Percevel / Parzival

The whole tradition of the Grail Knight as a virgin knight belongs to a Cistercian monastic line, whereas Wolfram’s version is a secular one of a knight who is married, and, as we’re going to see, it’s because of his loyalty to his marriage under all circumstances; his courage, fearlessness, and resolution in combat; and his integrity in love that he (Parzival) finally becomes the Grail King and heals Anfortas and the land.  RG 50

After Gahmuret’s death, Queen Herzeloyde dismisses her court, goes into the forest, and brings her child up ignorant of who he is, ignorant of his noble heritage, ignorant of war, ignorant of the court, ignorant even of his name.  She calls him bon fils, cher fils, beau fils (“good son, dear son, beautiful son”), and that’s all he ever hears of himself.  He grows up in the forest in the beginning of this great adventure, a child of nature; sheer nature, no culture.  When he hears the birds sing, they fill his breast with such joy that he makes himself a little bow and arrow and shoots them, and then, when he sees them dead, he can only weep.  But their song excites him, so he shoots them some more.  This is the way human beings are!  And his mother has told him nothing of his background but only about God, how God is good and loyal and must be worshipped, while the Devil is bad and must be despised.  RG 40

When he tells his mother that he intends to join Arthur’s knights, she faints.  Once she recovers, she thinks, Well, I’ll fix it so he’ll disgrace himself and be sent back to me.  So she dresses him in a fool’s costume, with a long cloak of raw hemp pants that come halfway down his legs, tied to the shirt, and big, bulky, raw leather shoes.  She finds the stupidest horse in the neighbourhood and sits him on it.  She also gives him certain instructions.  She says, “When you come to streams, cross at the shallowest point.”  Now, the characteristic of this young man is that he does what he’s told – this is his first fault.  RG 40

His mother also told him, “When you see a fair lady obtain a ring from her, and a kiss.  When you see people with gray hair ask them for advice.  And when you meet people on the road greet them by saying, ‘God be with you.’”  RG 40

(After Parzival enters the bed chamber of a lady (Jeschute) in the night, stealing her brooch and a kiss) … Her husband, Prince Orilus, returns in enormous indignation and does not believe that she hasn’t been violated by this fellow.  So he tears her clothes to pieces, and when he’s done, he smashes up her saddle.  Then he says, “You get on this horse!” and she has to ride off on this poor nag, with him before her, racing after this youth who’s ridden off.

   That’s the first act of this ignorant boy – naïve, destructive, and violent.  He’s a brute. 

(His Aunt Sigune) tells him who he is and what his name is: Parzival.  And she renders it in terms of a French translation that Wolfram invents: perce la val, through the middle, between the pairs of opposites, between black and white.  Wolfram’s own coat of arms was a coat of two flags flying in opposite directions, and his helmet and shield had these two prongs.  The theme of his whole story is about going right through the middle, between black and white, incorporating both, without going to this side or that.   RG

… the defeated knights are going to marry other ladies of the castle.  And there’s a great festival of love, “love in the moonlight among the pavilions,” says Wolfram.

   Parzival is there, but his wife, Condwiramurs, is not, and he think, Should I participate when my heart is somewhere else, and my eyes behold all this joy? I will leave.  

  This is a great moment for Parzival: out of loyalty to his love, in the midst of all this temptation, he is not seduced.  And in combat, he is never afraid.  He is without fear and without desire – in the name of love.  The reader may remember the temptation of the Buddha under the Bodhi tree.  The Enlightened One, having just achieved nirvana, is assailed by the temptation of desire, the temptation of fear, but he has transcended these.  This is the same temptation here, and Parzival – not in the way of escaping from the world, but in the way of inhabiting it – has reached that same position.    RG 75

Perceval’s) real offence actually lay in the primitive unambiguousness of his behaviour, which arose from an unawareness of the inner problem of the oppositesIt was not what he did but that he was not capable of assessing what he did.  His one-sided attitude accords with an identification with the masculine logos principle, whereby the emotional and feeling side of the anima the conflict and suffering which result from such an attitude are not given sufficient consideration.  TGL 183

   We have now enumerated the most important objects observed by Perceval in the Grail Castle.  Their psychological meaning seems, on the whole, to point to the individuation process as being the aim and object of the way of development decreed for him.  The experience in the Grail Castle, which can be taken as a dream or vision through which the hero is given the direction of his life’s task, forms the fist stage in his achievement of consciousness.  This stage consists in a union of this world with that world beyond consciousness, i.e. a contact between consciousness and the unconscious, and in the integration of the totality symbolized by the quaternity of objects.  On the other hand, in a more extended sense Perceval himself represents a type of analogue to Christ, which may be compared to the homo altus or homo quadratus of the alchemists, as someone in whom the progressive workings of the Holy Ghost seek to become manifest.

The death of (Perceval’s) mother could therefore be interpreted symbolically as the “death of the soul”, i.e. as a total loss of contact with the unconscious.  But when the soul is dead, then “God is dead” too, since it is only in the vessel of the soul that God’s activity becomes perceptible to man.  Because he did not ask about the Grail, Perceval no longer understands himself and is cut off from the source of his own inner being.  TGL 222

I think Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival is the high story of the Middle Ages.  I would put it above Dante’s Divine Comedy, for Dante ends up in heaven, while Gottfried ends up on earth, and the thing is solved here, now, in the flesh, and in a magnificent way.  TMTT 243

The neutral angels were neither on God’s side nor on Lucifer’s side; and Wolfram interprets the name of Parzival as perce à val, the one piercing through the middle of the valley, going between the pair of opposites.  This is heresy.  We’re in the realm of Gnostic traditions right away.  TMTT 247

Wolfram on why Parzival could not free the King

“For that I pity him,” states Wolfram, “and I pity, too, his sweet host, whom divine displeasure does not spare, when a mere question would have set him free.” 

   In Wolfram’s Parzival, as in the legend of the three temptations of the Buddha, the Middle Way between heaven and hell is entered through the exercise of three virtues, plus a fourth: 1) disengagement from the fury of the passions, 2) fearlessness in the face of death, 3) indifference to the opinion of the world, and 4) compassion.  Throughout Arthurian romance, these are the four tests of the heroes, as in the Orient they have been, and remain to this day, the supreme openers to saints of the mystical passage through what in Buddhism is known as the Gateless Gate.   RG 88

Percival - logos

 … Perceval has not yet discovered his Anthropos role; nevertheless he has overcome a main obstacle on the path – that is, his arrogant identification with the principle of light and logos – wherefore he immediately receives tidings of the repressed Anthropos who, so he hears, has been wafted out of this world by the bonds of his lady’s love.  TGL 275

The ring with the magic stone is a symbol of the bond, in and through the Self, of the commitment to wholeness.  That the daughter of Merlin should give a ring and take it back again probably indicates that this anima establishes, in a special degree, the connection with the figure of Merlin who himself represents the personification of wholeness, unattained as yet but continually influencing the story from a distance.  TGL 279


   As Parzival approaches the castle (Arthur’s for the first time), he sees riding out of its portal a knight in bright red armor with a golden goblet in his hand.  This is a great and famous champion, King Ither of Kukumerlant, who has just seized the cup from Arthur’s table in token of his claim to a portion of Arthur’s kingdom, and with a challenge to the court to avenge the insult he’s just given by sending a champion to meet him in the jousting yard. 

(Later on, Parzival) sees Ither, the Red Knight, so he gets on his nag and trots toward him.  When the knight sees this kid coming as the champion of Arthur’s court (a true knight, you know, wouldn’t soil the front part of his lance on the lout), he just turns his lance backside to and gives Parzival a biff that knocks both Parzival and the horse over.  But Parzival takes his javelin, and zing, sends it through the eyepiece of the knight, killing him right there on his horse, just like that.  That’s his first great deed, but this is not a knightly act.  RG 43