Finally, his relations with Guenevere are revealed to Arthur by the sons of King Lot, Gawain, however, taking no part in the disclosure.
Thus converted into an enemy, Gawain urges his uncle to make war on Lancelot, and there follows a desperate struggle between Arthur and the race of Ban.
To the student of the original texts Lancelot is an infinitely less interesting hero than Gawain, Perceval or Tristan, each of whom possesses a well-marked personality, and is the centre of what we may call individual adventures.
We have people whose tread was so light that no blade of grass bent beneath their weight.
Gawain (Welwain, Welsh Gwalchmai), Arthur's nephew, who in medieval romance remains the type of knightly courage and chivalry, until his character is degraded in order to exalt that of Lancelot.
The connexion of the story with Arthur and his court brought about a speedy and more important development, the precise steps of which are not yet clear: Perceval became the hero of the Grail quest, in this ousting Gawain, to whom the adventure originally belonged, and the Perceval became merged in the Grail tradition.
In the later Historia of Goeffrey of Monmouth, and its French translation by Wace, Gawain plays an important and "pseudo-historic" role.
On receipt of the tidings of Mordred's treachery, Gawain accompanies Arthur to England, and is slain in the battle which ensues on their landing.
Wace, however, evidently knew more of Gawain than he has included in his translation, for he speaks of him as Li quens Walwains Qui tant fu preudom de ses mains (II.
In the poems of Chretien de Troyes, Gawain, though generally placed first in the list of knights, is by no means the hero par excellence.
The anonymous author of the Chevalier a l'epee indeed makes this apparent neglect of Gawain a ground of reproach against Chretien.
At the same time the majority of the short episodic poems connected with the cycle have Gawain for their hero.
In the Merlin proper, Gawain is a dominant personality, his feats rivalling in importance those ascribed to Arthur, but in the later forms such as the Merlin continuations, the Tristan, and the final Lancelot compilation, his character and position have undergone a complete change, he is represented as cruel, cowardly and treacherous, and of indifferent moral character.
Most unfortunately our English version of the romances, Malory's Morte Arthur, being derived from these later forms (though his treatment of Gawain is by no means uniformly consistent), this unfavourable aspect is that under which the hero has become known to the modern reader.
Morris, in The Defence of Guinevere, speaks of "gloomy Gawain"; perhaps the most absurdly misleading epithet which could possibly have been applied to the "gay, gratious, and gude" knight of early English tradition.
The truth appears to be that Gawain, the Celtic and mythic origin of whose character was frankly admitted by the late M.
He was certainly known in Italy at a very early date; Professor Rajna has found the names of Arthur and Gawain in charters of the early 12th century, the bearers of those names being then grown to manhood; and Gawain is figured in the architrave of the north doorway of Modena cathedral, a 12thcentury building.
Recent discoveries have made it practically certain that there existed, prior to the extant romances, a collection of short episodic poems, devoted to the glorification of Arthur's famous nephew and his immediate kin (his brother Ghaeris, or Gareth, and his son Guinglain), the authorship of which was attributed to a Welshman, Bleheris; fragments of this collection have been preserved to us alike in the first continuation of Chretien de Troyes Perceval, due to Wauchier de Denain, and in our vernacular Gawain poems. Among these "Bleheris" poems was one dealing with Gawain's adventures at the Grail castle,where the Grail is represented as non-Christian, and present s features strongly reminiscent of the ancient Nature mysteries.
There is good ground for believing that as Grail quester and winner, Gawain preceded alike Perceval and Galahad, and that the solution of the mysterious Grail problem is to be sought rather in the tales connected with the older hero than in those devoted to the glorification of the younger knights.
The explanation of the very perplexing changes which the character of Gawain has undergone appears to lie in a misunderstanding of the original sources of that character.
It seems probable that it was this connexion which won for Gawain the title of the "Maidens' Knight," a title for which no satisfactory explanation is ever given.
When the source of the name was forgotten its meaning was not unnaturally misinterpreted, and gained for Gawain the reputation of a facile morality, which was exaggerated by the pious compilers of the later Grail romances into persistent and aggravated wrong-doing; at the same time it is to be noted that Gawain is never like Tristan and Lancelot, the hero of an illicit connexion maintained under circumstances of falsehood and treachery.
Gawain, however, belonged to the pre-Christian stage of Grail tradition, and it is not surprising that writers, bent on spiritual edification, found him somewhat of a stumbling-block.
Chaucer, when he spoke of Gawain coming "again out of faerie," spoke better than he knew; the home of that very gallant and courteous knight is indeed Fairy-land, and the true Gawain-tradition is informed with fairy glamour and grace.
Xxx.; introduction and summary of episodic "Gawain" poems by Gaston Paris; The Legend of Sir Gawain, by Jessie L.
Xvii.; "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," "Sir Gawain at the Grail Castle" and "Sir Gawain and the Lady of Lys," vols.
As authority Thomas cites a certain Breri, who has now been identified with the Bleheris quoted as authority for the Grail and Gawain stories, and the Bledhericus referred to by Giraldus Cambrensis as famosus ille fabulator.
The Quest versions again fall into three distinct classes, differentiated by the personality of the hero who is respectively Gawain, Perceval or Galahad.
The most important and interesting group is that connected with Perceval, and he was regarded as the original Grail hero, Gawain being, as it were, his understudy.
Recent discoveries, however, point to a different conclusion, and indicate that the Gawain stories represent an early tradition, and that we must seek in them rather than in the Perceval versions for indications as to the ultimate origin of the Grail.
36614, we find the first continuator of the Perceval, Wauchier de Denain, quoting as authority for stories of Gawain a certain Bleheris, whom he states to have been "born and bred in Wales."
So far as Arthur himself is concerned these parallels are with the Fenian, or Ossianic, cycle, in the case of Gawain with the Ultonian.
Gawain, included in the continuation to Chretien's Perceval by Wauchier de Denain, and attributed to Bleheris the Welshman, who is probably identical with the Bledhericus of Giraldus Cambrensis, and considerably earlier than Chretien de Troyes.
Another account is given in the prose Lancelot, but here Gawain has been deposed from his post as first hero of the court, and, as is to be expected from the treatment meted out to him in this romance, the visit ends in his complete discomfiture.
These are the Gawain versions.
Here the Grail, the chalice of the Last Supper, is at the same time, as in the Gawain stories, self-acting and food-supplying.
It will be seen that with the exception of the Grand Saint Graal, which has now been practically converted into an introduction to the Quete, no two versions agree with each other; indeed, with the exception of the oldest Gawain-Grail visit, that due to Bleheris, they do not agree with themselves, but all show, more or less, the influence of different and discordant versions.
The earliest form of the Grail story, the Gawain- Bleheris version, exhibits a marked affinity with the characteristic features of the Adonis or Tammuz worship; we have a castle on the sea-shore, a dead body on a bier, the identity of which is never revealed, mourned over with solemn rites; a wasted country, whose desolation is mysteriously connected with the dead man, and which is restored to fruitfulness when the quester asks the meaning of the marvels he beholds (the two features of the weeping women and the wasted land being retained in versions where they have no significance); finally the mysterious food-providing, self-acting talisman of a common feast - one and all of these features may be explained as survivals of the Adonis ritual.
- For the Gawain Grail visits see the Potvin edition of the Perceval, which, however, only gives the Bleheris version; the second visit is found in the best and most complete MSS., such as 12,576 and 12,577 (Fonds francais) of the Paris library.