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Tristan and Wis and Ramin - the last word? In a previous article in this journal, I expressed the view that the Tristan story - as illustrated in its several versions constituted an excellent example of the interaction between oral and written traditions in twelfth-century verse narrative production. It is not, of course, unique in this respect but, because of the multiplicity of its versions, not only linguistic but iconographic, and the consistent testimony of the poets themselves to this profusion of versions, it is perhaps the best example of its kind. It follows from this that one cannot be too dogmatic or exclusive about origins or "sources" and that the latter should perhaps be posited only in terms of specific literary influences on a particular version. Yet debate continues to flourish concerning the "origins" of the Tristan story and while some of this is due to the natural human curiosity which, for instance, ensures the abiding popularity of etymology - both learned and popular - the debate also appears to be founded on an assumption that an answer can be arrived at if only the real Ur-Tristan will please stand up! Source hunting suffered a brief decline in the sixties and seventies but may be returning via intertextuality and deconstructionism. It is perhaps therefore appropriate to look at one well-known debate in the field of Tristan studies with a view to discouraging its further indiscriminate propagation. An appropriate title for this debate might be that chosen by one of its most recent participants, Paul Kunitsch, "Are there Oriental Elements in the Tristan Story?" Kunitsch concludes that the case is not proven but, despite reviewing carefully the arguments raised by supporters of the theory, he concentrates exclusively on the written tradition and possible channels of transmission in the absence of which even the most striking parallels cited by such critics cannot be considered proof of a source relationship. Curiously, he adopts a much less rigid 1 N.S. 2, 1984, 97-109. 2 For an excellent statement of procedure by a professional historian, see T.M. Charles-Edwards, The Date of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cyamrodorion (= THSC), 1970, 263-298, at 282-3. 3 Vox Romanica 39, 1980, 73-85. 4 R. Zenker, Die Tristansage und das persische Epos von Wis und Ramin, Romanische Forschungen 29, 1911, 321-69; F.R. Schroeder, Germanische-Romanische Monatschrift 42, 1961, 1-44; W. Haug, Germanische-Romanische Monatschrift 54, 1973, 404-433; L. Polak, Tristan and Wis and Ramin, Romania 95, 1974, 216-234; P. Gallais, Genese du roman occidental: essais sur Tristan et Iseut et son modele persan, Paris, 1974. 20 W.A. Trindade attitude to the Tristan story itself, referring for the most part to the composite story rather than specific versions. By totally excluding the question of oral transmission he leaves room for the possibility of a rejoinder on the part of those scholars he is criticising. It should be unnecessary to point out that the study of oral literature generally and the folktale in particular shows that individual motifs of oriental origin migrated to the West from a period very early in recorded history. Indeed the whole science of comparative Indo-European philology would collapse without the possibility of recognising linguistic cognates across the full spectrum of the given area. The question of oriental influences in the Tristan story must therefore be treated in a wider and more complicated context. There are two main oriental stories cited by commentators as possible sources of the Tristan story. One is the Arabic story of Qays and Lubna, part of the "biography" of one of a number of early Islamic poets, and the other is the Persian romance of Wis and Ramin, composed around 1050 by the poet Fakhr ad-Din Asad Gurgani. As we shall see, next to nothing is known about the former and not a great deal about the latter, despite the amount of attention paid to it by the critics. Certainly Wis and Ramin bears a striking prima facie resemblance to the general outline of the Tristan story in the plot, dramatis personae, and even some of the minor details. Background information...


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