Beyond Reality Mysteries Explored Legend of the Holy Grail

Legend of the Holy Grail

Legend of the Holy Grail
Catalog # SKU3852
Publisher TGS Publishing
Weight 1.00 lbs
Author Name Alfred Nutt
ISBN 10: 0000000000
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Legend of the
Holy Grail

Especial Reference to the
Hypothesis of its Celtic Origin

Alfred Nutt

Whilst some of the reasons which render the study of the Grail legends so fascinating, because so problematic, will probably always remain in force, others will vanish before the increase of knowledge.

Print size, 12 point font



When the diplomatic evidence is accessible in a trustworthy form; when the romances have received all the light that can be shed upon them from Celtic history, philology, and mythology, the future student will have a comparatively easy task. One of the writer's chief objects has been to excite an interest in these romances among those who are able to examine the Celtic elements in them far more efficiently than he could do. Welsh philologists can do much to explain the Onomasticon Arthurianum; Cymric history generally may elucidate the subject matter. But as a whole Welsh literature is late, meagre, and has kept little that is archaic. The study of Irish promises far better results. Of all the races of modern Europe the Irish have the most considerable and the most archaic mass of pre-Christian traditions. By the side of their heroic traditional literature that of Cymry or Teuton (High and Low), or Slav is recent, scanty, and unoriginal.



We now come to the "unspelling" stories, and I will cite in the first place one which is the most striking testimony I know of to the influence of this formula upon Celtic mythic lore. There is a widely spread folk-tale of a hero robbed of three magic gifts and getting them back thus; by chance he eats some fruit or herb which changes him into an ass, causes his nose to grow, sets horns upon his head, or produces some equally unpleasant result. Another herb he finds heals him. Armed with specimens of either, he wins back his talismans. In Grimm it is No. 122, Der Krautesel, and in Vol. III., p. 201, variants are given. In one the hero is one of three soldiers, and he receives the gifts from a little grey man. But neither here nor in the variants given by Dr. R. Kohler (Orient und Occident, II., p. 124) is the opening the same as in Campbell's No. X.-The Three Soldiers.

The three come to a house in the wilderness dwelt in by three girls who keep them company at night, but disappear during the day. In the house is a table, overnight they eat off it, and when they rise the board is covered, and it would not be known that a bit had ever come off it. At the first night's close one soldier gets a purse never empty; at the second, the next one a cloth always filled with meat; and the third, the youngest (the hero), a transporting whistle. But as they leave he must needs ask them who they are, and they burst out crying, "They were under charms till they could find three lads who would spend three nights with them without putting a question-had he refrained they were free."

In one variant the time of probation lasts a year, and the talismans are: a cup that empties not, and a lamp of light, the table-cloth of meat, and a bed for rest. In another the damsels are swanmaids, and the visitors are bidden "not to think nor order one of us to be with you in lying down or rising up."

There can, I think, be little doubt that this last variant represents the oldest form of the story, and that the swanmaid damsels belong to the otherworld, as do the daughter of King Under the Waves and the maiden who fetches Connla. There is nothing surprising in swanmaids being the object of a taboo, this is so invariably the case in myth and folk-lore that it is needless to accumulate instances; what is unique to my knowledge, I speak under correction, is the fact of these damsels being in possession of the talismans, one of which is so obviously connected with the Grail. It may be noted that the obligation laid upon the hero is the direct opposite of that in the Grail romances, in the one case a question must not be asked, in the other it must. In this respect Campbell's tale of course falls into line with all the widely spread and varying versions of the Melusine legend. The supernatural wife always forbids her husband some special act which, as is perhaps natural, he can never refrain from doing.

The next form of the Bespelled Castle legend is one which has attained far greater celebrity than any other on account of its traditional association with historical personages. It pictures the inmate of the castle as a King, with his warriors around him, sunk into magic sleep, and awaiting a signal to come forth and free his folk. To many English readers this legend will be more familiar in connection with Frederick Barbarossall, the Dane than with any Celtic worthy. Yet the oldest historic instance is that of Arthur. I have quoted (supra, p. 122) Gerald's words relating to the mountain seat of Arthur. A more definite tradition, and one closely resembling the episode in the Grail romances, is the one noted by Gervasius of Tilbury120 (c. 1211 A.D.). A groom of the Bishop of Catania, following a runaway horse even to the summit of Mount Etna, found himself in a far reaching plain, full of all things delightful. A marvellous castle rose before him, wherein lay Arthur on a royal bed, suffering from the wound inflicted upon him by Modred his nephew, and Childeric the Saxon, and this wound broke out afresh each year. The King caused the horse to be given to the groom, and made him many rich presents.

This tradition of Arthur in Sicily raises some very interesting questions. For one thing it is a fresh example of the tremendous and immediate popularity of the Arthurian legend. It also shows with what rapidity a tradition, however remote in its origin from a particular spot, may associate itself with that. Of more immediate interest to us is the question whether this tradition has any direct connection with the Grail romances, whether it has shaped or been shaped by them. Martin refers the Maimed King of the romances to the same myth-root as the wounded Arthur waiting in Etna or in Avalon till his wound be healed and he come forth. It seems to me more likely that in so far as the wound is concerned there is a coincidence merely between the two stories, and that the Wounded King belongs properly to the feud quest. I do not, however, deny that the fact of the Lord of the Bespelled Castle, of the otherworld, being sometimes pictured as suffering from an incurable wound, may have aided that fusion of the two strains of legend which we find in the romances.

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