Studies on the legend of the Holy Grail/Chapter IV

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Studies on the legend of the Holy Grail  (1888)  by Alfred Nutt
Chapter IV


CHAPTER IV.

SKETCH OF THE LITERATURE CONNECTED WITH THE GRAIL CYCLE.

Villemarqué—Halliwell—San Marte (A. Schulz)—Simrock—Rochat—Furnivall's reprint of the Grand St. Graal and of Borron—J. F. Campbell—Furnivall's Queste—Paulin Paris—Potvin's Conte du Graal—Bergmann—Skeat's Joseph of Arimathea—Hucher: Grail Celtic, date of Borron—Zarncke, Zur Geschichte der Gralsage; Grail belongs to Christian legend—Birch-Hirschfeld develops Zarncke's views: Grand St. Graal younger than Queste, both presuppose Chrestien and an earlier Queste, the Didot-Perceval, which forms integral part of Borron's trilogy; Mabinogi later than Chrestien; various members of the cycle dated—Martin combats Birch-Hirschfeld: Borron later than Chrestien, whose poem represents oldest stage of the romance, which has its roots in Celtic tradition—Hertz—Criticism of Birch-Hirschfeld.

Monsieur Th. de la Villemarqué's researches form a convenient starting point, both on account of the influence they exercised upon later investigation, and because he was the first to state with fulness and method the arguments for the Celtic origin of the legend. They appeared originally in the volume entitled "Contes populaires des anciens Bretons précédés d'un essai sur l'origine des épopées chevaleresques de la Table Ronde" (Paris, 1842), and comprising a French translation of the Mabinogion of Geraint and Peredur, with introductory essays and detailed explanatory notes. The translation of Peredur is preceded by a study of Chrestien's poem, in which the following conclusions are stated: The Grail is Celtic in origin, the French term being equivalent to the Welsh per, and having a like meaning, basin. It is the Druidic basin alluded to by Taliessin, the same which figures in the Mabinogi of Branwen, which appears in the oldest folk-tales of Brittany, and which is sought for in the twelfth century Mabinogi by Peredur, i.e., the Basin-Seeker. The original occult character of the Druidic basin, and of the lance, the bardic symbol of undying hatred to the Saxon, disappears in the Mabinogi, the tone and character of which are purely romantic. Composed among a people comparatively unused to the chivalrous ideal, it breathes, however, a rude and harsh spirit. But such as it is, it forms the groundwork of Chrestien's poem. Comparison between the two demonstrates the simple character of the Welsh romance, and shows how the French poet sought to transform it by an infusion of feudal courtliness and religious mysticism. In its last stage of development the story reverts to its pristine, occult, and mystic character.

Much of what M. de la Villemarqué says is sound and telling; but, unfortunately, although well aware that the French poem is the work of three men and not of one, he yet treats it as an organic whole, and thus deprives the larger part of his comparison of all value. Moreover, he supports his thesis by arguments based upon a Breton poem (the story of which is similar to that of Perceval's youth), ascribed without the shadow of evidence to the end of the tenth century.

In 1861 M. de la Villemarqué reprinted his work with extensive additions, under the title of "Les Romans de la Table Ronde et les Contes des Anciens Bretons." The section summarised above remained substantially unaltered, but considerable extension was given to the author's views concerning the mode of development of the romances. The points chiefly insisted upon are: the similarity of metre between the Welsh poem and the French metrical romances; the delight of the Plantagenet kings in the Welsh traditions and the favour showed them; and the early popularity of the Welsh and Breton singers. Villemarqué's last word upon the subject is that the Welsh storytellers received from the ancient bards a pagan tradition, which, changed in character and confounded with the Mystery of the Sacrament, they handed on to the romance writers of Northern France and Germany, who gave it a fresh and undying life.

Villemarqué's views were worked up by Mr. Baring Gould in his essay on the Sangreal ("Curious Myths of the Middle Ages," 1867) and in this form or in their original presentment won wide acceptance as the authoritative exposition of the Celtic origin of the cycle.

In England, Mr. Halliwell, when editing, in 1844, the Thornton Sir Perceval, derived it from Chrestien and his continuators, in spite of the omission of Lance and Grail, on account of the sequence of incidents being the same. The Mabinogi is alluded to as an adaptation of Chrestien. The supposition that Perceval's nick-name, "le Gallois," implies the Welsh origin of the story is rejected as absurd.

In Germany the Grail-cycle formed the subject of careful investigation on the part of San Marte (A. Schulz) for some years prior to 1840. From 1836 to 1842 he brought out a modern German translation of Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival, accompanied by an elaborate essay on the genesis of the legend, and in 1841, "Die Arthur-Sage und die Mährchen des rothen Buchs von Hergest." In the latter work a careful analysis of the Mabinogi leads to the following conclusions:—Locale and persons are purely Welsh; tone and character are older than the age of the Crusades and Knighthood; it may be looked upon with confidence as the oldest known source of the Perceval sage. In comparing the Mabinogi with Kiot's (i.e., Wolfram's) version, stress is laid upon the task imposed upon Peredur, which is held to be different in character and independent in origin from the Grail Quest in Kiot. The Thornton Sir Perceval is claimed as the representative of an early Breton jongleur poem which knew nothing of the Grail story. In the former work Wolfram von Eschenbach's poem is accepted, so far as its framework is concerned, as a faithful echo of Kiot's, the Provencal origin of which is proved by its Oriental and Southern allusions. The Provencals may have obtained the Peredur sage direct from Brittany, they at any rate fused it with the Grail legend. Their version is an artistic whole, whereas the North French one is a confused string of adventures. Chrestien's share in the latter is rightly distinguished from that of his continuators, and these are dated with fair accuracy. Robert de Borron is mentioned, but as a thirteenth century adapter of earlier prose versions; the Grand St. Graal is placed towards the middle of the thirteenth century. In analysing the Joseph of Arimathea form of the legend, the silence of the earlier British historians concerning Joseph's evangelisation of Britain is noted, and 1140 is given as the earliest date of this part of the legend. The captivity of Joseph arises probably from a confusion between him and Josephus. There is no real connection between the Joseph legend and that of the Grail. Wolfram's Templeisen agree closely with the Templars, one of the main charges against whom was their alleged worship of a head from which they expected riches and victuals, and to which they ascribed the power of making trees and flowers to bloom.[1]

San Marte's translation of Wolfram was immediately (1842) followed by Simrock's, whose notes are mainly directed against his predecessor's views on the origin and development of the Grail legend. The existence of Kiot is contested; the differentia between Wolfram and Chrestien are unknown to Provencal, but familiar to German, poetry. The Grail myth in its oldest form is connected with John the Baptist. Thus in the Mabinogi the Grail is represented by a head in a platter; the head the Templars were accused of worshipping has probably the same origin; the Genoese preserved the Sacro Catino, identified by them with the Grail, in the chapel of St. John the Baptist; Chrestien mentions with especial significance, St. John's Eve (Midsummer Eve). The head of St. John the Baptist, found, according to the legend, in the fourth century, was carried later to Constantinople, where in the eleventh century it is apparently used to keep an emperor from dying (even as of the Grail, it is told, no one could die the day he saw it). If Wolfram cuts out the references to the Baptist, en revanche he brings Prester John into the story. The essential element in the Grail is the blood in the bowl, symbol of creative power as is the Baptist's head, both being referable to the summer equinox. Associated with John the Baptist is Herodias, who takes the place of an old Germanic goddess, Abundia, as John does of Odin or Baldur.[2] The essence of the myth is the reproductive power of the blood of the slain god (Odin-Hackelberend, Baldur, Adonis, Osiris). As the Grail may only be seen by those to whom God's grace is granted, so in the German folk-tale the entrance to the hollow mounds wherein lies treasure or live elves is only visible to Sunday children or pure youths. Thus, too, no man may find the grave of Hackelberg (Odin). Such caves, when entered, close upon the outgoing mortal as the Grail Castle portcullis closes upon Parzival. Many of Gauvain's adventures appear in German folk-tradition. As to Parzival's youth "it cannot be doubted that we have here a variation of the Great Fool folk-tale (Dummling's Märchen) found among all people. It is hard to say what people possessing this tale brought it into contact, either by tradition or in writing, with the Grail story, but that people would have the first claim among whom it is found in an independent form." The Mabinogi explanation of the Grail incident is unacceptable, and the Mabinogi itself is later than Chrestien, as is shown by its foolish invention of the witches of Gloucester, and by its misrendering the incident of the dwarves greeting Peredur. In the original folk-tale the ungainly hero was laughed at, not greeted. The Thornton Sir Perceval may possibly contain an older version of Perceval's youth than any found elsewhere. Wolfram's poem represents, however, the oldest and purest form of the Grail myth, which, originally pagan, only became fully Christianised in the hands of the later North French poets.

Simrock's speculations, though marred by his standing tendency to claim over much for German tradition, are full of his usual acute and ingenious, if somewhat fanciful, learning. His ignorance of Celtic tradition unfortunately prevented his following up the hint given in the passage quoted above which I have adopted as one of the mottoes of the present work.

In 1855 Rochat published ("Ueber einen bisher unbekannten Percheval li Gallois," Zurich) selections from a Berne MS. containing part of Gautier de Doulens' continuation of Chrestien (v. 21,930 to end, with thirteen introductory and fifty-six concluding original lines, cf. p. 19), and entered at some length into the question of the origin and development of the Grail legend. The Mabinogi, contrary to San Marte's opinion, is placed after Chrestien. Villemarqué's ballad of Morvan le Breiz is the oldest form of the Perceval sage, then comes the Thornton Sir Perceval, a genuine popular production derived probably from a Welsh original. In spite of what San Marte says, the Grail incident is found in the Mabinogi, and it might seem as if Chrestien had simply amplified the latter. On San Marte's theory of the (Southern) origin of the Grail myth, this, however, is impossible, and the fact that the Mabinogi contains this incident is a proof of its lateness.

Up to 1861 all writers upon the Grail legend were under this disadvantage, that they had no complete text of any part of the cycle before them,[3] and were obliged to trust largely to extracts and to more or less carefully compiled summaries. In that year Mr. Furnivall, by the issue for the Roxburghe Club of the Grand St. Graal, together with a reprint of Robert de Borron's poem (first edited in 1841 by M. Franc. Michel), provided students with materials of first-rate importance. His introductory words are strongly against the Celtic origin of the story, and are backed up by a quotation from Mr. D. W. Nash, in which that "authority who really knows his subject" gives the measure of his critical acumen by the statement that the Mabinogi of Peredur can have nothing to do with the earliest form of the legend, because "in Sir T. Malory, Perceval occupies the second place to Galahad." In fact, neither the editor nor Mr. Nash seem to have tried to place the different versions, and their assertions are thus of little value, though they contributed, nevertheless, to discredit the Celtic hypothesis. San Marte, in an essay prefixed to the first volume, repeated his well-known views respecting the source of Wolfram's poems, and, incidentally, protested against the idea that the Mabinogi is but a Welshified French romance.

In 1862 the accomplished editor of the "Popular Tales of the West Highlands," Mr. J.F. Campbell, published in his second volume (p. 152) some remarks on the Story of the Lay of the Great Fool, which ended thus, "I am inclined . . . . to consider this 'Lay' as one episode in the adventures of a Celtic hero, who, in the twelfth century became Perceval le chercheur du basin. He too, was poor, and the son of a widow, and half starved, and kept in ignorance by his mother, but, nevertheless . . . in the end he became possessed of that sacred basin, le Saint Graal, and the holy lance, which, though Christian in the story, are manifestly the same as the Gaelic talismans which appear so often in Gaelic tales, and which have relations in all popular lore—the glittering weapon which destroys, and the sacred medicinal cup which cures." I have taken these words as a motto for my studies, which are, indeed, but an amplification of Mr. Campbell's statement. Had the latter received the attention it deserved, had it, for instance, fallen into the hands of a scholar to whom Simrock's words quoted on p. 101 were familiar, there would, in all probability, have been no occasion for the present work.

The publication of texts was continued by Mr. Furnivall's issue, in 1864, for the Roxburghe Club, of the Quête del Saint Graal from a British Museum MS. The opening of twelve MSS. from the Bibliothèque Nationale is likewise given, and shows substantial unity between them and Mr. Furnivall's text. In 1868 Mons. Paulin Paris published, in the first volume of his "Romans de la Table Ronde," a general introduction to the Round Table cycle, and a special study upon the Metrical Joseph and the Grand St. Graal. A large share of influence is assigned to Celtic traditions through the medium of Breton lais. The Early History of the Grail is a British legend, and embodies the national and schismatic aspirations of the British Church. The date given in the prologue to the Grand St. Graal, and repeated by Helinandus, is accepted as the genuine date of a redaction of the legend substantially the same as that found later in the Grand St. Graal. The word "Grail" is connected with the Latin gradale, modern gradual, and designated the book in which the tradition was first written down. The Grand St. Graal is anterior to Chrestien's poem, and Robert de Borron's poem in the first draft preceded the Grand St. Graal, and was written between 1160 and 1170, but he subsequently revised it towards 1214, as is shown by his alluding, l. 3,490, "O mon seigneur, Gauter en peis" (where the underlined words are equivalent to the Latin in pace) to Gautier of Montbeliard in the past tense. From 1868 to 1870 M. Potvin brought out his edition of the Conte du Graal, and of the prose Perceval le Gallois from Mons MSS. In the after-words priority is claimed for the latter romance over all other members of the cycle, and three stages are distinguished in the development of the legend—Welsh national—militant Christian—knightly—the prose romance belonging to the second stage, and dating substantially from the eleventh century. The lance and basin are originally pagan British symbols, and between the lines of the Grail legend may be read a long struggle between heretic Britain and orthodox Rome. The Perceval form of the Quest is older than the Galahad one. The Joseph of Arimathea forms are the latest, and among these the Grand St. Graal the earliest.

Conclusions as paradoxical as some of these appear in Dr. Bergmann's "The San Grëal, an Enquiry into the Origin and Signification of the Romance of the S. G.," Edinburgh, 1870. The idea of the Grail is due entirely to Guyot, as also its connection with the Arthurian cycle. Chrestien followed Guyot, but alters the character of the work, for which he is reproved by Wolfram, who may be looked upon as a faithful representative of the earlier poet. Chrestien's alterations are intended to render the poem more acceptable in knightly circles. On the other hand Walter Map found Guyot too secular and heretical, and wrote from a purely ecclesiastical standpoint the Latin version of the legend in which the Grail is associated with Joseph of Arimathea. This version forms the basis of Robert de Borron, author of the Grand St. Graal and of the continuators of Chrestien. Although Bergmann denies the Celtic origin of the Grail itself, he incidentally accepts the authenticity of the Mabinogi of Peredur, and admits that the whole framework of the story is Celtic.

In the endeavour to prove the paradox that one of the latest, most highly developed, and most mystic of all the versions of the legend (viz., Wolfram's) really represents the common source of them all, Bergmann is compelled to make the most gratuitous assumptions, as a specimen of which may be quoted the statement that the roi-pecheur is originally the sinner king, and that it is by mistake that the North French trouvères represent him as a fisher.

Bergmann's views passed comparatively unnoticed. They are, indeed, alluded to with approval in Professor Skeat's edition of Joseph of Arimathea, a fourteenth century alliterative abridgement of the Grand St. Graal (E. E. Text Soc., 1871). In the editor's preface the Glastonbury traditions concerning the evangelisation of Britain by Joseph are taken as a starting point, two parts being distinguished in them, the one legendary, tallying with William of Malmesbury's account, and, perhaps, of considerable antiquity, the other fabulous, introducing the personages and incidents of the romances and undoubtedly derived from them. Some twenty years after the publication of the "Historia Britonum" Walter Map probably wrote a Latin poem, from which Robert de Borron, the Grand St. Graal, and, perhaps, the other works of the cycle were derived. "Grail" is a bowl or dish. Chrestien may have borrowed his Conte du Graal from Map; the "Quest" is probably an after-thought of the romance writers.

Speculations such as these were little calculated to further the true criticism of the Grail cycle. Some few years later, in 1875, the then existing texts were supplemented by M. Hucher's work, so often quoted in these pages. In an introduction and notes displaying great research and ingenuity, the following propositions are laid down:—The Grail is Celtic in origin, and may be seen figured upon pre-Christian Gaulish coins. Robert de Borron's poem may be called the Petit St. Graal, and its author was a lord of like-named territory near Fontainebleau, who between 1147 and 1164 made large gifts to the Abbey of Barbeaux, which gifts are confirmed in 1169 by Simon, son of said Robert. About 1169 Robert came to England, met Walter Map, and was initiated by him into the knowledge of the Arthurian romance, and of the legend of the Holy Grail. Between 1170 and 1199 he entered the service of Walter of Montbeliard and wrote (in prose) the Joseph of Arimathea and the Merlin. At a later period he returned to England, and wrote, in conjunction with Map, the Grand St. Graal. This is shown by MS. 2,455 Bibl. Nat. (of the Grand St. Graal): "Or dist li contes qui est estrais de toutes les ystoires, sî come Robers de Borons le translatait de latin en romans, à l'ayde de maistre Gautier Map." But Hélie de Borron, author of the Tristan and of Guiron le Courtois, calls Robert his friend and kinsman. Hélie has been placed under Henry III, who has been assumed to be the Henry to whom he dedicates his work; if so can he be the friend of Robert, who wrote some fifty years earlier? Hélie should, however, be placed really under Henry II. Robert wrote originally in prose; the poem contains later etymological and grammatical forms, though it has occasionally preserved older ones; besides in v. 2,817 etc. (supra, p. 83) it refers to the deliverance of Moys by the Promised Knight, and thus implies knowledge of the Grand St. Graal; this passage is omitted by most of the prose versions, thus obviously older. Then the poem is silent as to the Christianising of Britain mentioned by one prose version (C.). We may accept Borron's statement as to his having dealt later with the histories of Moys and Petrus, and as to his drawing his information from a Latin original. Merlin is the pivot of Borron's conception. In comparing the third part of his trilogy (Joseph of Arimathea, Merlin, Perceval) with Chrestien it must be born in mind that Chrestien reproduces rather the English (Joseph—Galahad), than the French (Brons—Perceval) form of the Quest, and this, although the framework of Chrestien and Robert's Perceval is substantially the same. Chrestien's work was probably preceded by one in which the Peredur story as found in the Mabinogi was already adapted to the Christianised Grail legend. There are frequent verbal resemblances between Robert and Chrestien (i.e., Gautier, Hucher never distinguishing between Chrestien and his continuators) which show a common original for both. It is remarkable that Chrestien should never mention Brons, and that there should be such a difference in the stories of the Ford Perillous and the Ford Amorous. It is also remarkable that Robert, in his Perceval, should complain that the trouvères had not spoken of the Good Friday incident which is to be found in Chrestien.

M. Hucher failed in many cases to see the full significance of the facts he brought to light, owing to his incorrect conception of the development of the cycle as a whole, and of the relation of its component parts one to the other. He made, however, an accurate survey of the cycle possible. The merit of first essaying such a survey belongs to Zarncke in his admittedly rough sketch, "Zur Geschichte der Gralsage," published in the third volume (1876) of Paul and Braune's Beitraege.—The various forms may be grouped as follows: (1) Borron's poem, (2) Grand St. Graal, (3) Quête, (4) Chrestien, (5 and 6) Chrestien's continuators, (7) Didot MS. Perceval, (8) Prose Perceval li Gallois. Neither the Spanish-Provencal nor the Celtic origin of the legend is admissible; it has its source wholly in the apocryphal legends of Joseph of Arimathea, in which two stages may be distinguished; the first represented by the Gesta Pilati and the Narratio Josephi, which tell how Christ appeared to Joseph in prison and released him therefrom; the second by the Vindicta Salvatoris, which combines the legends of the healing of Tiberius with that of Titus or Vespasian. Joseph being thus brought into contact with Titus, the space of time between the two is accounted for by the forty years captivity, and the first hint was given of a miraculous sustaining power of the Grail. Borron's poem is still purely legendary in character; the fish caught by the rich fisher is the symbol of Christ; the incident of the waiting for the Promised Knight belongs, however, not to the original tradition but to a later style of Christian mysticism. The Grand St. Graal and the Quête extend and develop the donnée of the poem, whilst in Chrestien tone, atmosphere, and framework are profoundly modified, yet there is no reason to postulate for Chrestien any other sources than Nos. 1-3, the differences being such as he was quite capable of deliberately introducing. As for No. 7 (the Didot-Perceval) it is later than Chrestien and his continuators, and has used both. Wolfram von Eschenbach had only Chrestien for his model, Kiot's poem being a feigned source. The legend of the conversion of Britain by Joseph is no genuine British tradition; William of Malmesbury's account of Glastonbury is a pamphlet written to order of the Norman Kings, and incapable of serving as a representative of Celtic tradition. The passages therein relating to Joseph are late interpolations, disagreeing with the remainder of his work and disproved by the silence of all contemporary writers.

Zarncke's acute article was a praiseworthy attempt to construct a working hypothesis of the growth of the cycle. But it is full of grave misconceptions, as was, perhaps, inevitable in a hasty survey of such an immense body of literature. The versions are "placed" most incorrectly. The argumentation is frequently marred by a priori reasoning, such as that Chrestien, the acknowledged leading poet of the day, could not have copied Kiot, and by untenable assertions, such as that Bran, in the Mabinogi of Branwen, the daughter of Llyr, is perhaps a distant echo of Hebron in Robert de Borron's poem. He had, however, the great merit of clearing the ground for his pupil, A. Birch-Hirschfeld, and urging him to undertake what still remains the most searching and exhaustive survey of the whole cycle: "Die Sage vom Gral," etc. As Birch-Hirschfeld's analysis is at present the only basis for sound criticism, I shall give his views fully:—The Grand St. Graal, as the fullest of the versions dealing with the Early History of the Grail, is the best starting-point for investigation. From its pronounced religious tone monkish authorship may be inferred. Its treatment of the subject is not original as is shown by (1) the repetition ad nauseam of the same motive (e.g., that of the lance wound four times), (2) the pedigrees, (3) the allusions to adventures not dealt with in the book, and in especial to the Promised Knight. The testimony of Helinand (see supra, p. 52), which is of first-rate importance, does not allow of a later date for the Grand St. Graal than 1204. On turning to the Queste it is remarkable that though sometimes found in the MSS. in conjunction with the Grand St. Graal it is also found with the Lancelot, and, when the hero's parentage is considered, it seems more likely that it was written to supplement the latter than the former work. This supposition is adverse to any claim it may lay to being held the earliest treatment of the subject, as it is highly improbable that the Grail legend occupied at the outset such an important place in the Arthurian romance as is thus accorded to it. Such a claim is further negatived by the fact that the Queste has three heroes, the second of whom is obviously the original one of an older version. In estimating the relationship between the Grand St. Graal and the Queste it should be borne in mind that the latter, in so far as it deals with the Early History, mentions only Joseph, Josephe, Evelach (Mordrain) and Seraphe (Nascien), from whom descends Galahad; that it brings Joseph to England, and that it does not give any explanation of the nature of the Grail itself. It omits Brons, Alain, the explanation of the name "rich fisherman," the name of Moys, although his story is found in substantially the same shape as in the Grand St. Graal, and is silent as to the origin of the bleeding lance. If it were younger than and derived from the Grand St. Graal alone, these points, all more important for the Early History than the Mordrain episodes would surely have been dwelt upon. But then if the Grand St. Graal is the younger work, whence does it derive Brons, Alain, and Petrus, all of whom are introduced in such a casual way? There was obviously a previous Early History which knew nothing of Josephe or of Mordrain and his group, the invention of the author of the Queste, whence they passed into the Grand St. Graal, and were fused in with the older form of the legend. There is, moreover, a positive reference on the part of the Grand St. Graal to the Queste (vol. ii., p. 225). The author of the Queste introduced his new personages for the following reasons: He had already substituted Galahad for the original hero, and to enhance his importance gives him a fictitious descent from a companion of Joseph. From his model he learnt of Joseph's wanderings in the East, hence the Eastern origin of the Mordrain group. In the older form the Grail had passed into the keeping of Joseph's nephew, in the Queste the Promised Knight descends from the nephew of Mordrain; Brons, as the ancestor of the original Quest hero necessarily disappears in the Queste, and his place is in large measure taken by Josephe. The priority of the Queste over the Grand St. Graal, and the use of the former by the latter may thus be looked upon as certain. But if Mordrain is the invention of the Queste, what is the meaning of his illness, of his waiting for the Promised Knight, of the bleeding lance, and of the lame king whom it heals? These seem to have no real connection with the Grail, and are apparently derived from an older work, namely, Chrestien's Conte du Graal.

Chrestien's work, which ended at v. 10,601, may be dated as having been begun not later than 1189 (vide supra, p. 4). Its unfinished state accounts for its having so little positive information about the Grail, as Chrestien evidently meant to reserve this information for the end of the story. But this very freedom with which the subject is handled is a proof that he had before him a work whence he could extract and adapt as he saw fit; moreover we have (Prologue, v. 475, etc.) his own words to that effect. With Chrestien's account of the Grail—a bowl bejewelled, of wondrous properties, borne by a maiden, preceded by a bleeding lance, accompanied by a silver plate, guarded by a king wounded through both ankles (whose only solace is fishing, whence his surname), ministering to the king's father, sought for by Perceval, nephew to the fisher king, its fate bound up with a question which the seeker must put concerning it—may be compared that of the Queste, in which nothing is known of a question by which the Grail kingship may be obtained (although it relates the same incident of Lancelot), which knows not of one wounded king, centre of the action, but of two, both of secondary importance (though possibly Chrestien's Fisher King's father may have given the hint for Mordrain), in which the lance is of minor importance instead of being on the same level as the Grail. Is it not evident that the Queste took over these features from Chrestien, compelled thereto by the celebrity of the latter's presentment? The Queste thus presupposes the following works: a Lancelot, an Early History, a Quest other than that of Chrestien's, and finally Chrestien as the lame king and lance features show. It thus falls between 1189 (Chrestien begun) and 1204 (Grand St. Graal ended).

With respect to the three continuators of Chrestien it would seem that Gautier de Doulens' account of the Grail, as found in the Montpellier MS., knowing as it does only of Joseph, and making the Fisher King and Perceval descendants of his, belongs to an older stage of development than that of Manessier and Gerbert, both of whom are familiar with the Mordrain group, and follows that of the original version upon which both the Queste and the Grand St. Graal are based. There is nothing to show that Gautier knew of the Queste, whilst from Gautier the Queste may have possibly have taken Perceval's sister and the broken sword. Gautier would thus seem to have written immediately after Chrestien, and before the Queste, i.e., about 1195. As for the date of the other two continuators, the fact of their having used the Queste is only one proof of the lateness of their composition (as to the date of which see supra, p. 4). It must be noted that whilst in their account of the Grail Chrestien's continuators are in substantial accord with the Queste versions, and yet do not contradict Chrestien himself, they add considerably to his account of the lance. This is readily explained by the fact that as Chrestien gave no information respecting the origin of either of the relics, they, the continuators, had to seek such information elsewhere; they found all they could wish respecting the Grail, but nothing as to the lance, the latter having been first introduced by Chrestien, and the Queste versions knowing nothing respecting it beyond what he told. Thus, thrown upon their own resources, they hit upon the device of identifying the lance with the spear with which Jesus was pierced as He hung on the Cross. This idea, a most natural one, may possibly have been in Chrestien's intent, and may have been suggested to him by the story of the discovery of the Holy Lance in Antioch half a century before. It must, however, be admitted that the connection of the lance with the Grail legend in its earliest form is very doubtful, and that Celtic legends may possibly have furnished it to Chrestien, and indicated the use to which he intended putting it. The analysis, so far, of the romances has resulted in the presupposition of an earlier form; this earlier form, the source or basis of all the later versions of the legend, exists in the so-called Petit St. Graal of Robert de Borron. Of this work, found in two forms, a prose and a poetic one, the poetic form, pace Hucher, is obviously the older, Hucher's proofs of lateness going merely to show that the sole existing MS. is a recent one, and has admitted new speech-forms;[4] moreover the prose versions derive evidently from one original. The greater simplicity of the poem as compared with the Grand St. Graal proves its anteriority in that case; Paulin Paris' hypothesis that the poem in its present state is a second draft, composed after the author had made acquaintance with the Grand St. Graal, is untenable, the poem's reference (v. 929 etc.) to the "grant livre" and to the "grant estoire dou Graal," written by "nul home qui fust mortal" (v. 3,495-6) not being to the Grand St. Graal, but having, on the contrary, probably suggested to the writer of the latter his fiction of Christ's being the real author of his work. The Grand St. Graal used the poem conjointly with the Queste, piecing out the one version by help of the other, and thereby entirely missing the sequence of ideas in the poem, which is as follows: Sin, the cause of want among the people; the separation of the pure from the impure by means of the fish (symbol of Christ) caught by Brons, which fish does not feed the people, but, in conjunction with the Grail, severs the true from the false disciples; punishment of the self-willed false disciple; reward of Brons by charge of the Grail. In the Grand St. Graal, on the contrary, the fish is no symbol, but actual food, a variation which must be laid to the account of the Queste. In a similar way the two Alains in the Grand St. Graal may be accounted for, the one as derived from the poem, the second from the Queste. As far as conception is concerned, the later work is no advance upon the earlier one. To return to Borron's work, which consists of three sections; there is no reason to doubt his authorship of the second, Merlin, or of the third, Perceval, although one MS. only of the former mentions the fact, and it is, moreover, frequently found in connection with other romances, in especial with the Lancelot; as for Perceval, the silence of the unique MS. as to Borron is no argument, as it is equally silent in the Joseph of Arimathea section. All outward circumstances go to show that Borron divided his work into three parts, Joseph, Merlin, Perceval. But, if so, the last part must correspond in a fair measure to the first one; recollect, however, that we are dealing with a poet of but little invention or power of giving unity to discordant themes, and must not expect to find a clearly traced plan carried out in every detail. Thus the author's promise in Joseph to speak later of Moses and Petrus seems not to be fulfilled, but this is due to Borron's timidity in the invention of new details. What is said of Moses does not disagree with the Joseph, whereas a later writer would probably follow the Grand St. Graal account; as for Petrus he is to be recognised in the hermit Perceval's uncle. There may be some inconsistency here, but Borron can be inconsistent, as is shown by his treatment of Alain, who at first vows to remain virgin, and afterwards marries. But a graver argument remains to be met; the lance occurs in Perceval—now ex hypothesi the first introduction of the lance is due to Chrestien. The lance, however, only occurs in two passages, both obviously interpolated. The identity of authorship is evident when the style and phraseology of the two works are compared; in both the Grail is always li graaux or else li veissel, not as with the later versions, li saint graaux; both speak of la grace dou graal; in both the Grail is bailli to its keeper, who has it en guarde; the empty seat is li liu vit, not the siège perilleux. The central conception, too, is the same—the Trinity of Grail-keepers symbolising the Divine Trinity. The secret words given by Christ with the Grail to Joseph in prison, by him handed on to Brons, are confided at the end of the Perceval by Brons to the hero—and there is no trace of the Galahad form of the Quest, as would inevitably have been the case had the Perceval been posterior in date to the Queste. As the Perceval is connected with the Joseph, so it is equally with the Merlin; it is remarkable that neither Merlin nor Blaise play a prominent part in the Queste versions, but in Borron's poem Merlin is the necessary binding link between the Apostolic and Arthurian ages. Again the whole character of the Perceval speaks for its being one of the earliest works of the cycle; either it must have used Chrestien and Gautier or they it; if the former, is it credible that just those adventures which were necessary to supply the ending to the Joseph could have been picked out? But it is easy to follow the way in which Chrestien used the Perceval; having the three-part poem before him he took the third only for his canvas, left out all that in it related to the first two parts, all, moreover, that related to the origin and early history of the Grail; the story of the childhood is half indicated in the Perceval, and Chrestien may have had Breton lays with which to help himself out; all relating to the empty seat is left out as reaching back into the Early History; the visit to Gurnemanz is introduced to supply a motive for the hero's conduct at the Grail Castle; the wound of the Fisher King is again only an attempt of Chrestien's to supply a more telling motive; as for the sword Chrestien invented it; as he also did the Grail-messenger, whose portrait he copied from that of Rosette la Blonde. The order of the last episodes is altered by Chrestien sensibly for the better, as, with him, Perceval's doubt comes first, then the Good Friday reproof, then the confession to and absolution by the hermit; whereas in the Perceval the hero after doubt, reproof, and absolution rides off again a-tourneying, and requires a second reproof at Merlin's hands. It is easy to see here which is the original, which the copy. Chrestien thus took with clear insight just what he wanted in the Perceval to fit out his two heroes with adventures.[5] As for Borron's guiding conception, his resolve to have nothing to do with the Early History made him neglect it entirely; he only cared to produce a knightly poem, and we find, in consequence, that he has materialised all the spiritual elements of his model. Gautier de Doulens' method of proceeding was much simpler: he took over all those adventures that Chrestien purposely left out, and they may be found brought together (verses 22,390-27,390) with but few episodes (Perceval's visit to Blanchefleur, etc.) entirely foreign to the model amongst them.[6] The Perceval cannot be later than Gautier, as otherwise it could not stand in such close relationship to the Joseph and Merlin; it must, therefore, be the source of the Conte du Graal, and a necessary part of Borron's poem, which in its entirety is the first attempt to bring the Joseph of Arimathea legend into connection with the Arthur sage. The question as to the origin of the Grail would thus seem answered, the Christian legendary character of Borron's conception being evident; but there still remains the possibility that that conception is but the Christianised form of an older folk-myth. Such a one has been sought for in Celtic tradition. The part played by Merlin in the trilogy might seem to lend colour to such an hypothesis, but his connection with the legend is a purely artificial one. Nor is the theory of a Celtic origin strengthened by reference to the Mabinogi of Peredur. This knows nought of Merlin, and is nearer to Chrestien than to the Didot-Perceval, and may, indeed, be looked upon as simply a clumsy retelling of the Conte du Graal with numerous additions. A knowledge of the Didot-Perceval on Chrestien's part must be presupposed, as where could he have got the Fisher King and Grail Castle save from a poem which dealt with the Early History of the Grail, a thing the Mabinogi does not do. But, it may be said, Chrestien used the Mabinogi conjointly with Borron's poem. That the Welsh tale is, on the contrary, only a copy is apparent from the following considerations:—It mixes up Gurnemanz and the Fisher King; it puts in the mouth of Peredur's mother an exclamation about the knights, "Angels they are my son," obviously misread from Perceval's exclamation to the same effect in Chrestien's poem; Perceval's love-trance over the three blood drops in the snow is explained in Chrestien by the hero's passion for Blanchefleur, but is quite inexplicable in the Mabinogi; again, in the Welsh tale, the lance and basin episode is quite a secondary one, a fact easily explained if it is looked upon as a vague reminiscence of Chrestien's unfinished work; moreover the Mabinogi lays great stress upon the lance, which has already been shown to belong to a secondary stage in the development of the legend. Again the word Graal occurs frequently in old Welsh literature, and invariably in its French form, never translated by any equivalent Welsh term. As for the name Peredur, it is understandable that the Welsh storyteller should choose the name of a national hero, instead of the foreign name Perceval; the etymology Basin-Seeker is untenable. There is no real analogy between the Grail and the magic cauldron of Celtic fable, which is essentially one of renovation, whereas the Grail in the second stage only acquires miraculous feeding, and in the third stage healing powers. It is of course not impossible that such adventures in the Mabinogi, as cannot be referred directly to Chrestien, may belong to a genuine Peredur sage.

The question then arises—was Robert de Borron a simple copyist, or is the legend in its present form due to him, i.e., did he first join the Joseph of Arimathea and Grail legends, or had he a predecessor? Now the older Joseph legends know nothing of his wandering in company of a miraculous vessel, Zarncke having shown the lateness of the one commonly ascribed to William of Malmesbury. Nor is it likely Borron had before him a local French legend as Paulin Paris (Romania, vol. i.) had supposed; would he in that case have brought the Grail to England, and left Joseph's fate in uncertainty? The bringing the Grail to England is simply the logical consequence of his conception of the three Grail-keepers (the third of British blood), symbolising the Trinity, and of the relation of the Arthurian group to this central conception; where the third Grail-keeper and the third of the three wondrous tables were, there the Grail must also be. What then led Borron to connect the sacramental vessel with the Joseph legend? In answering this question the later miraculous properties of the Grail must be forgotten, and it must be remembered that with Borron it is only a vessel of "grace;" this is shown in the history of (Moys) the false disciple, which obviously follows in its details the account of the Last Supper, and of the detection of Judas by means of the dish into which Jesus dips a sop, bidding the betrayer take and eat. Borron's first table being an exact copy of the Last Supper one, his holy vessel has the property of that used by Christ. In so far Borron was led to his conception by the story as told in the canonical books; what help did he get from the Apocrypha? His mention of the Veronica legend and certain details in his presentment of Vespasian's vengeance on the Jews (e.g., his selling thirty for a penny) show him to have known the Vindicta Salvatoris, in which Joseph of Arimathea appears telling of his former captivity from which Christ Himself had delivered him. Thus Borron knew of Joseph's living when Vespasian came to Jerusalem. From the Gesta Pilati he had full information respecting the imprisonment of Joseph; he combined the accounts of these two apocryphal works, substituting a simple visit of Christ to Joseph for the deliverance as told in the Gesta Pilati, and making Vespasian the deliverer, whereto he may have been urged by Suetonius' account of the freeing of Josephus by Vespasian (Vesp. ch. v.). But why should Joseph become the Grail-keeper? Because the fortunes of the vessel used by the Saviour symbolise those of the Saviour's body; as that was present at the Last Supper, was brought to Pilate, handed over to Joseph, was buried, and after three days arose, so with the Grail. Compare, too, Christ's words to Joseph (892, etc.) in which the symbolical connection of the laying in the grave and the mass is fully worked out. Thus Joseph who laid Christ's body in the grave is the natural guardian of the symbol which commemorates that event, thus, too, the Grail is the natural centre point of all the symbolism of mass and sacrament, and thus the Grail found its place in the Joseph legend, ultimately becoming its most important feature. Need Perceval's question detain us? May it not be explained by the fact that as Joseph had to apply twice for Christ's body, so his representative, the Grail-seeker, had to apply twice for the symbol of Christ's body, the Grail? But it is, perhaps, best to consider the question and the Fisher King's weakness as inventions of Borron's, possibly derived from Breton sources, the ease with which the hero fulfils a task explained to him beforehand favouring such a view. Borron, it must be noticed, had no great inventive power; in the Joseph he is all right so long as he has the legend to follow; in the Merlin and the Perceval he clings with equal helplessness to the Breton sagas, confining himself to weaving clumsily the adventures of the Grail into the regular Arthur legend.

The question as to the authorship of the Grand St. Graal and the Queste, the latter so confidently attributed to W. Map, may now profitably be investigated. Map, who we know flourished 1143-1210 (see supra, p. 5), took part in all the political and social movements of his time. If we believe the testimony of the MSS. which ascribe to him the authorship of the following romances: (1) the Lancelot, in three parts; (2) the Queste; (3) the Mort Artur; (4) the Grand St. Graal, he would seem to have shown a literary activity quite incompatible with his busy life, when it is remembered how slow literary composition was in those days. Nor can it be reconciled with the words of Giraldus Cambrensis,[7] although Paulin Paris (Rom. i. 472) has attempted such a reconciliation by the theory that the words dicere and verba dare referred to composition in the vernacular, and that Map was opposing not his oratorical to Gerald's literary activity, but his French to Gerald's Latin works. Against this initial improbability and Gerald's positive testimony must be set, it is true, the witness of writers of the time and of the MSS. The most important is that of Hélie de Borron in his prologue to Guiron le Courtois.[8] After telling how Luces de Gast was the first to translate from the Latin book into French, and he did part of the story of Tristan, he goes on: "Apriés s'en entremist maistre Gautiers Map qui fu clers au roi Henry et devisa cil l'estoire de monseigneur Lancelot du Lac, que d'autre chose ne parla il mie gramment en son livre. Messiers Robers de Borron s'en entremist après. Je Helis de Borron, par la prière monseigneur de Borron, et pour ce que compaignon d'armes fusmes longement, en commençai mon livre du Bret." Again in the epilogue to the Bret,[9] "Je croi bien touchier sor les livres que maistres Gautiers Maup fist, qui fit lou propre livre de monsoingnour Lancelot dou Lac; et des autres granz livres que messires Robert de Berron fit, voudrai-je prendre aucune flor de la matière . . . en tel meniere que li livres de monsoingnour Luces de Gant et de maistre Gautier Maapp et ciz de monsoingnour Robert de Berron qui est mes amis et mes paranz charnex s'acourderont au miens livres—et je qui sui appelex Helyes de Berron qui fui engendrez dou sanc des gentix paladins des Barres qui de tous tens ont été commendeour et soingnor d'Outres en Roménie qui ores est appelée France." Now Hélie cannot possibly belong to the reign of Henry II (+1189) as asserted by Hucher (p. 59), as he speaks of Map in the past tense (fu clers), and Map outlived Henry, moreover the mention of Romenie proves the passage to have been written after the foundation of the Latin Empire in 1304. Hélie's testimony is thus not that of an immediate contemporary, and it only shows that shortly after Map's death the Lancelot was ascribed to him. It is, moreover, in so far tainted, that he speaks with equal assurance respecting the great Latin book which of course never existed; nor can we believe him when he says that he was the comrade of Robert de Borron, as this latter wrote before Chrestien, and must have been at least thirty years older than Hélie, who in the Guiron (written about 1220) calls himself a young man. How is it with the testimony of the MSS.? Those of the Lancelot have unfortunately lost their colophon, owing to the Queste being almost invariably added; those of the Queste show as a rule a colophon such as the one quoted by Paulin Paris from the Bibl. Nat., MS. 6,963 (MSS. Franç II., p. 361): "Maistre Gautiers Map les estrait pour son livre faire dou Saint-Graal, pour l'amor del roy Henri son seignor, qui fist l'estore translater dou latin en françois." A similar statement occurs in a MS. of the Mort Artur (Bib. Nat. 6,782.). Both are equally credible. Now as the King can only be Henry II (+1189) and as the Queste preceded the Mort Artur it must be put about 1185, and Chrestien's Conte du Graal about 1180, an improbably early date when it is recollected that the Conte du Graal is Chrestien's last work. The form, too, of these colophons, expressed as they are in the third person, so different from the garrulous first person complacency with which Luces de Gast and Hélie de Borron announce their authorship, excites the suspicion that we have here not the author's own statement, but that of a copyist following a traditional ascription. Whether or no Map wrote the Lancelot, it may safely be assumed that he did not write the Queste, or a fortiori the Grand St. Graal. The tradition as to his authorship of these romances may have originated in Geoffrey's mention of the Gualterus archidiaconus Oxenfordensis, to whom he owed his MS. of the Historia Regum Britanniae. A similar instance of traditional ascription on the part of the copyist may be noted in the MSS. of the Grand St. Graal, the author of which is declared to be Robert de Borron. The ordinary formulæ (quoted supra, p. 5) should be compared with Borron's own words in the Joseph (supra, p. 5) and the difference in form noted. What proves these passages to be interpolations is that the author of the Grand St. Graal especially declares in his prologue that his name must remain a secret. The colophons in question are simply to be looked upon as taken over from the genuine ascription of Borron's poem, and there is no positive evidence as to the authorship of either the Queste or the Grand St. Graal; both works are probably French in origin, as is shown by the mention of Meaux in the Grand St. Graal. As for the date of Borron's poem, a terminus ad quem is fixed by that of the Conte du Graal (1189); and as the poem is dedicated to Gautier of Montbeliard, who can hardly have been born before 1150, and who must have attained a certain age before he could become Robert's patron, it must fall between the years 1170 and 1190.

The results of the investigation may be summed up as follows: the origin of the Grail romances must be sought for in a Christian legend based partly upon the canonical, partly upon the uncanonical, writings. This Christian legend was woven into the Breton sagas by the author of the oldest Grail romance; the theories of Provençal Spanish, or Celtic origin are equally untenable, nor is there any need to countenance the fable of a Latin original. Chronologically, the versions arrange themselves thus:—

(1) Between 1170 and 1190 (probably about 1183) Robert de Borron wrote his trilogy: Joseph of Arimathea—Merlin—Perceval. Sources: Christian legend (Acta Pilati, Descensus Christi, Vindicta Salvatoris) and Breton sagas (Brut?). Here the Grail is simply a vessel of grace.
(2) About 1189 Chrestien began his Conte du Graal, the main source of which was the third part of Borron's poem. Marvellous food properties attributed to the Grail; introduction of the bleeding lance, silver dish, and magic sword.
(3) Between 1190 and 1200 Gautier de Doulens continued Chrestien's poem. Main sources, third part of (1) and first part of same for Early History—introduction of broken sword.
(4) Between 1190 and 1200 (but after Gautier?) the Queste du St. Graal written as continuation to the Lancelot. Sources (1) and (2) (for lance) and perhaps (3). New personages, Mordrain, Nascien, etc., introduced into Early History.
(5) Before 1204 Grand St. Graal written, mainly resting upon (4) but with use also of first part of (1).
(6) Between 1214 and 1220. Manessier's continuation of the Conte du Graal. For the Early History (5) made use of.
(7) Before 1225 Gerbert of Montreuil's additions to Manessier. Both (4) and (5) used.
(8) About 1225 Perceval li Gallois; compiled from all the previous versions.[10]

That part of Birch-Hirschfeld's theory which excited the most attention in Germany bore upon the relationship of Wolfram to Chrestien (see infra, Appendix A). In other respects his theory won very general acceptance. The commendatory notices were, however, of a slight character, and no new facts were adduced in support of his thesis. One opponent, however, he found who did more than rest his opposition upon the view of Wolfram's relationship to Chrestien. This was E. Martin, who ("Zeitschrift für d. Alterthumskunde," 1878, pp. 84 etc.) traversed most of Birch-Hirschfeld's conclusions. Whilst accepting the priority of Queste over Grand St. Graal he did not see the necessity of fixing 1204 as a terminus ad quem for the latter work as we now have it, as Helinandus' statement might have referred to an older version; if the Grand St. Graal could not be dated neither could the Queste. As for the Didot-Perceval there was nothing to prove that it was either Borron's work or the source of Chrestien and Gautier. Birch-Hirschfeld's arguments to show the interpolation of the lance passages were unsound; it was highly improbable either that Chrestien should have used the Perceval as alleged, or that Borron, the purely religious writer of the Joseph, should have changed his style so entirely in the Perceval. Moreover, Birch-Hirschfeld made Borron dedicate a work to Gautier of Montbeliard before 1183 when the latter must have been quite a young man, nor was there any reason to discredit Hélie de Borron's testimony that he and Robert had been companions in arms, a fact incredible had the one written forty years before the other. The work of Chrestien and his continuators must be looked upon as the oldest we had of the Grail cycle. It was likely that older versions had been lost. A Latin version might well have existed, forms such as Joseph de Barimaschie (i.e., ab Arimathea) pointed to it. Martin followed up this attack in his "Zur Gralsage, Untersuchungen," Strasburg, 1880. A first section is devoted to showing that Wolfram must have had other sources than Chrestien, and that in consequence such portions of his presentment as differ from Chrestien's must be taken into account in reconstructing the original form of the romance. The second and third sections deal with Heinrich von dem Türlin's "Die Crone," and with the earliest form of the tradition. Gawain's second visit to the Grail Castle, as told of by Heinrich (supra, p. 26) has features in common with the widely-spread traditions of aged men slumbering in caves or ruined castles, unable to die until the right word is uttered which breaks their spell. This conception differs from the one found in all the other versions inasmuch as in them the wonder-working question releases, not from unnaturally prolonged life, but from sore disease. Can a parallel be found in Celtic tradition to this sufferer awaiting deliverance? Does not Arthur, wounded well nigh to death by his nephew Modred, pass a charmed life in Avalon, whither Morgan la Fay carried him for his healing, and shall he not return thence to free his folk? The original conception is mythic—the summer god banished by the winter powers, but destined to come back again. The sage of Arthur's waiting, often in some subterranean castle, is widely spread, two of the earliest notices (those of Gervasius of Tilbury, in the "Otia Imperialia," p. 12 of Liebrecht's edition, and of Caesarius of Heisterbach) connect it with Etna—the tradition had followed the Norman Conquerors of Sicily thither—and from Sicily it would seem to have penetrated to Germany, being first found in German tradition as told of Frederick II. Again Gerald (A.D. 1188) in the "Itinerarium Cambriae" (Frankfort, 1603, p. 827, L. 48) tells of a mountain chain in the South-East of Wales: "quorum principalis Cadair Arthur dicitur i. Cathedra Arthuri, propter gemina promontorii cacumina in cathedrae modum se praeferentia. Et quoniam in alto cathedra et in ardua sita est, summo et maximo Britonum Regi Arthuro vulgari nuncupatione est assignata." The Eildon Hills may be noted in the same connection, "in which all the Arthurian chivalry await, in an enchanted sleep, the bugle blast of the adventurer who will call them at length to a new life" (Stuart Glennie, "Arthurian Localities," p. 60). If the Grail King is Arthur, the bleeding lance is evidently the weapon wherewith he was so sorely wounded. And the Grail? this is originally a symbol of plenty, of a joyous and bountiful life, hence of Avalon, that land of everlasting summer beyond the waves, wherein, as the Vita Merlini has it, they that visit Arthur find "planitiem omnibus deliciis plenam." Of those versions of the romance in which the Christian conception of the Grail is predominant, Robert de Borron's poem (composed about 1200) is the earliest, and in it, maugre the Christianising of the story, the Celtic basis is apparent: the Grail host go a questing Avalonwards; the first keepers are Brons and Alain, purely Celtic names, the former of which may be compared with Bran; the empty seat calls to mind the Eren stein in Ulrich von Zatzikhoven's Lanzelot, whereof (verse 5, 178) ist gesaget daz er den man niht vertruoc an dem was valsch oder haz. Admitting the purely Christian origin of the Grail leads to this difficulty: the vessel in which Christ's blood was received was a bowl, not an open or flat dish like that used in commemoration of the Last Supper. Evidently the identification of the Grail with the Last Supper cup is the latest of a series of transformations. Nor can the Christian origin of the legend be held proved by the surname of Fisher given to the Grail-keeper. True, neither Chrestien nor Wolfram explains this surname, whilst in Borron's poem there is at least a fish caught. But if the fish had really the symbolic meaning ascribed to it would not a far greater stress be laid upon it? In any case this one point is insufficient to prove the priority of Borron, and it is simpler to believe that the surname of Fisher had in the original Celtic tradition a significance now lost. Birch-Hirschfeld's theory supposes, too, a development contrary to that observed elsewhere in mediæval tradition. The invariable course is from the racial-heathen to the Christian legendary stage. Is it likely that in the twelfth century, a period of such highly developed mystic fancy, an originally Christian legend should lose its mystic character and become a subject for minstrels to exercise their fancy upon? In the earlier form of the romance there is an obvious contrast between the task laid upon the Grail quester and that laid upon Gawain at Castle Marvellous. The first has suffered change by its association with Christian legend; but the second, even in those versions influenced by the legend, has retained its primitive Celtic character. The trials which Gawain has to undergo may be compared with those imposed on him who seeks to penetrate into the underworld, as pictured in the Purgatorium S. Patricii, in the Visio Tnugdali, etc. This agrees well with the presentment of Castle Marvellous, an underworld realm where dwell four queens long since vanished from Arthur's court, and which, according to Chrestien (verse 9,388), Gawain, having once found, may no longer leave. One of these queens is Arthur's mother, whom a magician had carried off, a variant it would seem of the tradition which makes Arthur's father, Uther, win Igerne from her husband by Merlin's magic aid. Many other reminiscences of Celtic tradition may be found in the romances—Orgeleuse, whom Gawain finds sitting under a tree by a spring, is just such a water fairy as may be met with throughout the whole range of Celtic folk-lore, and differs profoundly from the Germanic conception of such beings.

W. Hertz, in his "Sage vom Parzival und dem Gral" (Breslau, 1882) following, in the main, Birch-Hirschfeld, lays stress upon the two elements, "legend" and "sage" out of which the romance cycle has sprung. He does not overlook many of the weak points in Birch-Hirschfeld's theory, e.g., whilst fully accepting the fish caught by Brons as the symbol of Christ, he notices that the incident as found in Robert de Borron, whom he accepts as the first in date of the cycle writers, is not of such importance as to justify the stress laid upon the nickname "rich fisher," by all the ex hypothesi later writers. The word "rich" must, he thinks, have originally referred to the abundant power of conversion of heathen vouchsafed to the Grail-keeper, but even Robert failed to grasp the full force of the allusion. Against Birch-Hirschfeld he maintains that the connection of Joseph with the conversion of Britain in all the versions shows that the legend must have assumed definite shape first on British soil, and he looks upon the separatist and anti-papal tendencies of the British Church as supplying the original impulse to such a legend. The Grail belongs originally wholly to the "Legend;" only in the later versions and in Wolfram, owing to the latter's ignorance of its real nature, does it assume a magic and popular character. The lance, on the other hand, is partly derived from the Celtic sage. The boyhood of Perceval is a genuine folk-story, a great-fool tale, and had originally nothing to do with the Grail, as may plainly be seen by reference to the Thornton Sir Perceval, the most primitive form of the story remaining, the Mabinogi, and the modern Breton tale of Peronnik, deriving directly or indirectly from Chrestien. As for the question, although it presented much that seemed to refer it to folk-tradition, as for instance in Heinrich von dem Türlin's version, where Gawain's putting the question releases the lord of the castle and his retainers from the enchantment of life-in-death, yet the form of the question, "Je vos prie que vous me diez que l'en sert de cest vessel," shows its original connection with the Grail cultus, and necessitates its reference to the "Legend." Existing versions fail, however, to give any satisfactory account of the question. It is a matter of conjecture whether in the earliest form of the legend (which Hertz assumes to have been lost) it was found in the same shape as in the Didot-Perceval.

Birch-Hirschfeld's theory has already been implicitly criticised in Chapter III. The considerations adduced therein, as well as Martin's criticisms and Hertz's admissions, preclude the necessity of examining it in further detail. Formally speaking, the theory rests upon the assumption that we have Borron's work substantially as he wrote it, an assumption which, as shown by the difference in motif between the Metrical Joseph and the Didot-Perceval, is inaccurate. Again, the theory does not account for the silence of all the other versions respecting Brons and that special conception of the Grail found in Borron's poem. Nor does it offer any satisfactory explanation of the mysterious question which Birch-Hirschfeld can only conjecture to have been a meaningless invention, eine harmlose Erfindung, of Borron's. In fact, only such portions of the cycle are exhaustively examined as admit of reference to the alleged originating idea, and a show of rigorous deduction is thus made, the emptiness of which becomes apparent when the entire legend, and not one portion only, is taken into account. Despite the learning and acuteness with which it is urged, Birch-Hirschfeld's theory must be rejected, if it were only because, as Martin points out, it postulates a development of the legend which is the very opposite of the normal one. We cannot admit that this vast body of romance sprang from a simple but lofty spiritual conception, the full significance of which, unperceived even by its author, was totally ignored, not only, were that possible, by Chrestien and his continuators, but by the theologising mystics who wrote the Grand St. Graal and the Queste—aye, and even by the latest and in some respects the most theologically minded of all the writers of the cycle, the author of the Prose Perceval le Gallois and Gerbert. We must say, with Otto Küpp (Zacher's Zeitschrift, XVII, 1, p. 68), "die jetzt versuchte christliche Motivierung ist ganz unglücklich geraten und kann in keiner Weise befriedigen."

The field is thus clear for an examination of the Quest with a view to determining whether the Grail really belongs to it or not. The first step is to see what relationship exists between the oldest form of the Quest and what have been called the non-Grail members of the cycle—i.e., the Mabinogi of Peredur ab Evrawc and the Thornton MS. Sir Perceval. As preliminary to this inquiry, an attempt must be made to determine more closely the relationship of the Didot-Perceval to the Conte du Graal—whether it be wholly derived from the latter, or whether it may have preserved through other sources traces of a different form of the story than that found in Chrestien.[11]


  1. It is remarkable, considering the scanty material at his disposal, how accurate Schulz' analysis is, and how correct much of his argumentation.
  2. Wagner has admirably utilised this hint of Simrock's in his Parsifal, when his Kundry (the loathly damsel of Chrestien and the Mabinogi) is Herodias. Cf. infra, Ch. X.
  3. Excepting, of course, the late fifteenth and early sixteeth century Paris imprints, which represented as a rule, however, the latest and most interpolated forms, and Mons. Fr. Michel's edition of Borron's poem.
  4. Hucher's argument from v. 2817 (supra p. 106) that the poem knew of the Grand St. Graal is, however, not met.
  5. Vide p. 200, for Birch-Hirschfeld's summary comparison of the two works, and cf. infra p. 127.
  6. Cf. infra p. 128, for a criticism of this statement.
  7. Opera V. 410: Unde et vir ille eloquio clarus W. Mapus, Oxoniensis archidiaconus (cujus animae propitietur Deus) solita verborum facetia et urbanitate praecipua dicere pluris et nos in hunc modum convenire solebat: "Multa, Magister Geralde, scripsistis et multum adhuc scribitis, et nos multa diximus. Vos scripta dedistis et nos verba."
  8. Printed in full, Hucher, I. 156, etc.
  9. Printed by Hucher, I. p. 35, etc.
  10. The remainder of Birch-Hirschfeld's work is devoted to proving that Chrestien was the only source of Wolfram von Eschenbach, the latter's Kiot being imagined by him to justify his departure from Chrestien's version; departures occasioned by his dissatisfaction with the French poet's treatment of the subject on its moral and spiritual side. This element in the Grail problem will be found briefly dealt with, Appendix A.
  11. I have not thought it necessary, or even advisable, to notice what the "Encyclopædia Britannica" (Part XLI, pp. 34, 35) and some other English "authorities" say about the Grail legends.