We are beginning to see a common theme repeated over and over again in Medieval tales set in an Arthurian world. The argument is that the stories which make up this body of legend derive from Breton tales and myths that originate from an ancient British oral tradition which survived the Roman occupation. They therefore reach back into the first millennium before Christ, allowing us a glimpse into a Celtic Iron Age which we know from Roman sources to have embraced within its religious beliefs the idea of reincarnation. So, given their mythological nature, it may not be surprising if some of the Arthurian tales reflect this. In fact, the thing that is particularly interesting about most of these stories is the way they reflect this.
Why, for example. we must ask, is the following story anomalous; the story of Olger the Dane?† 'Olger the Dane' is not, as the title suggests, a Norse tale, but a Medieval French romance telling of the age of the Frankish King Charles the Great – King Charlemagne, of the late-eighth and early-ninth century AD. Olger is the son of a Danish king. His father refuses to pay allegiance to King Charlemagne, is defeated in battle and Olger is taken as a hostage to be brought up at the French court, as was normal for the times. Olger's father becomes politically troublesome to King Charlemagne again and under normal circumstances Olger should be executed. But the young lad pleads loyalty to King Charlemagne and declares that he will fight for the king against his father when he comes of age. So his life is spared.
Olger grows to become the greatest knight in the king's retinue, helps to win many glorious military engagements and pays King Charlemagne handsomely for his mercy. But Morgan le Fay (King Arthur's sister, who seems still to be alive in the eighth century AD) has vowed to bring Olger to Avalon to live with her, and when the time comes, this is what she does. A shipwreck casts Olger upon a rocky shore that has already claimed the lives of his crew, and here he soon finds himself in an Otherworld. Avalon. Olger lives in Avalon wearing a crown that disguises the passage of time, but at last Morgan le Fay takes pity upon the plight of France and returns the invincible warrior to his adopted nation in its hour of need. So Olger returns, thinking that he has been away for only a few months. But things are not as he left them. 'Is Simon not here?' he asks. 'Or Charles the Great? What of my wife Clarice, then – where is she? Dead? No, this is impossible. No!'
'They have been dead for two hundred years!' he is told.† A ring is pulled from Olger's finger, and immediately he shrinks and dries into an old and withered skeleton. But on replacing this ring, Olger regains his strength and vitality again.
So in this story, Olger is taken to Avalon by Morgan le Fay (who was also in the boat that King Arthur boarded for his journey to Avalon) and returns two hundred years later. Like King Arthur, it is perhaps likely that Olger suffered fatal injury as his right of passage, involved, as he was, in a shipwreck that had destroyed the rest of his crew, before being taken to Avalon. A story with a very similar ending exists in the Fenian cycle of legend from Ireland and the West of Scotland.
Fionn and his son were hunting by the shores of Lough Lene, a small freshwater loch in the centre of Ireland one day, when a beautiful young woman appeared, as if from nowhere. Looking down from her white horse, she spoke to Fionn. 'I am called Niam of the Golden Hair,' she said, 'the daughter of the King of the Land of Youth.' But she has come not to see Fionn but to see his son, Oisín.††
She asks Oisín to come with her and he does so without hesitation. Oisín leaps onto her horse and they ride until they come to the sea and then onwards over the sea to the Land of Youth where, after the space of only a month, Oisin asks to be allowed to return to visit his father. At first reluctant to allow such a request, Niam of the Golden Hair agrees at last to let him go, but only under the promise that he will not dismount from his horse when he arrives back in Ireland. So he sets off for the land of his home, but when he arrives he finds only grassy mounds and rank bushes where his father's house once stood. Travelling across Ireland in search of an explanation, he encounters some farmers pushing their backs against a stone and when he leans across to help them in their labour, the girth beneath his saddle breaks and he tumbles to the ground. Immediately, his horse vanishes and Oisín raises himself from the earth with as much difficulty as a man in extreme old age. He tells the labourers who he is, but they reply in disbelief: 'You must have lost your mind, old man. Fionn, son of Cumhaill and all the warriors of his generation have been buried in the ground for the last three hundred years!'
Bran had a similar experience when he returned from the Isle of Women after his voyage across the sea to the Land of the Living.† He encountered a man on the shore of Ireland and told him his name. But the man replied that the name meant nothing to him, except that the voyage of Bran was in their ancient stories.
But one of Bran's crew was eager to be ashore. He leaped out of the boat and waded onto the beach; and as soon as he touched the shingle of Ireland, he crumbled into a heap of dust as though he had been buried within the ground for many hundreds of years. It was then that Bran sang the following quatrain:
It was a stupid thing for him to do,
This Nectan, son of Collbran,
To try to turn the tide of age,
Without a wave of pure water thrown over him.†
After delivering this enigmatic quatrain, Bran tells the people on the shore the story of his voyage, writes it down in Ogham, the letters inscribed as cuts on wood in the ancient way that the druids used, and then sails off, never to be heard of again. Perhaps the wave of pure water is a reference to baptism. But perhaps also it was a reference to the waters of Lethe. It is folly to try to turn the tide of age without first feeling a wave of the water of forgetfulness from the river the ancient Greeks and Romans knew as Lethe.
Compare these stories with the following from Sir Thomas Malory's Book of Sir Tristram de Lyones, the longest single romance in his epic Le Morte d'Arthur.†
Sir Tristram loves Isode, the Beautiful Isode, wife of King Mark, in a love affair that mirrors Sir Lancelot's love of Guinevere. In fact, Queen Isode once sent word to Guinevere that 'there are within this land but four lovers, and they are Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere, and Sir Tristram and Queen Isode.' Tristram and Queen Isode are the Tristan and Isolde of German romance, but the legend derives from Breton, or British, Arthurian tradition. Chrétien de Troyes refers in one of his poems to a work of his concerning 'King Mark and Isolde the Blonde', now sadly lost to us.† A Breton lay of Marie de France entitled Chevrefoil recounts an episode in the legend of Tristram.† Our earliest source of the story dates from a contemporary of Chrétien de Troyes, one Thomas of Britain,† who was writing in England, and who possibly knew Marie de France at the court of King Henry II.†
The whole of Sir Thomas Malory's Book of Sir Tristram de Lyones, itself based upon the mid-thirteenth century Old French Prose Tristan, is scattered with curious allusions to a concern with identity and the concealment of identity and the confusion of identity. We find ourselves once more in a world of Arthurian legend, a world that has caused Sir Gareth to wish to travel from Avalon to a tournament where no one will be able to recognise him, Sir Lancelot inexplicably to ride off disguised as Sir Kay, to return from a land from which no stranger returns, disguised as another knight, and from a strange and 'Dolorous Castle' disguised as other knights, a knight with one, or two, or three red bands on his shield, a knight wearing a red shield with a white band, then a simple red shield, then a white shield with a black band, or a foolish knight with a blackened shield; a world in which Sir Gareth is eager to wear a shield that changes colour with every successive martial encounter he makes! And be in no doubt that a shield denotes identity: 'So ryght as they stood thus talkynge togydyre they saw com rydynge by them over a playne (plain) six knyghtes of the courte of kynge Arthure well armed at all poyntys (completely armed); and by their shyldys sir Dynadan knew them well.'†
'"A Jesu!" seyde kynge Marke, "myght ye knowe sir Launcelot by his shylde?" "Ye," seyde sir Dynadan, "for he beryth a shylde of sylver and blacke bendis (diagonal bands)."' But this is Sir Mordred's shield. And soon it is given to Sir Dagonet, King Arthur's fool, to use against King Mark, who thinking that he faces Sir Lancelot, backs away from the idiot knight in terror. 'And than (then) kynge Marke arose, and gate (fetched) his horse agayne, and folowed aftir sir Lameroke. But sir Dynadan wolde nat (not) juste with sir Lameroke, but he tolde kynge Marke that sir Lameroke was sir Kay the Senescyall (seneschal).'
And again: '"Ye say well," seyde sir Dynadan. "Now I pray you telle me youre name..." "...as for my name [seyde sir Trystram] ye shall nat wyte (shall not discover) as at this tyme..."'.
'"Fayre lordys,' seyde sir Trystramys, "as at thys tyme I woll nat telle you my name."'
'"Ah, fair knights!" said Sir Brewnys [Saunze Pity], "there is following me the most treacherous knight, and the most cowardly and villainous, and his name is Sir Brewnys Saunze Pity."'
And again: '...at the day of justenynge (jousting) there cam in sir Dynadan disgysed... [and] sir Lancelot com into the thrange (throng) but he was disgysed...'.
'So then Sir Palomydes disgysed hymselff in this maner...'.
'Than kynge Marke... wolde (would) have sir Trystram unto the turnemente (tournament) disgysed, that no man sholde knowe hym... And so at that justys cam in sir Trystram, and at that time sir Launcelot was not there. But whan they sawe a knyght disgysed do suche dedis of armys (deeds of arms), they wente (believed) hit (it) had bene sir Launcelot...'.
And Tristram, who is very well known at King Mark's court at Tintagel, goes mad with grief at an enforced separation from Isode and lives naked in the forest. And at last he is brought back. 'And there they bathed hym and wayshed (washed) hym and gaff hym hote (hot) suppyngis (food), tylle they had brought hym well to hys remembraunce (senses). But all thys whyle there was no creature that knew sir Trystramys nothir (nor) what maner man he was.' Even washed and sane and safe among his friends, Sir Tristram, having lived wild in the forest for a while, is not recognised, not even by Queen Isolde! 'So whan the quene loked uppon sir Trystramys she was nat remembird of hym...'.
And then later, in the forest, Tristram rests beside a spring. 'And meanwhile, there arrived a damsel who had been looking for Sir Tristram for a long time. She had travelled up and down the country and when she came to the spring she saw Sir Tristram but did not recognise him; though she knew him by his horse.'†
Perhaps enough has been said. But these curious disguises and changes of appearance are so pervasive that it is difficult to choose what to leave out. Following his madness, and having been imprisoned in a castle by Morgan le Fay, Sir Tristram then goes to a tournament beside a 'Castle of Maidens'. Here he meets with King Arthur, whom he greatly admires. Tristram has been given the shield he carries by Morgan le Fay, in just the same way that Lancelot was given a shield by the wife of his jailer when incarcerated in the land from which no stranger returns; and also, on another occasion, by the lady who kept him imprisoned in her crystal cell. King Arthur requires the knight with the 'straunge shylde' to explain the device he carries. '"As for that," seyde sir Tristram, "I woll (will) answere you,"' and he tells King Arthur the truth - that it was given to him by Morgan le Fay and that he does not know the meaning of the device painted on the shield. Then: '"telle me youre name,"' commands the King. '"To what entente?" seyde sir Trystram. "For I wolde wete (would know)," seyde kynge Arthure. "Sir, ye shall nat wete for me (know from me) at this tyme,"' replies Tristram, puzzlingly, and for no apparent reason.
It is touch and go which can be exhausted first, the list of possible examples in this one tale alone, or the reader's patience. But here we go again. Tristram, a Cornish knight, is told of a coming tournament by the aged knight Sir Pellownes who also divulges that: '"...there sir Launcelot [who is not a Cornish knight] and two and twenty knyghtes of hys blood have ordayne shyldis of Cornwayle."'
'"What knyght ys that," seyde sir Trystram, "with the blacke shylde and the blacke horse?"' It is Sir Palamedes. And Sir Tristram attends the tournament wearing a black shield. But not before 'sir Launcelot smote downe sir Bryaunte frome hys horse a grete falle. And than sir Trystram mervayled (marvelled) what knyght he was that bar the shylde of Cornwayle.'
And at a tournament at Lonazep, four knights, including Sir Tristram and Sir Palamedes, fight in green arms. 'And than sir Trystram chonged his horse and disgysed himselff all in rede (red), horse and harnes (armour).' Sir Tristram, next day, leaves the field and comes back with a black shield while Sir Palamedes takes the silver shield of a retiree nursing his wounds beneath a thorn bush. 'Than cam sir Palomydes whyche was disgysed... [and] sir Palomydes answered agayne, as though he had nat knowyn sir Trystram... "Be (by) my knyghthod," seyde sir Palomydes, "untyll now I knew you nat, for I wente (believed) that ye had bene the kynge off (of) Irelonde, for well I wote (know) that ye bare his armys (arms)."'
A knight arrives at King Arthur's court wearing the battered coat that a man has been killed in. He is given the name Sir La Cote Male Tayle – the knight of the misshapen coat. Then into King Arthur's court comes a damsel who has been sent by Morgan le Fay, bearing a shield that belonged to a man who 'sawe none other way but he muste dye (die)'. This damsel has been looking for a worthy knight to pass the shield on to. Sir La Cote Male Tayle takes up this shield and rides forth bearing his new identity; just as Tristram bore the new shield given to him by Morgan le Fay.
Having taken up this shield given to him by the damsel, Sir La Cote Male Tayle finds that along with the shield comes a quest that he must also take up. Sir Palamedes is also embarked upon a quest. He is chasing the 'questyng beeste', the 'yelping beast', that makes a noise like a pack of hounds. An animal of many identities. It has the head of a snake, the body of a leopard, the hindquarters of a lion and the legs of a deer. It is many animals in one. More than once is this beast spotted by other knights of the Round Table, followed shortly afterwards by the appearance of Sir Palamedes, the pagan knight, in hot pursuit. But he never seems able to catch it. He is perplexingly unable to pin it down, as though allowed to come close, but forbidden to reveal the true nature of the beast.
The mid-thirteenth century Old French Prose Tristan, upon which Sir Thomas Malory based his Book of Sir Tristram de Lyones, seems to lie quite a little way along the path to Christianisation of the Arthurian world, despite all we have just seen. It was composed in the 1230s following the completion of the grand Cistercian epic, the Lancelot-Grail Cycle, or Vulgate Cycle.† The story, as retold by Malory, although entertaining, is rambling. The pagan motifs, liberally scattered by Malory throughout the text, are fragmented. Malory, however, knew his theme.
Sir Palamedes changed his arms - 'chaunged hys harnes' - with a wounded knyght. Disguise is endemic. He 'chaunged'. Here is 'chaunged' again: 'But whan La Beall Isode (Isolde) saw sir Palomydes she chaunged than (then) her coloures (she flushed); for wrathe (anger) she myght nat speake.'
And in the closing pages of Malory's work, as we have already seen: 'Now more of the deth of kynge Arthur could I never finde... Yet som men say in many partys (parts) of Inglonde that kynge Arthure ys nat dede (is not dead)... rather I wolde sey: here in thys worlde he chaunged hys lyff.'†
To see where these continual references to disguise come from in Malory's story of Sir Tristram, in other words, to find a coherent story of Sir Tristram and Isode, or Tristan and Isolde, one has to go back to the second half of the twelfth century, to the work of Thomas of Britain.† Unfortunately, only the latter part of Thomas's romance has survived the passage of time; however, in the early-thirteenth century the romance was expertly recast into Middle High German when Gottfried von Strassburg wrote what has been described as one of the greatest poems in the German language.† He based his Tristan very firmly upon the romance by Thomas of Britain, written in about AD 1160.† Thomas of Britain is likely to have been known at the court of King Henry II of England, a court at which Chrétien de Troyes was probably no stranger.†
The story of Tristan is this: Tristan loses his royal parents as a baby and is brought up in the household of his father's former steward in Brittany. As a child he is abducted and taken by ship to England, where, having suffered shipwreck, he assumes a new identity in the guise of the son of a merchant, and stays under this disguise for three years at the court of King Mark of Cornwall. But his foster-father has meanwhile assumed the disguise and lifestyle of a beggar in order to travel about looking for him, despite being quite rich enough, one feels, to pursue his search in relative luxury; but he finds Tristan at last, although Tristan does not initially recognise him.
King Mark refuses to pay extortion to the King of Ireland. In true Celtic Iron Age fashion, the matter is to be settled by single combat. Tristan, who, it has by now been revealed, is none other than King Mark's nephew, his sister's son, fights this 'justice' for King Mark and kills his adversary, but receives a wound himself. The spear was poisoned and the wound festers for three years; and at last, at death's door, Tristan sails to Ireland in search of a homeopathic cure, having arranged for it to be known to all but a select few that he has died. Arriving in Ireland, having crossed a sea once again, he again assumes a new identity, that of a court minstrel who has been set upon by pirates. He assumes the new name Tantris.
Tantris becomes the tutor of young Isolde, Queen Isolde's daughter, and is her constant companion. But after the passage of a year Tantris, now homeopathically cured through the attentions of the sister of the man whose poisoned sword had inflicted his festering wound, returns to Cornwall. Tristan thankfully took up his old life again, Gottfried von Strassburg tells us. 'Tristan resumed his old life, with a joyful heart. A second life had been given him, he was a man newborn.'† He is, of course, King Mark's nephew, the son of King Mark's sister, and so – lo and behold! – King Mark makes him heir to the Cornish throne. But the Cornish noblemen become jealous of Tristan and insist that King Mark takes a wife and produces a proper heir. They suggest that Tristan be sent back to Ireland to fetch the beautiful young princess Isolde.
Tristan sets off once more for Ireland, but not, as might be expected, as the minstrel Tantris, but in yet another disguise, this time as a Norman merchant. He rids Ireland of a dragon, and at first the two Isoldes, mother and daughter, do not recognise him as he recovers from these martial exertions. Then, while he is in the bath one day, Queen Isolde discovers some damage to Tristan's sword that exactly matches the splinter of steel recovered from the head of her brother whom Tristan killed in his fight to free Cornwall from extortion. The minstrel Tantris, alias the Norman merchant, is not all he seems!
But notwithstanding, the marriage is agreed and Queen Isolde concocts a love potion which King Mark and the young Isolde are to drink on their wedding night. But as Tristan accompanies Isolde on the boat back to Cornwall, they find the bottle containing this potion and, thinking that Tristan's squire and Isolde's maid have conspired to keep back some vintage wine for themselves, they drink from the bottle and at once fall deeply in love with each other. And the remainder of the story concerns the lover's illicit passion and joy and agony and evasion and subterfuge and final tragic death in the face of King Mark's misplaced trust and hesitant anger and reluctant certainty and renewed doubt, and reconciliation that dissolves into new uncertainty and renewed anger at his wife's continuing adultery.
King Mark acts three times upon knowledge of the lovers' illicit affair. In the first, Tristan flees into Wales, encounters giants and sends Isolde a dog from Avalon. But then the lovers are reunited and reconciled with King Mark. Then they are found making love together, a crime whose penalty might in those days have been death, as it was for Guinevere and Lancelot when they were found in similar circumstances, in La Mort le Roi Artu (Death of King Arthur).† And, indeed, in a way, this is borne out, for Tristan and Isolde spend a year together in a 'cave'† or an 'earth house', 'In on erthe hous thai lay...'† in a wilderness, living on nothing and sleeping together on a marble slab. If this sounds more like a rock-cut tomb than a lovers' bower, then this impression receives further support when King Mark and his huntsmen are led by a deer to the very door of the cave where Tristan and Isolde lie.† One is reminded of the solitary deer that often leads Fionn and his Fianna to a hill of the Sidhe.† And our suspicions are further aroused when, having through a window of the cave seen Isolde and Tristan lying side by side like supine corpses on their marble bed, King Mark takes his leave of them, '...praying to God to keep Isolde in his care. Weeping, he made the sign of the cross over Isolde in farewell, and left them.'†
But back they come again! For a third time they make love together and indulge in the sort of passion that makes King Mark the butt of courtly jokes, and finally prompts him to lay aside all doubt and hesitation and to act decisively. They must part for ever. Tristan flees away to the Continent, fights in Germany, returns to Britain and marries Isolde, the daughter of the Duke of Arundel. A new Isolde. She is known as Isolde of the White Hands, to distinguish her from the Fair Isolde, King Mark's queen. But wait! What does Gottfried von Strassburg say about Isolde the daughter of Queen Isolde of Ireland in a scene when Tristan is discovered to be the knight who killed Isolde's uncle? She grabs a sword to use against Tristan. 'But how unfitting is a sword, for shame, in those dazzling white hands!'† writes Gottfried. Those dazzling white hands. And is it only coincidence that we now have three Isoldes: Isolde the mother, the Fair Isolde, wife of King Mark and lover of Tristan, and the maiden Isolde of the White Hands, wife of Tristan but a maiden nonetheless? Hecate of three manifestations, who, as Diana, is the maiden of the trinity?††
'Fayre knyght,' sayde sir Trystram unto sir Launcelot, 'of whens (whence) be ye?'
'I am a knyght arraunte (errant),' seyde sir Launcelot, 'that rydyth to seke (seek) many dedis (deeds).'
'Sir, what ys youre name?' seyde sir Trystram.
'Sir, as at this tyme, I woll nat telle you...'†
Isolde finds a way of telling her brother that Tristan has not consummated their marriage. Her horse rears and she has to stand in the saddle to restrain it and keep her balance as it stumbles into a puddle. The water splashes up between her legs. And for this episode we have a fragment of the original poem by Thomas of Britain. Isolde gets a shock from the cold water and cannot help laughing. Why do you laugh, asks her brother. 'I have been splashed by this water in a place that no man has yet dared to touch,' she replies.†
This scene directly copies one in an Irish tale of the Fenian cycle of legend. The beautiful Grania is fleeing from Fionn in the company of the warrior Diarmuid, whom she loves but whom she has not yet made love with. They splash across a ford and a similar thing happens to her. 'Despite all your strength and skill at arms,' she says, rebukingly, ' I think a little drop of water is braver than you!'†
Tristan again returns to Isolde, the wife of King Mark. Queen Isolde's faithful maid gives every indication that her anger at Tristan and her mistress is genuine. She storms off, intent upon telling King Mark the truth, only to tell him – inexplicably, but no doubt significantly – that Count Cariado is Isolde's lover.†
Tristan leaves, but returns once more, 'dressed in rags, so that no one should know him, or guess that he is Tristan.' He further conceals his identity with a drug, an infusion of herbs, which makes his face swell 'as though he was gripped by leprosy.'
And again he leaves and returns, this time in the company of his friend Caerdin: 'they embark for England to find adventure and to win glory. They have disguised themselves as pilgrims, made their faces dirty, altered their clothes so that no one will know who they are.'
At last, a wound from a poisoned spear brings us back full circle. On the first occasion only Queen Isolde of Ireland could cure Tristan. Now, again, only Queen Isolde can cure him. But not Isolde of Ireland but her daughter, Queen Isolde of Cornwall. Tristan forgets that he has his own Isolde by his side, and sends Caerdin to fetch Isolde.
'And here,' says Thomas of Britain, 'I am reluctant to stick to only one account. There are different versions told of this story and many insist that it was Guvernal who travelled to King Mark's court. I cannot accept this. Guvernal was well-known in Cornwall and so how could he go to the King and speak with all the noblemen and courtiers who knew him well, without him being hailed and his true name spoken.'†
So instead, Caerdin goes to Cornwall to fetch Isolde back to a dying Tristan, and in so doing draws attention to an older version of the tale in which it may have been accepted that familiar characters could return from across the sea in different guise.
Both the story of Tristan and Isolde and the Irish tale of Grania and Diarmuid end in tragedy. Isolde arrives too late to save Tristan from the poisoned wound and she dies in his already lifeless arms.
Fionn has chosen Grania to be his wife, but she has other ideas; and as she stumbles across the ford with Diarmuid, splashing herself and declaring that the water is braver than he, she leads him past the point of no return. After many days on the run, resting out in the open at night, they come to the wood of Dubhros, now fully entwined in love's mesh. In this wood stands a rowan tree that has grown from a berry dropped by the Tuatha de Danaan when they emerged once from the Otherworld. Its berries have magical properties and anyone in extreme old age who eats one of them will go back to being young again. It is a 'druid tree' guarded by a giant from the land beyond the grave.† But at the instigation of Grania, Diarmuid kills this giant and installs himself and Grania in the giant's nest at the top of the tree. Fionn quickly finds them and lays siege at its base.
Up goes one of the Fianna, Garbh of Slieve Cua, whose father Diarmuid once killed, intent upon taking Diarmuid's head for Fionn. But Diarmuid kicks him back down and the rest of the Fianna strike off his head where he lands, for he has, in the words of Lady Gregory, 'the appearance of Diarmuid on him' as he lands.† And then he takes his own shape again and they recognise their mistake.
Then another of Fionn's warriors declares that his father was killed by Diarmuid, and he climbs the tree to avenge the death. But a similar thing happens; he falls to the ground where he is mistaken for Diarmuid, and is beheaded by Fionn's warriors before they realise their mistake. Nine men in all climb up after Diarmuid; they are all kicked back down, and each one is killed by Fionn and his men while assuming the appearance of Diarmuid as he falls. 'And in the end all the nine Garbhs... lost their own lives, every one of them having the shape and appearance of Diarmuid when he died.'†
The inexplicable appearance of these men as they fall from the tree seems almost incapable of explanation. But as we go further into the world of Arthurian legend, and particularly to the stories involving Sir Gawain and Sir Yvain, the meaning behind this curious scene from pagan Irish mythology may become clear. Astonishing, but clear.
'And so the noyse sprange in kynge Arthurs courte that sir Launcelot had gotyn a chylde uppon Elayne... than sir Launcelot tolde the queen all, and how he was made to lye by her, "in the lyknes of you, my lady the quene"; and so the quene hylde sir Launcelot exkused.'†