The Vulgate Cycle
Also Called The Lancelot-Grail Cycle
BM Addl MS 10292-10294
The five-part romance which was composed by several authors--Cistercian monks in France--though attributed to Walter Map--from 1215-1235. It forms what has, in the past, been called "The Vulgate Cycle":
Its main innovation is its invention of the character of Sir Galahad, the saintly knight, replacing the naive and worldy Perceval.
The storyline can be derived from Robert de Boron's "lost" romance Le Roman du Graal. When I say it is missing, I mean that the "romance"--the poetic version--is missing. There exists a prose version, which verly clearly corresponds to the actions of the L-G:
Of these, the first survives, and forms a clear parallel to the Estoire del Saint Graal. The second and third only survive in prose form; the "Perceval" also contains a final portion called "Mort Artu." The "Lancelot" section is based on an early Lancelot du Lac, which still names Perceval as the Grail hero, and only goes so far as the death of Galehot.
The cycle is found in three manuscripts, BM Addl MS 10292, 10293, and 10294. Though the author at one point claims to be the famous courtier Walter Map, it also claims to be written originally by a monk in 717--this is highly unlikely. As for Walter Map, he lived during the reign of Henry II of England, and so would have died before the 1220 date of the text's composition.
The earliest modern name for the cycle was the Vulgate Cycle, Oskar Sommars' term for what is now called the Lancelot-Grail Cycle. Sommars was the first to edit the five-part romance into a modern typeface, published in 1907. This seven-volume work is now extremely difficult to find; copies go for $1500. The name derives from the fact that the romance was written in the "vulgar" language; of course, almost all romance is written in a "vulgar" language--that is why it's called romance.
Recently, Norris J. Lacy of Penn State headed a group of translators working with Sommars' diplomatic edition to produce a five-volume translation. Though sometimes hard to find, it is worth obtaining, though each volume does run around $60.
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Mary Jones © 2004