Dinadam, Dinadano, Dinadeira, Divdan, Dynadan
A good knight with a sense of humor and, what seems even rarer among the companions of the Round Table, a sense of practicality, Dinadan was never willing to rush into a fight for the sake of wounds and glory. He wanted to know first that he had some chance of success and that he was going in on the right side.
He appears first in the Post-Vulgate Queste del Saint Graal as one of the knights embarking on the Grail Quest. His first significant appearance is in the Prose Tristan. Reputed as a humorist and a practical joker, Dinadan questioned the conventions of knighthood, including the idea of courtly love and the notion of knights battling for no reason other than one challenging the other or insulting his honor. In La Tavola Ritonda he says,
Shame is a bad thing, but a wound is worse.
Nevertheless, he was known as a noble and courageous warrior who did not hesitate to use his sword to right wrongs and to uphold the values of the Round Table.
Dinadan had more than a little satirical talent. Malory characterizes his lampoon against Mark of Cornwall as “the worst lay that ever harper sang”, probably in the sense of hardest hitting. Dinadan was equally able, however, to laugh at himself. One of Malory’s best episodes for Dinadan-watching is Duke Galeholt’s tournament in Surluse, to which Dinadan first came in disguise and did great deeds of arms. He was unmasked by the fifth day, if not earlier – Galeholt sent Lancelot to unhorse him, apparently with a bit of clowning on both sides.
On the evening of the sixth day, seeing Galeholt in a dark mood at being served fish, which he hated, Dinadan got “a fish with a a great head” and served it up elaborately to Galeholt with the quip, “Well may I liken you to a wolf, for he will never eat fish, but flesh”. This snapped Galeholt out of his bad humor. Dinadan then asked Lancelot, “What devil do ye in this country, for here may no mean knights win no worship for thee”. Lancelot, entering into the spirit, replied by praying to be delivered from Dinadan’s great spear: “God forbid that ever we meet but if it be at a dish of meat”. Next day Lancelot entered the lists with a maiden’s gown over his armor, unhorsed Dinadan before the latter recovered from his surprise, and then, with a group of co-pranksters, carried Dinadan into the forest and clothed him in the damsel’s dress. A good time was had by all, and the Queen was vastly amused.
(In his excellent edition of Malory, John W. Donaldson interprets the tournament of Surluse as an attempt by Duke Galeholt and a co-conspirator to get Lancelot killed, and finds evidence in Dinadan’s actions, especially the serving of the fish, that the shrewd, joking knight saw through the plot and meant to warn or protect Lancelot. This is an ingenious interpretation, but I have not yet been able to locate in the full edition of Malory the lines describing Galeholt’s murderous intent, nor is it consistent with what we know from the Vulgate of the great friendship between Galeholt and Lancelot. It seems to me more likely that Dinadan’s part in the Surluse tournament reflects pure high spirits.)
Dinadan, one knight who clamied to have no lady love, was the brother of La Cote Male Taile. Dinadan was “gentle, wise, and courteous”, “a good knight on horseback”, “a scoffer and a japer, and the merriest knight among fellowship that was that time living. And he … loved every good knight, and every good knight loved him again.” Tristram (Tristan) in particular loved him above all knights except Lancelot. Alas, Mordred and Agravaine took a dislike to him, apparently because of something he said to them about the matter of Lamorak’s death, and, although he had once rescued them from Breuse Sans Pitie, “cowardly and feloniously” they killed him during the Grail Quest, though Malory does not give fuller details. Palamedes buried him in Camelot.
His brother, Brunor the Black, was the famous Good Knight Without Fear; and his brother, also called Brunor the Black, was known as the Knight of the Ill-Fitting Coat. The Italian La Tavola Ritonda assigns him another brother named Daniello, who betrays Guinevere and Lancelot to Arthur. While Tristan and Malory tend to use Dinadan for comic relief, in Tavola, he is darkly critical of his companions’ behavior and struggles bitterly against love of any kind.
Most of his adventures are had in the company of Tristan. Though the latter’s actions did not escape Dinadan’s ridicule, Dinadan recognized him as one of the noblest knights. He had few enemies, though he was contemptuous of King Mark of Cornwall, and in fact wrote a popular song insulting the monarch.
Dinadan, known for his wit and humor, is occasionally associated with his own shield. The design of his shield can vary, but it often incorporates symbols or imagery reflecting his jovial nature, such as musical instrumetns or comedic motifs.
Post-Vulgate Queste del Saint Graal | 1230-1240
Palamedes | c. 1240
Prose Tristan | 1230-1240
Escanor | Girart D’Amiens, c. 1280
La Tavola Ritonda | 1325–1350
Le Morte Darthur | Sir Thomas Malory, 1469-1470