Corbenic (Carbone[c]k, Corbin) is the name of the Grail castle, the edifice housing the Holy Grail in the Arthurian literary tradition. It first appears by that name in the 13th-century Lancelot-Grail Cycle and figures in Thomas Malory's 15th-century Le Morte d'Arthur. It is the domain of the Fisher King and the birthplace of Galahad.
|Matter of Britain location|
The Castle of Carboneck, William Henry Margetson for Legends of King Arthur and His Knights (1914)
|Type||Castle of the Holy Grail|
|Notable characters||Fisher King, Elaine, Galahad|
Grail castle and Corbenic
In Chrétien de Troyes' Perceval, the Story of the Grail (c. 1190), one of the first works to mention the Grail, the Grail castle is described somewhat differently than in later literature, and is given no name. In Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival (ca. 1210s), based on Chrétien, the Grail castle's name is Munsalväsche (rendering Monsalvat, in medieval tradition associated with the name of the mountain Montserrat in Catalonia).
As befits the castle of the Grail, Corbenic is a place of marvels, including, at various times, a maiden trapped in a magically boiling cauldron, a dragon, and a room where arrows assail any who try to spend the night there. Witnessing some of these wonders cause Sir Bors to name it the Castle Adventurous, "for here be many strange adventures" (Le Morte d'Arthur, book XI). Yet it can also appear quite ordinary: on an earlier occasion, according to the Lancelot-Grail, the same Bors visited without noticing anything unusual. Perhaps conscious of this apparent contradiction, T.H. White in The Once and Future King treats Corbenic as two separate places: Corbin is the relatively mundane dwelling-place of King Pelles, while Carbonek is the mystical castle where the climax of the Grail Quest takes place.
Corbenic has a town, and a bridge which Sir Bromell la Pleche swears to defend against all comers for a year, for love of Pelles' daughter Elaine (Morte, books XI–XII). It is on the coast, or at least is mystically moved there for the purposes of the Grail Quest: Sir Lancelot arrives at Corbenic by sea at the climax of his personal quest. Corbenic's seaward gate is guarded by two lions, aided by either a dwarf (Morte, book XVII) or a flaming hand (Lancelot-Grail).
It is unclear whether Corbenic is to be identified with the castle inadvertently levelled by Sir Balin when he delivers the Dolorous Stroke upon King Pellam (Morte, book II); if so, then Corbenic is in Listeneise (and is presumably rebuilt at some point). The Lancelot-Grail gives the name of its kingdom only as the 'Foreign Country'.
Cor-beneic : 'Blessed Horn' and 'Blessed Body'
Helaine Newstead and Roger Sherman Loomis have presented a convincing case for the origins of the name Corbenic in a myth concerning a type of Welsh cornucopia - to wit, the horn (of plenty) of Brân the Blessed, a magical, food-providing talisman. The argument hinges on confusion resulting from two possible meanings for the Old French li cors (a nominative case form) which can mean both 'the body' (Modern French le corps) and 'the horn' (Modern French la corne), leading to the mistranslation, by Christian authors, of li cors beneit as the blessed body - the latter readily construed as a reference either to the body of Christ or to the body of a saint preserved as a holy relic. The common scribal error of misreading the letter 't' as a 'c' yielded the second element -ben(e)ic. The original name of Castle Corbenic can thus be reconstructed as Chastiaus del Cor Beneit - the Castle of the Blessed Horn (of Brân) - subsequently misunderstood to mean the Castle of the Blessed Body (of Christ). The origins of the maimed Fisher King, master of the Grail Castle of Corbenic may be found in the maimed King Brân the Blessed, whose story is told in Branwen ferch Llŷr, second of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi.
- Loomis, Roger Sherman, Celtic Myth and Arthurian Romance first pub. Columbia University Press 1926 and reprinted by Constable and Company Limited 1993 ISBN 0 09 472800 3
- Newstead, Professor Helaine H., Brân the Blessed in Arthurian Romance pub. Columbia University Press 1939
- Loomis, Roger Sherman, Arthurian Tradition And Chrétien de Troyes pub. Columbia University Press, New York 1948.