The Arthurian Romances by Chrétien de Troyes form the wellspring of the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Stories of knightly valour in the Welsh Marches had existed before the 12th century, but it was the magnificent poetry and imagination of Chrétien, the 12th century French poet and trouvère, which brought alive the great characters of Arthur, his wife Guinevere, Lancelot and others. In fact, it was here, in these romances, that the tale of Lancelot of the Lake and his fated love for Guinevere first made its appearance in European literature. And far from being trapped in formal medieval stanzas, their passion has come down to us in words that still resonate: 'From the moment he caught sight of her, he did not turn or take his eyes and face from her.'
From these four romances emerge a chivalric Arthurian vision as vivid and human as the more familiar telling by Sir Thomas Malory three centuries later. The three other stories are equally rich and compelling, painting images of knightly ethics, courageous deeds and above all love, honour and service. Chrétien's telling is the outstanding Arthurian literary source, bringing together as it does the British plot, the characters and the adventures with a French courtly sensitivity. Though less known than Lancelot and Guinevere, the story of the trials leading to the love between Eric and Enide is just as memorable; in Cligès, the young hero travels between Greece and Arthur's court in order to win his spurs and his love; and in Yvain, the knight is helped by a faithful lion to achieve his aim.
These Four Arthurian Romances are read with full commitment by Nicholas Boulton using the translation by W. W. Comfort.