The Grail

As Cecil explains in the original column, the Grail first appears in the last of the Arthurian poems of Chrétien de Troyes, who was also the inventor of Sir Lancelot, the Queen’s lover. In Chrétien’s unfinished poem, Perceval, le Conte du Graal (ca. 1181-1190), it is simply described as “un graal”, a relatively obscure Old French word for dish. There appear to be some old Celtic legends behind it all, but Chrétien essentially made a new story of it, just as Wagner’s “Ring” operas are heavily based on ancient myths, the Völsunga saga, and the Niebelungenlied, but ultimately go off in a completely different direction.

The story was wildly popular, and several other poets wrote continuations and attempted endings of it, none of them quite definitive, because no one quite knew where it was supposed to go. So it continued to bubble, and, as continuations became more and more impractical, poets started instead to rewrite the story from the beginning.

In Chrétien’s version, the main hero is Percival, who became Parzifal or Parsifal in German. Wolfgang von Eschenbach’s poem became the main version in the German-speaking world, and, eventually, the inspiration for another Wagner opera.

But in France, where most of the Arthurian literature developed, the main line of development passed through Robert de Boron. It was his version that nailed down the idea that the Grail was the cup of the Last Supper. (It was also he who nailed down the story of Merlin, and permanently attached him to Arthur’s court.)

The final stage came in a long prose version of the entire story of Arthur. Like most medieval works, it doesn’t have a title; unlike most, it’s never receive a de-facto title, either. It is variously referred to as “The Lancelot-Grail”, “The Prose Lancelot”, “The Vulgate Cycle”, or “The Pseudo-Map Cycle” (because it claims to have been written by Walter Map, which it certainly was not). It established two vital parts of the story.

First, although Chrétien had introduced the figure of Lancelot as Guinevere’s lover, and a mighty knight, the general tendency until then was that whoever was the hero of the current story was King Arthur’s greatest knight. The Vulgate Cycle established Lancelot permanently in that role.

Second, Percival got demoted. Instead of being the hero of the Grail adventure, he became one of three. Sir Bors, the ordinary man, Sir Percival, the innocent, and a brand-new character, Sir Galahad, the mystic. And then, in a brilliant stroke, the two main plots were tied together by making Sir Galahad the bastard son of Sir Lancelot, begotten by him on a young woman who had been enchanted to look like the Queen.

The Vulgate Cycle is long (about a million and half words), and was only translated into English for the first time a few years ago, in five oversize volumes from Garland Press (which means you’ll mostly find it in university libraries). But it was very popular in French. Pretty much every version of the Arthur story written since has been based on either it, or on the ancient Welsh and Breton legends. This includes Sir Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte Darthur, which is essentially a “Reader’s Digest” version of the Vulgate, although it also adds the story of Trystram and Isolde.

From the outset, the Arthurian romances reflected a very popular memes – chivalry and courtly love – in 12th and 13th century Europe, particularly France and England. Key to both chivalry and courtly love were inspiration, devotion, discipline, duty and sacrifice. One might be devoted to one’s liege lord, or to a lady, or to a code of behaviour, or to God. It was these issues in which the society of the time was interested, not the Grail per se, for these issues were central to the social and economic structure of society.

As John W. Kennedy has already explained, the grail itself is just a MacGuffin – in this case it simply stands as a quest object. Arthurian romances became, and have remained through the centuries, tremendously popular, not because of the Grail, but because of the issues they dealt with. Chrétien de Troyes wrote a series of Arthurian romances that dealt with these issues, of which Perceval, le Conte du Graal was the last book in the series. The Grail was simply a plot device used to move the plot along. A sword in a stone, a grail, a holy hand grenade, a bunny – they are all just plot devices that have no deep significance in and of themselves.

Have a look at the Court of Eleanor of Aquitaine to get a feel for chivalry and courtly love, and then go back and compare the Arthurian romances against Norse legends. You will find a tremendous difference in themes, although both genres superficially have heroes going about smacking things. I think that if you dig into the literature, you will see why Arthurian romance was a big deal. The genre, not the grail, is what is of sigficance.

And, by the way, it’s very important. The tales of King Arthur introduced a new idea in western Europe that haunts us to this day – the idea that romantic love is important. For thousands of years, the world pretty much assumed that love was a kind of adolescent madness that men were lucky enough to grow out of, and women (yet another sign of their inferiority) usually did not. Sure, sex was loads of fun, but all that emotional stuff? “I’m glad I’m not young anymore,” was every man’s song. Suddenly, about nine hundred years ago, something cracked. Suddenly, the astonishing notion arose that being in love made a man more manly. Women, instead of things to be held in contempt, were all at once to be worshiped, and men didn’t have to hide their eyes any more when the mushy stuff started. Cowboy machismo and modern feminism have both eaten away at the courtly-love ideal, but it is still with us.

The problem you’re running into here, maatorc, is that we rarely in this forum take flat assertions like this at face value. We want to know why you’ve reached this conclusion, and what evidence brought you to that opinion.

For example, I know a bit about many different occult traditions and mythologies, and I’ve never heard about any universal myth of occult anatomy. I know of no interpretation of The Last Supper that suggests the scene was intended by Leonardo whatever-his-correct-last-name-was to represent the human brain. Just saying these things is interesting, but we would normally like to see some source or support for them.

As Dr Cathode said, such an explanation of your thesis might be better served by a dedicated thread. I know I would be interested in seeing it.

That would be like calling steak au poivre a la creme hamburger.

Wouldn’t “DiCaprio” presumably refer to the place where his ancestors came from?

Yeah, but if you mention Agnes Bojaxhiu, nobody has a clue who you’re talking about.

So it’s… like a surname? This is how many surnames came about, after all.

Same can happen if I say “Smith” - I might mean Adam Smith, Will Smith, Agent Smith…

That, I suppose is what surprises me. If anything, the pedants should be demanding that we call him by his full name.

Leonardo di Ser Piero.

Why is Leonardo son of Piero any more correct than Leonardo of Vinci?

Actually according to Wiki -

That doesn’t answer my question. If he had no surname, why is son of Piero any more correct than from Vinci?

It is a vast subject.
I am saying the myth exists, not that it is true or false.
As you will know, a difficulty with sources is the attitude of the reader to the author-publisher-organization: “I think this author - etc - therefore this cannot be true” typifying many reactions.
A useful introductory text is “The Occult Anatomy Of Man” by Manly Palmer Hall, ISBN o-89314-338-3.

About the Leonardo naming thing: in Renaissance Italy, very few people had surnames. It was convention to refer to someone by his Christian name, even in the case of those people who HAD surnames–thus, most people (and scholars today) talk about “Dante” and “Michelangelo,” even though those two were some of the rare artists to have surnames (Alighieri and Buonarroti, respectively).

With Leonardo, the “da Vinci” part, or the “di Ser Piero” part, is just a further clarification. He didn’t have a surname, and so his proper name was just “Leonardo.” To call him just “da Vinci” would not be in keeping with Renaissance convention.

Most Renaissance scholars abide by that convention, even though society in general no longer does.

I know that a lot of surnames today originated as simple descriptors–my own family name means something like “Son of” (or, more accurately, “Clan of”) “Owen.”

But the “di Vinci” part of Leonardo’s name simply wasn’t part of his proper name in the 15th-16th century.

It’s really not that big of a deal, and it is probably overly pedantic to insist on such conventions on a message board. It just annoyed me with the Da Vinci Code to see characters, who are supposed to be scholars of art or “symbology,” demonstrating ignorance of such conventions.

I realize there are worse problems with realism in that book, but that’s one of my biggest peeves.

My apologies for contributing to a hijack.

Are you suggesting that all paintings of the Last Supper represent the human brain, since all such images contain 12 figures arranged around the central figure of Christ? Because that’s how the Last Supper is almost always depicted by Renaissance artists–it’s not just Leonardo.

The representation of John as sexually ambiguous is something else that Leonardo borrowed from art historical conventions. There is NO Mary Magdelene in Leonardo’s painting.

It’s true that Leonardo introduced a number of stylistic innovations in his painting (sfumato, idealized perspective, etc.), but the overall composition and the subject matter preceded him by centuries.

1…No, as some of the artists may not have been consciously depicting the myth.

2…True, it was mentioned as another example of the Pituitary, as is ‘Sir Lancelot’ another example of the Pineal.

As far as we know, the pineal gland wasn’t even discovered until Galen in the 2nd century, and he didn’t know what it was used for (he thought it was a valve that regulated thoughts), so how could the Osiris myth and the New Testament (as you mentioned in the OP) refer to it?

Space aliens, of course.

So how can we tell the difference? Do you have an inside track to their minds or did they leave detailed descriptions?