Perceval, the Story of the GrailEdit

Perceval, the Story of the Grail (French: Perceval, le Conte du Graal) is the unfinished fifth romance of Chrétien de Troyes. Likely written between 1181 and 1191, it is dedicated to Chrétien's patron Philip, Count of Flanders.[1] During the time Chretien wrote Perceval, there was a political crisis between the aristocracy, which included his patron, Phillipe de Flandre, and the monarchy, which might have influenced Chretien’s work.[2]

Chrétien claimed to be working from a source given to him by Philip. The poem relates the adventures and development of the young knight Perceval, while giving equal focus to the adventures of Sir Gawain. It is one of Chrétien's more ambitions works, as there are some 9,000 lines in total, whereas his other romances seldom exceed 7,000 lines.

Later authors added 54,000 more lines in subsequent continuations.[3] Perceval is the earliest recorded account of what was to become the Quest for the Holy Grail[4] but describes only "a" golden grail (a serving dish) in the central scene and does not call it "holy." In fact, the bleeding lance that appears at the same time, is treated with equal regard.

==Plot Summary==
The poem opens with Perceval, whose mother has raised him apart from civilization in the forests of Wales. One day as he plays in the forests, he encounters a band of knights serving under King Arthur, and he soon aspires to become one. Despite his mother's objections, Perceval insists on following the newly-discovered lifestyle. She immediately falls to the ground as she is seeing him off.

Perceval soon encounters a tent he believes to be a chapel. Upon entering it, he finds a sleeping maiden, and decides to try the lessons he learned about knights from his mother. He takes her ring and kisses her, both against the maiden's will. He helps himself to the food and drink before leaving. Shortly after, the lover returns to learn about what happens, and sinks into a jealous rage, vowing revenge.

The boy gets directions to King Arthur's court, and passes the Red Knight, who demands that Arthur surrender both his domain and rank. Perceval finally reaches the court and finds King Arthur lost in thought. Sir Kay sarcastically tells Perceval that the Red Knight's armor is his to earn. While Perceval leaves, he meets a laughing maiden, which prophesied to him that he will become the greatest of all knights. Kay, in his frustration, slaps the maiden, and after Perceval defeats the Red Knight, he promises to avenge her.

Perceval finds a castle and meets the gentleman living in it, the experienced Gornemant of Gohort. He trains under him, learning amongst other things when to use a sword and proper form whilst jousting. He stays the night and leaves to find out about the fate of his mother. Perceval reaches the town of Belrepeire and meets the niece of gorneman, Blancheflor. Her town is under siege by Anguingueron under orders of Clamadeu de Isles, and is running low on rations. Perceval fights both Anguingueron and Caladeu in combat, and sends both to King Arthur's court. Perceval leaves Belrepeire assuring Blancheflor he will return once he finds his mother.

He comes across the Fisher King, who invites him to stay at his castle. While eating dinner, he witnesses a procession in which young men and women carry magnificent objects from one chamber to another. First appears a young man carrying a bleeding lance (potentially the Holy Lance), and then two boys carrying candelabra. Finally, a beautiful young girl emerges bearing an elaborately decorated graal, or "grail", passes before him. Perceval, who had been warned against talking too much, remains silent through all of this and wakes up the next morning alone. Confused, he leaves the castle. A short distance away, he encounters a weeping maiden. She is revealed to be his cousin and scolds him for not asking about the grail and lance the previous night.

Perceval follows the trail pointed at by his cousin, and is challenged by the Proud Knight of the Moor, which is the lover to the maiden found at the beginning of the text. He is defeated and sent to King Arthur. The king decides that he must find Perceval to show appreciation for his hard work, and leaves at once. Perceval is led to King Arthur's camp by Gawain after defeating Sagramore and Sir Kay (thus fulfilling his vow). While Perceval is at the camp, a demoiselle appears and scolds Perceval for not asking about the grail and spear. The knights present begin to take vows to win praise, and Perceval vows to learn who takes from the grail and why the spear bleeds. Sir Gawain is accused of treason by Guinganbresil and must fight in Escavalon to clear his name.

The story changes focus from Perceval to Sir Gawain at this point. Gawain is traveling to his destination until he comes across a band of knights that asks him to support Tiebaut of Tintagel in a tournament against Meliant de Lis. Gawain does not take part in the tournament to prevent injury, cognizant of the challenges that lie ahead against Guinganbresil. After the "maiden with little sleeves" insists he fight in her name, Gawain competes the next day and unhorses Meliant de Lis. He continues his journey the next morning and finds a large hunting party. The leader invites him to Escavalon to meet his sister. When word gets out that he is in the castle, the peasantry storm and undermine the tower the knight and the sister are in. Guinganbresil, with the help of the king of Escavalon, ends the invasion and they discuss how to handle the challenge Guinganbresil gave to him. They decide to have Gawain hunt for the bleeding lance for one year.

The tale once again focuses onto Perceval, who has spent five years exploring and has forgotten his religion. Finding they have repented for their sins, Perceval begins to weep and leaves to find the hermit. When the knight finds him, he imparts information and religious knowledge. Most importantly, he tells the young knight that the one who takes from the grail is the Fisher King's father. The hermit is revealed to be his uncle, and forgives his sins. This is the last Perceval is mentioned in the remainder of the text.

Gawain becomes the focus again as he notices a maiden lying under an oak tree caring for a wounded knight. Gawain leaves to cross the border and finds a second maiden. She announces that she will follow Gawain until evil befalls him. The wounded knight, Greoreas, is given some hedgerow picked by Gawain to recover. Greoreas soon steals his warhorse, Guinganbresil. Greoreas rides off, leaving him to ride a stolen nag to a port town. He defeats a nephew of Greoreas at the town and reclaims Guinganbresil. After this, the maiden leaves.

He learns from a Boatman about a test of purity in a distant castle, and insists on accepting the challenge. After entering it, they find a bed with wheels in the middle of the room. Gawain sits on the bed and immediately a cacophony of bells ring. Arrows and crossbow bolts rain upon Gawain, and a lion barges into the room. Since Gawain survived the challenge, the residents of the castle appear and bestow upon him the right to rule. As he is gazing upon his land the next morning, he spies the wicked maiden with a knight. Gawain and the Boatman depart to speak to her again.

Gawain defeats the knight accompanying the maiden and is challenged by her to cross the Perilous Ford. He succeeds, and rides on a trot to a knight he sees close by. Unfortunately for Sir Gawain, he announces his hatred for him, and after he learns Gawain's identity, demands a battle in a week in front of King Arthur's Pentecost court at Orkney. Gawain returns to his new castle and sends a messenger to King Arthur about the challenge. Meanwhile at the court, the king faints due to worrying over Gawain's absence, and the text ends as people are responding to it.

==The Continuations==
Over the following 50 years four different poets took up the challenge left by Chrétien and continued the adventures of Perceval and Gawain.[1][2]

===First Continuation===
The First Continuation added 9,500 to 19,600 lines (depending on the manuscripts) to the romance.[1] It was once attributed to Wauchier de Danain, and is occasionally called the Pseudo-Wauchier Continuation for that reason. It exists in a short, a mixed, and a long version; the short was the earliest and the most loosely linked to Chrétien's work, while the mixed is considered to be the latest, drawing on both earlier versions. Roger Sherman Loomis believed that the short version, which was added to an existing Perceval manuscript ten or twenty years later, represents a version of the story that was originally independent of Chrétien's.[3]

The continuation picks up the narrative of Gawain's adventures where Chrétien left off: his mother and grandmother are reunited with Arthur and Gawain's sister Clarissant marries Guiromelant. In the long version, Gawain opposes the marriage and rides off in anger, reaching the Grail Castle. After further adventures he rejoins Arthur (and the long version rejoins the short) and helps him besiege a rebel's castle.

The First Continuation has a cavalier approach to the narrative agenda set by Chrétien. In particular it includes a seemingly independent romance, which in the long version spans over 6000 lines: The Livre de Caradoc, starring Arthur's knight Caradoc, explains how the hero got his nickname "Briefbras", or "Short Arm".[4] All versions of the First Continuation describe Gawain's visit to a Grail castle quite unlike Chrétien's, a vividly imagined scene that introduces the motif of a broken sword that can only be mended by the hero destined to heal the Fisher King and his lands. Gawain is not this hero and fails. The final episode recounts the misadventures of Gawain's brother Guerrehet (Gaheris or Gareth) who is humiliated by a dwarf knight before avenging himself and a mysteriously murdered stranger. In the closing scene he returns to court asleep on a swan boat.

===Second Continuation===
Shortly after the First Continuation was completed, another author added 13,000 lines to the total.[1] This section was also attributed to Wauchier de Danain, and may represent his work. Making extensive use of motifs and themes drawn from Chrétien and the First Continuator, this continuation has Perceval returning to the Grail Castle and repairing the sword of Trebuchet. A hairline fissure that remains in the blade symbolizes his still-flawed psyche, and the narrative's potential for further development.

===Gerbert's Continuation===
Gerbert's Continuation added 17,000 lines.[1] The author, usually considered to be Gerbert de Montreuil, composed his version independently of Manessier, and probably around the same time. He tries to tie up loose ends left by Chrétien and the others, and the influence of Robert de Boron's work can be felt. Gerbert includes a complete Tristan episode into his narrative that exists nowhere else. Gerbert's Continuation seems not to have enjoyed great popularity; it survives in only two manuscripts, one of which is heavily damaged, as an interpolation between the Second and Manessier Continuations. It is likely Gerbert wrote an ending for the story, but it has been excised from both surviving copies to facilitate its position between the two other continuations.

===Manessier's Continuation===
Manessier's Continuation added 10,000 lines and, at last, an ending.[1] Manessier wrapped up many of the loose ends from the previous authors, and includes several episodes from other works, including the "Joie de la Cour" adventure from Chrétien's Erec and Enide[5] and Calogrenant's death as told in the Queste del Saint Graal section of the Lancelot-Grail cycle.[6] The tale ends with the Fisher King's death and Perceval's ascension to his throne. After seven peaceful years, Perceval leaves to live as a hermit, and dies shortly after. Manessier supposes he took the Grail, the Lance, and the silver plate with him to Heaven.

Main article: Perlesvaus
Perlesvaus, written by an unknown author, does not follow the common themes seen in other continuations. For example, Perceval fails to fulfill his destiny by not asking the Fisher King, and is not focused on from that point onwards in favor of focus on Sir Gawain and Sir Lancelot. Despite it having many deviations from the texts surrounding it, it provided several major contributions to Arthurian legend as a whole, ranging from the Questing Beast, Kay's murder of Loholt, and Brian of the Isles.


Major CharactersEdit

Perceval-One of the protagonists of the story. Perceval's family history is built upon knighthood, though each have faced defeat. His family wealth was lost after the death of Uther Pendragon and maiming of his father. He leaves home after meeting a band of knights, and encounters a maiden in a tent, The Red Knight, Gornemant of Gohort, Anguingueron, Clamadeu, The Fisher King, The Proud Knight of the Moor, King Arthur, and his hermit uncle.

King Arthur-King Arthur is the son of Uther Pendragon and Queen Igraine, and is introduced in this text as a distressed king after being offended by The Red Knight. Arthur is the uncle of Sir Gawain, the work's second protagonist. After gaining three defeated knights (Clamadeu de Isles, Anguingueron, and the Proud Knight of the Moor), he decides he must find Perceval to show his appreciation and leaves Carlion.

Sir Kay-The seneschal to King Arthur. He is described as handsome, but speaks rudely to others throughout the text. After he told Perceval to take the armor of The Red Knight, he slaps the Laughing Maiden, an action Perceval vows to avenge the slap given. Through much of the beginning, Perceval sends defeated knights to Arthur to remind Sir Kay of this vow. Sir Kay is the second knight to charge at Perceval as he contemplates the blood on the snow, and receives a broken collarbone when Perceval lashes back.

The Fisher King-A king wounded in the thighs. Because he cannot hunt or do many other activities, he is brought to a river to fish. The King brings in the lance and grail many times to Perceval, in what is revealed later as an attempt to recover from his injury, should Perceval have asked about the lance and grail. The King is Perceval's second uncle on his mother's side, and his father (Perceval's grandfather) takes from the grail.

Sir Gawain-Though not present when Perceval first appears in King Arthur's court, Sir Gawain becomes a second protagonist in the text. Sir Kay notes that Gawain's gentle language helps him through conflicts and he doesn't necessarily need to use combat. Gawain announces he will save the maiden at Montesclaire, but is soon after accused of the murder of Guinganbresil's lord and has to clear his name. In a decision meant to resolve the accusation, he is sent to look for the bleeding spear by the King of Escavalon. He is a nephew to Arthur, brother to Agravian the Proud, son to the second queen of The Rock of Canguin, and uncle to Clarissant. His main squire is Yvonet.

Minor CharactersEdit

The Laughing Maiden-Handmaiden to the Queen and has not laughed in six years. As foretold by the jester in the court of King Arthur, she will not laugh again until until she sees the best knight in all the land. She finally laughs upon seeing Perceval, and Sir Kay's frustration causes him to slap her.
Maiden of Belrepeire-Niece to the nobleman, Gornemant of Gohort, whom gave Perceval support. Her town Belrepeire is under siege by Anguingueron and later attacked by Clamadeu of the Isles. Possibly named Blancheflor.

Guinganbresil-Enters King Arthur's court and greets all but Gawain. He claims Gawain killed his lord unfairly, and challenges Gawain to clear his name. Reappears in Escavalon and, with Gawain, arranges a resolution for the treason charges.
Sir Tiebaut of Tintagel-Challenged by Meliant de Lis to a tournament. Tiebaut was originally friends of Meliant's father, and after the death of his father, Meliant was sent to live with him. His daughter is loved by Meliant, but she refuses to marry a squire and demands he fight for her in a tournament. Gawain allies with him in the tournament.

The Maid with Little Sleeves-younger daughter of Tiebaut. Slapped and offended by her older sister after an argument comparing Gawain and Meliant de Lis. Gives Gawain a sleeve to wear in the tournament.

King of Escavalon-Handsomest Knight seen in a hunting party. He invites Gawain to stay at Escavalon and meet his sister that later becomes enamored with Sir Gawain. After the attack on the tower by the people of Escavalon, he decides to defend Gawain. Advised by a wise old man on how to deal with Guinganbresil's challenge to Gawain. Perhaps coincidentally, one of Perceval's brothers served under the previous King of Escavalon.

The Hermit-Perceval's uncle. He is described as a very religious character; he reunites and instructs Perceval about his religion after five years of paying no attention to it. The Hermit is brother to both Perceval's mother and The Fisher King.

Greoreas-Discovered to be badly beaten and begs to have confession with a nearby chaplain before he dies. He is given an herb to restore his strength. Asks Gawain to steal the horse of an approaching squire, and help his love mount her horse. As Gawain is distracted, he takes his horse out of revenge for being punished for the rape of a maiden. It is uncertain if the woman he is with is the same maiden. Later sends his nephew on the stolen horse to kill Gawain.
Queen Ygerne-One of the two queens of The Rock of Canguin. After the death of Uther Pendragon, she brought money to make the manor and live in the country. Also brought a lady she cares about, the second queen. It is later revealed that she is indeed King Arthur's mother.

Gawain's Mother-The second queen of The Rock of Canguin. She is called both daughter and queen by those in the castle. Her identity as Gawain's mother and marriage to the late King Lot is later mentioned. Clarissant is her daughter.

The Proud Woman of the Nogres-Has a reputation of causing evil to befall all she follows. She decides to follow Gawain until something unfortunate happens to him. Works with the Proud Knight of the Passage with the Narrow Way after desperately escaping Guiromelant's affection.

Guiromelant-Found on other side of the Perilous Ford. He loved the evil maiden, but she loved someone else. Guiromelant killed the companion she had to win her, though she still would not care for him. Owns the town Orqueneseles and considers Clarissant his love. He expresses hatred for Sir Gawain because the father of Gawain, King Lot, killed his father and a cousin of his. Challenges Gawain to combat during King Arthur's Pentecost court for vengeance.

==Perceval's Influence==

Though Chrétien did not complete his romance, it provided a strong impact on both Arthurian Literature and literature in general. Perceval contributed to the notion of the grail, as well as future iterations that made the grail "Holy." The grail in Perceval contained the power to sustain the life of Perceval's uncle for years purely on the consumption of [[[eucharistic host]]], potentially influencing the grail's future "Holy" status.[7]Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival, is based directly on Chrétien's poem.[8] When comparing Wolfram's Parzival to Chretien's Perceval, one may notice that Chretien focuses on knighthood with religious implications while Wolfram primarily focuses on knighthood. [9]Another text inspired by [Perceval] the Welsh Peredur, son of Efrawg, one of the Three Welsh Romances associated with the Mabinogion.[10][11] In 1978, French filmmaker Éric Rohmer directed an adaptation titled Perceval le Gallois. T. S. Eliot cited the story of Percival, particularly the scene depicting his encounter with the Fisher King, in his poem The Waste Land.

==Critical Responses==

There is a broad topic range that writers may cover when discussing Perceval, the Story of the Grail.

In a brief article by Roy Bennett Pace, he analyzes a particular scene in Perceval and questions the origins of the translations.[12]He notes that only Chrétien's edition of the text mentions explicit details, and subsequent translations in Welsh and German lack the small details Chrétien adds. These additions being in each translation aside from the French is the core of his argument, and Pace ends with the assertion that the French text "can not be the 'original' from which the other writers drew."

Arthur C.L. Brown's article contests the notion that Chrétien's intentionally made the grail holy within his text.[13] Brown argues that the grail itself is not associated with mass until Perceval is speaking with his uncle. Focusing further on this scene, he notices the word "oiste" written twice, and is certain it is the latin word "hostia." He expresses doubt about the word and believes both that it is the result of a translator that was predisposed to associating the grail with holiness, and that assocations were not made by Chrétien himself. Brown reinforces his argument with mention of a 1530 copy of the prose, which has mention of the grail as "worthy," not "holy."

The article History Revenged: Monty Python Translates Chrétien De Troyes's Perceval, or the Story of the Grail (Again) by Murrell is a comparison of the ideas shared between Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Perceval, the Story of the Grail. [14]Murrell states that both works were written during cultural upheval and narrate the learning process. It is superior to even translations, as Monty Python's version "articulates and demonstrates so adeptly the problems of communicating white navigating the multiplicity of discourses" and is "more accessible" as a result. Ideas in the works themselves parallel, since King Arthur himself is not an unquestioned authority and both cut off abruptly at the end.

Additional ResourcesEdit

A side-by-side English-French translation of two sections of Perceval, the section where Perceval sees the Grail and the story of the Bed of Marvels, can be found here in ebook friendly format:File:FinishedArthurProject.pdf


  1. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named NAEcontinuations
  2. English translations of the Continuations can be found in Bryant, Perceval, the Story of the Grail, 1996.
  3. Loomis, Roger Sherman (1991). The Grail: From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol, ch. VI. Princeton. ISBN 0-691-02075-2. [1]
  4. Arthur, Ross Gilbert (translator) (1996). Caradoc. In Three Arthurian Romances: Poems from Medieval France: Caradoc, the Knight With the Sword, the Perilous Graveyard. New York: Everyman's Library. ISBN 0-460-87577-9.
  5. Owen, Arthurian Romances.
  6. The scene in question appears in Lacy, Lancelot-Grail, Volume 4, p. 61.
  7. Ramm, Ben. A Discourse for the Holy Grail in Old French Romance Ed. Sarah Kay. New York: D.S. Brewer, 2007 (pp. 4-7 and 110-121)
  8. Wolfram claims his source is not Chrétien but an otherwise unknown Provençal poet named Kyot; this is not accepted by the majority of scholars. See Hatto, A. T. (1980). "Introduction to a Second Reading." In Wolfram von Eschenbach; Hatto, A. T. (translator), Parzival. New York: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-044361-4.
  9. Groos, Arthur. Romancing the Grail: Genre, Science, and Quest in Wolfram's "Parzival." New York: Cornell University, 1995.
  10. Roberts, Brynly F. (1991). "Peredur". In Norris J. Lacy, The New Arthurian Encyclopedia, pp. 357–358. New York: Garland. ISBN 0-8240-4377-4.
  11. Gantz, The Mabinogion.
  12. *Pace, Roy B. "The Death of the Red Knight in the Story of Perceval". Modern Language Notes. (January 1916) 31.1 pp. 53-55.
  13. Brown, Arthur C.L. "Did Chrétien Identify the Grail with the Mass?" Modern Language Notes. (April 1926) 41.4 pp. 226-233
  14. Murrell, Elizabeth "History Revenged: Monty Python Translates Chrétien De Troyes's Perceval, or the Story of the Grail (Again)". Journal of Film and Video. (Spring 1998) 50.1 pp. 50-62.

*Arthur, Ross Gilbert (translator) (1996). "Three Arthurian Romances: Poems from Medieval France: Caradoc, the Knight With the Sword, the Perilous Graveyard". New York: Everyman's Library. ISBN 0-460-87577-9.
*Chrétien de Troyes; Bryant, Nigel (translator) (1996). "Perceval, the Story of the Grail". Cambridge: D. S. Brewer. ISBN 0-85991-224-8. [2]
*Chrétien de Troyes; Owen, D. D. R. (translator) (1988). "Arthurian Romances". New York: Everyman's Library. ISBN 0-460-87389-X.
*Gantz, Jeffrey (translator) (1987). "The Mabinogion". New York: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-044322-3.
*Lacy, Norris J. (Ed.) (April 1, 1995). "Lancelot-Grail: The Old French Arthurian Vulgate and Post-Vulgate in Translation", Volume 4 of 5. New York: Garland. ISBN 0-8153-0748-9.
*Lacy, Norris J. (Ed.) (1991). "The New Arthurian Encyclopedia". New York: Garland. ISBN 0-8240-4377-4.
*Wolfram von Eschenbach; Hatto, A. T. (translator) (1980). "Parzival". New York: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-044361-4.

  • Pace, Roy B. "The Death of the Red Knight in the Story of Perceval". Modern Language Notes. (January 1916) 31.1 pp. 53-55.
  • Brown, Arthur C.L. "Did Chrétien Identify the Grail with the Mass?" Modern Language Notes. (April 1926) 41.4 pp. 226-233.
  • Murrell, Elizabeth "History Revenged: Monty Python Translates Chrétien De Troyes's Perceval, or the Story of the Grail (Again)". Journal of Film and Video. (Spring 1998) 50.1 pp. 50-62.

==External links==
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de:Li Contes del Graal
es:Perceval o el cuento del Grial
eu:Pertzeval, Grialaren ipuina
fr:Perceval ou le Conte du Graal
gl:Perceval ou le Conte du Graal
is:Perceval eða Sagan um gralinn
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no:Gralsfortellingen (Chrétien de Troyes)
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