Antikonie fiercely defended Gawan, falsely accused of raping her

The knight Gawan journeyed to Schampfanzun to defend himself against a false accusation of treacherously killing King Kingrisun of Ascalun. Kingrisun’s brother Kingrimursel had challenged Gawan to meet him there for judicial combat. That was a medieval practice of administering justice.

With his company of five hundred knights, the new king of Ascalun, Kingrisun’s son Vergulaht, met Gawan near Schampfanzun. Vergulaht told Gawan:

Sir, you can see before you Schampfanzun.
Up in that castle there resides my sister, a maiden.
Of all that persons have spoken of beauty,
she has a full share.
Look on it as truly good fortune then,
that she must take it upon herself
to attend you until I arrive.
I’ll be with you more quickly than I ought —
indeed you won’t mind at all waiting for me,
once you have seen my sister.
You wouldn’t object, if I were to take even longer!

{ hêrre, ir seht wol Schamfanzûn.
dâ ist mîn swester ûf, ein magt:
swaz munt von schœne hât gesagt,
des hât si volleclîchen teil.
welt irz iu prüeven für ein heil,
deiswâr sô muoz si sich bewegen
daz se iwer unz an mich sol pflegen.
ich kum iu schierre denn ich sol:
ouch erbeit ir mîn vil wol,
gesehet ir die swester mîn:
irn ruocht, wolt ich noch lenger sîn. }

In addition to being an eminent knight of King Arthur’s Round Table, Gawan was also renowned as a lover of women. Vergulaht’s sister was the beautiful young queen Antikonie. Vergulaht’s words thus promised Gawan a beautiful woman’s warm reception.

King Vergulaht inviting Gawan to enjoy his sister Antikonie's hospitality in the castle at Schampfanzun

A knight escorted Gawan to Queen Antikonie. She encouraged Gawan to be intimate with her:

Sir, come closer to me.
You are my courtesy’s mentor.
Now command and instruct.
If time is to pass pleasantly for you,
that must depend upon your command.
Since my brother has to me
so warmly commended you,
I’ll kiss you, if a kiss is in order.
Now command, according to your standards,
what I am to do or omit to do.

{ hêr, gêt nâher mir.
mîner zühte meister daz sît ir:
nu gebietet unde lêret.
wirt iu kurzewîle gemêret,
daz muoz an iwerm gebote sîn.
sît daz iuch der bruoder mîn
mir bevolhen hât sô wol,
ich küsse iuch, ob ich küssen sol.
nu gebiet nâch iweren mâzen
mîn tuon odr mîn lâzen. }

Antikonie’s words “what I am to do or omit to do” echo the Christian liturgical confession of sin. Here her words might have anticipated sexual sin:

Gawan said, “Lady, your mouth
is so kissably shaped
that I must have your kiss in greeting!”
Her mouth was hot, full, and red.
To it Gawan offered his own.
There ensued an unstrangerly kiss.

{ Gâwân sprach “frouwe, iwer muont
ist sô küssenlîch getân,
ich sol iweren kus mit gruoze hân.”
ir munt was heiz, dick unde rôt,
dar an Gâwân den sînen bôt.
da ergienc ein kus ungastlîch. }

Gawan eagerly sought to proceed further along the medieval stages of love. Antikonie courteously demurred:

Sir, if you are discerning in other respects,
this may seem to you sufficient.
I’ve offered to you, at my brother’s request,
more than Ampflise ever offered
to Gahmuret, my uncle,
other than sleeping with him. My loyalty
would ultimately weigh heavier by much,
if anyone were to weigh these relations accurately,
for I don’t know, sir, who you are!
Yet in such a short time
you wish to have my love.

{ Hêrre, sît ir anders kluoc,
sô mages dunken iuch genuoc.
ich erbiutz iu durch mîns bruoder bete,
daz ez Ampflîse Gamurete
mînem œheim nie baz erbôt;
âne bî ligen. mîn triwe ein lôt
an dem orte fürbaz wæge,
der uns wegens ze rehte pflæge:
und enweiz doch, hêrre, wer ir sît;
doch ir an sô kurzer zît
welt mîne minne hân. }

Gawan point out that he was a nephew of Queen Guinevere, wife of King Arthur. Gawan urged Antikonie not to restrain herself with the false belief that he was a low-born man.

Gawan holds Queen Antikonie's hand and urges her toward him

Antikonie and Gawan then enjoyed more wine. After all the serving-women had left the chamber, Gawan caressed Antikonie’s vagina under her dress:

With that his distress was magnified.
Love brought such extremity
upon the maiden and the man,
that something nearly happened there,
if evil eyes hadn’t espied it.
They were both ready and willing!
Now see, their hearts’ sorrow draws near.

{ des wart gemêret sîn pîn.
von der liebe alsölhe nôt gewan
beidiu magt und ouch der man,
daz dâ nâch was ein dinc geschehen,
hetenz übel ougen niht ersehen.
des willn si bêde wârn bereit:
nu seht, dô nâht ir herzeleit. }

Men typically adore women’s vaginas, which poetic literature has historically figured as flowers. Antikonie apparently appreciated Gawan’s appreciation for her sexuality.

But then a white knight turned Antikonie and Gawan’s pleasure into sorrow. The white knight burst into the room and cried out to the men of the castle, “To arms!” He repeatedly shouted at Gawan:

Ugh and alas
for my lord whom you killed!
And as if that weren’t crime enough,
you’re also raping his daughter here!

{ ôwê unde heiâ hei
mîns hêrren den ir sluoget,
daz iuch des niht genuoget,
irn nôtzogt och sîn tohter hie. }

Neither of those extremely serious charges were true.

Men are violently attacked with little care for truth and justice. Gawan turned to Antikonie for advice in this dire situation:

Gawan said to the young woman,
“Lady, now give me your counsel.
Neither of us has much here for defense.
If only I had my sword!” he said.
The noble young woman said in reply,
“We must retreat to defend ourselves.
Let’s flee up to that tower there.
It stands close by my chamber.
With luck we might get away!”

{ Gâwân zer juncfrouwen sprach
“frowe, nu gebet iweren rât:
unser dwederz niht vil wer hie hât.”
er sprach “wan het ich doch mîn swert!”
dô sprach diu juncfrouwe wert
“wir sulen ze wer uns ziehen,
ûf jenen turn dort fliehen,
der bî mîner kemenâten stêt.
genædeclîchez lîhte ergêt.” }

In medieval Europe, true-hearted women heroically defended men falsely accused of rape. Those women were strong, independent women who loved men. Men’s lives mattered to them.

Knights, merchants, and rabble from the town assailed Gawan. Antikonie stood with her beleaguered man. She tried to reason with the mob seeking to kill Gawan for allegedly raping her:

She repeatedly appealed to the people to desist,
but they were making such a hubbub and racket
that none of them took any notice of her.

{ si bat siz dicke mîden:
ir kradem unde ir dôz was sô
daz ez ir keiner marcte dô. }

Antikonie went to the top of the tower. Gawan defended the door below.

The battle raged — woman and man against a vicious, benighted mob. Gawan pulled the bolt out of the tower door and used it a weapon against the attacking men. Up above, Antikonie found a stone chess set with a beautiful, stone-inlaid chessboard. She brought the chessboard to Gawan to use as a shield. She herself went back up to the top of the tower and fought strongly:

Heedless of whether it were king or rook,
she hurled it against the enemy.
The chess pieces were big and heavy.
The tale they tell of her says that,
whomever there her throw hit,
he tumbled down without regard to his will.
The mighty queen fought
there like a good knight,
making a good show of defense alongside Gawan.
The peddler-women of Dollnstein
never fought better at Shovetide,
for they act out of ribaldry
and exert themselves
without it being forced upon them.

{ ez wære künec oder roch,
daz warf si gein den vînden doch:
ez was grôz und swære.
man sagt von ir diu mære,
Swen dâ erreichte ir wurfes swanc,
der strûchte âne sînen danc.
diu küneginne rîche
streit dâ ritterlîche,
bî Gâwân si werlîche schein,
daz diu koufwîp ze Tolenstein
an der vasnaht nie baz gestriten:
wan si tuontz von gampelsiten
unde müent ân nôt ir lîp. }

Antikonie’s amorous affection for Gawan was constant and loyal even amid ferocious battle. He looked upon her with admiration and sexual desire. She inspired his courage in battle:

Gawan weighed his enemies’ hostility
very lightly whenever he looked upon the maiden.
In consequence many of his foes lost their lives.

{ Gâwânen wac vil ringe
vînde haz, swenn er die magt erkôs;
dâ von ir vil den lîp verlôs. }

Men’s deaths are always regrettable. Literature throughout history narrates the killing of many more men than women. With her wonderful love for men, Antikonie didn’t seek men’s deaths. She wept in battle grievously while killing men. She had to kill men because they sought to kill her beloved Gawan.

12th-century chess pieces

Then King Vergulaht arrived. Would the King insist on due process for the unjustly beleaguered Gawan? Would the King fight by his sister’s side as she defended her beloved? Medieval romance isn’t that unrealistic. King Vergulaht ordered his men to join in the attack on the alleged rapist Gawan and the alleged rape victim Antikonie.

Then Kingrimursel arrived. He had vowed safe passage to Gawan to go to Schampfanzun for their judicial combat. Kingrimursel deeply regretted the violation of his vow. Joining the battle on Gawan side, he drove attackers away from the tower. Vergulaht then ordered the tower to be demolished. His sister Antikonie and his guest Gawan were inside the tower. They would likely die if it were demolished. In solidarity with them, Kingrimursel called out to Gawan:

Warrior, grant me safe conduct to join you in there.
I desire to share companionable distress
with you in this extremity.
Either the king must strike me dead,
or else I will save your life!

{ helt, gib mir vride zuo dir dar în.
ich wil geselleclîchen pîn
mit dir hân in dirre nôt.
mich muoz der künec slahen tôt,
odr ich behalde dir dîn lebn. }

Gawan granted safe conduct to the man he had promised to fight. Kingrimursel thus joined Antikonie and Gawan in the besieged tower.

The besiegers faltered. Kingrimursel was their respected burgrave (military governor). He was King Vergulaht’s cousin. The people cried out to Vergulaht for a truce:

Worldly fame will pour scorn upon
you, if you slay your guest.
You will heap shame’s load upon yourself.
Moreover, the other man is your own
kinsman. Against his safe-conduct
you raise this quarrel. You must desist.
You will be reviled for this!
Now grant us a truce
for as long as this day lasts.
Let the truce hold for this night too.
What you then decide
will still stand entirely in your hands,
whether you be praised or disgraced.

{ werltlîch prîs iu sînen haz
teilt, erslaht ir iwern gast:
ir ladet ûf iuch der schanden last.
sô ist der ander iwer mâc,
in des geleite ir disen bâc
hebt. daz sult ir lâzen:
ir sît dervon verwâzen.
nu gebt uns einen vride her,
die wîl daz dirre tac gewer:
der vride sî och dise naht.
wes ir iuch drumbe habt bedâht,
daz stêt dannoch ziwerre hant,
ir sît geprîset odr geschant. }

Concerned about the disgrace of killing his sister and his cousin, King Vergulaht declared a truce.

Antikonie chastised her brother for his unchivalrous behavior. In the presence of the people of the castle, Antikonie declared:

Whatever compensation you are now seen to make,
you have nonetheless acted wrongly towards me,
if womanly fame is to be accorded its rights.
I have always heard that, whenever it happened
that a man sought refuge in a woman’s protection,
courageous pursuit ought to
flinch from fighting with him,
if manly courtesy were present there.
Sir Vergulaht, your guest’s refuge,
which he sought with me in the face of death,
will yet teach your fame the extremity of disgrace.

{ swâ man iuch nu bî wandel siht,
ir habt doch an mir missetân,
ob wîplîch prîs sîn reht sol hân.
Ich hôrt ie sagen, swa ez sô gezôch
daz man gein wîbes scherme vlôch,
dâ solt ellenthaftez jagen
an sîme strîte gar verzagen,
op dâ wære manlîch zuht.
hêr Vergulaht, iurs gastes vluht,
dier gein mir tet für den tôt,
lêrt iwern prîs noch lasters nôt. }

Antikonie, Vergulaht’s sister, the alleged victim of Gawan’s rape, so shamed Vergulaht. Moreover, Vergulaht’s cousin Kingrimursel also accused Vergulaht of bringing disgrace in seeking to kill Gawan, the guest that Kingrimursel was going to seek to kill in judicial combat because Gawan had been falsely accused of wrongfully killing Vergulaht’s father, who was also Kingrimursel’s brother. What a mess!

While the King gathered his counsel to consider this complex matter of justice, Antikonie attended to Gawan:

Without any misdemeanor
she took Gawan by the hand
and led him to where she wished to be.
She said to him, “If you had not survived,
all lands would have lost by it!”
And with the queen hand in hand
walked the noble son of Lot, Gawan.
He had good reason to be delighted.

{ ân alle missewende
nam si Gâwânn mit ir hende
unt fuort in dâ si wolte wesn.
si sprach zim “wært ir niht genesn,
des heten schaden elliu lant.”
an der küneginne hant
gienc des werden Lôtes suon:
er mohtz och dô vil gerne tuon. }

Antikonie and Gawan remained together in a chamber at least until night came. Then Antikonie ordered a lavish banquet for them for dinner. She herself cut and served food to Gawan.

What happened subsequently that night apparently was a matter of conflicting reports. The next morning Antikonie led Gawan by his hand into the public hall:

The queen led Gawan
by his hand before the king.
A garland was her headdress.
Her mouth took fame from flowers.
None laced in the garland
grew anywhere near as red.
If to anyone she graciously offered her kiss,
the woods would have no choice
but to be laid waste by uncountable jousts!
With praise we must now greet
the chaste and sweet
free of falsity.
She lived according to such precepts,
that in no respect was her fame
trampled by false words.
On hearing of her fame,
the mouths of all wished for her then
that her fame may continued to preserved,
against false, murky report.
Pure, as far-reaching as a falcon’s gaze,
was the balsam-like constancy she possessed.

{ diu küngîn fuorte Gâwân
für den künec an ir hende.
ein schapel was ir gebende.
ir munt den bluomen nam ir prîs:
ûf dem schapele decheinen wîs
Stuont ninder keiniu alsô rôt.
swem si güetlîche ir küssen bôt,
des muose swenden sich der walt
mit manger tjost ungezalt.
mit lobe wir solden grüezen
die kiuschen unt die süezen
vor valscheit die vrîen.
wan si lebte in solhen siten,
daz ninder was underriten
ir prîs mit valschen worten.
al die ir prîs gehôrten,
ieslîch munt ir wunschte dô
daz ir prîs bestüende alsô
bewart vor valscher trüeben jehe.
lûter virrec als ein valkensehe
was balsemmæzec stæte an ir. }

Methinks he doth protest too much. In any case, Antikonie urged her brother to act honorably. Her brother declared that he would renounce his anger at Gawan, if Gawan would seek to win the Holy Grail. That’s honorable. Gawan agreed.

Gawan had to leave Antikonie to search for the Holy Grail. Queen Antikonie lamented Gawan’s departure:

The queen said in all sincerity,
“If you had gained more by me,
my joy would have lorded over my sorrow.
No better truce is possible for you as it is.
Yet believe me, wherever you suffer torment,
if chivalry leads you into grievous troubles,
know then, my lord Gawan,
you will be in my heart’s keeping,
whether loss or gain ensues.”
Then the noble queen
kissed Gawan’s mouth.

{ diu küngîn sprach ân allen vâr
“het ir mîn genozzen mêr,
mîn fröude wær gein sorgen hêr:
nu moht iur vride niht bezzer sîn.
des gloubt ab, swenne ir lîdet pîn,
ob iuch vertreit ritterschaft
in riwebære kumbers kraft,
sô wizzet, mîn hêr Gâwân,
des sol mîn herze pflihte hân
Ze flüste odr ze gewinne.”
diu edele küneginne
kuste den Gâwânes munt. }

How Antikonie and Gawan expressed their love for each other the previous night matters less than the fact of their love. No greater love has a woman than that she risk death to defend a man falsely accused of raping her.

* * * * *

Read more:


The above story is from Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Arthurian romance Parzival, Book 8. Wolfram wrote Parzival in Middle High German probably in the first decade of the thirteenth century. For the quotes above, the Middle High German text is from Lachmann (1833 / 1891). The English translation (modified slightly) is from Edwards (2004). For Parzival English translations freely available online, Kline (2020), Zeydel & Morgan (1951) (some passages omitted), and Weston (1894).  Here are a brief summary of the books of Parzival, and a more extended book summary.

The story of Antikonie and Gawan probably came from Chrétien de Troyes’s late twelfth-century Old French verse romance Perceval or the Story of the Grail {Perceval ou le Conte du Graal}. In that source, Antikonie isn’t named. The name Antikonie apparent is derived from the great ancient Greek woman hero Antigone. In Sophocles’s tragedy Antigone, Antigone in defiance of a royal edict honored her brother’s corpse with burial. Wolfram didn’t have access to ancient Greek texts. He may have found the name Antigone in the Old French Roman de Thèbes. Ultimately Parzival, not Gawan, won the Holy Grail.

On the medieval stages of love, see note 1 in my post on Baucis et Traso. Gawan touched Antikonie’s hüffelîn, which literally means “little hip.” That has been wrongly translated as “thigh.” The context in Parzival makes clear that Gawan is touching Antikonie’s vagina. On Wolfram’s bawdy, Marchand (1977).

The quotes above from Parzival are, by section.verse in Book 8, 402.20-30 (Sir, you can see before you Schampfanzun…), 405.5-14 (Sir, come closer to me…), 405.16-21 (Gawan said, “Lady, your mouth…), 406.1-11 (Sir, if you are discerning…), 407.4-10 (With that his distress was magnified…), 407.16-9 (Oh and alas…), 407.22-30 (Gawan said to the young woman…), 408.6-8 (She repeatedly appealed…), 408.29-409.11 (Heedless of whether it were king or rook…), 410.10-2 (Gawan weighed his enemies’ hostility…), 411.19-23 (Warrior, grant me safe conduct…), 412.19-23 (Worldly fame will pour scorn…), 414.28-415.8 (Whatever compensation you are now seen…), 422.23-30 (Without any misdemeanor…), 426.26-427.17 (The queen led Gawan…), 431.22-432.3 (The queen said in all sincerity…).

[images] (1) King Vergulaht inviting Gawan to enjoy his sister Antikonie’s hospitality in the castle at Schampfanzun. 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 294v in Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 339 (part 1part 2). (2) Gawan holds Queen Antikonie’s hand and urges her toward him. Manuscript illumination for Parzival. Detail from folio 299v similarly in Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 339. (3) Chess pieces (Lewis chessmen) from the twelfth century. Discovered on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland. Source image via Wikimedia Commons.


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

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.

Marchand, James W. 1977. “Wolfram’s bawdy.” Monatshefte Für Deutschen Unterricht, Deutsche Sprache Und Literatur. 69 (2): 131-149.

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