Names and Naming

Christopher W. Bruce’s The Arthurian Name Dictionary is a good reference for establishing the geographical locations of some of the lesser-known characters and places in Arthurian landscapes from any time period. There are two men called ‘Escanor’ in Bruce’s list: ‘Escanor the Handsome’ and ‘Escanor the Large’. The former is the Escanor first mentioned in this text (corroborated by Norris J. Lacy’s resource, see below), as he is described ‘Escanors, cil de la Montaingne’ (line 207) and Bruce summarises:

King of the White Mountain and nephew of Escanor the Large. Gawain defeated him in combat after Escanor tried to abduct Sir Girflet. Consequent of this defeat, Gawain obtained Escanor’s horse, Gringolet, which had been given to Escanor by his lover, the fairy queen Esclarmonde. Later, Escanor wrongly accused Gawain of his cousin’s murder. Gawain at first refused to fight him, so Sir Galantivet, Gawain’s squire, ambushed and defeated Escanor. When Escanor and Gawain finally met in combat, Gawain had the upper hand and would have killed his opponent, but a fairy named Felinete, who had once helped Gawain, interceded and convinced Gawain to spare Escanor’s life. The two knights reconciled and became friends. Escanor retired to a hermitage after his wife died (171).

Escanor does not have a full entry to itself in The Arthurian Encyclopedia by Norris J. Lacy, but it contains a useful entry on the author, Girart d’Amiens.

GIRART D’AMIENS, who also wrote Méliacin, is the author of Escanor, a romance of nearly 26,000 lines dated to ca. 1280. It may have been presented in 1279 to Eleanor of Castile. One of the two main plots concerns Kay, who falls in love during a tournament with Andrivete, daughter of Canor of Northumberland. Kay, however, returns to court without confessing his love, and Andrivete narrowly escapes being married for political motives by her uncle to someone of inferior social status. In the other plot, Gauvain is accused by Escanor le Beau of the murder of a cousin. Gauvain hesitates to defend himself against the accusation, and Gifflet’s brother Galantivet defeats the accuser. In the meantime, Escanor le Grand, uncle of Escanor le Beau, captures Gifflet when he is unable to take Gauvain. Gauvain finally defeats Escanor le Beau and the two are reconciled.

Although much of the narrative is formed by stock motifs, the author does depart from convention in his portrayal of Kay as a timid lover and Gauvain as somewhat of a coward. An aura of religiosity pervades the end of the romance. Much of the plot hinges on necromancy and the supernatural, and the influence of the prose romances, especially the Prose Tristan, is particularly strong. Composed during the same period, Escanor has much in common in terms of narrative structure and treatment of subject matter with the romance of Claris et Laris (236).

Obviously, the majority of information about the plot cannot be covered in this kind of summary, but it makes me wonder if, as is so common in medieval romance, the plot is made up of interlaced narratives and multiple strands, why was the romance named after the knight Escanor? It raises interesting questions about who is the hero or heroine of a multi-protagonist romance, and to what extent the title influences the direction of criticism on any given text. Heinrich Michelant’s edition of Escanor contains a much lengthier summary of the plot and some thematic issues, which I intend to translate into English and post later.


Bruce, Christopher W. The Arthurian Name Dictionary. New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1999.

Girart d’Amiens. Escanor. Ed. Heinrich Michelant. Tübingen: Bibliothek des literarischen Vereins in Stuttgart, 1886.

Lacy, Norris J., ed. The Arthurian Encyclopedia. New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1986.


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