The Grail Legend Part Two
We move on to the work of Wolfram. He believed that the Grail was a stone fallen from heaven which is a sharp contrast to the popular belief that it was a chalice. He, however, gave the fisher king a name and called him Anfortas. The Grail resided in a magnificent castle and whatever was asked of it was given. Men ate, drank their fills and all these bounties were provided by the Grail. This stone had been brought down by neutral angels during the war between God and Lucifer and since then only the pure ones have been chosen to guard the Grail. This of course is in contrast to Chrétien’s cup and there was no attempt to associate it with Jesus. The bleeding lance was also present and Parsifal in this account also failed to ask the magical question. His failure to ask the question however, was not attributed to his sin against his mother but to something else. Anfortas had been wounded in a battle between the thighs. He had been engaged in this battle because of the love he had for a woman. He had remained in agony since then and despite all the remedies in the whole world he remained in pain.
Confounded, his knights prayed that help should come to them and as if by some miracle, a writing appeared on the Grail stone, that a knight would come whom by asking the right questions would heal the king. Chrétien’s Gornemant became Wolfram’s Gurnemanz, the knight who trained Parsifal in the art of arms, and the loathsome lady of Chrétien became Kundrie. Parsifal however, achieved the Grail eventually and became the king by returning to the castle to ask the right questions. There are significant differences between the two works and some of these would include the differences in their perceptions as to the origin and the nature of the Grail and Parsifal’s achieving the quest, which did not happen in Chrétien’s work probably because this work remained unfinished. Parsifal however, achieved the Grail in one of the “continuations” of Chrétien’s work by the author Manessier completed in 1230A.D.
As time went on other characters came to be added to the legends and the stories became more and more complicated and in some versions, attention shifted completely away from Parsifal to another knight named Galahad who was the son of Lancelot of the lake, a product of the union between Lancelot and king Arthur’s daughter. The legends grew this way until interest in them waned towards the dawn of the renaissance with the last true work on Arthur and his round table being that of Sir Thomas Mallory in the 15th century.
After a very long lull in interest in the legends came the work of Richard Wagner. Parsifal, finished in 1882 was a complete shift of emphasis from the Arthurian court to that of the Grail knighthood. The knights in Wagner’s opera were not those of Arthur but of the Grail. The guardians of the Grail had become knights and the focus of the whole play was on these. It was the struggle between good and evil that was dramatised with good ultimately triumphing. He drew heavily on Wolfram’s work but refused to accept the idea of the Grail as being a stone. Instead he stuck with de Boron’s conclusions about the sacred association of these relics with Christ.
The Grail land itself thereby became the focus and centre of attraction of the whole play. Amfortas, the young knight had been appointed by his father Titurel to succeed him since he was getting old and was not able to perform his duties fully as first guardian of the Grail. Amfortas performed this duty until he succumbed to the evil machinations of the wicked one, Klingsor who had been denied membership in the Grail Order. The brotherhood came to be in possession of the relics (the holy spear and the Grail) through the appearance of the Saviour, Jesus to one of the founding fathers of the order. Jesus had entrusted the relics to them for safekeeping and had adjured them to be pure. Since then they had been the guardians of the Grail and the holy spear.
Things, however, were not looking so good for the brotherhood for they had lost many knights to the temptations of Klingsor who had built a beautiful garden of maidens who laid in waiting to seduce the weary travellers. Denied admittance in to the brotherhood, Klingsor had become versed in all sorts of magic, which he now used against the brotherhood in his hatred for them and in his desire to seize the chalice. The latter, called the Holy Grail was to the knights, the cup, which Jesus had used during the Last Supper with His disciplines and in which His Blood had been caught. The Grail also was to them a kind of manna from heaven. It provided heavenly food, which was sustenance for them and as long as they ate of the wafer, which the Grail provided, they would not grow old.
For the blessings of the Grail to flow, however, it had to be uncovered and this task was given to Amfortas. Amfortas, tired of the continual loss of his knights to Klingsor set forth with the holy spear in his hand to challenge him in battle. Klingsor, however, laid in waiting and had already planned his destruction. He summoned his servant, Kundry who was partly good and partly evil to seduce him. Amfortas, with his defences weakened by her embraces let go of the holy spear. Klingsor appears snatches the spear, inflicted a deep wound with it on Amfortas and made his escape. Amfortas in agony was rescued and taken home and has lived with the pain ever since.
All treatments were to no avail and his sufferings grew worse by the day as the wound would not heal. He was meanwhile condemned to serve the Grail and as long as he looked on it he could not die, thereby prolonging his anguish. He prayed for death, to be released from service, as the pains were unbearable, made worse each day that he had to uncover the Grail. Amfortas had been shown a vision while praying in anguish that he should wait for one who would cure him. One who through pity, knowing, would be his healer, the pure fool, (in German der reine Tor). The Knight Gurnemanz was busy recounting the story of how the brotherhood came to lose the spear when suddenly shouts of confusion were heard. A swan had been killed on holy land and a youth had been arrested. Brought before Gurnemanz, he was reproached but could not tell why he had shot the swan nor could he give his name. He appeared to have completely lost his memory.
At this point Gurnemanz began to hope that this might be the pure fool that was promised. Kundry however, happened to have been present while all this was going on and being ageless herself had seen quite a lot and remembers the youth and recounts his story. He had been brought up only by his mother, his father Gamuret, having died in battle just before he was born. But before he died he had pronounced his name. The mother, grief stricken retired into the woods and brought the boy up in complete seclusion withholding any knowledge of the outside world or of arms. He was only allowed a bow and arrows in the use of which he became very proficient. Parsifal however, left home without telling his mother in order to become a knight. His departure left the mother so devastated that she died from the effects of this.
All this Kundry recited and Parsifal, shocked at this account flung himself at Kundry and tried to strangle her but was restrained by Gurnemanz. It was however, time for the holy meal and Gurnemanz proceeded with Parsifal to the Grail castle. A castle of great pillars, a round table, which can be regarded as an altar, an opening at the top. All the knights gather round the altar. Amfortas was brought in a litter as has become customary, as he was too much in pain to walk. A procession of Esquires brings in the Grail, encased in a box. Titurel, Amfortas’ father orders him to uncover the Grail. At first he refused but after much pressure he relented and uncovered it. The Grail shines bright and streams of light descend on it from the height. All receive of this power and the wafer and wine were distributed.