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Robert de Borron: Joseph of Arimathea, Merlin.

- Borron's poem is dedicated to a Walter, Count of Montbéliard, a famous Crusader, who became Regent of Cyprus and Constable of Jerusalem; he died in 1212, and is not likely to have been in a position to act as patron before 1170, so that these dates may be taken as limits for the writing of Borron's romances.

Christ's Passion is described, and how Joseph, having obtained the Lord's body, washes it and collects the blood in a vessel. In their anger the Jews cast him into a prison, where he is visited by Christ, who gives him the precious vessel containing His holiest blood and confides secret words to him: Joseph is to yield the vessel to three persons only, who are to take it in the name of the Trinity; he is further instructed concerning the Sacrament and how he is to celebrate it. Years pass and Joseph remains in prison until released by Vespasian. He then converts many, among them his sister Enygeus and her husband Brons (or Hebron). Sorrow falls upon the Christian community through indulgence in carnal sin. Joseph kneels before the vessel, weeps, and asks wherefor his people suffer. He is bidden prepare a table in memory of the one whereat Christ ate the Last Supper. At that table an empty seat is to be left, which may not be filled until a son is born to Brons and Enygeus; a sinner who attempts to occupy it is swallowed by the earth; a divine voice then tells Joseph that not Brons' son but his grandson shall fill the seat. Brons is to catch a fish and place it on the table by the vessel; by this means the sinners are detected, and the vessel is called "Graal," as being agreeable to those who behold it. In time Brons and Enygeus have twelve sons; Joseph, praying before the vessel; announces that eleven will marry and one, Alain, remain single. But almost immediately Joseph is bidden tell Alain all about the vessel, and how from him there shall issue an heir who is to keep it; Alain is to lead his brethren westwards. This he does. Another of the company, Petrus is also commanded by the voice to go to the Vale of Avaron. Joseph is further told that Brons is to keep the vessel after his (Joseph's) death, and is bidden instruct him in the Holy Words God spake in the prison. Brons is to be known as the Rich Fisher, from the fish he caught; he is to wait for his son's son and to give him the vessel when the meaning of the Blessed Trinity shall be known. After seeing Brons put in possession of Grail and headship Petrus departs, followed after three days by Brons, Joseph remaining in the land in which he was born.

The Merlin follows immediately, in substantial agreement with the other Merlin romances up to Arthur's withdrawal of the sword from the anvil, where the author stops, with the remark that he can no longer speak of Arthur until he has told of Alain, son of Brons, what manner of man he was, of his kin, and of how the woes of Britain were caused.

It should be noted that Borron's poem, in the Joseph portion at least, is obviously abridged, and, possibly, altered in parts by a maladroit editor. What gives colour to this surmise is that, in addition to the original metrical form, there exist several prose versions, in which occur a number of interpolations designed to bring the text into conformity with later developments of the legend. Some such process may already have begun before the poem was turned into prose, and to it may be due discrepancies such as that Alain, vowed to celibacy in one line is married almost in the next, or that now Brons' son, now his grandson, is to achieve the venture of the empty seat, and, presumably, to be the Grail-keeper, or that, apparently, two different accounts of the Grail's arrival in Britain, in the one case in Alain's, in the other in Brons' guardianship, have been confused. It is, however, possible that these discrepancies are due to Borron himself, and are the result of an unskilful contamination of two forms of the legend.

In spite of these discrepancies, it is noteworthy that, with the exception of Wolfram's Parzival, Borron's poem is the only work of the cycle which is not only animated by a Christian symbolic conception (as are several other romances), but which carries out that conception in an intelligible manner by means of the incidents of the story. This conception may be briefly summarised as follows : Sin, the cause of want among the people ; separation of pure and impure by means of the fish (symbol of Christ) ; punishment of the self-willed false disciple ; reward of Brons by charge of the Grail; symbolising of the Trinity by the three tables and the three Grail-keepers.

In view of the skill with which the conception is worked out, it seems more reasonable to attribute the above noted discrepancies to the existence of an earlier form of the legend in which there were only two Grail-keepers, father and son, or uncle and nephew, traces of which have persisted in Borron's version.

Quelle: The Legends of The Holy Grail, Alfred Nutt, London 1902, S. 23ff