‘The Elucidation’

The following is appended as a (?13thC) prologue to a copy Chrétien de Troyes’ Perceval, le Conte du Graal in the French medieval manuscript known as  Mons 331/206 (olim 4568). Taken from Mary Jones’ fantastic website – translated by Sebastian Evans:

…. 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 (AP: the Brythonic lands) 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 wells, 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 wise, 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 he at 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…

The narrator of the introduction or ‘elucidation’ then comments upon the loss of the pagan religion from Logres (Britain) and the goes on to lament how the ‘women of the wells’ were deposed. It is a fitting introduction to the archetypal Grail romance, and seemingly evokes the spirit of the Seven Streams of Poetry said in Irish mythology to issue from the Otherworld wells (of Connla and Segais, for example). Here the term used is the ‘Seven Wardens’, the mysteries of which are supposed to be revealed within the narrative of ‘Percival’, with its tales of the Fisher King (Manannan), magical cups, and maidens who occupy magical pools of water…

All text © 2014 The Atlantic Religion, except where stated.

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