1 Below is a rough-and-ready table, which shows parallels and differences between the Welsh medieval tale, Peredur, the late 11th century epic by Chrétien de Troyes in French, and the German epic by Wolfram von Eschenbach (circa 1200). Much is left out, eg regarding the respective styles of the writers. (Fuller summaries can be found elsewhere.)
|Peredur||Perceval||Parzival (with book nos)|
|The story of P’s father. 1 & 2|
|P, from mother to court.||P, from mother to court.||P, from mother to court. 3|
|P meets tent maiden*.||P meets tent maiden.||P meets Jeschute. 3|
|Gwenhwyfar* insulted.||Guinièvre insulted.||Ginover splashed by kt.|
|P with uncle 1.||P with Gornemant.||P with Gurnemanz. 3|
|P + Condwiramurs. 4|
|With Uncle 2||Grail Castle||Grail Castle 5|
|Bloody spear and head*||King and Grail etc||Anfortas and Grail etc 5|
|P asks no questions.||P asks no questions.||P asks no questions. 5|
|Meets foster-sister.||Meets cousin.||Meets Sigune 5|
|P in love.||P loves Blanchefleur.|
|P defeats jealous knight.||P defeats jealous knight.||P defeats Orilus. 5|
|P with Witches.|
|P lost in thought of maiden.||P lost in thought about B.||P lost in thought of C. 6|
|Angharad and P.|
|The Empress* and P.|
|Ugly maiden reproves P.**||Ugly maiden reproves P.||Cundrie denounces P. 6|
|Gwalchmai’s adventure.||Gauvain’s adventures.||Gawan’s adventures – 7, 8|
|P with hermit.||P with hermit uncle.||P with Trevrizent. 9|
|P kills Witches***.|
|Gauvain’s adventures.||Gawan’s exploits 10-13|
|Gawan et al wed. 14|
|P and half-brother. 15|
|P back with Cond. 15|
|P poses the Question. 16|
|Anfortas healed. 16|
|P > King , Cond > Queen. 16|
*symbols of sovereignty?
**Should the challenge be about neglecting his wife, or neglecting revenge, or indeed both?
***Peredur achieves revenge for the harm done to his family.
2 The anonymous Peredur is written in prose and is very short, compared with the others. Perceval has over 9,000 lines of verse. Parzival is much longer, with over 24,000 lines. It can be safely said that Parzival elaborates upon (and completes) Perceval, Wolfram’s only, or chief, source. It can be proposed that Perceval expands upon Peredur or upon a common source, but that the French version may have influenced the Welsh manuscripts that have come down to us, especially in the latter part (cf the Question Test).
3 Perceval is unfinished. There are medieval French language continuations, not discussed here. Peredur displays up to three endings! In other words, while the story is easy to follow at the outset, it is confused and confusing later on. The ending given by the destruction of the Witches of Caer Loyw provides a fitting ending, if one assumes that the tale is fundamentally about revenge and the gaining of sovereignty over the tribe or clan. Reconciliation with the hero’s wife (which one?) would parallel what happens in the similar and contemporary Geraint and Owain (Iarlles y Ffynnon).
4 About half of Perceval is devoted to the adventures of Gauvain. The proportions are not so tilted in Parzival, but six books are allocated to Gawan, out of the sixteen.
5 Significant wounds in the Parzival story relate to intimate areas. There is a strong hint that Anfortas has been wounded in the genitals, because of his illicit love affair, outside the Grail Order. Clinschor the enchanter has been castrated, because of his adultery. (I was expecting him to appear in person in the story, but he doesn’t.)
6 It is a characteristic of Parzival that all the participants are related – either by blood or (in the course of the narrative) by marriage. Wolfram marries off all the principal unmarried characters. (See, for example, Book 14.) This is not a feature of the other versions.
7 Wolfram is very forgiving of characters that have done wrong. He has good words to say about Keie, Orilus and Clamidê (oppressor of Condwirmarus).
8 On reading Peredur, one has no sense of an audience – with Perceval and Parzival one does. Chrétien and Wolfram address their listeners (the latter, frequently), in asides. Wolfram includes many references to his contemporaries, to places and to current events.
9 At one end of a spectrum, Peredur reflects old Celtic mythology, with its magic and shape-shifters. At the other end, Wolfram creates his own mythology, loosely based upon the Templars: the Grail Order represents and serves the dual values and principles of Christianity and chivalry. Clinschor’s powers of enchantment are portrayed in Parzival, but (to my mind) they are not well worked out. There is no confrontation between Gawan and Clinschor, only the former’s survival of the assaults associated with the perilous bed (Book 11). (Compare Perceval, lines 7676-7884.)
10 I haven’t mentioned the Grail! The concept is adumbrated in Perceval and expanded upon, on a grand scale, by Wolfram. It does not appear in Peredur, as is plainly evident.
11 Parzival can be regarded as a “bildungsroman” – the story of the education and development of the hero to full maturity and his taking on of adult responsibilities.
12 Finally, a personal opinion: I do not think it is fair that any of the main protagonists should be blamed for not asking the great question concerning the Grail (or its Welsh equivalent, the bloody severed head). The advantage of this (non-)event is that it ensures the continuation of the story and provides the hero with obstacles to overcome and chances to prove himself.
All three versions are a “good read” – in translation. The original medieval texts require notes and glossaries to be understood.
Principal books consulted
Goetinck, G (1975), Peredur: A Study of Welsh Tradition in the Grail Legends, Cardiff: University of Wales
Goetinck, G W (1976), Historia Peredur vab Efrawg, Cardiff: University of Wales
Hatto, A T (1980), Wolfram von Eschenbach: Parzival, Harmondsworth (Middlesex): Penguin
Hertz, W and Hofstaetter, W (1969), Parzival: eine Auswahl, Stuttgart: Reclam
Jones, G and Jones, T (1949), The Mabinogion, London: Dent (Everyman)
Jones, R M (Bobi) (1960), Y Tair Rhamant: Iarlles y Ffynnon, Peredur, Geraint, Aberystwyth: Cymdeithas Lyfrau Ceredigion
Mustard, H M and Passage, C E (1961), Wolfram von Eschenbach: Parzival, New York NY: Random House (Vintage)
Owen, D D R (1987), Chrétien de Troyes: Arthurian Romances, London: Dent (Everyman)
Wright, J and Walsh, M O’C (1954), Middle High German Primer, London: Oxford University Press