Gauvain / Gawain

Now, Gawain (who does not appear in Wagner’s opera at all) is a very important character in this story. Gawain is a ladies’ knight; he is the counterpart to Parzival.  Parzival is young; Gawain is an older, more sophisticated, gracious man – a man of the world.  And Gawain’s adventure is in balance with Parzival’s which is that of the youth who meets just the right girl at just the right moment.  Gawain has not yet done so. 

In Parzival we have, in fact, two heroes: Parzival and Gawain.  Gawain is a charming character in Wolfram’s work.  In fact, he’s a delightful character wherever he appears.  In the English medieval poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, for example, he is a forthright, lovely person, graceful and sensitive, with a wonderful – how to put it? – responsiveness to feminine beauty.   RG 63


The lion that attacks Gauvain, as well as the magic arrows of passion that wound him, can therefore be understood as a temptation to fall back into a primitive situation, in which the erotic problem appears to be solved on the sexual level, through polygamy, but at the price of sacrificing the possibility of psychic relationship.  TGL 233

A ferryman is a well-known figure in myths and fairy-tales.  Usually, he takes people to the other shore, whether it be to the land of the dead (Charon), or to hell.  As one who “leads across”, he is connected with Mercurius, who also plays the part of psychopomp between one world and another.  TGL 236

“In habentibus symbolum facilis est transitus”  (For those that have the symbol, the passage is easy”), as an alchemical text says.  The ferryman therefore appears to personify the transcendent function which aspires towards synthesis of the psychic opposites.  TGL 236

   Cont’d …

   The ferryman’s presence protects Gauvain from the malice of the man with the wooden leg at the castle entrance, for his is the positive aspect of that same wooden-legged man, that part of the dark spirit of nature which is not one-sidedly opposed to consciousness but which is capable of mediating the opposites and of assisting in the further development of consciousness.  TGL 236