Het eerste Graalverhaal

Chrétien de Troyes (1135 - 1183) was een Frans schrijver en dichter. Hij was de pionier van de hoofse roman en wordt ook beschouwd als grondlegger van de Arthur-literatuur zoals we die tegenwoordig kennen. Zijn Graalridders werden destijds geïllustreerd als Tempeliers. Over zijn leven is niet zoveel bekend. Tussen 1160 en 1181 woonde hij in Troyes, geboorteplaats van de oprichter van de Tempeliers Hughes de Payens. Hier was hij als hofdichter in dienst van Maria, de hertogin van Champagne, een dochter van Eleonora van Aquitanië. Later was hij aan het hof van Filips van de Elzas, graaf van Vlaanderen, die hem inspireerde voor zijn graalroman. Chretien schreef vijf ridderromans rond het Arthur-thema: Érec et Énide, Cligès, Lancelot (opgedragen aan de hertogin), Yvain en Perceval (Parcifal) (onvoltooid). Zijn romans zijn vanaf het begin van de 13e eeuw veel vertaald en nagevolgd. Onbekend zijn de bronnen waaruit hij zelf inspiratie heeft geput. Wel is duidelijk dat hij veel belangstelling toonde voor de troubadours en de hoofse liefde. Ook heeft hij werk van Ovidius vertaald of bewerkt. Onder andere Guillaume de Lorris werd door hem geïnspireerd voor diens Roman de la Rose. Chrétien de Troyes was een van de eerste schrijvers die schreef over de Heilige Graal in de ridderroman Perceval (in het Nederlands vertaald door Ard Posthuma, 2006).

Chretien de Troyes

Thus [Perceval] travelled along the bank until he approached a rocky cliff whose base was washed by the water so that he could proceed no farther. He looked up the rushing river and saw a boat coming downstream. Inside the boat were two men, one of them rowing while the other fished with his hook. He stopped and waited for them, excepting them to come down to him. The pair stopped and dropped anchor securely where they were in the middle of the river. The man in the bow was fishing with his hook, baiting the hook with a small fish scarcely larger than a minnow. The youth, not knowing what to do or where to find a crossing, greeted them. "Instruct me, sirs, if there is a ford or bridge across this river," he addressed them. And the man fishing answered him. "No, dear brother, by my faith. Nor is there for twenty leagues upstream or down, believe me, a boat larger than the one we are in, and this would not carry five men. It is impossible, then, to cross on horseback. There is no ferry, bridge, or ford." "In God's name, tell me now where I may find lodging," he asked. "You will need that and more, I believe," he answered him. "I shall lodge you tonight. Ride up there by that cleft in the rock. When you reach the top, you will see in the valley ahead of you, near rivers and woods, a house where I live." At once he rode off and reached the top. And when he came to the summit of the hill, he looked out beyond and saw nothing by sky and earth. "What did I come in search of? Folly and nonsense!" he said. "God today give evil mishap to the man who sent me here! He set me certainly on a good route when he told me that I would see a house once I was here at the top. Fisherman who told me that, you were too deceitful if you spoke to me with evil intent."

In a valley ahead of him, he then caught sight of the top of a tower emerging. From here to Beirut could be found no tower so beautiful or so well situated. Constructed of grey stone, it was square and flanked by turrets. The great hall stood in front of the tower, and the living quarters in front of the hall. The youth rode down in that direction, declaring that the man who had sent him there had set him on a good route. Thus he proceeded toward the gate. Before the gateway he found a drawbridge lowered. As he rode across the drawbridge, four young attendants came to meet him. Two relieved him of his armour; the third led his horse off to give it hay and oats; the fourth placed on him a new cloak of fresh rich wool. They then led him to the living quarters. From here to Limoges, be certain, anyone in search of living quarters would find or see none so splendid. The youth stayed there until the lord sent two attendants for him. He accompanied them into the hall, which was square, being as long as it was wide. In the centre of the hall he saw, seated on a bed, a man of worth, handsome and with greying hair.

A sable cap, black as a mulberry with a silk band around the top, covered the man's head, and his robe was of the same material. Before the man, in the middle of four columns, brightly blazed a great fire of dry logs. Four hundred men could have been comfortably seated around the fire. The high and wide solid columns that supported the hood of the chimney were made of heavy bronze. Before the lord came the attendants, one on each side, leading the guest to him. The moment the lord saw his guest approaching, he greeted him. "Friend," he said, "take no offence if I do not rise to meet you, for I cannot move without pain." "In God's name, sir, do not speak of it." he answered. "God grant me joy and health, I take no offence." The worthy man made such an effort for the youth that he managed to lift himself up. "Friend, have no fear. Come near me," he said. "Take a seat here at my side, as I bid you." The youth seated himself next to him, and the worthy man asked him: "Friend, where did you come from today?" "Sir," he replied, "this morning I left Beaurepaire, as it is called." "So help me God, you travelled a long distance today," exclaimed the worthy man. "You must have left this morning before the watchman had blown his horn to mark the dawn." "No, the six o'clock bell had already rung, I assure you," replied the youth.

While they thus talked, a young attendant entered at the door, a sword hanging by the rings from his neck. He handed it to the wealthy man. The latter, drawing it out halfway, clearly saw where it had been made, this being engraved on the blade. He also noticed that it was made of such fine steel that it could not break into pieces except by a singular peril known only to the man who had forged it. The attendant who had brought it spoke. "Sir, the blonde maiden, your niece who is so beautiful, sends you this gift. You have never seen so noble a sword of its length and width. Bestow it on whomever you please. But my lady would be most happy if it were given to one who would use it well. The man who forged the sword made only three, and since he is about to die, he can never again forge another sword like this one." The lord invested the young stranger with the sword, holding it by the rings, which were worth a treasure. The sword's hilt was of the finest gold of Arabia or of Greece, the scabbard of gold brocade from Venice. The sword, thus richly decked, the lord presented to the youth. "Dear sir, this sword was appointed and destined for you. And I wish you to have it. Buckle it on and test it," he said. The youth thanked him for it and buckled it on, not fastening it too tight. He then unsheathed the naked blade and, after holding it a little, put it back into its scabbard. You can be certain that it greatly suited him at his side and, even more, in his grasp. In time of need, it surely seemed, he would use it as a nobleman might. Behind him, around the brightly blazing fire, he noticed a knight bachelor, and recognized him as the one guarding his armour. He entrusted him with his sword, and the knight kept it for him.

The youth then took his seat again at the side of the lord, who showed him great honour. And about them was light as bright as candles may furnish in a hall.

While they talked of this and that, a young attendant entered the room, holding a shining lance by the middle of its shaft. He passed between the fire and those seated on the bed, and all present saw the shining lance with its shining head.

A drop of blood fell from the tip of the lance, and that crimson drop ran all the way down to the attendant's hand. The youth who had come there that night beheld this marvel and refrained from asking how this could be.

He remembered the warning of the man who had made him a knight, he who had instructed and taught him to guard against speaking too much.

The youth feared that if he asked a question, he would be taken for a peasant. He therefore asked nothing. Two more attendants then entered, bearing in their hands candelabra of fine gold inlaid with niello.

Handsome indeed were the attendants carrying the candelabra. On each candelabrum then candles, at the very least, were burning.

Accompanying the attendants was a beautiful, gracious, and elegantly attired young lady holding between her two hands a bowl. When she entered holding this serving bowl, such brilliant illumination appeared that the candles lost their brightness just as the stars and the moon do with the appearance of the sun.
Following her was another young lady holding a silver carving platter.

The bowl, which came first, was of fine pure gold, adorned with many kinds of precious jewels, the richest and most costly found on sea or land, those on the bowl undoubtedly more valuable than any others. Exactly as the lance had done, the bowl and the platter passed in front of the bed and went from one room into another. The youth watched them pass and dared not ask who was served from the bowl, for always he took to heart the words of the wise and worthy man. I fear harm may result, for I have often heard it said that there are times when too much silence is the same as too much speech. Whether for good or ill, he did not ask them any questions. The lord ordered the attendants to spread the tablecloths and offer water for washing. Those whose duty and practice it was to perform such service obeyed. While the lord and the youth washed their hands in warm water, two attendants carried in a wide ivory table, which, as the story relates, was of one solid piece. They held it for a moment before the lord and the youth; then two more attendants came with two trestles. The wood of the trestles had two virtues that caused the pieces to last forever: since they were made of ebony, no one ever feared the wood's rotting or burning; these two dangers did not affect this wood. The table top was positioned on the trestles, and the tablecloth laid. What can I say of the tablecloth? No legate, cardinal, or pope ever ate on one so white. The first course was a haunch of venison peppered and cooked in fat. There was no scarcity of clear wines of varied quality to drink from gold cups.

An attendant who had brought out the peppered haunch of venison carved it before them on the silver platter, and placed the slices on a large piece of flat bread for the two men. Meanwhile the bowl passed before them again, and the youth did not ask who was served from the bowl. He was afraid because of the worthy man, who had gently warned him against speaking too much, and, remembering this, had his heart always set on it. But he kept silent longer than was necessary. As each course was served, he saw the bowl pass before them completely uncovered, but did not know who was served from it, and he would have liked to know. Yet he would definitely inquire of one of the court attendants, he said to himself, before his departure, although he would wait until morning, when he took leave of the lord and his entire household. The matter was thus postponed, and he set about drinking and eating. Pleasing and delicious courses and wines were brought to the table. The meal was sumptuous and splendid. That evening both the worthy man and the youth with him were served with food usually on the table of counts, kings, and emperors.

After supper the two passed the evening in conversation, while the attendants readied the beds and prepared some very costly fruit for the night: dates, figs, and nutmegs, pears and pomegranates, and, for the end, sweet digestives and Alexandrian ginger. Later they drank many fine drafts of sweet wine made without honey or pepper, good mulberry wine, and clear syrup. The youth, unaccustomed to all this, was astonished. "Friend, it is time this evening to go to bed," the worthy man said to him. "I shall, if you don't mind, go and lie in my chamber. And you will lie down outside here when you wish. I do not have use of my body; and so must be carried." Thereupon four strong and agile servants came from one chamber, took hold of the corners of the bedspread where the worthy man lay, and carried him where they were told, into his chamber. Other attendants had stayed with the youth to attend his needs and serve him. When he wished, they removed his leggings, undressed him, and placed him on a bed fitted with delicate white linen sheets.

The youth slept until daybreak the next morning, by which time the household had risen. He opened his eyes and looked about, and seeing no one there, had to get up alone. However upset he was, he rose, having no alternative. Without waiting for aid from anyone, he put on his leggings, then went to fetch his arms, which he found at the head of the table where they had been brought for him. When he had donned all his armour, he walked toward the doors of the chambers he had seen open the night before. But he set out in vain, for he found them firmly shut. He shouted and knocked hard; no one opened up for him or made reply. After all his shouts, he walked to the door of the great hall, discovered it open, and went all the way down the stairs. He found his horse saddled, and saw his lance and his shield leaning against the wall. Then he mounted and rode all about, not meeting or seeing squire, attendant, or servant.

He went straight to the gateway, where he found the drawbridge lowered. It had been left in this position so that nothing would stop him from crossing unhindered when he arrived there....