November 15, 2021

#08-151: Parzival

Parzival approaches the Grail Castle

Note: One of the great Arthurian stories telling of a pure but simple knight who became the finder of the Holy Grail and liberator of the famed Fisher King, was written in German by a man who was a knight himself.

Get Ready: Are there times when it would be impolite to ask a suffering person "What's wrong?" When should we? When shouldn't we?

In the first quarter of the 13th century, the German knight Wolfram von Eschenbach wrote Parzival about one of the Knights of the Round Table.

The early part of the book traces the exploits of Parzival's father Gahmuret, who sails to Africa and marries the Queen of Zazamanc, but then abandons her while she is pregnant. Their son, Feirefiz--famed for having mottled black-and-white skin--will show up later in the story.

Back in Europe, Gahmuret marries Queen Herzeloyde, but again abandons his wife to go questing, and is killed in the Middle East. Grief-stricken, Herzeloyde retires to a forest and attempts to raise their son Parzival in ignorance of his knightly heritage. As fate would have it, three knights pass through the forest on their way to King Arthur's court at Camelot, and the boy decides to go with them.

Herzeloyde knows she cannot stop him, but dresses him in the motley clothes of a fool, hoping the knights will reject him. But they take him anyway, and Herzeloyde (whose name means "Heart's Sorrow") dies soon after of a broken heart.

Though mocked upon his arrival, Parzival joins Arthur's court and, donning the armor of a "red knight" he has killed, rides off for adventure. Another knight, Gurnemanz, teaches him the rules of chivalry, including that it is impolite to appear too curious of the business of others.

He meets and marries Queen Condwiramurs, but continues his quest. He finds the castle of the Grail--object of the search of all of Arthur's knights--but, remembering Gurnemanz's advice, fails to ask questions of his host. (This is the injured King Anfortas, also called "the Fisher King.") This failure to show concern for another causes him to wake next morning in a wasteland, with no castle to be seen.

Just as Parzival is about to officially join the Round Table, a hideously ugly sorceress and Grail servant named Cundrie appears and says he is unfit to serve. Parzival leaves the court in shame. After five years of wandering, he lodges with a holy man for fourteen days, where he learns the meaning of life, and of the Grail. He also learns that his mother was the sister of the Grail King.

He encounters and fights a knight who seems his equal in every way. This turns out to be his half-brother Feirefiz, and Parzival exclaims, "I was against my own self!" Cundrie appears again and announces that with this realization, Parzival has become the new Grail King.


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Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. chivalry
  2. donning
  3. exploits
  4. fool
  5. motley
  6. mottled
  7. questing
  8. traces
  9. unfit
  10. wasteland

  1. of different colors
  2. knighthood
  3. putting on
  4. adventures
  5. spotted
  6. a desert
  7. going on adventures
  8. not worthy
  9. a court jester; a clown
  10. follows

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for November 15, 2021

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. b; 2. c; 3. d; 4. i; 5. a; 6. e; 7. g; 8. j; 9. h; 10. f