Chretien de Troyes is an early French romantic writing, who wrote the first known story about the Holy Grail. De Troyes lived in the Champagne region of France during the latter twelfth century. Peripherally attached to courts including that of the famous Eleanor of Acquitaine, de Troyes stories of the Arthurian legends provides a foundation for almost all future Arthurian stories.
Chretien's major works include four poems included in this collection: Erec and Enide, Cliges, The Knight of the Cart (Lancelot), and The Knight of the Lion (Yvain). For Grail seekers, the story of most interest will be the unfinished Perceval: The Story of the Grail. Although the tale exists in finished form (in fact, several variations of finished forms), de Troyes in fact only wrote the first 9000 lines of the approximately 32,000 line text. (De Troyes also was embellished or supplemented by later additions to the tale of Lancelot, perhaps because de Troyes did not want to include an adulterous affair).
The story of Erec and Enide is a love story between one of Arthur's knights, Erec, who while out with Guinevere encounters a mean-spirited knight Yder; Erec's pursuit of Yder leads to his meeting Enide, and the two have a stormy relationship (by medieval romantic standards) but ultimately are able to reconcile their love and relationship with public duty.
The story of Cliges is one of tricky and forbidden relationships. Cliges, a native of Greece, falls in love with Fenice, his uncle's wife (Cliges' uncle happens to be the emperor). Their love is discovered, but with the aid of King Arthur, their relationship continues in Cliges' home country of Greece.
Lancelot's story is one of the oldest ideas from the Arthurian legends - the rescue of Guinevere when she is taken captive. This could be done in a chaste and honourable way, but the tale of Arthur has both virtuous and dark elements. Even though this story comes from much older antecedents, de Troyes telling (with the possible additions by a later writer) became the standard Lancelot-Guinevere tale, being the principal one incorporated into Mallory's Le Morte d'Arthur.
The story of Yvain is one of romantic questing - Yvain is gone so long on his knightly quests that his wife refuses him to return home. However, with the aid of mystical powers (the lion is an otherworldly creature that symbolises knightly virtue - C.S. Lewis will develop similar symbolic material much later) he returns to his wife after going mad with despair at being barred from her.
Perceval's story is that of the classic search for the Grail, which is also considered now a standard part of Arthurian legend - however, it is not clear that de Troyes was working from earlier stories here.
William Kibler provides notes, an introductory essay, and an essay tracing the history of revisions and continuations to the Grail story. This is fascinating reading, and a must for anyone interested in the Arthurian legends.