Gawain (pronounced /ˈɡɔːwɪn/ or /ɡəˈweɪn/; also called Gwalchmei, Gawan, Gawaine, Gavan, Gavin, Gauvain, Walewein, Waweyn, etc.) is King Arthur's nephew and a Knight of the Round Table who appears very early in the Arthurian legend's development. He is one of a select number of Round Table members to be referred to as the greatest knight, most notably in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. He is almost always portrayed as the son of Arthur's sister Morgause (or Anna) and King Lot of Orkney and Lothian, and his brothers are Agravain, Gaheris, Gareth, and Mordred. In some works he has sisters as well.
Gawain is often portrayed as a formidable but brash warrior, fiercely loyal to his king and family. He is a friend to young knights, a defender of the poor, and as "the Maidens' Knight", a defender of women as well. In some works, his strength waxes and wanes with the sun; in the most common form of this motif, his might triples by noon, but fades as the sun sets. His knowledge of herbs makes him a great healer, and he is credited with at least three children: Florence, Lovell, and Gingalain, the last of which is also called Libeaus Desconus or Le Bel Inconnu, the Fair Unknown. In later Welsh Arthurian literature, Gawain is considered synonymous with the native champion Gwalchmei. Gawain appears in English, French and Celtic literature as well as in Italy where he appears in the architecture of the north portal in the cathedral of Modena, constructed in 1184.
It has been generally assumed that the name Gawain is derived from the Welsh Gwalchmei ap Gwyar. However, the medievalist Roger Sherman Loomis suggests a derivation from the epithet Gwallt Avwyn, found in the list of heroes in Culhwch and Olwen, which he translates as "hair like reins" or "bright hair". Loomis' etymology has not gained wide acceptance among modern Arthurian scholars, however. An alternate etymology, proposed by the Dutch scholar Lauran Toorians, would derive the name Gawain not from the Middle Welsh Gwalchmei, but rather from the medieval Dutch name Walewein (attested in Flanders and Northern France c. 1100 AD). Toorians suggests that the name entered Britain during the large settlement of Flemings in Wales in the early 12th century.
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