Synopsis of Parzival's adventures in Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival. Translated by A.T. Hatto
Parzival's adventures in von Eschenbach's follow the same general arch of develop as De Troyes' version. Parzival starts out as an innocent young boy seeking to become a knight, comes to the Grail Castle by accident and fails to ask the question, then sets off again, after he is inducted formally into Arthur's court for the grail again. However, given the length of von Eschebach's telling, the incidents are fleshed out in much more detail and an intricate story explaining Parzival's genealogical history is present in a complexity that does not appear in De Troyes' version. Another significant difference is that von Eschenbach's telling completes the Parzaval's quest. He attains the grail by the end of the book.
After narrating the exploits and death of the king Gahmuret, who fights in battles and tournaments all over Europe and in the lands of the Moors, the narrative turns to Parzival. Gahmuret's widow, Herzeloyde, grieving at her husband's death in combat, forbids her household to mention the word "knight" ever again. Thus her son, young Parzival, never learns about "knights" or "knighthood", even though he grows proficient at hunting wild animals for sport. However, he meets a group of knights from Arthur's court and having never seen or heard of knights before, he thinks that the leading knight is God. On learning that these wonderful beings are knights, Parzival decides that he too must become a knight.
On learning that Parzival wants to become a knight, Herzeloyde realizes that she cannot stop her son with pleas. Instead, she decides to give him "the wretchedest nag" as well as "fool's clothing" in the hope that "if he is roughly handled, he will sure come back to me" (75). Herzeloyde also advises Parzival to take instruction about noble behavior from whoever will offer it and to treat ladies with the highest regard.
His first encounter is with a Duchess, Jeschute de Lalander. Finding her asleep and undressed in her tent, Parzival forces her to kiss him, takes her ring and broach and eats the food that has been laid out. In von Eschenbach's narration of this sequence, there is no indication that Parzival is naively implementing his mother's advice, and his actions are related as a transgression.
Riding off, he comes to Arthur's court at Nantes. The narrative emphasizes that Parzival hardly looks like a knight: The boy rode on alone to a fair-sized meadow bright with flowers ... [H]e knew nothing of fine manners, as is often the case with a stay-at-home. His bridle was of bast and his little palfrey very feeble -- its stumblings often brought it to its knees. No new leather had been nailed to its saddle anywhere. As to samite or ermine, not a bit could you see on him. He had no need of cords for a mantle: instead of suckney and surcoat he had taken his javelin. (83)Section Two
Naive young Parzival turned him (Ither) over and over. He could not tug anything off him -- what a strange affair it was! Helmet-lace or knee-pieces, his fine white hands failed to loosen or otherwise twist any off. Yet he tried and tried again, this lad so little favored with good sense. (88)He receives help from a knight from Arthur's court who has been following him and sets off. He comes to the castle of Gurnemanz of Garharz. Gurnemanz offers him hospitality and teaches him how to conduct himself like a gentleman and the basics of the knightly use of arms. Gurnemanz says that Parzival is as a son to him and is sad to see him leave.
He comes to a castle and learns from its queen, Condwiranmurs, that a king, Clamide and his seneschal Kingrun, have laid the queen's lands to waste. Parzival pledges to defend the queen's lands and to fight Kingrun and Clamide. Having defeated both knights, Parzival sends them to Arthur's court to pledge their allegiance (and land) to Arthur. Parzival becomes lord of the land, with Condwiranmurs as his wife. However, he decides that he must leave to seek news of his mother:
Her love was so strong, there was no lodgement in it for infidelity. She knew her man as true. Each found it in the other. He was as dear to her as she to him. When I take the passage in hand which says they must part, their loss can only mount. I am moved to pity for that noble lady. He had delivered her land, her people an herself from great distress, in return for which she had offered him her love. (119)Making his way, he meets an Angler (who later turns out to be the Fisher King) and then arrives at the grail castle, where he meets the wounded lord, sees a lance with a bleeding tip and the grail. Because he is worried about disrupting the dictates of good-breeding, and remembering the advice he was given by Gurnemanz of Garharz about good behavior, Parzival does not inquire about the gral or the lance, even though he is very curious. He thus misses the opportunity to heal the Fisher King.
On waking up the next morning, Parzival discovers an empty castle. As he leaves, however, a young man encounters him and angrily shouts at him:
"Damn you, wherever the sun lights your path!" shouted the page. "You silly goose! Why didn't you open your god and ask my lord the Question? You let slip a marvelous prize!" (131)Later learns from a lady (who is his cousin) that the miamed lord of the Grail Castle is Anfortas, vehemently scolds Parzival for not asking the question that would have healed the lord. Parzival begins to see the significance of his folly and begins to feel great remorse.
Parzival then encounters the Duke Orilus, who wants revenge for the liberties he took with his wife, Jeschute. Jeschute has been stripped by her husband and is forced to ride in shame for allowing Parzival to kiss her and take her ring and broach. Parzival fights Duke Orilus, defeats him. Although Orilus admits defeat, he will not acede to Parzival's request that he forgive his wife. Parzival tries to help her cause by giving back the ring and this reconciles them. Parzival sends the Duke to Arthur's court.
Having heard such great reports about Parzival and having received many knights who were defeated by him, Arthur decides that he must leave and search for the Red Knight (the identity by which he knows Parzival). Arthur's court sees Parzival in a field and invite him over. But the first two knights sent to fetch him end up fighting him and losing. Gawan, then is sent and manages to bring Parzival back with him. And Parzival joins the Round Table:
My source gives me as its assessment that no man suckled at a mother's breast ever sat in this ring whose noble mien belied him less than Parzival's; for the Waleis brought the glow of youth and strength with him ... Parzival's dazzling looks were thus a bond of feminine constancy! When he was concerned, their fickleness vanished. Their gaze received him loyally, and he passed through their eyes into their hearts. (162)But the happy party is disrupted by Cundrie, an ugly but learned damsel. The description of her ugliness matches De Troyes' in its intensity:
Her nose was like a dog's, and to the length of several spans a pari of tusks jutted from her jaws. Both eyebrows pushed past her hair-band and drooped down in tresses .... Cundrie's ears resembled a bear's. Her rugged visage was not such as to rouse a lover's desire.... This fetching sweetheart had hands the color of ape-skin. Her finger-nails were none too transparent, for my source tells me that they looked like a lion's claws. Seldom (or never?) were lances broken for her love. (164)Cundrie, addressing Arthur, tells him what a disgrace it is for Parzival to sit at the Round Table because of his folly, that the"mighty reputation of the Table Round has been miamed by presence of Parzival at it" (164). Apart from blaming him for not inquiring after the grail or the lance, there is a novel element to von Eschenbach's version. Cundrie's tirade links Parzival to his half-brother, the son of Gahmuret and the heathen Queen of Zazamanc:
You ender of joy, donor of sorrow! Had you thought of asking there at Munsalvaesche, your Question would have brought you more than Tabronit, city of fabled wealth in heathedom, could give. Feirefiz Angevin, whose manly courage never failed him -- that same courage possessed by him that was father to you both-- won the queen of that country with fierce deeds of arms! -- Your brother has quite a marvelous peculiarity, for believe it or not, this son of the Queen of Zazamanc is mottled black and white!After being accused of the above and compared unfavorably to his heathen half-brother, Parzival pledges to seek the grail castle at Munsalvaesche and ask the question that will heal Anfortas.
On his journey in search of Munsalvaesche, he meets a hermit who reveals more about the history of the the grail and his own relationship to Anfortas. It so happens that Parzival is a nephew of Anfortas and therefore has a right to join the company of those who guard the grail. However, as he learns, there has been difficulty keeping to the high standards demanded of the keepers of the grail:
His (Anfortas) youth and wealth and pursuit of love beyond the restraints of wedlock brought hamr to the world through him. Such ways do not suit the Gral. In its service knights and squires must guard against licentiousness: humility has always mastered pride. A noble Brotherhood lives there, who by force of arms have warded off men from every land, with the result that the Gral has been revealed only to those who have been summoned to Munsalvaesche to join the Gral Company. Only one man ever came there without first having been assigned. (241)As Parzival realizes, he is that man and did not attain the grail because of his immaturity and his sin. He also learns that Anfortas received his wound -- in the scrotum -- from a poisoned lance during a joust. Parzival stays with the hermit for a fortnight, doing penance and preparing himself to be led once again to the Grail Castle.
Parzival's path crosses Gawan's as the latter heads out to fight a duel to defend his honor. The two knights fight and only realize that they have fought each other after a long day of combat. Parzival, realizing that he has exhausted Gawan, fights Gawan's challenger,Gramoflanz, on Gawan's behalf. In the end, after Gawan and Gramoflanz are reconciled and the Arthur's court is making merry, Parzival steals away, reflecting how he can never be happy in love until he has achieved the grail.
Parzival comes across an infidel knight who has come to seek love and fame. He ends up fighting this knight, and the narrator makes it clear that this encounter was most unfortunate:
Here, two who are as gentle as lambs, yet are lions for valor, are going to each other's harm. Alas, that broad though the each is, they did not pass each other by, this pair that fought for no cause! I would be anxious too for the man whom I have brough this far, had I not the consoling thought that the power of the Gral must save him ....The eyes of each lit up on seeing the other approaching. The hearts of each rejoiced, yet sorrow lurked there unseen. Each of these unblemished men bore the other's heart within him -- theirs was an intimate strangeness! (368)After an epic battle where both rain blows on each other, they exchange words and begin to suspect that they are brothers. Taking off their helmets, Parzival sees the mottled complexion of his foe and immediately realizes that it is his half-brother, Feirefiz that he has been fighting:
They at once bared their heads of their helmets and their coifs. Parzival found a treasure trove, the most precious he had ever lit on. The Infidel was recognized immediately for he was marked like a magpie. Feirefiz and Parzival ended their strife with a kiss. It was more fitting for them to be friends than bitter enemies. Their contest was settled by loyalty and affection. (372)Parzival then brings Feirefiz to be introduced to Arthur and his court, for Feirefiz has heard of the fame of Arthur and desires greatly to meet the great king. Festivities are held in honor of Feirefiz and Parzival appears to have forgotten his pledge to seek out the grail. However, in the midst of the merry-making, a lady enters unannounced and demands to speak to Parzival. It is Cundrie, the ugly damsel again, but this time she has glad tidings of encouragement for Parzival. She tells him that he is indeed now ready to seek the grail, and that no man may find it except he be the chosen one. She also tells him that he may pick one other knight to be his companion on this final leg of the quest. Parzival weeps with joy that he is finally worthy to achieve the grail. He picks his infidel half-brother to be his companion and sets off in search of Munsalvaesche. Many knights, themselves in the grail quest, hear about Cundrie's pronouncement and give up the quest.
Parzival and Feirefiz make their way to Munsalvaesche, guided by Cundrie. They are met by the guardians of the grail, the Templars, who are rejoicing that the one who will heal Anfortas and the land has come. Parzival is received with great ceremony by Anfortas, and asks the question "Dear Uncle, what ails you?" (395) that restores Anfortas's health:
He Who for St. Sylvester's sake bade a bull return from death to life and go, and Lazarus stand up, now help Anfortas to becomke whole and well again. The lustre which the French call "fleur" entered his complexion -- Parzivals' beauty was nothing beside it, and that of Absalom son of David, and Vergulaht of Ascalun, and of all who were of handsome race ... the beauty of none of these was equal to that which Anfortas carried out from his illness. God's power to apply his artistry is undiminished today.Parzival is made king of Munsalvaesche and keeper of the grail. As a bonus, his half-brother Feirefiz is decides to become a Christian, is baptized and is afforded a vision of the grail as well.