Chrétien de Troyes
"Christian of Troyes"
fl. 1170

Twelfth century poet, and popularizer (some would argue inventor) of the Arthurian Romance. He claims to be from Troyes, not far from Paris, and names Marie de Champagne (daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine) as one of his patrons. Only five romances can be definately attributed to him:

Eric and Enid
Yvain, or the Knight with the Lion
Lancelot, or, the Knight of the Cart
Perceval, or, the Story of the Grail
There are also five romances he alludes to in his own work which are missing:
The Commandments: his version of the Remedia Amoris by Ovid The Art of Love: Ovid's Ars Amorica The Shoulder Bite The Romance of the Nightingale: likely based on the Philomea episode of Ovid's Metamorphosis. Tristan and Enid There is also a romance called William of England which some attribute to him. That many of his lost romances deal with the works of Ovid aren't surprising; his contemporary, Andreas Capellanus, author of The Art of Courtly Love was also greatly inspired by Ovid, and was also patronized by Marie.

The most significant contributions of Chretien to Western literature is his introduction and popularization of the Grail quest, and the use of interweaving storylines, wherein he will pick up a storyline, continue it for a while, then drop it for another, only to pick it up again later, tying everything up very neatly in the end.

Sadly, his greatest work, Perceval is unfinished. For centuries, people have tried to construct not only an ending, but the meaning of the quest. It seems to break off in mid-sentence; whatever the circumstances were that lead to such an end are up to debate, even the idea of dying while writing (which can only conjure up Monty Python's line "He must've died while carving it").

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Mary Jones © 2004