Perhaps the most well-known poem in the collection of anonymous 14th and 15th century Middle English verse romances known as the English Gawain Cycle is 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight'. Composed by a poet who was born in the North Midlands of England, writing either in Cheshire or possibly at the London court of King Richard II at around the time at which Geoffrey Chaucer was at the height of his powers, it belongs to a relatively short-lived revival of earlier, alliterative poetical forms harking back to a northern, Old English style. Another such poem, the Alliterative Morte Arthure, dates from around this same period, and we have already seen how its deepest roots may reach back over two thousand years, to an era of which the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus wrote, in the 1st century BC, that 'the doctrine of the Pythagoreans was prevalent amongst the Celts, whereby it was believed that the soul of man is immortal, and that after a period of time it will enter into another body.'
The story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, like the Alliterative Morte Arthure, draws much from earlier times. Its main theme is found in an ancient Irish tale of the Ultonian cycle, known as Bricriu's Feast. However, the Medieval English story is very different from this earlier Irish tale.
In the English poems about Sir Gawain, courtesy is the hallmark of King Arthur's nephew. He behaves correctly, and his motto is 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' His greatest fear is dishonour. His word is his bond. Perhaps the most chilling and powerful image in Medieval English poetry is of Gawain's journey through the rain and sleet of a northern English winter searching with increasing desperation for a Green Chapel, a place whose whereabouts he does not know but in which he has an obligation to suffer the return stroke of an axe which he used to behead eleven months previously a 'Green Knight' who had mysteriously entered King Arthur's court. It was part of the agreement that Sir Gawain should suffer himself, a year later, the single blow that he had given to the Green Knight at King Arthur's Christmas feast. Most of us would feel increasing joy at not being able to find this chapel! We would grab the failure willingly and turn back for home! Most, indeed, would almost certainly never have set out in the first place. But Gawain's growing desperation is palpable. He would far rather suffer death than dishonour.
We will look at the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight a little more closely in a moment. But first it is worthwhile reviewing the pagan credentials of this Medieval hero. Do we have any grounds for believing that the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight may help us in our search for the exact nature of Celtic belief regarding reincarnation?
Before setting out we can cast a glance at the Green Knight himself, as he enters King Arthur's hall on '...a grene horse' - a green horse; and of the knight: 'gered in grene, and the here of his hed of his horse sute' - the hair of his head matched his horse! He held a holly branch in one hand and an axe in the other. An axe 'of grene stele'. Green steel.†
In 'The Turke and Sir Gawain' we have followed Sir Gawain into the side of a hill, a hill of the Sidhe, and over the sea to a land of giants. We have seen already that this resonates with ideas of reincarnation. In the 'Awntyrs of Arthur' (Adventures of Arthur) we found him leading Guinevere beside a haunted lake, when all became dark and the ghost of Guinevere's mother appeared. He spends a night beside this same lake in 'The Avowyng of Arthur' as part of a test of courage. Springs and lakes are gateways into the Celtic Otherworld.
In another poem of the English Gawain cycle 'The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle', Sir Gawain is forced to marry a hideous-looking woman as a result of a pledge he has made to King Arthur in order to save the King's life. The King needs to answer a question in order to avoid, himself, a stroke of the axe. The question is - what do women most desire? This, the reader may already have recognised, is a variant version of the story retold by the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer in his Canterbury tale from the Wife of Bath. King Arthur rides out to a lonely forest in search of inspiration, where he meets Dame Ragnelle, a frighteningly ugly woman whose name may itself be that of a pre-Christian deity. She offers to tell him the answer to this question, but only if he gives his word that Sir Gawain will marry her if she does. The King rides back reluctant even to broach the matter to Gawain. But tell him he does, and Sir Gawain insists that it will be no hardship at all to marry this vile creature if it will save the King's life. So pledges are made, the question is answered, the King's life is saved, and the time comes for Sir Gawain to consummate his marriage.
In keeping with the answer to the question that saved the King's life - that women most desire power and sovereignty - Sir Gawain concedes to Dame Ragnelle the power she seeks; and at once, this ugly hag turns into a beautiful young woman and the story ends happily with Dame Ragnelle praising her new husband: 'God thank hym of his curtesye...'† for releasing her from the spell she was under.
It is worth spending a few more moments looking at this 'loathly lady', for she is much older than the beautiful young woman whom Sir Gawain releases from enchantment. She occurs in other Arthurian stories of the Middle Ages and has a pedigree that extends back into the pagan Irish tales. In Lady Gregory's re-telling of a story set in Fionn's Ireland called 'The Daughter of King Under-Wave'†, a band of Celtic warriors are encamped in a hunting lodge one night when a hideous-looking woman knocks and enters the house. She asks each in turn whether she can come under the edge of his blanket, and all refuse her except one. Having come under the edge of his blanket, she says that she has been travelling for seven years and has not encountered hospitality until now. She asks the warrior to lead her to the fire. The warrior leads her to the fire. Then she asks if she can come under his blanket properly. 'You are asking too much of me,' Diarmuid replies. 'First you wanted to come under the edge of my blanket, then to the fire, and now you want to come entirely under the blanket with me! But despite all this, you may come.' And it is not long before Diarmuid looks and finds a beautiful young woman sleeping next to him. He calls his companions over to look, but they leave her sleeping. Later in the night, Diarmuid is woken by the woman. 'Where would you choose to build a house that would be the best you have ever seen?' she asks.
In the morning a wonderful house stands on the hillside opposite.
Diarmuid and the woman move into their new home. However, he is never to remind her of the state she was in when he first saw her. But for giving away his greyhound's pups, Diarmuid reproaches her in just this way, and on the third such occasion, the house and the woman vanish into thin air.
Beside himself with grief, and carrying the dead greyhound in his arms (!) Diarmuid sinks beneath the sea in a boat and follows a trail of blood in the land below. It is the greyhound's blood (!!). The trail leads him to the daughter of King Under-Wave, the woman who shared the beautiful house with him, and who has indeed lost the blood (!!!). She can be cured if she is brought a drink from a cup found on the Plain of Wonder. 'This plain is not far away,' she tells him, 'but lying between it and my father's country is a stream, and it will take you a year and a day to cross over this stream to the Plain of Wonder, in a boat with its sails filled and the wind behind you.'
Despite this difficulty, Diarmuid duly fetches the cup and fills it with water from a well. But his guide, a messenger from beyond this world, warns him that when the woman is healed, Diarmuid will lose his love for her and have no more thought for her than for any other woman.
Diarmuid returns and gives the daughter of King Under-Wave the cup to drink from, and she is brought back to health with two drops of her own blood in the spring water. 'Oh Diarmuid,' she said, 'I can see that your love for me is gone.' 'Oh, it is indeed,' he cries.
An enigmatic tale this; but with fascinating depths to plumb. The stream recalls the river crossed by Sir Lancelot via the Sword Bridge, and one that we will see Sir Gawain crossing when we come to look at the proper story of the Grail, or Graal; the cup may have affinity with the Grail, and the well whose water was so curative may be the same Irish well that slain men could be thrown into and would emerge again as whole as the day they were born, properties emulated by an Irish cauldron in the Welsh Mabinogion tale of Branwen Daughter of Llyr. Confusion between the identity of the woman and the greyhound seems intentional, but most importantly, Diarmuid would cease to love the woman if, on drinking the water, she had changed her identity and become somebody else. Somebody with a different face. Someone else entirely.
The loathly lady that Sir Gawain married, the lady who changed her identity from a hateful old hag to a beautiful young woman, appears in another Irish tale, one that broadens our vision still further.† Fionn is resting from hunting one evening beside a well (a pool or lake at the head of a stream; remember the dreamer sleeps near a 'well' in the poem The Isle of Ladies). He sets three strangers, who have recently offered him their services, to guard through the night. One of them takes the first watch and walks until he comes to a mysterious house where there is a cup that, we are told, was stolen from Fionn a hundred years ago. He grabs it and brings it back to Fionn. During the second watch, his companion makes a similar journey and brings back a magic knife that was also, we are told, taken from Fionn a hundred years ago.
The companion of the third watch finds the mysterious house filled with dead bodies, decides, for reasons known only to himself, to lie down amongst them and soon sees a hag enter, a hideously deformed old woman with only one arm and one leg, and in her upper jaw a single tooth which is so long that she uses it as a crutch. The hag takes great bites out of the bodies and when replete, lies down to sleep. Up he jumps and slashes her body with his sword, whereupon three men jump out of the wound. Two are killed but the third escapes.
The companion of the third watch returns to Fionn's camp, now in his own time again, and Fionn is very worried when he learns what has happened. Twenty-one years later, a redheaded young man comes to offer Fionn his services; and many years later still, he reveals himself as none other than the man who emerged from the hag's body. Once dead, his corpse is taken to Coal Island, where it comes back to life again.
Robert Graves would have had no hesitation in identifying the 'loathly lady' as the Triple Goddess, in one manifestation of her threefold nature, as maiden, mother and old crone. The three Isoldes: an old woman, a wife and a virgin. Virgil's 'Hecate of three forms, who as Diana is the virgin of this triple deity.'† But if the hag in this story of the House of a Hundred Years into the Future is again the Triple Goddess in her most unattractive form, perhaps even the Earth itself, eating the dead and regurgitating life, then one implication of this story is fascinating. The mysterious house lies in the future (which is possibly why the young man himself lay down as though dead), therefore the hag from whom the new young man emerges, once the other has taken a swipe at 'death', is also from the future; but he turns up again, this same young man, having spent twenty-one years growing up in Fionn's era. We have seen how much of the Medieval story and legend concerning the life of Sir Lancelot implies reincarnation into the same time span as the previous life. The knight imprisoned in the crystal cell, for example, emerges as a Black Knight who may very well have spoken once, in his youth, to a young knight in white arms. They may even have been the same age. So perhaps this story of Fionn is simply another hint that reincarnation need not always be forwards in time.
Which takes us to Bricriu's Feast. The story of Bricriu's feast, which shares a central feature with the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, is recorded in the Gaelic Book of the Dun Cow which dates to a little before AD 1106.† The story itself, like those gathered and compiled by Lady Gregory, reaches back into pagan times. Bricriu, in this druidic age, arranges his feast in order to incite the three principal warrior-champions of Ulster, Cú Chulaind, Conall Cernach and Loegure Buadach, into conflict with each other. This he achieves by encouraging each to claim the 'champion's portion', the largest serving of food and drink at his feast. There ensues a succession of trials of strength and courage, to determine who should receive this portion and the honour which comes with it. These are overseen by a number of different judges, and although Cú Chulaind always wins, the other two always refuse to accept the verdict. One such test brings each of them in turn into a magic mist, always a gateway into the Otherworld, where they are accosted by - yes, you may have guessed it - a giant. Cú Chulaind is the only one not to drop his weapons and flee, but the others accuse him of collusion with the world of the Sidhe and refuse to accept the test as fair. In desperation, the King of Ulster sends them to Uath son of Imoman for arbitration. So the heroes take themselves off to Uath's lake. Uath proposes that whoever fulfils the following task shall be adjudged the rightful recipient of the champion's portion: that he should cut off Uath's head today, and let Uath cut off his head tomorrow. All of them know the Otherworldly nature of Uath, so only Cú Chulaind agrees to this strange bargain. Uath lays his neck upon a stone and, having first cast spells upon the blade, gives an axe to Cú Chulaind who takes it and cuts off Uath's head with it. Uath rises, takes repossession of his axe, holds his head against his chest and returns to his lake.
Again, there is the association with a lake, into which Uath disappears headless and from which he returns again, whole. In this Irish version, Cú Chulaind is given only a token return-blow by Uath, the other two disputants again refuse to accept this as a proper trial, and the story ambles humorously on.
This motif is taken and enlarged by the anonymous author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and woven into a story involving Sir Gawain who, as we have seen, is not averse to having association with the characters of pagan myth. The basic tale is this: King Arthur holds court on Christmas Day and is just about to eat when a strange knight enters the hall on horseback. As we have seen, all the horse's trappings are coloured green, in fact, the horse itself is green: 'A grene horse' - a green, well-built horse; and of the knight: 'gered in grene, and the here of his hed of his horse sute' - the hair of his head matched his horse. He holds a holly branch in one hand and, worryingly, an axe in the other. An axe 'of grene stele'.†
This strange knight offers some Christmas festive sport. Whoever will strike a blow at his neck shall win the axe, provided that he agrees to present himself, on New Year's Day a year hence, to receive a return blow. The Green Knight will disclose the location at which his assailant is to receive this stroke after the swing has been made.
Curiously, none of King Arthur's knights of the Round Table feel inspired to accept this apparently free gift of an axe, perhaps suspecting a trick; but sensing instead a humiliation, King Arthur himself takes up the weapon. But Sir Gawain stops him, grasps the axe and agreeing to the knight's terms sends his head rolling across the floor.
The dismembered body picks up the amputated head and through its bloody mouth summons Sir Gawain to appear at the Green Chapel in a year's time. Grasping his own head by the hair, the Green Knight mounts his horse, declares that there are many who will be able to guide Sir Gawain to this chapel, and rides off.
Spring arrives, summer passes, autumn comes and on the morning after Halloween, Sir Gawain sets out to fulfil his obligation, riding for weeks on end through North Wales and Cheshire and onwards, trying to find someone who can guide him to the Green Chapel, riding with increasing desperation, searching for this chapel of whose whereabouts he has no idea. And skipping through one or two important events to which we will return in a second, he arrives on New Year's Day at a place that is obviously a long barrow or a cairn - an ancient Neolithic tumulus. A hollow burial mound. This is the Green Chapel.
From nearby, following sounds of axe-sharpening, the Green Knight appears, crosses the water of a bubbling stream interestingly, like Uath emerging from his lake, 'gederes up his grymme tole Gawayn to smyte'† - gathers up his grim tool, and, following two feigned strokes, he gives to Sir Gawain... - a superficial neck wound. Gawain rushes to put his helmet back on, content that he has now fulfilled his obligation.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight have exchanged roles, and both of them are still alive. But there is more to this exchange of identity, because it turns out that the Green Knight is none other than the lord who has been giving Sir Gawain hospitality in his castle for the past week. The lord appeared as a normal man in his role as Sir Gawain's host, but there is no doubting that he is also the Green Knight, a man capable of surviving death. Following the strokes given to Sir Gawain at the Green Chapel, this Otherworldly knight explains that the two harmless feints were for the kisses that Sir Gawain had received from his wife. 'Thou kyssedes my clere wyf...'. You kissed my fair wife.
At the castle at which Sir Gawain was a guest, the following game had been played: the lord would go hunting and Gawain would spend the day with the ladies, in particular the lord's own lady, and in the evening, everything that the lord had acquired during the hunt would belong to Sir Gawain and everything that Gawain had achieved in the company of the ladies would have to be given to the lord. Despite the potential for ribaldry, Gawain, having been assured that he would be taken to the Green Chapel at the due time, behaved very correctly. All the kisses that he received from the lady of the house he gave to the lord on his return from hunting, in exchange for the spoils of the hunt, and in compliance with the terms of their agreement. He would be drawn no further, however, along the path that the lady of the castle obviously wished to lead him.
On the final morning the lady had offered Gawain a ring as a token of her love, which he refused. Then she offered him a silken girdle with the property that ...'for what gome so is gurde with this grene lace, while he hit had hemely halched aboute, there is no hathel under heven tohewe him that myght, for he myght not be slain for slyght upon erthe.' - whoever wears this green lace about his waist cannot be slain, for there is no man on Earth who can kill him.'† This he accepted gratefully.
As a result of wearing this girdle at the Green Chapel Sir Gawain is saved from death, although for not giving it to the lord of the castle on the third evening, as he should have done as part of their agreement, he receives the neck wound.
Thus an exchange of identity runs through the whole story. Whatever was hunted by the lord of the castle became the property of Sir Gawain to distribute as he wished. And whatever the achievement and acquisition of Sir Gawain, this was supposed to have been given to the lord of the castle, who, in an 'alter ego', is also the Green Knight. And the blow that Sir Gawain dealt the Green Knight with the axe at King Arthur's court, he had subsequently to lower his own neck to.
There is no mention of Sir Gawain ever having relinquished this magic girdle, although we know the circumstances of his final hour; he waded ashore to face Mordred's army like a true Iron Age Celtic warrior, intent only upon a display of personal valour and unafraid of death.
There is another tale of Sir Gawain that is in its way, and given what we have already seen, even more intriguing.
Sir Gawain is the exemplar of courtesy in all the English poems. His tales are filled with phrases such as: 'Then sayd Gawen curttesly,' 'Then answerd Gawen full curttesly,' 'Schir Gawain... full chevailrus'. This last is from a poem published in Edinburgh in 1508: A Knightly Tale of Gologras and Gawain. † Like the Alliterative Morte Arthure that we looked at near the beginning of our journey, this poem is pseudo-historical but an amalgam of different ages. In the Alliterative Morte Arthure, for example, we found bishops and jousters and peers in Parliament alongside Iron Age battle tactics. We saw a Roman Emperor lead his army like a Republican consul and we heard King Arthur respond to a reminder about Julius Caesar by recalling the Celtic sack of Rome in 390 BC. The Knightly Tale of Gologras and Gawain is no different. Ostensibly, King Arthur is on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. However, his retinue travels far more like an army. At a castle in France, when troubled by hunger, Sir Gawain's courtesy wins the King not only food for himself and his men but an offer from the lord of the stronghold, the King's cousin, to "...refresch yow with folk, to feght gif you nedis, · with thretty thousand tald, and traistfully tight, · of wise, wourthy, and wight, in thair were wedis, · baith with barney and brand to strenth you ful stright, · weill stuffit in steill, on thair stout stedis."† - to refresh you with folk, ready to fight if the need arises; thirty thousand all told and equipped for war, well stuffed in steel on their warhorses!' This is an army on the move. So a crusade then.
But having arrived in Tuscany, King Arthur's onwards journey to the Holy Land is all but skipped entirely. Tuscany, it seems, was his real destination; as it is, curiously, in the Alliterative Morte Arthure - 'Into Tuskane he turns...' - the ancient region on the southern limits of Cisalpine Gaul, where many Celtic armies once gathered in the centuries before Christ. So not a crusade, but a Celtic army on the move in Celtic lands. It is as though both poems are tapping into the same collective memory, the same legendary era. And although weapons are Medieval, with knights 'weill stuffit in steill' - well stuffed in steel, with coats of mail, swords, lances and even cannonballs, the style of warfare is typical, as it is in the Alliterative Morte Arthure, of the Celtic Iron Age.
The story told by A Knightly Tale of Gologras and Gawain is quite simple. King Arthur travels with his army across France, suffering hardship which Sir Gawain is able to alleviate through courtesy, where Sir Kay's brashness earns him only a very graphic punch in the face. The army is augmented by another thirty thousand men. They reach the river Rhône, where Arthur sees a castle whose lord, Gologras, he is told, owes allegiance to nobody. King Arthur is aghast and resolves to remedy this dreadful situation on his return. So he travels to Tuscany (if not further), concludes his business, and on his return, lays siege to the castle of Gologras.
Despite having constructed siege engines, however, a very gentlemanly test of strength and courage between individuals now ensues. Near dusk, a trumpet is heard from the castle and a figure seen in a high tower, armed and holding a bright gold shield. 'Quhat signifyis yone schene sceild,' - What does that bright shield signify? - asks the King. He is told by Sir Spynagrus that it is a challenge to single combat. The next morning Arthur sends Sir Gaudifeir to meet Sir Galiot issuing from the castle. They fight, and Gologras's knight is led into captivity. Gologras sends out another champion the next morning, King Arthur responds appropriately, and both knights are killed. The next day, Gologras sends out four knights; King Arthur chooses four to meet them, and at the end of the combat, honours are even. Another four are sent out the following day, and honours at the end of it remain even. Perhaps at this point a commander is forced to choose, on the strength of what he has seen of the prowess of the opposing side's nobility, whether to acknowledge their superiority, to engage all his forces in pitched battle, or to settle the matter in a final, single combat. Gologras emerges from the castle with a retinue of knights. He has chosen the latter. King Arthur chooses his nephew, Sir Gawain, to represent him.
The fight between Gologras and Gawain is long and hard, but Gawain at last overcomes his adversary and holding a dagger to his face, urges Gologras to surrender. But Gologras refuses, preferring, like Gawain, to suffer death rather than dishonour. Gawain is loath to kill him and offers the man, who's life he could take at any moment, a very peculiar and, one cannot help feeling in the light of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a very significant way out. They agree to resume fighting and that Gawain will shortly himself take on the mantle of defeat and return to Gologras's castle with him, as though he has lost. Gawain, in other words, will play the part intended for Gologras and leave the field as the defeated knight.
King Arthur is distraught when he sees Gawain led away defeated. 'The watter wet his chekis' - the tears ran down his cheeks. But Gologras is a man of honour, keeps his side of the bargain, surrenders voluntarily to King Arthur and pays due allegiance to the King, who rewards him fittingly.
The Knightly Tale of Gologras and Gawain is a story, like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, in which reciprocity lies at its very heart. In the one, it is Sir Gawain who offers a stroke of the axe to the neck of the Green Knight and has, as a result, to receive a similar blow. In the other, Sir Gawain, who inflicts defeat upon Gologras, is required to suffer the humiliation of being led away as the defeated. Everything that the lord of the castle hunts during Gawain's Christmas stay before visiting the Green Chapel is Sir Gawain's to do with as he pleases, as though it was caught by him. Sir Gawain, meanwhile, languishes in bed with the lady of the castle as though he was her lord. It is exactly the same as Sir Lancelot dressing himself in Sir Kay's arms and riding away in disguise. Lancelot adopts a disguise. Gawain exchanges roles. The underlying imperative is the same.
In true Celtic fashion, Sir Gawain's chivalry extends to animals. In a poem, written about 1400 called 'Sir Gawain and the Carle of Carlisle', retold in a later, sixteenth century version, the 'Carle of Carlisle', Sir Gawain and two companions are caught out in the forest as dusk sets in, having pursued a deer while hunting. This, incidentally, is a common way for the Irish hero Fionn to begin an adventure in the Otherworld. The deer that Gawain was chasing has duly disappeared (perhaps into a hill of the Sidhe) and 'a thicke mist fell them among that caused them all to goe wronge.'† Thick mists are also a sure sign that the Otherworld is near at hand.
They arrive at the castle of the Carle, or churl, of Carlisle. The custom of the place is that only a guest who does everything asked of him by his host (the Carle) will survive to the morning. Sir Kay goes out to see to his horse, and puts the Carle's own horse out into the rain with a slap on its backside. In return he receives a blow himself from his host. 'The Carle raught Kay such a rapp that backward he fell flatt.† Or ...the Carll gaffe hym seche a boffett · that smertly onn the grond hym sett'† Here is reciprocity again; but Sir Kay receives the blow he gave to a horse. This Carle, it will surprise nobody to learn, has shoulders that are two yards in breadth, and he is nine yards tall - twenty-seven feet! At one point he declares: 'You shall not hurt me while I am a giant in this land.'
Bishop Baldwin next sees to his horse, again to the detriment of the Carle's animal, and receives the same treatment from the giant. '"Mercy," said the Bishopp, "I am a clarke!"' '"By the clergye I sett nothing,"' the giant replies. Finally, Sir Gawain goes out to check on his hunting steed and, observing the Carle's horse, leads the poor wet animal up to the hayrack with his own horse and puts his own cloak over its wet back. The giant is impressed by this act of kindness and leads Gawain back into his hall.
Now we come to the core of the story. The giant invites Sir Gawain to make a cast at his face with a spear. This is all the more intriguing since a more famous spear occurs elsewhere, as we shall see when we come in a moment to look at the proper story of the Grail. Gawain makes this cast, just as he cut off the head of the Green Knight when invited to do so. And in 'The Carle of Carlisle' he is later invited, having thrown the spear, to cut off the Carle's head. In 'The Turke and Sir Gawain', which we looked at earlier, the 'turke' took Sir Gawain into the side of a hill and over the sea to a land of giants. Here, in the Carle's castle, we seem again to be in some sort of Otherworld that is peopled by giants.
Having suffered such voluntary abuse, the Carle, the churl, assumes a new identity. He reveals himself to be a man of noble birth. Sir Gawain leads him to King Arthur's court where he is made a knight of the Round Table. 'A knyght of the Table Rownde: Karlyle thi name schalle be,' declares King Arthur. So having suffered treatment that might justifiably be assumed to have caused his death, he leaves King Arthur's court with a new identity. He is no longer a giant, or a churl.
It is time to look at Chrétien de Troyes' story of the Grail, or 'Graal'.