Sir Gawain and the Classical Tradition

Essays on the Ancient Antecedents


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About the Book

The 14th century English alliterative poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is admired for its morally complex plot and brilliant poetics. A chivalric romance placed in an Arthurian setting, it has since received acclaim for its commentary regarding important socio-political and religious concerns. The poem’s technical brilliance blends psychological depth and vivid language to produce an effect widely considered superior to any other work of the time. Although the poem is a combination of English alliterative meter, romanticism, and a wide-ranging knowledge of Celtic lore, continental materials and Latin classics, the extent to which Classical antecedents affected or directed the poem is a point of continued controversy among literary scholars. This collection of essays by scholars of diverse interests addresses this puzzling and fascinating question. The introduction provides an expansive background for the topic, and subsequent essays explore the extent to which classical Greek, Roman, Arabic, Christian and Celtic influences are revealed in the poem’s opening and closing allusions, themes, and composition. Essays discuss the way in which the anonymous author of Sir Gawain employs figural echoes of classical materials, cultural memoirs of past British tradition, and romantic re-textualizations of Trojan and British literature. It is argued that Sir Gawain may be understood as an Aeneas, Achilles, or Odysseus figure, while the British situation in the 14th century may be understood as analogous to that of ancient Troy.

Instructors considering this book for use in a course may request an examination copy here.

About the Author(s)

E.L. Risden, emeritus professor of English at St. Norbert College, lives in De Pere, Wisconsin, where he continues to write literary and movie scholarship, speculative fiction, and occasional poetry.

Bibliographic Details

Edited by E.L. Risden
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 223
Bibliographic Info: notes, bibliographies, index
Copyright Date: 2006
pISBN: 978-0-7864-2073-5
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Preface      1
Introduction (Stefan Thomas Hall)      3

Geoffrey of Monmouth and the Gawain Poet: Remembering Troy      17
The Treason of Aeneas and the Mythographers of Vergil: The Classical Tradition in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight      30
Mortal Hopes: The Trojan Framework of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in a Doctrinal Context      49
Ritual Sacrifice and the Pre-Christian Subtext of Gawain’s Green Girdle      65
Treasonous Founders and Pious Seducers: Aeneas, Gawain, and Aporetic Romance      82
The “Tresounous Tulk” in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight      112
The Fierce Achilles in Chaucer, Gower, and the Gawain Poet      121
Classical Analogues—Eastern and Western—of Sir Gawain      135
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Classical Magic and Its Function in Medieval Romance      182

About the Contributors      .211
Index      213