Parcefal, Parceval, Parcevalle, Parcevau, Parcevax, Parcheval li Galois, Parcival, Parsifal, Parsival, Partzefal, Parzival, Perceval de Gales, - li Galois, - the Welshman; Percevale, Percevas, Percevax, Percevelle, Perchevael, Perchevaus, Perchevel, Perciauales, Percival, Percyvell, Peredur, Perlesvaus, Perlevax, Persevall, Persevax, Prenzival, Pressivalle, Prezzivale
Percivale's mother had taught him that devils were the vilest things in existence, God and the angels the most beautiful.
While out in the woods, the boy heard the crashing and clanking of a party of five knights, and at first thought that such a din mean devils: he determined to use his javelins against them. On seeing them in their shining armor, however, he changed his mind, deciding that the handsomest one must be God and the others angels. He promptly prostrated himself before them, whereupon they thought him fearful.
Trying to calm his supposed fears, their leader questioned him about another party of five knights, with three damsels, which they were pursuing; the boy, on being informed they were knights and not angels, answered his interlocutor's repeated question only with questions of his own - "What is this thing? That thing?" Showing remarkable patience, the knight answered all the lad's queries - "My lance. My shield." - and so on, explaining how they were used, and eventually revealing that King Arthur had dubbed him knight and given him his arms less than five years previously.
His patience was rewarded when Percivale finally told him where they were - Valbone - and took them to the harrowers and ox-drivers in his mother's oat fields, whom he questioned about the party the knights were seeking. The ox-drivers answered that they had ridden through this same pass that very day. The boy translated this information for his new idols and asked where the king who made knights could be found. The knight replied that Arthur was presently at Carlisle, after which he and his companions pursued their quarry right out of Chrétien's romance Perceval.
Chrétien does not tell us who any of these thirteen were, though at some point someone seems to have found reason to identify the chief one with Ywaine. Nor does he tell us why the five Percivale met were pursuing the others - to rescue the damsels, simply to catch up with friends, or..? I do not, however, find much evidence of emergency or hostility in their words. It might be tempting to identify them with the thirteen pentiens who long afterward directed Percivale to his hermit uncle, but in this latter party the genders are reversed: ten ladies and three knights.
Percivale's Charcoal Burner
When Percivale first struck out for King Arthur's court at Carduel, he asked directions of a charcoal burner whom he met driving his donkey. The charcoal burner politely gave him not only directions, but news of King Arthur's recent battle with and defeat of King Rion of the Isles.
A note of Chrétien's translator Cline reminds me that this man is the one and only charcoal burner (and one of the rather few peasants with speaking parts) to be found in Chrétien's Arthurian works, and informs me that he may have been inspired by an actual charcoal burner who made it into the historical record by dint of finding and returning the young lost prince Philip-Augustus in mid-August of 1179.
See Fisher King's Niece.
Percivale's Emerald Ring
More properly speaking, this was the ring the Haughty Knight of the Heath gave his damsel. Young Percivale, just having left home for the first time to find King Arthur's court, stole it from her in (willful?) misinterpretation of his mother's parting instruction.
I cannot tell what eventually became of it; while the Haughty Knight and Percivale speak of it before they finally fight, they seem to say nothing more of it after the battle is decided.
Percivale's Hermit Uncle
Directed by thirteen penitents, Percivale finds this holy man living deep in the woods. The hermit is not completely alone: he is beginning the Good Friday service together with a priest and an acolyte. Whether they live with him or have come only for the day I cannot tell, nor can I say whether the hermit is himself an ordained priest, though he seems to have pre-eminence over the undoubted priest mentioned so briefly.
The hermit turns out to be Percivale's uncle on the maternal side, and the Fisher King's uncle as well, the Fisher King's father being his brother. The hermit gives Percivale confirmation of his mother's death, explains the meaning of much (not quite all) that Percivale saw at the Grail castle, and provides him with basic spiritual instruction, including a secret prayer - replete with many important names of God - not to be used except in case of dire fear.
I see some possibility that this episode may have fulfilled Percivale's quest to Chrétien's own satisfaction. If not, then perhaps the secret prayer was to have saved Percivale when Trebuchet's Sword shattered (assuming that its shattering in his fight with the Haughty Knight is an interpolation).
I might further remark that the Good Friday services does not, in modern Catholic tradition, include the Mass, nor have I yet found evidence suggesting that it might have included Mass in the 12th century; it strikes me as curious to find Chrétien calling it the Church's highest and holiest ceremony.
Could Percivale's holy uncle in Chrétien's version have become Percivale's holy aunt in Malory's?
Having seen her knightly husband maimed and impoverished, and her two older sons slain as soon as knighted, it seems only natural that she would do her best to keep her youngest son forever innocent of all knowledge of knights or any weapons except hunting javelins. He appears fluent enough, when it suits his purposes, in the language of Arthur's land as well as the language of his own home, so she has not neglected his education entirely, only selectively.
When, despite her pains, he meets five knights, she yields to the inevitable and allows him to set off for court, which suggests that, though manipulative, she is neither tyrannical nor domineering. Her parting advice has been interpreted as calculated to make him appear so oafish he will soon come home again; to me, however, at least in modern translation, it seems sound knightly instruction, though he only half listens and later misinterprets some of it with results both slapstick and tragic.
Probably her strangest move is keeping him in ignorance of his own name, even as she counsels him never to spend too much time with another man before asking his name. As the fifteen-year-old rides away, his mother falls in a dead faint; this, presumably, is the moment she expires of grief, which hardly sounds as if she hopes to see him return.
Her fall gives him no pause at the time, but afterward "My mother told me..." becomes his catch-phrase until Gornemant advises him to stop saying it; returning to check on her obsesses him until he learns that she is indeed dead.
She was sister both to the Fisher King's father and to a holy hermit who eventually told Percivale that the sin of leaving her fallen had caused his failure at the Grail Castle - a thing also told him earlier by his cousin - but her prayer had kept him alive.
In the pommel of Sir Percivale's sword was "a red cross and the sign of the crucifix therein". Apparently this had no special virtue other than reminding Percivale of God. Percivale's sword could cut through a chain and be none the worse (it would be surprising if the other noblest swords did not have this quality also).
Eventually, Percivale received Galahad's sword - apparently Balin's Sword, that Galahad had drawn from the floating block of marble at Camelot, and which he now relinquished becaushe he had acquired King David's Sword. Percivale left his own sword at the hermitage in Carteloise Forest. This would have been the sword with the red cross in the pommel, the one known to be able to cut through chain. Since Percivale died about a year after Galahad in Sarras, Bors could have brought back Balin's Sword from Lancelot.
Hermit King | The Legend of King Arthur
Percivale's Thirteen Penitents
After five years of adventuring in forgetfulness of God, Percivale met a party of three knights and ten ladies on their way back from confession to a holy hermit. The ladies certainly, and perhaps the knights also - the wording of the translations leaves me unsure - were barefoot, hooded, and wearing rough clothing. (D.D.R. Owen says "hair-shirts".)
The knights were unarmed, for, as they told Percivale in their shock at seeing him armed, it was wrong to wear weapons on Good Friday. One of the knights gave Percivale a theological discourse which has been called more profound than the one his hermit uncle was later to give him. The group directed him to the holy man for further spiritual guidance; having just been there themselves, they had marked the path by tying branches. It interests me that this group of thirteen repeats the numbers but reverses the gender count of the group involved in first awakening Percivale to the existence of knights.