Graelant

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The lay of Graelent is an old French Breton Lay, composed sometime in the second half of the 12th Century. The authour of this lay is unknown, but from their descriptions of life in the lay, they appear to be more familiar with the bourgeois townsfolk than life of the nobles at court.

Graelant shares some similarities of story with Marie de Frane's lay Lanval, both are likely drawn from the same celtic legend. Graelant is probably closer to the original version, being more fast-moving and straightforward and having more elements of the supernatural that belong in celtic myths.

The lay is written in octosyllabic rhyming couplets, as was the fashion in 12th century France.

Graelant survives in two manuscripts: MS Fonds Francais 2168 (Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris) and MS Novelles Aquisitions Francaises 1104 (Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris). Both are later copies (13th Century?) of several lays, but are remarkably similar in content. Small changes show that these copies have been partially rewritten, but the majority of the lay has remained unchanged, and the language of the lay can be used to date the original composition.

Plot

A queen of Brittany (identified by many later writers, and possibly some 12th C minds as Gwynivere, but not so named) meets the courteous and handsome, but poor, knight Graelant, and wishes to make him her lover. Graelant refuses, not wishing to betray the King, his liege. When the Queen is unable by any means to convince Graelant, she slanders him to the King who withholds Graelants wages (for fighting for him). Graelant goes into debt, has sold almost all his possesions, including his metal armour. To forget his woes Graeland borrows a saddle and goes hunting. He meets a maiden bathing in a pool, and steals her clothing to prevent her fleeing him without talking to him. He relents, and she finds him handsome and promises to be his lover if he does not speak of her to anyone. His lover pays his debts, he is redeamed and happy for a year until he is invited to a feast by the King. Forced by a dare to admit he knows someone more beautiful than the Queen, he must present his lover, but she dissapears and cannot. His lover has pity on him and presents herself at court in a procession in which even her lowest handmaiden is more beautiful than the Queen. Graelant follows her into the woods and into the midst of a fast flowing river despite her warnings that she can cross it but he will die. His lover saves him and brings him to the other side, which is probably a fairyland. And his horse roams the woods still today.

Translations

  • Weingartner, R. (ed), 1985, "Graelent and Guingamor: Two Breton Lays" Garland Publshing, Inc, New York, ISBN 0-8240-8914-6

translation method: Side by side transcribed old french and modern english line by line translation, no attempt to rhyme lines.