Percival (/ˈpɜːrsɪvəl/)—or Peredur (Welsh pronunciation: [pɛˈrɛdɨr]), Perceval, Parzival, Parsifal, etc.—is one of King Arthur's legendary Knights of the Round Table. First made famous by the French author Chretien de Troyes in the tale Perceval, the Story of the Grail, he is most well known for being the original hero in the quest for the Grail, before being replaced in later English and French literature by Galahad.

Matter of Britain character
Parsifal by Rogelio de Egusquiza (1910)
OccupationKnight of the Round Table
FamilyPellinore, Lamorak, Aglovale, Tor, Lohengrin, his sister, Feirefiz

Etymology and origin

The earliest reference to Perceval is in Chrétien de Troyes's first Arthurian romance Erec et Enide, where, as "Percevaus li Galois", he appears in a list of Arthur's knights;[1] in another Chrétien's romance, Cligés, he is a "renowned vassal" who is defeated by the knight Cligés in a tournament.[2] He then becomes the protagonist in Chrétien's final romance, Perceval, the Story of the Grail.[3]

In the Welsh romance Peredur son of Efrawg, the figure goes by the name Peredur. The name "Peredur" may derive from Welsh par (spear) and dur (hard, steel).[4] It is generally accepted that Peredur was a well-established figure before he became the hero of Peredur son of Efrawg.[5] However the earliest Welsh Arthurian text, Culhwch and Olwen, does not mention Peredur in any of its extended catalogues of famous and less famous warriors. Peredur does appear in the romance Geraint and Enid, which includes "Peredur son of Efrawg" in a list of warriors accompanying Geraint. A comparable list in the last pages of The Dream of Rhonabwy refers to a Peredur Paladr Hir ("of the Long Spear-Shaft"), whom Peter Bartrum identifies as the same figure.[6] Peredur may derive in part from the sixth-century Coeling chieftain Peredur son of Eliffer. The Peredur of Welsh romance differs from the Coeling chieftain if only in that his father is here called Efrawg, rather than Eliffer, and there is no sign of a brother called Gwrgi. Efrawg, on the other hand, is not an ordinary personal name, but the historical Welsh name for the city of York (Latin Eburacum, modern Welsh Efrog).[6] This may represent an epithet which originally denoted his local association, possibly pointing to Eliffer's son as the prototype, but which came to be understood and used as a patronymic in the Welsh Arthurian tales.[6]

Scholars disagree as to the exact relationship between Peredur and Percival. Arthur Groos and Norris J. Lacy argue that it is most likely that the use of the name Peredur in Peredur son of Efrawg "represent[s] an attempt to adapt the name [Perceval] to Welsh onomastic traditions",[7] as the Welsh romance appears to depend on Chretien at least partially as a source and as the name Peredur is attested for unrelated characters in Historia Regum Britanniae and Roman de Brut.[8] Rachel Bromwich, however, regards the name Perceval as a loose French approximation of the Welsh name Peredur.[9] Roger Sherman Loomis attempted to derive the figures of Perceval and Peredur from the Welsh Pryderi, a mythological figure in the Four Branches of the Mabinogi,[10], a derivation which Groos and Lacy find "now seems even less likely".[8] In all of his appearances, Chrétien identifies Perceval as "the Welshman" (li Galois), indicating that even if he does not originate in Celtic tradition, he alludes to it.[3] Groos and Lacy argue that "even though there may have been a pre-existing 'Perceval prototype,' Chrétien was primarily responsible [...] for the creation of [one of] the most fascinating, complex, and productive characters in Arthurian fiction."[11]

In some French texts, the name "Perceval" is derived from either Old French per ce val (through this valley) or perce val (pierce the valley).[12] These etymologies are not found in Chrétien, however.[13] Perlesvaus etymologizes the name (there: Pellesvax) as meaning "He Who Has Lost The Vales", referring to the loss of land by his father, while also saying the Perceval called himself Par-lui-fet (made by himself).[14] Wolfram von Eschenbach's German Parzival provides the meaning "right through the middle" for the name (there: Parzival).[14] Richard Wagner followed a discredited etymology proposed by journalist and historian Joseph Görres that the name derived from Arabic fal parsi (pure fool) when choosing the spelling "Parsifal" for the figure in his opera.[15]

In Arthurian legend


In a large series of episodes, Peredur son of Efrawg tells the story of Peredur's education as a knight. It begins with his birth and secluded upbringing as a naive boy by his widowed mother. When he meets a group of knights, he joins them on their way to King Arthur's court. Once there, he is ridiculed by Cei and sets out on further adventures, promising to avenge Cei's insults to himself and those who defended him. While travelling he meets two of his uncles. The first, who is analogous to the Gornemant of Perceval, trains him in arms and warns him not to ask the significance of what he sees. The second uncle is analogous to Chrétien's Fisher King, but what Peredur sees being carried before him in his uncle's castle is not the Holy Grail (Old French graal), but a salver containing a man's severed head. The text agrees with the French poem in listing a bleeding lance among the items which are carried in procession. The young knight does not ask about significance of these items and proceeds to further adventure, including a stay with the Nine Witches and the encounter with the woman who was to be his true love, Angharad. Peredur returns to Arthur's court, but soon embarks on another series of adventures that do not correspond to material in Perceval. Eventually, the hero learns the severed head at his uncle's court belonged to his cousin, who had been killed by the Witches. Peredur avenges his family and is celebrated as a hero.

Several elements in the story, such as the severed head on a salver, a hunt for a unicorn, the witches, and a magical board of gwyddbwyll, have all been described as Celtic ingredients that are not otherwise present in Chrétien's story.[16] Goetinck sees in Peredur a variant on the Celtic theme of the sovereignty goddess, who personifies the country and has to be won sexually by the rightful king or heir to secure peace and prosperity for the kingdom. N. Petrovskaia has recently suggested an alternative interpretation, linking the figure of the Empress with Empress Matilda.[17]


Chrétien wrote the first story of Percival, Perceval, the Story of the Grail, in the late 12th century. Wolfram's Parzival, Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, and the now-lost Perceval by Robert de Boron are other famous accounts of his adventures.

There are many versions of Perceval's birth. In Robert's account, he is of noble birth; his father is stated to be either Alain le Gros, King Pellinore or another worthy knight. His mother is usually unnamed but plays a significant role in the stories. His sister is sometimes the bearer of the Holy Grail but not originally; she is sometimes named Dindrane. In the tales where he is Pellinore's son, his brothers are Aglovale, Lamorak and Dornar, and by his father's affair with a peasant woman, he also has a half-brother named Tor.

After the death of his father, Perceval's mother takes him to the forests where she raises him ignorant to the ways of men until the age of 15. Eventually, however, a group of knights passes through his wood, and Perceval is struck by their heroic bearing. Wanting to be a knight himself, the boy leaves home to travel to King Arthur's court. In some versions his mother faints in shock upon seeing her son leave. After proving his worthiness as a warrior, he is knighted and invited to join the Knights of the Round Table.

In the earliest story about him, he is connected to the Grail. In Chrétien's Perceval, he meets the crippled Fisher King and sees a grail, not yet identified as "holy", but he fails to ask a question that would have healed the injured king. Upon learning of his mistake he vows to find the Grail castle again and fulfill his quest but Chretien's story breaks off soon after, to be continued in a number of different ways by various authors, such as in Perlesvaus and Sir Perceval of Galles. In later accounts, the true Grail hero is Galahad, the son of Lancelot. But though his role in the romances had been diminished, Percival remained a major character and was one of only two knights (the other was Bors) who accompanied Galahad to the Grail castle and completed the quest with him.

In early versions, Perceval's sweetheart was Blanchefleur and he became the King of Carbonek after healing the Fisher King, but in later versions he was a virgin who died after achieving the Grail. In Wolfram's version, Perceval's son is Lohengrin, the Knight of the Swan.

Modern interpretations

In modern times his story has been used in various retellings, including Wagner's 1882 opera Parsifal.

  • Richard Monaco's 1977 book Parsival: Or, a Knight's Tale is a re-telling of the Percival legend.[18]
  • Éric Rohmer's 1978 film Perceval le Gallois is an eccentrically staged interpretation of Chrétien's original poem.[19]
  • John Boorman's 1981 film Excalibur in a retelling of Le Morte d'Arthur in which Percival (Perceval) is given a leading role.
  • The 1991 film The Fisher King written by Richard LaGravenese is, in ways, a modern retelling in which the parallels shift between characters, who themselves discuss the legend.
  • In the comic series based on the cartoon Gargoyles, Peredur fab Ragnal (Percival's Welsh name) achieves the Holy Grail and becomes the Fisher King. To honour his mentor Arthur, he establishes a secret order who will guide the world to greater prosperity and progress, which eventually becomes the Illuminati. Part of achieving the Grail is the bestowal of immense longevity upon Peredur and his wife, Fleur, along with certain other members of the order being granted longer lifespans. He is still alive and even appears young by 1996, when his organisation comes into conflict with the re-awakened Arthur and the other characters of the Gargoyles story.[20]
  • He is the protagonist of the 2000 book Parzival: The Quest of the Grail Knight by Katherine Patterson, based on Wolfram's Parzival.
  • The 2003 novel Clothar the Frank by Jack Whyte portrays Perceval as an ally of Lancelot in his travels to Camelot.
  • He appears in the French comedy TV series Kaamelott as a main character, portrayed as a clueless yet loyal knight of the Round Table.
  • In the BBC television series Merlin,[21] Percival is a large, strong commoner. After helping to free Camelot from the occupation of Morgana, Morgause, and their immortal army (which is supplied by a grail-like goblet called the Cup of Life), he is knighted along with Lancelot, Elyan and Gwaine, against the common practice that knights are only of noble birth. He is also one of the few Round Table knights to survive Arthur's death.[22]
  • In Philip Reeve's Here Lies Arthur, he appear as Peredur, son of Peredur Long-knife, who is raised as a woman by his mother, who had already lost many sons and her husband to war. He befriends the main character, Gwyna/Gwyn. He is one of the few major characters to survive to the end, and travels with Gwen (in a male disguise) as 'Peri', his childhood shortened name as a woman, playing a harp to Gwen's stories.
  • The main character of Ernest Cline's 2011 novel Ready Player One (and its film adaptation) names his virtual reality avatar "Parzival" as a reference to Percival and to his role in Arthurian legend.
  • Percival appears in Season 5 of the American TV series Once Upon A Time. He is one of King Arthur's knights, who dances with Regina at the ball when she visits Camelot. Percival, however, recognises her as the Evil Queen and tries to kill her, but he is killed by Prince Charming first.
  • Patricia A. McKillip's 2016 novel Kingfisher includes many elements of the story of Percival and the Fisher King. Young Pierce (Percival meaning "pierce the valley"), after a chance meeting with knights leaves his mother, who has sheltered him from the world, and travels to become a knight.
  • In the 2017 television series Knightfall, Percival (rendered as "Parsifal") appears as a young peasant farmer who joins the Knights Templar as a novice knight.


  1. Erec, vv. 1506, 1526.
  2. Cligés vv. 4774, 4828.
  3. Gross & Lacy 2002, p. 2.
  4. The Mabinogion 2007, p. 245.
  5. Groos & Lacy 2002, p. 9.
  6. Koch, "Peredur fab Efrawg", pp. 1437–8.
  7. Groos & Lacy 2002, p. 3.
  8. Groos & Lacy 2002, p. 35.
  9. Bromwich 1961, p. 490.
  10. Loomis 1949, pp. 346-352.
  11. Groos & Lacy 2002, p. 5.
  12. Gross & Lacy 2002, p. 3.
  13. Müller 1999, p. 246.
  14. Groos & Lacy 2002, p. 4.
  15. Müller 1999, p. 247.
  16. Lovecy, "Historia Peredur", p. 178.
  17. Petrovskaia, Natalia I. (2009). "Dating Peredur: New Light on Old Problems". Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium. 29: 223–243. JSTOR 41219642.
  18. Fries, Maureen, and Thompson, Raymond H. (1991). "Richard Monaco". In Norris J. Lacy (Ed.), The New Arthurian Encyclopedia p. 326. New York: Garland. ISBN 0-8240-4377-4.
  19. Lacy, Norris J. (1991). "Eric Rohmer". In Norris J. Lacy (Ed.), The New Arthurian Encyclopedia, p. 389. New York: Garland. ISBN 0-8240-4377-4.
  20. Gargoyles: Clan-Building – Vol 2, #7 – "The Rock" – ISBN 978-1593621674
  21. Jeremy Webb (director) (4 December 2010). Merlin: Season 3, Episode 13, The Coming of Arthur: Part Two (Television Series). "Merlin", Season 3, Episode 13, "The Coming of Arthur: Part Two" on IMDb: BBC. Retrieved 8 August 2013.
  22. Justin Molotnikov (director) (24 December 2012). Merlin: Season 5, Episode 13, The Diamond of the Day: Part Two (Television Series). "Merlin", Season 5, Episode 13, "The Diamond of the Day: Part Two" on IMDb: BBC. Retrieved 8 August 2013.

Works cited

  • Bromwich, Rachel (1961). Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Welsh Triads. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.
  • Carey, John (2007). Ireland and the Grail. Aberystwyth: Celtic Studies Publications 11.
  • Chrétien de Troyes, Nigel Bryant (translator) (1996) Perceval, the Story of the Grail, D. S. Brewer. ISBN 0-85991-224-8.
  • Chrétien de Troyes, D. D. R. Owen (translator) (1988) Arthurian Romances, Tuttle Publishing, reprinted by Everyman. ISBN 0-460-87389-X.
  • Koch, John T. (2006). "Arfderydd". In John T. Koch (ed.). Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara et al. pp. 82–3.
  • Koch, John T. (2006). "Peredur fab Efrawg". In John T. Koch (ed.). Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara et al. pp. 1437–8.
  • The Mabinogion. Translated by Davies, Sioned. Oxford UK: Oxford University Press. 2007.
  • Groos, Arthur; Lacy, Norris J. (2002). "Introduction". In Gross, Arthur; Lacy, Norris J (eds.). Perceval / Parzival: A Casebook. New York and London: Routledge. pp. 1–42.
  • Lacy, Norris J. (Ed.) (1991). The New Arthurian Encyclopedia. New York: Garland. ISBN 0-8240-4377-4.
  • Loomis, Roger Sherman (1949). Arthurian Tradition and Chrétien de Troyes. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Lovecy, Ian (1991). "Historia Peredur ab Efrawg". In Rachel Bromwich, A. O. H. Jarman and B. F. Roberts (eds.). The Arthur of the Welsh: the Arthurian legend in medieval Welsh literature. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. pp. 171–82.CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)
  • Müller, Ulrich (1999). "Wolfram, Wagner, and the Germans". In Hasty, Will (ed.). A Companion to Wolfram's Parzival. Columbia, SC: Camden House.
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.