In Chrétien de Troyes’s Arthurian romances there is usually one big marvel the hero encounters (along with a number of lesser ones). In the Perceval, it is the Castle of the Fisher-King. In Lancelot, it is the perilous entry into the Land of Gorre. In Erec et Enide, it is the adventure with the strange name “Joie de la Cour.”
In Yvain, or The Knight of the Lion (le Chevalier au lion), the great marvel is a fountain, the water of which can cause storms, if you pour it onto a nearby stone.
|Puis erra dusque a la fontaine,
Si vit quanques il vaut veoir.
Sans arrester et sans seoir,
Versa seur le perron de plain
De l’yaue le bachin tout plain.
De maintenant venta et plut
Et fist tel temps que faire dut.
Et quant Dix redonna le bel,
Sor le pin vinrent li oysel
Et firent joie merveillouse
Seur la fontaine perillouse. (798-808)
|Then he (Yvain) rode to the spring
And saw everything he wanted to see.
Without staying and without sitting
He poured out on the stone
The basin full of water.
At once the wind blew and rain fell
And it made such weather as it ought to.
And when God restored the good weather,
The birds came [back] to the pine tree
And made marvelous joy
Above the perilous fountain.
Now, it so happens that this spring is a real spring, and the forest of “Broceliande” in which Chrétien locates it is a real forest (today called Paimpont), in Brittany (see the excellent French Wikipedia article).
The 12th-century Norman cleric Wace (who preceded Chrétien slightly) visited this site to test out what he had heard about it. He speaks of his experience in this passage from his Roman de Rou:
Dont Breton vont sovent fablant,
Une forest mout longue et lee
Qui en Bretaigne est mout loee.
La fontaine de Barenton
Sort d’une part lez un perron.
Aler soleient veneor
A Berenton par grant chalor,
E a lor corz l’eve espuisier
E le perron desus moillier;
Por ço soleient pluie aveir.
Issi soleit jadis ploveir
En la forest e environ,
Mais jo ne sai par quel raison.
La sueut l’en les fees veeir,
Se li Breton nos dïent veir, (6395-6409)
E altres merveilles plusors.
Aires i sueut aveir d’ostors
E de granz cers mout grant plenté,
Mais vilain ont tot deserté.
La alai jo merveilles querre,
Vi la forest et vi la terre;
Merveilles quis, mais nes trovai.
Fol m’en revinc, fol i alai,
Fol i alai, fol m’en revinc.
Folie quis, pour fol me tinc.
About which Bretons are often fabling,
A forest very long and wide,
Which in Brittany is greatly praised.
The spring of Barenton
Emerges on one side near a large stone.
Hunters used to go
To Barenton in times of great heat,
And pour out the water on their bodies
And wet the stone on its upper side;
For this they used to have rain.
Thus it used to rain formerly
In the forest and round about,
But I do not know by what cause.
There is one used to see (the) fairies,
If the Bretons are telling us the truth,
And a number of other marvels.
There are accustomed to be there nests of goshawks
And great abundance of large deer,
But low-class types have devastated everything.
There I went seeking marvels,
I saw the forest and I saw the land;
Marvels I sought, but I didn’t find them.
A fool I returned from there, a fool I went,
A fool I went, a fool I returned.
Folly I sought; a fool I judged myself.
The Spring of Barenton Up Close & Personal
I myself once visited the spot, for which I do not count myself a fool the way Wace did, and brought back photos as proof. A human being (6’4”)1 is included in three of the pictures for scale.
Having examined the pictures you will probably conclude that the description one of Chrétien’s characters gives of it (finest pine tree ever, basin of gold, spring boiling with hot water, stone of emerald) is on the hyperbolic side.
- It happens to be my older brother, who in real life is an accordionist. Let’s call him “Mike.”