The opening section of the Prose Tristan, like the Estoire del Saint Graal in the Lancelot-Grail cycle, establishes the prehistory of the Tristan legend, focusing on the Christianization and interrelations of kingdoms that will be important in the story to come: Cornwall, Leonois, and, to a lesser extent, Ireland. (1) Though relatively short--the `prehistory' occupies less than half of the first of twelve volumes in the modern edition of the Prose Tristan--this opening narrative sequence is of. considerable complexity. The adventures recounted here involve two distinct but intertwined storylines: one tracing the shifting pattern of alliances and rivalries among the various men who successively marry the Babylonian Princess Celinde, and one tracing the spread of Christianity through the efforts of St Augustine of Canterbury. This double focus on sexual passion and rivalry on the one hand, and the revelation of sacred mysteries on the other, prepares for the later development of the narrative that will trace the intense and frequently disastrous rivalries of the many knights in love with Iseut, and the quest for the Grail. (2)
The question, or problem, of desire arises at the very beginning of the story in the distinctive choices made by two of Joseph of Arimathea's twelve nephews. Asked by the boys' father to find them suitable wives, Joseph questions his nephews and learns that although ten of them are happy to accept the marriages arranged for them by their uncle, two have other wishes. Helain le Gros prefers to consecrate his virginity to God and to devote himself to serving the Grail; Sador insists on selecting his own wife, choosing Celinde, daughter of the King of Babylon, who washes ashore as the sole survivor of a shipwreck. Joseph grants both requests, but whereas he is pleased and gratified to give his blessing to the keeper of the Grail, he views the prospect of a marriage grounded in personal desire with considerable trepidation. As he tells Sador: `Or t'en coviegne bien ... puis que ce veus faire a ta volente, je m'en soferrai. Mes je dout que tu en la fin ne t'en repentes' (PT I, 41). Joseph's fears are soon realized, as Sador's brother Naburzadan rapes Celinde and is murdered in turn by Sador. The latter's flight with Celinde in the aftermath of this murder sets in motion a series of adventures that will culminate in Sador's death at the hands of his own son, Apollo li Aventureus, who in turn marries Celinde, unaware that she is his mother, The two individualized life choices made by Sador and Helain le Gros respectively open the space for the competing ethical systems that will dominate both the prehistory and the main narrative to follow. Though countless knights figure in the Prose Tristan, this founding dichotomy is most dramatically illustrated in the interlaced stories of its three central heroes, the first two as famous for their adulterous passion as the third is for his militant virginity: Tristan, Lancelot, and Galahad. (3)
This opening segment tracing the interlaced tales of desire for Celinde and desire for God is marked by frequent enigmas, in the form of riddles, dreams, and visions. These enigmas present a coded representation of both the ineffable and the unspeakable--of divine mysteries and of sinful abomination--and converge upon the question of personal identity and of the individual's exemplary relationship to both sin and salvation. One might say that these riddling texts and images are a means by which the central characters of the narrative confront the fundamental question, `Who am I?' And this question is answered, often in multiple ways, with reference to both personal and universal history and in terms of both divine grace and abject sin. The riddle of identity is one that must be answered both synchronically and diachronically, defining the individual--in this context, the aristocratic male individual--as part of a social and genealogical network that is active in the present, while encompassing the past and the future. And this network of human alliances, lineage, and history is marked by desires of both the flesh and the spirit, and motivated ultimately by the incessant human search for the knowledge of both good and evil.
The depravity of sin finds intricate expression in a series of verse riddles that are exchanged between a cannibalistic giant lurking in the forests of Cornwall and the unfortunate knights who fall into his clutches. (4) If the knight fails to solve the riddle he is killed. Even if he succeeds, however, he is still forced to remain with the giant and provide him with `compaignie' until another knight comes along who is deemed by the giant to be wiser, at which point the newcomer must stay and the former companion to the giant is free to leave. Three of the giant's four riddles are confessional in nature: they recount, in coded language, terrible sins committed during his youth. In the first the giant tells how he raped his daughter, then ate her; in the second, how he killed and ate his mother, for which he was burned by celestial fires; and in the third, how he killed his brother by burying him alive. The fourth is about a tree that is made into a boat; but as explicated by the young hero Apollo li Aventureus, son of Sador and Celinde, the image of the boat itself is further decoded as a figure for an adulterous woman.
On one level, then, the giant's riddles are simply a catalogue of sins, and identify him as a horrific embodiment of violent depravity. But unspeakable as these sins might seem, the giant clearly takes pleasure both in expressing them through figurative language and in hearing his crimes repeated back to him more explicitly. (5) The giant defines himself through his past actions; his way of posing the fundamental question--`Who am I?'--is by asking, in effect, `What have I done?' Sador, who must save his life and that of Celinde by answering the first riddle, hesitates momentarily before verbalizing the awful truth, clearly feeling that such actions would be better passed over in silence:
Et quant il a une grant piece panse, il se torne vers le jaiant et dit: `Je te dirai, si com je cuit, la verite de cele devinaille, se je ne cuidasse que tu m'en seusses mal gre.' Et il dit que ja mal gre ne l'en savra. (PT I, 77)
Pelias, to whom the next two are posed, is even more taken aback at the giant's autobiographical riddling:
Or oi merveilles, fait li rois Pelyas, les greignors que je onques mes oisse, que raconter en tel maniere ta felonie et ta deleaute ne te targes, enz te plest et enbelist tant que tu ne te puez tenir que tu ne regeisses ta mauvese vie. (PT I, 80-1)
Far from being silenced, transgression emerges as the very substance of the giant's poetic discourse; and the skilful manipulation of this riddling language of sin is fundamental to a game of power that determines the life or the death of the players. As the giant reiterates when Pelias says that he will state these crimes openly only if the giant really wants him to do so: `Ce n'a mestier; a dire te covient la senefiance, ou tu ies morz' (PT I, 79).
In addition to chronicling the youthful excesses of the giant, however, the series of riddles also has its own unity as a set of four interlocking poems. The middle two are linked through the motif of fratricide, which forms the surface imagery of one and the covert meaning of the other. Oddly, the giant's crime of cannibalistic matricide is expressed through the figures of Cain and Abel:
Dui vessel furent jadis bel, L'un fu Chaym et l'autre Abel, L'un fu leal, l'autre trahi, L'un ama, et l'autre hai. Qui en l'autre ot este enclos Fist tant qu'il ot l'autre en soi clos. (PT I, 79)
As Pelias explains, the treacherous giant plays Cain to his pious and loving mother's Abel. The riddle of fratricide, in tutu, employs imagery of motherhood:
Une beste ot en cest pais, Qui deus faons ot; de lais Les poist l'en apercevoir. Li uns vost l'autre decevoir; ... Tant fait que l'autre a atrape, Et de sa mere si le charge, Qu'a mort le met par cele charge. (PT I, 80)
In Pelias's explication, the mother here refers to the earth, `que nos apelons mere, por ce qu'ele est mere de chascun' (PT I, 81). If the giant has become the container for the maternal body that once contained him, his unfortunate brother, in being buried alive, has been sent back to the womb. One riddle generates and responds to the other, as the dialectic between the literal and the figurative serves to reiterate the betrayal of kinship, the primal crime of fratricide, the violation of the mother.
Framing these two riddles are the riddles of incest and of the tree. Again, the covert meaning of the second is generated by the surface imagery of the first:
Un arbre, fait il, oi jadis, Que j'amai plus que paradis. Tant le gardai que fruit porta; La biaute del fruit m'enorta A ce que je la flor en pris. Apres le fruit tant en mespris Que le fruit manjai sanz refu. (PT I, 76)
As Sador explains, the tree represents a woman whom the giant loved, while the fruit is their daughter: the giant first took `la flor de son pucelaige' (PT I, 77), then devoured her. The fourth riddle, finally, is an elaborate description of an object that is not named:
Une chose voi en cest monde, Qui nest sanz pechie net et monde. De po vient puis a mout grant chose, Mes je le non dire ne t'ose. Quant bele est, si ne garde l'ore Que maintenant li cort l'en sore; Le pie li a l'en tost oste Tant gahaigne par sa biaute. Mes quant ele est menee au plen, Dont la voit l'en corre de plen. Mes la trace en est si soutive Que ne la sivroit hons qui vive. (PT I, 90)
As Apollo explains, this poem describes the process whereby a tree grows and is cut down and made into a ship, which moves across the water without leaving a trace. Again both riddles involve the violent treatment of something blameless: in the first, a tree that is a figure for a woman, and in the second, a beautiful feminine object that turns out to be a tree.
The two frame riddles are further linked through the motif of sexual transgression. In the first, of course, the plucking of flower and fruit is an image of incest and cannibalism. And in the fourth, the boat skimming across the water is glossed by Apollo as a kind of secondary riddle:
Car quatre choses sont ou monde, que tu sez bien, que l'en ne puet tres bien sivir par trace: coloevre sor pierre, oisel volant par l'er, nef corant par mer a force de vent, feme de mal enging, sorprise quant ele vet en son fol deduit, et ele se gaite. (PT I, 91)
This expansion on the boat is a citation of a passage in Proverbs, describing four things that cannot be seen:
Tria sunt difficilia mihi, Et quartum penitus ignoro: Viam aquilae in caelo, Viam colubri super petram. Viam navis in medio mari, Et viam viri in adolescentia. Talis est et via mulieris adulterae, Quae comedit, et tergens os suum, Dicit: Non sum operata malum. (Prov. xxx.18-20)
Apollo's gloss helps to link the giant's opening and closing riddles, since it makes clear that both are not only about trees, but also about sexual crimes. Indeed, the term present in the biblical text and absent from Apollo's gloss--`viam viri in adolescentia'--is precisely what is provided by the opening riddle, which, as Sador notes, describes the giant's incestuous relationship with his adolescent daughter at the point when she arrived `en aage d'avoir compaignie d'ome' (PT I, 77). Apollo's comment also helps to clarify the relevance of this final riddle to the previous ones, all of which were confessions of sin cloaked in figurative language. This final riddle, though not a narrative of personal transgression, turns out to be the riddle of transgression itself, a reminder of the persistence of guilt underneath the most artful semblance of innocence. Despite the giant's skill in disguising his crimes in riddling figures, the truth of his misdeeds remains abundantly clear.
The biblical passage thus helps to underwrite the intertextual echoes that link the giant's riddles. But this is not the only biblical allusion in the riddling sequence. As we have already seen, the giant himself uses Cain and Abel to express his relationship with his mother. And in fact, his four riddles, in addition to their concentric structure, are also a linear representation of sin and redemption. The first riddle, in which the giant eats forbidden fruit from a tree that he loves `more than Paradise', is easily seen as a figure for the act of original sin whereby Paradise was sacrificed for sensual pleasures, while the next two jointly present the crime that immediately followed, Cain's murder of Abel. The last one, returning to the tree, might recall the Christian doctrine of the Cross as the `tree' that redeemed humankind from the stain of original sin. The striking characterization of the tree as a creature that is `born without sin', is mercilessly dismembered despite its great beauty, and moves through the world without leaving a trace, cannot help but call to mind the figure of Christ, who was also bore without sin, who passed tracelessly through Mary's body without compromising her virginity, and who also, as Cicoriades' vision of the lion stresses (PT I, 108), passed unscathed through the travails of earthly life without any trace of sin being left on him. Although the Christological reading is but obscurely hinted at--as befits, perhaps, this moment in an as yet unredeemed British wilderness--the highly suggestive language of the riddles and the interplay of literal and figurative levels of meaning set the stage for the romance to follow, with its intricate portrayal of sexual passion and rivalry, transgressive desire, and redemptive faith.
The giant's riddles, then, are both a narrative of the Fall and the growth of sin in the world, and a chronicle of his own personal sins. The convoluted nature of sin is stressed by the way in which one sin is always an image for another: the answer to the riddle of sin is more sin, at least in this unredeemed reading of the texts. Moreover, as the giant elaborates his account of incest, cannibalism, and the murder of family members, one sees the ways in which sin turns on itself, feeds on itself, desires itself, destroys itself. Devouring his mother and his daughter, absorbing them into his own body, the giant in effect consumes his past and his future by incorporating both into a horrific present. Thus he would seem to foreclose all possibility of movement: neither a reevaluation of the past nor a progression into the future is possible, but only an endless reiteration of what is. That very impossibility of change, of course, is itself a function of the giant's unredeemed condition. As we have seen, a Christian reading of his riddles uncovers an exposition of sin that also contains the seeds of salvation: a vision of the Fall as but the prelude to redemption. The giant himself, however, will not benefit from this promise of redemption, for he embodies all that must be suppressed as Christianity purges the world and establishes a new law. As the narrator tells us, the forests of Cornwall and Leonois were infested with cannibalistic giants before the advent of Christianity; but the prayers of St Denis, upon his arrival in France, caused all of these giants to die in a single night (PT I, 77). (6)
Though the giant's riddles are the most elaborate of the riddling sequence, the way in which one sinful or violent action can be an image for another is also illustrated in Pelias's riddle. In an effort to defeat the giant at his own game, Pelias, having successfully decoded the giant's accounts of matricide and fratricide, offers one bearing on his own life:
Uns hons prist ja a un lyepart Compaignie et li fist part De toz les biens de son ostel. Li lieparz pensa puis tot el, Car quant li preudons l'ot fait riche, Li lyeparz saut, si se desniche. Au preudon saut, et si li oste Le cuer dou cors a tot la coste. (PT I, 82)
As explained by Sador, who agrees to give the giant the solution in exchange for his and Celinde's freedom, this riddle describes the rivalry between Pelias and Sador. When Celinde was married to Canor, Pelias fell in love with her and first attempted to kill Canor, then later imprisoned him. Though Canor eventually recovered both his throne and his wife, Pelias proved unable to forget her, and ultimately arranged for Sador to assist him in abducting Celinde. Sador was initially unaware of Celinde's identity but, after her marriage to Pelias, she and Sador recognized one another at court and Sador forced Pelias to allow him to leave the kingdom with Celinde.
Thus in the eyes of both Sador and Pelias, the riddle narrates their own dispute over Celinde, the woman both have been married to. Pelias's account of benefactions granted to the leopard refers to his generosity in admitting Sador, a homeless outcast, to his court, while his description of himself as a body bereft of its heart expresses the intense grief that he felt at losing Celinde:
Et lors se fiert en sa chambre, si correciez que les lermes li vienent aus ieuz, et dit qu'il est honiz et qu'il n'avra james joie, quant il a perdu par cele decevance la chose par qui tote la joie li venoit. (PT I, 75)
Yet the riddle might just as well be seen as referring to Pelias's own designs on Celinde as Canor's wife. Canor, after all, had found Pelias lost in the forest and brought him back to his castle for the night when Pelias seized the opportunity to attack Canor and have his way with Celinde; and after Pelias had married Celinde, `Canor acocha malades dou duel qu'il en ot, et tant en fu dolenz que maint cuiderent bien qu'il en moreust' (PT I, 74).
Once again, then, the riddle admits of at least two solutions, as Pelias is first the perpetrator and then the victim of the same crime. Just as one sin opens into another, so one rivalry images forth another. In the larger context of the romance, this particular riddle reminds us of the rein of treachery, rivalry, and conflicting desires that runs through the text. The betrayal of the host figured in Pelias's riddle, in fact, is replayed yet again when Pelias himself betrays the giant by pretending not to know the solution to Apollo's riddle. And of course the motif of male rivalry over a beautiful woman is fundamental to the story of Iseut, who is loved, desired, and disputed by Tristan, Mark, Palamedes, and Kaherdin, to name only the most important such characters. Sador's words to Pelias as he took back Celinde could have been spoken by Tristan to Mark: `Rois, ne vos soit ceste chose trop greveuse. Vos l'eustes par moi, et par moi la devez perdre' (PT I, 75).
The common thread linking the rivalries of Sador, his brother Naburzadan, Canor, and Pelias, not to mention Apollo, is Celinde, whose circulation through a constellation of men parallels the circulation of meaning from one riddle or dream to the next. Celinde stands out as an object of absolute desire, the most beautiful of women, such that every man who sees her falls in love with her. Exotic, mysterious, always washing ashore in foreign lands where she inspires instant fascination, this Princess of Babylon is the very embodiment of an illicit and individualistic passion that undermines the structures of civilization: dynastic marriage, lineage, feudal alliances. Like the giant, albeit not through her own initiative, Celinde becomes a medium for transgression and discord: fratricide, betrayal, murder, incest. And as such she, too, is excluded from redemption. As will be seen below, her death, like that of the giants, is an effect of the imposition of Christian law on the British wilderness.
It should be recalled that Celinde, the dangerous object of desire chosen by Joseph of Arimathea's wilful nephew, was implicitly introduced as the erotic counterpart of the Grail. The tale of male sexual rivalry woven around Celinde intersects with the story of Christianity as it spreads through Britain. And if sin is a riddle and its exposition a marvel--in Pelias's words, `merveilles ... les greignors que je onques mes oisse'--the same is true of Christ. The ineffable mysteries of divinity are perhaps most dramatically evoked in the actions of a pagan philosopher living in Cornwall who is impressed by what he hears of the Christian conversion that has taken place in Leonois. Since he knows nothing about the Christian God, he constructs an altar dedicated simply to the `God of Marvels'. When Cicoriades, pagan King of Cornwall and son of Canor and Celinde, asks the seemingly reasonable question, `E qui est cist Diex?' the philosopher can only admit to total ignorance:
Certes, dit li philosophes, ne sai. Onques mais a home n'en oi parler, e nequedent ge sai bien qu'il est Dieus desor touz diex, e si merveillous en toutes choses que bien doit estre apeles Dieu des Merveilles. (PT I, 107)
At the King's further questioning, the philosopher can only reiterate that he knows neither the name nor anything else about the marvellous God he now worships. Cicoriades' question, intended only as a factual enquiry, has turned out to be a riddle far more obscure than he could have realized. But when, understandably bewildered by this obstinate devotion to a deity of such utter obscurity, Cicoriades tries to force the philosopher to return to the pagan idols, he happily embraces death rather than give up his new faith. It would seem that the appeal of Christianity may lie in its very impenetrability, in its riddling promise of access to that which is inherently ineffable, unknowable, inscrutable.
It is through equally mysterious visions that both Cicoriades and his half-brother Apollo li Aventureus are converted. The latter has a dream featuring an insatiable wolf and a humble lamb, which will be discussed below. Cicoriades, in an obvious echo of the `Lion Evage' that so puzzled Arthur and his clerks, sees a lion leap into a fountain and vanish, then reappear to emerge from the fountain without having become wet. (7) Both dreams are explicated by St Augustine as he passes through Cornwall and Leonois. The Christian reader has little difficulty in interpreting these visions and in imagining the teachings that would have been offered to the kings in their initiation to Christianity. But the narrator complains that no less an authority than the Archbishop of Canterbury--successor to Augustine, who founded the see of Canterbury--has forbidden him to include such matters in his `livre de deduit et de cortoisie' (PT I, 105). Thus the crucial turning from pagan to Christian law must be passed over in silence:
... ge endroit moi, qui chevalier sui, seusse bien deviser apertement tous les poins de devinite qui a ce apartienent, tout ensi come Saint Agustin le devisa au roi de Leonois a celui point qu'il le converti, e qu'il le torna de la loi paiene a la loi crestiene. Tout se vos devisasse ge bien a cestui point pot ce que a mon livre apartient; mais je ne puis, quar l'arcevesque de Contorbiere le me devea, e me desfendi que je en mon livre ne meisse chose qui a la devinite apartiegne. E por ce trespaserai outre mon voloir tous les biaus essamples que Saint Agustin dist au roi Apolo. (PT I, 105-6)
This ecclesiastical prohibition that thwarts authorial desire again stresses the ineffable, or in this case unspeakable, mystery of faith. The revelation of sacred doctrine through `biaus essamples'--presumably, the use of narrative or figurative imagery as coding for religious instruction--and the process of spiritual conversion, do not admit of representation, at least not in the language of romance. In a text designed for courtly delights, the inclusion of `beautiful exempla' might entail too high a risk of inspiring idolatrous pleasures in the reader. Much like the excessively beautiful Celinde, who attempted at her peril to conceal the explosive truth lurking beneath the decorous surface of her marriage, this beautiful language must also be suppressed lest it serve only to delight and not to edify an audience unable or unwilling to solve the riddles it would present.
In any case, this cloak of silence that prohibits the linguistic representation of sacred mysteries is reiterated, as if in a long delayed reply to the narrator's lament, at the end of the Tristan. When Galahad finally peers into the Grail, in a passage borrowed from the Queste del Saint Graal, he is overcome by what he sees and thanks God for granting him this vision of that which `langhe mortel ne porroit descouvrir ne cuer penser' (PT IX, 276). Echoing the language of Cicoriades' philosopher, Galahad declares: `Ici voi je la merveille de toutes autres merveilles' (ibid.). Just what this marvel may be, however, is left to the imagination of the reader; the narrator makes no effort to describe or to explain it.
We have seen that the discourse of sin is a closed circle, in which sin unfolds endlessly into deeper sin. The closure of sin upon itself can be broken by a reading that comes from outside the limited discourse of sinful desire: the reading of grace, possible only in a redeemed world. The advent of grace poses new riddles, leading outward rather than inward. Rather than closing in on itself, the riddling discourse of grace leads to an infinite regression of ever deeper and more wonderful mysteries, dissolving finally into an ineffable vision of marvels too great for language to record.
If sin and divine grace define the parameters of the romance unfolding here, the riddles that they pose are a means of approaching another riddle fundamental to courtly romance: that of personal identity in a fallen, yet redeemable, world. The fraught question of individual identity haunts the principal hero of the Tristan's prehistory, Sador's son Apollo li Aventureus, King of Leonois, great-nephew of Joseph of Arimathea, and ancestor of both Mark and Tristan. Apollo, a character of considerable interest, is most obviously modelled on Oedipus. (8) Celinde is pregnant by Sador, her first husband, when she is separated from him and forced to marry the pagan King Canor. Canor is warned by a dream--in which he mortally wounds a leopard, only to be confronted by a lion that kills first the leopard and then him--that his new wife will soon give birth to a son, and that this boy will one day 1611 both him and the boy's own father (the leopard of the dream). Canor exposes the infant Apollo in the forest, but he is found and raised by a couple who are unaware of the prophecy or of the child's identity. He learns eventually that his true parentage is unknown and departs in search of his father; it is in the course of his wandering that he encounters and kills the riddling giant. One day he is attacked in the forest by Sador, who has just been mortally wounded by Canor and who mistakes Apollo for his adversary. Unaware of the identity of this knight, Apollo kills him; shortly thereafter he encounters Canor and kills him as well. Having become King of Leonois, he examines all the unmarried girls and widows and finds that Celinde is the most beautiful; thus he marries his own mother, unbeknownst to either of them. (9)
It is after many years of an apparently successful reign that Apollo hears of the merveilles being performed by Augustine, and has the saint brought before him. With the prescience granted him by God, Augustine at once recognizes Apollo's double crime of patricide and incest, and accordingly denounces both him and the Queen: `Se ge n'avoie garde, malement me seroit avenu, quar je me sui entre vos deus enbatu ausi con li aigniax qui s'enbat entre le lou et la love' (PT I, 101). When Apollo expresses surprise at this characterization, Augustine declares that he is actually even worse than a wolf since, despite having a rational soul, `tu de ta main as ocis ton pere, e apres as ta mere espousee' (ibid.). Although Apollo wants to pursue his conversations with Augustine, never having met anyone else who could tell him who his parents were, Celinde reacts with fury and orders the saint burnt at the stake. Needless to say, he emerges unscathed, while a thunderbolt from heaven reduces her to ashes. It is at this point that Apollo, suitably impressed, converts to Christianity.
The imagery of lamb and wolf links this traumatic revelation of Apollo's identity to the earlier passage in which Apollo confronted the giant, using the same imagery to express his role in the giant's death. Augustine's identification of himself as a lamb who must outwit the dangerous wolf is a riddle whose answer turns out to be another unspeakable crime, and whose ultimate effect is to bring about the violent death and eternal damnation of Celinde and the joyous conversion of Apollo. As such it is remarkably similar to the riddle that Apollo himself uses in his defeat of the incestuous and cannibalistic giant:
En une meson mout pluveuse, Mout gaste et mout frieleuse, Vi ja un leu et un aignel. Quant li leus cuide avoir la pel De l'ainel a tote la char, Li aigniax, qui doute l'eschar, Cort a un petit hamecon, Sel giete au leu de cel lacon, L'endort, et par itant s'en fuit. L'un s'en deust, l'autre s'en deduit, L'un en chante, et l'autre en pleure. (PT I, 91)
In its immediate context, Apollo's riddle refers to the way in which he, though small and vulnerable to the giant's predations, successfully outwits him. Because the giant is unable to answer Apollo's riddle, Apollo is free to behead him, and does so; as a result the giant's daughter is grief-stricken while his prisoner Pelias is overjoyed. The riddle does not receive a detailed exposition, but clarification is provided, should it be needed, in Apollo's comment to Pelias: `Sire, se il seust deviner l'aventure de sa mort, bien li fust avenu, que de sa mort meismes avoie ge fait ceste devinaille' (PT I, 93).
Apollo, in other words, has already used the image of lamb and wolf to express his own victory over the evil giant. But just as the giant failed to recognize his own death in the riddle, Apollo likewise failed to realize that his little verse also contained the story of his fateful encounter with Augustine, with its similar dangers and its outcome that was joyous for one, tragic for another. It is in fact the movement from paganism to Christianity that allows Apollo's riddle to pass from its very limited personal meaning to a larger and indeed cosmic significance. The full ramifications of the lamb-wolf dichotomy are presented in a dream that Apollo has after his first conversation with Augustine. In this dream he encounters a forking road and a notice indicating that the path to the right leads to grain, while that on the left leads to chaff. Each path is also identified with an animal:
A l'entree de la voie a destre avoit un aignel le plus bel dou monde; a l'entree de l'autre avoit un lous le plus hidous dou monde, qui ovroit la goule, e baoit de fain et de mesaize, e crioit toutes voies: `Aporte! aporte!' (PT I, 102-3)
Upon questioning the lamb, Apollo learns that the path to the left is the one that Celinde will follow, resulting in `paine pardurable e mal e dolor tous jors mais', while the one to the right leads to `la maison de joie et de delit' (PT I, 103). The triumph of the lamb over the wolf, and the ensuing dichotomy of sorrow and joy, here becomes a figure for the ultimately hopeless struggle of Satan against Christ, and for the split between damnation and redemption. Apollo's riddle, in short, continues the implied narrative of salvation history begun in the giant's riddles, with their evocation of original sin, Cain and Abel, and, though more obscurely, the Passion of Christ. And as with the giant's riddles, it is the Christian reading that is privileged, able to produce a surplus de sens that had eluded the riddler himself.
Even in his pagan condition, Apollo outdoes the giant in the art of riddling. Not only does he pose a riddle that the giant is unable to answer, but also by its very nature Apollo's riddle breaks out of the giant's obsession with past events. Where the giant previously asked, `What have I done?'--and with Apollo, moves on to ask: `What am I describing?'--Apollo looks to the future, asking: `What will I do?' But as a pagan, Apollo is unable to grasp the significance of his own riddle, which turns out to be the riddle of his life. Firstly, it unfolds into ever greater futures, referring not only to his immediate encounter with the giant but also to his later crimes and subsequent meeting with Augustine, and finally to the fate of his immortal soul for all eternity. And secondly, it turns out that it cannot be properly understood or answered without the complementary question, `What have I done?'--or perhaps more accuratety, `Where do I come from?' The fundamental question that preoccupies Apollo--`Who am I?'--refers simultaneously backwards and forwards. It cannot be answered without knowledge both of his origins and of his future. And ultimately it becomes the question of his place in the universal sweep of history, from original sin to the Final Judgement: the personal and universal history of sin and salvation.
The use of riddles in the Tristan can be further illuminated by comparison with two other Old French romances containing riddles, both of which clearly served as models for this opening section: the Roman de Thebes and Apollonius de Tyre. (10) The Thebes offers the example of a riddle posed by a monstrous figure, which the hero must answer in order to avoid death; but which he turns out, in the end, to have insufficiently understood. Edypus interprets the sphinx's riddle, outlining the passage from infancy through adulthood to old age, as though it pertained uniquely to himself:
Ore me lai parler oue tei: li devinals fu fait pur mei. Quant fu petitz, que j'alaitoe, a quatre pies par terre aloe. (ed. Mora-Lebrun, lines 337-40)
Edypus' explication of the riddle, in keeping with this opening, is entirely in terms of his own life. But if Edypus sees his past and future reflected in this paradigm of the human life cycle, he nonetheless fails to recognize the particular way in which this cyclic return in old age to the position of infancy is to be realized in his return, through marriage, to the maternal body. In attempting to unravel the riddle of his own life, Edypus is unable to see either his origins or his future, and thus cannot understand the true import of their similarity.
Edypus' flawed reading of the riddle's relevance to his own life is related to his failure to acknowledge its significance for humanity in general. This universal reading is provided later in the poem by Tydeus, to whom the same riddle is put by a demonic woman, and whose answer reflects none of Edypus' individualistic reading:
quant homme est vielz, vait oue bastons; quant est petiz, vait a chatons; quant est en aez de quinze ans, sur ses deux piez vait, come est grans. (ed. Mora-Lebrun, lines 2963-6)
Had Edypus realized that the riddle referred generally to all men, he might additionally have seen that its relevance to his personal case was of a very particular nature. Apollo, likewise, at first saw only partially the significance of the riddle of lamb and wolf. He understood it to apply to a single moment in his life, unable to foresee that, having killed the giant, he would replace him in the role of wolf; or that he would achieve this by killing his father and replacing him in the role of husband to Celinde. It is only after he came to understand the cosmic significance of the Lamb of God and the demonic wolf that he could hope to situate himself correctly within this model.
If the figure of Apollo is modelled to some extent on that of Edypus, the giant's riddles equally reflect the backdrop of the Oedipus story with their association of fratricide and implied mother-son incest. Even more immediately relevant to the giant's four riddles, however, are those appearing in Apollonius. The tale opens with the riddle set by King Anthiocus as a test for all those who wish to marry his daughter, and which appears as follows in the fourteenth-century French prose version of the romance: `Je suy pere par felonnie, je use de la char de ma mere, je quier mon frere filz de ma mere, mari de ma femme, et si ne le puis trouver' (ed. Lewis, p. 4). The French prose versions employ the verb `use' for the riddler's treatment of his mother's flesh, but the Latin manuscripts read either `utor' (use) or `vescor' (eat, enjoy). The scribes seem generally to have struggled with the riddle and its tangle of incestuous relationships, which manifest considerable variation from one manuscript to another: in some Latin manuscripts the brother is the husband of the mother and son of the wife, while in others it is the father that is sought, variously identified as son of the riddler's wife or of his mother. (11) Common to all versions, though, is the device of using actual or implied mother-son incest as a riddling figure for the incest of father and daughter. (12) In the Old French prose redactions Apollonius shies away from explicitly identifying the King's incestuous relations with his daughter, evidently regarding this state of affairs as literally unspeakable. (13) No such scruples, however, are expressed in the twelfth-century verse romance. Apollonius' explication survives in the one tiny fragment that is now left of this poem:
Tu ne resoignes felonie, Quant tu la tiens en ta [baillie]; La fille c'est la chars ta [mere], Tu es li fils si n'as nul f[rere], Ne sai cum l'i trouasses [mie]; Sire, ta fille c'est t'amie. (ed. Lewis, p. 273)
The riddle that initiates the adventures of Apollonius of Tyre, then, refers implicitly or explicitly to the same constellation of transgressive acts as the first three riddles of the giant: the consumption, be it through eating or through other forms of pleasure, of the mother's body; the suppression of the brother; incest with the daughter. Given this textual echo of a romance well known to medieval readers, the giant's second riddle neatly forms a bridge between the first and the third: its surface imagery, fratricide, is the solution to the third while its hidden meaning, eating the mother, is itself a riddle that leads back to the father-daughter incest of the first.
The giant's fourth riddle, in turn, derives from one of the riddles used by Apollonius' daughter Tharsia as she attempts to distract him from his grief, unaware--as he also is--of their relationship. (14) Among Tharsia's riddles, all of which involve the identification of objects rather than personal actions, is one based on the tree that becomes a boat:
De forrest suy je engennye, Et si vois a grant compaignie; Je keurch tost aussi c'on me caiche, Apries my ne fay nulle trache. (ed. Lewis, p. 119)
Tharsia's riddle lacks the subtle Christological overtones added by the Tristan author, but is surely the inspiration for the riddle with which the giant attempts to defeat the man who, it turns out, will be his killer. The comparison of the version found in the Tristan with its probable source--in which there is no reference to the tree being born without sin and no allusion to the passage in Proverbs--highlights the ways in which the Tristan author adapted the text to fit his programmatic exposition, through riddles, of Fall and redemption.
The Thebes and Apollonius, taken together, explore the function of riddles in a pagan world to mask and defer some horrific threat, or to offer an appearance of escape which turns out in the end to be illusory. Tharsia's riddles are a classic instance of endless deferral: having been abducted and sold to the keeper of a brothel, she protects her virginity by using her skills in performance as a substitute for sexual favours. In her meeting with Apollonius, there is a double or indeed triple threat to be deflected. Not only is she attempting to rouse him from suicidal grief through her engaging series of riddles and to earn money thereby that will allow her to prolong her virginity; but since the man with whom she has this dangerous encounter is her own father, the more sinister threat of incest lurks just beneath the surface. (15) The series of objects held up in her riddles--sea, ship, bath, anchor, sponge, ball, mirror, and cartwheels--are in effect a series of substitutes for her own body, with sexual play replaced by the intellectual sport of decoding the riddle and discovering the answer. One could compare this process of defence and deferral to the giant's use of a similar riddle in sparring with Apollo, or Pelias's attempt, through the riddle of his own life, to escape bondage to the giant.
All three texts also contain examples of riddles which seem to promise salvation to the one who can solve the puzzle, but whose solution in the end proves no solution at all to the actual underlying problem. Both Layus in Thebes and Canor in Tristan are warned against infants that will some day kill them--Canor's warning takes the form of a riddling dream--yet this knowledge in no way enables either king to avoid his fate. Edypus escapes death at the hands of the sphinx and wins a throne and a lovely bride, only to discover that his brilliant solution to the riddle has landed him in a situation at least as bad--quite possibly worse given all its complications--as that of a quick and early death before his tainted marriage had taken place. And as for Apollonius, his task initially appears as a choice between death if he fails to solve the riddle, and marriage with the Princess if he succeeds: horror to be averted, pleasure to be won. Yet when the riddle is solved, the answer turns out to be an even greater horror, the incestuous violation of his intended bride. The penalty for having seen this unspeakable crime is the same as that for having failed to see it: death. The sole difference between failure or success with the riddle is that the latter entails a delay of thirty days, during which Anthiocus plots to have the young Apollonius killed. The mere fact of engaging with the riddle already implicates Apollonius in a deadly game, in which the only real solution is flight.
The situation foisted upon Sador and Pelias in their encounters with the giant is similar. Failure to solve the riddle means death; success is a laying bare of monstrous and unspeakable crimes, from which the knight cannot now extricate himself. Although in each initial encounter the giant states only that the knight must preserve his lire by solving a riddle, the knight's very ability to decode these confessions binds him to the giant in a state of involuntary companionship. As the giant explains to Sador:
Tu ies quites, sanz faille; tu n'as ores plus garde de moi. Mes por ce que je te roi saige et soutil, et cuit que tu vaus assez dou cors et de la force que tu as, te pri je que tu remeignes avec moi, si feras compaignie a un demoisel et a une demoisele qui leanz sont. Se tu le veus faire pot ma priere, bien t'en venra; se non, saiches que tu en seras honiz. (PT I, 78)
Clearly the giant's offer, however politely stated, is one that cannot be refused. As Sador realizes, `il ne puer refuser la priere del jaiant que mal ne l'en viegne' (ibid.).
Given this aspect of the use of riddles in the pagan world of Old French romance, one cannot help feeling that once Apollo had the inspiration to set the giant the riddle of his own death, the latter's demise was inevitable. Had he solved it, after all, he would only have seen that the knight before him was the one destined to kill him: information that might well have done him no more good than it did Layus or Canor. Just as the giant failed to protect himself in light of the warning against treacherous guests contained in Pelias's riddle--and later met his end because Pelias betrayed him--so also he was powerless against the riddle of death that emanated from Apollo.
Once again, one can compare these riddles of sin, these riddles of an unredeemed pagan world, to the riddles of Christian doctrine and divine grace that appear with the advent of St Augustine and, of course, in the closing portion of the romance devoted to the Grail quest. The stakes are high in the riddles of Christianity--the lire or death of the immortal soul--but the offer of salvation for those who solve the riddle is a real one. Here I will focus on just one point of comparison between the opening and closing episodes of the long and complex tale of Tristan, Lancelot, Guinevere, and Iseut. This many-faceted romance is framed by the figures of Apollo and Galahad, each of whom is identified as the son of the world's greatest knight, and destined to surpass even that paternal standard of excellence. (16) As hero of the opening sequence, Apollo can be seen as a precursor and antitype to the hero of the Grail quest with which the romance closes. Seeking to answer the riddle of his own identity, defeating the giant with the riddle of himself as giant-killer, object of Augustine's riddle of the wolves and Canor's riddling dream, Apollo himself is an enigma, a riddle and the answer to riddles. Clever and valiant, Apollo nonetheless suffers from certain tragic gaps in his understanding. He does not know his own parentage; and largely for that very reason, despite being the son of a Christian, he does not know the true God. It is Augustine who resolves both of those gaps and thereby provides the answers to the most important riddles, but not before much damage has been done.
Galahad, in contrast, is more fortunate. Raised as a Christian, he has no need of religious conversion, nor is he unaware of his parentage. He himself, however, is very much the answer to another urgent riddle, that of the mysterious Bon Chevalier who will occupy the Siege Perilleux and complete the Grail quest. And in the course of the Grail quest as portrayed in the Queste del Saint Graal and in Tristan, Galahad's identity and ancestry--and his personal relationship to the establishment and the spread of Christianity--are clarified and expounded in greater and greater detail, with ever-expanding chronological scope. (17) For out purposes here, two details are particularly important, for they mark Galahad's difference from the young hero with whom the romance opened so many hundreds of pages earlier. In both the Queste and the Tristan, Lancelot is explicitly told the identity of his son so that he will not come into armed conflict with him. As the hermit says in the Tristan:
Cil Galaad est cil cevaliers qui sist le jour de Pentecouste el Siege Perilleus. C'est cil que tu quiers. Or le t'ai dit et fait connoistre pour ce que je ne vauroie pas que tu t'empreisses contre lui a bataille, car tu le poroies faire pecier morteument et toi mal baillir del cors, car tu dois bien savoir que se tu assambloies contre lui tu seroies tost au desous, car nule prouesce ne se puet prendre a la siue. (PT VIII, 161)
And in a detail not found in the Queste, Galahad has a decidedly chaste meeting with his mother at Corbenic:
Et quant la mere le voit, si saut sus et le vaut acoler et baisier. Mais il nel suefre mie, ains dist: `Dame, pour Dieu merchi, ne me toucies mie, que je ne vauroie en nule maniere que feme me touchast, pour ce que je doi porter le Saint Vaissel!' (PT IX, 258)
Galahad, in other words, quite explicitly does not re-enact the primal sins of his distant kinsman Apollo: he will neither kill his father nor be tainted in any way by relations with his mother.
We have seen that the riddles of sin are an endless exposition of trauma, as the threat of death transforms into the reality of bondage or the renewed threat of death deferred, and as one unspeakable horror reveals itself to be the image of another. Pagan solutions tend to be partial, focusing on short-term explanations and on individual actions while failing to discern the universal import of the riddle. The advent of Christianity brings in its wake riddles of a different nature, unfolding into ever greater marvels and necessitating a consideration of the individual in a cosmic framework. Even so, however, as the interlaced stories of Tristan and Lancelot demonstrate all too well, humanity continues to struggle with the seemingly irresolvable riddles of desire, of rivalry, of identity, and of death. Like the slippery Celinde or the elusive Grail, a comprehensive and final answer to the riddles posed by the human condition is sought but never found. The trajectory does not come to rest until the appearance of Galahad, who resolves all those adventures that have been left suspended; is told exactly who he is, where he comes from, and what he is to do; and fully beholds the marvels of the Grail.
Interestingly, Galahad's final vision returns full circle to the motif with which the romance opened, that of the riddle that carries the threat of death; except that now, having passed through the transforming lens of Christianity, bodily death is no longer a threat but a promise. Having gazed into the Grail and beheld `les coses esperitex', marvels that defy linguistic expression or human understanding, Galahad has in effect seen his own death as a release into the realm of the spirit, and recognizes this as his supreme desire:
Et puis qu'il est ensi, Biaus Dous Sire, que vous m'aves acompli ma volente de laissier me veoir ce que je tous jours desiroie, or vous pri je que vous, en cestui point et en cest grant joie u je suis, souffres que je trespasse de ceste terrienne vie en le celestielle! (PT IX, 276)
After taking Communion and bidding farewell to Perceval and Bohort, Galahad duly dies before the altar. It is as though this paragon of knightly perfection has succeeded in solving the final riddle: the one whereby death is granted, having been revealed not as an unspeakable horror, but as the ultimate ineffable bliss.
SYLVIA HUOT Pembroke College Cambridge
(1) I cite the following volumes of the Tristan: Roman de Tristan en prose, ed. Renee L. Curtis, vol. I, Arthurian Studies 12 (Cambridge, 1985); Roman de Tristan en prose, ed. Bernard Guidot and Jean Subrenat, vol. VIII, TLF (Geneva, 1995); Roman de Tristan en prose, ed. Laurence Harf-Lancner, vol. IX, TLF (Geneva, 1997). I shall refer to these volumes hereafter as PTI, PTVIII, and PTIX respectively.
(2) Janet H. Caulkins has analysed the shifting fortunes of Sador and Celinde, describing this opening sequence as a precursor to the Tristan story that establishes `un paradigme de logique narrative qui comprend un systeme de signes oppositionnels de recompense et de chatiment'; see `Recompense et chatiment dans la structure narrative de la genealogie du Tristan en prose', in Rewards and Punishments in the Arthurian Romances and Lyric Poetry of Mediaeval France: Essays Presented to Kenneth Varty on the Occasion of his Sixtieth Birthday, ed. Peter V. Davies and Angus J. Kennedy (Cambridge, 1987), pp. 9-19 (p. 18).
(3) These three knights are named in the prologue to the Tristan: `Et li latins meismes de l'estroire del Saint Graal devise apertement que au tens le roi Artus ne furent que troi bon chevalier qui tres bien feissent a prisier de chevalerie: Galaaz, Lanceloz, Tristan' (PTI, 39).
(4) The close relationship between the riddle and poetic language, as well as the riddle's capacity to bestow power on those who are in possession of its solution, are addressed by Charles T. Scott in his survey of critical approaches to the riddle as phenomenon in literature, culture, and folklore, in `Some approaches to the study of the riddle', in Studies in Language, Literature, and Culture of the Middle Ages and Later, ed. E. Bagby Atwood and Archibald A. Hill (Austin, Tex., 1969), pp. 111-27. The use of riddles in medieval French and Occitan poetry is discussed by Sarah Kay in Courtly Contradictions: The Emergence of the Literary, Object in the Twelfth Century (Stanford, Calif., 2001), pp. 143-78.
(5) I cannot agree with the reading offered by Philippe Menard, Le Rire et le sourire dans le roman courtois en France au moyen age (1150-1250), Publications romanes et francaises 105 (Geneva, 1969), pp. 510-13. Menard sees the giant's riddles as the expression of a profound guilt and a longing for a means of confessing that which he cannot bring himself to state openly; but there is no evidence in the text that the giant is in any way troubled by his past behaviour. Menard rightly suggests that the Tristan may reflect the influence of the very widely known legend of Apollonius of Tyre, in which the wicked King Anthiocus tests all those wanting to marry his daughter with a riddle referring to his own incestuous relationship with the girl. But this very comparison belies the notion of the giant's guilty conscience. The giant is unperturbed when the knights solve his riddles, and indeed prefers those very knights as his companions; but when Apollonius solves the King's riddle, Anthiocus fears that his crime will be exposed and plots to kill the young man. See Charles B. Lewis, `Die altfranzosischen Prosaversionen des Appollonius-Romans', Romanische Forschungen, 34 (1913), 1-277 (pp. 5, 49).
(6) The motif of monstrous giants that infested Britain before the advent of civilization, and whose behaviour represents that which civilization must exclude, appears in various Arthurian texts. See Emmanuele Baumgartner, `Geants et chevaliers', in Spirit of the Court, ed. Glyn S. Burgess and Robert A. Taylor (Cambridge, 1985), pp. 9-22. For an illuminating analysis of giants in a range of medieval English and French texts, see Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Of Giants: Sex, Monsters, and the Middle Ages, Medieval Cultures 17 (Minneapolis, 1999).
(7) Arthur's clerks, when asked to interpret a series of troubling dreams, are able to tell him that he can only be saved by the watery lion, the doctor without medicine, and the flower that speaks; but they admit that they have no idea what this means and regard it as `folie'. As with the dreams of the Tristan which are interpreted by St Augustine, it requires a preudomme versed in theology to decipher these riddling images. See Lancelot du Lac, pres. and trans. Francois Moses, ed. Elspeth Kennedy, Lettres gothiques (Paris, 1991), pp. 692-6, 760-2.
(8) See J. H. Grisward, `Un scheme narratif du Tristan en prose: le mythe d'Oedipe', in Melanges de langue et de litterature medievales offerts a Pierre le Gentil (Paris, 1973), pp. 329-39.
(9) It should be clarified here that Tristan is not descended from this incestuous union, which was evidently childless, but from a subsequent marriage: after Celinde's death, Apollo marries the daughter of the King of Ireland.
(10) Roman de Thebes, ed. Francine Mora-Lebrun, Lettres gothiques (Paris, 1995). The small fragment (less than fifty lines) that survives of the twelfth-century French verse Apollonius, and prose redactions dating from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, have been edited by Lewis, `Altfranzosische Prosaversionen'. Another fifteenth-century French prose version is printed by Michel Zink (ed.), Le Roman d'Apollonius de Tyr, Bibliotheque medievale 10/18 (Paris, 1982).
(11) On the riddle and its variants, see Lewis, `Altfranzosische Prosaversionen', pp. 172-3, 207-8, 237; Zink also discusses the different versions of the text in Apollonius, pp. 38-58. In the fifteenth-century version edited by Lewis it is the father rather than the brother that cannot be found (p. 48).
(12) Zink discusses the motif of mother-son incest implied in the riddle, suggesting a link to the Oedipus legend, in Apollonius, pp. 20-6.
(13) This squeamishness is particularly clear in the later prose redaction edited by Lewis, where Apollonius tells the King: `Et che que vous dittez: Je use de la char ma mere, regardes vostre fille et vous trouveres que je ay bien ditte le solucion et plus en appert l'euisse bien dit, mais, se il vous plaist, il doit souffire ensi' (ed. Lewis, p. 49). The narrator, however, has made the situation abundantly clear in his description of the King's assault on his daughter and her subsequent grief'.
(14) For a discussion of Tharsia's riddles and the relevance of their objects to the story of Apollonius, see Zink, Apollonius, pp. 26-30.
(15) It is admittedly unlikely that Apollonius would have desired sexual relations at that particular point in the story: he is too grief-stricken even to emerge from his ship, and wants only to die. His violent reaction when Tharsia attempts to coax him out, however--he knocks her down and causes her to bleed from the nose or from the knee, depending on which version of the text we look at--does hint at the potential here for unwitting incest or filicide (ed. Lewis, p. 122). The implicit danger of father-daughter incest present in this encounter is dicussed by Zink, Apollonius, pp. 20-2.
(16) Galahad's pre-eminence hardly requires documentation, nor does that of Lancelot, who is often identified as `the greatest knight in the world except for Galahad his son'. Apollo's father Sador is described by Pelias's son Luce as `le meillor chevalier dou monde'; in a similar two-step, Luce then tells Apollo (who has just killed Sador) that `il fu si bons chevaliers que je onques a mon escient ne vi meillor fors que vos' (PTI, 97).
(17) The precise relationship between the Vulgate Queste, what is known as the Post-Vulgate Queste, and the Prose Tristan has proved difficult to determine. For a brief overview of the variations present in different textual versions and of critical approaches to the problem, see Harf-Lancner's discussion in her introduction to PT IX, 25-38.…