Perceval

Sir Percivale Slays the Serpent

Perceval

CharactersName Variants: Percival, Parzival, Parsifal, Perlesvaus, PercivaleBackground Essay Author: Alan Lupack
Perceval is the Grail knight or one of the Grail knights in numerous medieval and modern stories of the Grail quest. Perceval first appears in Chrétien de Troyes's unfinished Perceval or Conte del Graal (c.1190). The incomplete story prompted a series of "continuations," in the third of which (c. 1230), by an author named Manessier, Perceval achieves the Grail. (An analogue to Chrétien's tale is found in the thirteenth-century Welsh romance Peredur.) Chrétien's story was also the inspiration for one of the greatest romances of the Middle Ages, Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival (c. 1200-1210). As in Chrétien's story, Wolfram's Parzival is initially naive and foolish, having been sheltered from the dangers of the chivalric world by his mother. In both versions Perceval/Parzival is the guest of the wounded Fisher King (called Anfortas by Wolfram but unnamed by Chrétien) at whose castle he witnesses the Grail procession and fails to ask--because he has been advised of the impoliteness of asking too many questions--the significance of what he sees and, in Wolfram's romance, what causes Anfortas's pain. This failure is calamitous because asking the question would have cured the king. Other medieval versions of the story of Perceval can be found in the French texts known as the Didot-Perceval and Perlesvaus (also called The High Book of the Grail or Le Haut Livre du Graal).
   Perceval is the central character in the fourteenth-century Middle English romance Sir Perceval of Galles which is apparently based on Chrétien's tale but which omits the...

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