Old French Tales from Brittany

Marie de France: The Story of Eliduc

12th century, Old French: British Library, Bibliothèque Nationale Paris.

The weasel places a flower in the dead weasel’s mouth. Almost immediately, the animal revives and sets off with its companion.

Eliduc was a nobleman living in Brittany, at a time that seemed remote even to a Norman-French-speaking lady living in England in the twelfth century, a lady who was anxious to make a permanent, written record of some of the old oral tales of Brittany, before these tales disappeared altogether; a lady known to us as Marie de France.

Eliduc was a married man and a great favourite of his lord, who was the king of Brittany. But like all successful men, he had made enemies, and their slander turned the king against him. Eliduc saw a necessity to flee the country for a while.

Across the English Channel, possibly before it could have been given that name, Eliduc offered his services to the ruler of one of the kingdoms of Britain that were dotted around the land at this time and rarely averse to a bit of tribal conflict. And there he fell in love with the king's daughter. And she herself became so besotted with Eliduc that, when he was compelled to leave and return to his own kingdom across the sea, she begged him to set a date for his swift return. He did so. And when the time came, he honoured this pledge and came in a boat to fetch her back to his own land.

A storm blew up while they were at sea and in the turmoil, a crewman revealed to the damsel that Eliduc was a married man. She fell to the deck in a swoon; a faint that soon became like death itself and was taken as such by the distraught Eliduc.

Now we must move to a chapel in the forest where this maiden lies before the altar, awaiting burial. Eliduc has been called away from the district for a few hours and his wife, seizing the opportunity to confirm her suspicions, approaches the body with tears in her eyes. The damsel lying there is so beautiful. At this moment, a weasel runs out of the body. The servant throws a stick at it, killing the creature. Another weasel approaches the little weasel’s corpse, then flees quickly into the forest, returning shortly with a red flower which it places in the weasel’s mouth. Almost immediately, the animal revives and sets off with its companion. Seizing the initiative, the servant throws the stick once again at the weasel causing it to drop the flower. The lady places the flower in the dead damsel’s mouth and almost at once, she opens her eyes and raises herself from her bier.

Story retold from: Burgess, Glyn S., and Busby, Keith, 1986. The Lais of Marie de France. Translated from Old French with an introduction. Penguin Books Limited. Eliduc, pp 111–26.

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Breton Lai – Wikipedia

Marie de France - Wikipedia

Eliduc - Wikipedia

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