This weekend offers the much hyped series of Grateful Dead reunion concerts in Chicago. While the band has been entertaining fans for several decades, the Grateful Dead motif has been entertaining through many mediums for centuries. One of the examples of this is in the frequent appearance of the theme in medieval romances in many European countries.
From my introduction to The Grateful Dead Tales From Around the World (SurLaLune Fairy Tale Series):
The Grateful Dead motif can also be found in several chivalric romances from the Middle Ages in various European countries. All of these romances are lengthy and the Grateful Dead motif is only one element of the stories. It is not necessary to summarize each one here for Gerold takes on that task in his monograph. Additionally, each of these romances are AT 508 (now ATU 505) in which the hero, usually a prince or knight, receives help from a Grateful Dead man in winning the hand of a princess by winning a tournament. These stories are rich with moments in which the heroes hold fast to the chivalric code of honor, morality, and loyalty, as well as battlefield ethics.
With the exception of the English Sir Amadas and the French The History of Oliver and Arthur, none of these romances are readily available in English translation. Most are available online in their original languages however.
Sir Amadas, a 13th century English romance also known as Sir Amadace, may predate all of the other romances listed here. It is a metrical poem and the original is not an easy read for the casual reader. For this reason, a modern prose retelling of the story is offered in this present volume. A few versions of the original text can be found online for those seeking the challenge of reading it.
Richars li Biaus, which translates to “Richard the Handsome”, is a 13th century French romance, one of the earliest known instances of the Grateful Dead motif in that country. It was followed by Lions de Bourges, a 14th century French romance that essentially retells the story found in Richars li Biaus with a few variations.
Novella di Messer Dianese e di Messer Gigliotto, is a 14th century Italian romance. Germany has its own version, too, in Rittertriuwe (also known as Rittertreue), a 14th century romance as well.
And that's not all of the romances. I will share a few more tomorrow, especially my favorite, The History of Oliver and Arthur. After that, I will share how these romances influenced European theatre, too. While I was researching this book, I read some of these romances and read excerpts of others. And you know what? Hollywood is missing out. They would make some fun movies, especially The History of Oliver and Arthur which would need a better title but it has plenty of fodder for a fun film.