Translated for The Camelot Project by William W. Kibler from the edition by Albert Wilder Thompson, The Elucidation: A Prologue to the Conte del Graal. New York: Publications of the Institute of French Studies, Inc., 1931.
For a noble beginning
A romance can begin worthily
With the most enjoyable tale there is:
That is, the [Story of the] Grail, whose secret
No one should ever reveal or recount;
For the story might reveal so much
Before it's recited to the end
That someone could suffer for it
Who had not violated the secret;
The wise thing, then, is to leave it
And simply pass it by;
For, unless Master Blihis is lying,
No one should reveal the secret.
Now listen to me one and all
And you will hear a tale
That will be a delight to listen to,
For in it will be the seven guards,
Who throughout the world have charge
Of all the good stories that have ever been told.
These writings will recount
What sort of people the seven guards are,
How [they act] and what end they will come to;
For you have never heard the story
Told or recounted truthfully;
Yet how and why the powerful country
Of Logres was destroyed
Was noised and bruited widely;
Time was, it was much discussed.
The kingdom went to ruin,
The land was so dead and desolate
That it wasn't worth two bits;
They lost the voices of the wells
And the maidens who dwelled in them.
Indeed, the maidens served a very important purpose:
No one who wandered the highways,
Whether at night or in the morning,
Ever needed to alter his route
In order to find food or drink;
He had only go to one of the wells.
He could ask for nothing
In the way of fine and pleasing food
That he would not have forthwith,
Provided he asked reasonably.
At once a damsel would come forth
From the well, as I understand:
Travelers could not have asked for one more beautiful!
In her hand she'd be bearing a golden cup
With bacon, meat pies, and bread.
Another maiden would come carrying
A white towel and a gold and silver
Platter, in which was
The food that had been requested
By the man who'd come to be fed.
He was warmly received at the well;
And if this food did not please him,
She would bring a number of others,
Joyfully and generously,
According to his desires.
One and all, the maidens
Happily and properly served
All those who wandered the highways
And came to the wells for food.
King Amangon was the first to violate their hospitality:
He behaved wickedly and underhandedly;
Afterwards many others did likewise
Because of the example given
By the king who should have protected the maidens
And guarded and kept them safe.
He forced himself upon one of the maidens
And deflowered her against her will
And took the golden bowl from her
And carried it off along with the girl,
Then had her serve him ever afterwards.
Ill luck was to come of it,
For no maiden served again
Or came forth from that well
To help any man who happened by
And requested sustenance there;
And all other [travelers] followed [the king's example].
God! Why didn't the other vassals
Act according to their honor?
When they saw that their lord
Was raping the maidens
Because of their beauty,
They likewise raped them
and carried off the golden bowls.
Never afterwards did any maiden serve
Or come forth from any of the wells;
Know that this is the truth.
My lords, in this way
The land went into decline
And the king who had so wronged them
And those who'd followed his example
All met a dreadful end.
The land was so wasted
That no tree ever bloomed there again,
The grasses and flowers withered,
And the streams dried up.
Afterwards no one could locate
The court of the Rich Fisher,
Which had made the land resplendent
With gold and silver, splendid furs,
Precious brocaded silks,
Fine foodstuffs and cloth,
Gerfalcons and merlins,
Goshawks, sparrowhawks, and falcons.
In earlier days, when the court could be found,
There was throughout the land
Such an abundance of riches,
Of all those I've named here,
That everyone, rich or poor,
Was awestruck at the wealth.
But now it has lost everything.
In the kingdom of Logres
Were all the riches of the world;
The peers of the Round Table
Came there in the time of King Arthur;
None so good have been seen since then.
These were such good knights,
So worthy and so strong and so bold,
So sturdy and so brave,
That as soon as they heard
Tell of the adventures
They wished to restore the wells.
They all swore an oath together
To protect by their arms
The maidens who'd come forth
And the bowls they'd be carrying,
And to destroy the lineage
Of those who had so harmed them
That they had stopped
Coming forth from the wells.
Whenever they captured one
They had him hanged or slain.
The knights gave alms and prayed
To God that He might restore
The wells to the state
In which they had been originally;
And for the honor they would thus pay them
They intended to request their service.
But no matter how hard they searched
They could never find them;
They could never hear any voices
And no maiden ever ventured forth.
Yet they did find something
That greatly amazed them,
For in the forests they found maidens
More beautiful than you could wish;
With them were knights
Heavily armed and on their chargers;
They stood beside the maidens
And fought against anyone
Who wished to carry them off,
Killing many a knight.
Because of the maidens, I believe,
There were many battles in the land.
King Arthur could not keep
From losing many a good knight there,
But he gained many a good one too,
As the story will tell you.
The first knight captured
Was named Blihos Bliheris;
Sir Gawain captured him,
Thanks to the great prowess he possessed,
And sent him to surrender to Arthur.
Blihos mounted his horse and rode without delay
To the court, where he surrendered.
But the king did not recognize him,
Nor did anyone else;
Yet such good stories did he tell
That no one grew tired
Of listening to his words.
The members of court asked him
About the maidens who rode
Through the forest; since they'd never
Been there, they had every reason
To ask and inquire.
The knight told his stories so well
That they gladly listened to him,
And the maidens and knights
Stayed awake many a night
To hear and question him.
He said to them: "You wonder indeed
About the maidens you see
Going through these forests,
And you can't stop asking
Where we were born.
I'll tell you the truth:
We are all offspring of the damsels—
There will never be any more beautiful in the world—
Whom King Amangon raped.
The wrong will not be righted
So long as this world lasts.
The peers of the Round Table
In their nobility and honor,
In their worthiness and strength,
Made a great effort to restore
The wells that the squires,
The knights and the gentlemen—
I'll just tell you the essentials—
The men all travel together,
Along with the maidens
Who have returned to that land.
Through forest and countryside
They must to wander thus
Until God allows them to find
The court from which will emanate the joy
That will bring splendor back to this land.
Such adventures will come to those
Who seek the court
As were never before experienced
Or recounted in this land."
What he told and related to them
Was most pleasing and agreeable to all.
The good knights of the court
Met to discuss this matter:
Let each knight equip himself,
Then all will seek earnestly
For the court of the Rich Fisher,
Who was so skilled in magic
That he could take on a hundred shapes;
Some would seek him in one guise
And others in another.
My lord Gawain found the Rich Fisher
During the reign of King Arthur,
And truly went to his court.
Later you will be told
Of the joy he brought about there,
Which restored the whole kingdom.
But even before Gawain
A very young knight
Had discovered it first,
And no one could find in all the world
A braver knight than he.
Afterwards the young man of whom
I've just spoken came to the Round Table;
His deeds outshone those
Of all knights who'd come before
Or who could still be found in all the world.
First he was held in low esteem,
Then found to be of noble estate;
The knight who was seeking the court
Sought so long throughout the land
That he found it, it's true,
And many among you know of him:
He was Perceval the Welshman.
He asked what purpose the Grail
Served, but he failed to ask
Why the lance bled
When he saw it, or about the sword
Of which half was missing
And the remainder lay in the bier
Upon the corpse, or the manner
Of the great disappearance.
But I tell you in no uncertain terms
That he asked who the dead man
Was who was in the room
And about the precious silver cross
That led the procession.
Three times a day for three hours
There were such loud lamentations
In the room that no man would have been so brave
As not to have been frightened by the noise.
Then, after they had finished the service,
They hung four censers
On four precious candelabra,
Which stood at the corners of the bier.
The cries immediately ceased;
At that point, everyone lay in a faint.
The long and wide room
Remained empty and frightful;
The stream of blood flowed
From a vase that held the lance
Through the precious silver conduit.
Then the palace completely filled
With people and knights
And the most sumptuous feast
In all the world was prepared.
Then the unknown king
Came forth in splendid array;
He came forth attired from a chamber.
He arrived so magnificently attired
That no one could describe
His robe or adornments,
So splendid were they;
On his finger he had a beautiful ring;
His sleeves were tightly laced
And on his head was a golden circlet—
Its stones were worth a fortune;
He wore a belt with a beautiful buckle;
No one could ever find
A more handsome man alive.
Anyone who had seen him earlier
That day dressed as a fisher
Would rightly be uneasy.
As soon as the king took his seat
You would have seen all the knights
Seated at the other tables.
The bread was served immediately
And the wine set before them
In large gold and silver bowls.
Afterwards you would have seen the Grail
Come through a chamber door
Without servant or attendant
And serve from itself most properly
Onto precious gold platters
Worth a great fortune.
It placed the first course
Before the king, then served
All the others who were present;
The courses that it brought them
And the foodstuffs it gave them
Were a marvel to behold.
Then came the great marvel
To which no other can compare.
But you'll never hear me speak of it
Because Perceval must tell it
Later in the story.
It's a great crime and great shame
To break up such a good story
And not tell it properly.
When the good knight comes
Who found the court three times,
Then will you hear me relate
Point by point, omitting nothing,
The truth about whom the wells served
Where the knights were,
And what purpose the Grail served;
And I'll tell you everything
About the bleeding lance
And why the sword was in
The bier—I'll tell you everything
And leave nothing out.
I'll explain to the people
Who had never heard anything about them
Both the grief and the disappearing,
Just as this process is meant to unfold.
My lords, it is the proven truth
That the court was found seven times
In the seven branches of the story;
But you do not know what this means.
Understand that the seven branches
Are in truth the seven guards;
Each guard will tell for himself
That he found the court;
It should not be told in advance.
Now in this composition it is time
For me to identify each of the seven guards;
I do not want to omit any one,
But must identify and tell about them,
Just as they are, from beginning to end.
The seventh branch, the most pleasing,
Is entirely about the lance
With which Longinus struck the side
Of the King of Holy Majesty.
The sixth, without a doubt,
Is about the great struggle, the great torment.
The fifth will tell you in its turn
About the wrath and loss of Husdent.
The fourth is the Story of the Swan:
No coward was Carahet,
That dead knight in the skiff
Who first came to Glamorgan.
Next is the third, about the goshawk
Which so frightened Castrar;
Pecorin, Amangon's son, always
Bore the wound upon his forehead;
Now I've named the third for you.
The second, according to the good story-tellers,
Is not in verse;
It is the Story of the Great Sorrows,
How Lancelot of the Lake came
To the place where he lost his strength.
Finally, there is the last story:
Since I have embarked on this task
I have to tell about it,
And you'll not hear me put it off;
It is the Adventure of the Shield—
And there's never been a better one!
These are seven genuine stories
That all proceed from the Grail.
This adventure brought about
Joy, whereby the population multiplied
After the great destruction.
Through these adventures the court
And the Grail were truly found again,
And through them the kingdom was so replenished
That the streams that had stopped flowing
And the springs that had surged forth
Long ago but were now dried up
All flowed again through the meadows;
The grass was once more green and thick
And the woods leafy and shaded.
On the day the court was found again,
Throughout all the land
The forests became so dense and deep
And so beautiful and thickly grown
That everyone who was traveling
Through the land marveled.
But then there returned a band of people
Full of bitter resentment:
Those who had come from the wells
But were not recognized.
They built castles and cities,
Towns, villages and strongholds,
And for the damsels they built
The magnificent Castle of Maidens;
They built the Perilous Bridge
And the great Proud Castle;
Nobly and graciously
They set over them a troop
Of peers from the rich household;
In their great pride they set up
In opposition to the Round Table;
This became known to everyone.
Within the castle each knight had his ladylove;
They led a splendid existence.
There were three hundred sixty-six
Defenders of the castle,
And each of these had lordship
Over twenty knights;
The total number I'll not fail
To give: they came to
Seven thousand six hundred eighty-six.
They exerted themselves mightily, but in vain;
Know well, all you who live in the world,
That you wouldn't find any of them alive today.
They rode through that land
And made war on King Arthur;
The good knights left the court
To fight against them;
I know that when they captured one
They held him prisoner rather than free him.
King Arthur wanted to go there
To sap and destroy the castle;
But everyone who hated him in those days
Attacked him at that point
And made mighty war against him.
It was pointless to seek war elsewhere.
At that time the wars were so intense
That they lasted a good four years—
So the story tells us,
As does he who wrote the book.
I tell them to you one by one
Because he wishes to show each of you
What purpose the Grail served,
For the service it performed
Was revealed to him by the good master.
The good purpose it served will no longer
Be hushed or hidden, for he will
Teach it openly to all.
So you have heard from me
About King Arthur, how he
Was at war for four years
Against the people of his land;
But he brought all this to an end
In such a way that no vassal or neighbor
Failed thereafter to do his will,
Either freely or by force;
This is the proven truth.
Know, moreover, that the war
Redounded to the king's honor
And to their shame, as most people know.
Then on that day the rich household
Took leave of the court
And went to hunt in the forests.
Those who wished to fish
Followed the good rivers.
This was how they comported themselves:
Some spent time playing at love,
Some passed their time in other ways.
They relaxed thus the entire winter
Until the summer came.
Now Chrétien will relate here
The exemplum you have heard;
Then Chrétien will not have wasted
His effort, for he'll have aimed and striven
By command of the count
To put into rhyme the best story
That's ever been told in royal court:
It is the Story of the Grail,
The book of which was given him by the count.
Now you'll hear how he acquits himself.