Origins of the Holy Grail Research Proposal

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¶ … origins of the Holy Grail

The Holy Grail has become one of the iconic tales of the Arthurian saga, immortalized in books, poetry, and film. Scholars of the early 20th century assumed that the popularity of the tale meant that it must have some ancient source, such as "in pagan Celtic myth, and that the Grail was originally a legendary platter of plenty that was subsequently Christianized.

" This theory reflects the fact that the first extant version of the Grail legend, the Grail resembles a tray rather than the cup, as is typical of Grail iconography today. However, the problem is that neither platters nor cups of plenty exist in any known myths of Celtic mythology. Thus, the scientific evidence provided by archeology and anthropology does not support the idea that the Grail has its roots in these ancient sources.

One alternative theory postulated that "the maiden Grail-bearer is based on the personified Sovereignty of Ireland, a woman who gives her cup only to the worthy….A newer and more controversial theory is proposed by C. Scott Littleton and Linda A. Malcor in From Scythia to Camelot (1994). They trace the Grail motifs back to ancient Scythian peoples of the Crimea whose symbolic Cup of Sovereignty fell from heaven.

" But the idea that every ancient reference to a vessel is directly linked to the Grail is tenuous at best. Furthermore, these theories do not reflect the fact that the Grail's original literary source depicts it as a platter, rather than a chalice.Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Research Proposal on Origins of the Holy Grail the Holy Assignment

Thus it would seem that the Grail is a purely literary invention of the Middle Ages. The first references to the Grail in print, despite the attempts to link it with Celtic mythology, does not even occur in an English source. The 12th century French poet Chretien de Troyes story "Conte du Graal" is an Arthurian saga of the holy innocent Perceval, a born knight reared without knowledge of Christianity, yet pure by instinct. "Like other French poets of his time, Chretien wrote mostly about the knights of King Arthur's court. The poets claimed that the stories they told came from Brittany, where some of the Celts who once lived in Britain had fled across the English Channel when the Angles and Saxons invaded during the sixth century -- although no modern scholar has found any Celtic tales of Arthur that predate the French versions."

The Brittany connection was another literary convention to justify Chretien's right to write about Arthur, not a historical reality.

In "Conte du Graal" the noble Perceval finds himself in the palace of the wounded Fisher King. There, he sees a Christ-like image holding a lance, followed by a woman holding a deep, flat dish made of shining gold, which is said to be large enough to hold a fish -- or the Eucharist. Chretien de Troyes never finished this poem, but even the unfinished version became extremely popular and widely circulated across Europe. In 1200, a Bavarian poet, Wolfram von Eschenbach, retold the story as Parzival and added elements which are now considered essential to the Grail myth, such as the fact that only the pure of heart can see the Grail, and that it can provide an endless source of nourishment. Wolfram also added the theme of the collective 'quest' narrative. The Grail story was not just about a single knight, but of all of the knights of Arthur's Round Table. A third poet, Robert de Boron of Burgundy, "for the first time connected the Grail to the Last Supper -- as a 'vessel,' although not the chalice itself. After Jesus' death, the poem relates, his disciple Joseph of Arimathea collects blood from his [Christ's] wounds in the Grail and carries it to Britain. Joseph's brother-in-law, a fisherman (the Fisher King?), becomes the Grail's guardian, bringing the story around full circle to Perceval and his quest.

Robert's material "was incorporated into the so-called Vulgate Cycle of Arthurian romances in prose (1215-35).

" The Vulgate Cycle, which was likely authored by a monk, is even more explicitly a Christian, spiritual quest. In the Vulgate, the Grail said to be "the dish from which the Paschal lamb was served" and "stands for divine grace.

" The Vulgate version was incorporated by Thomas Malory into the English Le Morte D'Arthur. In both the Vulgate version and Malory's version, Sir Perceval (Percivale) along with Sir Bors and Sir Galahad, are the purest Arthurian knights. Perceval is allowed to receive Holy Communion from the hands of Jesus Christ. "Galahad heals the maimed Grail-king with Christ's blood dripping from the holy lance. Finally, the Grail company sees the vessel and lance taken back into heaven. Galahad dies soon after, Perceval dies a year after becoming a hermit, and Bors returns to Camelot to tell their tale. The Holy Grail is now permanently out of reach."

This reflects the ideal of Arthur as a great, once-and-future king who will save his people, but who belongs to a better time of the long past.

Thus, the durability of the Grail narrative is thus clearly a Christian construct. In Victorian times, the popularity of Tennyson's Idylls of the King, a retelling of the Arthurian legends, re-popularized the Grail narrative: "In contrast to the latter's impetus toward modernizing faith in an era of historical biblical scholarship" the Grail narrative "affirmed a mystical faith and the value of seeking the grail, a stand-in for the gospel," in a uniquely English setting, which was especially pleasing to the Victorians during the Age of Empire.

The popularity of the Grail has long been linked to a resurgence of British nationalism in Tennyson, but even its non-English authors likely saw it as linked to Christian dominion. "By the time Grail romance acquires one of its most influential forms in the early thirteenth-century Quest of the Holy Grail, not only does it treat the Grail as a historic object originating in the time of Jesus; it also treats the preeminent Grail knight as a descendant of the historic line of an Israelite king with which Christian Scripture affiliates Jesus himself. When that knight, Galahad, enters the Arthurian court, he is introduced as 'descended from the noble lineage of King David and the family of Joseph of Arimathea' " thus linking Europe to ancient Jerusalem

In the medieval era, interest in the Grail romance first peaked during the "militant spirituality of the Crusades.

" All of the patrons of the early written Grail narratives were Crusaders, even the non-English versions of the epics. Chretien de Troyes' version was written for Philip of Alsace, who was Count of Flanders and died in the Third Crusade at the siege of Acre; Robert de Boron's was associated with Walter of Montbeliard, campaigned against Moslems; the patron of Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival participated in the German Crusade. The bleeding lance of Chretien de Troyes' version and the notion of the Knights Templar as guardians of the crusade in Wolfram's Parzival all contain a suggestion of justified militancy in securing a holy object. The object belongs to the purest Christians, moreover, not to those who happen to possess it.

The popularity of the Holy Grail is not based in pagan or Christian mythology, but history. "The conquest of Jerusalem in the First Crusade had promoted the claim that the Crusaders were not only restoring that inheritance, but themselves fulfilling-as latter-day Israelites-prophecies in the Hebrew Bible.

" The Grail came to symbolize a transfer of ownership of Christianity from East to West. Thus looking for the early Celtic origins of the Grail is likely a futile and misleading exercise. The real origin of the Grail in Christendom is the literary symbolism of the quest of taking back what is rightfully the Europe's heritage as the true owner of the Grail. That… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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