Chair: Jacqueline Borsje
The first session in a series of three organized by the international network The Power of Words in Traditional European Cultures.
The paper will look at the wide-spread motif ST Q4220.127.116.11. Loss of one eye as punishment found in Irish folktales when a protagonist explains how he lost an eye. His physical disfigurement serves as the means to prove the truth of his story, and the protagonist’s power of judgement brings various kinds of magical events to life through his own words. Primarily found in Irish adaptations of the 'Tale of the Three Calenders' from The Arabian Nights Entertainments, the motif is also wide-spread in native Gaelic folktales and legends.
When, around 1190, Chrétien de Troyes began writing his Perceval, he famously included a sequence which would introduce the concept of the Grail into European literature. In a castle that is seemingly set apart from the mundane world, the main character observes a ceremony in which various objects, among which a dish described as ‘un graal’, are carried past him and his host, an invalid king. Perceval later discovers that, had he asked who was served from the ‘graal’, the king would have been healed.
When he wrote the Grail sequence, Chrétien was likely drawing on or several Celtic, possibly Breton, sources. The story matter would be picked up by later authors, among whom Wolfram von Eschenbach. His Parzival features a similar Grail sequence, yet alters the social and emotional import of the unuttered question. It becomes a token of compassion, rather than of polite interest: the hero in Parzival is supposed to ask what ails the king. The Grail itself gains in importance, becoming an instrument of harsh, yet seemingly divine, justice.
This paper focuses on a twentieth-century adaptation of the Parzival, written by Emiel Vandevelde for the Flemish school radio. Adopting the function of Parzival’s question as a sign of compassion, it replaces the evocation of harsh justice with one of a forgiving and unworldly Christianity. I shall argue that, while Vandevelde’s changes make the play suitable for new audiences, they also undermine the intellectually challenging aspect of the Parzival and, to a lesser degree, Chrétien’s Perceval.