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Parzival (Penguin Classics)

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Book Overview

Parzival, an Arthurian romance completed by Wolfram von Eschenbach in the first years of the thirteenth century, is one of the foremost works of German literature and a classic that can stand with the... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

I adore this translation.

Yes, this is serious literature: a very early 'Bildungsroman' of some historical and cultural import. But it is also delightful, and in places, an absolute scream. Hilarious & entertaining as well as beautiful. And while I've not read other translations (except to note that one in modern German, of which I have read a passage or two, appears to be somewhat dry), I have read big swaths of a published version of the Middle High German original text. The fact that this is a prose translation takes away from the gloriousness of the tale *not one bit*. If you like a good yarn involving knights, their entourages, their quests, and the unusual characters they meet in their wanderings -- read this translation. Hatto comes to the text with a lovely feel for language. And the story moves. You don't have to be a philologist to groove on it.

Beneath the medieval skin

Hatto gives his usual accurate, precise and elegant English prose rendering of this classic German epic poem of the early 13th century. Wolfram's Parzival is a more coherent and well-structured narrative than the Niebelungenlied, and is more courtly and refined than the Icelandic sagas of the same era. It is a lively, colorful insight into 13th century European culture. This, along with its place in the evolution of the Arthurian and Grail legends, is its main source of interest to modern readers. Wolfram is particularly knowledgeable about military affairs and you can learn a lot from this story about what it was like (or supposed to be like) to be a knight at the time. The Grail of this story is a stone. In Chretien's earlier story, on which Wolfram's is based, the Grail was a bowl. In other stories, it doubles as the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper and the vessel used to catch the dripping blood at the crucifixion. In our own time it has served as a boon to conspiracy theorists and an excuse to cast Sean Connery in an Indiana Jones movie. Next...well, who knows what's next? Parzival combines folk traditions - the Grail's power of providing unlimited food and drink is a favorite folk motif, most famously with the magic porridge pot - with knightly adventure, and adds a dash of mysticism. It is no more than a dash, and I think subsequent commentators have read too much into this aspect. Certainly it is a coming-of-age story and a tale of redemption, but the spiritual edifice that has since been built around it seems to me a bit of a stretch. At the time of writing this review, youth counselors in Britain are using Parzival as an allegory to teach the true meaning of manhood. Good luck to them. Although Parzival does not have the continuity errors of the Niebelungenlied, individual sentences are sometimes mangled beyond comprehension. Presumably they sounded more acceptable when recited as poetry. Hatto wisely avoids the temptation to tidy these passages up and translates them warts and all. History books can only take us so far in an understanding of a previous age. To get beneath the skin, to understand the anxieties, hopes, prejudices and beliefs of the people who lived then, we must share the stories that they told. In Parzival, we see how medieval man related to his own masculinity, his fellow man, his womenfolk and his god.

Not 'Rome without the text'

Although being the inspiration of Richard Wagner's opera, this book, itself inspired by Chretien de Troyes's 'Perceval', portraits everything except 'the pure fool' (Der reine Tor): it begins with a rape and a manslaughter. Its main themes are the search for the Grail and the redemption of Amfortas, but those themes cover only a small part of the whole story. Another important character is the knight Gawan. The epic is written in forceful, violent and colourful sentences, sometimes worth the surrealistic demoniac paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. It paints the not always heroic or galant deads of the chivalry of the Middle Ages with ordinary brawls, tournaments and other (love) contests. The highlight is the masterful and vivid description of the nearly unsurmountable difficulties for the capture of 'Chastel Merveile' (the Marvellous Castle). This epic is also not what Nietzsche said about Wagner's opera 'Rome without the text', for the author states that 'today very few people want to change earthly wealth for heavenly glory. I do not know one man, or one woman.' This ambitious and impressive work is by any means one of the highlights of world literature.

Ian Myles Slater on: A Quirky Genius, An Engaging Oddity

There seem to be currently available three complete English translations of Wolfram von Eschenbach's Middle High German "Parzival," an early, and slightly eccentric, version of the Grail Quest. Wolfram, both a knight and a (slightly eccentric) poet from thirteenth-century southern Germany, is the author of this long Arthurian romance, of a long Carolingian epic, "Willehalm," and some shorter works. His complaints about rival poets, and their replies to him, have turned out to be clues to relative dating of their works. On this and external evidence, Wolfram's poetic career has been dated between about 1195 and 1225; with the almost 25,000 lines of "Parzival" being composed between about 1200 and 1210. The most recent translation, Cyril Edwards' "Parzival: With Titurel and the Love Lyrics," I have not yet seen. It includes a fragmentary related work, and Wolfram's contributions to the "Minnesaenger" (love poetry) tradition, which makes it attractive. The price of the hardcover is against starting with it! A more reasonably-priced paperback, aimed at the student market, would be a winner, if the translation is good. Of the other two, both rendered in prose, the older is "Parzival: A Romance of the Middle Ages" (usually cited without the subtitle, in my experience), translated by Helen M. Mustard and Charles E. Passage, and published by Vintage Books (Random House), in 1961. With an Introduction, Additional Notes, an Index of Persons, and a Genealogical Table, I found it an attractive entrance to Wolfram-studies, and Middle High German literature beyond the "Nibelungenlied." The language of the translation is relatively colloquial, and has been criticized as both inexact in its use of hunting and heraldic terms, and perhaps too American. A more valid criticism, in my opinion, pointed out that a good deal of the introduction is spent discussing discarded theories floated by Jessie L. Weston (of "From Ritual to Romance") in connection with her verse translation at the end of the nineteenth century. Since Weston's version was the one most likely to be familiar to Mustard and Passage's original readers, this made a certain amount of sense, but they might have mentioned that her views were no longer taken very seriously. The cover art is a medieval "portrait" of the armored Wolfram, anonymous under his knightly helmet. Almost twenty years later, A.T. Hatto (on whose review of the Vintage translation I have been drawing) produced his own version, in the Penguin Classics (1980); the cover art uses manuscript illuminations of scenes from the poem. Like Hatto's "Nibelungenlied" translation, it is in prose, and has, instead of an extended discussion before reading, an appended "Introduction to a Second Reading," along with a Glossary of Personal Names, and a List of Works in English for Further Reading. The critical discussion is excellent, and postponing it until a reader has a chance to form an opinion is an interesting idea. At least the student won't

Wolfram's story of the Fisher King is by far the best.....

Wolfram's story of Parzival is the best of all of the "quest for the Grail" legends because it is the most complete and incorporates all of the older elements of a highly derived tale into one wonderfully written work. The Grail scenes are fantastic, mysterious, and captivating. The development of the characters is by far the best of all of the many versions of the tale. The adventures of Parzival are filled with fantastic creatures and outrageous events. When Parzival completes his quest, the reader is left exhausted but satisfied by Wolfram's engaging story. Highly recommended for the student of Arthurian literature or for anyone who wants to know the complete story of the Fisher King and the knight who saves him.
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