Look to the Lady – a medieval tale

I am taking a brief look at the tale of an Arthurian knight – brave, uxorious and stubborn – and his faithful, long-suffering wife – in two versions, medieval Welsh and medieval French, respectively.

We are talking here (a) about Geraint fab Erbin (editor R Jones’s title) or Gereint son of Erbin (translators Jones & Jones’s title) and (b) about the Ėrec et Ėnide of Chrétien de Troyes.  Geraint = Ėrec; Enid = Ėnide.

The verse account composed by Chrétien de Troyes dates to the late 12th century.  The Welsh version manuscripts date to the 14th century.  They form part of the collection of prose stories published together, nowadays, as the “Mabinogion”. We do not know whether these two works are derived from a lost common source or whether Ėrec et Ėnide was the principal source for the “Mabinogion” tale (perhaps together with oral traditions in Wales).

The main thrust of both versions is similar.  Chrétien’s is much longer and more elaborate.  The Welsh one is compact and does not waste words in making its impact.

It would be tedious to compare both versions, point by point.  I would like to examine the rival literary merits of a climactic episode that appears in them both.

First, the theme: it is that of the hero who first wins a lady to wife, then risks her loss through his uncaring behaviour, and finally, after many trials and tribulations, is reconciled with her (largely thanks to faithfulness and patience on her part).

Secondly, the story, in brief.  The story can be divided into four parts.  Part 4 is like an appendix or epilogue.

1 The hero is a knight who enjoys adventure and who wins his battles.  This part culminates in his wooing of Enid/Ėnide and marrying her.

[R Jones edition of the Welsh, pages 97-119; Jones & Jones translation, pages 229-246; Chrétien, lines 27-2262.]

2 The hero goes to see his father – an example of filial piety.

[R Jones, pp 119-125; Jones & Jones, pp 246-250; Chrétien, pp 2263-2472.]

3 The hero withdraws from social life and tournaments, preferring to spend all his time with his wife.  This draws adverse comments by those who know him; and the heroine is upset.  When she lets slip her worry about her husband’s diminished reputation, he launches on a series of dangerous adventures, taking her with him.  Over time, the expense of energy and loss of blood through wounds received take their toll on his health.  After coming close to death, the hero sees sense and appreciates the care his wife has for him, and they are reconciled.

[R Jones, pp 125-151; Jones & Jones, pp 250-270; Chrétien, lines 2473-5366.]

4 The hero engages in a final adventure, the details of which need not concern us here.  (Chrétien’s account is very long; the Welsh version is very short.)

[R Jones, pp 151-156; Jones & Jones, pp 270-273; Chrétien, lines 5367-6958.]

I now turn to a climactic point in the story, towards the end of Part 3.  I invite the reader to choose which account is more effective in its artistry – the Welsh or the French.

The Welsh:

Exhausted by his fights with giants, and appearing to be dead or dying, Geraint has been laid down in the hall of Earl Limwris, with his wife Enid and the earl himself nearby. The earl tries to persuade Enid to abandon Geraint and to live with him, and in the meantime to accept his food and drink.  As she refuses him, he gives her a “box on the ear”.  This is what happens next, in the Welsh version:

[Enid] gave a great sharp-piercing shriek, and made outcry far greater then than before, and it came into her mind that were Gereint alive she would not be boxed on the ear so.  With that Gereint came to himself at the echoing of her shriek, and he rose up into a sitting posture and found his sword in the hollow of his shield, and hastened to where the earl was and struck him a keen-forceful, venomous-painful blow on the crown of his head, so that he was cloven, and so that the table stayed the sword.  Everyone then left the table and fled out.  And it was not fear of the living man that was greatest upon them, but the sight of the dead man rising up to slay them.  And then Gereint looked on Enid and a double grief came over him: the one to see how Enid had lost her colour and her mien, and the other was that he knew her to be in the right.  ‘Lady,’ said he, ‘dost thou know where our horses are?’  ‘I know,’ said she, ‘where thine own went, but I know not where went the other.  To yonder house thy horse went.’  He then came to the house and fetched out his horse, and raised Enid up from the ground and set her between him and the saddlebow.  And away he went.

[Jones & Jones, page 269; cf R Jones, pages 149f]

And the couple make good their escape.

We see here that Geraint’s priority is not to comfort Enid immediately but to organise their escape – and indeed, Enid is practical too, telling Geraint where his horse can be found.  Note that the solid basis of their relationship is revealed by their prompt actions and their few, apposite words.  (Contrast Chrétien’s treatment of the matter, below.)

In the French, the context is similar.  The Count of Limors wants to take Ėnide for himself.  He orders her to eat and drink, and, as she refuses, he strikes her, twice:

In the middle of these arguments and disputes, Erec recovered consciousness like a man waking from sleep.  It was no wonder if he was startled to see the people around him; but when he heard his wife’s voice, he was troubled and filled with grief.  Getting down from the dais, he quickly draws the sword.  Anger and his love for his wife give him courage.  He runs over to where he sees her and strikes the count on the head, beating out his brains and knocking in his forehead without any word or challenge, so that his blood and brains go flying.  The knights leap up from the tables, all thinking this is a devil come in here amongst them….

[Owen, lines 4851ff, page 64]

The hero’s change of behaviour is marked by the passage that commences thus:

The count was slain at his meal.  Then Erec, carrying his wife away, embraces and kisses and comforts her.

[Owen, lines 4914ff, page 65]

And Ėrec adds soothing words but (remarkably) fails to accept all the blame for their situation, as shown by this sentence:

“And if you’ve ever spoken ill to me, you have my forgiveness and pardon for both the offence and what you said.”

[Owen, ibid]

How dare he say this?  He adds insult to injury!

In my opinion, Chrétien’s description is bland, whereas the Welsh version is lively.  The latter also conveys more pathos, as the feelings of Enid and Geraint, respectively, are vividly conveyed.  The account of the escape of Ėrec and Ėnide is long and drawn out, as a look at the full text reveals, whereas that of Geraint and Enid is short and to the point.

I would argue, both on the basis of this episode and on my reading of both versions of the whole tale, that the Welsh version, though much shorter than the French, is the superior of the two.

Indeed, Geraint can be seen as following (on a smaller scale) the pattern of Homer’s Achilles in the Iliad, insofar as (first) he exhibits petulance when his pride is hurt and (secondly) he repents and changes his course when he is moved by grief.  In accordance with this approach, the Welsh tale can be taken as a mini-epic.  But on another view, the story has a heroine – Enid – rather than a hero!  Seen in this way, the tale is a romance.

References

Jones, G and Jones, T (1949) (translators), The Mabinogion, London: J M Dent & Sons (Everyman).

Jones, R M (Bobi) (editor) (1960), Y Tair Rhamant, Aberystwyth: Cymdeithas Lyfrau Ceredigion.

Owen, D D R (1987) (translator), Chrétien de Troyes: Arthurian Romances, London: J M Dent (Everyman).

 

 

 

 

 

Arrival in Bethlehem

Thanks to my darling wife, Jane

Jane Harries' Blog

The driver of the ‘sherut’ (shared taxi) drops me opposite the Damsacus Gate in Jerusalem and motions towards where I can catch the bus to Bethlehem.  Early in the morning as it is, the heat is already rising.  Tired from the overnight journey, I’m still relieved to have escaped the gleaming angular airport of Ben Gurion and the long queues at the passport booths.

To enter the Bethlehem bus is to enter another, parallel world.  Perhaps not meticulously clean and a bit ramshackle around the edges but warm and welcoming, like a well-worn blanket.  People greet one another and exchange news.  A young girl comes to sit beside me and gives me a broad smile. As we drive out of the city an elderly gentleman opposite with deep lines in his face where he has smiled often looks out of the bus window where an elderly Jewish gentleman is being…

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Carlo Rovelli: ‘Reality Is Not What It Seems’ (Penguin, 2017)

Professor Rovelli is a notable physicist.

The book represents leaps across the history of science – and quantum leaps too.

This book is well written but dense, especially as it progresses.  Relevant mathematical equations are quoted but remain impenetrable to most readers.  (This is a book for the general reader.)

Note that critics with background knowledge take issue with some of his statements and claims.

As indicated, Professor Rovelli “leaps” from the science and philosophy of Ancient Greece.  He takes the opportunity to praise the thinking of Democritus, the first writer reported to have put forward an atomic theory.

Moving on to the Romans, Rovelli singles out for praise the poet and philosopher Lucretius and his long poem – De Rerum Naturâ, On The Nature of the Universe:

Lucretius sings of atoms, the sea, the sky, of nature.  He expresses in luminous verse philosophical questions, scientific ideas, refined arguments.  [Page 20]

This is an example of the writer combining mathematical and scientific argument with with enthusiastic references to poetry.

Professor Rovelli builds on the work of a succession of great mathematicians and physicists (too numerous to mention here), in order to discuss ways of reconciling two great theories – relativity and quantum mechanics.  At the same time, he contemplates a finite rather than an infinite concept of the universe.  One of the models he delineates is that of the “3-sphere” (a technical concept).

Professor Rovelli writes:

Einstein’s idea is that space could be a 3-sphere: something with a finite volume (….) but without borders. The 3-sphere is the solution which Einstein proposes in his work of 1917 to the problem of the border of the border of the universe.  This article initiates modern cosmology….From it will arise the discovery of the expansion of the universe; the theory of the Big Bang; the problem of the birth of the universe, and much else besides.  [Pages 79f]

Professor Rovelli goes on to turn to the “classic” poet of his native Italy, namely Dante Alighieri, making a link between his Paradiso (Cantos XXVII and XXVIII) and the 3-sphere concept.  (He is not the first to suggest this.)  In brief, the more or less Ptolemaic concept of the universe adopted by Dante (but modified) has (i) the solar system embracing God and the celestial choir and (ii) vice versa!

Professor Rovelli states:

[Dante] ascends [the celestial] spheres….up to the outermost sphere.  When he reaches it, he contemplates the universe below him….But then he looks even higher – and what does he see?  He sees a point of light surrounded by immense spheres of angels, that is to say, by another immense ball, which, in his words ‘surrounds and is at the same time surrounded by’ the sphere of our universe!….The point of light and the sphere of angels are surrounding the universe, and at the same time they are surrounded by the universe!  It is an exact description of a 3-sphere!

This is intriguing for me and it will spur me to revisit this part of the Commedia.  (More to follow, from me, on this point, perhaps.)

Worth reading.  To be taken with a pinch of salt.  At the “cutting edge” of science, there is room for disagreement among scientists.

Alys Fowler’s ‘Hidden Nature: A Voyage of Discovery’ (Hodden & Stoughton, 2017)

Tthe title of the book contains a double-entendre.  First, the writer discusses the nature of canals – the botanical, zoological and geological aspects, and the history of their building and uses.  This nature is largely hidden from view – hidden from those who don’t venture on to the towpath or indeed on to the water (as the writer does).  Ms Fowler evokes this nature enthusiastically and in detail – in a blend of objectivity and subjectivity.  She conveys the impact upon her that both the wildlife and the detritus of industry and our throwaway society create.

Secondly, the accounts of her exploration of the canals of the West Midlands (and London too, a bit) are blended with her personal history – her midlife crisis, indeed.   (Well, she is in her late thirties.)  The canal trips provide a way for the writer to re-assess her life and to make life-changing decisions.  (She is a gardener who temporarily abandons her garden.)

In brief, Ms Fowler changes partners.  She is torn, about this.  Her re-orientation takes time and trouble and involves painful feelings.  But she sticks to her decision, once made, and accepts the implications and costs.

Ms Fowler writes about sexuality but not sex.  She writes about herself rather than about her partners – they remain somewhat shadowy, little described.  (This preserves a degree of privacy for them.)  Her account is openly subjective.  The “significant others” would have said something different (of course).

This book is not for everyone.  (I like it.)  Not all will enjoy the canal and nature descriptions.  Not all will accompany the writer on her emotional journey sympathetically.  Some may not go along with her decision to leave one partner and to take up with another.

Worth a look.  Thought-provoking.

Afterthought

Did I mention that Alys leaves her husband for a woman?  No!?

From what I can gather, Alys is not alone in her transition from a relationship with a man to one with a woman.  And the writer is at some pains to say that the former relationship was genuine and fond – implying that it was the right thing at the time (at its time).

I guess we don’t yet know much about what has been termed “sexual fluidity”.

the UK “dementia tax” and the welfare state

Since 1948 most health care has been provided in the UK free of charge; and most of the funds come from central government; and it is raised through national (social) insurance and taxation.

Since 1948 (at least) social care has been subject to charges, based on means testing.  Some users of services pay little or nothing.  Early on, few people availed themselves of social care.  Most men died shortly after retiring at 65.  Home helps were directed towards assisting mothers giving birth to children at home, as the fathers carried on working.  (There was no provision for paternity leave – and none for maternity leave either.)  By today, the situation has changed enormously.

Changes to the funding of social care have been considered by successive governments, but the matter has been placed, repeatedly in the “too difficult” tray.

The 2017 General Election campaign has reminded me that home and day care charges are based on income, but residential care charges are based upon assets and income.  (Assets include houses and flats.)  Any major change to this regime by an incoming Conservative government, as proposed – taking account of assets – has great implications for many people in England but also for other countries, notably Wales, as the block grant to Wales will be affected by any adjustment to funding in England.  In other words, if the Westminster government spends (through its reduced allocation to local authorities) LESS on social care, then budgets in Wales will be influenced.  (Remember the implications of student tuition fees, led by England.)

How should social care be paid for?

The possible sources are these, and they may act in combination:

  • People paying for themselves, in full or in part
  • Charges based on a means test related to income
  • Charges based on a means test related to assets (capital)
  • Public moneys raised through taxation (and, in the UK, national insurance).

I believe in principle that social care should be free at the point of delivery, and, like health care, it should be funded out of taxation.

A less idealistic approach has to consider a modified version of this.  From one end of the telescope, in a manner of speaking, a residual minimum of savings can be protected from charges.  This is where we are now.  From the other end of the telescope, a “cap” on cumulative payments by users of services can be imposed.  This has been considered but not implemented.

Private insurance against the costs of social care has not proved to be a realistic option, as the risks are hard to calculate.

I would like to suggest that, in the interim, social care for people over the age of 85 should be made free and exempt from means testing and charging.  (The threshold is arbitrary and can be changed.)  One reason is that advanced ageing results in an increasing incidence of frailty – multiple frailties, indeed.  Secondly, what social workers and local authority finance officers wish to chase frail elderly people for payment?

A note on people with impairments and disabilities, aged 0-85.  Many young and middle-aged people are rendered poor – with low incomes and diminished earning capacity – and therefore are ineligible for charges.  Who would charge children?

I would hope that a threshold around age 85 might encourage insurance companies to offer policies for coverage for any care needs that arise before the age limit – and might encourage people to investigate the option of insurance.

The time is overdue for change – and for fair policies for social care.

Franz Kafka,’Das Schloss’ (‘The Castle’)

 

Sie sind nicht aus dem Schloẞ, Sie sind nicht aus dem Dorfe, Sie sind nichts.  Leider sind Sie doch etwas, ein Fremder, der ûberzählig und ûberall im Wege ist, einer, wegen dessen man immerfort Scherereien hat.

You are not from the Castle, you are not from the village, you are nothing.  Unfortunately, though, you are something – a stranger, superfluous, always in the way, constantly causing trouble.

[The landlady of the village inn to K, in Chapter 4]

 

The title

The word ‘Schloss’, in the title, can be translated as ‘castle’ or ‘palace’ or “country house” (or even ‘lock’).  The building (or buildings) that figure in Kafka’s novel appears, however, to be quite unimpressive – certainly, this is how it appears to ‘K’, the protagonist.

Publication

Kafka left his third novel incomplete (but see below).  It was published only after his death, at the instigation of his friend Max Brod.

The story

K arrives in a village, in winter, to take up an appointment as a land surveyor, for Count Westwest.  The local castle (the Castle) overlooks the village.  The Castle officials (an all-male elite) oversee all the goings-on in the village and record them, in bureaucratic detail.  They are respected and looked up to by the villagers, and indeed obeyed.

The Castle and the village are fundamentally separate.  Castle officials visit the village but villagers are not permitted to enter the Castle. The officials transact much of their business in the village itself, at night.  They conduct interviews with villagers at night too.

The novel largely consists of a record of the series of meetings between K and individuals – both villagers and officials – which give him some insight into how the place works.  (Called to his own first proper interview with an official, at night, K misses his appointment, by falling asleep!)

Some Castle officials abuse their power over the ordinary people by taking local women as their mistresses. They are free too to discard them.  (One man in particular – Herr Klamm – is mentioned.)  The women who are taken up by Castle officials gain rather than lose higher social status in the village!  (Any woman who rejects such a relationship is ostracised by the community)

K himself tries to use his relationship with a young villager (Frieda) as a bargaining tool in order to arrange a man-to-man interview with Klamm – this he fails to achieve.

K is engaged in a struggle for recognition as a professional person – a land surveyor.  He never has the opportunity to practise his profession.  Indeed, one informant tells him that his services are not required and that the job offer resulted from a bureaucratic error.

K remains an outsider.

The language

Kafka’s prose is precise.  It has many long sentences, with subordinate clauses.  Different aspects of a topic are balanced.  Different arguments are weighed against each other.  It reminds the reader of bureaucratic language.  Even the characters’ speeches tend to be formal.  Typically of literary German, reported speech features extensive use of the subjunctive mood.

Kafka’s German is fairly easy to understand, because of its clarity; but it is difficult to translate into fluent English.   For example, the word order sometimes has to be changed – but with this the delicate structure of the original may be impaired.

The story is told, in a way, from K’s perspective, as the reader is given access to his thoughts as well as his statements, as in a first person narrative.  The other characters’ thoughts are revealed in their body language (as reported) and what they say.

K, the protagonist

The reader is entitled to ask questions about K.

Why does he stay in the village, given that he suffers a series of rebuffs?

Is he too proud about his status?  (He does accept a job as a school caretaker as a temporary measure.)

Is he insufficiently flexible in his dealings with both villagers and officials?  Does he expect the system to adapt to him rather than the other way round?

What is more important to K – his proclaimed love for the barmaid Frieda or his wish to use her as way to set up an interview with Klamm (her former lover)?  Does he neglect her, in the pursuit of his struggle for recognition?  Does he, indeed, misuse her?

The officials

The bureaucrats communicate with K through letters and through interviews – solely on their own terms (who, when, where and how are entirely at their discretion).

The fact that the offer of an appointment to K as a land surveyor was a mistake is not officially recognised.

The bureaucrats fail to resolve K’s status and so leave him in limbo.

An ironic ending

In his afterword to the first edition of Das Schloss, Max Brod states that Kafka revealed to him how the story would end.  By this account, K does not give up his struggle; but he eventually dies in the attempt, from exhaustion.  The local people gather around his death bed.  Now the Castle officials hand down their decision: although they deny K any legal claim to live in the village, taking into account the circumstances, they grant him permission to live and to work there.

Themes

  • Class: the officials have arbitrary power over the lives of the villagers and appear to from a separate, superior class
  • Gender: the officials are all male; they abuse their power when they take village women (expected to comply) as their mistresses
  • Bureaucracy: while little indication is given of much activity being carried out in the village, it is made clear that the officials maintain detailed records of everything.

Meanings

1 The novel reflects the human search for belonging to a community

2 Similarly, it reflects the human search for recognition, by the community, of one’s personal worth

3 It may reflect the human search for order in society

4 It may also have something to do with the need for fairness and flexibility, which can temper the rigid administration of rules

5 It may reflect the elusive nature of a fair social order and the imperfections of human societies in reality

6 In part it may be a satire on excessive and inflexible bureaucracy (the maintenance of some sort of order, at any cost)

7 It may too represent a critique of excessive individualism

8 For a 21st century reader, it can be seen as a parable that illustrates the plight of people who remain outsiders, for example, the homeless, those who suffer discrimination, foreigners, asylum seekers and refugees

9 Fundamentally, Das Schloss remains ambiguous.

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When Religion Makes The News

On 8 November 2016, the National Union of Journalists and ITV Cymru Wales hosted the above-named event, at the Life Sciences Centre, Cardiff Bay.  It brought together journalists and people of belief (especially, media representatives), to discuss and improve communication and reporting.  It also offered a chance to “network”; over eighty people attended; and I got to speak to about a dozen, of a great variety of backgrounds, myself.

I should emphasise that the event came about at the initiative of journalists, not faith communities.  And it was a first in Britain.

The event was chaired by Roger Bolton, who has worked for many years in TV and radio – I have often heard him on the radio.

There were many speakers, throughout the day, both from journalist and faith groups.

The journalists’ situation can be summarised as follows.  The numbers working in traditional media have gone down.  Not only have they have been inclined, themselves, to be less religious than the general population, but also they have tended to subscribe to the idea that religious belief has been declining in importance.  (They have been proved wrong by events).  Those who wanted to report better were represented at this event, then.  They were challenged (loudly and clearly by Roger Bolton) (i) to inform themselves more deeply and (ii) to gain access to the wide variety of faith communities, while not relying solely on the contacts they already have.

In turn, the faith communities (Christians, Jews and Muslims) that were represented on a “panel” were challenged by Roger Bolton (i) to state explicitly what they have to offer to journalists and (ii) to outline the nature of their media operations. (The resources available varied widely between the communities.)

After lunch, journalists and faith communities met separately for one session.  For the faith group, the topic was: “Working with Journalists: an opportunity to consider your experience, your agenda, your media practice.”  It was led by three very knowledgeable women – with great communication skills – namely, Angela Graham (of the Media Policy Group of the Institute of Welsh Affairs), Christine Warwick, and Emma Meese (of Cardiff University’s Centre for Community Journalism).

Angela said that belief is wider than faith and includes atheism and secularism.  She set the context: relationships are more important than technologies.  She added that we all communicate through our daily lives.

Angela posed these questions.

What do I most want to communicate?

Why do I want to communicate this?

What results do I hope for?

How will I handle the reactions (the criticism)?

What are the implications of using media I don’t control?

We are always communicating, including with the Divine.  This helps us deal with failure.  We are vulnerable – we need to be prepared.  We need a strategy for dealing with consequences and people for handling risk.  We (believers) are making big claims and so are held accountable (eg by journalists).  Take care of the members of your own group.

Notice where the seed you have sown has grown.  Chase up the messages you have left.  Communicate widely, with discernment, creatively, painstakingly, persistently.

Journalism, she said, is a way to help us live well together.  Journalists must challenge us, push us to think harder.

What is noteworthy?  The novel, the topical, the relevant, the significant, the relational, the provable, the jargon-free, the researched, the practical, the visible.

Pictures help.

We should be contactable, available, responsible, ready for risk.

Avoid propaganda, preaching and proselytism.

Next, Christine Warwick gave us concrete advice on the writing of press releases.

Target your press releases accurately.  Know about deadlines.

The most important should be in the first paragraph and should tell the reader: who, what, where, when, how.

Include the body of your press release in your email, not as an attachment.

Finally, in this session, Emma Meese talked about social media.  What she said about this could be applied, in part, to the more traditional media.  Remember KISSKeep It Short and Sweet.

Make the most of your Twitter profile.  Sell yourself.  But “don’t feed the trolls.”

 

This was a very stimulating day.  Many of those present would welcome a repeat, where topics could be dealt with at greater length.

 

I came away wondering how Quakers – especially those in Wales – can best rise to the challenges posed so vividly at this event.  I am very grateful, both to the organisers, and to Meeting of Friends for letting me go.

 

David Harries