March 11, 2014

Cligès by Chrétien de Troyes (Review)

Title: Cligès
Author: Chrétien de Troyes
First published: 1176
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★★

Cligès is the second poem by Chrétien de Troyes and it is a wild and amusing mix of Tristan and Iseult, Romeo and Juliet and your classic Arthurian romance. The story can be roughly divided into two parts: the first one tells about the Greek emperor Alexander, who came to King Arthur's court in search of glory and also found his love, and the second focuses on his son Cligès and his love to Fenice, which is very unlike the simple and idyllic story of his parents.

The most striking thing about this poem is that it's very, very funny. Chrétien's ironic and cute portrayal of the lovers' feelings made me smile all the time. They seem stupid but also really adorable in their agony. And aren't we all stupid when we are in love? :) Another thing that I like about Chrétien de Troyes is that he is always very self-conscious about his writing, and he talks to the reader, explaining his writer's choices and underlining the structure of the poem. It's as if he is telling you the story reposing in front of the fire after a plentiful dinner washed down with mulled wine.

The plot is more real and much less conventional than the plot of Erec and Enide, the only other Chrétien's poem I've read so far. Instead of battling imaginary giants at imaginary locations, Cligès is about real European politics and real battles and sieges. There is also abduction, treason, forbidden love, poisons, you name it! I really loved the "marriage solution" from the story. Fenice, in love with Cligès, doesn't want to sleep with her lawful husband, so every evening she gives him a potion which makes him sleep and dream certain dreams that make him sure she does her marital duty by him. Awesome, right??

In my book:
Cligès is much more readable than Erec and Enide and is very entertaining without any reservations!


  1. I think I have a copy of some of Chrétien lying around here somewhere. I have a feeling it's one of the books that hasn't been unpacked because there isn't enough room for on our shelves. I really need to read what I have and start getting rid of some of the excess.

    1. This particular one deserves some place on the shelf! I wouldn't vouch for his other works (I've read three so far), but this one is great!

  2. Poem was written 838 years ago....and we're still reading it!
    I really should not overlook this chef d'oeuvre de la littérature française!
    Great review...

    1. No, no! By no means should you overlook it! :)
      As I know you read in French, you may even be able to read it in the original! I have no idea how difficult the old French is :)

  3. Great review! I'm looking forward to reading this ……….. that is, if I can get through Le Morte d'Arthur ……..

    1. Le Morte d'Arthur is near the top of my to-read list! But I was a bit afraid of its size when I bought it... I'll wait for your review to estimate how difficult it will be :)


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