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Sir Percyvelle.

- 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.

In asking ourselves if these statements faithfully represent that description of the Grail and allied talismans, which we must assume to have been in Crestien's source and which he would have reproduced had he finished his poem, we cannot fail to note the grave and essential discrepancies between the different portions of the legend taken as a whole. Why, if the Grail talismans are of such surpassing sanctity, is the use to which they are put so apparently profane? Did Christ send forth Holy Vessel and lance to Britain merely that Perceval might heal his kinsman arid succeed him in his kingship, or Gauvain restore a waste land to fertility, or that the dwellers in the Grail Castle might feed on the fat of the land? Again, is it not significant that the very portion of the Conte del Graal (Manessier's), which dwells most lengthily upon the sacred Christian nature of the talismans, is also that which pictures Perceval's conduct in as distinctly non-Christian a light as in the Peredur or Sir Percyvelle? And how, if the whole story started from the sacred nature of the talismans, hallowed by their association with the Passion, came the Welsh and English romances to discard these sacred associations, to omit the most sacred of the precious objects, and to substitute a story of blood feud and vengeance unmarked by any trace of spiritual, let alone specifically Christian, feeling? Finally, why does the one version, Wolfram's, which is animated by deep and lofty spiritual feeling, not represent the Grail as the receptacle of Christ's blood?

These questions suggest the answer that the Christian legendary statements about the Grail talismans are really secondary, and intended to explain the importance attached to them in the story of their quest. But before accepting this answer as correct we must note that Christian symbolism of some sort is involved in all the quest stories. Thus alike in Crestien, Wolfram, and the Peredur is found the Good Friday incident: the hero having wandered long and far and lost count of days and seasons, is met on Good Friday by a knight who rebukes him for riding armed on such a day, and bids him to confession and absolution. In Wolfram, too, the machinery by which the miraculous virtue of the Grail is sustained is distinctively Christian and connected with Good Friday.

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