Goodreads: Amis and Amiloun
Published: Thirteenth century
In this medieval romance, two knights (unrelated but very similar in appearance) swear a troth plight to be true to each other in wrong or right. The ethicalness of this oath comes into question when Amiloun agrees to fight as Amis in a trial by combat—where Amis is clearly in the wrong and deserves to lose. As a result of his decision, Amiloun is struck with leprosy, but is this a punishment from God or simply a trial he is willing to endure for his love of Amis? And is there anything Amis can do to repay him?
The critical discussion of Amis and Amiloun tends to focus on the idea of “trewthe” (modern “truth,” with connotations of loyalty, nobleness, virtue, etc.). This is understandable as the two protagonists swear an oath of exactly the nature that would have troubled medieval moral thinkers, and which continues to trouble readers today: Amis and Amiloun are such good friends that they promise to support each other in any cause, regardless of whether that cause is right. The question scholars have, then, is whether the story condones this. Are Amis and Amiloun rewarded for such a strict definition of “trewthe?” Should we be happy about the way the tale plays out for them?
I think this question is interesting, as Amis and Amiloun go through a lot of trials that made their oath seem questionable, and yet everything does seem to wrap up with a happy ending. I also think there’s absolutely no way to get around the fact that, yes, this romance is interested in troth plights and questions of “trewthe.” But since people don’t generally engage in troth plights these days, I think the next pressing question is whether this romance would be interesting to someone who doesn’t already have some type of academic (or just happily nerdy) interest in the Middle Ages. Can the story be compelling to someone who is never going to be in this situation?
I would say yes. Amis and Amiloun isn’t quite the “knight off on adventures in the wild” story that many readers associate with medieval romances, but it certainly has a lot going on, and will appeal to readers who like plots that are routinely shaken up. There’s a hint of court intrigue, a romance with a beautiful woman, a trial by combat, a saint-like section as Amiloun deals with his leprosy, and more. There’s an evil wife, and a faithful servant, and a deceptive steward. There’s everything one could want from a medieval story, besides the questing through foreign lands bit.
I also think the moral complexity is interesting even if the reader will never have to think about troth plights in their own live. The modern day parallel questions are perhaps: Should I support my friend even when I know they did something wrong? Should I help them lie? Should I help them avoid a punishment I know they deserve? How far would I be willing to go to help a friend? Amis and Amiloun nicely shows these questions aren’t new, and they never really had easy answers.
Amis and Amiloun isn’t the first romance I would recommend to convince someone that reading medieval literature can actually be fun, as well as quite approachable in translation. (I did recommend Silence for that, though Silence is longer and therefore more of a commitment.) However, Amis and Amiloun is a good story and touches on a lot of topics that interested medieval readers and should still appeal to readers today.