Parzival - A Synopsis
Source: Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach, translated
by A. T. Hatto (Penguin Classics), a widely known version. I recommend a more recent translation by Cyril Edwards (D. S. Brewer, Cambridge, 2004). The story is told in sixteen chapters or books, half devoted to the main plot, the Grail Quest of Parzival, and half devoted to the "backstory" about the how the Grail King acquired his wound, explained in the Gawain episodes.
“Alas, we no longer have her kindred
with us to the eleventh generation.” The events of this
tale happened eleven generations before 1200 AD, when Wolfram lived.
ONE: The exploits of the hero’s father,
In Syria, long before the Holy Wars, lived king Gandin of Anjou
whose ancestral home was faraway France. Gandin had a son named
Gahmuret, a bold and adventurous knight who feared no adversary,
but excelled especially in wooing women and avoiding penance
for his lustful ways. When Gandin died in combat, Gahmuret refused
his entitlement to rank and riches, preferring instead to wander
in Arabia. He visited Baghdad, Damascus and Allepo before coming
to the Kingdom of Zazamanc where he met the beautiful queen,
Belcane. Having just lost her husband, Belcane needed someone
to protect her lands. When Gahmuret intervened in her behalf,
all was saved.
Although tempted by the many dusky ladies of the court, Gahmuret
fell hard for Belcane, who generously offered him her favors.
Although she was an infidel (non-Christian), her devotion to
him was almost religious. For some time they were happy, with
Gahmuret amusing himself in jousts and chivalric tests.
Soon Gahmuret grew restless to wander and find new adventures.
On the night Belcane conceived his child, he departed, leaving
a letter in which he declared that he loved her, indeed, but
Love itself would ever be his Mistress. In due time, Belcane
had a child, a boy all mottled black and white, whom she called
Feirefiz, “pied son.” Meanwhile, his father had already
roamed faraway to Spain.
TWO Parzival´s father and mother meet
Once in Spain, Gahmuret pursued a round of tournaments leading
from one country to the next. In Wales he came to a huge encampment,
for the Queen of that land had convened a contest for knights
from many countries, including Arthur, king of the Britons and
head of the Round Table. Apart from jousting, romantic intrigues
engaged many of the warriors. Gahmuret was quite infatuated with
the recently widowed queen of France, but another woman stood
in his destiny. This was Herzeloyde, queen of Wales and granddaughter
of Titurel, the Gral King. Her husband had died before they consummated
their marital bond, so Herzeloyde challenged the knights to compete
for her hand, and Gahmuret won. He accepted with reticence his
second bride, for his pride was wounded at being selected in
this way. Gahmuret´s heart was troubled by one foreign
wife he had abandoned and another who now claimed marital status,
supported by the Church. He longed to venture forth in feats
of bravery in spite of Herzeloyde’s claim. The knight of
Anjou was fated by fairy blood (the female creature who had mated
with his father was not human) to conflicted love.
In his passion for female charms, Gahmuret went to Herzeloyde’s
bed, and the couple were consumed in kisses. When the knight
(now king in Wales) freed the men he had defeated and rewarded
them with many riches, all he claimed for himself was the silken
nightgown of his lady, which he attached decorously to his armor.
Then he followed his courage to engage in combat overseas. Herzeloyde,
now abandoned, soon had a startling dream of a shooting-star,
the announcement that the mighty Gahmuret had finally been killed.
The father was dead, but at eighteen weeks his child quickened
in her womb. The widow called her son Parzival.
THREE Parzival becomes a knight in armor
Herzeloyde was determined that her son know nothing of the chivalric
way of life, the cause of all her sorrows. Forsaking court life
and its privileges, she retired deep into the forest. Parzival
grew up in nature, loving the plants, birds, and animals. He
was skilled in hunting with a javelin, and knew nothing of the
way of life his father had followed. Uninstructed, he wondered
about many things, including who or what is God.
One day some knights from Arthur’s court came riding through
the forest. Parzival at first thought they must be devils, so
huge and threatening did they look; then he took them for angels,
due to the bright reflections on their armor. The knights so
impressed the innocent boy that he soon lost interest in spearing
deer. He longed to depart and enter knighthood. Devastated by
this turn of fate, Herzeloyde hoped to foil his plans by dressing
him in sackbloth breeches and clumsy boots, like a court jester.
She implored him to follow four rules: to greet everyone courteously,
avoid murky fords, follow the advice of grey-haired elders, and
upon meeting a lady, waste no time to kiss and embrace her, and
then take her ring as a token. She also informed him of ancestral
quarrels and threats against her lands. Parzival swore to avenge
her and set off, not even looking back.
So aggrieved was Herzeloyde that she expired on the spot.
Armed with his hunting spear and clad like a fool, Parzival rode
into the forest of Broceliade in Brittany. There he came upon
a woman weeping, Sigune. In her lap lay the body of a young knight,
just slain. She noted the fresh and charming looks of the fool-like
lad, and then, suddenly, she realized who he was: Parzival, “pierced
through the heart,” so named because both love and sorrow
in great measure pierce the heart of a widow with child.. Sigune
informed the boy that she and he were cousins.
Parzival then rode on until he reached Nantes. He cut a rather
ridiculous sight compared to the poised, finely arrayed knights
he sighted along the way. Arriving at Arthur´s castle in
Nantes, Parzival hoped to be made a knight, even though he had
never fought a battle. Arthur recognized his talent and sent
him out directly to battle Ither, the Red Knight. He was wounded,
but he slew Ither with his javelin and took the man´s armor,
putting it on over his fool-like outfit. After ceremonies at
Arthur´s court, and some lessons in chivalry and jousting,
he left that place and rode away to another city where he met
an elder, grey-headed knight. This was Gurnemanz, who became
his tutor, teaching him about the Glance of Love that every knight
desires, for valiant deeds are best done at the bidding of a
lady. Dressed in elegant attire, Parzival attended court with
his tutor, but his manners were rude and he talked incessantly
of his mother and childish things. Gurnemanz advised him never
to lose his sense of shame, hold women in high esteem, always
wash after jousting, show compassion for those who are needy
and in distress, be rich and poor with discretion, and do not
ask too many questions. Thus he acquired the rudiments of the
chivalric code and manners. Trained in horsemanship and fighting
skills, Parzival soon became a celebrated jousting champion.
Gurnemanz advised his daughter Liaze to proffer kisses to the
innocent young knight. He has Fortune herself for a guide, he
told the girl. But Parzival wished to do more fighting before
he warmed to a woman´s arms. Gurnemanz told him how his
son had died in defence of a fair woman, Condwiramurs, whose
life and person were still under threat. At this Parzival was
much sorrowed, for he had heard of so much death and loss, often
touching his own family. He promised to accept the hand of Liaze,
but only after he had been able to reconcile these sorrows by
FOUR The hero weds a queen and saves her
Parzival rode straightaway toward the domain of Condwiramirs,
the fortress of Belrepair in Alsace. Under siege and guarded
by many knights, the fortress harbored a population mired in
starvation and misery. To Parzival, the beauty of the queen was
dazzling, outshining Liaze and the other women he had met. He
was deeply moved, but endeavored to be polite, not being too
forward or asking too many questions, as his mentor had advised.
Parzival arranged for the famine to be alleviated, sparing the
deaths of many. The queen sought to reward him with her favors,
but both she and Parzival were so unlearned in love they made
a mess of it. Returning to the harsh reality of their situation,
Condwiramirs implored him to save her kingdom and break the siege.
The next day he went into the thick of battle, fighting with
a sword for the first time. He defeated the oppressor and made
him swear loyalty to the queen. There followed a feast and celebration.
Everyone now expected the hero and the queen to marry, but Parzival
was still confused about the intimate side of life. Only after
some time, and with much fumbling, did they consummate their
Now Parzival was king of a devastated land, and not at all sure
how to handle the riches and the power he possessed. Soon he
asked his wife for leave to see how his mother Herzeloyde was
faring, ignorant that she had died on his departure.
FIVE First visit to the Castle of the
Grail on Wild Mountain
Parzival ventured homeward, but erratically, with no one to guide
him right. One evening he came to a lake where he saw, at some
distance, a man arrayed in a hat with peacock feathers seated
in a boat, quietly fishing. When he inquired about lodgings for
the night, the angler directed him to a nearby castle with moat
and drawbridge, the only place around. As it happened, the angler
was lord of that very castle.
Parzival was welcomed by knights young and old, and tended graciously
by servants who took away his armor and arms. A page offered
him a cloak of gold of Araby, a ceremonial garment, saying it
was a loan from the princess Repanse de Schoye. In the inner
hall of the castle Parzival found a large company seated on a
hundred couches with many sumptuous quilts. Fragrant aloes burned
in the chimneys. The lord of that place, the angler he had met,
was called Amfortas, the son of Titurel (grandfather of his mother,
though Parzival knew it not – not yet). He was seated in
a hammock near a huge fire, and, to Parzival´s surprise,
he looked more dead than alive. Clearly the old man was ailing,
and needed to be wrapped in sables to stay warm. He invited Parzival
to sit close by his side.
Now a sad spectacle came to pass. Under the gaze of grave-faced
knights, a page ran into the hall, bearing the Bleeding Lance,
and the whole company set to weeping and wailing. But somehow
the Lance assuaged the very anguish it aroused.
Next, through an iron door at the far end of the hall, came a
procession of flaxen-haired maidens in scarlet gowns, their heads
bedecked with flowers, each bearing a golden candelabra; then
four ladies with ivory trestles to be set before the ailing king;
and then – more wonders! – four ladies with a glorious
slab of garnet-hyacinth, cut thin to make a table-top. The eight
ladies wore robes of brilliant green, ample in length and girded
at the waist with narrow silken bands. Other maidens, making
eighteen in all, brought the serving ware to set this glorious
table. And after them all came the princess, Repanse de Schoye,
attired in rich brocade, her face radiant as the sunrise. Upon
a green platter she bore a paradisal thing called ‘the
Gral.’ Lights played around the Gral from six slender vials
with balsam burning. The princess bowed to the maidens with the
vials, and set the Gral before the wounded king.
Parzival gazed dumbfounded at all of this, thinking it so odd
that he wore the cloak of the princess who bore the Gral.
Now the entire company gathered to the table, attended by many
pages and servants, and the Gral served forth wondrous repast
to them all, dishes warm and cold, new and old, a boundless feast
to be consumed from the magic cornucopia. And then, after the
meal, whichever liquor the guests desired welled forth from the
same source. Parzival witnessed all this in wonderment, but true
to the dictates of good breeding, he refrained from asking any
questions about what he beheld. While he was musing, a page brought
him a sword with a ruby on its hilt, but even then, though prompted,
the hero asked no question.
Soon the feasting was done, the ladies performed their services
in reverse order, and the company dispersed,. Then it was time
for Parzival to retire to his chambers. He slept a while and
awoke drenched in sweat. Beside him was his armor and two swords,
but no one was around, no page or maiden of the court. Siezed
by fury and confusion, he ran through the halls of the castle,
but all was deserted except for one page hidden behind a curtain.
Damn you, the page cried out, for you did not ask the Question.
Parzival was stunned, but when he called back, the page went
away as if walking in his sleep, and slammed the palace gate.
Outside, Parzival could find no trace of the departed company,
or any trace he found grew fainter as he followed it. After some
futile searching, he heard the voice of a woman lamenting. She
lay in the grass beside a dead knight who was embalmed. At first
Parzival did not recognize his cousin on his mother´s side,
Sigune, whom he had met before. When he attempted to recount
his perplexity to her, concerning all that had happened in the
castle with the showing of the Gral, she countered in a more
perplexing way, and spoke in riddling terms. Would you deceive
those who trust you?, she asked. There cannot have been such
a place, or if there is, it cannot be found by seeking – though
many try. Someone who is meant to find it will do so in an unwitting
way. Such a place is Wild Mountain, the castle in the wilderness.
It is the realm of Amfortas, King of the Gral. His brother Trevrizent
lives in poverty and seclusion in a hermit´s cell, somewhere
nearby. The Gral King suffers a grievous wound that will not
heal, yet he cannot die from it, either… But you are Parzival,
she continued, and you must know all about this. Recount to me
the wonders you beheld at the showing of the Gral. Tell me, most
of all, that the agony of the king has been ended.
How did you recognize me?, Parzival asked. Sigune replied that
they had met before and reminded him of their family connections:
his mother was her aunt. They were all relatives of the Gral
Family, it seemed. He did not recognize her because she had shorn
her hair to lament the death of her beloved knight. Sigune told
her cousin that the sword he carried, given to him at Wild Mountain,
was a magical weapon, but she feared that he had left the magic
of it behind! You missed the greatest treasure in the world,
she said, because you did not ask the Question. For this you
will be considered a dishonorable person, a man accursed.
Devastated to hear that he could never make amends for his ignorance
at Wild Mountain, Parzival turned away and departed.
SIX At Arthur´s Court, the hero meets Gawain and, later,
It was Michaelmas, yet a heavy snow fell on the forest in Wales,
close to the court of Arthur. The king´s falconers were
out hunting geese near the place where Parzival had halted. When
one falcon struck, three drops of the goose´s blood fell
in the new fallen snow. At this sight, Parzival fell into a trance,
seeing in the drops the color of the lips and flushing cheek
of Condwiramirs, his love. Love enthralled him, and longing for
that woman, and that one alone, pierced his soul.
Roused from his trance by Arthur´s retinue, Parzival went
to the place where the king and Guenevere were holding court.
When he engaged in some jousting for sport, he was almost wounded
because the trance lingered, and Lady Love dulled his reactions.
Parzival was doubly troubled, finding his thoughts for the Gral
mixed with his longing for Love, but Love weighed heavier. Meeting
Gawain, one of the greatest warriors of the Round Table, brought
him back to his senses. The two knights quickly became bosom
companions. They rode off together in search of chivalric challenges
equal to their skills. Gawain consorted with many women, and
Parzival won the affection of many lovely ladies of the land.
One day a damsel came riding their way, mounted on a Castilian
mule festooned with tatooes, but this was no ordinary lady. A
long plait of hair coarse as bristle fell across her face, her
massive eyebrows were combed back, her nose was like a dog’s,
tusks jutted from her jaws, her ears were bear-like, her skin
ape-colored, and her fingernails, though transparent, resembled
lion´s claws. This fetching sweetheart often brought sorrow
to Arthur’s court, where she was called Kundrie the Sorceress.
She spoke all languages, Latin, Arabic, French, German. Riding
straight into the great hall of the Round Table, she accosted
Parzival in scathing words: King Arthur, you should know that
the honor of the Round Table has been disgraced by the presence
of this knight, Parzival. I curse him and his fair looks! You
all may find me monstrous, but I am less so than this ignoble
knight who, when he came upon the Sorrowful Angler, failed to
see and remedy his plight. A heartless guest he was at Wild Mountain.
He saw the Gral and the Bloody Lance, and did nothing, asked
not the Question. He is a disgrace to his family. Turning to
Parzival, she said, Your renown has proven false. Your mother
birthed a widow´s son in vain, for you have strayed from
the right path of destiny!
Addressing the court before his departure, Parzival vented his
grief without reserve. Alas, what is God? he cried. Were he all-powerful
would he have brought me to this shame over the Gral and the
Bleeding Lance? Now I will quit his service and be a godless
knight, guided by womanly inspiration, not anything divine. And
so, nearly cursing God as Kundrie had cursed him, Parzival climbed
on his war-horse and rode away with his bosom pal, Gawain. But
soon enough they parted ways.
SEVEN – EIGHT Adventures of Gawain in love and tests
NINE Meeting Sigune a third time, Parzival
finds Trevrizent the hermet, who instructs him in the crooked
ways of destiny
Riding through the forest somewhere near Wild Mountain, Parzival
came upon a new-built cell inhabited by a woman to be seen only
through a small window: his cousin, Sigune, who recognized him
after a moment. She had retired to an ascetic life in this homely
cell next to the grave of her slain lover. Sigune told him that
she was sustained by nourishment from the Gral – brought
each Saturday by the sorceress Kundrie!
Distraught by the mere suggestion that he was close to Wild Mountain,
Parzival rode away without choosing a direction, letting his
horse go unreined. After some time, he found himself in the depths
of the forest where a light mantle of snow covered the ground.
The horse took him to a place called Fountain in the Wilderness
where lived the hermit Trevrizent, deeply versed in matters of
the Gral. As they engaged in friendly conversation, Parzival
tells the hermit, I am deeply resentful of God, who has set me
a high goal, and buried my happiness too deep. The old hermit
assures him that God is identical with truth, and one should
not play Him false. Anger is of no avail, he said, for it is
a Luciferic trait. But Parzival doubted if Lucifer ever existed.
Accepting this unlearned response as his cue, Trevrizent offered
to teach the young knight about these lofty matters.
Now the hermit instructed Parzival concerning True Love, Grace,
and the translucent light of the Godhead. He averred that he
had seen with his own eyes the Gral, the source of Parzival’s
distress. Trevrizent explained the story of the Gral: that it
fell from the crown of Lucifer when he plunged from heaven out
of overweening pride. Those who look upon it will by its radiance
be kept from age and disease, the hermit told him. And there
is another wonder, the Writing that appears on the rim of
the Gral, announcing the name and lineage of the one destined
to succeed the Gral King. The wounding of Amfortas was due to
amorous excess outside of wedlock. A noble company had gathered
around that unfortunate king, living with him on Wild Mountain
in the midst of a wasted land, where no one ever goes except
if it is destined. Such a person once did come, but he was young
and indiscreet, and asked nothing to alleviate the plight of
the Gral King and the Noble Company.
As the old hermit recounted these matters, he and Parzival looked
deeply into each other´s eyes. The moment of recognition
came at last. Parzival spoke of his father and his lineage from
the house of Anjou. Trevrizent now understood that the young
knight was his nephew and a member of the Company. He was the
one to tell Parzival that his mother was dead. The hermit did
not reproach Parzival harshly, but he said that any Lord of the
Gral who seeks love other than what is allowed by the Writing,
will suffer pain and sorrow. This was the case of Amfortas, leading
to his wound: a spear through the scrotum. This happened in the
Valley of the Tigris. When the king returned to his native land,
the wound festered, causing him much pain, yet he did not die
of it. Only the power of the eternal, self-renewing Gral sustained
him. It eased the pain when the Bleeding Lance dipped in the
Gral was applied to the wound.
Beholding such wonders, Trevrizent and the Company had fallen
on their knees before the Gral. Then a Writing appeared, the
hermit told him, speaking in a tone of awe. The Writing said
that a knight would come, the son of a widow, and ask the Question, but
if anyone were to forewarn him or prompt him to do so, its effect
would fail, and the injury of Amfortas would give rise to
even greater pain. He may omit the Question once, the Writing
told them, but on the second chance he shall save the kingdom
of the Gral. Amfortas will be healed, and be king no more. So
will the passing of the Gral be accomplished.
Trevrizent sighed, then he told Parzival that he had heard that
such a knight did come to Wild Mountain, but brought shame to
the Noble Company because he failed to ask the right question.
Parzival was stabbed to the heart with remorse. After some hesitation,
he told the hermit that it was he, the knight who failed to ask
the Question. Trevrizent was deeply alarmed by this confession,
yet he siezed the moment to ask, Did you also see the Bleeding
Lance at Wild Mountain? You must understand, dear nephew, he
continued, that when Saturn reaches the zenith and snow falls
in summer, the wound hurts most intensely. The power of the Lance
can alleviate it, but sometimes it must be thrust deep into the
wound, not merely applied to it. Under these grave conditions,
the Company had no more avail to magic powers, but had to turn
to the doctrine of the Baptism that promises divine intervention.
Parzival listened closely to the hermit´s explanation,
almost overwhelmed by the complexity and cosmic aspect of it
all. To his relief, Trevrizent changed the subject. He talked
at length about Gahmuret and Herzeloyde, for he knew all about
the young knight’s family background. He told Parzival
that Repanse de Schoye, who loaned him her ceremonial cloak,
was his aunt on his mother´s side. Indeed, Trevrizent was
his maternal uncle, and Titurel was the grandsire of the entire
clan, the first to whom the Gral was awarded. With these intimate
revelations of Parzival’s own life, the hermit’s
instruction came to an end.
TEN – ELEVEN – TWELVE - THIRTEEN More
amorous pursuits and knightly contests of Gawain, with the
story of Klingsor, a black magican
While Parzival resided with the hermit Trevrizent,
his bosom companion (almost his double) Gawain pursued a good
many amorous adventures and engaged in chivalric contests, which
he always won. His love of ladies was without limits, so he went
recklessly from one to another, never regretting a moment spent
in passionate embrace. His love was carnal, but noble as well.
Most of all he wished to win the heart of Orgeluse, a proud and
beautiful queen adept at sensuous love.
Once in Morocco, or perhaps Sicily, Gawain came upon a dark fortress
wherin he found a magic bed made of glass, the cunning device
of Klingsor, the black magician. Even the pavement around the
bed was glassy, so Gawan walked gingerly, then he took a flying
leap and landed in it! Thus he plunged without sword or armour
into a battle with supernatural forces, all due to the shadowy
magic of Klingsor. Much wounded and exhausted, Gawain was succoured
by a wise old queen who told him, You shall recover with medicine
I get from Kundrie the Sorceress, who brings it from Wild Mountain.
Gawain was relieved to hear of this connection to the Company
of the Gral, but he still had more magical battles to fight,
weird and terrifying trials. All through his adventures, the
valiant knight was counselled and healed by various women, including
Orgeluse and Kundrie.
Time and again Gawain found himself at Marvel Castle, the domain
of Klingsor. Burdened with woman trouble, he kept being pulled
into an adventure with the resident enchanter of that place.
In the palace where Klingsor dwelt there was a spiral staircase
that circled around a splendid Pillar brought from Araby. The
Pillar was all formed of crystals and geometrically designed.
When Gawain ascended it, he saw many marvels and visions.
From a Sabian queen gifted with star-gazing powers, Gawain learned
that the black magician, who was subtle and urbane, had a secret
purpose in getting men of arms to fight each other. The key to
the entire affair came to Gawain in the words of his lady love,
the Duchesse Orgeluse. She told him that she was once loved by
Amfortas, who in her service acquired his grievous wound. This
tragedy had happened because Klingsor, that necromancer, extorted
a Treasure from Orgeluse, and tempted men into fighting to win
it back for her. Otherwise, Amfortas would not have challenged
Klingsor, but if he hadn´t Orgeluse would have become the
magician’s slave. Of the men who defended her, the greatest
was Ither, the Red Knight, she told Gawain, but, alas, he had
been slain by a young warrior named Parzival.
Gawain was startled to hear his friend´s name spoken in
this manner. He knew that the adventure with Klingsor must now
take a different turn. Many noble people were enspelled at Marvel
Castle, where Klingsor regaled them with a mock feast that parodied
the feeding by the Gral. Aided by his faithful consort Orgeluse,
Gawain escaped the magician´s realm, and they returned
together to the court of King Arthur. There it was Arnive, Arthur´s
mother, who confided in Gawain further aspects of his adventure.
She told him that Klingsor’s magic only reached the kingdom
of Arthur in a diluted way, but elsewhere it was extremely potent.
His base was Terre de Labur in Calabria. Klingsor was descended
from Virgil of Naples, a powerful enchanter. From Italy he and
his wife Iblis cast many a spell abroad, even though the magician
was not really a whole man, but handicapped - castrated by a
rival king who found him in bed with his wife. Klingsor then
Persia where he learned the arts of black magic. Because of the
castration, he bore ill will to men and women alike. Thus the
aged Arnive gravely told Gawain.
In his high fortress in Sicily, Klingsor performed ingenious
magic in imitation of the Gral, providing himself with all manner
of precious things, and sustenance to last some thirty years.
But in his weird adventures at Marvel Castle, Arnive said, Gawain
had overridden these powers of enchantment. In fact, he had won
the black magic from Klingsor and converted it, so that he was
free of molestation and malice. Due to the valiant efforts of
Gawain, many noble people could return to a normal life, no longer
under the evil spells emanating from Castle Marvel. All the people
of the land in Arthur’s realm and far afield as well celebrated
the restoration of the Nobility.
There remained but one adventure for Gawain,
a final contest that would lead him back to the true stem of
FOURTEEN Gawain and Parzival are reunited
Honor demanded that Gawain, who had accomplished so much, must
also avenge the murder of the husband of his true love, Orgeluse.
The man who did this deed was King Gramoflanz, but he was protected
by another knight whom fortune had designated to fight in his
stead. Gawain engaged the unknown knight who, like himself, was
heavily armored, head to toe. Their faces could not be seen.
When Gawain’s opponent had almost won, the unknown man
suddenly abstained and threw his sword away. Declaring to serve
Gawain rather than slay him, the man removed his helmet. It was
Parzival! Gawain praised his friend, unseen for so long, declaring:
Because your heart is true, you have mastered yourself.
King Gramoflanz arrived and everyone tried to sort out the confusion
and understand how the mission to fight in his stead had fallen
to Parzival. But the matter was anything but simple, and conflict
flared up again before the noble men were reconciled. Finally,
Gawain departed with King Arthur and his entourage, leaving Parzival
alone and feeling quite depressed. At the end of all these adventures,
he could think only of his missing love, Condwiramirs. I am of
Love’s lineage, he declared to himself, so why has Love
abandoned me? May fortune now guide me to what is best to do.
Perhaps God does not wish my unhappiness after all…
With such thoughts roiling in his mind, Parzival struck out on
his trusty steed toward his native land of Wales.
FIFTEEN Parzival meets his half-brother,
Feirefiz, and Kundrie appears again
It seems, however, that before the hero returned home, one more
contest had to be faced, one final enemy met and subdued, or
reconciled as an ally. Through his life in the Order of Chivalry,
Parzival had faced many opponents, usually fighting in the cause
of vengence or honor, but this challenge was different. In the
East a champion appeared, a man ignorant of Christianity who
desired love and fame - the Infidel, Feirefiz. His wealth and
privilege were untold, far exceeding that of King Arthur. It
was inevitable that he and Parzival would meet and clash.
When they did, the fighting was fierce and closely matched. It
went on for hours until Parzival´s sword shattered. At
this, Feirefiz, unwilling to slay an unarmed man, threw his own
sword aside. He suggested they make a truce, and Parzival concurred.
So they sat down together on the grass. When the Infidel declared
his name to be Feirefiz of Anjou, Parzival was startled, wondering
how a man of Araby could claim a French dynastic name – which
happened to be his name, as well. When they bared their
heads of their helments, the truth was known. They were half-brothers
who had never met before.
Delighted at this turn of events, Feirefiz offered Parzival a
good share of his lands in Araby, untold riches and power equal
to the Sultan of Baghdad. Feirefiz confessed that he would like
to meet their father. His half-brother told him that Gahmuret
had been an honorable man at the service of ladies, to whom his
loyalty was as great as Christian faith to God, but, alas, he
was dead. Both forlorn at their losses, the knights decided to
travel to Arthur´s court together. Parzival assured Feirefiz
that there were many ladies of radiant beauty in the entourage
of the Round Table.
There was a great furor at Arthur´s court at the news of
their coming, and wild festivities upon their arrival. The costumes
and manners of all those attending were spectacular. Among the
entourage of ladies came one who wore the device of the Gral
upon her breast. She descended from her mount and knelt before
Parzival. He recognized her with a shudder of resentment, but
put his feelings aside. It was Kundrie the Sorceress, who had
cursed him for failing to ask the Question. Now, she praised
him before the entire Company: A happy one you are, at last,
to be united with Feirefiz. I bring you news for rejoicing. The
Writing has said that you are to be Lord of the Gral. Arise and
Kundrie then recited the names of the stars and planetary designs
that had determined this moment of good fortune. The Noble Company
rejoiced, and Orgeluse, the lady of Gawain, wept tears of joy
to know that Parzival´s Question would end the suffering
of the wounded king. Many others also wept.
SIXTEEN The hero comes to the Gral Castle
the second time, heals the wounded king, and passes on the
At Wild Mountain, Amfortas and the family of the Gral were still
suffering their curious plight: to be sustained by the Gral,
but stranded in the wasted land surrounding the mountain, unable
to leave or share the Gral with the world outside. Amfortas’ pain
was at its peak, and the wound stank to high heaven. The family
used herbs and fragrant extracts to clear the air, and they surrounded
him with countless magical jewels, but this was not the magic
Guided by Kundrie, the knights arrived quite soon, and the king
received them joyfully. Upon seeing his uncle, Parzival asked
the Question: Sire, what ails thee? The effect was immediate,
for Amfortas began to feel on the mend. Immediately the court
set about to enthrone Parzival as King of the Gral. The hermit
Trevrizent marvelled that Parzival's innocent defiance had wrung
a concession from God.
Parzival left Wild Mountain to join his wife, Condwiramirs, and
their twin sons, Lohengrin and Kardeiz, who were living at a
nearby encampment. She received him with laughter and affection,
and, later when they were alone, deep passion. In the days that
followed some decisive choices were made, and dramatic events
transpired for the family. Parzival gave his ancestral lands
to Kardeiz, his younger son. Henceforth, the Gral was not shown
ceremoniously at regular times – now that the need to succour
the king and feed the Company was ended – but only on special
occasions as happened now, when Repanse presented the Gral to
Amfortas for the last time.
As the Company delighted in the feast, Parzival asked his half-brother
what he thought of all the rich nourishment pouring from the
Gral, but Feirfiz said that he saw nothing of that sort, only
a dull stone carried by the maiden whose beauty he adored, and
whom he sought to love. The magical spectacle was nothing compared
to her. It was decided then and there that Feirefiz and Repanse
de Schoye, the Gral maiden, would be wedded. For an Infidel,
marriage to such a woman was better than being baptized!
When these events had transpired, there appeared a Writing on
the Gral commanding that in the future people served by knights
of the Gral must not ask the name or lineage of those who served
them. With this counsel in mind, the Company dispersed. Parzival
gave the magical Gral to his half-brother Fierefiz who went back
to Araby with Repanse de Schoye. Eventually, she who bore him
a son destined to be called Prester John, the regent of a mysterious
kingdom in Asia. In time, the Gral was passed on to Prester John.
Meanwhile, Parzival´s other son Lohengrin grew strong and
valiant. When this boy came of age, Parzival abdicated the title
of Lord of the Gral, but he did not pass it on to his natural
son. (No wise man in search of truth counts father and children
as related.) To Lohengrin he charged the mission to succour the
ills of humanity as he, the winner of the Gral, had succoured
the pain of Amfortas and the Gral Family - but according to the
conditions stated in the last Writing.
And so it was in both East and West, through Prester John and
Lohengrin, that the transmission of the Gral continued, and continues
to this day.
jll: Feb 2006 Flanders - Andalucia
For orientation, see Lesson One in Mythbusting 101: Grail
Magic and the Paternal Lie.
For commentary on the Gawain episodes that explain the wounding of the Grail King and disclose the theme of the magic plant (i.e., the entheogenic message encoded in the legend), see The Tale of the Magic Garland.