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The Grail: From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol

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The medieval legend of the Grail, a tale about the search for supreme mystical experience, has never ceased to intrigue writers and scholars by its wildly variegated forms: the settings have ranged from Britain to the Punjab to the Temple of Zeus at Dodona; the Grail itself has been described as the chalice used by Christ at the Last Supper, a stone with miraculous youth-p The medieval legend of the Grail, a tale about the search for supreme mystical experience, has never ceased to intrigue writers and scholars by its wildly variegated forms: the settings have ranged from Britain to the Punjab to the Temple of Zeus at Dodona; the Grail itself has been described as the chalice used by Christ at the Last Supper, a stone with miraculous youth-preserving virtues, a vessel containing a man's head swimming in blood; the Grail has been kept in a castle by a beautiful damsel, seen floating through the air in Arthur's palace, and used as a talisman in the East to distinguish the chaste from the unchaste. In his classic exploration of the obscurities and contradictions in the major versions of this legend, Roger Sherman Loomis shows how the Grail, once a Celtic vessel of plenty, evolved into the Christian Grail with miraculous powers. Loomis bases his argument on historical examples involving the major motifs and characters in the legends, beginning with the Arthurian legend recounted in the 1180 French poem by Chrtien de Troyes. The principal texts fall into two classes: those that relate the adventures of the knights in King Arthur's time and those that account for the Grail's removal from the Holy Land to Britain. Written with verve and wit, Loomis's book builds suspense as he proceeds from one puzzle to the next in revealing the meaning behind the Grail and its legends.


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The medieval legend of the Grail, a tale about the search for supreme mystical experience, has never ceased to intrigue writers and scholars by its wildly variegated forms: the settings have ranged from Britain to the Punjab to the Temple of Zeus at Dodona; the Grail itself has been described as the chalice used by Christ at the Last Supper, a stone with miraculous youth-p The medieval legend of the Grail, a tale about the search for supreme mystical experience, has never ceased to intrigue writers and scholars by its wildly variegated forms: the settings have ranged from Britain to the Punjab to the Temple of Zeus at Dodona; the Grail itself has been described as the chalice used by Christ at the Last Supper, a stone with miraculous youth-preserving virtues, a vessel containing a man's head swimming in blood; the Grail has been kept in a castle by a beautiful damsel, seen floating through the air in Arthur's palace, and used as a talisman in the East to distinguish the chaste from the unchaste. In his classic exploration of the obscurities and contradictions in the major versions of this legend, Roger Sherman Loomis shows how the Grail, once a Celtic vessel of plenty, evolved into the Christian Grail with miraculous powers. Loomis bases his argument on historical examples involving the major motifs and characters in the legends, beginning with the Arthurian legend recounted in the 1180 French poem by Chrtien de Troyes. The principal texts fall into two classes: those that relate the adventures of the knights in King Arthur's time and those that account for the Grail's removal from the Holy Land to Britain. Written with verve and wit, Loomis's book builds suspense as he proceeds from one puzzle to the next in revealing the meaning behind the Grail and its legends.

30 review for The Grail: From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol

  1. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    I delight in the irony that I, who have become fascinated with the legend of the Grail, first learned about it through Monty Python. I watched that great comedy troupe's interpretation of the legend associated with King Arthur many times before reading the classic texts. In this wonderful book, perhaps the greatest Arthurian scholar of the last century, Roger Sherman Loomis, through meticulous research, explores the legends of the Grail. At times, the writing can be dull, a bit too scholarly, but I delight in the irony that I, who have become fascinated with the legend of the Grail, first learned about it through Monty Python. I watched that great comedy troupe's interpretation of the legend associated with King Arthur many times before reading the classic texts. In this wonderful book, perhaps the greatest Arthurian scholar of the last century, Roger Sherman Loomis, through meticulous research, explores the legends of the Grail. At times, the writing can be dull, a bit too scholarly, but this scholar wishes to be thorough. He has read the various sources, traced their origin through stories in French back through Brittany onto the island of Great Britain to the Celtic regions in the west (mostly Wales) and across the Irish Sea to the Emerald Isle itself and the ancient echtra of the poets of that enchanted land. The book may be dry, but it is an essential resource for those who want to understand how the Grail tales evolved to what they later become... and leaving us to ponder on what they have had such an appeal for so long.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Barnaby Thieme

    In "The Grail," one of the twentieth century's most important scholars of Arthurian legend sets out to prove that Grail legend derives principally from Celtic prototypes and antecedents. His putative opponent is the scholar who, like Jessie Weston, believes that Grail legend reflects an underground esoteric tradition stemming from the Levant or based in the Cathar heresy, or some other damned thing. Before we travel so far afield, Loomis reasons, we should first look at the most obvious candidat In "The Grail," one of the twentieth century's most important scholars of Arthurian legend sets out to prove that Grail legend derives principally from Celtic prototypes and antecedents. His putative opponent is the scholar who, like Jessie Weston, believes that Grail legend reflects an underground esoteric tradition stemming from the Levant or based in the Cathar heresy, or some other damned thing. Before we travel so far afield, Loomis reasons, we should first look at the most obvious candidates for sources of Grail legend, in the myths and legends of the Celts, as preserved in the Irish Matter and the Mabinogion. As a comparativist by nature, I wouldn't be so quick to discount some of these theoretical influences that range in from further afield. The similarities of the wounded Fisher King trope, for example, to the myths of Attis and Cybele of Phrygia, are so obvious and so self-evident that they demand explanation. You won't find such an explanation here, but you will find an exhaustive comparison of incidents in the principle sources for Grail legend, written between 1150 and 1250 on the Continent, with Celtic antecedents. Too exhaustive for my tastes, and not altogether convincing. Loomis' interpretive sensibility is fixed on textual concerns to the exclusion of a poetic or psychological account of the material. But one cannot simply discount the literary aspect of literature, and doing so causes him to make missteps. For example, by his register, a king in an enchanted castle who subsists upon a single communion wafer a day is a trope so outlandish that it demands explanation, which he seeks in mistranslations or corruptions of earlier stories. To me, it requires no more explanation than the belief that this same communion wafer is a sacrament bestowing salvation and eternal life. The implication of this trope is that the enchanted king feeds upon the food of the spirit, not of the flesh. In my world, poets absorb the available material and re-express it in the light of their own understanding, often putting familiar elements together in novel ways. To Loomis, poets imitate prototypes as closely as possible, and deviations are probably best explained by errors or corruptions. I'd add that his reconstruction of Celtic prototypes at times rests on very thin ice. Several of the Celtic stories he compares to Grail legend, as he acknowledges, were written down AFTER the Grail legends they purportedly influenced, in earlier redactions. His search for firm interpretive ground is misguided, as it forces him to ignore clear parallels from non-regional literature, and Quixotic, owing to the state of the Celtic sources. That said, he has certainly established beyond question the Celtic credentials of many components of Grail legend. His thesis persuades in a general way, even if many individual points miss the mark.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Willis

    It's medieval France, a time before TV, movies, sports. What did one do for entertainment? Tell stories of course! Bards and entertainers traveled the courts plying their trade, and in the 1200's the story of the Holy Grail was one of the favourites. Each one took the basic pagan tale, Christianized it of course, and made it his own, changing it freely to suit his audience. Several have passed down to us in written form, and the author attempts here to trace the connections back to the pagan tale It's medieval France, a time before TV, movies, sports. What did one do for entertainment? Tell stories of course! Bards and entertainers traveled the courts plying their trade, and in the 1200's the story of the Holy Grail was one of the favourites. Each one took the basic pagan tale, Christianized it of course, and made it his own, changing it freely to suit his audience. Several have passed down to us in written form, and the author attempts here to trace the connections back to the pagan tales for each. For example, the bloody spear which pierced the Lord perhaps arose from a spear that paralyzed an Irish chieftain which appears in older Irish stories. The name Pelles could be a derivation of the Welsh king Beli. That sort of thing. It is one historian's opinion of course, and I'm certain other equally scholarly types would disagree with certain points. But it is an interesting read, weaving the actual text with the analysis. Recommend it.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Michael D.

    This has been a long time coming reading this book cover to cover. Loomis argues that the Grail legend owes its origin to the Irish echtrai, and he traces similar narrative elements and patterns from Ireland, to Wales, then to Brittany, and finally to French monks and drawing from the cult of relic collection in Cornwall. Some of the tracing is convincing, but the transferral of those elements into Christian symbol is not quite as clearly traced, largely because we don’t have record of songs sun This has been a long time coming reading this book cover to cover. Loomis argues that the Grail legend owes its origin to the Irish echtrai, and he traces similar narrative elements and patterns from Ireland, to Wales, then to Brittany, and finally to French monks and drawing from the cult of relic collection in Cornwall. Some of the tracing is convincing, but the transferral of those elements into Christian symbol is not quite as clearly traced, largely because we don’t have record of songs sung by the conteurs of Brittany. This is a good source for studies of understanding of the origins of the Grail legends. I agree with Loomis’s thesis and conclusion, by the way. I just think deeper studies of this material with a more archaeological methodology will cement the case better.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Flint Johnson

    When reading through Arthurian literary materials, and especially those written before the 1970s, one must keep in mind two things. First, in writing about many topics the literary scholar is inherently less bound by facts than with, say, history. Second, the haphazard means by which Arthurian materials came to the continent only compounds the problem of critical study. Before the 1970s, drawing comparisons between literatures was commonly done by making lists of comparison. I once saw a perfect When reading through Arthurian literary materials, and especially those written before the 1970s, one must keep in mind two things. First, in writing about many topics the literary scholar is inherently less bound by facts than with, say, history. Second, the haphazard means by which Arthurian materials came to the continent only compounds the problem of critical study. Before the 1970s, drawing comparisons between literatures was commonly done by making lists of comparison. I once saw a perfect example of its inherent flaws in a list compiled for the assassinations of Lincoln and Kennedy; the similarities are fascinating, but they are only there by random chance. Loomis read the world's literature and every time he found anything similar to a grail story made the comparison. Result, cultures that could not have interacted with the grail materials are made to explain the grail and its maturation. The read was fascinating, but it is purely fiction.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    Loomis was one of the great Arthurian and Grail scholars of his age, but his commitment to proving the Celtic roots of Grail lore grows tiresome quickly in this book. It's as though you've been buttonholed at party by someone who won't stop until they've explained their theory about the Rosicrucians or fluoridation. There's much interest to be had along the way because the man knew his stuff, but it's not balanced account. I'm going start Richard Barber's book soon, which I understand is more re Loomis was one of the great Arthurian and Grail scholars of his age, but his commitment to proving the Celtic roots of Grail lore grows tiresome quickly in this book. It's as though you've been buttonholed at party by someone who won't stop until they've explained their theory about the Rosicrucians or fluoridation. There's much interest to be had along the way because the man knew his stuff, but it's not balanced account. I'm going start Richard Barber's book soon, which I understand is more restrained and thorough.

  7. 4 out of 5

    John

    nonfiction,history

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  9. 4 out of 5

    Frostik Dar

    back in the day, Loomis was the guy to read for a scholar's survey of literature about the grail. back in the day, Loomis was the guy to read for a scholar's survey of literature about the grail.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Doug Irvine

  11. 5 out of 5

    Chas

  12. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Wielgus

  13. 4 out of 5

    Timothy Williams

  14. 4 out of 5

    Don

  15. 5 out of 5

    Daria

  16. 4 out of 5

    Allegra Walker

  17. 4 out of 5

    Chris

  18. 5 out of 5

    Leslie

  19. 5 out of 5

    Cory Dupont

  20. 4 out of 5

    Hilde

  21. 4 out of 5

    J. Michael

  22. 4 out of 5

    Michael McGuigan

  23. 4 out of 5

    Touchka

  24. 5 out of 5

    Maxwell Purrington

  25. 5 out of 5

    Su McLaren

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mark Kozak

  27. 5 out of 5

    2 Warps to Neptune

  28. 4 out of 5

    Van

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tyler

  30. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie Gott

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