by Wolfram von Eschenbach

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The Poem

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Gamuret, younger son of King Gandein of Anjou, refuses to live as a vassal in the kingdom of his older brother, notwithstanding the brother’s love for Gamuret. The young man, given gifts of gold by his king brother, as well as horses and equipment and men-at-arms, leaves Anjou to seek his fortune. Hoping to find for himself fame and love, Gamuret goes first to battle for Baruch at Alexandria; from there he goes to the aid of the Moorish queen Belakane. Belakane had been falsely accused of causing the death of her lover, Eisenhart, and was besieged in her castle by two armies under the command of Friedebrand, king of Scotland and Eisenhart’s uncle.

Gamuret, after raising the siege, becomes the husband of Belakane, who gives birth to his son, Feirefis. Gamuret tires of being king of Assagog and Zassamank, and so he journeys abroad again in search of fame. Passing into Spain, Gamuret seeks King Kailet and finds him near Kanvoleis. The two enter a tournament sponsored by the queen of Waleis. Gamuret does valiant deeds and carries off all the honors of that tournament, thereby winning a great deal of fame as the victor. Two queens who had watched the lists during the tournament fall in love with Gamuret, but Queen Herzeleide wins his heart and marries him. They love each other greatly, but once again the call of honor becomes too great to let Gamuret remain a housed husband. Receiving a summons from Baruch, he leaves once more for Alexandria. In the fighting there he is treacherously killed and given a great tomb by Baruch. When news of his death reaches the land of Waleis, Queen Herzeleide sorrows greatly, but her sorrow is in part dissipated by the birth of a child by Gamuret. Herzeleide names the boy Parzival.

Parzival is reared by his mother with all tenderness and love. As he grows older he meets knights who fare through the world seeking honor. Parzival, stimulated by tales of their deeds, leaves his homeland in search of King Arthur of Britain. He hopes to become one of Arthur’s knights and a member of the order of the Round Table. During his absence, his mother, Queen Herzeleide, dies. On his way to Arthur’s court, Parzival takes a token from Jeschute and thus arouses the jealous anger of her husband, Orilus. Further along on his journey he meets a woman named Sigune and from her learns of his lineage and his kinship with the house of Anjou. Still later, Parzival meets the Red Knight and carries that knight’s challenge with him to King Arthur. Having been knighted by the king, Parzival sets forth again in quest of knightly honor. Finding himself in the land of Graharz, he seeks out Gurnemanz, prince of the land, who teaches the young knight the courtesy and the ethics of knighthood.

From Graharz, Parzival journeys to Pelrapar, which he finds besieged by enemies. He raises the siege by overthrowing Kingron. After this adventure, Parzival falls in love with Queen Kondwiramur, and the two are married. Parzival, like his father before him, soon tires of the quiet life and parts from his home and queen to seek further adventures.

Parzival journeys to the land of the Fisher King and becomes the king’s guest. In that land he first beholds the fabulous bleeding spear and all the marvels of the Holy Grail. One morning he wakes to find the castle deserted. Parzival, mocked by a squire, rides away. Later he meets Orilus, who had vowed to battle the young knight for taking Jeschute’s token. They fight,...

(This entire section contains 1186 words.)

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and Parzival is the victor, but he is able to reconcile Orilus to Jeschute once again and send the couple to find a welcome at the court of King Arthur.

Arthur, meanwhile, has gone in search of the Red Knight, whose challenge Parzival carries. Journeying in search of King Arthur, Parzival has the misfortune of falling into a love-trance, during which he overthrows Gagramor and takes vengeance on Sir Kay. He meets Gawain, who takes him back again to Arthur’s court. There, Parzival is inducted into the company of the Round Table. At Arthur’s court, both Gawain and Parzival are put to shame by two other knights. When in his anger and despair Parzival sets out to seek the Holy Grail, and Gawain rides off to Askalon, the whole company of the Round Table is dispersed.

While Parzival sought the Grail, Gawain had many adventures. He joined the knights of King Meljanz of Lys, who sought vengeance on Duke Lippaut. When the fighting is over, Gawain rode to Schamfanzon, where he is committed by the king to the care of his daughter Antikonie. Gawain wooed the maiden and thus aroused the wrath of the people of Schamfanzon. Gawain is aided, however, by the woman and by Kingrimursel. After Gawain swore to the king that he would ask Scherules to send back some kinsmen to him, Gawain left, also to search for the Holy Grail.

Parzival, meanwhile, travels for many days in doubt and despair. In the forest of Monsalvasch he fights with a knight of the Holy Grail and passes on. Then, on Good Friday, he meets a pilgrim knight who tells him he should not bear arms during the holy season. The knight tells him to seek out Trevrezent, a hermit who shows Parzival how he has sinned by being wrathful with God and indicates to Parzival that he is a nephew to Amfortas, one of the Grail kings. The two part in sorrow, and Parzival resumes his search for the Grail.

Gawain, continuing his adventures, has married Orgeluse. When Gawain decides to battle Gramoflanz, King Arthur and Queen Guinevere agree to ride to see the joust. Before the joust can take place Gawain and Parzival meet and do battle, each unknown to his opponent. Gawain is defeated and severely injured by Parzival, who is filled with grief when he learns with whom he has fought. Parzival vows to take Gawain’s place in the combat with Gramoflanz, but the latter refuses to do battle with anyone but Gawain himself.

Parzival, released from his vow, longs to return once again to his wife. One morning before dawn he secretly leaves the camp of King Arthur. On his way back to his wife, Parzival meets a great pagan warrior who almost vanquishes him. After the battle he learns the pagan knight is Feirefis, Parzival’s half brother, the son of Gamuret and Belakane. The two ride back to King Arthur’s court, where both are made welcome by the king. In company, the half brothers win many honors. At a feast of the Round Table, Kondrie enters the great hall to announce Parzival’s election to the Grail kingdom. Summoned to Monsalvasch, Parzival, his wife, and Lohengrin, Parzival’s son, are guided there by Kondrie. Feirefis, although he fails to see the Grail, is baptized and married to Repanse de Schoie. With her he returns to his kingdom, which is held later by his son, Prester John.


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Blamires, David. Characterization and Individuality in Wolfram’s “Parzival.” Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1966. Devotes a chapter to each of the nine major characters in his exploration of the technique of individualization in Wolfram’s romance, demonstrating that Parzival fits within the trend toward individuality in twelfth century literature.

Green, Dennis Howard. The Art of Recognition in Wolfram’s “Parzival.” Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1982. Posits that much of the difficulty in reading Parzival lies in Wolfram’s style of revealing while concealing. The audience is invited to cooperate in the process of recognition: “Penetrating the mysteries of the Grail thus becomes for the listeners what the attainment of Grail kingship is for Parzival.”

Loomis, R. S. “Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival.” In The Development of Arthurian Romance. New York: W. W. Norton, 1970. Introduction to the themes and origins of Parzival. Places the romance within the context of the growth of Arthurian literature from its beginnings to Malory.

Poag, James F. Wolfram von Eschenbach. Boston: Twayne, 1972. Chapters on Wolfram’s life, his literary outlook, his other works, and Parzival. Bibliography.

Weigand, Hermann John. Wolfram’s “Parzival”: Five Essays with an Introduction. Edited by Ursula Hoffmann. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1969. Examines such topics as Wolfram’s originality versus his dependence on sources and the nature of Parzival’s misadventures during his first visit to the Grail Castle.


Critical Essays