Perceval's Visit to the Grail Castle

Chrétien de Troyes (died ca. 1185) was one of the most important poets writing about King Arthur and his knights. Of Chrétien's five surviving romantic Arthurian poems, the last and longest is Perceval. This unfinished work introduced the story of the Grail and a Quester, who in this version of the story is called Perceval. The story of the Grail and the Quest was soon adopted by other medieval writers. In Chrétien's romance, Perceval progresses from a naive young man, who has been brought up in rural seclusion, to a knight at Arthur's court. In the extracts quoted below, young Perceval arrives at the castle of the Fisher King where he witnesses a strange procession.

Following directions from a man who was fishing from a small boat on the river, Perceval, seeking lodgings, arrived at a splendid castle.

He was greeted by squires, who attended to his horse and escorted Perceval into the hall, where he found, sitting on a bed, a handsome nobleman with greying hair, who presented Perceval with a fine sword.

open quotesWhile they were talking of one thing and another, a boy came from a chamber clutching a white lance by the middle of the shaft, and passed between the fire and the two who were sitting on the bed. Everyone in the hall saw the white lance with its white head; and a drop of blood issued from the lance's head, and right down to the boy's hand this red drop ran. The lord's guest gazed at this marvel that appeared there that night, but restrained himself from asking how it came to be, because he remembered the advice of the nobleman who had made him a knight, who had taught and instructed him to beware of talking too much ... close quotes

Parzival (or Perceval) at the Grail Castle, by A. Spiess
Above: Parzival (or Perceval) at the Grail Castle, by A. Spiess, 1883-4.

Again, Perceval wanted to ask for an explanation, but he remembered his good manners. Food and drink then appeared, and as each course was served, the Grail was again brought through the hall and into the next chamber.

open quotesJust then two other boys appeared, and in their hands they held candlesticks of the finest gold inlaid with black enamel ... A girl who came in with the boys, fair and comely and beautifully adorned, was holding a Grail between her hands. When she entered holding the Grail, so brilliant a light appeared that the candles lost their brightness like the stars or the moon when the sun rises. After her came another girl, holding a silver trencher. The Grail, which went ahead, was made of fine, pure gold; and in it were set precious stones of many kinds, the richest and most precious in the earth or the sea: those in the Grail surpassed all other jewels, without a doubt. They passed before the bed as the lance had done and disappeared into another chamber. close quotes

open quotesBut he held his tongue more than he should have done, for as each dish was served he saw the Grail pass before him, right before his eyes, and he did not know who was served from it and he longed to know. After the meal, Perceval's host wished him good night and four squires carried him out on his bed. The lad was shown to a bed for the night. When he awoke the next morning, the castle appeared to be deserted. close quotes

Right: Perceval sees the Grail, the bleeding spear and a sword at the Grail Castle.
Perceval sees the Grail, the bleeding spear and a sword at the Grail Castle.

The short extracts quoted above were taken from the excellent English translation of the Perceval, with its Continuations, by Nigel Bryant: Perceval: the Story of the Grail, 1982, D.S. Brewer, Cambridge UK. This translation follows the text of the only complete manuscript of this romance, "fonds français 12576" of the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.

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