Le Roman de Perceval

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incomplete

History of the poem

Le Roman de Perceval is an Arthurian romance by Chretien de Troyes. It is known by various names: Le Roman de Perceval, The story of Pervceval, the Story of the Grail, Perceval le Gallois, Le Roman de Perceval ou le Conte du Graal and most commonly in shorthand as simply Perceval, or Chretien de Troyes' Perceval to distinguish it from versions by other authours.

Chretien probably started writing in the 1180's - the book is dedicated to Count Phillip of Flanders who died in 1191. However the story remained unfinished, presumably interrupted by Chretien's death, as stated by Gerbert de Montreuil (author of a continuation of the work). It is generally accepted that Chretien de Troyes died in around the year 1185. After Chretien de Troyes' death, the work was continued by 3 different authors.

It feels longer than many of Chretien's other romances, even in unfinished form - check - probably because follows the story of 2 knights - Perceval and Gawain. Possibly intended to contrast the experienced older knight with the young new knight.

The story of Perceval exists today in 15 manuscripts, this large number testifying to the popularity of the tale. None of the manuscripts date from the late 12th C, but several are copies dating from early in the 2nd half of the 13th Century. MS fonds francais 12576, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris is the only copy of the manuscript with all continuations and no missing folios.

Chretien de Troyes' work also inspired later versions of the tale of Perceval and the Grail, not only in French but in German.

The story of Perceval was composed in octosyllabic rhyming couplets a common form of writing in Old French literature and especially romances.

The Continuations

Chretien de Troyes' work, which was left unfinished, was continued by 4 authors:

  • the author of the first continuation remains anonymous
  • the second author's name varies greatly between different manuscripts. Gautier de Denst is one spelling/form of his name.
  • the third continuation was written by Manessier
  • the author of the so-called fourth continuation names himself Gerbert, modern academics connect this with 13th century author of romances Gerbert de Montreuil.

Although the fourth Continuation is so named, in MS fonds francais 12576

Maniesier & Gerbert wrote c1230, probably independently. Probably the two continuations both provided full endings, but Gerbert's was cut out so the two could be merged together to make a longer story. Both appear to have read "Perlesvaus" and "the quest of the holy grail" as they borrow extensively from them.

Plot

Cretien de Troyes unfinished work

Perceval, a young Welshman meets some knights and wishes to become one. His mother has prevented him from ever seeing any knights because she fears he will be killed like his father and brothers. Perceval leaves for the court of King Arthur and his mother dies of grief.

Perceval asks King Arthur for the arms of a knight with a red shield and Arthur's seneschal Kay jokes that he should take them. Not knowing any better, Perceval kills the red knight (the red knight started the fight) and takes the arms and armour. A nobleman called Gourmant teaches Perceval how to use the arms, for which Perceval show extraordinary talent, and advises him to say nothing is better than to prove your ignorance.

Perceval rides out seeking adventure and rides into the hall of the Fisher King and sees a strange procession carrying a lance whose head bleeds continually, a grail (a large cup shaped vessel for serving food, especially fish) and a silver platter. Perceval fails to ask about these objects and thus fails to be able to heal the Fisher King.

Meanwhile Gawain, King Arthur's nephew and heir and knight of the Round Table...

"1st Continuation" - anonymous

"2nd Continuation" - varied attributions

"3rd Continuation - Manesier

"4th Continuation - Gerbert de Montreuil

Translations:

  • Cretien de Troyes, Nigel Bryant (trans), 1982, "Perceval; The Story of the Grail" D.S.Brewer, Woodbridge. ISBN 0261-9814
Translation method: Retells as a story in prose, but as paragraphs, not necesarily line by line with text, and definately not presented as lines. No original text appended. Briefer synopses provided for some sections of the continuations
translates MS fonds francais 12576
Explanatory notes very brief, but translated material extraordinarily long