bene would have loved Gawan without he offering her any service other than his love. The idea that men must earn women’s love is a plague causing enormous damage to society. Everyone has responsibility for ending that plague. Women and men must insist on men’s entitlement to love as human beings.[6]

Gawan instead allowed Orgeluse to use him and abuse him. She told him to go fetch her horse. When Gawan returned with her horse, she chided him, “Welcome back, you goose {west willekomn, ir gans}!” Gawan offered to help her get onto her horse. She refused to allow Gawan to touch her. She refused even to touch the reigns where Gawan had touched them, as if he spread toxin through his masculinity. When Orgeluse and her squire scornfully addressed Gawan, he beat the squire for both the squire’s and Orgeluse’s offenses. After Orgeluse had led Gawan into a dangerous duel with the fearsome knight Lischoys Gwelljus, Gawan declared:

She who has commanded this hardship of me —
she knows well how to turn sweetness sour
and make a man’s heart rare in joy
and very rich in sorrow.

{ diu mir diz ungemach gebôt,
diu kan wol süeze siuren
unt dem herzen freude tiuren
unt der sorgen machen rîche }

If a woman commands a man unjustly to endure a hardship, he should just say no. If she makes him rare in joy and rich in sorrow, he should have as little to do with her as possible. These are elementary lessons that men-abasing culture doesn’t teach men.

Gawan entered Orgeluse’s Schastel Marveile to save the damsels in distress. He walked into a chamber and saw the “Bed of Marvels {Lit Marveile}.” The floor was slippery and the bed was moving around the room. Gawan leaped onto it. The bed then repeatedly charged into the walls of the room. Gawan pulled his shield over himself and remained in the bed. How much more comfortable Gawan must have been sleeping under Bene’s cloak!

The bed eventually stopped in the middle of room. Then five hundred slings hurled stones at Gawan. After that, five hundred crossbows fired bolts at him. Gawan was grievously wounded. Then a huge lion charged at him. After a brutal fight, Gawan drove his sword deeply into the lion’s chest. The bedroom floor was covered in blood. Gawan collapsed onto the lion’s carcass. Lit Marveile represented the torments of Orgeluse’s relationship with Gawan.

Gawan wounded in bed; Arnive and maiden care for him

Damsels imprisoned in the Schastel Marveile nursed Gawan back to health. They regarded him as a hero for having endured the Lit Marveile. No other man had been able to do so. Why would any man want to do so? While caring, compassionate women tended his wounds, Gawan longed for the vicious, abusive Orgeluse.

Gawan saw within a lustrous pillar in the Schastel Marveile Orgeluse coming to the castle with the mighty knight Turkoyte. Although still suffering from his wounds, Gawan insisted on fighting Turkoyte. Gawan in the joust somehow managed to knock Turkoyte off his horse and gain his surrender. The ladies watching from the great hall were impressed with Gawan’s prowess. Orgeluse, full of malice, wasn’t:

For the present you doubtless
would like to flee hardship.
Take that! I tweak your nose.
Ride back up to the ladies.
Would you dare to behold
such a battle as I would procure,
if your heart desired
to serve me for love?

{ an disen zîten ungemach
muget ir gerne vliehen:
lât iu den vinger ziehen.
rîtet wider ûf zen frouwen.
wie getörstet ir geschouwen
strît, den ich werben solde,
ob iwer herze wolde
mir dienen nâch minne. }

Gawan grovelled to please Orgeluse:

Lady, if I have wounds,
they have found help here.
If it is suitable for your help
to deign to accept my service,
then never was such a harsh peril known
that I shall not face it to serve you.

{ frouwe, hân ich wunden,
die hânt hie helfe funden.
ob iwer helfe kan gezemn
daz ir mîn dienst ruochet nemn,
sô wart nie nôt sô hert erkant,
ine sî ze dienste iu dar benant. }

Men’s wounds should matter. But Gawan’s wounds didn’t matter to Orgeluse. She ordered him to cross “The Perilous Ford {Li Gweiz Prelljus}” and bring back to her a garland from a tree that King Gramoflanz protected. She was setting him up to do battle with Gramoflanz.

Gawan jousting with Turkoyte in Parzival

Orgeluse was closely associated with castration culture. Gramoflanz had killed Orgeluse’s first husband Cidegast, the Duke of Logroys. Orgeluse then directed the Grail King Anfortas to kill Gramoflanz for love of her. Anfortas, however, suffered a debilitating genital wound in another battle. Orgeluse then abandoned him as a potential lover. She lived as the lady of the Schastel Marveile. The lord of that castle, the castrated knight Clinschor, kept lovely young ladies imprisoned there away from their men. Wise men avoid women closely associated with castration culture.

Gawan was a chivalrous fool. After enduring much abuse from Orgeluse, he finally said to her:

You must never again offer such dishonor
to any knight inspired
by your radiant complexion.
If your scorn were to be my fate,
I’d rather be without love.

{ ir sult durch iwer varwe glanz
neheime rîter mêre
erbieten solh unêre
solt iwer spot wesen mîn,
ich wolt ê âne minne sîn. }

Then Gawan agreed to marry Orgeluse. He was never sane. Gawan was willing to suffer egregious wounds for no good reason.[7]

Too many women and men today have as cultural role models Orgeluse and Gawan. Why must an Obilot grow up to be an Orgeluse? Bene and the knight-husband in the eighth-century Bilauhar and Budasaf show a more humane, loving way to live. In our cold and lonely age, we must thus strive to imagine better.

* * * * *

Read more:

Notes:

[1] Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival 549.20-2 in Bk. 10, 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). The character of Bene is original to Wolfram. She doesn’t exist in Chrétien de Troyes’s earlier Perceval. Gawan (Gawain) is an eminent lover-knight of King Arthur’s court.

Subsequent quotes from Parzival are similarly sourced, unless otherwise noted. Those above are, cited by section.verse, 551.12-4 in Bk. 10 (He said to the well-favored maiden…), 552.25-9 in Bk. 10 (Gawan all alone, I am told…), 554.1-6 in Bk. 11 (The maiden did not neglect her service…), 554.15-8 in Bk. 11 (I want none of your service…), 555.17-30 in Bk. 11 (It was still very early in the morning…), 556.1-5 in Bk. 11 (Gawan said, “Nothing’s happened here…), 509.1-9 in Bk. 10 (Gawan offered her his greeting…), 509.28-30, 510.1-14 in Bk. 10 (You are in the presence of my heart…), 511.12-6 in Bk. 10 (What man can have love unearned?…), 515.13 in Bk. 10 (Welcome back, you goose!), 511.12-6 in Bk. 10 (She who has commanded this hardship of me…), 599.6-13 in Bk. 12 (For the present you doubtless…), 599.15-20 in Bk. 12 (Lady, if I have wounds…), 612.16-20 in Bk. 12 (You must never again offer such dishonor…).

[2] Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:28-31.

[3] In a scholarly article entitled, “A Little Acknowledged Theme in the Courtly Romance: Rape,” Meister concluded:

Minnedienst — winning a lady’s love by submitting entirely to her will — is the acknowledged key to the Arthurian romance. In Wolfram’s Parzival and Hartmann’s Erec, this melody in the treble clef is usually accompanied by unacknowledged discord in the bass: rape — winning a lady’s love {sic} by forcing her to submit to the knight’s will. The plots in other examples of the genre may well be similarly out of tune.

Meister (1991) p. 34. In Parcival, Urjans, Prince of Punturtoys, is explicitly charged with rape before the court of King Arthur and nearly executed for that serious offense. Westphal-Wihl concludes her analysis of the trial of Urjans for rape with the statement, “sexual assault harms all women as members of a gendered collectivity.” Westphal-Wihl (2010) p. 101. Sexual assault on men has probably been historically equally or more prevalent than sexual assault on women. Nonetheless, just as for violence against men generally, scholars silently normalize victimization of men. On rape in medieval scholarship, see note 2 in my post on Lancelot as tool for the amorous girl’s fantasy. Here’s data on the statistical incidence of women raping men in the U.S.

The key to Arthurian romance, “Minnedienst — winning a lady’s love by submitting entirely to her will,” is a central aspect of medieval gynocentrism. Despite all the evidence, scholars are reluctant to acknowledge medieval gynocentrism. Moreover, minnedienst is grossly discordant with ideals of gender equality. Too many modern scholars seem deaf to that discord. They are more foolish than Ulrich von Liechtenstein.

[4] Gawan’s failure to receive generously Bene’s love has been interpreted moralistically / romantically. According to one scholar, that action shows “the importance of Gawan’s attachment to his future wife {Orgeluse}.” Greenfield (1999) p. 146. Gawan at that point didn’t know that Orgeluse would become his wife. More importantly, Gawan would have enjoyed better love if he had attached himself to Bene rather than to Orgeluse.

[5] Orgeluse was the Duchess of Logroys. She was the widow of Cidegast, the Duke of Logroys. Here’s some analysis of Orgeluse in relation to myth. Smith (ND) is a rare work that states the obvious: Orgeluse is an “abusive woman” and “relentlessly abusive of her adoring suitor.”

[6] Clifton-Everest argued that Parzival and Gawan in Wolfram’s Parzival “are closely bound by the reciprocal themes of knightly service and rape.” He defined knightly service as the opposite of rape, where rape is men receiving anything unearned:

it {rape} includes the ample instances in the text of violence used against ladies with sexual intent, but is not limited to them. In fact it denotes the seizure or attempted seizure of anything at all without service. It is in this sense that the two terms {knightly service and rape} may be understood as virtual opposites.

Clifton-Everest (1990) pp. 290-1. This categorization conceptually forces men into self-abasing knightly service to women and ignores women raping men.

[7] Drawing upon deeply entrenched anti-meninism, medieval scholarship has lamented “the male-female dichotomy” without acknowledging the oppressive gender position of men under gynocentrism. Consider such a scholarly declaration:

the male-female dichotomy may be seen as an archetypal representation of the very basis of society, whose history is that of opposites and adversarial relationships: good and bad, joy and sorrow, peace and war, and, perhaps most unfortunately, male and female. The dichotomy between man and woman, manifesting itself not simply in biological differences, but also in a theologically-rooted hierarchy, was established early in Christian tradition and, despite notable exceptions, readily adopted by the predominating patriarchal societies.

McConnell (1992) p. 28. Such ideology obscures that Orgeluse was a vicious, abusive woman. It also more generally obscures gender injustices against men:

Nonetheless, without Gawan’s liberation of the women (and men) of Schastel marveile, the reintegration of the feminine element within courtly society could scarcely have taken place. At the conclusion of Parzival, the accent is on union and reunion, wholeness, the reconciliation of opposites, and of paramount significance in this regard is the reintegration of the feminine element into society as underscored by both the individual marriages and the collective return of the prisoners of Clinschor’s castle.

Id. 37. At the end of Parzival, Gawan is enchained as husband to the abusive Orgeluse. Moreover, men-abasing courtly love, violence against men, and castration culture continue without serious questioning.

[images] (1) Gawan lies in bed gravely wounded from his ordeal on the “Bed of Marvels {Lit Marveile}.” Queen Arnive and a maiden tend to him. Manuscript illumination for Parzival. Painting made in 1443-1446 in Diebold Lauber’s workshop in Hagenau near the German border of present-day France. Detail from folio 425v in Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 339 (part 1, part 2). (2) Gawan knocking Turkoyte off his horse in a joust. Manuscript illumination for Parzival. Detail from folio 436r similarly in Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 339.

References:

Clifton-Everest, John M. 1990. “Knights-Servitor and Rapist Knights. A Contribution to the Parzival / Gawan Question.” Zeitschrift Für Deutsches Altertum Und Deutsche Literatur. 119 (3): 290-317.

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

Greenfield, John. 1999. “Gawan’s Token of Loyalty: the Gawan – Bene Relationship in Wolfram’s Parzival.” Estudos – Studien – Studies. 1: 141-148.

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

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

McConnell, Winder. 1992. “The Denial of the Anima in Parzival.” Quondam Et Futurus. 2 (2): 28-40.

Meister, Peter. 1991. “A Little Acknowledged Theme in the Courtly Romance: Rape.” Quondam Et Futurus. 1 (4): 23-35.

Smith, Lans. ND. “Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival: Gawain and Orgeluse.” JungPlatform. Online.

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

Westphal-Wihl, Sarah. 2010. “Orgeluse and the Trial for Rape at the Court of King Arthur: Parzival 521, 19 to 529, 16.” Arthuriana. 20 (3): 81-109.

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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