Bull

Bull

CreaturesBackground Essay Author: Kara L. McShane
The bestiary tradition describes bulls as fierce, with hard hides, but provides no specific religious or symbolic significance to them (152-54).  However, these descriptors may explain why they are used as a symbol for knights in their appearances in medieval Arthuriana.  Bulls appear several times in Arthuriana, but these appearances are often repetitive.  In the Quest for the Holy Grail book of Malory's Morte d'Arthur, Gawain has a dream in which he sees a hundred and fifty bulls; the bulls are black except for two pure white ones and one spotted one.  (In Malory, this third bull has one black spot, representing one sin (2.946).)  This dream is interpreted for him by a hermit, who tells Gawain that the bulls represent the knights seeking the Holy Grail. Galahad and Perceval are the white bulls; Bors is the spotted one; and the rest of the knights, who cannot achieve the grail, are the black bulls (2.946).  The implication here is that only the white bulls are sufficiently pure to achieve the Grail; the knights represented by the other bulls are black due to their sins.  This appearance of the bulls in Malory demonstrates his engagement with his sources; Gawain's dream previously appeared in both the French Vulgate Queste del Sant Graal and the Post-Vulgate Queste
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