Studies on the legend of the Holy Grail/Appendix A

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Studies on the legend of the Holy Grail  (1888)  by Alfred Nutt
Appendix A


The Relationship of Wolfram von Eschenbach And Christien

The various arguments for and against the use of any other French source than Chrestien by Wolfram have been clearly summed up by G. Bötticher, Die Wolfram Literatur seit Lachmann, Berlin, 1880. The chief representative of the negative opinion is Birch-Hirschfeld, who first gives, Chapter VIII. of his work, a useful collection of passages relating to the Grail, the Castle, and the Quest, from both authors. His chief argument is this:—The Grail in all the romances except in Wolfram is a cup or vessel, but in Wolfram a stone, a peculiarity only to be explained by Wolfram's ignorance of any source than Chrestien, and by the fact that the latter, in accordance with his usual practice of leaving objects and persons in as mysterious an atmosphere as possible, nowhere gives a clear description of the Grail. He undoubtedly would have done so if he had finished his work. Such indications as he gave led Wolfram, who did not understand the word Graal, to think it was a stone. It is inconceivable that Kyot, if such a personage existed, should have so far departed from all other versions as not to picture the Grail as a vessel, inconceivable, again, that his account of it should have been just as vague as Chrestien's, that he should have afforded Wolfram no hint of the real nature of the object. In Chrestien Perceval's question refers to the Grail, but Wolfram, missing the significance of the holy vessel owing to the meagreness of the information respecting it given to him by Chrestien, was compelled to transform the whole incident, and to refer it solely to the sufferings of the wounded King. Again, Chrestien meant to utilise the sword, and to bring Gawain to the Grail Castle; but his unfinished work did not carry out his intention, and in Wolfram Gawain also fails to come to the Grail Castle; the sword is passed over in silence in the latter part of the poem.—Simrock, jealous for the credit of Wolfram, claimed for him the invention of all that could not be traced to Chrestien, resting the claim chiefly upon consideration of a sentimental patriotic nature.—In opposition to these views, although the fact is not denied that Wolfram followed Chrestien closely for the parts common to both, it is urged to be incredible that he, a German poet, should invent a prologue to Chrestien's unfinished work connecting with an Angevin princely genealogical legend. It was also pointed out, with greatest fulness by Bartsch, Die Eigennamen im Parcival und Titurel, Germanist. Studien, II., 114, et seq., that the German poet gives a vast number of proper names which are not to be found in Chrestien, and that these are nearly all of French, and especially Southern French and Provençal origin.—Simrock endeavoured to meet this argument in the fifth edition of his translation, but with little success.—Bötticher, whilst admitting the weight of Birch-Hirschfeld's arguments, points out the difficulties which his theory involves. If Wolfram simply misunderstood Chrestien and did not differ from him personally, why should he be at the trouble of inventing an elaborately feigned source to justify a simple addition to the original story? If he only knew of the Grail from Chrestien, what gave him the idea of endowing it, as he did, with mystic properties? Martin points out in addition (Zs. f. d. A., V. 87) that Wolfram has the same connection of the Grail and Swan Knight story as Gerbert, whom, ex hypothesi, he could not have known, and who certainly did not know him.—In his Zur Gralsage, Martin returned to the question of proper names, and showed that a varying redaction of a large part of the romance is vouched for by the different names which Heinrich von dem Türlin applies to personages met with both in Chrestien and in Wolfram. If, then, one French version, that followed by Heinrich, who is obviously a translator, is lost, why not another?

The first thorough comparison of Chrestien and Wolfram is to be found in Otto Küpp's Unmittelbaren Quellen des Parzival, (Zs. f. d. Ph. XVII., 1). He argues for Kyot's existence. Some of the points he mentions in which the two poems differ, and in which Wolfram's account has a more archaic character, may be cited: The mention of Gurnemanz's sons; the food producing properties of the Grail on Parzival's first visit; the reproaches of the varlet to Parzival on his leaving the Grail Castle, "You are a goose, had you but moved your lips and asked the host! Now you have lost great praise;"[1] the statement that the broken sword is to be made whole by dipping in the Lake Lac, and the mention of a sword charm by virtue of which Parzival can become lord of the Grail Castle; the mention that no one seeing the Grail could die within eight days. In addition Küpp finds that many of the names in Wolfram are more archaic than those of Chrestien. On the other hand, Küpp has not noticed that Chrestien has preserved a more archaic feature in the prohibition laid upon Gauvain not to leave for seven days the castle after he had undergone the adventure of the bed.

Küpp has not noticed that some of the special points he singles out in Wolfram are likewise to be found in Chrestien's continuators, e.g., the mention of the sons of Gurnemanz, by Gerbert.

I believe I have the first pointed out the insistence by both Wolfram and Gerbert upon the hero's love to and duty towards his wife.

The name of Parzival's uncle in Wolfram, Gurnemanz, is nearer to the form in Gerbert, Gornumant, than to that in Chrestien, Gonemant.

The matter may be summed up thus: it is very improbable that Wolfram should have invented those parts of the story found in him alone; the parts common to him and Chrestien are frequently more archaic in his case; there are numerous points of contact between him and Gerbert. All this speaks for another French source than Chrestien. On the other hand, it is almost inconceivable that such a source should have presented the Grail as Wolfram presents it.

I cannot affect to consider the question decidedly settled one way or the other, and have, therefore, preferred to make no use of Wolfram. I would only point out that if the contentions of the foregoing studies be admitted, they strongly favour the genuineness of the non-Chrestien section of Wolfram's poem,[2] though I admit they throw no light upon his special presentment of the Grail itself.

  1. Cf. the reproaches addressed to Potter Thompson (supra, p. 198). That the visitor to the Bespelled Castle should be reproached, at once, for his failure to do as he ought, seems to be a feature of the earliest forms of the story. Cf. Campbell's Three Soldiers (supra, p. 196). If Wolfram had another source than Chrestien it was one which partook more of the unspelling than of the feud quest formula. Hence the presence of the feature here.
  2. In Wolfram's work there is a much closer connection between the Gawain quest and the remainder of the poem than in Chrestien. Orgueilleuse, to win whose love Gawain accomplishes his feats, is a former love of Amfortas, the Grail King, who won for her a rich treasure and was wounded in her service. Klinschor, too, the lord of the Magic Castle, is brought into contact with Orgueilleuse, whom he helps against Gramoflanz. It is difficult to say whether this testifies to an earlier or later stage of growth of the legend. The winning of Orgueilleuse as the consequence of accomplishing the feat of the Ford Perillous and plucking the branch is strongly insisted upon by Wolfram and not mentioned by Chrestien, though it is possible he might have intended to wed the two had he finished his poem. In this respect, however, and taking these two works as they stand, Wolfram's account seems decidedly the earlier. In another point, too, he seems to have preserved the older form. Besides his Kundrie la Sorcière (the loathly damsel) he has a Kundrie la Belle, whom I take to be the loathly damsel released from the transforming spell.