Gereint, Gerontios, Gerontius

As the hero of the Welsh legend bearing his name, he is the counterpart of Erec in French romance. He appears in several early Welsh poems, including one which describes his great deeds at the battle of Llongborth where he also dies. The substitution of his name for Chrétien’s Erec is not entirely unfounded phonetically, as Erec is itself a derivative of Guerec. Several historical figures named Gerontius are known in Britain – particularly in the south – in and around the Arthurian period, and any of them (or, perhaps more likely, a conflation of them all) could have inspired the character. Malory does not mention Geraint, unless he is to be identified with Sir Garaunt.

Geraint was the son of King Erbin of Dumnonia (Devon and Cornwall), the brother of Ermid and Dywel, and the father of Cadwy.

As a young warrior, Geraint avenged an insult to Queen Gwenhwyfar (Guenevere) committed by the warrior Edern (Yder) by defeating Edern in a sparrowhawk tournament. During the quest, Geraint lodged with the Earl of Niwl in Cardiff and fell in love with the earl’s daughter, Enid. After settling the score with Edern, Geraint returned to Arthur’s court where he was honored for his victory, and was given Enid’s hand in marriage.

In time, his father grew infirm, and Geraint returned to Devon to assume the responsibilities of a ruler. Though always deemed the best warrior in jousts and tournaments, Geraint grew bored with feats of arms and preferred to spend his time with his wife in their chambers. Rumors began to circulate concerning Geraint’s worthiness as a ruler. The grumbling reached Enid’s ears, and one morning in bed, when she thought Geraint was asleep, she lamented about the growing scandal. Geraint misinterpreted her words and perceived that she had been unfaithful.

He forced his wife to accompany him on a series of dangerous adventures, culminating when, Geraint having been knocked unconscious by some giants, an earl named Limwris (Limors) tried to force himself on Enid. Geraint awoke at Enid’s screams and killed the earl. Realizing that Enid was faithful after all, Geraint asked for, and received, his wife’s forgiveness.

Possibly this companion of the Round Table is best known today from Tennyson’s Idylls The Marriage of Geraint and Geraint and Enid (a version of Erec et Enide). According to Tennyson, Geraint was a “tributary prince of Devon” and knight of the Round Table who met and married Enid, only child of Earl Yniol, in a romantic adventure that involved Geraint’s defeating Yniol’s enemy and nephew Edyrn (Edern) son of Nudd (“The Sparrow-Hawk”) and restoring Yniol to his earldom. (Edyrn reformed and became a knight of the Round Table himself.)

Once when he was out riding with Queen Guenevere they met a knight who was rude when a maiden asked him about his name. Angered Geraint followed his tracks to a town where he disappeared. The honorable knight then stayed at an old poor nobleman who told him there were to be a big annual tournament, and the winner would win a sparrow-hawk; one and the same man had won two years in a row and got the name the Knight of the Sparrow-Hawk. Geraint who thought he knew who the unknown knight were, borrowed a rusty armour of the old man, brought his daughter Enid in a bleached dress and headed for the tournament.

There the Knight of the Sparrow-Hawk had just won over all contestants who had dared to challenge him and already thought of himself to be the winner when Geraint yelled:

Here is a lady who is more beautiful than yours; she will get the sparrow-hawk!

Offended the knight flew towards Geraint, but he gave him a blow that fell him to his knees and the knight begged for his life. He got to keep it if he went to Queen Guenevere and asked her for forgivness. After this Geraint brought Enid to the court and married her. Geraint proudly presented his wife as a handmaid to Guenevere; later, growing nervous at the rumors of Guenevere’s guilt with Lancelot, the prince used the proximity of his own land in Devon to

a territory, wherein were bandit earls and caitiff knights

as a pretext to leave the court and take Enid home to his own castle, away from courtly corruption. Here Geraint became so enmeshed in loving domesticity as to forget all calls of knigthly honor, duty, and glory. Enid, more mindful than her husband of his rusting reputation, and fearing the cause to be herself, murmured in soliloquy one morning:

I fear that I am no true wife.

He was just waking up, heard this sentence, misconstructed it, and took her out for a long test of faithfulness. They rode alone, without even a squire, and he commanded her to ride some distance before him and never dare speak to him.

They kept coming to groups of thieving knights and other robbers. Enid would see them and hear their plans, disobey her husband’s orders about silence in order to warn him, and he would scold her, slay his attackers, appropriate their gear and horses (which he made Enid drive on ahead of her), and thus make more than enough to pay their expenses on the road. After numerous adventurers of increasing peril, including a couple of other men who tried to make Enid marry them, Geraint was at last convinced of her worth and they were reconciled.

Enid and Geraint | Artist: Rowland Wheelwright

The Welsh poem that praises Geraint’s deeds at Llongborth may imply, but does not explicitly say, that he died there. Tennyson alone describes his death fighting heathens on the northern sea. Tennyson probably took his story from Gereint Son of Erbin in the Welsh Mabinogion.

As we have this work, it was written down a century or so after the death of Chrétien de Troyes; one scholarly opinion holds that the Welsh version derives directly from Chrétien’s Erec and Enide, while another and apparently stronger opinion considers both versions derived from some common source.

Another source gives us the story that Geraint after a battle with three giants were close to die, but then he happened to hear Enid talk about him in a way that showed that she honored and loved him. He recovered fast and then lived happily with his Enid.

Geraint is sometimes associated with his own shield. The design of his shield can vary, but it often incorporates symbols or imagery representing his courage and dedication to the knightly code.

Geraint may have been a dynastic name in Dumnonia, for there was a historical king Geraint who was killed in battle 710 AD.

Geraint married Enid – in French romance the hero of this tale is Erec but, as Erec was not generally known amongst the Welsh, they substituted Gereint, one of their own heroes, for him.

Gereint may be a historical figure, a cousin of Arthur, though J. Gantz denies his historicity. Although he is listed as Arthur’s contemporary, he may have belonged to an older generation, as the Mabinogion story of the Dream of Rhonabwy says his son Cadwy was Arthur’s contemporary. Gereint’s father’s name is given as Erbin but, in the Life of St Cyby, Erbin is called his son.

Image credit
Enid and Geraint | Artist: Rowland Wheelwright

Y Gododdin | Aneirin, c. 600
Geraint filius Erbin | 10th century or 11th century
Geraint and Enid | 13th century
Idylls of the King | Lord Alfred Tennyson, 1859-1886