Did Perceval see the Grail or didn't he?

Explorations in Arthurian History

The character of Perceval is believed to be based on Peredur, a character who has his own tale in the Mabinogion.

Peredur begins as a country waif, brought up by his mother and innocent of the ways of the world. He has many adventures, high and low. One of his two uncles tells him never to ask about the significance of what he sees. At the court of the other uncle, he sees a procession containing a bleeding lance and a head on a platter.

The hero has further adventures, followed by a trip to Arthur's court, where an unidentified woman asks him why he didn't ask the significance of the lance or the head on a platter. In response to his claim of ignorance, she tells him that his simple question would have healed the man and the land.

The seeds of Chretien de Troyes's Perceval are sown.

See also

Literature of the HistoryWelsh Tales

Explorations in Arthurian Legends

The story of Perceval's seeing the Holy Grail has its beginning in the Welsh tale of Peredur. We first see Perceval in the legend in the writings of Chretien de Troyes.

Perceval's father is dead, and his mother raises him in ignorance of knights and the ways of the world. He determines to have some adventures and gets what turns out to be bad advice: Don't be rude by asking the importance of something you don't understand.

His travels take him to the Grail Castle, where he sees a bleeding lance and a silver graal, or serving dish. Perceval fails to ask the important question of the wounded man: "What ails thee?" He does not see the Grail, and the land and the man suffer anew.

Now, Chretien says graal, not grail. A graal is a serving dish or platter; it is not a cup. Chretien did not intend this to be the cup from which Jesus and his disciples drank at the Last Supper and with which Joseph of Arimathea caught Jesus's blood at the crucifixion.

Yet, Robert de Boron integrated these ideas and changed graal to grail. Later writers would keep the graal spelling and keep also the cup concept.

Since Robert, the Holy Grail has been a cup and Perceval is one of three knights who sees it, the other two being Galahad, who dies of ecstasy soon after, and Bors, who returns to Camelot with the news of the realization of the Grail Quest.

So, did Perceval see the Grail? Yes and no.

See also

Literature of the LegendsChretien de Troyes

Literature of the LegendsRobert de Boron

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