Refining the Soul: The Pilgrimage of Caritas in the Romances of Chrétien de Troyes

Zdansky, Hannah
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My thesis explores the relationship between twelfth-century theology and courtly romance. I specifically look at the connections between St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s treatise De diligendo Deo (On Loving God) (c. 1126) and the corpus of Chrétien de Troyes’s Arthurian romances (c. 1165-1190). In each tale, I analyze the progression of love made by the characters towards a complete attainment of caritas (charity).

Chapter One investigates love from a medieval religious standpoint in order to establish Chrétien’s cultural milieu. I consider works by St. Augustine, the Canticum Canticorum (Songs of Songs), Boethius’s De consolatione philosophiae (Consolation of Philosophy), as well as a mid-twelfth-century narrative poem composed in Old French, the lai of Narcisus. Chapter Two turns to two of Chrétien’s early romances, Érec et Énide and Yvain. Here, I show how the protagonists—Erec and Enide, and Yvain and Laudine—grow as a couple. In Chapter Three, I discuss Chrétien’s fourth romance, Le Chevalier de la Charrette (The Knight of the Cart), in light of the eleventh-century Vie de saint Alexis. The Concluding Remarks, then, end upon an investigation of Chrétien’s fifth and final work, Perceval.

Throughout the thesis, I draw upon medieval artwork (manuscript illuminations, stained-glass windows, sculpture) to enrich my analyses. In this way, I come to grips with the medieval worldview and, more particularly, the twelfth-century understanding of love and marriage. Working within a fictional framework, Chrétien echoes Bernard and suggests that the love between man and woman is a response to God’s love; it is the first step towards spiritual perfection and happiness.

Arthurian Romances, Chrétien de Troyes, Le Chevalier au Lion, Le Chevalier de la Charrette, Le Conte du Graal, De diligendo Deo, Erec and Enide, Érec et Énide, Four Degrees of Love, The Knight of the Cart, The Knight with the Lion, Lancelot, On Loving God, Perceval, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, The Story of the Grail, Yvain