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Character Name Variants: Percival, Percivale, Parsival, Parzival, Parsifal, Perlesvaus, PerchevaelBackground Essay Author: Kyle Ann Huskin


Perceval is a central figure in medieval and modern accounts of the quest for the Holy Grail. Depending on the version, Perceval serves either as the sole Grail knight or as one of a select few worthy knights. As Perceval’s variable presence suggests, the Grail legend itself underwent many changes as it spread across Europe because in each version, the Grail and the Grail knight (or knights) reify the individual, social, and political hopes and fears of their respective societies. Perceval makes his debut in Chrétien de Troyes’ Conte du Graal [Story of the Grail] (c. 1190), in which he emerges from the sheltered obscurity of his mother’s upbringing, ignorant of knighthood, and transforms into the paragon of chivalric virtue in the Arthurian court after he goes to the court of the wounded Fisher King and witnesses the sacramental Grail procession. In addition to inspiring several translations — most notably the Old Norse Parcevals Saga and the Middle Dutch Parchevael, each unique in its own right — Chrétien’s unfinished Conte inspired several French texts known as the “Perceval Continuations.” It also served as the foundation for one of the greatest romances of the Middle Ages: Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival (c. 1200–1210). Wolfram, like Chrétien, portrays Perceval as a naive rustic who must learn and prove his chivalric virtue by asking the question necessary to cure the Fisher King (whom Wolfram names Amfortas); however, he also endows Perceval with a greater destiny from the outset, predicting that he will establish a Grail dynasty to enact God’s


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