Sir Ywain (also called Owain, Yvain, Ewain or Uwain) is a Knight of the
Round Tableand the son of King Urienin Arthurian legend. The historical Owain mab Urien, on whom the literary character is based, was the king of Rhegedin Great Britainduring the late 6th century. Ywain was one of the earliest characters associated with King Arthur, being mentioned in Geoffrey of Monmouth's " Historia Regum Britanniae". He was also one of the most popular, starring in Chrétien de Troyes' " Yvain, the Knight of the Lion" and appearing prominently in many later accounts.
He is somewhat unusual in that he remains as Urien's son in virtually all literature in which he appears; other characters based on figures from Welsh Arthurian legend lost their original familial connections in continental literature, for instance
Sir Kay. Ywain's mother is often said to be Arthur's half-sister, making him Arthur's nephew. This sister is Morgan le Fayin the Post-Vulgate Cycleand Thomas Malory's " Le Morte d'Arthur", but other works name another sibling. He is the nephew of Morgauseand King Lot, and cousin to Gawain, Agravain, Gaheris, Garethand Mordred. He has a half-brother (with whom he is often confused) named Ywain the Bastard, son of Urien and his seneschal's wife, and Welsh texts give him a twin sister named Morvydd. The character Calogrenantor Colgrevance from "Knight of the Lion" is another important cousin.
The Welsh Owain
Owain (or Owein) was famous in his own day for fighting for Rheged against the
Anglesof Bernicia. He inherited the throne at Urien's death but was killed soon after, and the kingdom gradually fell to Bernicia and its successor state, Northumbria. The valor and bravery of Owain and Urien was celebrated by their bard Taliesin, contributing to the lasting popularity of the two and ensuring that all three would be absorbed into the Welsh Arthurian milieu.
Owain appears in several of the
Welsh Triads, where his father, sister, horse and personal bard are all acclaimed but his wife Penarwan is named one of the "Three Faithless Wives of Britain", along with her sister Esyllt (Iseult, Tristan's love). In " The Dream of Rhonabwy", a tale associated with the " Mabinogion", Owain is one of Arthur's top warriors and plays a game of chess against him while the Saxonsprepare to fight the Battle of Badon. Three times during the game, Owain's men inform him that Arthur's squires have been slaughtering his ravens, but when Owain protests, Arthur simply responds, "Your move." Then Owain's ravens retaliate against the squires, and Owain doesn't stop them until Arthur crushes the chess men. The Saxon leaders arrive and ask for a truce of two weeks, and the armies move on to Cornwall. Rhonabwy, the dreamer of the "Dream", awakens, and the reader is left as confused as he is. The "Dream of Rhonabwy" has never been satisfactorily interpreted.
It should be noted that Ywain's birth by the fay Morgan may have its roots in the Welsh legends. Two of the Triads claim his mother is the goddess-like
Modron, encountered by Urien at a mysterious ford. Travelling through Denbighshire, Urien comes across the Ford of Barking, where dogs congregate and bark for some unknown reason. Only Urien is brave enough to go near the place, and there he discovers Modron, endlessly washing clothes (a scene common in Celtic legend, see Morrígan). He has his way with her, and she announces she had been destined to remain at the ford until she had conceived a son by a Christian. She tells Urien to return at the end of the year to receive his children, these are the twins Owain and Morvydd. This might seem like justification enough to trace the Morgan-Ywain association back to Welsh legend, but in the continental literature Ywain is not associated with Morgan until the 13th centuryPost-Vulgate cycle. Morgan appears in Chrétien's "Knight of the Lion" as a healer, but the author doesn't imply she is the protagonist's mother.
The Welsh story "
Owain, or the Lady of the Fountain" tells essentially the same story as Chrétien's "Knight of the Lion", see below.
The settlers of
Brittanybrought much of their insular British culture when they came to the continent, and in the 12th century, updated versions of Breton lais and stories became popular with French audiences. Chrétien de Troyes wrote "Yvain, the Knight of the Lion" at the same time he was working on " Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart" during the 1170s. In it, Yvain seeks to avenge his cousin Calogrenantwho had been defeated by an otherworldly knight beside a magical storm-making fountain in the forest of Brocéliande. Yvain defeats the knight, Esclados, and falls in love with his widow Laudine. With the aid of Laudine's servant Lunete, Yvain wins his lady and marries her, but Gawainconvinces him to embark on chivalric adventure. His wife assents but demands he return after a set period of time, but he becomes so enthralled in his knightly exploits that he forgets his lady, and she bars him from returning. Yvain goes mad with grief, but eventually decides to win back his love. A lion he rescues from a serpent proves to be a loyal companion and a symbol of knightly virtue, and helps him complete his altruistic ventures. In the end, Laudine allows him and his lion to return to her fortress.
"Yvain" had a huge impact on the literary world; German poet
Hartmann von Aueused it as the basis for his masterpiece " Iwein", and the author of " Owain, or the Lady of the Fountain", one of the Welsh Romancesincluded in the "Mabinogion", recast the work back into its Welsh setting. The poem exists in a several versions in different languages, including the Middle English"Ywain and Gawain".
Ywain in other literature
Ywain appears in all the cyclical accounts such as the
Vulgate Cycle, the Post-Vulgate Cycle, and Malory's " Le Morte d'Arthur", as well as in numerous independent romances. His importance is indicated by his close friendship with Gawainand the passage in the "Mort Artu" section of the Lancelot-Grailcycle where he is one of the last knights to die before Arthur.
He appears in Child Ballad 34, "
Kemp Owyne", as the title hero, where his role is to disenchant a maiden turned into a dragon by kissing her three times. This story has no parallels in Arthurian legend, and it is not clear how he came to be attached to this story, although many other Arthur knights appear in other ballads with as little connection to their appearances in Arthurian legend. [Child, "The English and Scottish Popular Ballads", Volume I, p. 306.] In modern novels, he appears in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Mists of Avalon; but as Morgan Le Fay's foster son, not her biological son. Similarly, Ywain is the principal character in Hartmann von Aue's "Iwein", a Middle High German court epic which tells the tale of his marriage to Laudine, and of his descent into madness as a result of falling from her favour.
List of Arthurian characters
*Bromwich, Rachel (1963). "Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Triads of the Island of Britain". University Of Wales Press. ISBN 0-7083-1386-8.
Child, Francis James, (1965). "The English and Scottish Popular Ballads", Volume I, p. 306. New York: Dover Publications.
*Chrétien de Troyes; Owen, D. D. R. (translator) (1988). "Arthurian Romances". Tuttle Publishing, reprinted by
Everyman's Library. ISBN 0-460-87389-X.
*Chrétien de Troyes; Raffel, Burton (translator) (1987). "Yvain, the Knight of the Lion".
Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-03837-2.
* [http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/yvnmenu.htm Yvain page at The Camelot Project]
* [http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/teams/ywnint.htm Translation of "Ywain and Gawain" at the Camelot Project]
* [http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/rhonabwy.htm Translation of "The Dream of Rhonabwy" at the Camelot Project]
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