(Historia Peredur vab Efrawc)
(ca. 1200)
   Peredur is a Welsh prose ROMANCE retelling the story of King ARTHUR’s knight PERCEVAL. It is one of three romances (with OWAIN and GERAINT AND ENID) regularly included in texts of the MABINOGION. The earliest complete version of Peredur dates from the end of the 13th century, but the romance was most likely originally composed in the late 12th or early 13th century. Some Welsh scholars hold that the text was written in the early 12th century, and therefore predates CHRÉTIEN DE TROYES’s PERCEVAL. The vast majority of scholars, however, believe Chrétien’s poem to be the source of the Welsh romance. The story begins with Peredur’s father, Efrawg, a northern earl who supports himself by holding tournaments.When he and Peredur’s six brothers are killed in knightly combat, the boy’s mother takes him to raise in the wilderness. But one day Peredur meets three knights who awaken his innate interest in chivalry, and he sets out for Arthur’s court to be dubbed a knight himself. At court a strange knight insults the Queen, and Peredur rides off to avenge her, killing the knight with a javelin and taking his armor.
   Seeking knightly adventures, Peredur comes to the castle of an uncle who is lame, and who instructs him on some of the finer points of chivalry, advising him not to be too inquisitive. Riding on to another castle, Peredur finds that it belongs to another of his uncles. Here Peredur witnesses a strange procession of a bleeding lance followed by a platter on which is held a severed head in a pool of blood. But Peredur, following his first uncle’s advice, does not ask what it means. To this point the plot has followed that of Chrétien fairly closely, although Chrétien’s grail (the inspiration for what was to become the HOLY GRAIL in later versions of the legend) is replaced by the severed head. But now a number of different adventures ensue, including a period of instruction in arms by the witches of Caer Loyw (the Welsh name for Gloucester). Peredur then returns to Arthur’s court, where he is accosted by Sir Cei, whom he easily bests and injures. After some time at court, he leaves again for a series of adventures, including competition in a tournament before the Empress of Constantinople.He wins her love and he rules at her side for 14 years. Back again at Arthur’s court, a loathly maiden on a yellow mule enters the court and courteously greets all except Peredur. Him she berates for failing to ask the meaning of the procession at his uncle’s castle.Had he asked the question, he learns, he would have healed the lame king and restored the land. After more adventures Peredur learns that the witches of Caer Loyw had crippled his uncle and had killed his cousin, whose head is carried on the platter. Peredur learns that he is fated to avenge his family.With the help of Arthur and Gwalchmei (the Welsh name for GAWAIN), the witches are destroyed. Peredur has not been admired for its aesthetic quality. Critics have called it “confused” and “chaotic.” In particular it seems weak where it deviates from Chrétien’s story—the years in Constantinople seem irrelevant to the plot, and the replacement of the mysterious grail with the severed head, turning Peredur into a story of family revenge, takes away the wonder and mystery of Chrétien’s tale. But the question of sources has been one that has fascinated scholars, particularly the sources for material not found in Chrétien.Most interesting has been the suggestion that the marriage to the Empress is a manifestation of the mythic Celtic sovereignty ritual, in which the beautiful goddess/queen, who represented sovereignty, chose her own mate.
   ■ Barber, Richard. The Holy Grail: Imagination and Belief. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2004.
   ■ Bromwich, Rachel, A. O. H. Jarman, and Brynley F. Roberts, eds. The Arthur of the Welsh: The Arthurian Legend in Medieval Welsh Literature. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1991.
   ■ Goetinck, Glenys. Peredur: A Study ofWelsh Tradition in the Grail Legends. Cardiff: University of Wales Press for the Language and Literature Committee of the Board of Celtic Studies, 1975.
   ■ Peredur. Introduction and English translation by Meirion Pennar. With illustrations by James Negus. Facsimile of the Welsh text edited by J. Gwenogvryn Evans. Felinfach, U.K.: Llanerch, 1991.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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