This hero is not born until about line 2380 of the romance bearing his name. With only threadbare connections to Arthur, Chrétien seems to have written his Cliges as a sort of anti-Tristan. D.D.R. Owen tells us in a note to his translation that a still-extant 13th-century text, 'Marques De Rome', may preserve another version - also with hero named Cligés - of whatever main source Chrétien de Troyes followed. The name "Cligés" can sound much like "cliches". I do not know whether this pun would have occurred in Chrétien's lifetime, but I suspect that it might have pleased him.
Cligés was born in Britain during his father’s years at Arthur's court. His father and uncle, Alis, ruled the kingdoms of Greece and Constantinople under an agreement by which Alis was to remain single and beget no children, and the throne was to fall to Cligés upon the deaths of the brothers. Alexander died first, however, and Alis broke their pact by marrying Fenice, the daughter of the Emperor of Germany.
At the age of fifteen, his golden-haired Cligés, orphaned son of Alexander and Gawaine's sister Soredamors, is not only more handsome and charming than Narcissus, but already highly accomplished in arms. Cligés accompanied Alis’s entourage to Germany for his uncle’s marriage. Cligés and Fenice fell in love with each other at first sight, and Fenice managed to preserve her virginity by serving Alis a potion that made him believe his dreams of passionate nights with Fenice were the real thing. During their return to Greece, they were ambushed by the Duke of Saxony, whom Cligés defeated in single combat. Cligés was always loyal to his uncle although himself secretly in love with Fenice.
He twice defeats the Duke of Saxony's nephew in joust (the second time killing him); on the spur of the moment, and with a slight leg wound, he leads the combined armies of Greece and Germany against the attacking Saxons; he singlehandedly rescues his uncle Alis' bride Fenice from twelve abducting Saxons; he then asks Emperor Alis (Alexius) to knight him and proceeds to fight the seasoned Duke of Saxony into submission in single combat - all this while acting with irreproachable loyalty to his uncle although himself secretly in love with Fenice. After all this, Cligés begs Alis to let him go to Britain in order to put his prowess to the test! True, his dying father Alexander had charged Cligés to prove himself in Britain someday; also, we may suspect the youth of wishing to escape his tricky love triange for a while.
He takes four different chargers - white, sorrel, tawny, and black - with him to Britian. Arriving at Wallingford and learning that Arthur is about to hold a tournament near Oxford, he sends his squires to London to buy him three extra suits of armor - black, crimson, and green. (Money is definitely not a problem for this lad.) Wearing the black armor and riding the black horse, Morel, Cligés starts the first day of the tournament by defeating Sir Sagramore in the opening joust, afterward carrying off all the honors in the melee, until it is considered an honor even to dare go against him and be taken prisoner. Getting back to his lodging, he hides the black armor and has the green displayed, so that when his prisoners come to present themselves, they cannot find him. Next day, wearing the green armor and riding his tawny horse, he defeats Lancelot in the opening joust and proceeds to fight so well that he is called far better than the unknown black knight of the day before.
This time he hides the green armor at the day's end and displays the crimson, in which he rides his sorrel horse on the third day, defeating Percivale and repeating his general success. By now people are tumbling to the fact that this is the same unknown knight in different armor, and Gawaine - still at this stage in the romances Arthur's greatest knight - modestly decides to try his hand on the fourth and last day. When Cligés shows up this time, he matches the great champion so well that Arthur declares it a draw and ends the tournament a little early.
Cligés reveals his identity: through his mother, he is Gawaine's nephew and thus Arthur's great-nephew. All are delighted, and the young knight stays with Arthur's court until the following summer, traveling throughout Britain, France, and Normandy performing knightly deeds - it seems like crowding quite a bit into a year or less - while Arthur makes more of him than of any other nephew.
On returning to Greece, the lovers developed a plan by which Fenice would feign death, escape from her tomb, and live with Cligés in a secluded tower. Cligés loyal serf John, constructed a tomb from which the lady could get free. The plot worked as planned, and the couple enjoyed a time of bliss before their ruse was discovered by a knight named Bertrand. They had to flee and went to Britain, where Arthur prepares to go to war to help win Cligés the emperorship of Greece and Constantinople, which should rightfully have been his anyway. Alis conveniently dies before the war can start, so Cligés peacefully becomes emperor and marries Fenice.
Aside from those two relatively short sojourns, Cligés appears to have spent no other time in Britain, which makes his story only peripherally Arthurian.
His story is told in Chrétien's Cligés. There is a knight named Cligés (see below), perhaps a different person, in Yder.
Colored Knights | The Legend of King Arthur
Clicés, Clies, Clygés
Another knight or knights of Arthur’s court who bears little resemblance, except in name, to Chrétien de Troyes’s Cligés. In the First Continuation of Chrétien’s Perceval, his father is named as King Lac.
In the romance of Yder, he serves Queen Guenloie of Carvain, but is expelled from her court after he openly criticizes her obvious affection for Sir Yder. He later encounters Yder, who promises to reconcile him with his mistress. In Les Merveilles de Rigomer, he participates in the quest to conquer Rigomer Castle and, on the way, ends the evil customs of the Accursed Cemetery. Rigomer, perhaps linking him tenuously to Chrétien’s character, says that he was from Greece.
In Claris et Laris, he carries Arthur’s standard in battle.