A Commandment of Chivalry: Never Lie

July 11, 2019

Another commandment for the knightly ones, and one which the ancients were little acquainted with, is, “Beware of falsehood; have a horror of lying.” “Do not lie,” is one of the conditions of chivalry which remains fixed and living amongst modern peoples. There is no necessity to quote a number of texts, and so we will only mention two, one of which is taken from one of our oldest chansons and the other from one of the most recent. These are, as it were, the two poles upon which revolved all the poetry of the Middle Ages.

Roland de Roncevaux. The statue of Roland, is located in the centre of the town hall square in front of the House of Blackheads in Riga, Latvia. Photo by Patrick Mayon

“Fins cuers ne puet mentir,” says the author of Raoul de Cambrai, who wrote in the thirteenth century with the spirit and traditions of the tenth. We have the same injunction in the Entrée en Espagne, which is a work of the period of our epic decadence. When Roland undertook the fabled journey into Persia which is described in the second part of this curious poem, when he was called on to induct Samson, the son of the pagan king, into a regular course of chivalry, he gave him a great deal of advise of a very valuable character, and notably the following counsel—

“Friend,” said Roland to his pupil, “Gart-toi de mentir. Car ce est une tache que moult fait repentir!” [Guard yourself from lying. It is something one much regrets.”

We have seen in the foregoing pages that one of the most beautiful eulogies which has ever been addressed to noble France is this, “This is the most truthful of all nations.” That is to say, the most sincere. So writes the author of Berte ans grans piés, and it is as well to add that this Homeric epithet, a “sincere heart,” is one of those bestowed on knights in the old chanson of Griatz de Rossillho, and in many others. If we wished also to go back to the true origin of the most justly praised of our modern sentiments, one would easily perceive that “respect for one’s word” can be traced back to the epoch of chivalry. Respect for feudal engagements has carried in its train respect for all other engagements. Not to tell lies, and to keep to one’s word, are, to this day, the two chief traits in the character of a gentleman.

León Gautier, Chivalry, trans. Henry Frith (London: George Routledge and Sons, Ltd., 1891), 66–7.

 

 

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