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Speculations on the Celtic Origins of Marie de France’s ‘Eliduc’

Tamora A. Whitney

Proceedings of the Fourth Dakota’s — Nebraska Conference on Early British Literature (Peru State College, Nebraska, April 1996)

Although none of the Breton lais have survived in their original Celtic form or come down to us in the Breton-Gaelic, Marie de France has retold a dozen of them in Old French.  In the Medieval Breton lai, “Eliduc,” Marie de France indicates that the story is, “a very old Celtic tale,” (1218) and that she will tell it, “at least as I’ve been able to understand the truth of it” (1218).   The basic plot of the story is fantastic.  A good and loyal knight is in exile from his own country, France, and offers his services to a king in England.  There he falls in love with the princess even though he has a loyal and loving wife at home.  He brings the young princess to France, but she does not survive the passage.  At home, his wife discovers the girl’s body, brings her back to life then joins a convent so the knight and the princess can be married with the approval of the church.

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