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Zacour, N. P.; Hazard, H. W. (ed.) / Volume VI: The impact of the Crusades on Europe

III: The epic cycle of the Crusades,   pp. 98-115 PDF (23.6 MB)

Page 99

are the cycles of Charlemagne, William of Orange, and Doon of Mayence. At
the center of a soon-proliferating cycle stands a martial figure whose prowess
in many a combat has charmed a public never weary of hearing tales about
prestigious heroes who fight and slay innumerable foes. At the beginning
of the fourteenth century this avid interest was crystalized in the literary
and iconographic cult of the "nine worthies" (three Jews: Joshua, David,
and Judas Maccabeus; three pagans: Hector, Alexander, and Caesar; three Christians:
Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Bouillon). The epic hero is not allowed
to remain in splendid isolation; he may be the brightest star within his
family constellation, but the deeds of his father, grandfather, brothers,
sons, nephews, and grandsons are likewise memorable and so must be praised
in epic song. Just as Charlemagne's father Pepin and his nephew Roland are
the protagonists of various chansons de geste, just so Godfrey of Bouillon's
ancestors, brother, cousin, and their descendants were celebrated in epics
built around their persons and deeds, real or imaginary. 
 Superhuman strength and supernatural happenings endow the epic hero with
a radiance that marks him as a man above other men, one of God's elect. When
his fury is aroused he can with one mighty blow of his sword cleave an opponent
and his steed in two, that is to say into four parts, two human and two equine.
Miracles accompany him on his way, heavenly warriors battle at his side,
his prayers stay the sun in its course so that the enemy may be pursued and
annihilated, and archangels bear his soul to paradise, while devils precipitate
slain Saracens into the nethermost regions of hell. How much of all this
a medieval audience believed is somewhat beside the point. People of those
days were certainly pleased with such tales, and being entertained were not
unduly skeptical. Also, one of the fondest beliefs of the nobility was being
catered to: blood will tell. Ancestors of a knight must of necessity have
been brave and strong, qualities due to be possessed also by his relatives
and descendants. Worth noticing is the explanation seemingly given in all
seriousness for Eustace of Boulogne's failure to measure up to the worldly
success of his brothers Godfrey and Baldwin: when he was an infant, during
his mother's absence one day he had been suckled by a woman of low standing.
 The ascription of a supernatural origin to Godfrey's family may perhaps
be accounted for by many a nobleman's desire that his lineage should not
be traced back to the common people. It is worth remembering that the Lusignans,
who ruled over Cyprus and Jerusalem, claimed to be descended from the fairy
Melusine. The legend of the 

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