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Perceval: The Story of the Grail, with the Continuations
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Arthurian > Some comments on Perceval: The Story of the Grail (Nigel Bryant Translation)

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the knight, who asked him: ‘Have you seen five knights and three young ladies pass this way today?’
But the boy had other news to seek and questions of his own to ask: he reached for the knight’s lance and, taking hold, said: ‘My good, dear sir, who call yourself knight; what’s this thing you’re holding?’
‘I see I’m to have fine guidance here!’ the knight said. ‘I’d thought to learn some news from you, my friend, but you want some from me! And I’ll tell you: this is my lance.’

Reminds me of Apollo looking for his stolen cattle.

The lance-worship thing is … kind of phallic.

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they knew very well that if the knights had told him of their life and ways, then he would want to be a knight; and his mother then would lose her mind, for they had been trying to keep him from ever seeing knights or learning anything of their business.
like sleeping beauty and the spindle!

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Dear son, I want to give you some advice which you’d do well to heed; if you remember it, it’ll be much to your benefit. You’ll soon be a knight, my son, I do believe, if it be God’s will. If you encounter, near or far, a lady in need of help, or any girl in distress, be ready to aid them if they ask you to, for all honour lies in such deeds. When a man fails to honour ladies, his own honour is surely dead. Serve ladies and girls and you’ll be honoured everywhere. But if you should desire the love of any, take care that you don’t annoy her by doing anything to displease her. And a maid who kisses gives much; so if she consents to kiss you, I forbid you to take more: for love of me, leave with the kiss. But if she has a ring on her finger or a purse at her waist, and for love or through your pleas she should give it to you, then I’m happy that you should take her ring; yes, I give you leave to take the ring and purse. Dear son, I’ve something more to say to you: on the road, or in lodging, share no-one’s company for long without asking him his name; for know this, in short: the name he has reveals the man. Speak with worthy men, dear son, and seek their company; for a worthy man never gives false counsel. Above all I beg you to go to minster and to church, to pray to Our Lord to give you honour in this world and grant that you so lead your life that you may come to a good end.’
‘Mother,’ he said, ‘what’s a church?’
‘My son, it’s where one pays service to God, who made heaven and earth and set the men and women here.’
‘And what’s a minster?’
‘Just this, my son: a beautiful and holy house where sacred relics and treasures are kept, and where we sacrifice the body of Jesus Christ, the holy prophet who was treated so wickedly by the Jews.

This is medieval Forest Gump.

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I'm so conflicted. I hate both Perceval for sexually assaulting and robbing the girl, and her boyfriend for threatening to give her the Circe-Shame-Shame treatment for failing to defend herself from his assault.

Also -- the Red Knight! Perhaps an acquaintance of the one Gareth defeated?

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The "education" - and modification - of Perceval really reminds me of Pygmalion.

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Whoa! Those geese!

a flock of wild geese, dazzled by the snow, came flying overhead. He saw and heard them as they fled, honking wildly, from a falcon that swooped after them like a flash, until it found one of them alone, cut off from the flock, and swept down and struck the bird so hard that it sent it plummeting to the ground; but it was very early in the morning, and the falcon flew off, not wanting to attack or assail it. Perceval spurred on to where he had seen the goose fall. It was wounded in the neck, and it bled three drops of blood which spilled on to the whiteness of the snow; it looked like a natural colouring. The goose was not hurt badly enough to keep it grounded until Perceval arrived, and it had already flown away. When Perceval saw the crushed snow where the goose had lain, and the blood spilled around it, he leaned on his lance to gaze at the vision; for the blood and snow together resembled for him the fresh hues of his beloved’s face, and he became quite lost in the thought that in her face the red was blended with the white like those three drops of blood in the whiteness of the snow. He was so enraptured as he gazed that he thought he could see the fresh colour of his fair love’s face.

He proceeds to get *so* lost in staring at the goose blood, he ignored the King's summon and fought of knights (including the foul-mouthed Sir Kay!) in order to keep staring at the blood.

Are there established allegorical interpretations for this?

Penelope's tears over the dead geese in her dream is probably the most cited evidence of her disloyalty to Odysseus -- if her husband returns to kill the geese that are eating his wheat, and she cries over their dead body, then she must secretly desire to remarry. The most credible argument against this is to say that the geese eating her grains do not stand for the suitors, and she is actually mourning for the loss of ... of whatever those geese stand for in dreams.

So what's up with these geese-visions?

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Seems crazy to mr that knights would fight to settle little children’s quarrels.

Anyway, Gawain’s guest-manner seems kind of Homeric

My name is Gawain, sir. I’ve never hidden my name wherever it’s been asked of me, but neither have I given it without first being asked.

At least the no naming till asked part seems in line with etiquette in Odysseus’s travel.

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One wonders if the author also thinks that. He seems to like making women out to be manipulative

There’s no good in a woman: a woman’s not a woman if she despises evil and loves good – it would be wrong to call her a woman then: she loses that name if she loves only good! But you’re a woman, I can see that; for the man sitting beside you killed your father, and you kiss him! When a woman’s got her pleasure she cares nothing for the rest!’

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Maybe he’s a Hesiod fan.

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At that the worthy man gave a sigh, for he recognised the name,
and said: ‘Brother, a sin of which you know nothing has done you great harm: it’s the grief you caused your mother when you left her. She fell to the ground in a faint at the foot of the bridge outside the gate, and she died of that grief. It was because of the sin you committed there that you came to ask nothing about the lance and the grail, and many misfortunes have befallen you because of that. And I tell you this: you wouldn’t have survived this long if she hadn’t commended you to God

... so this is Perceval’s version of trip to Hades.

I wonder what’s worse, being told by your own dead mother’s ghost that your desertion killed her, or being told by a wise third party the same thing.

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but listen now: if pity has taken hold of your soul, repent in all truthfulness, and each morning, before you go anywhere else, go in the name of penitence to church and you’ll benefit greatly: don’t fail to do so on any account. If you’re in a place where there’s a minster, a chapel or a parish church, go there when you hear the bell ring, or sooner if you’re awake; it won’t be to your disadvantage but very much to your soul’s improvement.

Whoa, not long after publishing the Wasteland, Eliot supposed did that. From rejecting religion, to considering Indic religion, to daily unfailing devotion. Maybe he was imitating Perceval?

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More catechism like q&a

And tell me now: as you sat beside him, did you see the lance whose point bleeds, though it has neither flesh nor veins?’ ‘Did I see it? Yes, in faith!’ ‘And did you ask why it bled?’ ‘God help me, I didn’t say a word.’ ‘Then I tell you, you’ve done great wrong. And did you see the grail?’ ‘I saw it clearly.’ ‘Who was holding it?’ ‘A girl.’ ‘Where did she come from?’ ‘From a chamber.’ ‘And where did she go?’ ‘Into another chamber.’ ‘Did anyone go ahead of the grail?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Who?’ ‘Two boys, that’s all.’ ‘What were they holding in their hands?’ ‘Candlesticks full of candles.’ ‘And who came after the grail?’ ‘Another girl.’ ‘What was she holding?’ ‘A little silver trencher.’ ‘Did you ask them where they were going?’ ‘Not a word crossed my lips.’ ‘God help me, so much the worse. What’s your name, friend?’ And the boy, who did not know his name, guessed and said that his name was Perceval the Welshman, not knowing if it were true or not. But it was true, though he did not know it. And when the girl heard this she stood up before him and said, bitterly: ‘Your name is changed, dear friend.’ ‘To what?’ ‘Perceval the wretched! Oh, luckless Perceval! How tragic that you failed to ask all this! You would have healed the good king who is crippled, and he would have regained the use of his limbs and the rule of his land – and you would have profited greatly! But know this now: many ills will beset both you and others. And know this, too: this has befallen you because of the sin against your mother, for she has died of grief on your account

Why is asking and answering so important? Is this just a ritual?

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Conclusion to the 🔔shame, 🔔shame encounter:

a Welsh boy chanced to come there. I don’t know who he was or where he went, only that he went so far as to kiss her – by force, so she told me! And if she lied, then what was to stop him doing more? And even if it was against her will, wouldn’t he then have done all he wanted? Yes! No-one would believe that he kissed her and did no more, for the one always leads to the other! If a man kisses a woman and does no more when they’re alone together, then I think it’s his decision; for a woman who yields her lips gives the rest most easily to anyone who makes the effort! And though she may defend herself, we all know, without any doubt, that a woman wants to win in all things but one: that struggle in which she grabs the man by the throat and scratches and bites and wrestles, but wants to be beaten. She struggles, but she longs for it! Too cowardly to grant it, she wants it to be taken by force, but then shows neither willingness nor thanks! That’s why I think he lay with her. And he took from her a ring of mine that she wore on her fnger, and carried it of, much to my annoyance; and before that he drank and ate his fll of strong wine and good pies that were being kept for me.

The Welsh boy kicked his ass and sent him packing to King Arthur’s court to confess

Then he told her of all the baseness and shame he had inficted upon her for so long, and the suffering she had endured, and the reason for it all: he told her everything, concealing nothing.

Two things: Chrétien writes really convincing misogynists! (Then again, the whole setup reads like male fantasy fulfillment: glory, proving self, being publicly acknowledged as worthy, good employment, loved and targeted by ladies, unexpected discovery of much higher birth status... misogyny and general degrading of the other gender to elevated the chosen male seems obligatory in that territory.)

Also... what about Perceval’s misbehavior? He forcibly sexually assaulted and robbed the helpless girl. Might makes right?

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‘You can go and tell the king that I shall never be his vassal or return to him or his land, until he comes and seeks me in a strange and distant country with three thousand knights of worth, finely dressed and equipped.’ ~Sir Gawain to Sir Kay

These knights really like to threaten to leave their King, don’t they? In another poem Kay is the one who threatens to leave as bargaining tool and wrangled some kind of blank-cheque from Arthur.

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Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments Lia wrote: "Seems crazy to me that knights would fight to settle little children’s quarrels...."

This may be a realistic touch, demonstrating the reason "courtly" manners and "courtesy" were developed as demonstrations of "upper-class" behavior. It was another way of enforcing the rules, by making excessive machismo seem uncouth.

In the real world, a typical noble (let alone royal) court was going to have a bunch of highly-trained young (and unmarried) fighting men bored almost out of their minds with the peaceful routine, with no real responsibilities, and prone to disputes within the group as well as with outsiders. Sometimes over real issues or simmering grudges, sometimes on points of status and relative prestige, but often enough, perhaps, just to relieve the monotony.

Hence also some of the attraction of the tournament, which was a dangerous form of gambling, with a chance of public recognition thrown in. For a reasonably historical example somewhat before Chretien's time, see the "Knight-Errant" section of the Wikipedia article on William Marshal, at

(I say "reasonably historical" because the main evidence comes from an "official" biography written for his family. The biographer seems honest -- he fails to tell us anything about William's time as a crusader, pleading lack of knowledge -- but he was describing transient events that took place well before he was born. It includes colorful incidents, such as that in which William's helmet was so battered and deformed in combat that it had to be removed by a blacksmith, almost costing William the prize as best knight in the tournament. I remember reading a de-contextualized account of this as a child, which left the impression that it was a common sort of thing.)

In the romances, even Gawain, generally acknowledged as both the most formidable (except for sometimes the hero-of-moment) and the most courteous (pretty much always in the early tradition) of Arthur's knights, and his favorite nephew besides, seems to demand public acknowledgement from the King and the whole court.

In the romances, Gawain's reputation usually precedes him, and makes him dangerously attractive to women, but he also seems to do well enough on his good looks and charm without giving his name. Either way, in the "Perceval" and its "Continuations" this gets him into a lot of unnecessary trouble. (And contributes to a gradual downgrading of his character, as he "takes advantage" of unguarded young ladies, ultimately leading to the hostile view in parts of "Le Morte D'Arthur.")

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Ian wrote: "Lia wrote: "Gawain's reputation usually precedes him, and makes him dangerously attractive to women, but he also seems to do well enough on his good looks and charm without giving his name..."
Ha! Sir Kay, for example, would not have that problem! (It also seems impossible to downgrade him any further.)

I was going to say Gawain seems surprisingly perfect in this book, but then I started out with the already bastardized modern version of Gawain (Ishiguro,) and then Malory. It's like you said -- they weren't so flawed in the beginning (excluding Kay! I can't stand Kay! Even in The Mabinogi!)

BTW... I just noticed this (Perceval) is included in my Penguin Arthurian Romances! I started from the beginning but found it repetitive, and the attitude about masculinity annoying, so I moved onto Stewart/ Sutcliff/ Malory.

Perceval is far more complicated and interesting (in allegory and in plot) than my initial impression. I died laughing when I realized I'm so clueless, I went out to shop for a stand-alone copy of Perceval, when I already have, and abandoned, the full set of Chrétien.

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Chrétien’s boastful prediction that his fame will last as long as Christendom

“This is the tale of Erec, son of Lac, which those who try to live by storytelling customarily mangle and corrupt before kings and counts. Now I shall begin the story that will be in memory for evermore, as long as Christendom lasts – of this does Chrétien boast.”

Sounds a lot like Ovid bragging about his own immortality as long as his poem is read

And now I have accomplished a work which neither the anger of Jupiter nor iron nor devouring old age will be able to destroy. When it will, let that day, which has power only over this body of mine, put an end to my uncertain life; yet in the better part of me I shall be borne above the lofty stars and my name shall be indestructible, and wherever the power of Rome extends over the conquered lands I shall be read by the voice of men, and through all ages, if prophets prophesy truly, I shall live in fame.

If you are imitating someone’s boast, is that homage or pride?

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Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments Lia wrote: "Perceval is far more complicated and interesting (in allegory and in plot) than my initial impression. I died laughing when I realized I'm so clueless, I went out to shop for a stand-alone copy of Perceval, when I already have, and abandoned, the full set of Chrétien...."

I assumed that you wanted a look at the Continuations on the Grail, but weren't about to spend the considerable time (and slightly more money) on Bryant's later "Complete Story of the Grail," the non-Chretien material in which amounts to a large library of early post-Chretien romances, some of them embedded in a longer story, and some having little or nothing to do with the Grail (especially in the First, or Gawain, Continuation).

(This interlacing approach was handled better in the long "Lancelot" section of the Vulgate Cycle, where the interweaving seems to have been under some control: there are signs of an editor, or perhaps a committee of writers, rather than the ad-hoc sequels of Chretien, whose authors clearly never met each other (although the Second Continuation does recognize story elements from the First, the Third and Fourth are entirely independent of each other.)

Now that I've read and digested it, Bryant's translation of "Perceval" seems to me the best prose version yet. It may have helped that Bryant at one point taught drama, and is sensitive to how things will sound when read aloud, as well as to the nuances of Old French.

(If one looks closely at the 'about the authors' pages in the Penguin "Arthurian Romances," they reveal that the "Perceval" there, along with three others, was previously published as a line-by-line translation facing the French. They seem to have been revised, but some signs of the origin may remain.)

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Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments Lia wrote: "Chrétien’s boastful prediction that his fame will last as long as Christendom .. If you are imitating someone’s boast, is that homage or pride?

I won't try to answer the question directly, since it involves more than Chretien and Ovid.

This is a not-uncommon type of boast in medieval poetry, and they may indeed have come by it from Latin poets (not just Ovid), who liked to claim their *written* works were "more lasting than bronze" (or marble, etc.). It holds the status of a rhetorical "trope," or standard figure of speech, not meant to be taken literally in many contexts. It may serve to distinguish such writing poets' works from those left to mere oral tradition, which don't get passed on faithfully (as Chretien complains).

I think that Ernst Robert Curtius went into this in his huge, and influential, "European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages," (see ), but it has been at least a decade since I last read it, and I may have found it elsewhere.

Chretien probably knew Ovid very well: he apparently wrote at least four Old French compositions based on the "Metamorphoses", only one of which survives ("Philomela"), and I don't think it has been translated into English.

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Lia | 522 comments Mod
I assumed that you wanted a look at the Continuations on the Grail, but weren't about to spend the considerable time (and slightly more money) on Bryant's later "Complete Story of the Grail," the non-Chretien material in which amounts to a large library of early post-Chretien romances,

You assumed too much forethought (prometheus!) from me, I’m flattered.

I’m pleased to know there are new materials in the Perceval book that are not included in the Penguin set. At any rate, I tried to read the Penguin again and I’m still not able to engage, whereas the Bryant book made me stay up all night to read (and now I have a sore wrist and neck). I’m glad I got it.

Are the Perceval materials included in the “Complete Story of the Grail”? I think I will want to read that eventually, it’s not in my library, if they have overlapping material I should probably try to return Perceval and order the Complete Grail instead.

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Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments Lia wrote: "Are the Perceval materials included in the “Complete Story of the Grail”? I think I will want to read that eventually, it’s not in my library, if they have overlapping material I should probably try to return Perceval and order the Complete Grail instead...."

If you are inside the returns deadline, you may want to do this, but remember that Bryant seems to have put together a "good parts" version for students, and only later gone on to package *everything* in English for serious scholars without a good reading knowledge of Old French (or without access to the critical editions which were the only other forms available.) The additional material may not live up to expectations.

Yes, the "Complete Story of the Grail" includes Chretien's Perceval -- I don't know whether the translation and notes are identical to those in the earlier, shorter, collection, or have been revised (The same with the overlapping portions of the Continuations.)

It contains the four long Continuations (including the Long Version of the First Continuation), and a couple of "preludes" which don't help explain the Grail set-up very well, plus a tacked-on Conclusion that doesn't really belong with any of the Continuations. If you check the Amazon listings, you will see that it is enormous: somewhere around 600 pages, plus or minus; they don't quite agree with each other, or with my Kindle edition, on the number of pages. Amazon gives the shipping weight of the book proper as 2.9 pounds, so it is kind of a brick -- I decided on a digital edition to spare my wrists as well as my bank account some stress.

The Kindle edition has some drawbacks -- the interface with the notes is clunky, and one has to page back a couple of blank "pages" to get to them, and then farther back to get to the beginning of the notes. It took me a little time, and a lot of frustration, to figure that out, and cross-references in the notes take you "here" instead of giving page numbers, and getting back to where you left off is awkward. I'll certainly include those problems in a review, if I write one.

(It is also available for Kobo and Nook, with slight differences in price. Barnes & Noble has hardcover and paperback editions in stock, or so they say. Amazon is kind of iffy on print copies, except from dealers.)

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Lia | 522 comments Mod
Tough decision, because my used Perceval comes from a student consignment store, I can return the book for store credit but I can't order brand new books (or ebooks) through them. I can use the credit to buy Homeric Greek though...

I searched the kobo store but don't see this title at all, I searched using title, author, ISBN 10, ISBN 13. I do have some Kobo credits, if you have a link for the kobo ebook I wouldn't mind checking it out.

That said, there are more books out there than I have time to read, and I'm loving Perceval. It might not be worth my time (and money) to go through an academic doorstop when I can be reading Stewart or Malory or Sutcliff or Mabinogi...

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Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments Lia wrote: "if you have a link for the kobo ebook I wouldn't mind checking it out.."

On my browser it came up as:

I wonder if there is an area availability issue involved, as all my searches ended by taking me to the US site, not the Canadian.

When initially re-checking for who offered it, using "Shop Kobo" on the Kobo Mac app, I asked for the title "Complete Story of the Grail," sorted by "bestseller" (which I think is default, anyway) -- not that I supposed it is a smash hit, but because I suspected that it would outsell a lot of other books with "Grail" in the title, and be higher on the list than otherwise. And there are a *lot* of books with "Grail" somewhere in the title, and, as it turned out, King Arthur and some other names popped up too. So I could have had a lot of titles to search through.

However, it came up number one in its category (rather to my surprise), the runners-up being Howard Pyle, a "summary, analysis, and guide" to Chretien's Perceval (in which I have little confidence) and, not too far down the list, Bryant's older, shorter, "Perceval," which I didn't realize was in digital form at all. (Just as well: I would have been furious if I had ordered that before realizing that "Complete" was only slightly more expensive.)

I am wondering if the relative ranking is due in part to it being somewhat recent (published 2015), and Kobo software giving it bonus points or something: I don't use Kobo often enough to have any idea of their policies on how they calculate that (cumulative absolute sales, recent absolute sales, sales relative to how long it has been on the market, etc, etc.).

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Lia | 522 comments Mod
That's so weird, maybe I'm just bad at searching (or maybe it's my VPN). Your link works and is available here.

I might go for that since I have some CAD$50 kobo credits waiting to be spent.

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Lia | 522 comments Mod
I spoke too soon. Gawain is so not perfect after all

as the lady lies beside him she gropes for her weapon in vain. Then Gawain forces her beneath him and ‘like it or not, she had to endure Sir Gawain’s sport’. She is beside herself with grief

WTF Chrétien. Is this supposed to be “corrective” justice?

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Lia | 522 comments Mod
Perceval's 5 blank years of blind fighting and sending knights to Arthur's court reminds me of Odysseus' condition on Calypso's -- the "source book" apparently says that Perceval lost his memory and no longer remembered God.

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Lia | 522 comments Mod
Why didn't Queen Ygerne (Arthur's mother) ask her son for help when she was locked up in that castle for so many years? Why wait for a random knight to show up to rescue?

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There they found an extremely handsome, white-haired nobleman sitting on a bed; he was certainly not a penitent or an ill-bred man, or a servant or a layabout: his gown alone was worth a hundred marks, and his hat was not made of straw but of rich sable covered with Alexandrine silk, and on top of the hat there was a most beautiful circle of gold, full of jaspers and sardonyx and other handsome stones, the finest that one could ever possess. His wealth was clearly very great. He was lying on the bed, leaning on his elbow; and it seemed indeed that he could have lived in great happiness, for he would have been a lord of great riches, if his body had not been maimed…

So that’s how a man’s character is evaluated — by the quality of clothes he wears.

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Lia | 522 comments Mod
Gawain falling asleep just before finding out about the secret of the Grail sounds a bit like Odysseus almost reaching Ithaca but then falling asleep and wake up to discover his crew had opened his windbag.

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Ovid was similarly iffy with sleep — he was uncertain whether his encounter with Cupid was a dream

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Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments Lia wrote: "More catechism like q&a

Why is asking and answering so important? Is this just a ritual?..."

I see I never got around to trying to answer this

You are on the right track. One of the intriguing features of Chretien's "Perceval" -- for successor-poets as well as moderns -- is exactly the way it contains ritualized activities, and "catechisms" to go with them, which suggest something profound hiding just under the surface.

As they stand, though, they amount to riddles, and riddles have a way of attracting solutions, whether they quite fit or not.

A whole lot of people have tried to follow up on them, yet Chretien's intended answer -- if he had one, since he may have had a confused source or a confusing source, and not yet made up his own mind -- remains unclear. (The usual explanation is that he was interrupted by death, but that is an inference from later comments, and gaps in the record.)

With the exception of the well-known "Chalice from the Last Supper" explanation of the Grail itself -- which flatly contradicts Chretien's text, in which the "graal" is a sort of serving dish! -- no interpretation seems to have received wide acceptance from readers or scholars.

The same can be said of the other objects, like the bleeding lance, sometimes Christian relics themselves, sometimes explained by writers elaborating on the chalice-Grail's history, or that of its guardians, as in Robert de Boron's influential version, which may have influenced the Perceval "Continuations" unless it is the other way around, and he just helped it along. (He plays a big role in this, but is not alone).

Some have suggested a connection of the objects in the procession to medieval Byzantine versions of the Mass, which, like many other explanations, depends on the understanding of the "cors" on the graal as the consecrated host from the mast, the body of Christ -- in which case its handling is profoundly unorthodox.

Jessie Weston famously connected it with the Gnostics, in which case heretical implications would not be unexpected, but her case was very speculative, to say the least.

Roger Sherman Loomis at one time agreed with those who pointed to Celtic myths about a magical feeding vessel (which fits with some of Gawain's experience of it), but that seemed to lead nowhere in particular in connection with Perceval.

He also offered the suggestion that the word "cors" in this context was not originally connected with anything Christian at all, but was a drinking horn (also "cors" in French), and someone misinterpreted the translation from Welsh or Breton. This is ingenious, but hasn't caught on, either, although it does encourage one to step away from the medieval "solutions" and reconsider the whole problem.

As to the people involved in the Grail procession, only the Fisher King/Rich Fisher seems a permanent fixture, getting various explanations, with varying numbers of relatives and associates, some of them often related also to the successful Grail knight, be it Perceval or Galahad. There is usually someone in the chamber to which the Grail passes -- if the narrative contains that detail -- but who it is differs widely.

I hope that some of this helps. If it is any consolation, I'm as puzzled as you are -- just more informed on the solutions which don't really work very well.

Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 50 comments Okay--Hello all. I've been contemplating joining this group for a while since I know most of you and you guys always talk about cool stuff, but I wasn't sure I'd have anything to add.

I know this is the wrong place, really, but another group I'm in is about to read Idylls of the King by Tennyson, which may not be on the same level as Mallory and the de Troyes, but I've wanted to read it for a long time. My question is, does anyone know of a good companion volume for this? I've never really thought any of the study guides like cliff notes were very helpful except in a very superficial way, so I wondered if there's much out there on this. I did find Essays on Lord Tennyson's Idylls of the King by Harold Littledale, but that's pretty old. Doesn't mean it doesn't still have some good information, but I wondered if anyone knows of anything else?

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Lia | 522 comments Mod
Welcome Bryan! I apologize for a disorganized and badly named group, which accidentally attracted some of the best minds on Goodreads :-) Thank you for joining us.

I'm hoping Ian will come up with something, because that's what Ian does (usually.)

I’ve been casually consulting A Companion To Arthurian Literature by Helen Fulton (Ed.), which is a collection of essays on Arthurian Literature. There are multiple essays referencing Tennyson, including Idylls of the King. Unfortunately, it's more useful in terms of contextualizing Tennyson in the vast Arthurian universe, than actual poetry analysis.

I have another book, Alfred, Lord Tennyson , by Harold Bloom, which is about Tennyson in general. It does analyze Idylls and contextualize it within the poetic/ intellectual tradition contemporary to Tennyson, but it’s not specifically about Idylls of the King. I tend to think of Bloom franchise as university level Cliff Notes, which means it’s a little more in depth, but it also seems to take it for granted that readers are already familiar with Victorian literature and Wordsworth and Fichte etc.

I will be reading Idylls with the group (Ian and I both voted in that poll, our candidates, Virgil and Chrétien, are hanging out at the bottom plotting revolt!) I’ll likely be posting quotes (and my reactions) on these essays in this group.

Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 50 comments Lia wrote: "I will be reading Idylls with the group ..."

There may be two different groups reading this at the same time--mine is Our classical Journey. I think I saw the poll you are talking about--what group was that?

Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 50 comments Oh yeah--thanks for the lead with Harold Bloom. I'll check that out.

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Lia | 522 comments Mod
That's the group Bryan! Ian voted for Lancelot, I voted for (and nominated) Aeneid. Our candidates are currently sulking at the bottom...

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Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments Lia wrote: "I'm hoping Ian will come up with something, because that's what Ian does (usually.) ..."

Not in this case.

My knowledge of Victorian literature is somewhat spotty to begin with, and it has been a very long time since I studied Tennyson, or paid much attention to the "Idylls." I no longer remember anything about the secondary literature: or even the editor of the annotated version I owned -- which I think was aimed at High School students and/or the General Reader, anyway, and mostly explained words and figures of speech.

I was disappointed to find that the distinguished "Arthurian Studies" series from Boydell & Brewer doesn't (yet) have a volume on Tennyson -- although it does have an expensive one on "The Once and Future King."

I stumbled across their site the other day -- I had vaguely known the series as the source of a couple of translations I do own, but had never seen their complete list. They have a lot of books from $100 up (which I mostly ignored when I saw them on Amazon), and a few in paperback in the $25-$35 range. There are also digital versions of some of them. Some of the titles are tempting -- there is a "Companion to Chretien" I didn't know existed. The list includes a lot of collections of articles, some of which may contain material on Tennyson, but I wouldn't count on it. See

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Lia | 522 comments Mod
Ian wrote: "the distinguished "Arthurian Studies" series from Boydell & Brewer..."

Send help! An evil druid casted a spell, I'll be trapped in the enchanted library this weekend, checking out their Boydell & Brewer collection...

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Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments Re-reading my previous posting, I realized that it sounded much more negative about Tennyson than I intended. I'm just not as fond of the "Idylls" as some other Arthurian offerings, and haven't paid all that much attention to the critical literature which might help someone struggling with Tennyson's language, or cultural assumptions, or possible contemporary allusions, or relation to sources.

Checking on myself, I was a little surprised to find that I remember some passages pretty much verbatim. I was off by one word on a passage I won't quote, lest someone find it a spoiler (I keep remembering the complaint of someone who didn't know what happened to the Titanic). Since this is after, probably, more than a decade since my last reading, I must conclude that Tennyson wrote "truly memorable" verse beyond "The Charge of the Light Brigade."

Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 50 comments Thanks for chiming in, both of you.

I don't know what to expect with Idylls actually. I don't think Tennyson gets much love these days. In my mind, I kind of put him on the same shelf as Dickens--someone very popular for their time, but more entertaining than profound, perhaps. thing I realized lately is that I really like Dickens, so who knows. I really like Charge of the Light Brigade too. So maybe Tennyson is my guy, since I don't have much patience for poetry to begin with. Everyone else seems to go into raptures over wandering lonely as a cloud, but I'm more half a league, half a league onward, into the valley of death and all that.

Anyway, I'm kind of jazzed about giving it a try. (And who in the last century has said they're excited to start reading Idylls of the King?)

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Lia | 522 comments Mod
Well said Bryan. I think people who make a living in the canon-making (and not the military / photography kind) industry have a way of polarizing and politicizing taste -- I suspect lovers of modernists are simply not allowed to openly like the Victorians. It seems to be a case of generational struggles -- we "make it new" by killing off or devaluing the old.

Ian, one day I'll figure out your dark art of extraordinary memory. (Maybe I should finish reading Frances Yates.) That said, I involuntarily memorized many lines from TS Eliot's poems and plays. They just pop into my head when I walk my dog, when I commute, when I'm alone, when I'm not alone (!) It's that involuntary mental intrusion that eventually drove me to explore Grail legends. I guess memory is a double-edged sword. (Which seems to be a Perceval lesson.)

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Lia | 522 comments Mod
About the Geese and the Blood

Perceval leaves the female world to enter the world of the male. It is only when he has rejected the female by no longer submitting to his mother’s tutelage that he is able to enter into a heterosexual love relationship with Blanchefleur. His love for her reminds him of the love of his mother – in medieval understanding, a reflection of the love of the Virgin Mary for Christ and for all sinners – and causes him to set off in search of his mother. In medieval romance, secular love both mirrors and leads to spiritual love; this is implicit in the image of the three drops of blood left in the snow by the bleeding goose. As Perceval contemplates the drops of blood, a symbol of Christ’s passion, he thinks he sees the face of his beloved Blanchefleur. This leads him, after five years in which he has forgotten God, to the hermit (who is his uncle), who will lead him to a full realization not only of human love as sacrifice, but also of the sacrificial love of Christ.
Source:Lesley Coote, The Art of Arthurian Cinema

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