Gawaine & The Green Knight
Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight, written by everyone's favorite author, Anon. (circa. 1375-1400), is considered by some scholars to be the finest literary work in Middle English. I just figure that a story that has a talking decapitated head has to be good. Ultimately it's a story about honor, but there's sort of a love story too, and if I remember correctly, there's some pretty funny bits.
The most famous translation was done by J.R.R. Tolkien, which you can
get in paperback from Amazon for about 5 bucks. As an added bonus, this
edition also includes the author's other works, Pearl, about a religious
vision, and Sir Orffeo, a medieval take on the Orpheus story. [MW]
Buy the Tolkien translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Two Sir Gawaine stories have been put into children's picture books and I've adapted my material from them.Ý They are both fairly true to the original and I even won the storytelling contest at Legends of Chivalry a couple of years back with one of these tales.
Sir Gawaine and the Loathly Lady
Selina Hastings, Juan Wijngaard (Illustrator)
NY: Mulberry Press, 1987.
And by the same team, Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight.
Both books are lovely, pictorially speaking. Personally, the
illustrations are an aid in getting a handle on the story. I have
a visual mind and if I can "see" what should be happening, then
I can follow the story. It also helps, if you're telling stories
to children, to be able to add some detail, such as what people
are wearing. Besides, I just like kids' books. And, as I said, the
text is fairly close to the original, or what I can find as an
original Arthurian text. [E]
Buy Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady
Buy Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Genji Monogatari (Tale of Genji)
Murasaki Shikibu, Edward Seidensticker (Translator)
Tuttle, New York, 1976
Paragon of taste and refinement, the Shining Prince Genji glimmers through the ages. Murasaki Shikibu's work, still regarded as the height of Japanese fiction, tells the story of a son of the Emperor who is demoted to commoner status. The Tale runs from his birth and rise, through his death, to the lives of his offspring. All the pastimes and intrigues of the Heian Court are described in intricate detail. If you re-enact Heian, you must read Genji.
There are many mini stories in the book. It is a novel, but it spans three generations and there are many stories that can stand by themselves.
I should mention that there are three versions of this book. Arthur Waley translated it first back in the 1920s. His translation is highly readable but not terribly accurate. The story goes he read the Tale in Japanese, closed the book, and wrote his version of it. The truth of the matter that his version flows better than the original, but he changes chronology and cut out an entire chapter. His translation is still available.
Seidensticker's translation is literal, and not terribly exciting. It's the one we had to read in school. But it is accurate and complete.
Helen Craig McCullough published a partial (10 chapters) translation of the Tale in 1994. It is very readable and avoids some of the 1950s "prudishness" that shows in Seidensticker. The ten chapters include the main story, however, and are supplemented with notes to explain what happens in between. I wish Dr. McCullough would publish a full translation, but she is so prolific already (she and her husband have numerous titles to their combined credit) where would she find the time?
So if you want to really enjoy Genji, read McCullough. If you need to
read all the little details, read Seidensticker. Then read Waley for fun.
If he hadn't translated it first, we still might not know who Genji is!
Buy the Waley translation of The Tale of Genji
Buy the Seidensticker translation of The Tale of Genji
Geoffrey of Monmouth
History of the Kings of Britain
Lewis Thorpe (Translator)
This is the faithful Penguin edition of the book that Mallory based his "Death of King Arthur" on. It's also the original source of Shakespeare's King Lear. For a long time, "The History of the Kings of Britain" was believed to be an accurate history, but is now regarded as almost entirely fictional. Geoffrey's alleged source was an ancient manuscript in the native Welsh tongue containing the lives and deeds of all their kings, from Brutus, the alleged founder of Britain, down to the coming of Julius Caesar. It was written in the first half of the 1100s, probably in Wales.
This particular translation was done by Lewis Thorpe, a historian who
has done a number of other historical works (some of which I may have to
use here). Thorpe is more of an historian than a linguist, so the
translation is a little dry, but I suspect that has as much to do with
the original material than the translator. [AY]
The History of the Kings of Britain
The Gesta Herewardi
Hereward of the Fens - incorporating Gesta Herewardii Saxonis
published by Trevor Bevis, 1995
on-line translation at http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Aegean/3532/hereward2.htm
Robin Hood, as we all know, is sometimes a nobleman laid low by the treachery of Prince John (Fulk fitz Warren), a poor huntsman unjustly accused (Adam Bell), and -- despite the chronal inconsistencies -- a Saxon, fighting to keep England safe from the evil Normans, which brings us to the Gesta Herewardii Saxonis.
Hereward the Wake (it means "Alert" or "Wary") lead a revolt against Duke William the Bastard of Normandy, who had usurped the English throne after defeating the English army at the Battle of Hastings. The real Hereward held lands in Warwickshire and Lincolnshire at the time of Edward the Confessor, left England some time after 1062, and later reappeared to plunder the Abbey of Peterborough (1070) - the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (at this time being written at Peterborough) says simply that among those at the sack of Peterborough were 'Hereward and his crew'. At the time, or shortly after, he was holding the Isle of Ely, with its Camp of Refuge, against the Normans (1071). During this time Hereward sometimes he had Danish help. He also attracted many dissidents such as the Earl Morkar, and Siward Bain. The isle took a lot of Norman effort to capture. Hereward was one of those to escape. He continued the struggle for sometime, operating in and near the Fens. Eventually he made his peace with King William.
From these sparse facts has grown the legend of Hereward, son of Leofric, Earl of Mercia (or Leofric of Bourne, Lincolnshire). In his youth he kept wild company, and when he was fourteen his father persuaded King Edward to make him an outlaw. He was brought back to England by the news that the Normans had seized his father's estates. On his return he found that the new Norman owners had not only taken the land, but also slain his brother, whose head was set above the door of the house. Like an avenging thunderbolt, he descended upon the killers and slew them all. The next day, fourteen Norman heads had replaced that of his brother above the door. News of Hereward's exploits spread and he became the leader of a mixed band of English and Danish warriors, who flocked to join him at his new base at the great Abbey of Ely.
Eventually Hereward is betrayed and killed around A.D. 1100. Songs were
being sung about Hereward in taverns a hundred years after his death;
and in the thirteenth century people still visited a ruined wooden
castle in the Fens which was known as Hereward's Castle. Within eighty
years of the real Hereward's death, the Hereward of legend was in full
cry, in the "Estorie des Engles" of Geoffrey Gaimar from around 1140,
and the Gesta Herewardii Saxonis ('Deeds of Hereward the Saxon'). The
Gesta contains both grim and realistic images, such as the fishermen
dredging Norman skeletons, still in their rusty armour, out of the fen,
as well as fantastic episodes like Hereward slaying a Cornish giant.
Hereward was later supplanted by another outlaw-hero, Robin Hood, as a
symbol of resistance to oppression. [AY]
Buy Hereward of the Fens
The Gesta Guillelmi of William of Poitiers
R. H. C. Davis and Marjorie Chibnall (Translators)
Clarendon Press, 1998
This is not the "Geste Gullelmi" that Cariadoc wrote -- which is a three-part poem on the life of William the Marshall. This is a contemporary biography of the life and times of William the Conqueror/Bastard. It was written by William's chaplain, William of Poitiers, who knew King William and lived at court. Poitiers was a knight before taking orders and becoming a priest in his king's court. The book is incomplete -- possibly because of the death of the author, possibly because he fell out of favour with the King. The book, written in 1072, was regarded as the ultimate source for early Norman history, although it is fraught with historical inaccuracies about pre-Norman England. Despite this, the description of the Battle of Hastings is perhaps the most valuable historical information about battle tactics in the eleventh century. Like many chronicles, the Gesta Guillilmi is a mix of current events, history, political maneuvering, personalities, and complete fiction. A good source for an intermediate storyteller who is looking for a challenge.
The text in its original Medieval Latin was unfortunately preserved in
only one manuscript, now lost in a fire. Fortunately it was edited once
by Duchesne in the 17th century. The edited text is used as a basis for
contemporary editions. [AY]
Buy Gesta Guillelmi
Gesta Hungarorum: The Deeds of the Hungarians
Simon of Keza, Laszlo Veszpremy and Frank Schaer (Editors)
Central European Univ Press
I'm really looking forward to this. Most people think that anything
east of the Danube was a vast cultural wasteland throughout most of
history (and still is). I think the problem is that so few of the great
works of Eastern Europe and Russia have been translated into English.
Much has been written on the "Gesta Hungarorum", unfortunately, it's all
in Hungarian or German -- two languages I don't speak. The "Gesta
Hungarorum" is the legendary history of Hungary and chronicles the wars
with the Magyars and the rise of the the first kings of the House of
Árpád in the ninth century. Recently scholarship now attributes the
Gesta to Simon of Keza, a monk at Ják in Western Hungary in the 12th or
13th century. The "Gesta Hungarorum" was written in Latin and based on
earlier chronicles now lost. This is the source for the
Hunnish-Hungarian cycle of legends as well the material mentioned above. [AY]
Buy Gesta Hungarorum
The Tales of The Monks from the Gesta Romanorum
Manuel Komroff (Editor)
Tudor Publishing Co., 1947
The Gesta Romanorum were originally intended as material for preachers to include in their sermons. Sort of a "Cliff Notes" for the monastic set, the Gesta Romanorum allowed a priest to appear to be knowledgable on ancient and revered figures like Alexander the Great, Socrates, and Plato, without actually knowing much about them. Many of the tidbits (my edition has 181 titled "geste", varying in length from less than five lines to several pages) are wildly historically inaccurate -- however, there are gems of stories in here, as Boccaccio, Chaucer, and Shakespeare all knew. This is a fine source for short material.
I found this edition (a reprint of the 1928 Dial Press edition) at Avenue Victor Hugo
for $9.50. A check of amazon.com shows two "special" editions of theGesta Romanorum for about fifty dollars each. My advice is to haunt your local used bookstore or, if
you can translate Classical Latin, to visit
Buy The Tales of The Monks from the Gesta Romanorum
De Excidio Britanniae
Gildas, J.A. Giles (Translator)
British American Books, 1986
Gildas Bandonicus was a Celtic monk, who lived in the 6th century. Like some monks we might know, he was pretty cranky and dissatisfied with things, and in or around A.D. 540 he wrote a book "denouncing the wickedness of his times". Of course, he couldn't just denounce the wickedness, he had to describe it in pretty good detail. Fortunately for us, much of that wickedness makes good story material. Gildas also ended up being the only substantial source which survives from the time of the Anglo-Saxon conquest of Britain, and the best source before the much more impressive work of the Venerable Bede (who completed his Ecclesiastical History of the English People almost 200 years later in 731). At any event, the Anglo-Saxons began arriving in the 470s, perhaps imported as soldiers as Gildas suggests. For some time the British fought back, which some scholars argue is the historic basis of the Arthurian myth, but by A.D. 600 the Anglo-Saxons had control of most of what becomes "England", and the Celtic peoples were pushed to the hills of Wales and Scotland and across the English Channel to "Brittany".
Gildas' work, which translates as "The Ruin of Britain", also includes 5
scathing letters, one addressed to each of five contemporary 'tyrants'.
Unfortunately, this book, which is a reprint of a 19th century
translation done by J.A. Giles, doesn't include those letters. It does,
however, include some great battle-scenes, as well as some interesting
politicking. Last, there are some few magical elements. [AY]
Buy De Excidio Britanniae
Goddess: Myths of the Female
David Leeming and Jake Page
Oxford Univeristy Press, 1994
A fun collection of stories of goddesses from all over the world performing
various feats. Arranged by category of deed, the one on "Goddess Disguised"
is especially interesting. This edition also features a decent bibliography.
Beware that earth mothers and goddesses are now highly vendible commodities
in the bookshops, and some editions may be more accurate than others. But
this is published by Oxford Univeristy Press, who are generally reliable,
and the Greek and Roman stories were fine... otherwise I don't know much
about regnant females in other cultures. Leeming is a professor emeritus
of English and comparative literature at UConn. [MI]
The Golden Ass: The Transformations
Lucius Apuleius, Robert Graves (Translator)
Paperback - 320 pages
Noonday Press, 1998
Would any discussion of Latin literature be complete without Lucius Apulieus -- the poor young man, transformed into an ass. The thumbnail, for those that don't know, is that young Lucius through an error by Fotis (his lover and a priestess of the White Goddess) and his own greediness, is turned into an ass. He spends the rest of the story getting himself into some fairly racy situations, and trying to restore himself to human form.
Like The Aeneid there are dozens of translations of Apulieus, including
one by Adlington published in London in 1566 (and kept in print through
eight editions until 1639!). Like Morwenna, I'm a big fan of Robert
Graves and his translation is lively and interesting. The different
sections of this book could easily be adapted into stand-alone story, and
this is a great source for someone who wants to do an episodic tale ala
Alessandro's handling of the Orlando epics. [AY]
Buy The Golden Ass
Arthur & Gorlagon
George L. Kittredge
Haskell House, 1966
Gorlagon is a knight cursed to become a wolf -- Gorlagon is also, apparently, a character in the Sailor Moon T.V. show. Some scholars believe him to be the same character as 'Marrok'. The story, written in Latin in the fourteenth century, is a simple one:
This Knight was said to take on the form of a wolf-like creature, which was discovered by his wife (in some versions, she is a sorceress who causes the condition). Knowing this she hid his clothes and so entrapping him in this wolf-form. He was forced to live his life like this for many years. Arthur discovered a wolf-like character behaving strangely and took it back to court unaware of the true nature of the character's problem. This creature appeared to have the manners of a gentleman and treated all those at court with kindness. The only exception to this as far as everyone could see was one woman. It was said that this woman was Gorlagon's/Marrok's wife who had clearly thought her husband would never return as she had a new romance. She confessed to her crime and returned his clothes, whereupon he immediately transformed into human form.
Those of you who are up on your Marie de France will immediately recognize this as "Bisclavret" with a new coat of paint. Frankly, this book isn't worth it. It's a lot of scholarly (and frankly, dull) writing and analysis of what just isn't that good a story in the first place. The original is better, as it has a nose being bitten off and the wicked wife getting what she deserves -- plus some interesting detail which is lost in the Latin version. [AY]
Gregorius: A Medieval Oedipus Legend
Hartmann Von Aue
AMS Press, 1966
Gregorius is one of the stories contained in "das Buchlein" (The Little Book), an allegorical debate between the body and the soul. The Little Book contains several stories (among them two Arthurian legends, "Erec" and "Iwein"), but the most striking story in the book is Gregorius. This is the tale of a fictional pope, molested by his mother as a child, and is based on a French tale called "Vie de saint Gregoire", which, according to the introduction, has been lost. This was the most famous incest legend of the Middle-ages and was as well known then as Oedipus is now. The Little Book also contains the story of Henry the Leper, who is cured of his affliction by the power of love. This book contains the original text, translation, and commentary on "Gregorius".
A native of the region of the upper Rhine, Hartmann von Aue (fl. 1190-1210) was
an educated knight and a minnesinger (a German trobadour) in the Swabian
court. He went on a crusade with Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI in 1197 and was a
vassal at Aue. [AY]
The Rose Garden (Gulistan) of Saadi
Omar Ali-Shah (Translator) Tractus, December 1997
This is a collection of short stories by the 12th Century Persian Sufi thinker Saadi of Shiraz. The Rose Garden constains stories organized into categories about personal conduct (e.g. On Love, On Dervishes). Each story illuminates a philosophical point. They range from witty to bittersweet to erotic. The stories are often described as deceptively simple because they are not written with the moral explicitly expounded and are light and entertaining (although, in my opinion, it's usually pretty easy to see what Saadi is getting at). The title comes from a tale Saadi tells in his preface in which he describe each tale as a single rose in his rose garden. [TbIaI]
The Saga of Gunnlaugur Snake's Tongue
E. Paul Durrenberger and Dorothy Durrenberger (Translators)
Associated University Presses, 1992
This is a really wonderful, really thoughtful translation of this
thirteenth-century Icelandic saga. The story is a tragedy surrounding the
competition of two chieftain's sons, Gunnlaugur and Hrafn, for the fairest
woman in Iceland, Helga Thorsteinn's daughter. It contains all the stuff
of a good story: true love, dueling, betrayal. The characerizations are
touching and believable. In addition, Gunnlaugur is a poet (thus the
epithet), and the text is interspersed throughout with short poems
Gunnlaugur recites to comment on the action. This is one of my very
Buy The Saga of Gunnlaugur Snake's Tongue
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