Erec and Enide: Onomastic

For the study of this text, Erec and Enide, we will use the edition of Jean-Marie Fritz, according to the manuscript BN. En 1376, The book de Poche, “Gothic Letters” No. 4526, 1992. Here is the first part of the study: onomastics.

erec and onomastic enid

The Name is an essential element which makes, or not, the hero. From theIliad, we know the importance of the name, and of the genealogy, that the heroes proudly proclaim before the enemy before the fight, and for which they are ready to die: the "beautiful death" will confer on the name, that is to say - say to themselves, glory and immortality.

In Erec and Enidus, we will distinguish three groups of characters:

  • Those who have a name;
  • Those who don't have a name at the start, but who acquire one over the course of the novel;
  • Those who remain anonymous, a category specific to Chrétien de Troyes.

Characters with names

The Knights of the Round Table

Among the named characters, we first find the "first circle":

  • King Arthur, in majesty, first personage of the Court; he has no age (a little later, the novels of chivalry will say he is centenary; here nothing indicates it); it is he who decides in the last resort: we see him in the episode of the white deer hunt. To Gauvain, who was worried about the possible consequences for the cohesion of the court (v. 39-58), Arthur replied:
          […] That sai me well.
          But it won't matter,
          Because must not be contradicted
          Word then that kings said it.

    The King has a high conception of his mission, as evidenced by the long tirade he devotes to his role, c. 1789-1810:
    • respect courteous values himself (do not lie, refrain from felony and excess);
    • “To keep the law, the truth, the faith and the righteousness” in his kingdom;
    • maintain "the custom and use" of his lineage.
    It is an aristocratic and courteous conception of the monarchy, and the affirmation of the spiritual power of secular society.
  • Queen Guinevere is the female counterpart of King Arthur. She ideally embodies courteous values; she advises the King on several occasions, by delaying the ceremony of the "white stag's kiss" by three days, by deciding on Ydier's punishment; it is she who welcomes Enidus to the Court, and adorns her with her own dresses, it is finally she who prepares the heroes' wedding night. If, for Erec, she is the "Lady" par excellence, for whom he sets out on an adventure in order to avenge the insult she has suffered, to whom he sends his prisoners, there is still no question of her. love that she will inspire in Lancelot.
  • Gauvain, King Arthur's favorite nephew, is the "perfect knight". Almost always called "my lord" (v. 39) or "my sire" (v. 299); note that this is the first time in the French language that this title is attributed to a great lord. Gauvain embodies reason, measure, and also the art of discourse. He is named the first among the knights: cf. v. 1688: "Must be Gauvains li first".
  • Keu, finally, Sénéchal [“Officer of the royal palace, fulfilling the role of former mayors of the palace under the Merovingians and the Capetians, then exercising military, financial and justice functions under the Capetians until the 13th century. " according to Treasure of the French Language] and half-brother of King Arthur, is the antithesis of Gauvain: as brutal and clumsy as Gauvain is a skilful negotiator and courteous, he multiplies blunders; proud, tongue-in-cheek, impulsive, he spoils his best intentions with his discourteous attitude. See p. 311 et seq .: wanting to invite Erec, whom he did not recognize, to the Court, he goes about it in such a brutal way that he provokes a fight, and is beaten in the most humiliating manner ... Incurable clumsiness, Keu is a rather comical character.

The “Second Circle” of Knights

The Knights named from the start are supposed to be known to all: their reputation guarantees their quality. This is the case with the “catalog of the Knights” (v. 1687-1746); among them some will know a great literary posterity, like Lancelot, Yvain or Perceval.

But the most important for us here is obviously Erech, son of King Lake. Protagonist of the novel, he is named from the prologue, in verse 19: “D'Erec, the Lac thread, is linked to tales”. It is then found again, at the time of the "White Deer Hunt", c. 81:

      A few knights, Erec ot no.
      De la Tauble Reonde estoit,
      Moult grans los en la cort avoit.
      Of so much con it i ot esté,
      Isn't a knight more bored;
      And fu both beax and nule terre
      It is no longer beautiful to quarrel with him.
      Mout estoit beax and prouz and genz,
      Did not have .xxv. anz.
      Onques nuns hom de son aage
      Ne fu de greignor vasselage.

This very young knight ("he was not 25 years old") still has neither a Lady nor an exploit to his credit - which is why he does not participate in the hunt; but his "bravery" (vassalage) goes without saying in the eyes of all; it is constitutive to him, and guaranteed by his name and his lineage (“Son of the Lake King”).

Finally, a new list presents the "guests of King Arthur", c. 1919-2007: a list, sometimes funny, of twenty names (to which must be added, of course, the following of each guest, in particular the 300 companions of old Quarron, king of Ariel! their appearance in this list: friend of the Fairy Morgane, dwarves and giants, elderly people…

The characters named late.

Chrétien de Troyes procrastinated before naming certain characters: it was a novelty in the literature of the time, which usually gave a name to a character as soon as he appeared. Here, several characters must wait, before being named.

Characters whose fate is settled

Often the characters are named only at the end of a fight or an incident, when, once out of anonymity, they are about to leave the story:

  • Ydier, son of Nut, knight who, accompanied by his virgin and his dwarf, initiated the adventures of Erec (cf. text 2); anonymous throughout its history, it is named around 1046, thus acknowledging its defeat.
  • Guivret the little one, appeared c. 3675, will first be defeated by Erech and forced to give his name in verse 3864. Subsequently, he will reappear in the story in verse 4935; wanting to come to the aid of Erec, he will attack him without recognizing him, then once the misunderstanding has been lifted, he takes the wounded man and his Lady into his home.
  • The knight Cadoc of Tabriol, kidnapped by a Giant and rescued by Erech (c. 4305-4573), gives his name in the form of recognition; on the other hand, Erec refuses to name himself.
  • The wicked Count of Limors is named posthumously (Count of Limors is only a title, not a name) by Guivret, in verse 5066
  • Mabonagrain, a knight of imposing stature, held prisoner in the orchard of the “Joy of the Court”, appears anonymously c. 5890, and is called, once defeated (but after Erech has made himself known), in ver. 6124. His name is not really one: he is "son of Evrain".

Énide and his family

More original is the case of Enidus.

The virgin, daughter of Vavasseur, has no name; she is first designated only by her qualities (beautiful and wise) and her situation: poor, poorly dressed, waiting.

His name will not be revealed until the time of his marriage (see 2021-2027): neither his arrival at Court, nor the “white stag's kiss” were therefore sufficient to give him a real existence; she only acquires her "Lady" status when she is married - and named.

Named Aenid, his family can also receive a name, be recognized: his father Liconal and his mother Tarsenefide, appeared c. 375 and v. 397, are named v. 6886 and 6888, at the very end of the story, at the time of the coronation of Erech. The uncle of Enid, (v. 521) will also be designated, during the same ceremony, v. 6240, like "Comte de Laluth", which is a partial way of lifting the anonymity, since it is only a title.

Enid thus acquires the status of “Lady” by marrying Erec; her family recovers hers when, crowned Erech, she becomes queen.

Anonymous extras

The characters permanently condemned to anonymity are of two kinds: undifferentiated groups, and secondary characters, living in the shadow of another character.

The groups

  • The three knights-brigands
  • The five pillaging knights
  • The two giants

Dating individuals

  • The following of Queen Guinevere, wounded by the dwarf;
  • The Dwarf and the Maid accompanying Ydier;
  • Enid's uncle and cousin;
  • The squire who leads the heroes to Count Galoain's castle;
  • The chaplain and the constable of Limors;
  • The boy who leads his horse to the watering hole at the Château de Limors;
  • Cadoc de Tabriol's friend

All of these characters play a secondary role; but their anonymity is a novelty in the art of the novel. Subsequently, this will become a specific feature of the writing of Chrétien de Troyes.

A special case, Count Galoain.

In our edition, this conceited and deceitful count, who transgresses the laws of hospitality by trying to take Enidus from Erec by force, is only named in c. 3125-3126; however these two lines are absent from Guiot's copy. This means that this character, protagonist of a very important episode of the adventures of Erech, was perhaps an anonymous. Defeated, wounded, he is not forced by Erech to reveal his name (and the latter, therefore, will continue to ignore it); he will not be appointed any more when he returns to better feelings (vv. 3628-3652). If it is a correction of a copyist, uncomfortable facing what seemed to him to be a gap, then we would have here one of the very first cases of an important person reduced to anonymity in Chrétien de Troyes. , and in Western literature.


Present or absent, the Name is therefore of great importance: it signs the hero's membership of a group, confers on him a status and contributes to his heroization.

It is all the better highlighted because it is not always present: saying one's name also means recognizing one's defeat, and in a certain way "falling into line": after being named, the vanquished knight goes to court to recount the feat of his victor.

Finally, a large number of characters remain anonymous, pure functions (thus groups), or simple undifferentiated entities.