Актуальні проблеми слов’янської філології. Серія: Лінгвістика і літературознавство

Spatial Dichotomy in the Medieval Chivalry Romance ( City / forest ) Elbakidze, M.V.

Maka Elbakidze
Professor of Faculty of Humanities
Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University
Spatial Dichotomy in the Medieval Chivalry Romance (City/ forest)

Элбакидзе М.В.
Доктор филологических наук
Тбилисский Государственный Университет им. Иване Джавахишвили

Пространственная дихотомия в средневековом рыцарском романе

The main spatial dichotomy of the medieval chivalry romances – city/forest –
expresses the artistic and structural opposition which exists between the court
civilization (city/castle) and so-called wild nature (the world existing beyond the
court/castle). Obviously, the reader should not expect reality or naturalism during
description of one special area (forest) as well as the second one (palace, castle).
“The descriptive and geographical details are not simply mimetic. They are
determined both by the internal logic of the narrative itself, and by a long literary
tradition of representations of nature. In stories, where the errant knights ride out to
confront unknown, this defamiliarization of a well-charted territory produces just
what romance calls for: a realm of adventure” [3, 12-13], in the depth of which the
process of penetration of those moral values which is the basis in the formation of
ideal person should be finished.
Cultural models of medieval west are taken from the Bible, where the wild
nature – desert – as a symbol and historical and geographical reality are ambivalent
notions and considered as opposition to civilization or town. The image of desert
denoting a solitary spot in the Middle Ages is transformed into the forest although
becomes distant from concrete geographical meaning and maintains its earlier, so-called “biblical image” – associated with wild environment, opposite to civilization [1, 49-54].
Those wild spots described in medieval romances are clearly the products of
author’s imagination and not objective reality. In 1250 in England the last wild forest
– the Forest of Dean disappeared in order to give way to such tidy, strictly organized
forest tracts familiar to the late medieval England and which were under strong
control of property. In French reality too the motive of gaste forest (uninhabited,
deserted, arid forest) appeared just in time when real wild forests gradually started to
disappear and fell into oblivion (the verbs gast and gastine which mean uncultivated,
uninhabited spot are synonyms to the word forest). Champagne noblemen, at the
court of which a majority of romances were composed, got considerable economic
profit from selling of licenses to those persons who wanted to turn uncultivated areas
into the croplands. At this time the introduction of wild forest by Chretien de Troyes
sounds rather paradoxical. Although, one of the first researchers of the writer’s
creative work — Hartman von Aue indicates that the use of the motive of forest in
Chretien’s narrative has very clear and specially determined function. The forest, or
limitless and infinite space far away from civilization, caused strange fear and
trepidation in King Arthur’s errant knights actively seeking adventure, because it
didn’t give them any key where they were or where they went or how long their
journey would last. In addition to this, the woods were filled with wild animals and
rather strange people, mainly pagans or outlaws. Correspondingly, two notions in
medieval thinking got into close contact – wild environment and spiritual emptiness,
which definitely took deep roots in the thinking of previous epoch .
In the system of values of medieval period, the city (castle/court), i.e.
civilized, organized environment was opposed to the forest (wild nature). In
courteous romances it is King Arthur’s court (cp. the court idyll in Arabia, India or
Mulghazanzar from “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin”) – the symbol of elegance,
delicacy and courtesy. However, the antithesis castle/forest is more complex than it may seem at a glance, because one more binary opposition exists in the medieval chivalric romances – hunting forest and gaste forest. The forest in which the knights
are seeking for adventures completely differs from the forest where they are hunting.
In the woods which are close to the castles the knights forget their everyday problems
for a while and temporarily free from the load of the court life abandon themselves to
enjoy bliss in the nature (cp. hunting in the field, mountain and hill foot; /there were
numerous dogs, hawks and eagles, return early [4, 470]). Naturally, in this case too,
the forest for hunting is the same scenery invented by imagination as the gaste forest.
Their opposition is built on the same principles of binary opposition which exists
between castle and forest, between the court and wild nature [1, 58].
Correspondingly, both king and his knights may be considered as so-called forest
men who visit hunting forest from time to time in order to fall into the same comfort
and leisure which is offered by court (e.g. the hunting on white deer in Chretien de
Troyes’s “Erec”, the episode of Arthur’s escaped falcon in Wolfram von
Eschenbach’s “Parzival”, the hunting cycle in “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”,
Avtandil and King Rostevan’s hunting in the “Knight in the Panther’s Skin”). As opposed to the hunting forest, the wild forest is considered to be the
negative of the court/castle (castle _ as a symbol of elegance, refinement; forest _
it’s total antipode). An errant knight wandering in the trackless forest feels himself
lonely and solitary. Being far from the court ceremonies, he is surrounded by
indifferent, gloomy decor which is antithetic to that of refined culture which follower
he is (cp. he came to a desolate region, void of the children of Adam/For thirty days
he traversed it, and met not a single person [4, 181]; For a whole month he had
traveled but no man had he seen or encountered,/ And though there was plenty of
game, he neither hunted, nor slew it [4, 191]). In connection with the above
mentioned, an interesting statement is expressed by Andrei Mikhailov. Speaking on
the typology of the French chivalric romance, he makes a clear distinction between
the so-called one’s own and strange land. The first one – Arthur’s court, where
courtesy morale and justice dominate, appreciates the heroism. If here and there we
still find perfidious and evil men, (e.g. seneschal Kei), in the end of the romance they
are punished either by Arthur’s supreme power or by the coincidence of obstacles.
Thus the space is not only topographical but also moral notion. It is true that during
description of the natural scenes Chretien de Troyes, as well as other medieval
authors is not distinguished with verbosity but while depicting one’s own space
attractive light colors are used.
A strange space or a trackless forest, in which the hero sets forth in search of
adventures, is a place of magic and danger. It is neutral and always hostile in relation
to the hero. From the moral viewpoint too, this is a negative, a homeless space. Here
natural conditions coincide and correspond to the moral because the illegality,
injustice, deception and disloyalty rule in a strange space. It should be noted that
during description of a strange space the evaluation of own space always (although
implicitly) present. Strange space is evaluated by means of one’s own, as a complete
antipode to one’s own. Thus to render forest scenes in courteous romances, the authors use the same motives as in description of the court but only with negative modulation. The meaning of the forest here is interpreted by means of terms denoting luxuriance and festive mood.
However, it is outlined that unlike the court, the forest cannot offer these pleasures to
his guests. Thus the court in these romances functions as a obvious norm to which
the forest can’t correspond [3, 16-22]. Therefore, the knights’ life lack of the comfort
of courteous world and festive mood of the court inhabitants proceeds in wild forest,
which is indifferent and antithetic to that refined culture the followers of which they
Naturally, the above mentioned is connected with the so-called theme of wild
or forest man which was an ordinary topos of Latin literature of the Middle Ages.
The search of this prototype leads us to the well-known episode of Geoffrey of
Monmouth “Vita Merlini”. Merlin, who considered himself guilty in his brothers’
death, set forth into the forest to live wild and had to endure extreme hardships,
although at the same time he acquires prophetic powers [1, 107]. This theme later
transfers to courteous romance, namely, to Chretien de Troyes’ “Yvain”. As it is
stated by Jacques Le Goff, Yvain’s madness after he had crossed cultivated fields and
left the frontiers of King Arthur’s estate was localized in the forest which is far more
complex area (shelter, quest for adventures, place of remorse, etc) than it seems at
first sight. Here “Yvain” ceases to be a knight and becomes a hunter. The hero loses
memory, sleeps on a bare ground, eats raw meat and wears animals’ skin [1, 110-
111]. It seems that a kind of circle is tied between human world and animals’
It is true, Yvain becomes unsociable but he shows discontent that he has to eat
raw meat in order to satisfy his hunger and to acknowledge the fact that in the forest
there will be nor bread, nor wine, nor salt, nor table cloth, etc. The reference to the
“cooked” food, spoon and knife, wine, napkins and various attributes of the court or
civilized life are in forest scenes too. Although it is specially underlined that it is
impossible to find them in the forest [3, 22-26].
There is threefold functional loading in leaving for the forest and merging with
wild environment in “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin”: 1. It is linked with love and
identified with roaming – If the lover weeps for his beloved, tears are her due.
Wandering and solitude befit him, and must be esteemed as roaming. [4, 31]; Since a
true lover is destined to suffer alone, I leave you/ Leave you to roam like a madman
weeping my heart out in anguish./Lovers must boldly go forth and seek brave quests
for their loved ones [4, 775]. Correspondingly, for a desperate and driven mad lover
the forest, wild environment represent a kind of refuge where remote from people he
can live in solitude plunging into his thoughts – Maddened I roam in the forests,
worn out and faint from weeping, [4, 647]; 2. As in chivalric romances the forest
(antithetic environment of the court) appears as that lineal space on which the errant
knight’s “path” on his quest for adventures goes and in the depth of which the process
of forming his personality is to be finished. The notion of the roam which
corresponds to the word gachra in the “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin,” is
connected either with the fulfillment of lover’s errand (Solitude favors the lover
pursuing the will of his mistress [4, 160]) or adventure (Idle repining is useless!
Better to go forth and seek her [4, 577]). Both in the first and second case a strange space which is neutral, uninhabited and homeless – he came to a desolate region,  void of the children of Adam,/ For thirty days he traversed it, and met not a single
being [4, 181] _ acquires significant symbolic loading because it is just here that the
story of the knight’s quest is to be developed. It should be noted that dichotomy between the forest and the court is
perceptible both in the first and second case. Like Yvain merges with nature, in his
quest maddened Tariel finally abandons his community the place of men, finds
refuge in a deserted cave – A fitting abode for me were the haunts of the stag and of
goats [4, 645], Ever since then I am here and can’t differ from animals [4, 649]. His
chivalric valor in this new space is reduced only to the function of a hunter. He
satisfies his hunger only with hunt game, wears panther’s skin as garment. It is
interesting to note that in order to return Tariel to civilized life, Avtandil and Asmat
build their arguments just on the mentioned dichotomy – human world/ animals
world – With the wild beasts you wander, alone in the deepest of forests/ Shunning
the friendship of men [4, 269]; Can you attain your desire by weeping and roaming
the forests? [4, 866]; 3.As it is in European chivalric romances, forest is a space
between civilization centers (the court /castle) and its function is to show vividly the
contrast which is necessary for differentiation of the structural unit of the quest or
adventure from that structural unit as it is, let us say, feast, hospitality, etc. (Now for
a while I will leave, turn from the banquet and music [4,164]). When the knight being tired from the roaming reaches the city/castle, the
scenery instantly changes – no surrounding space, the forces of nature are not so
tough and hostile any longer (We went and surveyed his city. Never has man seen
such splendors! [4, 604]; We landed by night. When we came ashore we saw gardens
before us [4, 583]; When they arrived at the city they found a magnificent palace,/
Ministers seated in state, and slaves richly appareled./They entered the spacious
court; and all who beheld them were ravished/By Avtandil’s beauty and grace and
the knightly figure of Pridon [4, 998]).According to Ed Putter, an important novelty
of the Medieval narrative is the fact that this new scenery is seen from the vantage
point of knights or personages and the novelty is expressed not only by those verbs
which express the act of contemplation (cp. went, surveyed), but by those details
which are easy for the reader to comprehend (They arrived at a prosperous city,
which was surrounded by orchards and a thicket of spacious gardens/Full of
beautiful flowers fragrant and dazzling in color [4, 1049]).
In the majority of medieval romances the personages see the fortress first from
a far, from which it is not possible to observe all the details or they see the
environment where this fortress is erected. The light which is seen from this new
scenery is absolutely in correlation with the abundance and wealth that is so much
deprived off the personage while being in a dark wild forest.
At the sight of a fortress the hero becomes convinced that all the hardships
which he had to overcome in his quest left behind and now he stands before warm
hearted host whose house arouses in him the association with his own space (They sat
and banqueted gaily on choicest of viands and liquors./As a kinsman treats a
kinsman, thus was Avtandil treate [4, 1000]). On the other hand, the scenes of
hospitality in a strange place, in spite of the warmth shown by the host, lack of the comfort (that is manifested e.g., in a cheerful mood), which is found in abundance in  the scenes of the court. Yvain wandering in the forest encounters a hermit who
despite of having little social contact with civilized world (sells animal’s skin and
buys bread} is nevertheless a wild man — neither his hovel is built by a man nor his
meat is properly roasted. Correspondingly, Chretien de Troyes successively shows
comfort composing elements which Yvain lacks in the forest (porridge, wine, salt,
flavorings, cutlery, napkins, etc.) The same principle is used when Tariel and
Avtandil share a meal. Despite Asmath’s best efforts, Devi’s cave is not and can’t
become a native space for Tariel. Therefore his hospitality lacks ceremoniousness
and festivity: Roasted some meal and bidding them eat, placed it before them/
Though they entreated and begged him to eat Tariel sat listless./ He bit off a piece of
the meat but could scarcely swallow a morsel [4, 912]. Thus Tariel and Avtandil’s
talk at the table lacks usual chivalric gaiety and proceeds in accordance with the
situation. Here, as it is common during chivalric feast, much wine is not drunk. Despite the fact that the view of a castle in medieval chivalry romances has the aura of another world which dramatically differs from the forest world and the hero
tired from wandering returns to the civilized world for a while, very often warm
welcome and sensation of long-expected comfort which he feels in this fortress
distracts his attention to see severe reality – that major adventures should happen just
there, in this castle [3, 41]. In Chretien de Troyes’ romances as well as with Sir
Gawain’s anonymous author the disorder of space linearity represents a danger to the
hero. From adventurous space the hero moves to ordinary space although very
often in that locality where during wandering he stops for a while. Ordinary and
adventurous space merge – knight tournament, new hardships, waylaid danger, etc.
Although some protagonists prepare in advance to undergo misfortune which is
predicted in case of deviation from the path and meeting face to face with castle
frontier. Correspondingly, the introduction of a new space-castle, in the so-called
adventurous structure is one of the means of the development of the narration which
is realized either by the inclusion of romantic or heroic elements.
It is true, that the medieval court is an “ideal locus, where the courtly values
can be explored, but in the accounts of the forest a concern for standards or
refinement can continue to be a preoccupation of the narrative, precisely because it is
cast as the inverted mirror image of the forest or castle” [3, 27]. As a result we
obtain a decoration which is able to show the contrasts so that not to break up the
world outlook borrowed from imaginary world of these romances. Thus medieval
knights and authors of romances not only safely escaped to the forest, hostile and
homeless environment which ‘tries” to separate them from their roots but they
preserve their identity and even more improve those values which are dictated by
chivalric code of nobility.

1. Le Goff J, The Medieval Imagination, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago
and London, 1992
2. Михайлов А, Французский рыцарский роман и вопросы типологии жанра в
средневековой литературе, «Наука», Москва, 1976 (Andrei Mikhailov, French
Chivalric Romance, Moscow, “Nauka”, 1976)
3. Putter A, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and French Arthurian Romance,
Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1995
4. Rustaveli Shota, The Knight in the Panther’s Skin, Translated from the Georgian
by Venera Urushadze, publishing house “Sabchota Sakartvelo”, Tbilisi, 1968.

Мака Элбакидзе
Пространственная дихотомия в средневековом рыцарском романе

Ключевые слова: средневековый роман, пространство, дихотомия, город,
замок, двор, лес, рыцарь.

Главная пространственная дихотомия средневекого рыцарского романа –
город(замок)/лес – выражает ту художественно-структурную опозицию,
которая существует между цивилизацией двора (замка) и дикой природой
(пространством за замком). Описание обоих пространственных сегментов
(пейзаж — дворец, замок) обусловлено как внутренней логикой нарратива, так и
долгой литературной традицией. Дефамиляризация хорошо знакомой
территории приводит к тому, для чего собственно и пишется этот роман:
открытию т.н. царства приключений, в котором должен завершиться процесс
осмысления моральных ценностей, являющихся основой основ формирования
идеальной личности.

Maka Elbakidze
Spatial Dichotomy in the Medieval Chivalry Romance
(City/ forest)

Keywords: medieval, romance, space, dichotomy, city, castle, court, forest, knight.

The principle spatial dichotomy of the medieval chivalry romance – city
(court)/forest – reveals an artistic and structural opposition between courtly
civilization (city/castle) and wild nature — forest (the world outside the court/castle).
The descriptive and geographical details are determined both by the internal logic of
narrative itself, and long literary tradition of representation of nature. The
defamiliarization of a well-charted territory produces just what romance calls for: a
realm of adventure in the depth of which the process of penetration of those moral
values which is the basis in the formation of ideal person should be finished.

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