Perlesvaus, also called Li Hauz Livres du Graal (The High Book of the Grail), is an Old French Arthurian romance dating to the first decade of the 13th century. It purports to be a continuation of Chrétien de Troyes' unfinished Perceval, the Story of the Grail, but it has been called the least canonical Arthurian tale because of its striking differences from other versions.
History and authorship
Perlesvaus survives in three manuscripts, two fragments, and two 16th-century printings. It was adapted into Middle Welsh as part of Y Seint Greal, and one episode was rewritten in verse and included in the Romance of Fouke Fitz Warin.
The story's supposedly original author, Josephus, seems to refer to the Jewish-Roman historian Titus Flavius Josephus. The actual author is not proven but Hank Harrison was the first, in 1992, to suggest the author was Bishop Henri de Blois, the brother of King Stephen and the Abbot of Glastonbury. The strangeness of the text and some personal comments led Roger Sherman Loomis to call the author "deranged"; similarly the editor of a French Arthurian anthology including extracts from the work notes an obsession with decapitation. Loomis also notes an antisemitic air absent from most Arthurian literature of the period, as there are several scenes in which the author symbolically contrasts the people of the "Old Law" with the followers of Christ, usually predicting violent damnation for the unsaved.
The book's theme is that of the Church Militant Catholicism, highly influenced by the Crusades, and in fact one of the manuscripts was commissioned by Jean de Nesle, one of the leaders of the Fourth Crusade. Barbara Newman thus attributed the issues that concerned Loomis to the author's possible post-traumatic stress disorder, perhaps from battles in the Holy Land.
Perlesvaus, which presents itself as be a translation of a Latin source found in Avalon as narrated by Josephus, begins by explaining that its main character, Percival, did not fulfill his destiny of achieving the Holy Grail because he failed to ask the Fisher King the question that would heal him, events related in Chrétien's work. The author soon digresses into the adventures of knights like Lancelot and Gawain, many of which have no analogue in other Arthurian literature. It is notably both darker in tone and highly more brutal and violent than an usual Arthurian romance.
Often events and depictions of characters are thoroughly at odds with other versions of the story. For instance, while later literature depicts Loholt as a good knight and illegitimate son of King Arthur, in Perlesvaus he is apparently the legitimate son of Arthur and Guinevere, and he is slain treacherously by Arthur's seneschal Kay, who is elsewhere portrayed as a boor and a braggart but always as Arthur's loyal servant (and often, foster brother). Kay is jealous when Loholt kills a giant, so he murders him to take the credit. This backfires when Loholt's head is sent to Arthur's court in a box that can only be opened by his murderer. Kay is banished, and joins with Arthur's enemies, Brian of the Isles and Meliant. Guinevere expires upon seeing her son dead, which alters Arthur and Lancelot's actions substantially from what is found in later works.
Though its plot is frequently at variance with the standard Arthurian outline, Perlesvaus did have an effect on subsequent literature. Arthur's traditional enemies Claudas, Brian and Meliant appear for the first time in its pages, as does the Questing Beast (though in a radically different guise than it would take). The story of Kay murdering Loholt is mentioned in the Lancelot-Grail cycle as the one evil deed Kay ever committed, but the details and retribution are left out.
- Busby, Keith (1991). "Perlesvaus". In Norris J. Lacy (Ed.), The New Arthurian Encyclopedia, pp. 358–359. New York: Garland. ISBN 0-8240-4377-4.
- The Arthurian Handbook, pp. 80–81.
- Matthews, John; Knight, Gareth (2019). Temples of the Grail: The Search for the World's Greatest Relic. Llewellyn Worldwide. ISBN 9780738757797.
- Harrison, The Cauldron and the Grail, p. 223.
- Loomis, The Grail, p. 97.
- La légende arthurienne. Le Graal et la Table ronde, Paris, Laffont (Bouquins), 1989.
- Loomis, The Grail, p. 97; 100.
- Moore, Steven (2013). The Novel: An Alternative History: Beginnings to 1600. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. ISBN 9781441133366.
- Fulton, Helen (2011). A Companion to Arthurian Literature. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 9781118234303.
- Newman, Barbara (2013). Medieval Crossover: Reading the Secular against the Sacred. University of Notre Dame Pess. ISBN 9780268161408.
- Busby, Keith; Dalrymple, Roger (2005). Arthurian Literature XXII. DS Brewer. ISBN 9781843840626.
- Burgwinkle, William; Hammond, Nicholas; Wilson, Emma (2011). The Cambridge History of French Literature. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521897860.
- Kelly, Thomas Edward (1974). Le Haut Livre Du Graal, Perlesvaus: A Structural Study. Librairie Droz. ISBN 9782600035378.
- The details of Loholt's murder occur in Bryant, The High Book of the Grail, pp. 172-174.
- Bryant, Nigel (2007). The High Book of the Grail: A translation of the thirteenth century romance of Perlesvaus. Rochester, New York: Boydell & Brewer. ISBN 978-1-84384-121-0.
- Lacy, Norris J. (Ed.) (1991). The New Arthurian Encyclopedia. New York: Garland. ISBN 0-8240-4377-4.
- Lacy, Norris J.; Ashe, Geoffrey; and Mancoff, Debra N. (1997). The Arthurian Handbook. New York: Garland. ISBN 0-8153-2081-7.
- Loomis, Roger Sherman (1991). The Grail: From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol. Princeton. ISBN 0-691-02075-2
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
- The High History of the Holy Grail from The Medieval and Classical Literature Library. Sebastian Evans translation (1898).
- The High History of the Holy Grail in a freely-distributable PDF document.