Legends of the Middle Ages
Part 4 out of 8
Swift without stop: the old bashaws click time,
As if on polish'd ice; in trance sublime
The iman hoar with some spruce courtier slides.
Nor rank nor age from capering refrain;
Nor can the king his royal foot restrain!
He too must reel amid the frolic row,
Grasp the grand vizier by his beard of snow,
And teach the aged man once more to bound amain!"
WIELAND, _Oberon_ (Sotheby's tr.).
[Sidenote: Flight of Rezia.] While they were thus occupied, Huon conducted
the willing Rezia to the door, where Sherasmin was waiting for them with
fleet steeds, and with Fatima, the princess's favorite attendant. While
Sherasmin helped the ladies to mount, Huon hastened back to the palace
hall, and found that the exhausted caliph had sunk upon a divan. With the
prescribed ceremonies, our hero politely craved a lock of his beard and
four of his teeth as a present for Charlemagne. This impudent request so
incensed the caliph that he vociferated orders to his guards to slay the
stranger. Huon was now forced to defend himself with a curtain pole and a
golden bowl, until, needing aid, he suddenly blew a resounding peal upon
his magic horn. The earth shook, the palace rocked, Oberon appeared in the
midst of rolling thunder and flashing lightning, and with a wave of his
lily wand plunged caliph and people into a deep sleep. Then he placed his
silver car at Huon's disposal, to bear him and his bride and attendants to
Ascalon, where a ship was waiting to take them back to France.
"'So haste, thou matchless pair!
On wings of love, my car, that cuts the air,
Shall waft you high above terrestrial sight,
And place, ere morning melt the shades of night,
On Askalon's far shore, beneath my guardian care.'"
WIELAND, _Oberon_ (Sotheby's tr.).
[Sidenote: Oberon's warning.] When Huon and Rezia were about to embark at
Ascalon, Oberon appeared. He claimed his chariot, which had brought them
thither, and gave the knight a golden and jeweled casket, which contained
the teeth of the caliph and a lock of his beard. One last test of Huon's
loyalty was required, however; for Oberon, at parting, warned him to make
no attempt to claim Rezia as his wife until their union had been blessed at
Rome by the Pope.
"'And deep, O Huon! grave it in your brain!
Till good Sylvester, pious father, sheds
Heaven's holy consecration on your heads,
As brother and as sister chaste remain!
Oh, may ye not, with inauspicious haste,
The fruit forbidden prematurely taste!
Know, if ye rashly venture ere the time,
That Oberon, in vengeance of your crime,
Leaves you, without a friend, on life's deserted waste!'"
WIELAND, _Oberon_ (Sotheby's tr.).
The first part of the journey was safely accomplished; but when they
stopped at Lepanto, on the way, Huon insisted upon his mentor, Sherasmin,
taking passage on another vessel, which sailed direct to France, that he
might hasten ahead, lay the golden casket at Charlemagne's feet, and
announce Huon's coming with his Oriental bride.
[Illustration: HUON AND AMANDA LEAP OVERBOARD.--Gabriel Max.]
When Sherasmin had reluctantly departed, and they were again on the high
seas, Huon expounded the Christian faith to Rezia, who not only was
converted, but was also baptized by a priest on board. He gave her the
Christian name of Amanda, in exchange for her pagan name of Rezia or
Esclarmonde. This same priest also consecrated their marriage; and while
Huon intended to await the Pope's blessing ere he claimed Amanda as his
wife, his good resolutions were soon forgotten, and the last injunction of
[Sidenote: Disobedience and punishment.] This disobedience was immediately
punished, for a frightful tempest suddenly arose, threatening to destroy
the vessel and all on board. The sailors, full of superstitious fears, cast
lots to discover who should be sacrificed to allay the fury of the storm.
When the choice fell upon Huon, Amanda flung herself with him into the
tumultuous waves. As the lovers vanished overboard the storm was suddenly
appeased, and, instead of drowning together, Huon and Amanda, by the magic
of the ring she wore, drifted to a volcanic island, where they almost
perished from hunger and thirst.
Much search among the rocks was finally rewarded by the discovery of some
dates, which were particularly welcome, as the lovers had been bitterly
deluded by the sight of some apples of Sodom. The fruit, however, was soon
exhausted, and, after untold exertions, Huon made his way over the
mountains to a fertile valley, the retreat of Titania, queen of the
fairies, who had quarreled with Oberon, and who was waiting here until
recalled to fairyland.
The only visible inhabitant of the valley, however, was a hermit, who
welcomed Huon, and showed him a short and convenient way to bring Amanda
thither. After listening attentively to the story of Huon's adventures, the
hermit bade him endeavor to recover the favor of Oberon by voluntarily
living apart from his wife, and leading a life of toil and abstinence.
"'Blest,' says the hermit, 'blest the man whom fate
Guides with strict hand, but not unfriendly aim!
How blest! whose slightest fault is doom'd to shame!
Him, trained to virtue, purest joys await,--
Earth's purest joys reward each trying pain!
Think not the fairy will for aye remain
Inexorable foe to hearts like thine:
Still o'er you hangs his viewless hand divine;
Do but deserve his grace, and ye his grace obtain."
WIELAND, _Oberon_ (Sotheby's tr.).
[Sidenote: Huon's penance.] Huon was ready and willing to undergo any
penance which would enable him to deliver his beloved Amanda from the isle,
and after building her a little hut, within call of the cell he occupied
with the hermit, he spent all his time in tilling the soil for their
sustenance, and in listening to the teachings of the holy man.
Time passed on. One day Amanda restlessly wandered a little way up the
mountain, and fell asleep in a lovely grotto, which she now for the first
time discovered. When she awoke from a blissful dream she found herself
clasping her new-born babe, who, during her slumbers, had been cared for by
the fairies. This child, Huonet, was, of course, a great comfort to Amanda,
who was devoted to him.
When the babe was a little more than a year old the aged monk died. Huon
and Amanda, despairing of release from the desert island, were weary of
living apart; and Titania, who foresaw that Oberon would send new
misfortunes upon them to punish them in case they did not stand the second
test, carried little Huonet off to fairyland, lest he should suffer for his
[Sidenote: Amanda and the pirates.] Huon and Amanda, in the mean time,
searched frantically for the missing babe, fancying it had wandered off
into the woods. During their search they became separated, and Amanda,
while walking along the seashore, was seized by pirates. They intended to
carry her away and sell her as a slave to the Sultan. Huon heard her cries
of distress, and rushed to her rescue; but in spite of his utmost efforts
to join her he saw her borne away to the waiting vessel, while he was bound
to a tree in the woods, and left there to die.
"Deep in the wood, at distance from the shore,
They drag their victim, that his loudest word
Pour'd on the desert air may pass unheard.
Then bind the wretch, and fasten o'er and o'er
Arm, leg, and neck, and shoulders, to a tree.
To heaven he looks in speechless agony,
O'ercome by woe's unutterable weigfit.
Thus he--the while, with jocund shout elate
The crew bear off their prey, and bound along the sea."
WIELAND, _Oberon_ (Sotheby's tr.).
Oberon, however, had pity at last upon the unfortunate knight, and sent one
of his invisible servants, who not only unbound him, but transported him,
with miraculous rapidity, over land and sea, and deposited him at the door
of a gardener's house in Tunis.
[Sidenote: Sherasmin's search.] After parting from his master at Lepanto,
Sherasmin traveled on until he came to the gates of the palace with his
precious casket. Then only did he realize that Charlemagne would never
credit his tale unless Huon were there with his bride to vouch for its
truth. Instead of entering the royal abode he therefore hastened back to
Rome, where for two months he awaited the arrival of the young couple.
Then, sure that some misfortune had overtaken them, the faithful Sherasmin
wandered in pilgrim guise from place to place seeking them, until he
finally came to Tunis, where Fatima, Amanda's maid, had been sold into
slavery, and where he sorrowfully learned of his master's death.
To be near Fatima, Sherasmin took a gardener's position in the Sultan's
palace, and when he opened the door of his humble dwelling one morning he
was overjoyed to find Huon, who had been brought there by the messenger of
Oberon. An explanation ensued, and Huon, under the assumed name of Hassan,
became Sherasmin's assistant in the Sultan's gardens.
The pirates, in the mean while, hoping to sell Amanda to the Sultan
himself, had treated her with the utmost deference; but as they neared the
shore of Tunis their vessel suffered shipwreck, and all on board perished
miserably, except Amanda. She was washed ashore at the Sultan's feet.
Charmed by her beauty, the Sultan conveyed her to his palace, where he
would immediately have married her had she not told him that she had made a
vow of chastity which she was bound to keep for two years.
[Sidenote: Huon and Amanda reunited.] Huon, unconscious of Amanda's
presence, worked in the garden, where the Sultan's daughter saw him and
fell in love with him. As she failed to win him, she became very jealous.
Soon after this Fatima discovered Amanda's presence in the palace, and
informed Huon, who made a desperate effort to reach her. This was
discovered by the jealous princess, and since Huon would not love her, she
was determined that he should not love another. She therefore artfully laid
her plans, and accused him of a heinous crime, for which the Sultan,
finding appearances against him, condemned him to death. Amanda, who was
warned by Fatima of Huon's danger, rushed into the Sultan's presence to
plead for her husband's life; but when she discovered that she could obtain
it only at the price of renouncing him forever and marrying the Sultan, she
declared that she preferred to die, and elected to be burned with her
beloved. The flames were already rising around them both, when Oberon,
touched by their sufferings and their constancy, suddenly appeared, and
again hung his horn about Huon's neck.
The knight hailed this sign of recovered favor with rapture, and, putting
the magic horn to his lips, showed his magnanimity by blowing only a soft
note and making all the pagans dance.
"No sooner had the grateful knight beheld,
With joyful ardor seen, the ivory horn,
Sweet pledge of fairy grace, his neck adorn,
Than with melodious whisper gently swell'd,
His lip entices forth the sweetest tone
That ever breath'd through magic ivory blown:
He scorns to doom a coward race to death.
'Dance! till ye weary gasp, depriv'd of breath--
Huon permits himself this slight revenge alone'"
WIELAND, _Oberon_ (Sotheby's tr.).
[Sidenote: Huon and Amanda in fairyland.] While all were dancing, much
against their will, Huon and Amanda, Sherasmin and Fatima, promptly stepped
into the silvery car which Oberon placed at their disposal, and were
rapidly transported to fairyland. There they found little Huonet in perfect
health. Great happiness now reigned, for Titania, having secured the ring
which Amanda had lost in her struggle with the pirates on the sandy shore,
had given it back to Oberon. He was propitiated by the gift, and as the
sight of Huon and Amanda's fidelity had convinced him that wives could be
true, he took Titania back into favor, and reinstated her as queen of his
When Huon and Amanda had sojourned as long as they wished in fairyland,
they were wafted in Oberon's car to the gates of Paris. There Huon arrived
just in time to win, at the point of his lance, his patrimony of Guienne,
which Charlemagne had offered as prize at a tournament. Bending low before
his monarch, the young hero then revealed his name, presented his wife,
gave him the golden casket containing the lock of hair and the four teeth,
and said that he had accomplished his quest.
"Our hero lifts the helmet from his head;
And boldly ent'ring, like the god of day,
His golden ringlets down his armor play.
All, wond'ring, greet the youth long mourn'd as dead,
Before the king his spirit seems to stand!
Sir Huon with Amanda, hand in hand,
Salutes the emperor with respectful bow--
'Behold, obedient to his plighted vow,
Thy vassal, sovereign liege, returning to thy land!
"'For by the help of Heaven this arm has done
What thou enjoin'dst--and lo! before thine eye
The beard and teeth of Asia's monarch lie,
At hazard of my life, to please thee, won;
And in this fair, by every peril tried,
The heiress of his throne, my love, my bride!'
He spoke; and lo! at once her knight to grace,
Off falls the veil that hid Amanda's face,
And a new radiance gilds the hall from side to side."
WIELAND, _Oberon_ (Sotheby's tr.).
The young couple, entirely restored to favor, sojourned a short time at
court and then traveled southward to Guienne, where their subjects received
them with every demonstration of extravagant joy. Here they spent the
remainder of their lives together in happiness and comparative peace.
[Sidenote: An earlier version of the story.] According to an earlier
version of the story, Esclarmonde, whom the pirates intended to convey to
the court of her uncle, Yvoirin of Montbrand, was wrecked near the palace
of Galafre, King of Tunis, who respected her vow of chastity but
obstinately refused to give her up to her uncle when he claimed her. Huon,
delivered from his fetters on the island, was borne by Malebron, Oberon's
servant, to Yvoirin's court, where he immediately offered himself as
champion to defy Galafre and win back his beloved wife at the point of the
sword. No sooner did Huon appear in martial array at Tunis than Galafre
selected Sherasmin (who had also been shipwrecked off his coast, and had
thus become his slave) as his champion. Huon and Sherasmin met, but,
recognizing each other after a few moments' struggle, they suddenly
embraced, and, joining forces, slew the pagans and carried off Esclarmonde
and Fatima. They embarked upon a swift sailing vessel, and soon arrived at
Rome, where Huon related his adventures to the Pope, who gave him his
As they were on their way to Charlemagne's court, Girard, a knight who had
taken possession of Huon's estates, stole the golden casket from Sherasmin,
and sent Huon and Esclarmonde in chains to Bordeaux. Then, going to court,
he informed Charlemagne that although Huon had failed in his quest, he had
dared to return to France. Charlemagne, whose anger had not yet cooled,
proceeded to Bordeaux, tried Huon, and condemned him to death. But just as
the knight was about to perish, Oberon appeared, bound the emperor and
Girard fast, and only consented to restore them to freedom when Charlemagne
promised to reinstate Huon.
Oberon then produced the missing casket, revealed Girard's treachery, and,
after seeing him punished, bore Huon and Esclarmonde off to fairyland. Huon
eventually became ruler of this realm in Oberon's stead; and his daughter,
Claretie, whose equally marvelous adventures are told at great length in
another, but far less celebrated, _chanson de geste_, is represented as the
ancestress of all the Capetian kings of France.
TITUREL AND THE HOLY GRAIL.
[Sidenote: Origin of the legend.] The most mystical and spiritual of all
the romances of chivalry is doubtless the legend of the Holy Grail. Rooted
in the mythology of all primitive races is the belief in a land of peace
and happiness, a sort of earthly paradise, once possessed by man, but now
lost, and only to be attained again by the virtuous. The legend of the Holy
Grail, which some authorities declare was first known in Europe by the
Moors, and christianized by the Spaniards, was soon introduced into France,
where Robert de Borron and Chrestien de Troyes wrote lengthy poems about
it. Other writers took up the same theme, among them Walter Map, Archdeacon
of Oxford, who connected it with the Arthurian legends. It soon became
known in Germany, where, in the hands of Gottfried von Strassburg, and
especially of Wolfram von Eschenbach, it assumed its most perfect and
popular form. The "Parzival" of Eschenbach also forms the basis of a recent
work, the much-discussed last opera of the great German composer,
Wagner. [Footnote 1: See Guerber's Stories of the Wagner Opera.]
The story of the Grail is somewhat confused, owing to the many changes made
by the different authors. The account here given, while mentioning the most
striking incidents of other versions, is in general an outline of the
"Titurel" and "Parzival" of Von Eschenbach.
[Sidenote: The Holy Grail.] When Lucifer was cast out of heaven, one stone
of great beauty as detached from the marvelous crown which sixty thousand
angels had tendered him. This stone fell upon earth, and from it was carved
a vessel of great beauty, which came, after many ages, into the hands of
Joseph of Arimathea. He offered it to the Savior, who made use of it in the
Last Supper. When the blood flowed from the Redeemer's side, Joseph of
Arimathea caught a few drops of it in this wonderful vessel; and, owing to
this circumstance, it was thought to be endowed with marvelous powers.
"Wherever it was there were good things in abundance. Whoever looked upon
it, even though he were sick unto death, could not die that week; whoever
looked at it continually, his cheeks never grew pale, nor his hair gray."
Once a year, on the anniversary of the Savior's death, a white dove brought
a fresh host down from heaven, and placed it on the vessel, which was borne
by a host of angels, or by spotless virgins. The care of it was at times
intrusted to mortals, who, however, had to prove themselves worthy of this
exalted honor by leading immaculate lives. This vessel, called the "Holy
Grail," remained, after the crucifixion, in the hands of Joseph of
Arimathea. The Jews, angry because Joseph had helped to bury Christ, cast
him into a dungeon, and left him there for a whole year without food or
drink. Their purpose in doing so was to slay Joseph, as they had already
slain Nicodemus, so that should the Romans ever ask them to produce
Christ's body, they might declare that it had been stolen by Joseph of
The Jews little suspected, however, that Joseph, having the Holy Grail with
him, could suffer no lack. When Vespasian, the Roman emperor, heard the
story of Christ's passion, as related by a knight who had just returned
from the Holy Land, he sent a commission to Jerusalem to investigate the
matter and bring back some holy relic to cure his son Titus of leprosy.
In due time the ambassadors returned, giving Pilate's version of the story,
and bringing with them an old woman (known after her death as St.
Veronica). She produced the cloth with which she had wiped the Lord's face,
and upon which his likeness had been stamped by miracle. The mere sight of
this holy relic sufficed to restore Titus, who now proceeded with Vespasian
to Jerusalem. There they vainly tried to compel the Jews to produce the
body of Christ, until one of them revealed, under pressure of torture, the
place where Joseph was imprisoned. Vespasian proceeded in person to the
dungeon, and was hailed by name by the perfectly healthy prisoner. Joseph
was set free, but, fearing further persecution from the Jews, soon departed
with his sister, Enigee, and her husband, Brons, for a distant land. The
pilgrims found a place of refuge near Marseilles, where the Holy Grail
supplied all their needs, until one of them committed a sin. Then divine
displeasure became manifest by a terrible famine.
As none knew who had sinned, Joseph was instructed in a vision to discover
the culprit by the same means with which the Lord had revealed the guilt of
Judas. Still following divine commands, Joseph made a table, and directed
Brons to catch a fish. The Grail was placed before Joseph's seat at table,
where all who implicitly believed were invited to take a seat. Eleven seats
were soon occupied, and only Judas's place remained empty. Moses, a
hypocrite and sinner, attempted to sit there, but the earth opened wide
beneath him and ingulfed him.
In another vision Joseph was now informed that the vacancy would only be
filled on the day of doom. He was also told that a similar table would be
constructed by Merlin. Here the grandson of Brons would honorably occupy
the vacant place, which is designated in the legend as the "Siege
Perilous," because it proved fatal to all for whom it was not intended.
In the "Great St. Grail," one of the longest poems on this theme, there are
countless adventures and journeys, "transformations of fair females into
foul fiends, conversions wholesale and individual, allegorical visions,
miracles, and portents. Eastern splendor and northern weirdness, angelry
and deviltry, together with abundant fighting and quite a phenomenal amount
of swooning, which seem to reflect a strange medley of Celtic, pagan, and
mythological traditions, and Christian legends and mysticism, alternate in
a kaleidoscopic maze that defies the symmetry which modern aesthetic canons
associate with every artistic production."
The Holy Grail was, we are further told, transported by Joseph of Arimathea
to Glastonbury, where it long remained visible, and whence it vanished only
when men became too sinful to be permitted to retain it in their midst.
[Sidenote: Birth of Titurel.] Another legend relates that a rich man from
Cappadocia, Berillus, followed Vespasian to Rome, where he won great
estates. He was a very virtuous man, and his good qualities were inherited
by all his descendants. One of them, called Titurisone, greatly regretted
having no son to continue his race. When advised by a soothsayer to make a
pilgrimage to the holy sepulcher, and there to lay a crucifix of pure gold
upon the altar, the pious Titurisone hastened to do so. On his return he
was rewarded for his pilgrimage by the birth of a son, called Titurel.
This child, when he had attained manhood, spent all his time in warring
against the Saracens, as all pagans are called in these metrical romances.
The booty he won he gave either to the church or to the poor, and his
courage and virtue were only equaled by his piety and extreme humility.
One day, when Titurel was walking alone in the woods, he was favored by the
vision of an angel. The celestial messenger sailed down to earth out of the
blue, and announced in musical tones that the Lord had chosen him to be the
guardian of the Holy Grail on Montsalvatch (which some authors believe to
have been in Spain), and that it behooved him to set his house in order and
obey the voice of God.
When the angel had floated upward and out of sight, Titurel returned home.
After disposing of all his property, reserving nothing but his armor and
trusty sword, he again returned to the spot where he had been favored with
the divine message. There he saw a mysterious white cloud, which seemed to
beckon him onward. Titurel followed it, passed through vast solitudes and
almost impenetrable woods, and eventually began to climb a steep mountain,
whose ascent at first seemed impossible. Clinging to the rocks, and gazing
ever ahead at the guiding cloud, Titurel came at last to the top of the
mountain, where, in a beam of refulgent light, he beheld the Holy Grail,
borne in the air by invisible hands. He raised his heart in passionate
prayer that he might be found worthy to guard the emerald-colored wonder
which was thus intrusted to his care, and in his rapture hardly heeded the
welcoming cries of a number of knights in shining armor, who hailed him as
The vision of the Holy Grail was as evanescent as beautiful, and soon
disappeared; but Titurel, knowing that the spot was holy, guarded it with
all his might against the infidels, who would fain have climbed the
After several years had passed without the Holy Grail's coming down to
earth, Titurel conceived the plan of building a temple suitable for its
reception. The knights who helped to build and afterward guarded this
temple were called "Templars." Their first effort was to clear the mountain
top, which they found was one single onyx of enormous size. This they
leveled and polished until it shone like a mirror, and upon this foundation
they prepared to build their temple.
[Sidenote: Temple of the Holy Grail.] As Titurel was hesitating what plan
to adopt for the building, he prayed for guidance, and when he arose on the
morrow he found the ground plan all traced out and the building materials
ready for use. The knights labored piously from morning till night, and
when they ceased, invisible hands continued to work all night. Thus pushed
onward, the work was soon completed, and the temple rose on the mountain
top in all its splendor. "The temple itself was one hundred fathoms in
diameter. Around it were seventy-two chapels of an octagonal shape. To
every pair of chapels there was a tower six stories high, approachable by a
winding stair on the outside. In the center stood a tower twice as big as
the others, which rested on arches. The vaulting was of blue sapphire, and
in the center was a plate of emerald, with the lamb and the banner of the
cross in enamel. All the altar stones were of sapphire, as symbols of the
propitiation of sins. Upon the inside of the cupola surmounting the temple,
the sun and moon were represented in diamonds and topazes, and shed a light
as of day even in the darkness of the night. The windows were of crystal,
beryl, and other transparent stones. The floor was of translucent crystal,
under which all the fishes of the sea were carved out of onyx, just like
life. The towers were of precious stones inlaid with gold; their roofs of
gold and blue enamel. Upon every tower there was a crystal cross, and upon
it a golden eagle with expanded wings, which, at a distance, appeared to be
flying. At the summit of the main tower was an immense carbuncle, which
served, like a star, to guide the Templars thither at night. In the center
of the building, under the dome, was a miniature representation, of the
whole, and in this the holy vessel was kept."
[Sidenote: Descent of the Holy Grail.] When all the work was finished, the
temple was solemnly consecrated, and as the priests chanted the psalms a
sweet perfume filled the air, and the holy vessel was seen to glide down on
a beam of light. While it hovered just above the altar the wondering
assembly heard the choir of the angels singing the praises of the Most
High. The Holy Grail, which had thus come down upon earth, was faithfully
guarded by Titurel and his knights, who were fed and sustained by its
marvelous power, and whose wounds were healed as soon as they gazed upon
it. From time to time it also delivered a divine message, which appeared in
letters of fire inscribed about its rim, and which none of the Templars
ever ventured to disregard.
By virtue of the miraculous preservative influence of the Holy Grail,
Titurel seemed but forty when he was in reality more than four hundred
years old. His every thought had been so engrossed by the care of the
precious vessel that he was somewhat surprised when he read upon its rim a
luminous command to marry, so that his race might not become extinct. When
the knights of the temple had been summoned, and had all perused the divine
command, they began to consider where a suitable helpmate could be found
for their beloved king. They soon advised him to woe Richoude, the daughter
of a Spaniard. An imposing embassy was sent to the maiden, who, being
piously inclined, immediately consented to the marriage.
Richoude was a faithful wife for twenty years, and when she died she left
two children,--a son, Frimoutel, and a daughter, Richoude,--to comfort the
sorrowing Titurel for her loss. These children both married in their turn,
and Frimoutel had two sons, Amfortas and Trevrezent, and three daughters,
Herzeloide, Josiane, and Repanse de Joie. As these children grew up,
Titurel became too old to bear the weight of his armor, and spent all his
days in the temple, where he finally read on the Holy Grail a command to
anoint Frimoutel king. Joyfully the old man obeyed, for he had long felt
that the defense of the Holy Grail should be intrusted to a younger man
[Sidenote: Birth of Parzival.] Although he renounced the throne in favor of
his son, Titurel lived on, witnessed the marriage of Josiane, and mourned
for her when she died in giving birth to a little daughter, called Sigune.
This child, being thus deprived of a mother's care, was intrusted to
Herzeloide, who brought her up with Tchionatulander, the orphaned son of a
friend. Herzeloide married a prince named Gamuret, and became the happy
mother of Parzival, who, however, soon lost his father in a terrible
Fearful lest her son, when grown up, should want to follow his father's
example, and make war against even the most formidable foes, Herzeloide
carried him off into the forest of Soltane (which some authors locate in
Brittany), and there brought him up in complete solitude and ignorance.
"The child her falling tears bedew;
No wife was ever found more true.
She teemed with joy and uttered sighs;
And tears midst laughter filled her eyes
Her heart delighted in his birth;
In sorrow deep was drowned her mirth."
WOLFRAM VON ESCHENBACH, _Parzival_ (Dippold's tr.).
[Illustration: PARZIVAL UNCOVERING THE HOLY GRAIL.--Pixis.]
[Sidenote: Amfortas's wound.] While she was living there, Frimoutel, weary
of the dull life on Montsalvatch, went out into the world, and died of a
lance wound when far away from home. Amfortas, his son, who was now crowned
in obedience to the command of the Holy Grail, proved equally restless, and
went out also in search of adventures. Like his father, he too was wounded
by a poisoned lance; but, instead of dying, he lived to return to the Holy
Grail. But since his wound had not been received in defense of the holy
vessel, it never healed, and caused him untold suffering.
Titurel, seeing this suffering, prayed ardently for his grandson's release
from the pain which imbittered every moment of his life, and was finally
informed by the glowing letters on the rim of the Holy Grail that a chosen
hero would climb the mountain and inquire the cause of Amfortas's pain. At
this question the evil spell would be broken, Amfortas healed, and the
newcomer appointed king and guardian of the Holy Grail.
This promise of ultimate cure saved Amfortas from utter despair, and all
the Templars lived in constant anticipation of the coming hero, and of the
question which would put an end to the torment which they daily witnessed.
[Sidenote: Parzival's early life.] Parzival, in the mean while, was growing
up in the forest, where he amused himself with a bow and arrow of his own
manufacture. But when for the first time he killed a tiny bird, and saw it
lying limp and helpless in his hand, he brought it tearfully to his mother
and inquired what it meant. In answering him she, for the first time also,
mentioned the name of God; and when he eagerly questioned her about the
Creator, she said to him: "Brighter is God than e'en the brightest day; yet
once he took the form and face of man."
Thus brought up in complete ignorance, it is no wonder that when young
Parzival encountered some knights in brilliant armor in the forest, he fell
down and offered to worship them. Amused at the lad's simplicity, the
knights told him all about the gay world of chivalry beyond the forest, and
advised him to ride to Arthur's court, where, if worthy, he would receive
the order of knighthood, and perchance be admitted to the Round Table.
Beside himself with joy at hearing all these marvelous things, and eager to
set out immediately, Parzival returned to his mother to relate what he had
seen, and to implore her to give him a horse, that he might ride after the
"'I saw four men, dear mother mine;
Not brighter is the Lord divine.
They spoke to me of chivalry;
Through Arthur's power of royalty,
In knightly honor well arrayed,
I shall receive the accolade.'"
WOLFRAM VON ESCHENBACH, _Parzival_ (Dippold's tr.).
The mother, finding herself unable to detain him any longer, reluctantly
consented to his departure, and, hoping that ridicule and lack of success
would soon drive him back to her, prepared for him the motley garb of a
fool and gave him a very sorry nag to ride.
"The boy, silly yet brave indeed,
Oft from his mother begged a steed.
That in her heart she did lament;
She thought: 'Him must I make content,
Yet must the thing an evil be.'
Thereafter further pondered she:
'The folk are prone to ridicule.
My child the garments of a fool
Shall on his shining body wear.
If he be scoffed and beaten there,
Perchance he'll come to me again.'"
WOLFRAM VON ESCHENBACH, _Parzival_ (Bayard Taylor's tr.).
[Sidenote: Parzival's journey into the world.] Thus equipped, his mind well
stored with all manner of unpractical advice given by his mother in further
hopes of making a worldly career impossible for him, the young hero set
out. As he rode away from home, his heart was filled with regret at leaving
and with an ardent desire to seek adventures abroad,--conflicting emotions
which he experienced for the first time in his life. Herzeloide accompanied
her son part way, kissed him good-by, and, as his beloved form disappeared
from view in the forest paths, her heart broke and she breathed her last!
Parzival rode onward and soon came to a meadow, in which some tents were
pitched. He saw a beautiful lady asleep in one of these tents, and,
dismounting, he wakened her with a kiss, thus obeying one of his mother's
injunctions--to kiss every fair lady he met. To his surprise, however, the
lady seemed indignant; so he tried to pacify her by telling her that he had
often thus saluted his mother. Then, slipping the bracelet from off her
arm, and carrying it away as a proof that she was not angry, he rode on.
Lord Orilus, the lady's husband, hearing from her that a youth had kissed
her, flew into a towering rage, and rode speedily away, hoping to overtake
the impudent varlet and punish him.
Parzival, in the mean while, had journeyed on, and, passing through the
forest, had seen a maiden weeping over the body of her slain lover. In
answer to his inquiries she told him that she was his cousin, Sigune, and
that the dead man, Tchionatulander, had been killed in trying to fulfill a
trifling request--to recover her pet dog, which had been stolen. Parzival
promised to avenge Tchionatulander as soon as possible, and to remember
that the name of the murderer was Orilus.
Next he came to a river, where he was ferried across, and repaid the
boatman by giving him the bracelet he had taken from Orilus's wife. Then,
hearing that Arthur was holding his court at Nantes, he proceeded thither
without further delay.
On entering the city, Parzival encountered the Red Knight, who mockingly
asked him where he was going. The unabashed youth immediately retorted, "To
Arthur's court to ask him for your arms and steed!"
[Sidenote: Parzival at Arthur's court.] A little farther on the youth's
motley garb attracted much attention, and the town boys made fun of him
until Iwanet, one of the king's squires, came to inquire the cause of the
tumult. He took Parzival under his protection, and conducted him to the
great hall, where, if we are to believe some accounts, Parzival boldly
presented himself on horseback. The sight of the gay company so dazzled the
inexperienced youth that he wonderingly inquired why there were so many
Arthurs. When Iwanet told him that the wearer of the crown was the sole
king, Parzival boldly stepped up to him and asked for the arms and steed of
the Red Knight.
Arthur wonderingly gazed at the youth, and then replied that he could have
them provided he could win them. This was enough. Parzival sped after the
knight, overtook him, and loudly bade him surrender weapons and steed. The
Red Knight, thus challenged, began to fight; but Parzival, notwithstanding
his inexperience, wielded his spear so successfully that he soon slew his
opponent. To secure the steed was an easy matter, but how to remove the
armor the youth did not know. By good fortune, however, Iwanet soon came up
and helped Parzival to don the armor. He put it on over his motley garb,
which he would not set aside because his mother had made it for him.
Some time after, Parzival came to the castle of Gurnemanz, a noble knight,
with whom he remained for some time. Here he received valuable instructions
in all a knight need know. When Parzival left this place, about a year
later, he was an accomplished knight, clad as beseemed his calling, and
ready to fulfill all the duties which chivalry imposed upon its votaries.
[Sidenote: Parzival and Conduiramour.] He soon heard that Queen
Conduiramour was hard pressed, in her capital of Belripar, by an unwelcome
suitor. As he had pledged his word to defend all ladies in distress,
Parzival immediately set out to rescue this queen. A series of brilliant
single fights disposed of the besiegers, and the citizens of Belripar, to
show their gratitude to their deliverer, offered him the hand of their
queen, Conduiramour, which he gladly accepted. But Parzival, even in this
new home, could not forget his sorrowing mother, and he soon left his wife
to go in search of Herzeloide, hoping to comfort her. He promised his wife
that he would return soon, however, and would bring his mother to Belripar
to share their joy. In the course of this journey homeward Parzival came to
a lake, where a richly dressed fisherman, in answer to his inquiry,
directed him to a neighboring castle where he might find shelter.
[Sidenote: Castle of the Holy Grail.] Although Parzival did not know it, he
had come to the temple and castle on Montsalvatch. The drawbridge was
immediately lowered at his call, and richly clad servants bade him welcome
with joyful mien. They told him that he had long been expected, and after
arraying him in a jeweled garment, sent by Queen Repanse de Joie, they
conducted him into a large, brilliantly illumined hall. There four hundred
knights were seated on soft cushions, before small tables each laid for
four guests; and as they saw him enter a flash of joy passed over their
grave and melancholy faces. The high seat was occupied by a man wrapped in
furs, who was evidently suffering from some painful disease. He made a sign
to Parzival to draw near, gave him a seat beside him, and presented him
with a sword of exquisite workmanship. To Parzival's surprise this man bade
him welcome also, and repeated that he had long been expected. The young
knight, amazed by all he heard and saw, remained silent, for he did not
wish to seem inquisitive,--a failing unworthy of a knight. Suddenly the
great doors opened, and a servant appeared bearing the bloody head of a
lance, with which he silently walked around the hall, while all gazed upon
it and groaned aloud.
The servant had scarcely vanished when the doors again opened, and
beautiful virgins came marching in, two by two. They bore an embroidered
cushion, an ebony stand, and sundry other articles, which they laid before
the fur-clad king. Last of all came the beautiful maiden, Repanse de Joie,
bearing a glowing vessel; and as she entered and laid it before the king,
Parzival heard the assembled knights whisper that this was the Holy Grail.
"Now after them advanced the Queen,
With countenance of so bright a sheen,
They all imagined day would dawn.
One saw the maiden was clothed on
With muslin stuffs of Araby.
On a green silk cushion she
The pearl of Paradise did bear.
* * * * *
The blameless Queen, proud, pure, and calm,
Before the host put down the Grail;
And Percival, so runs the tale,
To gaze upon her did not fail,
Who thither bore the Holy Grail."
WOLFRAM VON ESCHENBACH, _Parzival_(Bayard Taylor's
The maidens then slowly retired, the knights and squires drew near, and now
from the shining vessel streamed forth a supply of the daintiest dishes and
richest wines, each guest being served with the viands which he liked best.
All ate sadly and in silence, while Parzival wondered what it might all
mean, yet remained mute. The meal ended, the sufferer rose from his seat,
gazed reproachfully at the visitor, who, by asking a question, could have
saved him such pain, and slowly left the room, uttering a deep sigh.
With angry glances the knights also left the hall, and sad-faced servants
conducted Parzival past a sleeping room, where they showed him an old
white-haired man who lay in a troubled sleep. Parzival wondered still more,
but did not venture to ask who it might be. Next the servants took him to
an apartment where he could spend the night. The tapestry hangings of this
room were all embroidered with gorgeous pictures. Among them the young hero
noticed one in particular, because it represented his host borne down to
the ground by a spear thrust into his bleeding side. Parzival's curiosity
was even greater than before; but, scorning to ask a servant what he had
not ventured to demand of the master, he went quietly to bed, thinking that
he would try to secure an explanation on the morrow.
When he awoke he found himself alone. No servant answered his call. All the
doors were fastened except those which led outside, where he found his
steed awaiting him. When he had passed the drawbridge it rose up slowly
behind him, and a voice called out from the tower, "Thou art accursed; for
thou hadst been chosen to do a great work, which thou hast left undone!"
Then looking upward, Parzival saw a horrible face gazing after him with a
fiendish grin, and making a gesture as of malediction.
[Sidenote: Sigune.] At the end of that day's journey, Parzival came to a
lonely cell in the desert, where he found Sigune weeping over a shrine in
which lay Tchionatulander's embalmed remains. She too received him with
curses, and revealed to him that by one sympathetic question only he might
have ended Amfortas's prolonged pain, broken an evil spell, and won for
himself a glorious crown.
Horrified, now that he knew what harm he had done, Parzival rode away,
feeling as if he were indeed accursed. His greatest wish was to return to
the mysterious castle and atone for his remissness by asking the question
which would release the king from further pain. But alas! the castle had
vanished; and our hero was forced to journey from place to place, seeking
diligently, and meeting with many adventures on the way.
At times the longing to give up the quest and return home to his young wife
was almost unendurable. His thoughts were ever with her, and the poem
relates that even a drop of blood fallen on the snow reminded, him most
vividly of the dazzling complexion of Conduiramour, and of her sorrow when
"'Conduiramour, thine image is
Here in the snow now dyed with red
And in the blood on snowy bed.
Conduiramour, to them compare
Thy forms of grace and beauty rare.'"
WOLFRAM VON ESCHENBACH, _Parzival_ (Dippold's tr.).
Although exposed to countless temptations, Parzival remained true to his
wife as he rode from place to place, constantly seeking the Holy Grail. His
oft-reiterated questions concerning it caused him to be considered a madman
or a fool by all he met.
In the course of his journeys, he encountered a lady in chains, led by a
knight who seemed to take pleasure in torturing her. Taught by Gurnemanz to
rescue all ladies in distress, Parzival challenged and defeated this
knight. Then only did he discover that it was Sir Orilus, who had led his
wife about in chains to punish her for accepting a kiss from a strange
youth. Of course Parzival now hastened to give an explanation of the whole
affair, and the defeated knight, at his request, promised to treat his wife
with all kindness in future.
As Parzival had ordered all the knights whom he had defeated to journey
immediately to Arthur's court and tender him their services, the king had
won many brave warriors. He was so pleased by these constant arrivals, and
so delighted at the repeated accounts of Parzival's valor, that he became
very anxious to see him once more.
[Sidenote: Parzival knighted.] To gratify this wish several knights were
sent in search of the wanderer, and when they finally found him they bade
him come to court. Parzival obeyed, was knighted by Arthur's own hand, and,
according to some accounts, occupied the "Siege Perilous" at the Round
Table. Other versions state, however, that just as he was about to take
this seat the witch Kundrie, a messenger of the Holy Grail, appeared in the
hall. She vehemently denounced him, related how sorely he had failed in his
duty, and cursed him, as the gate keeper had done, for his lack of
sympathy. Thus reminded of his dereliction, Parzival immediately left the
hall, to renew the quest which had already lasted for many months. He was
closely followed by Gawain, one of Arthur's knights, who thought that
Parzival had been too harshly dealt with.
[Sidenote: Gawain's quest.] Four years now elapsed,--four years of penance
and suffering for Parzival, and of brilliant fighting and thrilling
adventures for Gawain. Seeking Parzival, meeting many whom he had helped or
defeated, Gawain journeyed from land to land, until at last he decided that
his quest would end sooner if he too sought the Holy Grail, the goal of all
his friend's hopes.
On the way to Montsalvatch Gawain met a beautiful woman, to whom he made a
declaration of love; but she merely answered that those who loved her must
serve her, and bade him fetch her palfrey from a neighboring garden. The
gardener told him that this lady was the Duchess Orgueilleuse; that her
beauty had fired many a knight; that many had died for her sake; and that
Amfortas, King of the Holy Grail, had braved the poisoned spear which
wounded him, only to win her favor. Gawain, undeterred by this warning,
brought out the lady's palfrey, helped her to mount, and followed her
submissively through many lands. Everywhere they went the proud lady
stirred up some quarrel, and always called upon Gawain to fight the enemies
whom she had thus wantonly made. After much wandering, Gawain and his
ladylove reached the top of a hill, whence they could look across a valley
to a gigantic castle, perched on a rock, near which was a pine tree.
Orgueilleuse now informed Gawain that the castle belonged to her mortal
enemy, Gramoflaus. She bade him bring her a twig of the tree, and conquer
the owner of the castle, who would challenge him as soon as he touched it,
and promised that if he obeyed her exactly she would be his faithful wife.
[Sidenote: Klingsor's castle.] Gawain, emboldened by this promise, dashed
down into the valley, swam across the moat, plucked a branch from the tree,
and accepted the challenge which Gramoflaus promptly offered. The meeting
was appointed for eight days later, in front of Klingsor's castle, whither
Gawain immediately proceeded with the Lady Orgueilleuse. On the way she
told him that this castle, which faced her father's, was occupied by a
magician who kept many noble ladies in close confinement, and had even
cruelly laden them with heavy chains.
Gawain, on hearing this, vowed that he would punish the magician; and,
having seen Orgueilleuse safely enter her ancestral home, he crossed the
river and rode toward Klingsor's castle. As night drew on the windows were
brilliantly illumined, and at each one he beheld the pallid, tear-stained
faces of some of the captives, whose years ranged from early childhood to
withered old age.
Calling for admittance at this castle, Gawain was allowed to enter, but, to
his surprise, found hall and court deserted. He wandered from room to room,
meeting no one; and, weary of his vain search, prepared at last to occupy a
comfortable couch in one of the chambers. To his utter amazement, however,
the bed retreated as he advanced, until, impatient at this trickery, he
sprang boldly upon it. A moment later a rain of sharp spears and daggers
fell upon his couch, but did him no harm, for he had not removed his heavy
armor. When the rain of weapons was over, a gigantic peasant, armed with a
huge club, stalked into the room, closely followed by a fierce lion. When
the peasant perceived that the knight was not dead, as he expected, he beat
a hasty retreat, leaving the lion to attack him alone.
In spite of the size and fury of the lion, Gawain defended himself so
bravely that he finally slew the beast, which was Klingsor in disguise. As
the monster expired the spell was broken, the captives were released, and
the exhausted Gawain was tenderly cared for by his mother and sister
Itonie, who were among those whom his courage had set free. The news of
this victory was immediately sent to Arthur, who now came to witness the
battle between Gawain and a champion who was to appear for Gramoflaus.
Gawain's strength and courage were about to give way before the stranger's
terrible onslaught, when Itonie implored the latter to spare Gawain, whose
name and valor were so well known. At the sound of this name the knight
sheathed his sword, and, raising his visor, revealed the sad but beautiful
countenance of Parzival.
The joy of reunion over, Parzival remained there long enough to witness the
marriage of Gawain and Orgueilleuse, and of Itonie and Gramoflaus, and to
be solemnly admitted to the Round Table. Still, the general rejoicing could
not dispel his sadness or the recollection of Amfortas and his grievous
wound; and as soon as possible Parzival again departed, humbly praying that
he might at last find the Holy Grail, and right the wrong he had
[Sidenote: Parzival and the hermit.] Some months later, exhausted by
constant journeys, Parzival painfully dragged himself to a hermit's hut.
There he learned that the lonely penitent was Trevrezent, the brother of
Amfortas, who, having also preferred worldly pleasures to the service of
the Holy Grail, had accompanied him on his fatal excursion. When Trevrezent
saw his brother sorely wounded, he repented of his sins, and, retiring into
the woods, spent his days and nights in penance and prayer. He told
Parzival of the expected stranger, whose question would break the evil
spell, and related how grievously he and all the Templars had been
disappointed when such a man had actually come and gone, but without
fulfilling their hopes. Parzival then penitently confessed that it was he
who had thus disappointed them, related his sorrow and ceaseless quest, and
told the story of his early youth and adventures. Trevrezent, on hearing
his guest's name, exclaimed that they must be uncle and nephew, as his
sister's name was Herzeloide. He then informed Parzival of his mother's
death, and, after blessing him and giving him some hope that sincere
repentance would sometime bring its own reward, allowed him to continue his
search for the Holy Grail.
[Sidenote: Fierefiss.] Soon after this meeting Parzival encountered a
knight, who, laying lance in rest, challenged him to fight. In one of the
pauses of the battle he learned that his brave opponent was his
stepbrother, Fierefiss, whom he joyfully embraced, and who now followed him
on his almost endless quest. At last they came to a mountain, painfully
climbed its steep side, and, after much exertion, found themselves in front
of a castle, which seemed strangely familiar to Parzival.
The doors opened, willing squires waited upon both brothers, and led them
into the great hall, where the pageant already described was repeated. When
Queen Repanse de Joie entered bearing the Holy Grail, Parzival, mindful of
his former failure to do the right thing, humbly prayed aloud for divine
guidance to bring about the promised redemption. An angel voice now seemed
to answer, "Ask!" Then Parzival bent kindly over the wounded king, and
gently inquired what ailed him. At those words the spell was broken, and a
long cry of joy arose as Amfortas, strong and well, sprang to his feet.
A very aged man, Parzival's great-grandfather, Titurel, now drew near,
bearing the crown, which he placed on the young hero's head, as he hailed
him as guardian and defender of the Holy Grail. This cry was taken up by
all present, and even echoed by the angelic choir.
"'Hail to thee, Percival, king of the Grail!
Seemingly lost forever,
Now thou art blessed forever.
Hail to thee, Percival, king of the Grail!'"
WOLFRAM VON ESCHENBACH (McDowall's tr.).
The doors now opened wide once more to admit Conduiramour and her twin
sons, summoned thither by the power of the Holy Grail, that Parzival's
happiness might be complete. All the witnesses of this happy reunion were
flooded with the light of the Holy Grail, except Fierefiss, who, being a
Moor and a pagan, still remained in outer darkness. These miracles,
however, converted him to the Christian faith, and made him beg for
immediate baptism. The christening was no sooner performed than he too
beheld and was illumined by the holy vase. Fierefiss, now a true believer,
married Repanse de Joie, and they were the parents of a son named John, who
became a noted warrior, and was the founder of the historic order of the
Titurel, having lived to see the recovery of his son, blessed all his
descendants, told them that Sigune had joined her lover's spirit in the
heavenly abode, and, passing out of the great hall, was never seen again;
and the witch Kundrie died of joy.
Another version of the legend of the Holy Grail relates that Parzival,
having cured his uncle, went to Arthur's court. There he remained until
Amfortas died, when he was called back to Montsalvatch to inherit his
possessions, among which was the Holy Grail. Arthur and all the knights of
the Round Table were present at his coronation, and paid him a yearly
visit. When he died, "the Sangreal, the sacred lance, and the silver
trencher or paten which covered the Grail, were carried up to the holy
heavens in presence of the attendants, and since that time have never
anywhere been seen on earth."
Other versions relate that Arthur and his knights sought the Holy Grail in
vain, for their hearts were not pure enough to behold it. Still others
declare that the sacred vessel was conveyed to the far East, and committed
to the care of Prester John.
The legend of Lohengrin, which is connected with the Holy Grail, is in
outline as follows:
[Sidenote: Lohengrin.] Parzival and Conduiramour dwelt in the castle of the
Holy Grail. When their sons had grown to man's estate, Kardeiss, the elder,
became ruler of his mother's kingdom of Belripar, while Lohengrin, the
younger, remained in the service of the Holy Grail, which was now borne
into the hall by his young sister, Aribadale, Repanse de Joie having
Whenever a danger threatened, or when the services of one of the knights
were required, a silver bell rang loudly, and the letters of flame around
the rim of the holy vessel revealed the nature of the deed to be performed.
One day the sound of the silvery bell was heard pealing ever louder and
louder, and when the knights entered the hall, they read on the vase that
Lohengrin had been chosen to defend the rights of an innocent person, and
would be conveyed to his destination by a swan. As the knights of the Grail
never disputed its commands, the young man immediately donned the armor of
silver which Amfortas had worn, and, bidding farewell to his mother and
sister, left the temple. Parzival, his father, accompanied him to the foot
of the mountain, where, swimming gracefully over the smooth waters of the
lake, they saw a snowy swan drawing a little boat after her.
Lohengrin received a horn from his father, who bade him sound it thrice on
arriving at his destination, and an equal number of times when he wished to
return to Montsalvatch. Then he also reminded him that a servant of the
Grail must reveal neither his name nor his origin unless asked to do so,
and that, having once made himself known, he was bound to return without
delay to the holy mountain.
Thus reminded of the custom of all the Templars, Lohengrin sprang into the
boat, and was rapidly borne away, to the sound of mysterious music.
[Sidenote: Else of Brabant.] While Lohengrin was swiftly wafted over the
waters, Else, Duchess of Brabant, spent her days in tears. She was an
orphan, and, as she possessed great wealth and extensive lands, many were
anxious to secure her hand. Among these suitors her guardian, Frederick of
Telramund, was the most importunate; and when he saw that she would never
consent to marry him, he resolved to obtain her inheritance in a different
One day, while Else was wandering alone in the forest, she rested for a
moment under a tree, where she dreamed that a radiant knight came to greet
her, and offered her a little bell, saying that she need but ring it
whenever she required a champion. The maiden awoke, and as she opened her
eyes a falcon came gently sailing down from the sky and perched upon her
shoulder. Seeing that he wore a tiny bell like the one she had noticed in
her dream, Else unfastened it; and as the falcon flew away, she hung it on
A few days later Else was in prison, for Frederick of Telramund had accused
her of a great crime. He said that she had received the attentions of a man
beneath her, or, according to another version, that she had been guilty of
the murder of her brother. Henry the Fowler, Emperor of Germany, hearing of
this accusation, came to Cleves, where, as the witnesses could not agree,
he ordered that the matter should be settled by a judicial duel.
[Illustration: ARRIVAL OF LOHENGRIN.--Pixis.]
Frederick of Telramund, proud of his strength, challenged any man to prove
him mistaken at the point of the sword. But no champion appeared to fight
for Else, who, kneeling in her cell, beat her breast with her rosary, until
the little silver bell attached to it rang loudly as she fervently prayed,
"O Lord, send me a champion." The faint tinkling of the bell floated out of
the window, and was wafted away to Montsalvatch. It grew louder and louder
the farther it traveled, and its sound called the knights into the temple,
where Lohengrin received his orders from the Holy Grail.
The day appointed for the duel dawned, and just as the heralds sounded the
last call for Else's champion to appear, the swan boat glided up the Rhine,
and Lohengrin sprang into the lists, after thrice blowing his magic horn.
[Sidenote: Else rescued by Lohengrin.] With a God-sent champion opposed to
a liar, the issue of the combat could not long remain doubtful. Soon
Frederick of Telramund lay in the dust and confessed his guilt, while the
people hailed the Swan Knight as victor. Else, touched by his prompt
response to her appeal, and won by his passionate wooing, then consented to
become his wife, without even knowing his name. Their nuptials were
celebrated at Antwerp, whither the emperor went with them and witnessed
Lohengrin had cautioned Else that she must never ask his name; but she
wished to show that he was above the people who, envying his lot, sought to
injure him by circulating malicious rumors, so she finally asked the fatal
question. Regretfully Lohengrin led her into the great hall, where, in the
presence of the assembled knights, he told her that he was Lohengrin, son
of Parzival, the guardian of the Holy Grail. Then, embracing her tenderly,
he told her that "love cannot live without faith," and that he must now
leave her and return to the holy mountain. When he had thrice blown his
magic horn, the sound of faint music again heralded the approach of the
swan; Lohengrin sprang into the boat, and soon vanished, leaving Else
Some versions of the story relate that she did not long survive his
departure, but that her released spirit followed him to Montsalvatch, where
they dwelt happy forever. Other accounts, however, aver that when Lohengrin
vanished Else's brother returned to champion her cause and prevent her ever
being molested again.
As Saintsbury so ably expressed it, "The origin of the legends of King
Arthur, of the Round Table, of the Holy Grail, and of all the adventures
and traditions connected with these centers, is one of the most intricate
questions in the history of mediaeval literature." Owing to the loss of
many ancient manuscripts, the real origin of all these tales may never be
discovered; and whether the legends owe their birth to Celtic, Breton, or
Welsh poetry we may never know, as the authorities fail to agree. These
tales, apparently almost unknown before the twelfth century, soon became so
popular that in the course of the next two centuries they had given birth
to more than a dozen poems and prose romances, whence Malory drew the
materials for his version of the story of King Arthur. Nennius, Geoffrey of
Monmouth, Walter Map, Chrestien de Troyes, Robert de Borron, Gottfried von
Strassburg, Wolfram von Eschenbach, Hartmann von Aue, Tennyson, Matthew
Arnold, Swinburne, and Wagner have all written of these legends in turn,
and to these writers we owe the most noted versions of the tales forming
the Arthurian cycle. They include, besides the story of Arthur himself, an
account of Merlin, of Lancelot, of Parzival, of the love of Tristan and
Iseult, and of the quest of the Holy Grail.
The majority of these works were written in French, which was the court
language of England in the mediaeval ages; but the story was "Englished" by
Malory in the fourteenth century. In every European language there are
versions of these stories, which interested all hearers alike, and which
exerted a softening influence upon the rude customs of the age,
"communicated a romantic spirit to literature," and taught all men
[The Real Merlin] The first of these romances is that of Merlin the
enchanter, in very old French, ascribed to Robert de Borron. The following
outline of the story is modified and supplemented from other sources. The
real Merlin is said to have been a bard of the fifth century, and is
supposed to have served the British chief Ambrosius Aurelianus, and then
King Arthur. This Merlin lost his reason after the battle of Solway Firth,
broke his sword, and retired into the forest, where he was soon after found
dead by a river bank.
The mythical Merlin had a more exciting and interesting career, however.
King Constans, who drove Hengist from England, was the father of three
sons,--Constantine, Aurelius Ambrosius, and Uther Pendragon. When dying he
left the throne to his eldest son, Constantine, who chose Vortigern as his
prime minister. Shortly after Constantine's accession, Hengist again
invaded England, and Constantine, deserted by his minister, was
treacherously slain. In reward for his defection at this critical moment,
Vortigern was offered the crown, which he accepted, and which he hoped to
retain, although Constans's two other sons, who, according to another
version of the story, were called Uther and Pendragon, were still in
To defend himself against any army which might try to deprive him of the
throne, Vortigern resolved to build a great fortress on the Salisbury
plains. But, although the masons worked diligently by day, and built walls
wide and thick, they always found them overturned in the morning. The
astrologers, when consulted in reference to this strange occurrence,
declared that the walls would not stand until the ground had been watered
with the blood of a child who could claim no human father.
Five years previous to this prediction, the demons, seeing that so many
souls escaped them owing to the redemption procured by a child of divine
origin, thought that they could regain lost ground by engendering a demon
child upon a human virgin. A beautiful, pious maiden was chosen for this
purpose; and as she daily went to confess her every deed and thought to a
holy man, Blaise, he soon discovered the plot of the demons, and resolved
to frustrate it.
[Sidenote: Birth of the mythical Merlin.] By his advice the girl, instead
of being immediately put to death, as the law required, was locked up in a
tower, where she gave birth to her son. Blaise, the priest, more watchful
than the demons, no sooner heard of the child's birth than he hastened to
baptize him, giving him the name of Merlin. The holy rite annulled the evil
purpose of the demons, but, owing to his uncanny origin, the child was
gifted with all manner of strange powers, of which he made use on sundry
Great light from God gave sight of all things dim,
And wisdom of all wondrous things, to say
What root should bear what fruit of night or day;
And sovereign speech and counsel above man:
Wherefore his youth like age was wise and wan,
And his age sorrowful and fain to sleep."
SWINBURNE, _Tristram of Lyonesse_.
The child thus baptized soon gave the first proof of his marvelous power;
for, when his mother embraced him and declared that she must soon die, he
comforted her by speaking aloud and promising to prove her innocent of all
crime. The trial took place soon after this occurrence, and although Merlin
was but a few days old, he sat up boldly in his mother's lap and spoke so
forcibly to the judges that he soon secured her acquittal. Once when he was
five years old, while playing in the street, he saw the messengers of
Vortigern. Warned by his prophetic instinct that they were seeking him, he
ran to meet them, and offered to accompany them to the king. On the way
thither he saw a youth buying shoes, and laughed aloud. When questioned
concerning the cause of his mirth, he predicted that the youth would die
within a few hours.
"Then said Merlin, 'See ye nought
That young man, that hath shoon bought,
And strong leather to do hem clout [patch],
And grease to smear hem all about?
He weeneth to live hem to wear:
But, by my soul, I dare well swear,
His wretched life he shall for-let [lose],
Ere he come to his own gate.'"
[Sidenote: Merlin as a prophet.] A few more predictions of an equally
uncanny and unpleasant nature firmly established his reputation as a
prophet even before he reached court. There he boldly told the king that
the astrologers, wishing to destroy the demon's offspring, who was wiser
than they, had demanded his blood under pretext that the walls of Salisbury
would stand were it only shed. When asked why the walls continually fell
during the night, Merlin attributed it to the nightly conflict of a red and
a white dragon concealed underground. In obedience to his instructions,
search was made for these monsters, and the assembled court soon saw a
frightful struggle between them. This battle finally resulted in the death
of the red dragon and the triumph of the white.
"With long tailis, fele [many] fold,
And found right as Merlin told.
That one dragon was red as fire,
With eyen bright, as basin clear;
His tail was great and nothing small;
His body was a rood withal.
His shaft may no man tell;
He looked as a fiend from hell.
The white dragon lay him by,
Stern of look, and griesly.
His mouth and throat yawned wide;
The fire brast [burst] out on ilka [each] side.
His tail was ragged as a fiend,
And, upon his tail's end,
There was y-shaped a griesly head,
To fight with the dragon red."
The white dragon soon disappeared also, and the work of the castle now
proceeded without further hindrance. Vortigern, however, was very uneasy,
because Merlin had not only said that the struggle of the red and the white
dragon represented his coming conflict with Constans's sons, but further
added that he would suffer defeat. This prediction was soon fulfilled.
Uther and his brother Pendragon landed in Britain with the army they had
assembled, and Vortigern was burned in the castle he had just completed.
Shortly after this victory a war arose between the Britons under Uther and
Pendragon, and the Saxons under Hengist. Merlin, who had by this time
become the prime minister and chief adviser of the British kings, predicted
that they would win the victory, but that one would be slain. This
prediction was soon verified, and Uther, adding his brother's name to his
own, remained sole king. His first care was to bury his brother, and he
implored Merlin to erect a suitable monument to his memory; so the
enchanter conveyed great stones from Ireland to England in the course of a
single night, and set them up at Stonehenge, where they can still be seen.
"How Merlin by his skill, and magic's wondrous might,
From Ireland hither brought the Stonendge in a night."
[Sidenote: Round Table established by Merlin.] Proceeding now to Carduel
(Carlisle), Merlin, who is represented as a great architect and
wonder-worker, built Uther Pendragon a beautiful castle, and established
the Round Table, in imitation of the one which Joseph of Arimathea had once
instituted. There were places for a large number of knights around this
board (the number varying greatly with different writers), and a special
place was reserved for the Holy Grail, which, having vanished from Britain
because of the sinfulness of the people, the knights still hoped to have
restored when they became sufficiently pure.
"This table gan [began] Uther the wight;
Ac [but] it to ende had he no might.
For, theygh [though] alle the kinges under our lord
Hadde y-sitten [sat] at that bord,
Knight by knight, ich you telle,
The table might nought fulfille,
Till they were born that should do all
Fulfill the mervaile of the Greal."
A great festival was announced for the institution of the Round Table, and
all the knights came to Carduel, accompanied by their wives. Among the
latter the fairest was Yguerne, wife of Gorlois, Lord of Tintagel in
Cornwall, and with her Uther fell desperately in love.
"This fest was noble ynow, and nobliche y-do [done];
For mony was the faire ledy, that y-come was thereto.
Yguerne, Gorloys wyf, was fairest of echon [each one],
That was contasse of Cornewail, for so fair was there non."
ROBERT OF GLOUCESTER.
Yguerne had already three or four daughters, famous in the Arthurian
legends as mothers of the knights Gawain, Gravain, Ywain, and others. One
of the king's councilors, Ulfin, revealed the king's passion to Yguerne,
and she told her husband. Indignant at the insult offered him, Gorlois
promptly left court, locked his wife up in the impregnable fortress of
Tintagel, and, gathering together an army, began to fight against Uther
The day before the battle, Merlin changed Uther into the form of Gorlois,
and himself and Ulfin into those of the squires of the Duke of Cornwall.
Thus disguised, the three went to Tintagel, where Yguerne threw the gates
open at their call and received Uther as her husband, without suspecting
the deception practiced upon her.
[Sidenote: Birth of Arthur.] On the morrow the battle took place. Gorlois
was slain. Shortly after, Uther married Yguerne, who never suspected that
the child which was soon born, and which Uther immediately confided to
Merlin, was not a son of Gorlois. Arthur, the child who had thus come into
the world, was intrusted to the care of Sir Hector, who brought him up with
his own son, Sir Kay, little suspecting his royal descent. This child grew
up rapidly, and when but fifteen years of age was handsome, accomplished,
and dearly loved by all around him.
"He was fair, and well agre [agreeable],
And was a thild [child] of gret noblay.
He was curteys, faire and gent,
And wight [brave], and hardi, veramen [truly].
Curteyslich [courteously] and fair he spac [spake].
With him was none evil lack [fault]."
When Uther died without leaving any heir, there was an interregnum, for
Merlin had promised that the true king should be revealed by a miracle.
This prophecy was duly fulfilled, as will be shown hereafter. Merlin became
the royal adviser as soon as Arthur ascended the throne, helped him win
signal victories over twelve kings, and in the course of a single night
conveyed armies over from France to help him.
As Merlin could assume any shape he pleased, Arthur often used him as
messenger; and one of the romances relates that the magician, in the guise
of a stag, once went to Rome to bear the king's challenge to Julius Caesar
(not the conqueror of Gaul but the mythical father of Oberon) to single
combat. Merlin was also renowned for the good advice which he gave, not
only to Vortigern and Uther Pendragon, but also to Arthur, and for his
numerous predictions concerning the glorious future of England, all of
which, if we are to believe tradition, have been fulfilled.
"O goodly River! near unto thy sacred spring
Prophetic Merlin sate, when to the British King
The changes long to come, auspiciously he told."
[Sidenote: Palace at Camelot.] Merlin also won great renown as a builder
and architect. Besides the construction of Stonehenge, and of the castle
for Uther Pendragon, he is said to have built Arthur's beautiful palace at
Camelot. He also devised sundry magic fountains, which are mentioned in
other mediaeval romances. One of these is referred to by Spenser in the
"Faerie Queene," and another by Ariosto in his "Orlando Furioso."
"This Spring was one of those four fountains rare,
Of those in France produced by Merlin's sleight,
Encompassed round about with marble fair,
Shining and polished, and than milk more white.
There in the stones choice figures chiseled were,
By that magician's god-like labour dight;
Some voice was wanting, these you might have thought
Were living, and with nerve and spirit fraught."
ARIOSTO, _Orlando Furioso_ (Rose's tr.).
Merlin was also supposed to have made all kinds of magic objects, among
which the poets often mention a cup. This would, reveal whether the drinker
had led a pure life, for it always overflowed when touched by polluted
lips. He was also the artificer of Arthur's armor, which no weapon could
pierce, and of a magic mirror in which one could see whatever one wished.
"It Merlin was, which whylome did excel
All living wightes in might of magicke spell:
Both shield, and sword, and armour all he wrought
For this young Prince, when first to armes he fell."
SPENSER, _Faerie Queene_.
[Sidenote: Merlin and Vivian.] Merlin, in spite of all his knowledge and
skill, yielded often to the entreaties of his fair mistress, Vivian, the
Lady of the Lake. She followed him wherever he went, and made countless
efforts to learn all his arts and to discover all his magic spells. In
order to beguile the aged Merlin into telling her all she wished to know,
Vivian pretended great devotion, which is admirably related in Tennyson's
"Idylls of the King," one of which treats exclusively of Merlin and Vivian.
This enchantress even went with him to the fairy-haunted forest of
Broceliande, in Brittany, where she finally beguiled him into revealing a
magic spell whereby a human being could be inclosed in a hawthorn tree,
where he must dwell forever.
"And then she follow'd Merlin all the way,
E'en to the wild woods of Broceliande.
For Merlin once had told her of a charm,
The which if any wrought on any one
With woven paces and with waving arms,
The man so wrought on ever seem'd to lie
Closed in the four walls of a hollow tower,
From which was no escape for evermore;
And none could find that man for evermore,
Nor could he see but him who wrought the charm
Coming and going; and he lay as dead
And lost to life and use and name and fame."
TENNYSON, _Merlin and Vivien_.
This charm having been duly revealed, the Lady of the Lake, weary of her
aged lover, and wishing to rid herself of him forever now that she had
learned all he could teach her, lured him into the depths of the forest.
There, by aid of the spell, she imprisoned him in a thorn bush, whence, if
the tales of the Breton peasants can be believed, his voice can be heard to
issue from time to time.
"They sate them down together, and a sleep
Fell upon Merlin, more like death, so deep.
Her finger on her lips, then Vivian rose,
And from her brown-lock'd head the wimple throws,
And takes it in her hand, and waves it over
The blossom'd thorn tree and her sleeping lover.
Nine times she waved the fluttering wimple round,
And made a little plot of magic ground.
And in that daised circle, as men say,
Is Merlin prisoner till the judgment day;
But she herself whither she will can rove--
For she was passing weary of his love."
MATTHEW ARNOLD, _Tristram and Iseult_.
[Illustration: THE BEGUILING OF MERLIN.--Burne-Jones.]
According to another version of the tale, Merlin, having grown very old
indeed, once sat down on the "Siege Perilous," forgetting that none but a
sinless man could occupy it with impunity. He was immediately swallowed up
by the earth, which yawned wide beneath his feet, and he never visited the
A third version says that Vivian through love imprisoned Merlin in an
underground palace, where she alone could visit him. There he dwells,
unchanged by the flight of time, and daily increasing the store of
knowledge for which he was noted.
THE ROUND TABLE.
Fortunately "the question of the actual existence and acts of Arthur has
very little to do with the question of the origin of the Arthurian cycle."
But although some authorities entirely deny his existence, it is probable
that he was a Briton, for many places in Wales, Scotland, and England are
connected with his name.
On the very slightest basis, many of the mediaeval writers constructed long
and fabulous tales about this hero. Such was the popularity of the
Arthurian legends all over Europe that prose romances concerning him were
among the first works printed, and were thus brought into general
circulation. An outline of the principal adventures of Arthur and of his
knights is given here. It has been taken from many works, whose authors
will often be mentioned as we proceed.
King Uther Pendragon, as we have already seen, intrusted his new-born son,
Arthur, to the care of the enchanter Merlin, who carried him to the castle
of Sir Hector (Anton), where the young prince was brought up as a child of
"Wherefore Merlin took the child,
And gave him to Sir Anton, an old knight
And ancient friend of Uther; and his wife
Nursed the young prince, and rear'd him with her own;
And no man knew."
TENNYSON, _The Coming of Arthur_.
[Sidenote: The magic sword.] Two years later King Uther Pendragon died, and
the noblemen, not knowing whom to choose as his successor, consulted
Merlin, promising to abide by his decision. By his advice they all
assembled in St. Stephen's Church, in London, on Christmas Day. When mass
was over they beheld a large stone which had mysteriously appeared in the
churchyard. This stone was surmounted by a ponderous anvil, in which the
blade of a sword was deeply sunk. Drawing near to examine the wonder, they
read an inscription upon the jeweled hilt, to the effect that none but the
man who could draw out the sword should dare to take possession of the
throne. Of course all present immediately tried to accomplish this feat,
but all failed.
Several years passed by ere Sir Hector came to London with his son, Sir
Kay, and his foster son, young Arthur. Sir Kay, who, for the first time in
his life, was to take part in a tournament, was greatly chagrined, on
arriving there, to discover that he had forgotten his sword; so Arthur
volunteered to ride back and get it. He found the house closed; yet, being
determined to secure a sword for his foster brother, he strode hastily into
the churchyard, and easily drew from the anvil the weapon which all had
vainly tried to secure.
[Sidenote: Arthur made king.] This mysterious sword was handed to Sir Kay,
and Sir Hector, perceiving it, and knowing whence it came, immediately
inquired how Arthur had secured it. He even refused at first to believe the
evidence of his own eyes; but when he and all the principal nobles of the
realm had seen Arthur replace and draw out the sword, after all had again
vainly tried their strength, they gladly hailed the young man king.
As Merlin was an enchanter, it was popularly rumored that Arthur was not,
as he now declared, the son of Uther Pendragon and Yguerne, but a babe
mysteriously brought up from the depths of the sea, on the crest of the
ninth wave, and cast ashore at the wizard's feet. Hence many people
distrusted the young king, and at first refused to obey him.
"Watch'd the great sea fall,
Wave after wave, each mightier than the last,
Till last, a ninth one, gathering half the deep,
And full of voices, slowly rose and plunged
Roaring, and all the wave was in a flame:
And down the wave and in the flame was borne
A naked babe, and rode to Merlin's feet,
Who stoopt and caught the babe, and cried 'The King!
Here is an heir for Uther!'"
TENNYSON, _The Coming of Arthur_.
Among the unbelievers were some of the king's own kindred, and notably his
four nephews, Gawain, Gaheris, Agravaine, and Gareth. Arthur was therefore
obliged to make war against them; but although Gawain's strength increased
in a truly marvelous fashion from nine to twelve in the morning, and from
three to six in the afternoon, the king succeeded in defeating him by
following Merlin's advice and taking advantage of his comparatively weak
[Sidenote: Sir Pellinore.] Arthur, aided by Merlin, ruled over the land
wisely and well, redressed many wrongs, reestablished order and security,
which a long interregnum had destroyed, and brandished his sword in many a
fight, in which he invariably proved victor. But one day, having drawn his
blade upon Sir Pellinore, who did not deserve to be thus attacked, it
suddenly failed him and broke. Left thus without any means of defense, the
king would surely have perished had not Merlin used his magic arts to put
Sir Pellinore to sleep and to bear his charge to a place of safety.
Arthur, thus deprived of his magic sword, bewailed its loss; but while he
stood by a lake, wondering how he should procure another, he beheld a
white-draped hand and arm rise out of the water, holding aloft a jeweled
sword which the Lady of the Lake, who appeared beside him, told him was
intended for his use.
"'Thou rememberest how
In those old days, one summer noon, an arm
Rose up from out the bosom of the lake,
Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,
Holding the sword--and how I row'd across
And took it, and have worn it, like a king;
And, wheresoever I am sung or told
In aftertime, this also shall be known.'"
TENNYSON, _The Passing of Arthur_.
[Sidenote: Excalibur.] Arthur rowed out into the middle of the lake and
secured the sword which is known by the name Excalibur. He was then told by
the Lady of the Lake that it was gifted with magic powers, and that as long
as the scabbard remained in his possession he would suffer neither wound
Thus armed, Arthur went back to his palace, where, hearing that the Saxons
had again invaded the country, he went to wage war against them, and won
many victories. Shortly after this Arthur heard that Leodegraunce, King of
Scotland, was threatened by his brother Ryance, King of Ireland, who was
determined to complete a mantle furred with the beards of kings, and wanted
to secure one more at any price. Arthur hastened to this monarch's
assistance, and delivered him from the clutches of Ryance. He not only
killed this savage monarch, but appropriated his mantle and carried it away
in triumph as a trophy of the war.
"And for a trophy brought the Giant's coat away
Made of the beards of Kings."
[Sidenote: Arthur's marriage with Guinevere.] After these martial exploits
Arthur returned to the court of Leodegraunce, where he fell in love with
the latter's fair daughter, Guinevere. The king sued successfully for her
hand, but Merlin would not allow him to marry this princess until he had
distinguished himself by a campaign in Brittany. The wedding was then
celebrated with true mediaeval pomp; and Arthur, having received, besides
the princess, the Round Table once made for his father, conveyed his bride
and wedding gift to Camelot (Winchester), where he bade all his court be
present for a great feast at Pentecost.
"The nearest neighboring flood to Arthur's ancient seat,
Which made the Britons' name through all the world so great.
Like Camelot, what place was ever yet renown'd?
Where, as at Carlion, oft, he kept the Table-Round,
Most famous for the sports at Pentecost so long,
From whence all knightly deeds, and brave achievements sprong."
[Sidenote: Knights of the Round Table.] Arthur had already warred
successfully against twelve revolted kings, whose remains were interred at
Camelot by his order. There Merlin erected a marvelous castle, containing a
special hall for the reception of the Round Table. This hall was adorned
with the lifelike statues of all the conquered kings, each holding a
burning taper which the magician declared would burn brightly until the
Holy Grail should appear. Hoping to bring that desirable event to pass,
Arthur bade Merlin frame laws for the knights of the Round Table. As
distinctive mark, each of the noblemen admitted to a seat at this marvelous
table adopted some heraldic device. The number of these knights varies from
twelve to several hundred, according to the different poets or romancers.
"The fellowshipp of the Table Round,
Soe famous in those dayes;
Whereatt a hundred noble knights
And thirty sat alwayes;
Who for their deeds and martiall feates,
As bookes done yett record,
Amongst all other nations
Wer feared through the world."
_Legend of King Arthur_ (Old Ballad).
Merlin, by virtue of his magic powers, easily selected the knights worthy
to belong to this noble institution, and the Archbishop of Canterbury duly
blessed them and the board around which they sat. All the places were soon
filled except two; and as the knights arose from their seats after the
first meal they noticed that their names were inscribed in letters of gold
in the places they had occupied. But one of the empty seats was marked
"Siege Perilous," and could only be occupied by a peerless knight.
[Sidenote: Lancelot du Lac.]
Among all the knights of the Round Table, Sir Lancelot du Lac, who is the
hero of several lengthy poems and romances bearing his name, was the most
popular. Chrestien de Troyes, Geoffrey de Ligny, Robert de Borron, and Map
have all written about him, and he was so well known that his name was
given to one of the knaves on the playing cards invented at about this
time. Malory, in his prose version of the "Morte d'Arthur," has drawn
principally from the poems treating of Lancelot, whose early life was
somewhat extraordinary, too.
Some accounts relate that Lancelot was the son of King Ban and Helen. When
he was but a babe, his parents were obliged to flee from their besieged
castle in Brittany. Before they had gone far, the aged Ban, seeing his home
in flames, sank dying to the ground. Helen, eager to minister to her
husband, laid her baby boy down on the grass near a lake, and when she
again turned around, she saw him in the arms of Vivian, the Lady of the
Lake, who plunged with him into the waters.
"In the wife's woe, the mother was forgot.
At last (for I was all earth held of him
Who had been all to her, and now was not)
She rose, and looked with tearless eyes, but dim,
In the babe's face the father still to see;
And lo! the babe was on another's knee!
"Another's lips had kissed it into sleep,
And o'er the sleep another watchful smiled;
The Fairy sate beside the lake's still deep,
And hush'd with chaunted charms the orphan child!
Scared at the mother's cry, as fleets a dream,
Both Child and Fairy melt into the stream."
BULWER LYTTON, _King Arthur_.
The bereaved wife and mother now sorrowfully withdrew into a convent, while
Lancelot was brought up in the palace of the Lady of the Lake, with his two
cousins, Lyonel and Bohort. Here he remained until he was eighteen, when
the fairy herself brought him to court and presented him to the king.
Arthur then and there made him his friend and confidant, and gave him an
honored place at the Round Table. He was warmly welcomed by all the other
knights also, whom he far excelled in beauty and courage.
"But one Sir Lancelot du Lake,
Who was approved well,
He for his deeds and feats of armes
All others did excell."
_Sir Lancelot du Lake_ (Old Ballad).
[Sidenote: Lancelot and Guinevere.] Lancelot, however, was doomed to much
sorrow, for he had no sooner beheld Queen Guinevere than he fell deeply in
love with her. The queen fully returned his affection, granted him many
marks of her favor, and encouraged him to betray his friend and king on
sundry occasions, which form the themes of various episodes in the romances
of the time. Lancelot, urged in one direction by passion, in another by
loyalty, led a very unhappy life, which made him relapse into occasional
fits of insanity, during which he roamed aimlessly about for many years.
When restored to his senses, he always returned to court, where he
accomplished unheard-of deeds of valor, delivered many maidens in distress,
righted the wrong wherever he found it, won all the honors at the
tournaments, and ever remained faithful in his devotion to the queen,
although many fair ladies tried to make him forget her.
Some of the poems, anxious to vindicate the queen, declare that there were
two Guineveres, one pure, lovely, and worthy of all admiration, who
suffered for the sins of the other, an unprincipled woman. When Arthur
discovered his wife's intrigue with Lancelot, he sent her away, and
Guinevere took refuge with her lover in Joyeuse Garde (Berwick), a castle
he had won at the point of his lance to please her. But the king, having
ascertained some time after that the real Guinevere had been wrongfully
accused, reinstated her in his favor, and Lancelot again returned to court,
where he continued to love and serve the queen.
[Illustration: SIR LANCELOT DU LAC.--Sir John Gilbert.]
On one occasion, hearing that she had been made captive by Meleagans,
Lancelot rushed after Guinevere to rescue her, tracing her by a comb and
ringlet she had dropped on the way. His horse was taken from him by
enchantment, so Lancelot, in order sooner to overtake the queen, rode on in
a cart. This was considered a disgraceful mode of progress for a knight, as
a nobleman in those days was condemned to ride in a cart in punishment for
crimes for which common people were sentenced to the pillory.
Lancelot succeeded in reaching the castle of Guinevere's kidnaper, whom he
challenged and defeated. The queen, instead of showing herself grateful for
this devotion, soon became needlessly jealous, and in a fit of anger
taunted her lover about his journey in the cart. This remark sufficed to
unsettle the hero's evidently very tottering reason, and he roamed wildly
about until the queen recognized her error, and sent twenty-three knights
in search of him. They journeyed far and wide for two whole years without
"'Then Sir Bors had ridden on
Softly, and sorrowing for our Lancelot,
Because his former madness, once the talk
And scandal of our table, had return'd;
For Lancelot's kith and kin so worship him
That ill to him is ill to them.'"
TENNYSON, _The Holy Grail_.
Finally a fair and pious damsel took pity upon the frenzied knight, and
seeing that he had atoned by suffering for all his sins, she had him borne
into the chamber where the Holy Grail was kept; "and then there came a holy
man, who uncovered the vessel, and so by miracle, and by virtue of that
holy vessel, Sir Lancelot was all healed and recovered."
[Sidenote: Gareth and Lynette.] Sane once more, Lancelot now returned to
Camelot, where the king, queen, and all the knights of the Round Table
rejoiced to see him. Here Lancelot knighted Sir Gareth, who, to please his
mother, had concealed his true name, and had acted as kitchen vassal for a
whole year. The new-made knight immediately started out with a fair maiden
called Lynette, to deliver her captive sister. Thinking him nothing but the
kitchen vassal he seemed, the damsel insulted Gareth in every possible way.
He bravely endured her taunts, courageously defeated all her adversaries,
and finally won her admiration and respect to such a degree that she bade
him ride beside her, and humbly asked his pardon for having so grievously
"'Sir,--and, good faith, I fain had added Knight,
But that I heard thee call thyself a knave,--
Shamed am I that I so rebuked, reviled,
Missaid thee; noble I am; and thought the King
Scorn'd me and mine; and now thy pardon, friend,
For thou hast ever answer'd courteously,
And wholly bold thou art, and meek withal
As any of Arthur's best, but, being knave,
Hast mazed my wit: I marvel what thou art.'"
TENNYSON, _Gareth and Lynette_.
Granting her full forgiveness, Gareth now rode beside her, fought more
bravely still, and, after defeating many knights, delivered her sister from
captivity, and secured Lynette's promise to become his wife as soon as he
had been admitted to the Round Table. When he returned to Arthur's court
this honor was immediately awarded him, for his prowess had won the
admiration of all, and he was duly married on St. Michaelmas Day.
"And he that told the tale in older times
Says that Sir Gareth wedded Lyoners,
But he that told it later, says Lynette."
TENNYSON, _Gareth and Lynette_.
[Sidenote: Geraint and Enid.] Gareth's brother, Geraint, was also an
honored member of the Round Table. After distinguishing himself by many
deeds of valor he married Enid the Fair, the only daughter of an old and
impoverished knight whom he delivered from the tyranny of his oppressor and
restored to all his former state. Taking his fair wife away with him to his
lonely manor, Geraint surrounded her with every comfort, and, forgetting
his former high aspirations, spent all his time at home, hoping thereby to
"He compass'd her with sweet observances
And worship, never leaving her, and grew
Forgetful of his promise to the King.
Forgetful of the falcon and the hunt,
Forgetful of the tilt and tournament,
Forgetful of his glory and his name,
Forgetful of his princedom and its cares.
And this forgetfulness was hateful to her."
TENNYSON, _Geraint and Enid_.
Enid, however, soon perceived that her husband was forgetting both honor
and duty to linger by her side. One day, while he lay asleep before her,
she, in an outburst of wifely love, poured out her heart, and ended her
confession by declaring that since Geraint neglected everything for her
sake only, she must be an unworthy wife.
Geraint awoke too late to overhear the first part of her speech; but,
seeing her tears, and catching the words "unworthy wife," he immediately
imagined that she had ceased to love him, and that she received the
attentions of another. In his anger Geraint (whom the French and German
poems call Erec) rose from his couch, and sternly bade his wife don her
meanest apparel and silently follow him through the world.
"The page he bade with speed
Prepare his own strong steed,
Dame Enid's palfrey there beside;
He said that he would ride
For pastime far away:
So forward hastened they."
HARTMANN VON AVE, _Erek and Enid_ (Bayard Taylor's tr.)
Patiently Enid did her husband's bidding, watched him fight the knights by
the way, and bound up his wounds. She suffered intensely from his
incomprehensible coldness and displeasure; but she stood all his tests so
nobly that he finally recognized how greatly he had misjudged her. He then
restored her to her rightful place, and loved her more dearly than ever
"Nor did he doubt her more,
But rested in her fealty, till he crown'd
A happy life with a fair death, and fell
Against the heathen of the Northern Sea
In battle, fighting for the blameless King."
TENNYSON,--_Geraint and Enid_.
[Sidenote: Sir Galahad.] One Pentecost Day, when all the knights were
assembled, as usual, around the table at Camelot, a distressed damsel
suddenly entered the hall and implored Lancelot to accompany her to the
neighboring forest, where a young warrior was hoping to receive knighthood
at his hands. This youth was Sir Galahad, the peerless knight, whom some
authorities call Lancelot's son, while others declare that he was not of
On reentering the hall after performing this ceremony, Lancelot heard that
a miracle had occurred, and rushed with the king and his companions down to
the riverside. There the rumor was verified, for they all saw a heavy stone
floating down the stream, and perceived that a costly weapon was sunk deep
in the stone. On this weapon was an inscription, declaring that none but a
peerless knight should attempt to draw it out, upon penalty of a grievous
punishment. As all the knights of the Round Table felt guilty of some sin,
they modestly refused to touch it.
When they returned into the hall an aged man came in, accompanied by
Galahad, and the latter, fearless by right of innocence, sat down in the
"Siege Perilous." As his name then appeared upon it, all knew that he was
the rightful occupant, and hailed his advent with joy. Then, noticing that
he wore an empty scabbard, and hearing him state that he had been promised
a marvelous sword, they one and all escorted him down to the river, where
he easily drew the sword out of the stone. This fitted exactly in his empty
sheath, and all vowed that it was evidently meant for him.
That selfsame night, after evensong, when all the knights were seated about
the Round Table at Camelot, they heard a long roll of thunder, and felt the
palace shake. The brilliant lights held by the statues of the twelve
conquered kings grew strangely dim, and then, gliding down upon a beam of
refulgent celestial light, they all beheld a dazzling vision of the Holy
Grail. Covered by white samite, and borne by invisible hands, the sacred
vessel was slowly carried all around the great hall, while a delicious
perfume was wafted throughout the huge edifice. All the knights of the
Round Table gazed in silent awe at this resplendent vision, and when it
vanished as suddenly and as mysteriously as it had come, each saw before
him the food which he liked best.
Speechless at first, and motionless until the wonted light again illumined
the hall, the knights gave fervent thanks for the mercy which had been
vouchsafed them, and then Lancelot, springing impetuously to his feet,
vowed that he would ride forth in search of the Holy Grail and would know
no rest until he had beheld it unveiled. This vow was echoed by all the
knights of the Round Table; and when Arthur now questioned them closely, he
discovered that none had seen the vessel unveiled. Still he could not
prevent his knights from setting out in quest of it, because they had
solemnly vowed to do so.
"'Nay, lord, I heard the sound, I saw the light,
But since I did not see the Holy Thing,
I sware a vow to follow it till I saw.'
"Then when he ask'd us, knight by knight, if any
Had seen it, all their answers were as one:
'Nay, lord, and therefore have we sworn our vows.'"
TENNYSON, _The Holy Grail_.
[Sidenote: Quest of the Holy Grail.] During this quest the knights traveled
separately or in pairs all through the world, encountered many dangers, and
in true mediaeval fashion defended damsels in distress, challenged knights,
and covered themselves with scars and glory. Some of the legends declare
that Parzival alone saw the Holy Grail, while others aver that Lancelot saw
it through a veil faintly. The pure Galahad, having never sinned at all,
and having spent years in prayer and fasting, finally beheld it just as his
immaculate soul was borne to heaven by the angels.
The rest of the knights, realizing after many years' fruitless search that
they were unworthy of the boon, finally returned to Camelot, where they
were duly entertained by the queen. While they were feasting at her table,
one of their number, having partaken of a poisonous draught, fell lifeless
to the ground. As the incident had happened at the queen's side, some of
her detractors accused her of the crime, and bade her confess, or prove her
innocence by a judicial duel. Being her husband, Arthur was debarred by law
of the privilege of fighting for her in the lists of Camelot, and the poor
queen would have been condemned to be burned alive for lack of a champion
had not Lancelot appeared incognito, and forced her accuser to retract his
Throughout his reign Arthur had been wont to encourage his knights by
yearly tournaments, the victor's prize being each time a precious jewel. It
seems that these jewels had come into his possession in a peculiar way.
While wandering as a lad in Lyonesse, Arthur found the moldering bones of
two kings. Tradition related that these monarchs had slain each other, and,
as they were brothers, the murder seemed so heinous that none dared touch
their remains. There among the rusty armor lay a kingly crown studded with
diamonds, which Arthur picked up and carelessly set upon his own head. At
that very moment a prophetic voice was heard declaring to him that he
should rule. Arthur kept the crown, and made each jewel set in it the
object of a brilliant pageant when the prophecy had been fulfilled.
"And Arthur came, and laboring up the pass,
All in a misty moonshine, unawares
Had trodden that crown'd skeleton, and the skull
Brake from the nape, and from the skull the crown
Roll'd into light, and turning on its rims
Fled like a glittering rivulet to the tarn.
And down the shingly scaur he plunged, and caught,
And set it on his head, and in his heart
Heard murmurs,--'Lo! thou likewise shalt be King.'"
TENNYSON, _Lancelot and Elaine_.
[Sidenote: Lancelot's prowess.] Lancelot had been present at every one of
these knightly games, and had easily borne away the prize, for his very
name was almost enough to secure him the victory. When the time for the
last tournament came, he pretended to take no interest in it; but, riding
off to Astolat (Guildford), he asked Elaine, the fair maiden who dwelt
there, to guard his blazoned shield and give him another in exchange.
This fair lady, who had fallen in love with Lancelot at first sight,
immediately complied with his request, and even timidly suggested that he
should wear her colors in the coming fray. Lancelot had never worn any
favors except Guinevere's, but thinking that it would help to conceal his
identity, he accepted the crimson, pearl-embroidered sleeve she offered,
and fastened it to his helmet in the usual way.
"'Lady, thy sleeve thou shalt off-shear,
I wol it take for the love of thee;
So did I never no lady's ere [before]
But one, that most hath loved me.'"
ELLIS, _Lancelot du Lac_.
Thus effectually disguised, and accompanied by Sir Lawaine, Elaine's
brother, Lancelot rode on to the tournament, where, still unknown, he
unhorsed every knight and won the prize. His last encounter, however,
nearly proved fatal, for in it he received a grievous wound. As he felt
faint, and was afraid to be recognized, Lancelot did not wait to claim the
prize, but rode immediately out of the town. He soon fainted, but was
conveyed to the cell of a neighboring hermit. Here his wound was dressed,
and he was carefully nursed by Elaine, who had heard that he was wounded,
and had immediately set out in search of him.
[Sidenote: Lancelot and Elaine.] When Lancelot, entirely recovered, was
about to leave Elaine after claiming his own shield, she timidly confessed
her love, hoping that it was returned. Gently and sorrowfully Lancelot
repulsed her, and, by her father's advice, was even so discourteous as to
leave her without a special farewell. Unrequited love soon proved too much
for the "lily maid of Astolat," who pined away very rapidly. Feeling that
her end was near, she dictated a farewell letter to Lancelot, which she
made her father promise to put in her dead hand. She also directed that her
body should be laid in state on a barge, and sent in charge of a mute
boatman to Camelot, where she was sure she would receive a suitable burial
from the hands of Lancelot.
In the meanwhile the hero of the tournament had been sought everywhere by
Gawain, who was the bearer of the diamond won at such a cost. Coming to
Astolat before Lancelot was cured, Gawain had learned the name of the
victor, which he immediately proclaimed to Guinevere. The queen, however,
hearing a vague rumor that Lancelot had worn the colors of the maiden of
Astolat, and was about to marry her, grew so jealous that when Lancelot
reappeared at court she received him very coldly, and carelessly flung his
present (a necklace studded with the diamonds he had won at various
tournaments) into the river flowing beneath the castle walls.
And, thro' the casement standing wide for heat,
Flung them, and down they flash'd, and smote the stream.
Then from the smitten surface flash'd, as it were,
Diamonds to meet them, and they passed away."
TENNYSON, _Lancelot and Elaine_.
[Sidenote: The funeral barge.] As he leaned out of the window to trace them
in their fall, Lancelot saw a barge slowly drifting down the stream. Its
peculiar appearance attracted his attention, and as it passed close by him
he saw that it bore a corpse. A moment later he had recognized the features
of the dead Elaine. The mute boatman paused at the castle steps, and Arthur
had the corpse borne into his presence. The letter was found and read aloud
in the midst of the awestruck court. Arthur, touched by the girl's love,
bade Lancelot fulfill her last request and lay her to rest. Lancelot then
related the brief story of the maiden, whose love he could not return, but
whose death he sincerely mourned.
"'My lord liege Arthur, and all ye that hear,
Know that for this most gentle maiden's death
Right heavy am I; for good she was and true,
But loved me with a love beyond all love
In women, whomsoever I have known.
Yet to be loved makes not to love again;
Not at my years, however it hold in youth.
I swear by truth and knighthood that I gave
No cause, not willingly, for such a love:
To this I call my friends in testimony,
Her brethren, and her father, who himself
Besought me to be plain and blunt, and use,
To break her passion, some discourtesy
Against my nature: what I could, I did.
I left her and I bade her no farewell;
Tho', had I dreamt the damsel would have died,
I might have put my wits to some rough use,
And help'd her from herself.'"
TENNYSON, _Lancelot and Elaine_.
Haunted by remorse for this involuntary crime, Lancelot again wandered away
from Camelot, but returned in time to save Guinevere, who had again been
falsely accused. In his indignation at the treatment to which she had been
exposed, Lancelot bore her off to Joyeuse Garde, where he swore he would
defend her even against the king. Arthur, whose mind, in the mean while,
had been poisoned by officious courtiers, besieged his recreant wife and
knight; but although repeatedly challenged, the loyal Lancelot ever refused
to bear arms directly against his king.
When the Pope heard of the dissension in England he finally interfered; and
Lancelot, assured that Guinevere would henceforth be treated with all due
respect, surrendered her to the king and retreated to his paternal estate
in Brittany. As Arthur's resentment against Lancelot had not yet cooled, he
left Guinevere under the care and protection of Mordred, his nephew,--some
versions say his son,--and then, at the head of a large force, departed for
[Sidenote: Treachery of Mordred.] Mordred the traitor immediately took
advantage of his uncle's absence to lay claim to the throne; and loudly
declaring that Arthur had been slain, he tried to force Guinevere to marry
him. As she demurred, he kept her a close prisoner, and set her free only
when she pretended to agree with his wishes, and asked permission to go to
London to buy wedding finery.
When Guinevere arrived in that city she intrenched herself in the Tower,
and sent word to her husband of her perilous position. Without any delay
Arthur abandoned the siege of Lancelot's stronghold, and, crossing the
channel, encountered Mordred's army near Dover.
Negotiations now took place, and it was finally agreed that Arthur and a
certain number of knights should meet Mordred with an equal number, and
discuss the terms of peace. It had been strictly enjoined on both parties
that no weapon should be drawn, and all would have gone well had not an
adder been lurking in the grass. One of the knights drew his sword to kill
it, and this unexpected movement proved the signal for one of the bloodiest
battles described in mediaeval poetry.
"An addere crept forth of a bushe,
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