‘Tor son of Ares,’ ‘ Tor son of Aries,’ ‘Tor son of Ariet’
Tor le Fise de Vayshoure
Cort, Estors, Estorz, Rohors, Rohorz, Taor, Thares, Thoorz, Thor, Tohorz, Tors, Torz
A Knight of the Round Table whose earliest appearance is in Ulrich von Zatzikhoven’s Lanzelet as Torfilaret (“Tor fils Aret,” or Tor son of Ares”) a Welsh prince and companion of Lancelot whose wife was proven unfaithful by a magic mantle. Another character named Orphylet may be identical. It is relatively certain that Ulrich took the character from a archetypal French Lancelot tale that formed the basis for Lanzelet. R.S. Loomis speculated that his character originated ultimately with the boar Twrch Trwyth in the Welsh legend.
Prior to the Post-Vulgate Suite du Merlin, the texts name Tor’s father as King Ares. The Suite, which contains the longest account of Tor’s adventures, tells us that King Pellinore fathered Tor on Ares the Cowherd’s wife (making Tor the half-brother of Perceval).
Forthwithal there came a poor man into the court, and brought with him a fair young man of eighteen years of age riding upon a lean mare ... Anon as he came before the king, he saluted him and said: O King Arthur ... it was told me that at this time of your marriage ye would give any man the gift that he would ask, out except that were unreasonable ... Sir I ask nothing else but that ye will make my son here a knight. It is a great thing thou askest of me, said the king. What is thy name? ... Sir, my name is Aries the cowherd. Whether cometh this of thee or of thy son? said the king. Nay, sir, said Aries, this desire cometh of my son and not of me, for I ... have thirteen sons, and all they will fall to what labour I put them, and will be right glad to do labour, but this child will not labour for me, for anything that my wife of I may do, but always he will be shooting or casting darts, and glad for to see battles and to behold knights, and always day and night he desireth of me to be made a knight. What is thy name? said the king unto the young man. Sir, my name is Tor. The king beheld him fast, and saw he was passingly well-visaged and passingly well made of his years.
Arthur told Aries to fetch the other sons for comparison.
and all were shaped much like the poor man. But Tor was not like none of them all in shape nor in countenance, for he was much more than any of them. Now, said King Arthur unto the cowherd, where is the sword he shall be made knight withal? It is here, said Tor. Take it out of the sheath, said the king, and require me to make you a knight.
Thus Tor became a knight of Arthur’s court promptly for the asking. Only after he was dubbed did Merlin reveal him to be the bastard son of King Pellinore, begotten on the cowherd’s wife before her marriage. Coming of such paternal blood, Merlin predicted, Tor would make a fine knight. (Rumours of Tor’s birth may have persisted, however, for although he is sometimes surnamed “le Fise de Vayshoure” – “the son of Vayshoure”, surely after his mother – he is also sometimes called “le Fise Aries” after the cowherd.)
Tor’s original request had also included a place at the Round Table: no bashful lad, Tor. This distinction did not come, however, until after he had proved himself at least twice. The first time was involved the recovery of a white brachet stolen from Arthur’s hall (see under Nimue).
Beginning his maiden adventure, Tor jousted down Sir Felot of Langduk and Sir Petipase of Winchelsea, who had insisted on fighting him, and sent them to court. (Sir Petipase, at least, became one of Arthur’s knights and was killed trying to help Mordred and Agravaine corner Lancelot with the Queen.) The dwarf who had served Felot and Petipase requested becoming Tor’s dwarf instead, and brought him to a pavilion where he found the white brachet with an unnamed lady. Tor reappropriated the brachet, and was overtaken next day by Abelleus. As they fought for the brachet, a lady of the neighborhood rode up to tell Tor that Abellus was a villain who had killed her brother before her eyes,
and I kneeled half an hour afore him in the mire for to save my brother's life,
wherefore she required Tor to dispose of the scoundrel. He did, afterward lodging with the lady and her husband, “a passing fair old knight”, who courteously put their house “always at (Tor’s) commandment”. When Tor returned to court and told his adventures, Arthur – on Merlin’s advice – rewarded him with an earldom of lands, although his seat at the Round Table had to wait until after the war with the invading kings of Denmark, Ireland, the Vale, Soleise, and Longtains had left eight vacancies at the Table, which Arthur refilled according to Pellinore’s advice.
After naming Uriens, Hervise de Revel (Hervi de Revel), the King of the Lake, Galagars (Galligar the Red), Gawaine, Griflet, and Kay, Pellinore modestly gave Arthur a choice of either Tor or Bagdemagus for the eighth seat.
But because Sir Tor is my son I may not praise him, but else, an he were not my son, I durst say that of his age there is not in this land a better knight than he is, nor of better conditions and loath to do any wrong, and loath to take any wrong. By my head, said Arthur, he is a passing good knight as any ... for I have seen him proved, but he saith little and he doth much more, for I know none in all this court an he were as well born on his mother's side as he is on your side, that is like him of prowess and of might: and therefore I will have him at this time, and leave Sir Bagdemagus till another time.
Tor makes a brief appearance in the rambling adventures of Sir Tristram (Tristan). He jousts down Sir Kay in sport, then joins Kay, Tristram, and Brandiles at their lodging, where Tristram sits silent and anonymous while the other three tell “Cornish knight” jokes; on the morrow, Tristram jousts down Brandiles and Tor and snubs Kay before revealing his identity. A little farther on Malory describes a visit of King Mark to Sir Tor’s castle, but Tor himself is not in residence at the time and his lieutenant Sir Berluse is the one who grudgingly carries out the duties of host to the unloved king.
Chrétien de Troyes names Tor the son of King Ars among the prominent knights of Arthur’s court.
Tor is Welsh for ‘a break’, ‘a rupture’.
Erec | Chrétien de Troyes, late 12th century
Lanzelet | Ulrich von Zatzikhoven, c. 1200
Le Bel Inconnu | Renaut de Bâgé, 1185–1190
Yder | Early 13th century
Vulgate Lancelot | 1215-1230
Prose Tristan | 1230-1240
Post-Vulgate Suite du Merlin | 1230-1240
Le Morte Darthur | Sir Thomas Malory, 1469-1470