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Bliocadran: Introduction

1. Lenora Wolfgang, ed., Bliocadran, A Prologue to the Perceval of Chrétien de Troyes, Edition and Critical Study (Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 1976) (Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für Romanische Philologie, 150).

2. In Alfons Hilka, ed., Der Percevalroman (Li Contes del Graal) von Christian von Troyes (Halle: Niemeyer, 1932). This edition contains the Perceval, the Elucidation, the Bliocadran Prologue, and the 1530 Prose Perceval.

3. The gaste forest is not at first a proper name in Chrétien. It gradually takes on the significance of a real place and is capitalized. I prefer to see the translator keep the Old French gaste forest in his translation of the Bliocadran, although "waste forest" is acceptable.

4. Albert W. Thompson, the editor of the other prologue to the Perceval, the Elucidation, found that the Bliocadran was "an excellent beginning to Chrétien's poem." See his "Additions to Chrétien's Perceval—Prologues and Continuations," in Roger Sherman Loomis, ed., Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959), pp.211-12.

5. Richard O'Gorman, Joseph d'Arimathie, Robert de Boron, Roman de l'Estoire du Graal (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1995).

6. William A. Nitze and T. Atkinson Jenkins, eds., Le Haut Livre du Graal, Perlesvaus (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1932-37).

7. Arthur Thomas Hatto, trans., Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, l980).

8. Mario Roques, ed. Les Romans de Chrétien de Troyes. Erec et Enide, vol.1. (Paris: Champion, 1952) (Classiques Français du Moyen Age, 80).

9. Albert W. Thompson, ed., The Elucidation, a Prologue to the Conte del Graal (New York: Publications of the Institute of French Studies, 1931).

10. William Roach, ed.,The Continuations of the Old French Perceval of Chrétien de Troyes, 4 vols. (Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 1949-71). See vol. IV, note to lines 29351-57.

11. G. D. West, An Index of Proper Names in French Arthurian Verse Romances, 1150-1300 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1969).

12. Heinrich Oskar Sommer, ed., The Vulgate Version of the Arthurian Romances, 7 vols. (Washington, D.C., 1908-16; repr., 1969). See also Alexandre Micha, ed., Lancelot, roman en prose, 9 vols. (Geneva: Droz, 1978-83); and Norris J. Lacy, ed., Lancelot-Grail: The Old French Arthurian Vulgate and Post-Vulgate in Translation, 5 vols. (New York: Garland, 1993-96).

The Bliocadran Prologue is an 800-verse prologue to the Conte du Graal (Perceval) of Chrétien de Troyes, preserved in two thirteenth-century manuscripts that also preserve the Perceval. In the Bliocadran, Perceval's father, unnamed by Chrétien, is called Bliocadran.1 There is also a 191-line translation into prose of part of the Bliocadran Prologue in the 1530 Prose Perceval.2

In Chrétien's Perceval, Perceval's mother recounts to her departing son in verses 407-88 the story of his father, which she hitherto had hidden from him. His father had been wounded and ruined, and he fled with his wife, two older sons, and the infant Perceval to a manor of his in a "waste forest."3 Learning that his two older sons had been killed after being knighted, the father dies of grief.

In the Bliocadran, Bliocadran dies in a tournament three days before Perceval is born (v. 250). Seven months later, the mother flees with her son to the waste forest.

Eleven brothers of Perceval's father had also died in tournaments, and so Perceval's mother wishes to hide her son from the consequences of chivalry. She chooses a site and has a manor built. The Bliocadran Prologue ends with Perceval going out to hunt in the forest, and his mother telling him to beware of men covered with iron. He returns that day having encountered neither beasts nor men.

Although Chrétien and the Bliocadran Prologue tell the story differently, the theme is the same in both versions: Perceval's mother hides him away in a waste forest to protect him from chivalry. In Chrétien, the father had fled to the forest and died of grief over the deaths of two sons, and the mother stays there in order to protect her remaining son. In the Bliocadran, however, the fear of the drastic effects of chivalry specifically motivates the mother to flee the forest with her son.4

There are details in the Bliocadran Prologue that suggest its relationship with other Arthurian romances. For example, Perceval's father also had eleven brothers in the Joseph of Robert de Boron5 and the Perlesvaus.6 It is my contention that the Bliocadran was composed with knowledge of Robert de Boron, and that it influenced the Perlesvaus (Wolfgang, 8; 35-36).

The Gahmuret Prologue (Books I and II) of Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival 7 also has details that suggest that Wolfram could have known and used the Bliocadran Prologue (Wolfgang, 32-37). In Wolfram, Gahmuret is the name for Perceval's father. He leaves the pregnant Herzeloide to take part in an Eastern war, and their son Parzival is born two weeks after she learns of her husband's death. She flees with the infant Parzival to the "wilds" of Soltane to protect him from knowing about chivalry. Both Gahmuret and Bliocadran are what I call "compulsive" warriors, knights who are not to be deterred from returning to tournaments or war even after the deaths of kin or the impassioned pleas of a pregnant wife.

The name "Bliocadran" for Perceval's father is unique to the Bliocadran Prologue. Names that seem similar, or that use similar components, have elicited many studies (Wolfgang, 38-46). The name "Bliocadran" is likely derived from variations of the Celtic blio(s), hair or blond, and cad, warrior or war-like. A similar-sounding name, Bliobleheris, is the name of one of the knights in the list in Chrétien's first Arthurian romance, Erec.8 In the Elucidation, another prologue to Chrétien's Perceval, there is a Blihis or Blihos Bliheris. 9 The First Continuation of the Perceval has a Bleheris and a Bleobleheris, and the Second Continuation has a Bleheris. 10 Thus the name Bliocadran has reminiscences and echoes in other names in the Arthurian romances, whether or not one can determine specific sources or derivations. In none of these other romances, however, are these names for Perceval's father.

Other names in the Bliocadran are geographical (Wolfgang, 46-52), and like this name for Perceval's father they have resonances in other romances. Bliocadran's home is one day's journey from the site of the tournament of the rois de Gales (King of Wales) for his own people and for those of Cornuaille (Cornwall) against those of the Gaste Fontaine (Waste Spring). Seven months after the death of Bliocadran in this tournament and the birth of her son, the lady decides to flee to the gaste forest (waste forest) to protect him from chivalry. She tells her people she is going on a pilgrimage to Saint Brandain d'Escoce (Saint Brendan of Scotland). However, a month before, she had secretly sent out loaded wagons and carts ahead of her departure. The announcement of the pilgrimage was a ruse to disguise the fact that her flight was to be permanent. She travels by way of Calfle (Cafle) on the mer de Gale (Sea of Wales). From there they go into the gaste forest where the lady chooses a site and builds her manor.

The Gaste Fontaine, Calfle, and Saint Brendain d'Escoce are unique to the Bliocadran.11 As with the name Bliocadran, these place names are reminiscent of other names in the Arthurian romances. Combined with real names—Cornuaille, Gales, Escoce, Saint Brandain—the effect is to give the impression that this prologue is set in the Arthurian world, without, however, being too specific.

The Bliocadran Prologue was first published in 1863 by Charles Potvin in his edition of the Mons manuscript 331/206, formerly 4568 (ms. P) of the Perceval of Chrétien de Troyes. He published it a second time in 1865 as Tome I of a printing of the entire Mons manuscript (Wolfgang, 55-56; 58-59). The second manuscript containing the Bliocadran, British Museum Additional 36614 (ms. L), was published in 1932 by Alfons Hilka in an Appendix to his edition of Chrétien's Perceval. His edition, however, is a composite of P and L, so that it is difficult to know exactly what L contains. My edition of the Bliocadran uses L as the base manuscript and P as the control so that it is possible to get a clear picture of both manuscripts.

The 1530 Prose Perceval was also published in Hilka's 1832 edition of Chrétien's Perceval (Wolfgang, 63-67). This 1530 "translation" used the Bliocadran poem only as far as verse 237 and the death of Bliocadran, although he does not die at this point in the Prose version, but is wounded and carried back to his wife to die later. The Prose alters the tone of the story when it says that Bliocadran is characterized as "le plus courtoys et le plus saige de tous les aultres" (he is more courtly and wise than all his other brothers), whereas he is not so praised in the Bliocadran. The Prose softens and rationalizes the portrait of Bliocadran who was, in the poem, what I have called a "compulsive" warrior or knight whose behavior reflects negatively on the practice of the tournament. The Prose mitigates the importance of the impending birth of his son so that Bliocadran's departure for the tournament seems less harsh. The Prose then combines the story of Perceval's father that is in Chrétien with the story of his wounding in a tournament in the Bliocadran Prologue. Instead of dying in the tournament he dies, as in Chrétien's version, upon hearing that his two older sons have died. The effect of the prose portrait, then, is to make Bliocadran a more sympathetic figure than the one in the Bliocadran Prologue. It is significant that the mother never uses the name Bliocadran when explaining to her son what happened to his father and how he died.

Analogous to the Continuations that sought to bring to a conclusion the unfinished Perceval of Chrétien de Troyes, the Bliocadran Prologue is a "prequel" that seeks to give an explanation about who Perceval's father was in Chrétien's verses 407-88. This name for Perceval's father, however, will not enter the "tradition." When the quest for the Grail becomes the dominant theme of Arthurian literature, Perceval's father enters into the genealogy of the Grail family (Wolfgang, 17-25). As Alain, for example, Perceval's father is a descendant of Joseph of Arimathea who, according to the version in Robert de Boron's Joseph, preserved the cup from the Last Supper in which he received the blood of the crucified Christ.

In the Vulgate Cycle, Alain remains in Perceval's genealogy as a relative or ancestor, and Perceval's father is variously named Pellinor, Pelles and Pellehen (Wolfgang, 25-32). 12 Thus, when Galahad replaces Perceval as the main Grail hero, Alain as Perceval's father is replaced by Pellinor, or a version of that name, since the name Alain had been associated with the name of the father of the main Grail hero. It was typical of the Vulgate authors not to eliminate, but to incorporate and rearrange as much Grail material as possible with the result that the identity of individual characters was often obscured by the resulting complexity.

The Bliocadran Prologue, although not a major work, has, nevertheless, an important niche in the Grail corpus. Although the name "Bliocadran" did not enter the Arthurian tradition, elements in this portrait of Perceval's father illuminate Chrétien's sketch of him and reinforce the theme of the transition of chivalry from that of worldly and violent pursuits to one of a high and holy purpose in the pursuit of the Grail. The condemnation of the tournament is acted out in the story of Bliocadran and his brothers, and the effect on Perceval will be his acceptance, after initial mistakes and blunders, of the new chivalry to which he leads the way in the Conte du Graal.

Go to the translation of Bliocadran.
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Copyright 2008 Lenora D. Wolfgang and used here with her permission.