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Arthurian > Some notes on Chrétien de Troyes

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message 1: by Lia (new)

Lia | 522 comments Mod
it is ultimately hard to see why Chrétien, who was able to refer to ‘the false Jews, who should be put down like dogs’, (source: Perceval, tr. N. Bryant, p. 67; Roach’s edition, vv.6292–3.) should be so mild and reasonable towards heretics, especially given that he was writing at the behest of a patron, Philip of Flanders, who, in Olschki’s own words, ‘after 1168, when he took over control of Flanders . . . proceeded to take more effective and more violent measures of repression against this centre of heretical expansion than the king of France had hitherto dared to employ’ (pp. 60–1).

Whoa! I'd appreciate some explaining on this one. Was Chrétien anti-semitic?


message 2: by Lia (new)

Lia | 522 comments Mod
The plan was to read till I fall asleep, ended up sailing right into this passage.

‘What day, sir? Don’t you know? It’s Good Friday, the day when a man should worship the cross and weep for his sins, for on this day the one who was sold for thirty pieces of silver was nailed to the cross. He who was clean of all sins saw the sins with which the whole world was stained and bound, and became a man to save us from them. He was God and man, truly, for the Virgin bore a son conceived by the Holy Spirit, in whom God assumed flesh and blood, so that the Deity was housed in the flesh of man: that’s certain. And those who won’t believe it will never see Him face to face. That son born of the Virgin Lady, who assumed the form and the soul of man with His holy deity, truly, on this day He was nailed to the cross and freed all His friends from Hell. It was a most holy death, which saved the living and brought the dead from death to life. With their spite the false Jews, who should be put down like dogs, did themselves great harm and us great good when they raised Him to the cross; for they damned themselves and saved us. All who believe in Him should be spending today in penitence. No man who believes in God should be carrying arms today, either in the field or on the road.’


So that came from some minor (anon?) character Perceval encounters, meaning it’s not necessarily the author’s own belief/ opinion?


message 3: by Ian (last edited Jun 17, 2018 06:25PM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments Lia wrote: "Whoa! I'd appreciate some explaining on this one. Was Chrétien anti-semitic? .."

Not, so far as I can tell, in the modern, racist, form, although that approach has its roots in the (later) Middle Ages, and probably could be read into Chretien without difficulty.

Chretien just reflects the standard Medieval European Christian antipathy toward the Jews: something which bulks large in Jewish History, but is often glossed over in general histories of the period, except, perhaps, for a few massacres and expulsions.

Despite treating it almost as a part the creed, Chretien is far from the most extreme. For example, the "Perlesvaus" prose sequel to "Perceval" is built around the opposition between "the Old Law" and "the New Law," the latter meaning Christianity, the former *sometimes* being the Old Testament, or Judaism. (There have been arguments that "Perlesvaus" interpreted "Perceval" correctly on this point.)

Being Jewish myself, I find it disturbing, but not enough to stop reading Chretien (or Perlesvaus, for that matter) -- but there are medieval books I would probably never open again because of such contents, except to prove a point.

There is a theory that the name "Chretien de Troyes" in effect means "The Christian from Troyes," Troyes having then a large Jewish community. So, the theory explains, he takes some trouble to assure his audience that he is NOT Jewish.

An expansion of, or alternative to, this view is that he *was* in fact a converted Jew, with a significant baptismal name.

I don't know if this version of the theory ever found any support beyond the one who proposed it.

Digression to illustrate the situation:

This attitude was so automatic that in the (fictional) "Mandeville's Travels" the narrator, who has nice things to say about Muslims and Hindus (and possibly Jains or Buddhists, the second- and third-hand descriptions are too vague to tell) hates and fears the Jews.

The book claims to be an account of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem which got out of hand, going as far as China and India. Some of the contents are actually taken from real travel books, but the rest is rumor and imagination, or lifted from "traveler's tales" going back to antiquity. It was enormously popular, and often treated as factual, while Marco Polo was being described as a liar.

"Mandeville" (whether he was single writer who raided a library for material, or a collective) claims that the Jews maintain the use of Hebrew against the apocalyptic day when the Ten Lost Tribes emerge from the mountains where Alexander the Great imprisoned them, and set off to conquer the world, sparing only those who understand their language.

The really disturbing thing about this is that "Mandeville" treats with respect people his readers are unlikely to encounter in real life, whereas there were Jewish communities scattered through Europe, and lots of (necessary) interactions with Christians.

It didn't need "Mandeville's Travels" to help spread the general idea of hating and fearing Jews, and wanting to kill them: the preaching of the Church was being very effective in propagating hatred on its own.

Fortunately, tirades against Jews don't appear too often in the "Travels." I suspect part of its function was to assure readers that "Sir John de Mandeville" was a "good" (typical) Christian, despite hobnobbing with the "Paynim" while abroad.


message 4: by Lia (new)

Lia | 522 comments Mod
Thanks for the explanation, Ian.

Ian wrote: "...he takes some trouble to assure his audience that he is NOT Jewish."

What do you think of Sir Gawain's trajectory? Being falsely accused of being a "money-changer" and treason, and having to endure insults in order to reach his destination in good time and vindicate himself. It's almost as though he's fighting against the same set of abuses and prejudices (I imagine) Jews had to contend with in his time.


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