Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 16, 1905.djvu/467

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409
The Legend of Merlin.

and whose personages seemed to them the acme of human and divine achievement.

The second point to which I must draw attention is that the records of olden times, of persons and places, were not understood by the people unless translated into their own surroundings, dressed in their garb, speaking their language, and behaving in the same manner as their contemporaries were behaving. The heroes of the Homeric poems, the exploits of Alexander, were viewed from a standpoint of the knight and the tournament. Unless Alexander, or say Ajax and Achilles, accommodated themselves to put on the armour of the knight and to act the way the people acted they would have been ignored. The whole ancient world became a living contemporary; the heroes obeyed the code of chivalry with all its complicated etiquette. One can scarcely recognise the old heroes under the new disguise, and it requires a whole system of reconstruction and rearrangement in order to recognise old acquaintances in the knights of the mediaeval romances. Yet the difference is one of detail and setting, not of incident or motif.[1]

And thirdly, what were the literary methods of these authors? A close investigation of the whole romantic literature reveals, side by side with great poetical force, a surprising poverty of invention. The situations and incidents told of one hero are repeated ad nauseam by every subsequent poet. Nay, whole cycles of romances are bodily taken over and applied to other heroes than those of whom they were originally composed. Too well known to be emphasised again is the transfer of the whole Merovingian cycle to

  1. How the new chivalry came to life at that time is a problem with which I cannot deal here, nor is it an easy task to trace its origin to an indisputable source. Suffice it for us to note the fact that the refined form of chivalrous adventures, the beloved theme of the subsequent romantic literature, does not appear in Europe before the end of the eleventh century, and follows as it were in the wake of the Crusades and as a sequel to the exploits in the East and to the close contact with the new world which opened to the European knight.