Palamedes (Arthurian legend)

Palamedes /pæləˈmdz/ (also called Palomides /pæləˈmdz/, or some other variant) is a Knight of the Round Table in the Arthurian legend. He is a Saracen pagan who converts to Christianity later in his life, and his unrequited love for Iseult brings him into frequent conflict with Tristan. Palamedes' father is King Esclabor. His brothers, Safir and Segwarides, also join the Round Table.

In medieval stories

Palamedes first appears in the Prose Tristan, an early 13th-century prose expansion of the Tristan and Iseult legend. He is introduced as a knight fighting for Princess Iseult's hand at a tournament in Ireland; he ultimately loses to Tristan, to the delight of the princess. Tristan spares him but forbids him to bear arms for a year or to pursue Iseult's love ever again. After Iseult's wedding to King Mark, Palamedes rescues Iseult's servant Brangaine, joins the Round Table and engages in a number of duels with Tristan that are usually postponed or end without a clear winner. They eventually reconcile, but share a love-hate relationship through the rest of the narrative.

Palamedes also appears in the Post-Vulgate Cycle, Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, and even gave his name to his own prose romance, the early 13th-century Palamedes. The Palamedes exists in fragments and as part of the vast Compilation of Rusticiano da Pisa, and details the adventures of two generations of Arthurian heroes.

Some stories reveal Palamedes' background: his father was a king of Babylon who is sent to Rome where he saves the life of the Emperor. He then travels to Britain where he rescues and befriends King Pellinore.

Many tales also have Palamedes as the hunter of the Questing Beast, an abomination only the chosen can kill. The hunt is as frustrating and fruitless as the pursuit of Iseult, and in most versions remains uncompleted. However, in the Post-Vulgate Palamedes' conversion to Christianity during the Grail Quest allows him release from his worldly entanglements, and Percival and Galahad help him trap the beast in a lake, where he finally slays it.

Malory has Palamedes and his brother Safir joining Lancelot after the great knight's affair with Queen Guinevere is exposed; the brothers eventually accompany Lancelot to France, where Palamedes is made Duke of Provence. According to the Post-Vulgate, Gawain, once a friend to Palamedes, was obliged to kill him after the Grail Quest because Palamedes had killed King Mark, who, it was said, had killed Tristan; King Mark was provoked by the sinister Mordred to kill Tristan with Palamedes' spear.[2]


  1. Pastoureau, Michel (2009). L'Art de l'héraldique au Moyen Âge (in French). Paris: éditions du Seuil. p. 199. ISBN 978-2-02-098984-8.
  2. Palamedes in Medieval Literature p. 390
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