1. also Parzival, Perlesvaus, Percyvell, Parsifal, Perceval, Percivale, and possibly the early Welsh Peredur.

As the French Perceval has no real meaning (possibly "pierce the valley"--as to what that means, one can take it as either sexual, or an initiate into the mysteries), it is possible that the hero's original name was the Welsh Peredur--"Hard Spear"?

Perceval is the original hero of the Grail quest, and in later versions, where he is replaced by Galahad, he still is always a part of the elect few who achieve the Grail. He is always a naive figure, often raised in the woods by his widowed mother and is quite alone in the world. He is accidentally exposed to the real world when a group of knights come riding through his backyard, and he decides to go off and become a Knight of the Round Table. From here he has a series of adventures, falls in love, and ends up in the Waste Land at the mysterious court of his uncle, the Fisher King, wherein he sees the Grail and the Bleeding Spear. He foolishly says nothing about what he sees and leaves. He has some more adventures, and in some versions, is able to return and heal the king, restore the land, and become the new grail guardian.

Perceval is the Great Fool of myth and folklore.

2. The last Romance ever written by Chretien de Troyes, it is the first text to give the Grail quest in the form we now know it, and (I think) is the first use of the word "graal" or grail. He attributes his material to a book owned by Philip of Flanders, cousin to Henry II of England. Begun around 1174 and left unfininshed in 1191 (presumably by Chretien's death), it has been completed by several different continuations:

  • 2 anonymous prologues:
  • 4 direct continuations:
    • pseudo-Wauchier: "Gawain continuation"
    • Wauchier: "the Perceval continuation" both before 1200. Second continues the first
    • Manessier: ca.1214-27 continues the second
    • Gerbert de Montreuil: ca.1226-30 continues the second
  • Perlesvaus: anonymous continuation, ca 1220
Although, Alias Mother Jonez's write up is probably much more useful, here is something I wrote comparing Chretien de Troyes' "graal" story and Beowulf.


At first glance Perceval or the Story of the Grail (or Graal) appears to have a lot in common with Beowulf. In the case of theme and syntax they actually are quite similar. However, the religious history surrounding each of them differs almost completely.

Both Beowulf and Perceval are epic poems that have been handed down as an oral history. However Beowulf is a Pagan's tale, while Perceval is a Christian tale. Religion is cast out of Beowulf, whereas Perceval (up until a point in the story) is the model Christian knight; devout, humble, poor and full of other chivalrous virtues. The central story, with Perceval as the keeper of the Holy Grail, is wholly religious. However, after his experience with the Grail, Perceval finds that his actions have caused great chaos in his uncle's (who is king) land. He then makes a startling admission- that he no longer loves or serves God. Throughout the rest of the story Perceval is a man who is lost and needs religious counsel.

Now Perceval becomes a warrior like Beowulf, without a God and with the conscience of a warrior and nothing more. As Steven G. Nichols points out, "… Perceval's appearance mounted, in full armor on Good Friday, the day when Christians were supposed to throw off worldly garb and walk barefoot symbolizes for all to see the spiritual disarray of his soul."1

Another major difference between the two stories is that the author of Beowulf is unknown, whereas historians credit Chretien de Troyes with writing Perceval. Usually the author doesn't affect how a body of literature is received and comprehended. However it's necessary when determining historical significance.

Beowulf is more than likely fiction, for many reasons. One of the major reasons is that the author is unknown. This denotes the idea that the story was a common legend among Anglo-Saxons, and therefore is more than likely just joyful banter between people. However, in the case of Perceval, since we know (or think we know) who wrote it, it's easier to define how much truth lies in the story. Like Beowulf's dragon scene, Perceval has its unbelievable moments. However the author gives some more credence to the work as a whole.

Little is known of de Troyes. However, it has been established that he wrote Perceval during or around 1188 AD. This was a period of great religious turmoil, which included the fall of Christian Jerusalem. It has been hypothesized that due to the time period, the count of Champagne, his employer, told him the story to be recorded for posterity. The lineage of both the Count of Champagne and the Count of Flanders, to whom the poem is dedicated, gives the story some veracity. Both of these men belong to the "Grail family" or the descendents of Perceval. 2

It is important to point out that even today the actual history of Perceval is still in doubt. In most libraries Perceval still sits in the fiction section beside Beowulf. Due to the age of both texts, it's still largely left to the reader to dervive his own interpretation of the history of the stories, much like the content of stories themselves.


  1. Nichols, Stephen G. "Picture, Image, and Subjectivity in Medieval Culture." Modern Language Notes, vol. 108.4, September 1993
    Article Available Online at: http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/mln/v108/108.4nichols.html
  2. Baigent, Michael, Leigh, Richard, and Lincoln, Henry. Holy Blood, Holy Grail. New York: Delacorte Press, 1982.

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