Marie from France: Equitan

Here is the poem (the lays) of Marie de France concerning the myth Arthurian. Here is the storytelling version in modern French. The second lay is: Equitan.




I cannot express how much the ancients Bretons of the little one Brittany were noble in life and morals. They had the custom, to recall fine deeds, to put in writing the adventures which happened in their time, or which they heard told. When they offered interesting facts, they hastened to make a Lai of them, so that the example would not be lost for posterity. Indeed, this one being very curious, I want it not to be forgotten.

I therefore wish to bring back the Lai d'Equitan, King of Nantes, a wise, courteous and loyal man, whom his good qualities had made cherish by all his subjects. Because he loved love and the pleasures it provides, there is no need to ask if he was a good knight. Equitan indulged too much in the pleasure of loving, which sometimes made him commit imprudence; such are those who are enamored with love, they keep no measure and entirely lose their reason.

The Lord of Nantes had for seneschal a loyal and brave knight who commanded in his absence, and administered justice in his name. It was not that Equitan, to fulfill these duties, did not often give up hunting, fishing and other pleasures. This seneschal married a woman who caused great grief in the country. The lady is as beautiful, as well made as she is amiable. The whole of its qualities is such that to form it, nature made a prodigy. She had blue eyes, a charming face, a shapely nose, the prettiest mouth; in short, it is enough for you to know that the kingdom could not offer such beauty.

Equitan had several times heard praise of this woman; several times, too, he had seen her, greeted her, and had even made her a few presents. The king finding her as he pleased, wanted to speak to her in secret. To be more at ease, he went hunting in the country where the seneschal made his residence, then went to sleep in the castle. In the interview he had with the lady, Equitan soon noticed that she was as wise as she was beautiful. But having looked at her too attentively, the brilliancy of her charms set the monarch ablaze with the most ardent fires.

Love subjected him to its laws and wounded him with an arrow which, hitting him in the heart, left him a deep wound that nothing could have healed. He is so enamored of his beauty's attractions that he becomes dull and pensive. He does nothing more, he hears nothing during the day, and during the night he cannot sleep. He reproaches himself for his loves. Alas! he said, why did the spell lead me to this castle? The sight of this beauty causes me terrible torment; I tremble in his presence: how long will I love him like this? But by loving her I commit a crime: is she not the wife of my seneschal? I owe to him the faith and love that I would be entitled to demand of him.

Could I not find some way to know the thought of the lady I adore, for I am too unhappy to suffer all alone There is no beautiful woman, however wicked she may be, who does not want to love or make a lover ; for after all, what would be her courtesy if she did not love tenderly. No, there is not a woman on earth who does not sacrifice to love (i). If my seneschal comes to know my feelings for his half, he cannot be sorry, for he certainly must not keep her to himself; then at last I will dismiss him and separate myself from him. After these thoughts, Equitan sighed and began to say:

Of course, I'm taking the trouble in advance, since I don't yet know if the beauty wants to accept me as a friend; but from today I will know if she shares my feelings, I will lose, I hope, this grief which overwhelms me night and day, without giving me a moment's rest. The day which the prince had awaited with so much impatience finally dawned. He immediately gets up and goes hunting, but soon gives orders to return home under the pretext of indisposition. He goes up to his apartment and goes to bed. The seneschal, deeply affected by this sudden indisposition, is far from thinking that his wife is the cause of his prince's illness.

He was so convinced of the contrary, that at the latter's request, he invited his wife to come and keep his guest company in order to distract him. From the moment they are alone, Equitan discovers his love for beauty; he tells her that he is dying for her, and that if his wishes are rejected, he will kill himself. The surprised lady immediately said to him: Sire, excuse me if I do not answer your question immediately; it is embarrassing and requires reflection. You are too rich and of too high birth to offer me your wishes. When you have satisfied your desires, I know without a doubt that you will abandon me.

I would be too unhappy if I came to love you and grant you your request. It is not appropriate for us to become attached to each other. You are a powerful lord, and my husband, your vassal, is too below your dignity for you to hope and not to think of this difficulty. Besides, sire, love is only happy between people of equal conditions; better a man little favored by gifts of fortune, if he combines prudence with valor. His wishes are more pleasant to receive than those of a prince or a king, very rarely faithful characters. Whoever loves in a higher class does well; the rich and powerful man does not believe that one can take away his crumb, and thinks that this one must love him because of his birth and his privileges.

Ah, madame, replied Equitan, what you tell me is not pleasant; allow me to point out to you that the examples which you cite to me are the sayings of bourgeois, who always misplaced their affection. I will dare to tell you that there is no well-born woman who, if she is not changeable and wants to love, does not grant her tenderness to a prince and does not truly love him. As for these great lords who, out of a taste for change, run from head to toe, they must be vilified as has happened to many. Besides, it is right to deceive a deceiver. So, beautiful lady, I beg you, do not look at my rank, but take me for your liege man and for your friend.

I promise and swear to you to do completely your will; don't let me die; you will be my lady and I your slave, you will command and I will obey. Finally, after all the protests and assurances of eternal love, the lady granted him her request; they exchanged their rings, gave each other their faith which they held. They loved each other tenderly until their death which happened the same day. This commerce lasted a very long time without being noticed, and when Equitan wanted to maintain his mistress in secret, he announced to the people of his household that, needing to be bled, he wanted to be alone, and that no one was allowed in.

Who would have been the man daring enough to infringe the sovereign's orders, and to enter if he had not been summoned? During this time, the seneschal held the court, judged the trials, listened to the complaints. So the prince esteemed her as much as he looked on the lady. However, he learned that his barons and his subjects blamed him for not taking a companion. These noises reached the ear of the seneschal's wife, who feared losing her lover. The first time she sees Equitan, instead of playing and using the pleasures that love brings, the lady cries and is sorry. Equitan hastens to ask him the reason for his grief.

Lord, I cry for our loves, the end of which will kill me with pain. According to the request of your vassals, you are going to abandon me to marry you with some princess; I know it, I'm sure of it, and I, unhappy, what will become of me? I prefer death than losing you, for I know of no other remedy for my ailments. Beautiful friend, reassure. All, said the king to him tenderly, be certain that I will never leave you for another woman, and I promise you that in the event that you become a widow, you will share my throne and my power. The lady thanked Equitan for the assurance he had just given her, especially that he would not take another wife.

And since it was so, she would find ways to get rid of her husband, a very easy thing if her lover wanted to help her. Equitan replied that he was ready to do whatever she ordered him to do. Well! sire, come and hunt in our forest, you will stay in the castle. Then, three days after your bleeding, you will take a bath, my husband will do the same; you will take care that he always keeps you company. During this time I will have the tubs and baths ready, I will keep my husband's so hot that no one can stand it; finally, no sooner has he entered than the very instant he will have ceased to live.

Immediately after this event, you will summon your men and his to show them that my husband died suddenly in the bath. Equitan approved of this project, and promised to assist in its execution. Three months had scarcely elapsed when the king went hunting as he had agreed, he was bled in concert with his seneschal; Equitan warns that they will bathe after three days. In fact, the lady had the tubs brought in front of the beds, and did not forget the boiling water for the bathtub where her husband was to enter. The seneschal having gone out for some business, his wife came to speak to the prince who had her placed beside him, on the husband's bed, and to be safer while they were enjoying their antics, the door was guarded by a young woman. girl.

The seneschal hastens to return, knocks on the door of his apartment, but the young girl holds her back; angry at the delay, he knocks again so violently that it was finally necessary to open the door to him. As he entered, he found the king and his wife lying in the same bed. Equitan, seeing the seneschal arrive, ashamed of having been surprised, gets out of bed in haste, jumps with both feet into one of the vats; to his misfortune he rushed into the one which was filled with boiling water, and he immediately perished. So the evil he wanted to do fell entirely on him.

The seneschal then learned of his wife's intrigue and plans: furious at having been deceived, he takes her and throws her, head first, next to his suborneur. Thus perished the two lovers, first the prince, then his friend. The reasonable man will see by what I have just related the truth of this argument: such seeks the evil of others who is first affected by it.