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Perlesvaus

Perlesvaus

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Perlesvaus, also called Li Hauz Livres du Graal (The High History of the Holy Grail), is an Old French
Old French
Old French was the Romance dialect continuum spoken in territories that span roughly the northern half of modern France and parts of modern Belgium and Switzerland from the 9th century to the 14th century...

 Arthurian romance
Romance (genre)
As a literary genre of high culture, romance or chivalric romance is a style of heroic prose and verse narrative that was popular in the aristocratic circles of High Medieval and Early Modern Europe. They were fantastic stories about marvel-filled adventures, often of a knight errant portrayed as...

 dating to the first decade of the 13th century. It purports to be a continuation of Chrétien de Troyes
Chrétien de Troyes
Chrétien de Troyes was a French poet and trouvère who flourished in the late 12th century. Perhaps he named himself Christian of Troyes in contrast to the illustrious Rashi, also of Troyes...

 unfinished Perceval, the Story of the Grail
Perceval, the Story of the Grail
Perceval, the Story of the Grail is the unfinished fifth romance of Chrétien de Troyes. Probably written between 1181 and 1191, it is dedicated to Chrétien's patron Philip, Count of Flanders...

, but it has been called the least canonical Arthurian tale because of its striking differences from other versions. It survives in three manuscripts, two fragments, and two 16th-century printings.

Perlesvaus begins by explaining that its main character, Percival
Percival
Percival or Perceval is one of King Arthur's legendary Knights of the Round Table. In Welsh literature his story is allotted to the historical Peredur...

, did not fulfill his destiny of achieving the Holy Grail
Holy Grail
The Holy Grail is a sacred object figuring in literature and certain Christian traditions, most often identified with the dish, plate, or cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper and said to possess miraculous powers...

 because he failed to ask the Fisher King
Fisher King
The Fisher King, or the Wounded King, figures in Arthurian legend as the latest in a line charged with keeping the Holy Grail. Versions of his story vary widely, but he is always wounded in the legs or groin, and incapable of moving on his own...

 the question that would heal him, events related in Chrétien's work. The author soon digresses into the adventures of knights like Lancelot
Lancelot
Sir Lancelot du Lac is one of the Knights of the Round Table in the Arthurian legend. He is the most trusted of King Arthur's knights and plays a part in many of Arthur's victories...

 and Gawain
Gawain
Gawain is King Arthur's nephew and a Knight of the Round Table who appears very early in the Arthurian legend's development. He is one of a select number of Round Table members to be referred to as the greatest knight, most notably in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight...

, many of which have no analogue in other Arthurian literature. Often events and depictions of characters are thoroughly at odds with other versions of the story. For instance, while later literature depicts Loholt as a good knight and illegitimate son of King Arthur
King Arthur
King Arthur is a legendary British leader of the late 5th and early 6th centuries, who, according to Medieval histories and romances, led the defence of Britain against Saxon invaders in the early 6th century. The details of Arthur's story are mainly composed of folklore and literary invention, and...

, in Perlesvaus he is apparently the legitimate son of Arthur and Guinevere
Guinevere
Guinevere was the legendary queen consort of King Arthur. In tales and folklore, she was said to have had a love affair with Arthur's chief knight Sir Lancelot...

, and he is slain treacherously by Arthur's seneschal Kay
Sir Kay
In Arthurian legend, Sir Kay is Sir Ector's son and King Arthur's foster brother and later seneschal, as well as one of the first Knights of the Round Table. In later literature he is known for his acid tongue and bullying, boorish behavior, but in earlier accounts he was one of Arthur's premier...

, who is elsewhere portrayed as a boor and a braggart but always as Arthur's loyal servant (and often, foster brother). Kay is jealous when Loholt kills a giant, so he murders him to take the credit. This backfires when Loholt's head is sent to Arthur's court in a box that can only be opened by his murderer. Kay is banished, and joins with Arthur's enemies, Brian of the Isles and Meliant. Guinevere expires upon seeing her son dead, which alters Arthur and Lancelot's actions substantially from what is found in later works. Though its plot is frequently at variance with the standard Arthurian outline, Perlesvaus did have an effect on subsequent literature. Arthur's traditional enemies Claudas
Claudas
King Claudas is a fictional Frankish king and an opponent to King Arthur, Lancelot, and Bors in Arthurian literature. His kingdom is named "Terre Deserte", or "Land Laid Waste", so called because of the destruction Uther Pendragon had wrought there. Claudas appears as the Round Table's adversary in...

, Brian and Meliant appear for the first time in its pages, as does the Questing Beast
Questing Beast
The Questing Beast, or the Beast Glatisant , is a monster from Arthurian legend. It is the subject of quests undertaken by famous knights such as King Pellinore, Sir Palamedes, and Sir Percival....

 (though in a radically different guise than it would take). The story of Kay murdering Loholt is mentioned in the Lancelot-Grail
Lancelot-Grail
The Lancelot–Grail, also known as the Prose Lancelot, the Vulgate Cycle, or the Pseudo-Map Cycle, is a major source of Arthurian legend written in French. It is a series of five prose volumes that tell the story of the quest for the Holy Grail and the romance of Lancelot and Guinevere...

 cycle as the one evil deed Kay ever committed, but the details and retribution are left out. Perlesvaus was adapted into Middle Welsh as part of Y Seint Greal, and one episode was rewritten in verse and included in Fouke Fitz Warin.

Nothing is known of the author, but the strangeness of the text and some personal comments led Roger Sherman Loomis
Roger Sherman Loomis
Roger Sherman Loomis was an American scholar and one of the foremost authorities on medieval and Arthurian literature.-Biography:...

 to call him "deranged"; similarly the editor of a French Arthurian anthology including extracts from the work notes an obsession with decapitation. Loomis also notes an antisemitic air absent from most Arthurian literature of the period, as there are several scenes in which the author symbolically contrasts the people of the "Old Law" with the followers of Christ
Christ
Christ is the English term for the Greek meaning "the anointed one". It is a translation of the Hebrew , usually transliterated into English as Messiah or Mashiach...

, usually predicting violent damnation for the unsaved.

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