Academic journal article Arthuriana

The Holy Grail: Imagination and Belief

Academic journal article Arthuriana

The Holy Grail: Imagination and Belief

Article excerpt

RICHARD BARBER, The Holy Grail: Imagination and Belief. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1004. Pp.xiv, 464. ISBN: 0-674-01390-5. $27.95. pb: 0-674-01815-x. $16.95.

Completed as Dan Brown's outrageously popular grail story dominated the best-seller lists, Richard Barber's extensive and well-crafted study of the grail offers scholarly and lay publics a reliable introduction to the topic, reminding us especially that the grail started as a literary and artistic phenomenon. Barber cuts through numerous layers and styles of interpretation to argue for what is simplest and most direct: What does medieval literature say and not say about the grail's appearance and function, and how does that information match what people need to find in the legend?

Barber's study is organized in three major pans: 1) the foundational literature, 2) the nature of the grail, and 3) the reception of the legend. Barber first summarizes the medieval texts and comments on their contexts and authors. He notes three groupings plus two romances: Chrétien and the continuations, the cycle attributed to Robert de Boron, the Lancelot-Grail cycle, the anonymous Haut Livre du Graal: Perlesvaus, and Wolfram von Eschcnbach's Parzival. Barber's clear, thorough, and orderly summary of the basic information (texts, chronology, problems of interpretation) makes it a useful reference, especially if one needs context and analysis as well as the contents of the works.

Next, Barber treats the complex question about what defines the grail, accounting for the motif's recurrence in discussions of theology, symbolism, and spirituality. He steers us through the many interpretations of the grail: an object of mystery and marvel (Chrétien), of Christian origin and spiritual function (the cycles of Boron and the Lancelot-Grail, Wolfram), and of adventure (Perlesvaus). This section separates the threads of tradition which easily confuse chalice with serving vessel, object related to Christ's life with other religious objects, and Chrétien's 'graal' with objects eventually added to the legend as it developed and responded to various spiritual, cultural, and artistic interests. Here he also discusses medieval objects reputed to be Christ's chalice and mentions the motif of the wasteland and its relationship to the grail story. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.