The Celtic Literature Collective

The Elucidation

Translated from the Perceval B.N. 12576; it is an anonymous1 prologue appended to Chretien de Troyes' Perceval, and was translated by Sebastian Evans.

By way of a noble commencement thereof, here worshipfully beginneth a Romance of the most delighteous story that may be, to wit, the story of the Graal, the secret whereof no man tell in prose nor rhyme, for such a thing might the story turn out to be before it were all told that every man might be grieved thereof albeit he had in nowise misdone. Wherefore it is that the wise man leaveth it aside and doth simply pass on beyond, for, and Master Blihos lie not, the secret no man should tell.

Now listen to me, all ye my friends, and ye shall hear me set forth the story that shall be right sweet to hearken unto, for therein shall be the seven Wardens that hold governance throughout the whole world, and all the good stories that any hath told according as the writing shall set forthwith; what manner folk the seven Wardens should be, and how they took unto them chief, and whom they took, for never aforetime have ye heard tell the story truly set forth, and how great nose there was and great outcry, and how for what cause was destroyed the rich country of Logres whereof was much talk in days of yore.

The kingdom turned to loss, the land was dead and desert in suchwise as that it was scarce worth a couple of hazelnuts. For they lost the voices of the wells and the damsels that were therein. For no less thing was the service they rendered than this, that scarce any wandered by the way, whether it were at eventide or morning, but that as for drink and victual he would go so far out of his way as to find one of the wells2, and then nought could he ask for of fair victual such as pleased him but in content he should have it all so long as her hand asked in reason. For straightaway, I wis[e], forth of the well issued a damsel-none fairer need he ask-bearing in her hand a cup of gold with baked meats, pastries, and bread, while another damsel bore a white napkin and a dish of gold or silver wherein was the mess which he had come for the mess had asked for. Right for welcome found heat the well, and if so it were that his mess did not please him, diverse other ways they brought him all with one accord served fair and joyously all wayfarers by the roads that come to the wells for victual.

King Amangons, that was evil and craven-hearted, was the first to break the custom, for thereafter did many others the same according to the example they took of the king whose duty it was to protect the damsel and to maintain and guard them within his peace. One of the damsels did he enforce, and to her sore sorrow did away her maidenhead, and carried off from her the cup of gold that he took along with him, and afterward did under him everyday be served thereof. Well deserved he to come to mishap therby. For thenceforth never did the damsel serve any nor none issue forth of that well for no man that might come thither to ask for victual. And all the other damsels only served in such sort as that one should see them.

The other vassals that held of the king's honor, when they beheld this of their lord that he enforced the damsels wheresoever he found them comeliest, did all in the like manner enforce them and carried off the cups of gold in such wise that thereafter did no damsel issue forth of the wells nor none did service. This [wot ye well], my lords, that on this wise did the land turn to its downfall, and an evil end withal did the king make and all other others after him that had wronged the damsels sore annoy. In such sort was the kingdom laid waste that thereforth was no tree leafy. The meadows and the flowers were dried up and the waters were shrunken, nor as their might no man find the Court of the Rich Fisherman that wont to make in the land a glittering glory of gold and silver, of ermines and minever, of rich palls of sandal, of meats and of stuffs, of falcons gentle and merlins and tercels and sparrow-hawks and falcon peregrine.

Then, when the Court was found, throughout the country was so great plenty of all manner o riches such as I have named that I warrant you all men marveled thereat both rich and poor. Thenceforward, as before it had lost every whit, so now in the kingdom of Logres was all the richness of the world.

The Peers of the Table Round came in the time of King Arthur. So good as they were none ever seen. Knights were they so good, so wonderful, so strong, so proud, so puissant, and so hardy, that when they had heard the story of the adventures, they were fain incontinent to recover the wells. All with one accord sware an oath to protect the damsels that had been put out of them and the cups that had been carried away, and to destroy root and branch the kindred of them that had wrought them harm. For these dwelt so night the wells that the damsels came not forth; and if it were that they could catch any of them, her maid they be slain by the sword or hanged. Alms made they and prayer to God that He would recover back the wells in such stablishment as they were aforetime, and that for His honor He would do them the service they asked of Him. Before they bethought them of asking so much, they could find nought. Never a voice could they hear from the wells, nor would no damsel issue therefrom.

But thereafter such adventure found they that they did very mightily marvel thereat. For in the forest found they damsels-fairer none would you ask-with whom were knights right well around upon their destriers that protected the damsels. Together fought they against them that would fain to have carried them off. Many a knight did they make die, for the damsels, I wis, had many a battle in the land. King Arthur thereby lost many a good knight without recovery, and many a good one did he gain thereby, as the story will tell you.

The Knight first conquered had to name Blihos Bliheris, and him did Messier Gauwains overcome through the great prowess whereof he is fulfilled. Him set he to yield himself up to King Arthur; whereupon he mounted his horse as he that hath no mind to tarry; and when he came to the Court did yield himself up, albeit never was he there known of the King, no one did he know. But right good stories he knew, such as that none could ever be weary of the hearkening to his words. They of the Court asked him of the damsels that rode by the forest albeit it were not yet summer, and good right had they so to ask and demand answer. And he knew how to tell them as much so that right willingly they gave ear to him, and many a night together were the damsels and the knights fare to hearken to him and seek him out.

He saith to them: "Much marvel have ye of the damsels that ye see go among these great forests, and never make ye an end of asking in what country we are born. I will tell ye the truth hereof. All we are born of the damsels, and never in the world were fairer, whom King Amangons did enforce. Never on any day of the world shall those wrongs be amended. The Peers of the Table Round of their courtesy and honor, of their prowess and valiance, are far by free to recover the wells whereof these be the squires and knights and nobles. I will tell you the sum of the matter. These all shall journey in common, and the damsels in likewise that wander at large through this country by forest and field behoveth it thus to faire until such time as God shall give them to find the Court from whence shall come the joy whereby the land shall again be made bright. To them that shall seek the Court, shall befall adventures such as where never found nor told in this land afore." Much to their liking was this that he said and sung, unto them and right well were they pleased...

1. While it is anonymous, there is some arguement (mainly from Jessie Weston) that the poem was composed by Blihos Bliheris himself, who may be the historical Bledericus mentioned by Gerald of Wales as a storyteller in the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine. As such, he may have decided to write himself into the grail legend. Of course, this is only theory.

2. Emma Jung points out that the word translated as "wells" can also mean "burial mound." As such, these women of the well may indeed be women of the mounds--i.e. the Sidhe of Irish mythology. Fitting, of course, as the Irish tales are full of such women, as they are also full of such well-women, who may be the same thing.

Sources of the Grail. ed. by John Matthews. Herndon, VA: Lindisfarne Books, 1997.

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