Parzival

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Illuminated manuscript page of Parzival Parzival.Lauber.jpg
Illuminated manuscript page of Parzival

Parzival is a medieval romance by the knight-poet Wolfram von Eschenbach in Middle High German. The poem, commonly dated to the first quarter of the 13th century, centers on the Arthurian hero Parzival (Percival in English) and his long quest for the Holy Grail following his initial failure to achieve it.

Contents

Parzival begins with the knightly adventures of Parzival's father, Gahmuret, his marriage to Herzeloyde (Middle High German : herzeleide, "heart's sorrow"), and the birth of Parzival. The story continues as Parzival meets three elegant knights, decides to seek King Arthur, and continues a spiritual and physical search for the Grail. A long section is devoted to Parzival's friend Gawan and his adventures defending himself from a false murder charge and winning the hand of the maiden Orgeluse. Among the most striking elements of the work are its emphasis on the importance of humility, compassion, sympathy and the quest for spirituality. [1] A major theme in Parzival is love: heroic acts of chivalry are inspired by true love, which is ultimately fulfilled in marriage. [2]

Regarded as one of the masterpieces of the Middle Ages, the romance was the most popular vernacular verse narrative in medieval Germany, [3] and continues to be read and translated into modern languages around the world. Wolfram began a prequel, Titurel , which was later continued by another writer, while two full romances were written adapting Wolfram's story of Loherangrin. Richard Wagner based his famous opera Parsifal , finished in 1882, on Parzival.

Synopsis and structure

Parzival is divided into sixteen books, each composed of several thirty-line stanzas of rhyming couplets. The stanza lengths fit perfectly onto a manuscript page. For the subject matter Wolfram von Eschenbach largely adapted the Grail romance, Perceval, the Story of the Grail , left incomplete by Chrétien de Troyes. [4] [5] Wolfram claimed that a certain Kyot the Provençal supplied additional material drawn from Arabic and Angevin sources but most scholars now consider Kyot to be Wolfram's invention and part of the fictional narrative. [6]

Background and early life

Book I opens with the death of King Gandin, Parzival's grandfather. His oldest son, Galoes, receives the kingdom but offers his brother Gahmuret the land of Anjou in fief. However, Gahmuret departs to gain renown. He travels to the African kingdom of Zazamanc, whose capital is besieged by two different armies. Gahmuret offers his services to the city, and his offer is accepted by Queen Belacane. He conquers the invaders, marries Queen Belacane, and becomes king of Zazamanc and Azagouc. Growing bored with peace, Gahmuret steals away on a ship, abandoning his pregnant wife. Belacane later gives birth to a son, Feirefiz (whose skin is mottled black and white).

In Book II, Gahmuret returns to the West, where he meets and marries Queen Herzeloyde. Ever restless, however, he soon returns to fight for the Baruch in the Far East, where he is later killed by a treacherous acquaintance.

Book III tells of how the pregnant Herzeloyde, grief-stricken at her husband's death, retires to a secluded forest dwelling and vows to protect her new child, Parzival, from the ways of knighthood at all costs by raising him entirely ignorant of chivalry and the ways of men. His seclusion is shattered by three knights passing who tell him of King Arthur's court at Camelot. Enamored, he decides to go join Arthur's court. His mother is heartbroken at the news of his decision but allows him to depart, dressing him in fool's garments in the hopes that the knights will refuse to take him in. Soon after his departure she dies, utterly bereft.

Beginnings of knighthood

The first part of the journey takes place completely in the world of King Arthur, where the colourful and strange appearance of Parzival awakens the interest of the court. After becoming entangled in courtly intrigue between Duke Orilus and his wife Jeschute he meets his cousin Sigune who reveals to him his true name. Parzival also fights and kills Ither, the red knight of Kukumerlant. Putting on the red knight's armor he rides away from the court and meets Gurnemanz, from whom he learns the duties of a knight, especially self-control and moderation. Gurnemanz also advises him to avoid impudent curiosity.

In Book IV, Parzival meets and falls in love with Queen Condwiramurs. She has inherited her father's realm, but lost much of it to an enemy king who has besieged her town. Parzival uses his new found chivalric skills to restore her land. They marry but he leaves soon afterwards to seek news of his mother.

In Book V, he arrives at the castle of the Grail. He does not ask his host, Anfortas, about his mysterious wound, however, or about the magical objects paraded before him, remembering Gurnemanz's advice to be not too curious. The next morning Parzival finds himself completely alone in a totally deserted castle, leading him to speculate that his experiences of the previous night were an illusion conjured by malevolent spirits to snare him.

Return to Arthur's court

Parzival returns to the world of Arthur and again meets Sigune, who tells him of how he should have asked the lord of the castle a question, but does not specify. She then vows to never speak to him again. He also meets Jeschute again, who was unwittingly humiliated by him the last time, and defeats Orilus in single combat. Eventually Parzival renews the marriage of Jeschute and Orilus.

Parzival returns in Book VI as a perfect potential member of the Round Table to King Arthur. But during a festive meal, Cundrie, messenger of the Grail, appears, curses Parzival in the name of the grail and claims that Parzival had lost his honour. Parzival immediately leaves the court even though he is not able to understand his guilt.

Gawan takes over as the central figure of Books VII to VIII as he tries to clear his name of a false charge of murder.

The Grail quest

In Book IX, we learn that Parzival fights for the good but suffers from his alienation from God. After nearly five years of wandering and fighting, from combat he gains a new horse, owned by a Grail knight, and this horse leads him one Good Friday to Trevrizent to whom he introduces himself as a penitent sinner. He stays with this holy man for fourteen days and learns about the hidden meaning of life and the true meaning of the Grail, and also is informed that his mother is the sister of the Grail King. He makes a step towards a life of spiritual understanding. Through his loneliness and through his yearning for the grail and for Condwiramurs he puts himself outside the world of Arthur. He is called to another world, that of the Grail.

Books X to XIV tell of Gawan's attempts to win the hand of the maiden Orgeluse.

In Book XV, Parzival fights with a knight who is the first to seem more adept than he. Parzival's sword breaks but, instead of slaying him, the other knight sees no honor in such a feat and both retire to the grass. There they learn that they share the same father. "I was against my own self," says Parzival to Feirefiz, his brother from afar. Again Cundrie appears and proclaims now that Parzival's name has appeared on the Grail, marking him as the new Grail King.

During his journey to the Grail in Book XVI Parzival reunites with his wife and takes Feirefiz as a companion. Feirefiz cannot see the grail, but he can see the Grail maiden and promptly falls in love with her.

Scholarly debates

Some details of the romance have inspired controversy, partly because the narrative is interspersed with humorous anecdotes by Wolfram. It is not clear whether many of the claims he makes are intended to be taken as fact or as jest.

For example, in one passage he claims to be totally illiterate: whether the original poem was composed as part of an oral tradition or as a written work is a subject of debate among scholars. Wolfram also claimed that a lost Arabic manuscript by a descendant of Solomon was discovered by a certain Kyot. Although the claims of Wolfram's narrator about this source may be dubious, some critics have maintained that the knowledge about the Orient that is shown throughout the text suggests he may well have worked from at least one oriental source. [7]

Women in Parzival

The place of women in medieval German literature was in general an exalted one and Wolfram as an author reflects this by making womanhood an ideal for his characters. The characters like that of Herzeloyde, Sigune and Condwiramurs are not only intimately involved in Parzival’s search but also closely related to the Grail itself. [8]

The character of Herzeloyde, Parzival’s mother, is a virtuous woman. With a selfless devotion and the humility which is another vital attribute to the Grail King and as a descendant of the Grail family, she makes both the conscious and unconscious choice to guide Parzival on the quest to take his fated place as next in the lineage. Her advice is interpreted in the context of his finding both love and God as guidance towards better being prepared to take on the Grail. [8]

The womanly kinship of Sigune is the next guide that Parzival shall encounter. Her appearance (at three times in the tale) is essential and occurs on each occasion at a significant stage in his progress, at a point when he is in urgent need of some kind of guidance. Her first contribution is to provide Parzival his identity, an essential detail for a man that his mother was not able to impart. She directs him to Arthur’s Court, and in doing so heads him off to the quest. In their second meeting she scolds him for failing to understand the nature of his quest and goal, ultimately pushing him to the atonement needed to fully grasp his duty as Grail King. Thirdly, the last meeting of Parzival and Sigune is one of quiet recognition, her life a prayer in itself that anticipates the same state for Parzival. [8]

The last woman for Parzival is his wife, Condwiramurs. Her role lies in the “love of a devoted wife". She is interesting in that her vitality lies in what she is, rather than her specific guidance to Parzival. The time that Parzival must recognize his inability to possess her, he leaves her and does not return. Her symbolic significance allows her character to be a guide in terms of the readiness of Parzival. Ultimately, both the Grail and Condwiramurs combine to form Parzival’s goal. She spurs him on his quest, and like the Grail itself, is an inspiration and reward. In the end, her guidance is best represented by her name on the Grail as well as Parzival. [8]

Influence

Wolfram followed Parzival with the fragmentary romance Titurel , which serves as a prologue. This poem was continued by a later poet known as Albrecht. Wolfram's story of Loherangrin was expanded into two full romances, Lohengrin and Lorengel, and later German writers often referred back to Parzival in their works.

Ludwig II of Bavaria was inspired by the poem, and Singers' Hall in his castle Neuschwanstein is decorated with tapestries and paintings depicting the story. He was also patron to the composer Richard Wagner and encouraged him to create the opera Parsifal based on the romance. He then commissioned eight private performances of the work.

Adaption History

Direct Translations

There are numerous translations of Wolfram's epic from Middle High German to New High German—both in verse (especially during the 19th century) and prose. A disadvantage of the older, rhyming translations in verse form is that they inevitably deviate from both the language and meaning of the original in order to fit the form. Alternatively, prose adaptions can more precisely communicate the original meaning, but as a result omit the original linguistic power and virtuosity of the text. With this in mind, two newer versions (the prose translation by Peter Knecht and the unrhymed verse translation by Dieter Kühn) are both considered successful approximations of the meaning, style, and linguistic particularities of the original.

Literary Adaptions in German

There are three works that accurately represent adaptions of the original material in three epochs of German literature: Der Parcival (1831/1832) by Friedrich de la Motte Fouquè for Romanticism, [9] Das Spiel vomfragen / Die Reise zum Sonoren Land (1989) by Peter Handke for modernism, [10] and Der Rote Ritter (1993) by Adolf Muschg for postmodernism. [11]

Tankred Dorst adapted the material to a stage play titled Parzival which premiered in 1987 at the Thalia Theatre, Hamburg. A second adaption for the stage was created by Lukas Bärfuss and premiered in 2010 at the Schauspielhaus, Hannover.

Additionally, there are various adaptions of the original material in the form of children's books and other popular media.

Opera

Perhaps the best known adaption of Parzival is Richard Wagner's Parsifal, first performed in 1882. Wolfram's Parzival also serves as the basis for the children's opera Elster and Parzival by the Austrian composer Paul Hertel which premiered in 2003 at the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

Related Research Articles

Holy Grail Cup, dish or stone with miraculous powers, important motif in Arthurian literature

The Holy Grail is a treasure that serves as an important motif in Arthurian literature. Different traditions describe it as a cup, dish or stone with miraculous powers that provide happiness, eternal youth or sustenance in infinite abundance, often in the custody of the Fisher King. The term "holy grail" is often used to denote an elusive object or goal that is sought after for its great significance.

<i>Parsifal</i> Opera by Richard Wagner

Parsifal is an opera in three acts by German composer Richard Wagner. It is loosely based on Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach, a 13th-century epic poem of the Arthurian knight Parzival (Percival) and his quest for the Holy Grail.

Wolfram von Eschenbach

Wolfram von Eschenbach was a German knight, poet and composer, regarded as one of the greatest epic poets of medieval German literature. As a Minnesinger, he also wrote lyric poetry.

Percival

Percival —or Peredur, Perceval, Parzival, Parsifal but also Par·Oz or Parival — was one of King Arthur's legendary Knights of the Round Table. First made famous by the French author Chretien de Troyes in the tale Perceval, the Story of the Grail, he is best known for being the original hero in the quest for the Grail, before being replaced in later English and French literature by Galahad.

Red Knight is a title borne by several characters in Arthurian legend.

Fisher King character in Arthurian legend

In Arthurian legend, the Fisher King, also known as the Wounded King or Maimed King, is the last in a long bloodline charged with keeping the Holy Grail. Versions of the original story vary widely, but he is always wounded in the legs or groin and incapable of standing. All he is able to do is fish in a small boat on the river near his castle, Corbenic, and wait for some noble who might be able to heal him by asking a certain question. In later versions, knights travel from many lands to try to heal the Fisher King, but only the chosen can accomplish the feat. This is achieved by Percival alone in the earlier stories; he is joined by Galahad and Bors in the later ones.

Lohengrin

Lohengrin is a character in German Arthurian literature. The son of Parzival (Percival), he is a knight of the Holy Grail sent in a boat pulled by swans to rescue a maiden who can never ask his identity. His story, which first appears in Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival, is a version of the Knight of the Swan legend known from a variety of medieval sources. Wolfram's story was expanded in two later romances. Richard Wagner's opera Lohengrin of 1848 is based upon the legend.

The Haughty Maiden of Logres is a character from Arthurian legend, appearing in Chrétien de Troyes' Perceval, the Story of the Grail and works based on it. She is left nameless in Chrétien's unfinished romance, but Wolfram von Eschenbach, who reworked the tale for the German epic Parzival, calls her Orgeluse.

Kyot the Provençal is claimed by Wolfram von Eschenbach to have been a Provençal poet who supplied him with the source for his Arthurian romance Parzival. Wolfram may have been referring to the northern French poet Guiot de Provins, but this identification has proven unsatisfactory. The consensus of the vast majority of scholars today is that Kyot was an invention by Wolfram, and that Wolfram's true sources were Chrétien de Troyes' Perceval, the Story of the Grail and his own abundant creativity.

Guiot de Provins, also spelled Guyot, was a French poet and trouvère from the town of Provins in the Champagne area. A declining number of scholars identify him with Kyot the Provençal, the alleged writer of the source material used by Wolfram von Eschenbach for his romance Parzival, but most others consider such a source to be a literary device made up by Wolfram. At any rate, Guiot was a popular writer in his day.

<i>Perceval, the Story of the Grail</i>

Perceval, the Story of the Grail is the unfinished fifth verse romance by Chrétien de Troyes, written by him in Old French in the late 12th century. Later authors added 54,000 more lines in what are known collectively as the Four Continuations, as well as other related texts. Perceval is the earliest recorded account of what was to become the Quest for the Holy Grail but describes only a golden grail in the central scene, does not call it "holy" and treats a lance, appearing at the same time, as equally significant.

Feirefiz Character in poem Parzival

Feirefiz is a character in Wolfram von Eschenbach's Arthurian poem Parzival. He is the half-brother of Parzival, the story's hero. He is the child of their father Gahmuret's first marriage to the Moorish queen Belacane, and equals his brother in knightly ability. Because his father was white and his mother black, Feirefiz's skin consists of black and white patches. His appearance is compared to that of a magpie or a parchment with writing on it, though he is considered very handsome.

Dolorous Stroke Trope in Arthurian and Celtic legend

The Dolorous Stroke is a trope in Arthurian legend and some other stories of Celtic origin. In its fullest form, it concerns the Fisher King, the guardian of the Holy Grail, who falls into sin and consequently suffers a wound from a mystical weapon. He becomes the Maimed King, and his kingdom suffers similarly, becoming the Wasteland: neither will be healed until the successful completion of the Grail Quest. Balyn struck King Pelles with it.

Corbenic

Corbenic is the name of the Grail castle, the edifice housing the Holy Grail in Arthurian legend. It is a magical domain of the Grail keeper, often known as the Fisher King. The castle's descriptions vary greatly in different sources, and it first appears by that name in the Lancelot-Grail cycle where it is also the birthplace of Galahad.

Der Pleier is the pen name of a 13th-century German poet whose real name is unknown. Three of his works survive, all Middle High German romances on Arthurian subjects: Garel, Tandareis und Flordibel, and Meleranz. Little else is known of him, but he was an important figure in the revival of Arthurian literature in Germany in the mid-13th century, after decades of declining interest in the subject.

Titurel is a fragmentary Middle High German romance written by Wolfram von Eschenbach after 1217. The fragments which survive indicate that the story would have served as a prequel to Wolfram's earlier work, Parzival, expanding on the stories of characters from that work and on the theme of the Holy Grail. Titurel was continued by a later poet named Albrecht, who tied the story together in a work generally known as Jüngere Titurel.

The Seven Labors of Rustam were a series of acts carried out by the greatest of the Iranian heroes, Rostam, The story was retold by Ferdowsi in his epic poem, Shahnameh. The Seven Labours were seven difficult tasks undertaken by Rostam, accompanied, in most instances, only by his faithful and sagacious steed Rakhsh, although in two labours he was accompanied also by the champion, Olad.

Moriaen is a 13th-century Arthurian romance in Middle Dutch. A 4,720-line version is preserved in the vast Lancelot-Compilatie, and a short fragment exists at the Royal Library at Brussels. The work tells the story of Morien, the Moorish son of Aglovale, one of King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table.

Cyril Edwards

Cyril William Edwards was a British medievalist and translator. Teaching in London and Oxford, he published extensively on the medieval German lyric and Old High German literature, and translated four of the major Middle High German verse narratives.

In the Middle High German (MHG) period (1050–1350) the courtly romance, written in rhyming couplets, was the dominant narrative genre in the literature of the noble courts, and the romances of Hartmann von Aue, Gottfried von Strassburg and Wolfram von Eschenbach, written c. 1185 – c. 1210, are recognized as classics.

References

  1. Loomis, Roger Sherman. Development of Arthurian Romance, Hutchsinson and Company, 1963, 70.
  2. Weigand, Hermann J. Three Chapters on Courtly Love in Arthurian France and Germany, University of North Carolina Press, 1956, 33.
  3. Hasty 1999, p. ix.
  4. Chrétien de Troyes. The Complete Romances of Chrétien de Troyes-"The Story of the Grail", ed. David Staines, Indiana University Press, 1990, 340. ISBN   0-253-20787-8
  5. BBC Gallery, Parzival and the Holy Grail
  6. Bumke 2004 , p. 245–247
  7. Helen Adolf, “New Light on Oriental Sources for Wolfram’s Parzival and Other Grail Romances”, PMLA (June 1947), Vol. 62, No.2, 306-324
  8. 1 2 3 4 Gibbs, Marion. “The Role of Woman in Wolfram’s Parzival.” German Life and Letters. 21.4 (1968): 296-308. Print.
  9. Erstdruck: Friedrich de la Motte-Fouqué: Der Parcival, herausgegeben von Tilman Spreckelsen, Peter-Henning-Haischer, Frank Rainer Max, Ursula Rautenberg (Ausgewählte Dramen und Epen 6). Hildesheim u. a. 1997.
  10. Handke, Peter (1989). Das Spiel vom Fragen, oder, Die Reise zum sonoren Land (1. Aufl ed.). Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. ISBN   3-518-40151-3. OCLC   19848293.
  11. Muschg, Adolf (2002). Der Rote Ritter : eine Geschichte von Parzivâl (1. Aufl ed.). Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. ISBN   3-518-39920-9. OCLC   52535394.

Bibliography

Editions and translations

The standard edition of the text is Karl Lachmann's, 1926. This is the basis for all modern editions, including:

English translations:

Modern German translations:

Spanish translations:

Fictional retelling of Wolfram's romance: