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Arthurian > "Pentecost" in literature

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message 1: by Lia (new)

Lia | 522 comments Mod
I'm sorry to say that "Pentecost" is just a word for me. I've encountered it again and again, in TS Eliot, in Dante, in Arthurian literature. This thread is the holding tank for fragments I'm collecting, and my thoughts, as I "shore up" against my ruins.

message 2: by Lia (last edited Jun 27, 2018 06:58AM) (new)

Lia | 522 comments Mod
Notes on Inferno Canto 19

Fire on the feet (and "anointed" feet, at that: see the next note) involves several complex references. The most important is to the descent of the Holy Spirit into the gathered apostles at Pentecost (Acts 2), in which "there appeared to them parted tongues as it were of fire, and it sat upon every one of them" (always represented pictorially as sitting on the apostles' heads). This was traditionally accounted to be the actualizing of the Church, for from the continuing presence of the Spirit derived all the authority and power of the clergy. According to the traditional Catholic doctrine of the Church, the traditional ceremony of the ordination of priests, in which the bishop placed his hands on the postulant's head and prayed for the descent of the Spirit, was a reenactment of Pentecost and assured that each ordination was ultimately continuous with it, in an unbroken chain of contact going back to the apostles, the so-called apostolic succession.

message 3: by Lia (new)

Lia | 522 comments Mod
This is a reference to Canto 19 line 90 - 96, regarding corrupt clergy. The only thing of interest to me here is that it indicates Pentecost is associated with establishing the Church:

...two moments traditionally thought of as important in establishing the Church, in addition to Pentecost: the granting of the keys to Peter (Matt. 16.1819) and the election of Matthias to take the place of Judas (Acts 1.26)

message 4: by Ian (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments A couple of hints, some of which you may already have found in standard reference books.

The name Pentecost is ultimately Greek, through Ecclesiastical Latin, into Old English pentecosten, and is quite common in American use, perhaps reflecting various (Protestant) Pentecostalist movements (I've never looked up the history on this.)

It was also in Old French, sometimes as Penthecost, which I know only because it was in a passage of Chretien de Troyes I once checked against a French text edition.

The name may have dropped out of English usage at some point, and had to be re-introduced. British English seems to prefer the Middle English equivalents of Whitsun, and Whitsuntide, so it is easy to miss references in the older literature, and in some modern writers as well. (I find to hard to imagine talking about Whitsuntidalists...)

In either case it references Acts 2:9-11, concerning the manifestation of the Holy Spirit at the foundation of the Church (with various spiritual gifts the Pentecostalists wish to receive as well: prophecy, healing, exorcism, and 'speaking in tongues,' which originally meant just speaking intelligibly in languages one had not yet learned).

The name "Pentecost" comes from it being celebrated approximately fifty days, after Easter. In its deeper history, it reflects the Jewish festival of Shavuot, or "Weeks," seven weeks (approximately 50 days, depending on where you start the count) after Passover.

In the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 23:9-14) it is (another) harvest festival, roughly timed to part of the agricultural calendar, but in Jewish tradition it is also regarded as specifically commemorating the giving of the Torah at Sinai (in Exodus), reckoned as fifty days after the first Passover.

This foundational interpretation is probably old enough to underlie Acts, which may also relate to the idea (in Exodus) that the splendor of God was then manifested to the whole of Israel. But in Christian tradition that connection seems to have been lost, and was certainly never as prominent as the connection between Passover and Easter.

(In European languages other than English, both Passover and Easter may be denominated by some derivative of the Hebrew Pesach, i.e., Pasque in French, and need to be specified. Some clumsy translators into English wind up referring to "Jewish Easter.")

message 5: by Lia (new)

Lia | 522 comments Mod
Thanks Ian. That's a good basic foundation for me to build on. And you know I wouldn't read a book when I can just ask you :') (sorry.)

I've heard of the Pentecost church (or is it a denomination?), but it never registered because my mind just processed them as "one of those extremely complicated and supremely irrelevant things that I don't need to worry about." I'm only starting to realize I probably do need to understand these traditions and rituals and events etc (to understand literature.)

message 6: by Lia (new)

Lia | 522 comments Mod
I haven’t read this yet, I just found an article that comments on “the Grail Pentecost”

Tristan’s participation in the grail quest announces some of the most radical changes to the Tristan story, and the widely differing ways in which later romances handled Tristan’s grail quest refl ect how problematic this innovation was. The grail Pentecost constitutes a pivotal moment in the Vulgate Queste del Saint Graal, the fi rst work to present it.1 Designed to develop the saintly side of the Arthurian legend, the quest shifts attention from Arthur, Lancelot, and the worldly concerns of Logres to the pseudo-Biblical, spiritual adventure of Galahad.
For a short time, the Arthurian world’s preoccupation with the chivalric and courtly gives way to a completely different preoccupation, one that presumes the highest manifestation of these two attitudes but also intends to subvert them by demonstrating that they alone are insuffi cient for success on the ‘high’ quest of the grail. The grail Pentecost serves a comparably pivotal role in the Prose Tristan. As Colette-Anne Van Coolput has so expertly argued, the inclusion of the grail quest in the Tristan in turn subverts the quest and its hero.2 The logic for making Tristan equal or superior to Lancelot is clear—in Tristan’s story he must dominate. Yet the grail quest is designed as part of Lancelot’s story, not Tristan’s. Including Tristan within the quest causes his story to function as a lens through which to see the weaknesses of the Arthurian world.

... because Tristan is essentially incompatible with grail matters, his presence at the Pentecost greatly emphasizes the paradoxes within the Arthurian ideal...

...The thirteenth-century Prose Tristan itself exists in two major versions (the shorter V.I and the longer V.II), distinguished to a great extent by whether or not they include the Vulgate Queste.3 Both place Tristan in the Pentecost scene, and Tristan departs with his Round Table fellows to seek the grail. Then V.I continues with Tristan’s worldly adventures while V.II retells most of the Queste at times verbatim but in alternation with the adventures of Tristan. This substantial difference may suggest why the later versions vary so much. For example, the early fourteenth- century Tavola Ritonda retains Tristan’s participation in the Pentecost scene and quest story, but with substantial abbreviation of quest material and frank presentation of Tristan as the focus of the chivalric adventures

Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 50 comments Lia wrote: "I've heard of the Pentecost church (or is it a denomination?), but it never registered because my mind just processed them as "one of those extremely complicated and supremely irrelevant things that I don't need to worry about."

You might be right on both counts. Pentecostal churches sometimes go under a 'non-denominational' banner because there are no such mention of denominations in the Bible--just that Christ would build his church upon this rock (Peter). Still, their belief system reflects a very literal interpretation of things promised in the Bible when a person is filled with the Holy Spirit. Here's one of the relevant passages from Mark 16: 17-18

And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

This is also the justification for some branch sects who deal with snake handling as a sign of their protection from harm when filled with the Spirit. (If you ever saw the remake of Cape Fear, with Robert DeNiro, his character of Max Cady belonged to such a sect. During his final moments, he begins speaking in tongues)

I don't know if that helps you or not. I'm sure Wikipedia goes into much further, if you are interested.

message 8: by Ian (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments Lia wrote: "Thanks Ian. That's a good basic foundation for me to build on. And you know I wouldn't read a book when I can just ask you :') (sorry.)

I've heard of the Pentecost church (or is it a denomination..."

Pentecostalism is more of a style of evangelical Protestantism than it is a denomination -- Wikipedia, which has a pretty good article, estimates there are about 700 affiliated groups, plus an unknown number of "independent" churches.

So far as I can figure out, their shared theology of inspiration available to the ordinary Christian is very modern, very Protestant, and originally very American. (Not that it hasn't attracted people in other countries, including Catholics.)

During the Middle Ages the Catholic Church often treated claims of individual inspiration from outside the clergy as heretical, and wasn't too welcoming of those inside the Church, either. The margin between heretic and saint was sometimes remarkably thin.

Pentecostalism doesn't offer that much help in understanding medieval literature, although given its Biblical foundation it might shed some light on assumptions behind the passages (in the Vulgate Cycle and Prose Tristan, and I think the ineptly-named Post-Vulgate Cycle) of the manifestation of the Grail to the whole Round Table at Pentecost.

message 9: by Ian (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments Lia wrote: "I haven’t read this yet, I just found an article that comments on “the Grail Pentecost”

Tristan’s participation in the grail quest announces some of the most radical changes to the Tristan story, ..."

I see now that you had already encountered the specifically Pentecostal appearance of the Grail in some versions of the story.

Tristan actually makes some cameo appearances in the Continuations to Chretien's Perceval, although apparently not as a participant in the quest.

At one point he helps Gawain put on his armor: at another, he is the "unknown knight" who defeats all comers at a tournament before revealing his identity.

I don't know if he shows up again: I still have about a quarter of the book to read, and haven't used Find in the Cloud Reader to locate passages later than those I've already read.

message 10: by Lia (new)

Lia | 522 comments Mod
Thank you both of you for confirming my intuition that this Pentecost thing is "extremely complicated and supremely irrelevant." I take it that I can forget modern theology and just look at Pentecost in Greco-Roman/ Medieval world and its symbolic/ allegorical / plot device value in literature.

About Perceval: I remember Tristan and the "minstrels" brawl (I suspect this is lifted straight out of Mabinogi.) But I can't remember Tristan as Gawain's squire. I'm going to need some hints. >_<

message 11: by Ian (last edited Jun 27, 2018 01:39PM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments Tristan isn't Gawain's squire -- he is just said to help him prepare for a single combat, along with a whole bunch of other knights, early in the First Continuation. The story there is about a challenge from a Sir Guiromelant: there is a multi-generational feud involved, and Gawain is getting the best possible equipment and horse from his friends.

The section is "Preparing for Battle" in Bryant's "Complete Story of the Grail," and is around real page page 87, according to my Kindle. I don't know if Bryant included this in the selections version, as it has nothing to do with the Grail.

There is a skimpy but useful article on Pentecost/Whitsunday, including the origin of the latter name, in the old Catholic Encylopedia, available several places on-line, such as

All the ones I've checked have some sort of advertising for a Catholic group or school of some sort, so it may take a little patience to get to the text you want.

message 12: by Lia (new)

Lia | 522 comments Mod
Sir Guiromelant is in the selections version, (wooing Gawain's sister but wanting to kill Gawain for killing his father, that about right? And Gawain flipped Arthur the bird for authorizing the marriage. ) I just don't remember Tristan helping dress Gawain. I could have missed it though, especially if it's not relevant to the plot.

I guess now I have a reason to buy the Complete Grail. (Or prose Tristan...)

message 13: by Ian (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments Lia wrote: "I just don't remember Tristan helping dress Gawain..."

It would be easy to forget -- or for Bryant to abridge out -- since he has no other role. The sentence does mention King Mark and Isolde as identifiers for Tristan, so we can be sure that the story, and not just the name, was known to that poet, and he wanted the character recognized.

(Sometimes Malory names knights who had stories in his sources, which he left out of his translation -- or which didn't show up in an imperfect French manuscript, although the former fits how he worked. In either case, providing long lists of Arthur's knights was a common feature.)

message 14: by Lia (last edited Jul 07, 2018 11:03AM) (new)

Lia | 522 comments Mod
Came across this review on Aristotle, on the Life-Bearing Spirit (de Spiritu): A Discussion with Plato and His Predecessors on Pneuma as the Instrumental Body of the Soul by Wolfgang Vondey

What interest does the work of Aristotle hold for a Pentecostal-charismatic readership? To ask this question at all would betray the fundamental neglect of ancient sources among this audience, often coupled with the difficulty to utilize the documents of ancient Western philosophy, to place them in the contexts of their own modern-day questions and concerns, and to assess their theological significance. This complexity is exacerbated when it comes to works of supposedly pre-scientific origin that speak to contemporary biological, physiological, psychological, cosmological, or other scientific concerns. Cutting across these problems is the contemporary quest for the notion of “spirit,” which promises to provide at least a conceptual bridge between ancient and modern, philosophical, scientific, and theological concerns. Aristotle’s treatise On the Life-Bearing Spirit (De Spiritu) speaks with vigor to this debate.
The short and at times corrupted text of De Spiritu can be a frustrating read, most importantly because Aristotle fails to provide a detailed answer to the question that opens his discourse: “The innate pneuma, how does it maintain itself and grow?” It is at this point that the text invites participation, especially from Pentecostal-charismatic scholarship. At the very least, it is time to recognize the significance of ancient Western philosophy for contemporary pneumatology. Hand in hand with this recognition should come the insight that pneuma represents a universal principle that is not an exclusively theological domain but rather a potential bridge between various existential questions and disciplines. The history of Pentecostal theology suggests that it is by nature more Aristotelian than Platonic in its pneumatology, emphasizing fire over breath, the soul over the visible body, and a productive union between soul and spirit over a distinction between ideas and their recipients. Most significant may be Aristotle’s emphasis that differences in fire are differences of more or less; the purer fire is, the more fire it is (Spir. 9, 485b17). While Pentecostals may read these words from a biblical perspective inspired by Luke-Acts, an experiential history emphasizing sanctification and power, and a theology concentrated in the image of Spirit baptism, Aristotle’s work brings to this perspective concerns about the biological, cosmological, physiological, and psychological phenomena central to all life processes that can significantly expand the Pentecostal worldview and its pneumatological orientation.

For this purpose, a reading of Aristotle’s De Spiritu alone will not suffice. Rather, it is the rich background and interpretation offered by Bos and Ferwerda that stimulate questions and discussion. Aristotle’s pneumatology presents an overarching mechanism for the epistemological and methodological approach to the order, government, and transformation of existence that holds the potential for a radically immanent explanation of the universe with little room for the divine. The theological consequences of Aristotle’s work have yet to be worked out in principle. A detailed engagement of this pneumatology in the context of Aristotle’s larger work could lead to an examination of the contrast between a Lukan emphasis on fire and a Johannine emphasis on breath, an integration of Spirit baptism in the larger biological, physiological, and mental phenomena of living organisms, a reevaluation of glossolalia beyond oral-linguistic respiratory concerns, and a concrete philosophical (or scientific) grounding of an otherwise often ethereal notion of “spirit” among Pentecostals. This discussion may finally yield an answer to Aristotle’s opening question by pursuing the origin of the life-bearing spirit in all living nature and by pressing the fundamentally Pentecostal concern for the union between the creature and the life-giving spirit.

Source: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies Pneuma 33 (2011)

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