Tristan & Isolt from Bayreuth to Monsegur par Claude d'Esplas

Tristan & Isolt from Bayreuth to Monsegur Content : The Tristan Legend
The story of Tristan, attempted reconstruction
Beroulís Tristran
Thomasís Tristran
Gottfried von Strassburgís Tristan
The Ur Tristan

The Ur Tristan


            Before bestowing total admiration on the works of the Trouvères, it is of interest to learn where they found their inspiration. At the end of the eleventh century, when the epic was flourishing in the North of France and among its inhabitants, the ‘Franceis’, lyrical poetry existed already in the countries of Langue d’Oc.

            Guilhem IX, Duke of Aquitaine, seventh Count of Poitou, the first of the Troubadours to be known, has left us the ‘first’ lyrical verse written in Europe. He was probably not the first to invent lyrical poetry, he certainly had predecessors. But his poetry is unparalleled, because at that period it

crossed the fictitious borders which prevented the exchange of ideas inside a feudal world built on a system of castes and alliances between ruling families rather than on the idea of proudly independent nations – a world in other respects submitted to the edicts of a supreme authority in matters political and ideological, if not linguistic: that of the Court of Rome.

            The langue d’Oc, brilliant from its beginnings, from Portugal to Sicily – its oldest monuments are from the tenth century – reaches, at the time of the Troubadours, an extraordinary culmination before declining rapidly, but not totally, in spite of efforts deployed to neutralise it (Albigensian Crusade and the Statute of Pamiers in 1213 edicted by Simon de Montfort, progressive annexation of the different parts of the Oc countries by the Crown, crusade led by Abbé Grégoire in the name of the French Revolution, etc.): did not Dante Alighieri (Purgatorio – XXVI, 140-7) and Michel Eyquem de Montaigne: ‘Il y a bien au-dessus de nous, vers les montaignes, un Gascon que je treuve singulièrement beau, sec, bref, signifiant...’ (Essais - II, chap. 17) (‘High above our place of residence, towards the mountains, there is indeed a Gascon parlance that I find singularly beautiful, dry, terse, significant...’) almost adopt it themselves?

            The langue d’Oc called itself initially Romanz – like all Romance languages – that is to say, the common language, as opposed to Latin, the language of the invaders and of the clergy (‘Et en romans et en lati’, an expression used by William IX, indicates the co-existence of those two languages); then later, Provençal, the language of the Roman province as spoken by its inhabitants, the ‘Provinciales’, whose territories stretched from the Alps to Narbonne.

            As late as in the sixteenth century, serious research into languages and literature, in particular into those of the Pays d’Oc, began to develop in Italy; then appeared the works of Raynouard (1816-1823), man of law, barrister, Member of Parliament under the Revolution, and those of Rochegude, post captain, who both published first rate anthologies of Medieval Occitan literature as well as glossaries and dictionaries admirably completed by Honnorat (1860), Mistral (1880) or Simin Palay (1932); in addition to the scientific works of the German school of Romance Philology with their first critical edition of Mirèio, a poem which won Mistral the gratitude of the Academy of Sweden and the Nobel Prize for Literature. Thus it was proved, as Villemain and Lamartine had sensed, that France was rich enough to have two literatures or two lyrical traditions...

            Apart from the opening lines of Cligès where Chrétien de Troyes reminds the reader that in his earlier works he wrote ‘del roi Marc et d’Iseut la blonde’, and the assertion of courtly critics who claim that the original of Tristan was composed in French or Latin (but why not ‘et en romans et en lati’?), the first known references to the story of Tristan and Isolt – with the possible exception of Marie de France’s Lai du Chevrefoil (la Chievre?):

‘Plusur le m’nt cunté e dit
E jeo l’ai trové en escrit
De Tristram e de la reïne,
De lur amur ki tant fu fine,
Dunt il eurent meinte dolur’

– are given by a few first-rate, and highly individualised troubadours, among others:

Bernard de Ventadorn:

‘Plus trac pena d’amor
De Tristan, l’amador,
Que.n sofri manhta dolor
Per Izeut la blonda’.
(Tant ai mo cor ple de joya...)

who compares, in a love-song, his grief to that of Tristan suffering for Isolt the Fair;

Ramon de Miraval:

‘Non ac la bell’a cui servi Tristans
(Be m’agrada-l bels tems d’estiu),

Miraval (or an Anonymous Poet) :

‘Plus que no fo per s’amia Tristan’;
(Trop aun chauzit mei hueill en luec onriu);

Peire Cardinal :

‘E Tristantz fon de totz los amadors
Lo plus leals e fes mais d’ardimens’

Raimbaut d’Aurenga :

‘Ab Tristan, det Yseus gen
La bella – no.n saup als faire – ’
(No chant per auzel ni per flor...);

and (who knows?) Cercamon in ‘Ab le Pascour’, a troubadour as definitely Gascon as the gascoyns of King Marc’s horse.

            If we remember that the theme of Tristan is characterised, first, by a concept of love which emphasises love as an uncontrollable passion, as an essentially destructive power disintegrating the individual from the established social order, and from the law ruling it according to the courtly concept which requires the lovers to abandon themselves consciously to the delights of tenderness without the help of a tonic based on plants; and considering that we have every reason not to take literally the declarations of Beroul, Thomas, Gottfried and others who claim exclusive authenticity for their works and barely hide their contempt for stories of doubtful (i.e. non-canonical) origin – in order to understand the oath Beroul puts on the lips of Isolt the Fair: ‘Je vos pramet par fin’amor’, why not simply turn to the intrinsic proof or the internal evidence, key to the ‘dominant’ of the discussion at that time, that is to say the concept fin’amor (a doctrine concerning feelings, the contours of which seem better delineated than those of amour courtois and which appears to have been the common emotional denominator of all the poets composing in the langue d’Oc – and of their lyrical heirs in the Middle Ages; its essence being summed up as the adoration of an ideal incarnated in a woman or referred to a Lady).

            Facts and feelings are often mixed up in the medieval terminology of social history. However the recurrence, and persistence, in one and the same group of poems, those of the Troubadours in particular, of key expressions – all pertaining to the basic vocabulary of Love – among them fin’amor, and its associated particles: amor, amars finamens, bon’amars, amor de lonh, fol’amor, fals’amor, that are the examples ‘par excellence’, has caused the spilling of much controversial ink.

            Let us try to open the basic ‘grammar’ of the early thirteenth century, in other words, the one which treats of the Leys of the Cort d’Amor of those times.

            What is love according to Beroul? In the first place and above all, it is physical contact (‘acole la, cent fois la besse’) between two naked (‘totz nus’) bodies clinging tightly to one another following the inescapable laws of universal attraction, or because of certain obligations devolved on the Great of this world: for King Marc who abruptly leaves the Council, government necessities are less important than courtly laws – he apologises with a ‘mandé m’a une pucele!’. Certainly love has its bad sides like debauchery and its risky consequences (the lepers are a living picture of it), but it is especially this total promise from Isolt the Fair: ‘Je vos pramet par fine amor...’ which keeps at bay, or attracts, the losengier, an idiom occurring eight times in Beroul’s Tristran or at least in what is left of it. A key-expression obviously, this Oc vocable ‘lauzengier’ means slanderer, jealous, traitor, enemy of those who love one another and it recurs as a leitmotiv in many a troubadour, among them Bertran Carbonel, Giraut de Bornelh, Raimbaut d’Aurenga, Bernard Marti, etc. These are all experts at a genre of poetry: trobar clus, which is fraught with shades of meaning not perceptible to the vulgus: this ‘closed’ style which Thomas seems to practise, unknowingly perhaps, if one takes literally the terms ‘lousange’ (End of the Poem), ‘losange’ (ms.Turin) and ‘losange’ (Folie of Bern).

            As for love according to Thomas, from epidermal contact to the last favours, excluding all ‘puterie’ or ‘druerie’ (End of the Poem), it presents itself, pell-mell, at the obligatory checkpoints: ‘la baise, l’acole, l’embrace’ (ms. Sneyd); ‘déduit, quisse ouvrir’ (ms.Turin); ‘pucelage, déduit, cors a cors’ (End of the Poem); ‘baisa, anbrace’ (ms. Bern) before reaching the audacious crossing the line in the Folie of Oxford:

‘E vos quissettes m’aüvristes
E m’i laissai chaïr dedenz.’

            Yet, it is also: ‘amor de lonh, por m’amor’ (ms. Cambridge); ‘fin’amur, amur’ (ms. Sneyd); ‘amors, joie d’amor, estrange amor’ (ms. Turin); ‘veir’amur’ (ms. Strasbourg), ‘amur fine e veraie’ (End of the Poem) or even this surprising mixture:

‘En doz baisiers de fine amor
Ou embracez souz covertor’

word variations which eventually resulted in phonetic fantasies or other juggling that transform certain pages of Master Gottfried into as many exercises for blasé lexicographers: the scene in which Tristan and Isolt own up their love for each other is the example and a potential ‘ameir ameir de la meir’ would illustrate the case perfectly well. The majority of these terms concerning emotions stem undoubtedly from old Occitan stock. They are distinct echoes of that trobar clus (‘hermetic finding’), used by a few Gascon Troubadours of the first generation who ‘did not say everything’, as Guilhem Montanhagol aptly puts it, and whose cansos have been interpreted, with reference to the Church, by generations of qualified scholars, underlining – among other things – the ‘antimatrimonial’ or ‘adulterous’ character of the love they deal with! ...

            Without looking at the variety of different readings taken into account by some critics who are in search for solutions never expressed by the authors of the Middle Ages (cf. Recenti interpretazioni del ‘Trobar Clus’, Mario Mancini; Firenze, Leo S. Olschki Editore MCMLXX), and even admitting that reading a text is above all embarking on an adventure individually or collectively, the legend of Tristan and Isolt – be it a fixed star or a spiral nebula of sagas, depending on the optics – preserves a coherence of expression undoubtedly underestimated by scholars exclusively preoccupied by the genesis of the story as seen in its medieval context. Identification of the sources does not necessarily mean recognition of the message the work carries or perpetuates in spite of the often murderous opposition of those who have command over consciences or who, in their official and paid capacity, celebrate a cult which is above their comprehension.

            For love is not an invention of the Middle Ages; it is rather a fateful event, in character comparable to some aspect of the synthesis of atomic structure with its rearrangement of space and time and, above all, with its dissolution of all that is held as most solid into subnuclear particles of matter floating in a ‘void’: a theory strangely discarded, not to say repudiated, in the name of some virgin worship (a cult that King Marc observed readily!) by compilers of books whose verbosity equals only their vacuity, whose propaganda about a love branded as ‘adulterous’, has apotheosised a caricature of the luminous key-concept of the poet Montanhagol:

N’Esclarmonda qui etz vos e Na Guia...

– whereas anything approaching a textual familiarity with the Koinê written, copied and illuminated in the scriptoriums of the monasteries or in the chantries of the Sacred Colleges, would suffice to indicate that the nature of Amors (e d’amor mou castitatz!...) more often sung than actually experienced by the Poets of the Oc Chansonniers, has strictly nothing to do with the Christianisation of the story by turning it into the streaming continuum of ‘Adam’s orgasm’.

            A caricature that, nevertheless, is turned into ready money by battalions of pundits whose unrivalled ignorance of the language on which their work is grounded, necessarily commissions them – Colonel Bogey’s courtesy! – to parade the marching masses of Ph. D.’s, in the wake of a Pompon girl well-drilled in the Sorbonne Commandments; a caricature which is so faithfully transferred from book to book that it, eventually, becomes unchallengeable dogma for the whole Academic alphabet under cover of self-celebratory theses dedicated to Mariolatry (The University of Paris prosecuted Joan of Arc, Voltaire points out), and for the most obedient servants of the Edict of Châteaubriant ‘who accept without question for the future as well as for the past’, the judgment of the Faculty of Theology on heretical literature; viz., in to-day’s parlance, the censorship of the hypostatised Sorbonne whose Grand Inquisitor Mitre still recites the rosary of approved litanies (Remember that people have defended theses against the circulation of blood; think of Galileo and be comforted, Voltaire writes to Pierre Louis Moreau de Maupertuis who had revealed to him the virgin Neuton’s theory of universal gravitation).

            A caricature which leads these revisionist Doctors to a supreme innovative contribution to Troubadour criticism, with their analysis of the phenomenon they call ‘courtly love’, reduced to nothing more than the homosexual tendencies of misogynistic Troubadours – a discovery that might surely account for the renaissance of the Gay Science (Gai Saber) and the viraginity of the sopranists of the Sistine Chapel, thus bridging the gap between the musicologists and the Oc ‘analysts’: ‘se non è vero, è molto ben trovato!’ as Giordano Bruno (arrested by the Inquisition and burnt at Rome after a seven-year trial) would put it.

In the Philological Index of our own thesis :

La ‘Cansos’ de Gasto Febus à Frédéric Mistral: ‘Koinê Lyrique’ ou ‘Voix d'un Peuple’?, cobla; et so: Las Cansos del Païs dé Fouïch et Mirèio, l’Opéra de Gounod (Prix de Rome) dans le parler Provençal de Frédéric Mistral (Prix Nobel), and by way of evidence, is to be found a list of the ‘Docteurs’ ès Fol’Amor and ‘Jongleurs’ de Notre-Dame – ‘all honourable men’, with all due deference to the official statements deliberately vilifying honour, such as endorsed by the ‘honourable’ Council of State! – accompanying the report: A propos d'une thèse d'Etat, in which are analysed the underlying causes that led to the disintegration of the Institut d’Etudes Provençales et Roumaines (Paris-Sorbonne) for the benefit of some obscure gnosis of Orleans; a document duly initialed by a President of the Société Mathématique de France, the most distinguished disciple of Albert Einstein, Nobel Prize winner for Theoretical Physics; a list of all the buyers and sellers in the Temple of trobar, dealing in the facsimiles of the original of the losange such as hidden in the manuscript 4030 of the impeccable Vatican library, who are still rewarded to chant – after a Seven Hundred Years’ fol’erransa (‘douchereux errements’, in the parler of Picardie), namely and relativistically speaking, the smooth canonical deviations from the straight paths of the mediaeval thought and songs of the Oc resistance unaffected by the gravitational fields – the merits of a form which, in the orthodox patois of the Walloons, ‘expresses nothing’.

            Does this ‘naughty’ surmise (courtesy of Jeremiah the Prophet!) mean the ‘negative energy’ entity preventing the exceeding of the speed limit (19 miles a second for the Earth round the sun, by Frocin’s unofficial calculations) imposed by Albert Einstein and the Members of the American Vacuum Society, so as not to trigger the birth of a new universe whose laws of the sacrosanct principle of causality would, automatically, have to be redefined – in accordance with Einstein’s own Message on the Newton Centenary (March 26, 1927): ‘May the spirit of Newton’s method give us the power to restore unison between physical reality and the profoundest characteristic of Newton’s teaching: strict causality’?

            If that is the case, then it is a blazing fact; as blazing, as it were, as the relative Gospel truth that caused the martyrs of the fola crezensa – the foolish faith, the appellation is registered by the didactic author of the first part of the Cansos of the Albigensian Crusade, maestre Guilhelms, a precocious cleric who practised geomancy, bred in Tudela, Navarra – to experiment the first crematorial stakes of monotheistic civilised Europe, singing all the while, from the Country of Distant Love (Longinquum Regnum or amor de lonh?) to Aquelhos Mountanhos (These Mountains) and in the very accents that Beroul did retain:

‘... la plus bele
Qui soit de ci jusq’ en Tudele’.



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