"Parzival" is a major medieval German epic poem attributed to the poet Wolfram von Eschenbach, written in the Middle High German language. The poem is commonly dated circa the first quarter of the 13th century. The poem is, in part, an adaptation of Chretien de Troyes’ "Perceval, the Story of the Grail" and mainly centers on the Arthurian hero Parzival (Percival in English) and his long quest for the Holy Grail, following his initial failure to achieve it. A long middle section is devoted to Parzival's friend Gawan and his adventures defending himself from a false murder charge and winning the hand of the maiden Orgeluse.

The poem continues to be read in Middle High German and translated into modern languages around the world. Among the most striking elements of the text are the scope of its plot and its emphasis on the virtues of compassion and spiritual questioning.


"Parzival" is divided into sixteen books, each composed of several thirty-line stanzas of rhyming couplets. The stanza lengths fit perfectly onto a manuscript page. For the subject matter, Wolfram von Eschenbach relied on the never-completed Grail romance, "Perceval, the Story of the Grail" by Chrétien de Troyes. Although Wolfram claimed that a certain Kyot the Provençal supplied an additional source, this claim is not taken seriously by many scholars.


Parzival’s heroic traits are (eventually) his empathy and wisdom, ultimately manifested in his final attempt to heal Anfortas, the Fisher King. His initial flaws are his youthful ignorance and selfishness: his mother dies in his absence, which he only later discovers from his cousin Sigune.

Background and early life

Book I opens with the death of King Gandin, Parzival's grandfather. His oldest son, Galoes, receives the kingdom but offers his brother Gahmuret the land of Anjou in fief. However, Gahmuret departs to gain renown. He travels to the African kingdom of Zazamanc, whose capital is under siege from two different armies. Gahmuret offers his services to the city, and his offer is accepted by Queen Belacane. He conquers the invaders, marries Queen Belacane, and becomes king of Zazamanc and Azagouc. Growing bored with peace, Gahmuret steals away on a ship, abandoning his pregnant wife. Belacane later gives birth to a son, Feirefiz, whose skin is black with white spots.

In Book II, Gahmuret returns to the West, where he meets and marries Queen Herzeloyde. Ever restless, however, he soon returns to fight for the Baruch in the Far East, where he is later killed by a treacherous acquaintance.

Book III tells of how the pregnant Herzeloyde, grief-stricken at her husband's death, retires to a secluded forest dwelling and vows to protect her new child, Parzival, from the ways of knighthood at all costs by raising him entirely ignorant of chivalry and the ways of men. His seclusion is shattered by four knights passing who tell him of King Arthur's court at Camelot. Enamored, he decides to go join Arthur's court. His mother is heartbroken at the news of his decision but allows him to depart, dressing him in fool's garments in the hopes that the knights will refuse to take him in. Soon after his departure she dies, utterly bereft.

Beginnings of Knighthood

The first part of the journey takes place completely in the world of King Arthur, where the colourful and strange appearance of Parzival awakens the interest of the court. After becoming entangled in courtly intrigue between Duke Orilus and his wife Jesuchte, he meets his cousin Sigune, who reveals to him his true name. Parzival also fights and kills Ither, the red knight. Putting on the red knight's armor, he rides away from the court and meets Gurnemanz, from whom he learns the duties of a knight, especially self-control and moderation. Gurnemanz also gives him the advice to avoid curiosity.

In Book IV, Parzival meets and falls in love with the maiden Condwiramurs when he lends his aid to her town, which is under siege. They marry, but he leaves soon afterward to seek news of his mother.

In Book V, he arrives at the castle of the Grail. He does not ask his host, the Fisher King Anfortas, about his mysterious wound, however, or about the magical object before him, remembering Gurnemanz's advice to be not too curious. The next morning Parzival finds himself completely alone in a totally deserted castle, leading him to speculate that his experiences of the previous night were an illusion conjured by malevolent spirits to snare him.

Return to Arthur's court

Parzival returns to the world of Arthur and again meets Sigune, who now explains to him that his mother Herzeloyde is the sister of the dangerously ill Anfortas, king of the grail. He also meets Jeschute again, who was unwittingly humiliated by him the last time, and he defeats Orilus in a single combat. Eventually Parzival renews the marriage of Jeschute and Orilus.

Parzival returns in Book VI as a perfect potential member of the Round Table to King Arthur. But during a festive meal, Cundrie, messenger of the grail, appears, curses Parzival in the name of the grail and claims that Parzival had lost his honour. Parzival immediately leaves the court, even though he is not able to understand his guilt.

For a while (Books VII-VIII) Gawan takes over as the central figure of the book, trying to clear his name of a false charge of murder.

The Grail quest

In Book IX, we learn that Parzival fights for the good, but he suffers from his distance to God. After nearly five years of wandering and fighting, from combat he gains a new horse, one owned by a grail knight, and this horse leads him one Good Friday to Trevrizent to whom he introduces himself as a regretful sinner. He stays with this holy man for fourteen days. From him he learns about the hidden meaning of life and the true meaning of the grail.

With that action Parzival makes the first step to a life of spiritual understanding. Through his loneliness and through his yearning for the grail and for Condwiramurs he puts himself outside the world of Arthur. He is called to another world, that of the grail.

Books X-XIV tell of Gawan's attempts to win the hand of the maiden Orgeluse.

In Book XV, Parzival fights with a knight who is the first to seem more adept even than he. Parzival's sword breaks, but instead of slaying him, the other knight sees no honor in such a feat and both retire to the grass. There they learn that they share the same father. "I was against my own self," says Parzival to Feirefiz, his brother from afar. Again Cundrie appears and proclaims now that Parzival's name has appeared on the grail, marking him as the new grail king.

During his journey to the grail in Book XVI Parzival reunites with his wife and takes Feirefiz as a companion. Feirefiz cannot see the grail, but he can see the grail maiden and promptly falls in love with her.

cholarly debates

Some details of the epic have inspired controversy, partly because the narrative is interspersed with humorous anecdotes by Wolfram. It is no longer clear whether many of the claims he makes are intended to be taken as literal fact or as tongue-in-cheek jests.

For example, in one passage he claims to be totally illiterate: whether the original poem was composed as part of an oral tradition or as a written work is a subject of debate among scholars. Wolfram also claimed that a lost Arabic manuscript by a descendant of Solomon was discovered by a certain Kyot the Provençal, though this may have been his way of parodying the dubious veracity of many other Grail texts.Fact|date=June 2008

Events in the main sequence of "Parzival" (excluding the narrative of Gahmuret) take place in what is now called Great Britain. There are difficulties in more specific identification, which pose some fundamental geographical problems; scholars both medieval and modern are divided as to whether or not many of the places visited by Parzival are real.

Modern influence

Ludwig II of Bavaria was inspired by the poem, and Singers' Hall in his castle Neuschwanstein is decorated with tapestries and paintings depicting the story. He was also patron to the composer Richard Wagner, and encouraged him to create the opera "Parsifal" based on the epic. He then commissioned eight private performances of the work. Television Hill singer/songwriter Rob Wilson's 2008 solo release Strange Familiar features a song inspired by themes from Wolfram's "Parzival" called "Fordham's Wound".


* Otto Springer. "Wolfram's "Parzival" in "Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages", Roger S. Loomis (ed.). Clarendon Press: Oxford University. 1959. ISBN 0-19-811588-1
* G. Ronald Murphy, SJ. "Gemstone of Paradise: The Holy Grail in Wolfram's Parzival". Oxford University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-19-530639-2

Editions and translations

The standard edition of the text is Karl Lachmann's, 1926. This is the basis for all modern editions, including:
* Wolfram von Eschenbach, "Parzival". De Gruyter 2003. ISBN 3-11-017859-1.

English translations:
* Wolfram von Eschenbach, "Parzival with Titurel and The Love-lyrics", trans. Cyril Edwards. Boydell Press, 2004. ISBN 1-84384-005-7.
* Wolfram von Eschenbach, "Parzival", trans. A.T.Hatto. Penguin 1980. ISBN 0-14-044361-4.
* Wolfram von Eschenbach, "Parzival, A Romance of the Middle Ages", trans. Helen M. Mustard and Charles E. Passage. Vintage Books, 1961. ISBN 0-394-70188-7

Modern German translations:
* Wolfram von Eschenbach, "Parzival". De Gruyter 2003. ISBN 3-11-017859-1. With prose translation by Peter Knecht.
* Wolfram von Eschenbach, "Parzival", (2 vols). Deutscher Klassiker Verlag 2006. ISBN 3-618-68007-4. With verse translation by Dieter Kühn.
* Wolfram von Eschenbach, "Parzival", (2 vols). Reclam 1986 ISBN 3-15-003682-8 und ISBN 3-15-003681-X. With translation by Wolfgang Spiewok.
* Hermann Reichert: Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival, für Anfänger. Wien: Praesens Verlag, 2., völlig überarbeitete Aufl. 2007. ISBN 978-3-7069-0358-5.

External links

* [ Literary Encyclopedia entry on "Parzival"]
* [ Electronic version of a "Parzival"-manuscript from the "Bibliotheca Palatina" (Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg)] -from the workplace of Diebold Lauber in Hagenau around 1443-1446.
* [ E-text of "Parzival" ('Bibliotheca Augustana')]
* [ Article entitled "Wounded Masculinity: Parsifal and The Fisher King Wound"] The symbolism of the story as it relates to the Wounded Masculinity of Men by Richard Sanderson M.Ed., B.A.
* [ Text of "Parzival" on]

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