- An English metrical romance found in the Thornton MS., written shortly before the middle of the fifteenth century; to judge by the language the romance in its extant form cannot be much older than the date of transcription.
The opening incidents are similar to those in Crestien and the Welsh Peredur, but with this difference: in all three the hero's first adventure after reaching Arthur's court is to slay a knight who had offered grievous insult either to Arthur or to his queen; in Crestien and in the Welsh tale little stress is laid upon this incident, but in the English romance it supplies the backbone of the story (in Wolfram, too, the incident is more emphasised than in Crestien). This knight, known as the Red Knight, had slain Percyvelle's father and been foredoomed to perish at the hands of the avenging son; moreover, he has a witch mother who, later, encounters the hero and is slain by him, and he has persecuted with his enmity Percyvelle's uncle and cousins. The remainder of the story is taken up by an incident corresponding to Perceval's deliverance of Blanchefleur in Crestien, and to Percyvelle's rejoining his mother, who, thinking he was dead, had lost her senses. He ultimately goes to the Holy Land and there dies.
The English romance contains nothing corresponding to the visits to the first uncle (Gonemans) or to the Fisher King, and makes no mention of the Grail or of any other talisman. It is a simple and straightforward version of a widely-spread tale of a son's vengeance upon his father's slayers. But for the final touch of the hero's going to the Holy Land there is 110 suggestion of religious colouring.
Before discussing the statements made by the continuations of Crestien respecting the origin and nature of the Grail and other talismans beheld by the hero at the Fisher King's castle, it is advisable to sum up the evidence on this point already laid before the reader. One French version (Crestien) speaks of a sword, a bleeding lance, and a Grail (a vessel); another (if Wolfram's poem be regarded as representing a lost French original) of sword and lance and Grail (a stone); the Welsh tale mentions a bleeding lance and a head in a salver; the English romance is silent concerning any talisman. In three versions (Conte del Graal, Wolfram, and Peredur), the talismans are in some way connected with a hero's restoration to health of a kinsman. From Crestien we can only surmise how or why this happens, but learn from one of his continuators (Manessier) that it is an effect of successful vengeance; this is also the case in Peredur, whilst in Sir Percyvelle there is also an injury avenged. In Wolfram, on the other hand, the idea of vengeance is absent; the injured kinsman, suffering from the effects of his own sin, is relieved when the hero rises to such a height of spiritual insight as enables him to understand and sympathise with the sin-caused suffering. In the Welsh story alone, is the machinery by which the vengeance is effected (talismans and transformed kinsman), used in a reasonable and intelligible way. We further note that the scene of all these versions is laid in Britain, and that the personages are almost exclusively British, the exceptions being found in Wolfram, where they are mostly Angevin or Breton.
We may now turn to the accounts concerning the nature and origin of the Grail and other talismans to be found in the Conte del Graal. There are several, differing in detail, but agreeing substantially, that the Grail is the dish (of the Last Supper) in which Joseph of Arimathea caught the blood of the Saviour as He hung upon the Cross, and the lance the one wherewith Christ's body was pierced. Joseph was cast into prison, miraculously delivered, and, exiled in company with the sister of Nicodemus (Veronica), who had an image of the Lord, passed into Britain, the promised land, with a large following. When short of food Joseph prayed for the Grail in which had been gathered the holy blood; it was sent, and the company had bread and wine and meat in plenty. After Joseph's death the Grail passed into the keeping of his kin, from whom both Perceval's father and the Fisher King were descended. In another account Joseph is sustained whilst in captivity by the Grail; when released he has adventures with a heathen king, Evelach, and his brother-in-law, Seraphe, whom he converts and re-names Mordrains and Nasciens. Yet another account duplicates Joseph's captivity after his arrival in England, and the Fisher King is duplicated by Evelach-Mordrains, wounded for presumption in approaching too near the Grail, and miraculously kept alive to be healed by the best of all knights of Joseph's kin.
These various accounts are found in what are plainly the latest portions
of the vast compilation known as the Conte del Graal, and in several
cases their disagreement with the context stamps them as interpolations.
Two elements thus seem to be present, a definitely Christian and a possibly non-Christian one, and although the Christian element in one form appears late and secondary, yet in some shape or other it is present in the very oldest versions of the story as a whole.
One thing we could safely postulate, namely, that the distinctively Christian
element traceable in the Conte del Graal must exist somewhere else
in a more coherent and rational form. In effect, two versions of such
a form exist: a prose romance, known as the Grand St. Graal, of
unknown authorship, and a metrical trilogy, due to a certain Robert de
Borron, of which only the first two portions, Joseph of Arimathea
and Merlin, are extant.
Quelle: The Legends of The Holy Grail, Alfred Nutt, London 1902, S. 17ff