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The Holy Grail: The History of a Legend

3.8  ·  Rating Details ·  85 Ratings  ·  12 Reviews
The Holy Grail is an image familiar to us all as an almost unattainable, infinitely desirable goal. The idea has passed into everyday speech and the legends behind it are as current in today's culture as they have ever been. And yet the Grail has no real religious meaning and is nowhere mentioned in the Bible. What is the truth behind this elusive symbol? Here, Barber trac ...more
Paperback, 480 pages
Published December 2nd 2004 by Penguin (first published January 1st 2004)
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Regina Doman
Jul 13, 2016 Regina Doman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Holy Grail is a myth. It never existed, except in the imagination of a medieval storyteller named Chrétien de Troyes who wrote a romance on it, which he never finished. Tantalized by the unfinished masterpiece, many other writers tried their hand at finishing the tale, and the story became a phenomenon and passed into the consciousness of Western culture. The Holy Grail is an icon of the Catholic imagination, a seamless blend of faith with adventure, and an excellent demonstration of what po ...more
Jun 12, 2011 Nikki rated it liked it
This study of grail stories by Richard Barber is reasonably good as a quick overview, covering grail stories most people haven't heard of (e.g. a reference to The Crown: A Tale of Sir Gawein and King Arthur's Court), but it's also a bit lacking, and sometimes just plain wrong. I fondly recall pointing out his errors on the subject of The Crown in my Arthurian lit essay (mind you, I disagreed with most of the scholars whose work I got my hands on, regarding that poem).

It's easy to read, as well,
This book is more of an examination of how the grail has been perceived through the ages than anything else. The original medieval poem involved Percival and the Fisher King and was mostly about Percival's quest to behave in a "correct" knightly manner. The poem was then extended to become an allegory for the Mass whose true meaning and mystery were hotly debated at the time. The grail then became an object of mystery used as a symbol by the Rosecrucians and Freemasons. And finally a symbol for ...more
Steve Mitchell
Jul 25, 2011 Steve Mitchell rated it really liked it
A very interesting book that covers literature, philosophy, history, religion and so many other aspects of the Holy Grail without every really patronising the reader or launching into a language or style that becomes difficult to follow. If you have read Holy Blood, Holy Grail (I haven't) or The Da Vinci Code (I have) then this book is an essential to put you right about some important facts.
Frank Terry
Aug 20, 2015 Frank Terry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
You know, this is a hell of a book. Richard Barber's scholarship is very much top notch here. This is a super, super thorough study on the history and development of the Holy Grail. It's really refreshing to see a scholar interact with and admit the importance of the Occult in the Western Intellectual Tradition from a skeptic's perspective.

The first third of the book details and fleshes out the original French and German poems that introduce us to the Grail, the middle shows its evolution throug
Mary Overton
P.M. Matarasso, translator of THE QUEST OF THE HOLY GRAIL, Penguin, 2005, writes this about Richard Barber's incredibly erudite romp through Grail history:
"The book which serves as the best introduction and most reliable guide to the Grail myth in literature and literary consciousness from the twelfth century to the present day is Richard Barber's THE HOLY GRAIL: IMAGINATION AND BELIEF, Penguin, London, 2004. After giving full weight to the spectrum of medieval texts, it follows the Grail as sym
Maria Aenlle
Oct 26, 2011 Maria Aenlle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think this was an informative and enlightening book. I have heard so much about The Holy Grail and never actually read about it. The book provided much detail on the literature that started talking about The Grail and the different views on how the story and/or myth developed. In the end it seems that many interpretations could be given. It probably started with the Celts, or with the Knights at the beginning or christianity. The Grail may be the cup that held the blood of Christ. The book als ...more
Christopher Sutch
This is an adequate sourcebook for a history of literary and cultural grail sources, and Barber is at his best when he is discussing these. When he turns to debunking later cultural grail lore, he comes off as a bit pretentious and self-righteous (and some of his literary tastes on display in his discussion of modern grail sources are trite).
Joe Paulk
Mar 31, 2008 Joe Paulk rated it liked it
Shelves: good-history
This is a good reference for those interested in Grail legends, however, the author left me wanting a bit more. He would also delve into legends in great detail when it wasn't warranted, yet would stop short when more information would have helpful.
Apr 13, 2015 Stephen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating look at the place of the Holy Grail in literature and culture, from Chretien de Troyes and the earliest romances through modern takes (yes, including Monty Python)
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Richard William Barber (born 1941) is a prominent British historian who has been writing and publishing in the field of medieval history and literature ever since his student days. He has specialised in the Arthurian legend, beginning with a general survey, Arthur of Albion, in 1961, which is still in print in a revised edition. His other major interest is historical biography; he has published on ...more
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