Maugis Fighting the Saracen Noiron in Aigremont
Background Information on the Story of Maugis:
The story of Maugis begins with The Four Sons of Aymon, a tale surrounding the adventures of Duke Aymon's children. This includes the protagonist Renaud de Montauban, a valient knight, along with his brothers, Guichard, Allard, and Richardet.
As King of Pierlepont, the tale begins with Duke's disatifcation with his liege Lord, Charles. Duke had assisted him in many battles and deemed himself worthy of far greater gratitude than what Charles had bestowed upon him. Duke determines that he will revolt against Charlemagne if his desires are not met. Thus, Charles gifts him his own weight in gold, and the King's sister, Aye. Duke holds on to his resentment and decides that any kin born from Aye is unworthy, and will perish under his hands. However, Aye has already birthed four boys, whom Duke eventually meets and decides they are capable and strong. He particularly is fond of Renaud for his size and demeanor. The Duke's horse, Bayard, is then given to Renaud. He is not of a typical stallion's build; he is magical, galloping over entire valleys, and large enough to hold all the brother's on his back while doing so.
Renaud and his siblings are presented to Charles's court where they encounter his son, Louis. Renaud ultimately kills Louis resulting in their flee. They find their magical cousin, Maugis, who is able to help conceal their presence. He constructs them a castle, and gifts the Froberge, a sword, to Renaud for protection. After engaging in another victourious battle together, Charlemagne is persuaded to make amends with the brothers with word from Roland. Charlemagne concludes that to pardon them of their revolting actions, Renaud must be sent to fight in the Crusade, and the horse given up.
Background Information on the Term Saracen:
The term, Saracen, comes from European decent and characterizes the entirety of Middle Eastern individuals. Though some Saracens were applauded for their military capabilities by the Romans, they were still classified as barbarian individuals. Despite the various regions were Muslims resided, all were thought to be dark-skinned, regardless of actual physical appearance.
Once the crusades began, the term was deemed to be more derogatory than descriptive. Any admiration the Saracens had prior was stripped. Franks, the Muslim term for Europeans, applied a similar ideology.
The Chansons de Geste, The Saracen Noiron, and Maugis D'Aigremont:
In Maugis d’Aigremont, a french song from the 1400’s the following events occur; a number of sorcerers filled with a Christian parti pris and a concern for a symmetrical architecture gives birth to a sorcerer among the pagans, he was a hideous Saracen giant; who also excelled in magic. In the Chansons de Geste (Songs of Heroic Deeds) it is not unusual to find a Christian knight engaging a pagan giant in a duel. When Maugis and Noiron confront each other the beliefs of a Christian knight's power over a pagan giant is sustained; but new challenges and abilities are added to the duel when the two are conceived as practitioners of magic. While the battle scene is typical to that of the time, a much wider range of counter attacks and tricks is made possible by the extraordinary powers of duelists (Smart 115). The giant shoots arrows at the Christian’s that are enchanted and guided by a devil. These are meant to hit their target; being associated with the devil gives them more accuracy. This is because his magic is seen as dark and powerful.
After shooting the Noiron uses a charm to force the gates of Aigremont open to which Maugis counter attacks with an enchantment. This differs from Noiron's practices because this is not reality. His enchantment will have no lasting effect on anyone whereas Noiron’s are forever. The giant (Noiron) is aggressive and the feats he performs are considered to be “situated in reality” (Smart 116). His arrows and the fallen gate allowed the attacking army to penetrate Agiremont. Whereas the Christian sorcerer only uses these powers as a last resort. William Henry Smart, author of Sorcery and Sorcerers In The Old French Epic, states “A distortion of visual images makes the enemy believe a high tower has been thrown before them. It is primarily on the human level that Maugis desires to achieve a victory over invading troops. The illusory tower is created through magic in order to allow the gate of Agiremont to be replaced. In this way the enemy invasion is curbed and the pagans already inside the city are encircled. Although magic could expedite a rout of the enemy, it is not deemed, according to the epic values, the most honorable way to save Aigremont. The fact Maugis does not unleash the complete reserve of his skills cannot be construed as the superiority of his adversary in magic” (Smart, 120). This demonstrates how Maugis in this battle was meant to be seen as a knight rather than a magician. A knight would have the skill of combat and the ability to choose when to use powerful forces; these abilities and seemingly clever strategies provoke rage in the giant. The giant Noiron, because of his skin color and magical abilities that are linked to the devil, is seen as a monster. So any of his magical spells are seen as detrimental to Aigremont.
After the Noiron’s enchantment passes, Maugis continues the duel of magic tricks with a similar, but superior enchantment his former master Baudri had taught him. This spell causes extreme pain to the giant and pagans fighting with him. Smart writes, “their wailing and gnashing of teeth evoke the scene of fiery perdition which awaits “le renoiez”. Although the consuming fire is but a figment of their imagination, this does not attenuate the pain with which they feel themselves afflicted. During the course of the enchantment Maugis takes advantage of the pagans’ stupor to inflict on Noiron a more grievous blow, cutting off the giant’s left arm. After some more brutal fighting and the instigation from Maugis, the sorcerer Noiron shifts the role that his sorcery played in the battle, “It has been noted that magic is generally not considered in the chansons de geste (song of heroic deeds) as a lethal weapon; however, Noiron’s frequent recourse to enchantments as an auxiliary to his crimes provides Maugis with justification for obtaining revenge through magic” (Smart 135). The nature of Noiron’s magic, a form of black magic, becomes more manifest, for the sorcerer calls on the devils with whom he has commerce with. However Maugis has a talisman (ring on his ear) that prevents harm from coming to him by the devils. The devils do not leave without causing chaos in their path, including the death of a number of pagans who are crushed by a falling tower.
At this point in battle we see a clear follow through in the theme of Christian knights being more powerful than pagan giants as the Noiron is wounded and on the brink of death. The Noiron casts an enchantment on Maugis to make him believe a serpent spewing forth fire attacks him. This attack stops as it is an enchantment and Maugis is left unharmed and in his Christian faith believes that he was saved by God. This shows how his power is connected not with the devil but of greater forces. Smart writes, “While the pagan is considered to be expert in the practice of sorcery and receives support from the devil, his Christian counterpart’s art is shown as superior: Maugis commands an excellent repertory of enchantments and, thanks to God’s help, he emerges victorious from the duel of magic. Dealing with the coup de grace, Maugis launches his opponent from a catapult to an ignominious death in Vivien’s camp” (Smart 137). Now that the Noiron has been defeated the song turns to the battle between the two’s supporters' to create a resolution. But for Maugis the resolution is another duel; he is not satisfied having just defeated the Noiron. He must continue on his knightly path, this time a battle will ensue between him and the Saracen leader Vivien.
Description of the Illustration:
In this painting from the late 1460’s we see two sorcerers, the giant Saracen Noiron and Christian knight Maugis, come face to face at Aigremont, they battle each other with a variety of spells and enchantments. After this, a physical combat ensues where Maugis gains the upper hand and draws blood from the giant. The exact moment in this illustration by David Aubert is when Maugis is about to chop off the Noiron's left arm. The giant could have died at this point but instead Noiron uses magic to create an enchantment. This, like the enchantment from Maugis, will not leave real harm to any of the warriors. Maugis and his supporters believe themselves in danger of drowning and falling on all fours, they attempt to save themselves. The “enfantosme” created by Noiron places the Christians in a posture which facilitates the pagans’ task (Smart 130). We do not see this ending in this illustration but this image is a part of a series from the Old French Epic (Smart). There is a common understanding at the time of Christian knights power over pagan giants. But the power that the Saracen Noiron and Maugis have as sorcerers makes this battle more challenging than others of the same kind. The others in the image watching the stabbing of the Noiron are fellow Christian knights of Aigremont. As one looks at the painting in the background we can see the fallen knights who the Saracen Noiron killed with arrows.
Connections to Other Texts:
The Song of Roland refers to the Muslim army that attacks Charlemagne’s Christian army as the Saracens of Spain. In the midst of the battle, there is a detailed fight between Saracen Abisme and the archbishop. Abisme is described as, “a man of evil charater and many crimes” who loves treason and murder (31). Abisme is racially described as, “black as molten pitch” (31). In contrast, the archbishop's horse is described on the other end of the color spectrum with a white tail and yellow mane. The archbishop defeats Abisme with a single swing of his sword.
The Song of Roland deems Ethiopia an “accursed land” (39). “The black people” are racially described as having, “big noses and wide ears” (39). The Ethiopian people are referred to as, “the accursed people who are blacker than ink and have no white about them except their teeth” (39).
The King of Tars charaterizes the Sultan of Damascus as Saracen with a dark complexion. Similar to the Muslium figures in the Song of Roland and the image of Magus Fighting Saracen, the Sultan is known for his great success on the battle field. The Sultan is likened to a “Pagan hound”, “wild boar” and “lion” (93-105). These animalistic terms are meant to dehumanism the Sultan and explain his ability to defeat Christian armys. Medival texts often refer to Islam as Paganism, showing the lack of understand that existed between the groups.
The relevance of skin color to the medival understanding of race becomes obvious when the Sultan’s skin tone changes as proof of his conversion to Christianity. “His skin, which was black and ugly, became completely white, by the grace of God” (928-930). Whiteness is associated with Christianity, light, and salvation, while blackness is associated with Islam, violence, and sinfulness.
Annonymous. “Global Medieval Sourcebook.” The King of Tars | Global Medieval Sourcebook, The Global Medieval Sourcebook, https://sourcebook.stanford.edu/text/king-tars.
Crosland, Jessie. The Song of Roland - York University. York University, https://www.yorku.ca/inpar/roland_crosland.pdf.
Smart, William Henry. Sorcery and Socerers in the old French Epic. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 1973. Pages 115-143.
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Cassandra Chabot, Ronan Lambert, Melanie Mowbray, and Danielle Heine