Authors: Chrétien de Troyes

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

French short-story writer

Author Works

Short Fiction:

Erec et Enide, c. 1164 (Erec and Enide, 1913)

Cligés: Ou, La Fausse Morte, c. 1164 (Cligés: A Romance, 1912)

Lancelot: Ou, Le Chevalier à la charrette, c. 1168 (Lancelot: Or, The Knight of the Cart, 1913)

Yvain: Ou, Le Chevalier au lion, c. 1170 (Yvain: Or, the Knight with the Lion, c. 1300)

Perceval: Ou, Le conte du Graal, c. 1180 (Perceval: Or, The Story of the Grail, 1844)

Ouvres complètes, 1994


Born in France about 1150, Chrétien de Troyes (kray-tyan duh trwah), author of the earliest extant Arthurian romances in French, is one of those important medieval writers of whom little is known. Not even his poems can be dated more certainly than the second half of the twelfth century, though they can be listed in chronological order: Erec and Enid, Cligés, Lancelot, Yvain, and Perceval. The latter, containing the first use of the Holy Grail motif in Arthurian legend, was left incomplete at Chrétien’s death. Other works, including a Tristan, have been lost or are of doubtful authorship. Guillaume d’Angleterre, a romanticized saint’s legend, is sometimes attributed to him.{$I[AN]9810000347}{$I[A]Chrétien de Troyes}{$I[geo]FRANCE;Chrétien de Troyes}{$I[tim]1150;Chrétien de Troyes}

Chrétien enjoyed the patronage of Marie de Champagne, daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine, who provided him with subject matter for Lancelot, and of Philip of Flanders. His enormously popular works were translated into Old Norse, German, and English, and they inspired later medieval authors to develop the Arthurian legends. Even though there is some controversy among scholars concerning his originality of style and subject matter, he cannot be denied an attractive power of characterization. In general, but especially in Lancelot, he wrote in the tradition of the code of courtly love and followed the rules of Andreas Cappellanus, except that he seemed to believe love in marriage was possible. Perceval, the ultimate source of Richard Wagner’s opera Parsifal (1882), is especially valuable for showing the medieval ideal of a perfect knight embodying all the Christian virtues. Chrétien died about 1190, probably in Paris.

BibliographyCazelles, Brigitte. The Unholy Grail: A Social Reading of Chrétien de Troyes’ “Conte du Graal.” Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1996. Argues that Perceval is a masked account of historical crisis, in this case the tradition of chivalry, in feudal society.Chrétien de Troyes. Chrétien de Troyes: The Knight with the Lion: Or, Yvain. Edited and translated by William W. Kibler. New York: Garland, 1986. This fine edition, which complements Kibler’ translation of Lancelot (1981), provides an excellent introduction, a modern English translation facing the Old French text, and a detailed bibliography.Frappier, Jean. Chrétien de Troyes: The Man and His Work. Translated by Raymond J. Cormier. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1982. This illustrated critical work includes extensive notes and an index and is written for the general reader.Guerin, M. Victoria. The Fall of Kings and Princes: Structure and Destruction in Arthurian Tragedy. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1995. Discusses how Chrétien draws from the relationship between Arthurian incest and Arthurian tragedy in Lancelot and Perceval. Examines Mordred’s incestuous origin and his illicit incestuous desire for his father’s wife. Argues that these enigmatic texts must be read side by side in order to understand their development of the relationship between incest and tragedy.Guyer, Foster Erwin. Chrétien de Troyes: Inventor of the Modern Novel. 1957. Reprint. New York: AMS Press, 1972. Explores Chrétien’s impact on later fiction. Argues that his work had no immediate models, although it adapted the form and structure of Vergil’s Aeneid and Ovid’s love poetry. Concludes that Chrétien stands at the very beginning of the modern novelistic tradition.Guyer, Foster Erwin. Romance in the Making: Chrétien de Troyes and the Earliest French Romances. New York: S. F. Vanni, 1954. Argues that Chrétien’s style is inspired by Vergil and Ovid, his view of love by Ovid, and many of his plot elements by Geoffrey of Monmouth. None of Chrétien’s sources, Guyer concludes, was French.Kelly, Douglas. Chrétien de Troyes: An Analytic Bibliography. Rochester, N.Y.: Tamesis, 2002. This volume is an indispensable reference tool. Includes index.Lacy, Norris J. and Joan Tasker Grimbert. A Companion to Chrétien de Troyes. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2005. A collection of essays offering critical insight into all aspects of Chrétien de Troyes’ works, including literary and historical context, themes in his writing and his influence on other writers.Lewis, Charles Bertram. Classical Mythology and Arthurian Romance. Geneva: Slatkine, 1974. Advances the interesting thesis that the plots of Chrétien’s short fiction were largely derived from Greek mythology. Lewis believes that corrupt French versions of stories brought northward from Rome about Theseus and Helen of Troy provided the inspiration for Yvain, Lancelot, and Erec and Enide. Includes an extensive bibliography.Loomis, Roger Sherman, ed. Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages. 2d ed. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1961. A comprehensive, illustrated collection of articles on a wide array of Arthurian topics.Luttrell, Claude. The Creation of the First Arthurian Romance: A Quest. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1974. A detailed examination of Chrétien’s stories in terms of their folklore patterns. Argues that the Celtic influence was minimal.Maddox, Donald. The Arthurian Romances of Chrétien de Troyes: Once and Future Fictions. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1991. A good study of the tales. Includes bibliographical references and anTopsfield, L. T. Chrétien de Troyes: A Study of the Arthurian Romances. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1981. A useful survey by a specialist in troubadour poetics.Uitti, Karl D., and Michelle A. Freeman. Chrétien de Troyes Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1995. An overview of Chrétien’ work, including an analysis of Perceval as continuing themes introduced in Chrétien’ earlier romances.
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