Horse

"This knight he served as he had done the other."

Horse

CreaturesBackground Essay Author: Kara L. McShane
Horses are humanized in the bestiary tradition: "they grieve when conquered, they rejoice when they win" (156), traits that come to the Bestiary tradition via Isidore's writings (158n84).  They are praised for their loyalty to their masters, and some, like Alexander the Great's horse Bucephalus, are said to accept no rider other than their masters (157).  This close association between horses and humans recurs throughout medieval Arthuriana.
 
Knights and horses are, unsurprisingly, associated quite strongly.  In Malory, Lamorak expresses this most succinctly when he encounters his brothers having been unhorsed: "'Bretherne, ye ought to be ashamed to falle so of your horsis! What is a knyght but whan he is on horsebacke?'" (2.667).  A knight is not a knight, Lamorak suggests, when he is not riding his horse.  In the Vulgate Cycle's Lancelot, the Lady of the Lake explains to Lancelot why knights ride horses as follows: "know, too, that in the beginning, according to the Scriptures, no one but knights dared to mount a horse – a cheval, as they said – and that is why they were called horsemen, or chevaliers" (2.59).  The horse is said to signify the common people, who like the horse must bear the knight up (2.60).  The quote emphasizes the centrality of horses to many tales of the Arthurian tradition, particularly their importance to knightly behavior.  In the many encounters and battles between knights in medieval Arthuriana, knights on horseback often will not fight knights on foot because it is considered discourteous; horses, then, are a mark of equality between knights, and unhorsing a knight...

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