Monday, 22 December 2014

Peredur, the Cymric Parzival

Recently I completed my first reading of Peredur the Son of Evrawc from The Mabinogion translated by Lady Charlotte Guest (1812-1895) and published in 1841. Peredur, the son of a northern Earl Evrawc is nephew to King Arthur and becomes a knighted member of his court. According to Lady Charlotte he was probably an historical figure that "fell in the battle of Cattraeth, in the beginning of the 6th century, as Aneurin mentions a chieftain of this name among the slain." Aneurin refers to "Peredur of steel arms".

Lady Charlotte goes on to say in her notes to this tale:

"Peredur is frequently alluded to by the Bards of the Middle Ages, in terms illustrative of the high esteem in which his deeds of prowess then were held. Gruffydd ab Meredydd, who flourished about the end of the 13th century, in his Elegy on Tudor ap Garonwy, one of the ancestors of the House of Tudor, thus mentions him:-

"O Bountiful Creator of the radiant sun and waning moon, Sad is the fall of the chief of valiant deeds, Eagle of the battle-charge, equal to Peredur, Tudor, assaulter of the Angles*, he who never shunned the fight.

"In the old Romances, as Morte d'Arthur, &c., he is celebrated, under the name of Perceval, as one of those engaged in the quest of the Sangreal, in which character he is also spoken of in the Triads, together with Bort, the son of the King of that name, and Galath, the son of Lancelot du Lac.-Tri. lxi. Myv. Ar II. 14."

Evrawc or Efrawg is a Cymric translation of Eboracum, the Latin name for the ancient English city of York. People tend to think of York as a Viking city and that York derives from the Old Danish Jorvik. However before that it belonged to the Angles who called it Eoforwic. Prior to this under Roman rule it was called Eboracum, derived from the ancient British (Cymric) Eborakon, meaning a place of yew trees. However an error in translation from the Cymric Ebor and the Latin Ebor resulted in the similar sounding but different in meaning Eofor or Ebor which is Germanic for boar!

If Peredur was an historical character then he was obviously associated with post Roman York and thus his father was a northern Earl. The Battle of Catraeth or Cattrick took place in about the year 600 CE between the Germanic Angles from the Northumbrian kingdoms of Bernicea and Deira which roughly equates with Southeast Scotland/County Durham/Northumberland (Bernicea) and Yorkshire (Deira). The Britons were defeated in this battle.

What struck me by my reading of Peredur was the heathen nature of the tale. It is marred by xtian references but despite this it is clearly based on pre-xtian Celtic mythology, indicating that whilst Peredur may have been an historical character he was based on an earlier mythological archetype just as in the case of the various potential historical candidates for Robin Hood.

Peredur is clearly the same character as the English Perceval and the German Parzival and apparently Wagner was equated with  the tale of Peredur before he penned his Parsifal sacred drama. Peredur unlike Parzival does not contain any kind of grail but it does remarkably feature the lance! Whilst in the castle of an unnamed uncle Peredur witnesses a strange spectacle:

"The Peredur and his uncle discoursed together, and he beheld two youths enter the hall, and proceed up to the chamber, bearing a spear of mighty size, with three streams of blood flowing from the point to the ground. And when all the company saw this, they began wailing and lamenting. But for all that, the man did not break off his discourse with Peredur. And as he did not tell Peredur the meaning of what he saw, he forbade to ask him concerning it. And when the clamour had a little subsided, behold two maidens entered, with a large salver between them, in which was a man's head, surrounded by a profusion of blood. And thereupon the company of the court made so great an outcry, that it was irksome to be in the same hall with them. But at length they were silent. And when time was that they should sleep, Peredur was brought into a fair chamber."

Interestingly in contrast to Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzifal Peredur is encouraged by his uncle not to ask the meaning of anything that should happen in the castle that would "cause thee to wonder" and that "if no one has the courtesy to inform thee, the reproach will not fall upon thee, but upon me that am thy teacher." So no guilt could be attached to Peredur's lack of compassion unlike how a similar event is portrayed in Parzival.  However later on in the tale he is reproached for failing to ask the meaning of the bloody spear. This particular apect of the story will be analysed in more detail and will be compared with the Parzival account in a future article on my Aryan Myth and Metahistory blog. My purpose in writing this article is simply to draw attention to the lesser known but earlier and more heathen tale of Peredur.

So Peredur whilst making several references to the bloody spear contains no reference or allusion to a grail of any description, unless of course one considers the head on the salver as such. This also will require further analysis. Thus the concept of a grail, whether it be a chalice as in the French romances or a stone in the German Parzival is something which does not originate with the earlier Peredur myth. Regardless of the actual written composition of  Peredur the work itself would have been at first orally transmitted by the Druidic Bards as there are definite Iron Age historical and pre-xtian mythological threads woven into it.

*my emphasis

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