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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.

V. The Earliest Scottish Literature

§ 9. Golagros and Gawane

The history of Golagros and Gawane is more obscure, for it is known only from a pamphlet printed in 1508 by Chepman and Myllar, the pioneers of printing in Scotland. Like the Awntyrs of Arthure, there are two parts or scenes in the story. Arthur, once upon a time, went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land accompanied by all the knights of the Round Table. After a long march through desolate hills and marshes where their food gives out, they spy a city in the distance. Kay is sent to ask permission to enter and buy provisions; but, finding the gate open, enters a mansion and seizes some birds which a dwarf is roasting on a spit. At the outcry of the dwarf a knight enters, who, finding reproaches met with temper, knocks Kay down. Kay, returning to the king, advises him to go elsewhere. Gawain, however, suggests that a better-tempered messenger might be more successful, and is himself sent and kindly received. After feasting there four days, they go on their way, and—though the poet forgets to mention the fact—apparently their late host was Sir Spinagros, who now acts as guide. By and by, they see a castle built by the side of the Rhone; and king Arthur is surprised to hear from Spinagros that the knight of the castle pays homage to no man. Arthur vows to change all that on his return from Palestine. When he returns, he proceeds to besiege the castle. On four successive days champions are chosen, who fight with little success to either side. On the fifth day, Golagros, the knight of the castle, takes the field himself, but is defeated by Arthur’s champion Gawain. As Golagros declines to own defeat, preferring death to shame, Gawain is about to kill him, when Golagros asks Gawain to come into the castle as if he had been defeated; he will take care that Gawain’s honour is not scathed by his action. Golagros asks his knights whether they would prefer that their chief, if vanquished, should still rule over them, or whether they would allow him to perish. As they say that they wish him to be chief in either case, he tells them what Gawain has done, and they set out to Arthur’s camp, where Spinagros explains the situation. Golagros becomes liege man to Arthur; but, after nine days’ feasting, Arthur releases him from homage before he departs.

The origin of the story is known. It is a free paraphrase of the French prose romance Perceval le Gallois by Chrétien de Troyes, or rather, of a continuation of it.

The writer is best in his fighting scenes, of which the combat of Gaudifer and Galiot, the first champions of Arthur and Golagros, is a fair specimen (stanza XLIV).

  • Gaudifeir and Galiot, in glemand steil wedis,
  • As glauis glowand on gleid, grymly thai ride;
  • Wondir sternly thai steir on thair stent stedis
  • Athir berne fra his blonk borne wes that tide.
  • Thai ruschit up rudly, quha sa right redis;
  • Out with suerdis thai swang fra thair schalk side;
  • Thair-with wraithly thai wirk, thai wourthy in vedis,
  • Hewit on the hard steill, and hurt thame in the hide.
  • Sa wondir freschly thai frekis fruschit in feir,
  • Throw all the harnes thai hade,
  • Baith birny and breist-plade,
  • Thairin wappynis couth wade,
  • Wit ye but weir.
  • The poem is nearly twice as long as the Awntyrs of Arthure, containing a hundred and five stanzas. Of its date, nothing can be said definitely; for, without several manuscripts, we can know nothing of tradition of the text. Its forms are more archaic than those of Wallace; but there is so large a proportion of traditional tags (necessitated by the alliteration) in the romances that this argument is not very conclusive; nor is there satisfactory proof that the Awntyrs of Arthure and Golagros and Gawane, though their vocabulary is often similar, are by the same hand.