Guingamor

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The lay of Guingamor is an old French Breton Lay, composed sometime in the second half of the 12th Century. Several 19th Century authors suggested that Marie de France had composed this unsigned lay, however most modern academics concur that this was a case of wishful thinking.

Guingamor survives only in one manuscript: MS Novelles Aquisitions Francaises 1104 (Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris). It is a later copy (13th Century?) of several lays, but the majority of the lay has remained unchanged, and the language of the lay can be used to date the original composition.

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

The lay of Guingamor is often related to the lay of Graelent, as the two stories have several similar plot elements.

Plot

The Queen of Brittany falls in love with Guingamor, nephew of the king. She invites him to her chamber and tries to seduce him, but he reuses her. In anger the Queen baits Guingamor with a dare - hunt the white boar - a task to which 10 knights have been lost. Unable to refuse the bait, Guingamor begs a favour of the King. The King grants the favour before learning it is the loan of his precious hunting horse and dogs. The King wishes to refuse (to save the life of his animals, and Guingamor) but cannot, especially when the Queen wickely pleads with him.

On the hunt, the boar leads Guingamor across a river and into a (too grand to be real) green marble palace. Finding the palace empty of boar, men and the king's hunting dogs, he returns outside where he follows the boar to a (fairy) maiden bathing in a pool. He hides the maiden's clothes so she might remain until he has caught the boar. She objects, Guingamor returns her clothes and she promises her supernatural aid to catch the boar after 3 days as her lover.

After 3 days of diverse entertainments, he catches the boar and returns to his country (to return the king's animals) where he finds 300 years have passed. His lover has warned him not to eat anything on his journey, but he carelessly eats a wild apple. Guingamor instantly becomes old and weak and is led off by two fair (fairy) maidens who tell him off and return him to the green marble palace. A charcoal burner has the boar's head as proof of the tale, but we are left in mystery as to Guingamor's future in the fairy kingdom.

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.