Scenes from the Lancelot Proper depicted in a Polish 14th-century fresco at Siedlęcin Tower
|Author||Unknown (self-attributed to Gautier Map and in part directly based on Robert de Boron); , probably an anonymous single scribe (speculated to be a member of the Cistercian Order)|
|Country||Kingdom of France|
|Subject||Matter of Britain|
|Genre||Chivalric romance, pseudo-chronicle|
The Lancelot-Grail, also known as the Vulgate Cycle or the Pseudo-Map Cycle, is an early 13th-century Arthurian literary cycle consisting of interconnected prose episodes of chivalric romance in Old French. The cycle, presenting itself as a chronicle of actual events, retells the legend of King Arthur by focusing on the love affair between Lancelot and Guinevere as well as the quest for the Holy Grail, expanding on the works of Robert de Boron and Chrétien de Troyes and influencing the Prose Tristan. After its completion around 1230–1235, the Lancelot–Grail was soon followed by its major rewrite known as the Post-Vulgate Cycle. Together, the two cycles constituted a highly influential and most widespread form of Arthurian romance literature during their time and also contributed the most to the later English compilation Le Morte d'Arthur that formed the basis for the legend's modern canon.
The Vulgate Cycle emphasizes Christian themes in the King Arthur tradition, in particular through its expansion of the quest for the Holy Grail. Welsh writer Gautier (Walter) Map (c. 1140-1209) is attributed to be the author, as can be seen in the notes and illustrations in some manuscripts describing his claimed discovery of an archive of the chronicle of Camelot (supposedly dating from the times of Arthur) at Salisbury, and his translation of these documents from Latin to Old French as ordered by Henry II of England. Map's connection has been discounted by modern scholarship, however, as he died too early to be the author and the work is distinctly continental.
Like Robert de Boron's original poem Merlin (c. 1195-1210), the cycle claims that its first parts are derived from the Livre du Graal, described as a text dictated by Merlin himself to his confessor Blaise. Next, following the demise of Merlin, the supposed original authors of the later parts of the cycle are named (in one of several spelling variants) as Arodiens de Cologne (Arodian of Cologne), Tantalides de Vergeaus (Tantalides of Vercelli), Thumas de Toulete (Thomas of Toledo), and Sapiens de Baudas (Sapient of Baghdad), the scribes who served Arthur and recorded the deeds of the Knights of the Round Table as relayed to them by the eyewitnesses of the events beings told. It is uncertain whether the contemporary medieval readers actually believed in the truthfulness of the "chronicle" characterization, or did they recognise it as a work of creative fiction.
The cycle's actual authorship is unknown, but most scholars today believe it was written by multiple authors. There might have been either a single master-mind planner, the so-called "architect" (as first called so by Jean Frappier, who compared the process to building a cathedral), who may have written the main section (Lancelot Proper), and then oversaw the work of multiple other anonymous scribes. One theory identified the initiator as French queen Eleanor of Aquitaine who would had set up the project already in 1194. Alternately, each part may have been composed separately, arranged gradually, and rewritten for consistency and cohesiveness. Regarding the question of the author of the Lancelot, Ferdinand Lot suggested an anonymous clerical court clerk of aristocratic background.
Today it is believed by some (such as editors of the Encyclopædia Britannica) that a group of anonymous French Catholic monks wrote the cycle – or at least the Queste part (where, according to Fanni Bogdanow, the text's main purpose is to convince sinners to repent), as evident by its very Cistercian spirit of Christian mysticism (with Augustinian intrusions). Others doubt this, however, and a compromise theory postulates a more secular writer who had spent some time in a Cistercian monastery. Richard Barber described the Cistercian theology of the Queste as unconventional and complex but subtle, noting its success in appealing to the courtly audience accustomed to more secular romances.
Structure, history and synopsis
The Lancelot-Grail Cycle can be divided into three main units (some categorizations have either the Mort or both the Queste and the Mort regarded as separate sections independent of the Lancelot for the total of five branches). The last one (or the last three in the other system) was actually the first to be written (beginning c. 1210–1215). The first two, serving as prequels, joined them later (before c. 1235).
History of the Holy Grail
The Vulgate Estoire del Saint Grail tells the story of Joseph of Arimathea and his son Josephus bringing the Holy Grail to Britain. It is derived from Robert de Boron's poem Joseph with new characters and episodes added. The overtly religious elements are most prominent in this part of the cycle.
History of Merlin
The Vulgate Estoire de Merlin, or just the Vulgate Merlin, concerns Merlin and the early life of Arthur. It is a redaction of the Prose Merlin, itself a conversion of Robert de Boron's poem by the same title. It can be divided into:
- The Vulgate Merlin propre (Merlin Proper), also known as the Roman de Merlin, directly based on Robert's Merlin.
- The Vulgate Suite du Merlin / Suite Vulgate du Merlin / Vulgate-Suite (The Story of Merlin), also known as Les Premiers Faits [du roi Arthur] or the Vulgate Merlin Continuation, drawing from a variety of other sources, adds more of Arthur's and Gawain's early deeds in which they are being aided by Merlin, in particular in their early wars of internal struggles for power and against foreign enemies (Saxons and Romans), ending in Arthur's marriage with Guinevere and the restoration of peace, as well as the disappearance of Merlin caused by the Lady of the Lake. It is roughly four times longer than the first part.
The Lancelot en prose or the Estoire de Lancelot is the longest part, making up fully half of the entire cycle. The Lancelot–Queste–Mort Artu trilogy follows the adventures of the eponymous hero Lancelot and the other Knights of the Round Table. It is made of three main sections, of which tone the first (composed c. 1215–1220) can be characterized as colorful, the second (c. 1220–1225) as pious, and the third (c. 1225–1330) as sober:
- The Vulgate Lancelot propre (Lancelot Proper), also known as the Roman de Lancelot or just Lancelot du Lac, is inspired by and in part based on Chrétien's Lancelot, le Chevalier de la Charrette. It primarily deals with the early life of Lancelot and the courtly love between him and Queen Guinevere, as well as his deep friendship with Galehaut, interlaced with the adventures of Gawain and other knights such as Yvain, Hector, Lionel, and Bors.
- Due to its length, modern scholars often divide the Lancelot into various sub-sections, including the Galehaut, further split between the Charrette (or Charette) and its follow-up the Suite[s] de la Charret[t]e; the Agravain (named after Gawain's brother Agravain); and the Preparation for the Quest linking the previous ones. The actual [Conte de la] Charrette ("[Tale of the] Cart"), an incorporation of a prose version of Chrétien's poem, spans only a small part of the Lancelot.
- The Vulgate Queste del Saint Graal (The Quest for the Holy Grail), or just the Vulgate Queste, relates how the Grail Quest is undertaken by various knights including Percival and Bors, and achieved by Lancelot's son Galahad, who here replaces both Lancelot and Percival as the chosen hero. It is purported to be narrated by Bors, the witness of these events after the deaths of Galahad and Percival.
- The Vulgate Mort le roi Artu (The Death of King Arthur), or just the Vulgate Mort Artu / La Mort Artu, a tragic account of further wars culminating in the king and his illegitimate son Mordred killing each other. The ruin of Arthur's kingdom is here presented as disastrous direct consequence of the sin of Lancelot's and Guinevere's adulterous affair. Lancelot dies too, as do the other protagonists who did not die in the Queste, leaving only Bors as a survivor.
Possible non-cyclic Lancelot
The Lancelot Proper is regarded to be the first part ever written, c. 1215–1220, perhaps originally as a non-cyclic, independent romance that was to begin with Lancelot's birth and finish with a happy end of him discovering his identity and receiving his first kiss of Guinevere when he confesses his love for her. Elspeth Kennedy identified it in an early manuscript (BNF fr. 768) which is about three times shorter than other editions of the Lancelot Proper, and the Grail Quest is actually mentioned in it as having been already completed by Percival.
As the stories of the cycle were immensely popular in medieval France and neighboring countries between the beginning of the 13th and the beginning of the 16th century, they survived in some two hundred manuscripts in various forms (not counting printed books since the late 15th century, starting with an edition of the Lancelot in 1488). The Lancelot-Graal Project website lists (and links to the scans of many of them) close to 150 manuscripts in French, some fragmentary, others, such as British Library Additional MS 10292–4, containing the entire cycle. Besides the British Library, scans of various manuscripts can be seen online through digital library websites of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France's Gallica (including these from the Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal) and the University of Oxford's Digital Bodleian; many illustrations can be also found at the IRHT's Initiale project. The earliest copies are of French origin and date from 1220–1230.
Numerous copies were produced in French throughout the remainder of the 13th, 14th and well into the 15th centuries in France, England and Italy, as well as translations into other European languages. Some of the manuscripts are richly illuminated: British Library Royal MS 14 E III, produced in Northern France in the early 14th century and once owned by King Charles V of France, contains over 100 miniatures with gilding throughout and decorated borders at the beginning of each section. Other manuscripts were made for less wealthy owners and contain very little or no decoration, for example British Library MS Royal 19 B VII, produced in England, also in the early 14th century, with initials in red and blue marking sections in the text and larger decorated initials at chapter-breaks.
However, very few copies of the entire Lancelot-Grail Cycle survive. Perhaps because it was so vast, copies were made of parts of the legend which may have suited the tastes of certain patrons, with popular combinations containing either only the tales of Merlin or Lancelot. For instance, British Library Royal 14 E III contains the sections which deal with the Grail and religious themes, omitting the middle section, which relates Lancelot's chivalric exploits.
The Vulgate Cycle was soon afterwards subject to a major revision during the 1230s, in which much was left out and much added. In the resulting far-shorter Post-Vulgate Cycle, also known as the Roman du Graal, Lancelot no longer is the main character. The Post-Vulgate omits almost all of the Lancelot Proper section, and consequently most of Lancelot and Guinevere's content, instead focusing on the Grail Quest. It also features characters and episodes from the Prose Tristan.
Other reworkings and influence
The Prose Tristan itself had partially incorporated the Vulgate Cycle by copying parts of it. Along with the Prose Tristan, both the Post-Vulgate and the Vulgate original were among the most important sources for Thomas Malory's seminal English compilation of Arthurian legend, Le Morte d'Arthur.
The 14th-century Dutch Lancelot Compilation added an original romance to a translation of the Prose Lancelot. The cycle's elements and characters have been also incorporated into various other works in France, such as Les Prophecies de Mérlin and Palamedes, and elsewhere. The 14th-century English poem Stanzaic Morte Arthur is a compressed verse translation of the Vulgate Mort Artu. In the 15th-century Scotland, the first part of the Vulgate Lancelot was turned into verse in Lancelot of the Laik, a romance love poem with political messages. Some episodes from the Vulgate Cycle have been adapted into the Third and Fourth Continuations of Chrétien's unfinished Perceval, the Story of the Grail. Other legacy can be found in the many so-called pseudo-Arthurian works in Spain and Portugal.
Modern editions and translations
H. Oskar Sommer published the entire original French text of the Vulgate Cycle in seven volumes in the years 1908–1916. Sommer's has been the only complete cycle published as of 1995. The base text used was the British Library Additional MS 10292–10294. It is however not a critical edition, but a composite text, where variant readings from alternate manuscripts are unreliably demarcated using square brackets.
- Sommer, Heinrich Oskar (1909). Lestoire del Saint Graal. The Vulgate Version of the Arthurian Romances. 1.
- Sommer (1908). Lestoire de Merlin. ib. 2.
- Sommer (1910). Le livre de Lancelot del Lac (1). ib. 3.
- Sommer (1911). Le livre de Lancelot del Lac (2). ib. 4.
- Sommer (1912). Le livre de Lancelot del Lac (3). ib. 5.
- Sommer (1913). Les aventures ou la queste del Saint Graal. La mort le roi Artus. ib. 6.
- Sommer (1913). Supplement: Le livre d'Artus, with glossary. ib. 7.
- Sommer (1916). Index of names and places to volumes I-VII. ib. 8.
Norris J. Lacy
The first full English translations of the Vulgate and Post-Vulgate cycles were overseen by Norris J. Lacy. Volumes 1–4 contain the Vulgate Cycle proper.
- Lacy, Norris J. (Ed.). Lancelot–Grail: The Old French Arthurian Vulgate and Post-Vulgate in Translation, New York: Garland.
- Volume 1 of 5 (December 1, 1992). ISBN 0-8240-7733-4: Estoire del Saint Grail and Estoire de Merlin.
- Chase, Carol J. (trans.) (1992). The History of the Holy Grail. and Pickens, Rupert T. (trans.) (1992). The Story of Merlin.
- Volume 2 of 5 (August 1, 1993). ISBN 0-8153-0746-2: Lancelot, parts 1 and 2.
- Volume 3 of 5 (March 1, 1995). ISBN 0-8153-0747-0: Queste.
- Volume 4 of 5 (April 1, 1995). ISBN 0-8153-0748-9: Post-Vulgate part 1.
- Volume 5 of 5 (May 1, 1996). ISBN 0-8153-0757-8: Post-Vulgate part 2.
- Volume 1 of 5 (December 1, 1992). ISBN 0-8240-7733-4: Estoire del Saint Grail and Estoire de Merlin.
A modern French translation of the Vulgate Cycle in three volumes:
- Poirion, Daniel. (Ed.) Le Livre du Graal, Paris: Gallimard
- Volume 1 of 3 (2001): ISBN 978-2-07-011342-2: Joseph d'Arimathie, Merlin, Les Premiers Faits du roi Arthur.
- Volume 2 of 3 (2003): ISBN 978-2-07-011344-6: Lancelot De La Marche de Gaule à La Première Partie de la quête de Lancelot.
- Volume 3 of 3 (2009): ISBN 978-2-07-011343-9: Lancelot: La Seconde Partie de la quête de Lancelot, La Quête du saint Graal, La Mort du roi Arthur.
- Penguin Classics published a translation into English by Pauline Matarasso of the Queste in 1969. It was followed in 1971 with a translation by James Cable of the Mort Artu.
- Judith Shoaf's new Modern English translation of the Vulgate Queste was published by Broadview Press as The Quest for the Holy Grail in 2018 (ISBN 978-1-55481-376-6). It contains many footnotes explaining its connections with other works of Arthurian literature.
- Smith, Joshua Byron (2017). Walter Map and the Matter of Britain. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 9780812294163.
- Brandsma, p. 200.
- Chase & Norris, p. 21-22.
- Loomis, Roger Sherman (1991). The Grail: From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691020754.
- Brandsma, Frank (12 August 2010). The Interlace Structure of the Third Part of the Prose Lancelot. Boydell & Brewer. ISBN 9781843842576 – via Google Books.
- Brandsma, Frank. “LANCELOT PART 3.” Arthurian Literature XIX: Comedy in Arthurian Literature, vol. 19, Boydell & Brewer, Woodbridge, Suffolk; Rochester, NY, 2003, pp. 117–134. JSTOR. Accessed 1 Aug. 2020.
- Lacy, Norris J. (2005). The Fortunes of King Arthur. DS Brewer. ISBN 9781843840619.
- Lie, p. 13-14.
- Matarasso, Pauline Maud (1979). The Redemption of Chivalry: A Study of the Queste Del Saint Graal. Librairie Droz. ISBN 9782600035699.
- Lie, Orlanda S. H. (1987). The Middle Dutch Prose Lancelot: A Study of the Rotterdam Fragments and Their Place in the French, German, and Dutch Lancelot en Prose Tradition. Uitgeverij Verloren. ISBN 0444856471 – via Google Books.
- Carman, J. Neale (1973). A Study of the Pseudo-Map Cycle of Arthurian Romance. The University Press of Kansas. SBN 7006-0100-7.
- Dover, p. 87.
- "Vulgate cycle | medieval literature". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
- Norris, Ralph (2009). "Sir Thomas Malory and "The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell" Reconsidered". Arthuriana. 19 (2): 82–102. doi:10.1353/art.0.0051. JSTOR 27870964. S2CID 162024940.
- Frese, Dolores Warwick (2008). "Augustinian Intrusions in the "Queste del Saint Graal": Converting 'Pagan Gold' to Christian Currency". Arthuriana. 18 (1): 3–21. doi:10.1353/art.2008.0001. JSTOR 27870892.
- Karen Pratt, The Cistercians and the Queste del Saint Graal. King's College, London.
- Barber, Richard (2003). "Chivalry, Cistercianism and the Grail". A Companion to the Lancelot-Grail Cycle. Boydell & Brewer. pp. 3–12. ISBN 9780859917834. JSTOR 10.7722/j.ctt9qdj80.7.
- "The Story: Outline of the Lancelot-Grail Romance". www.lancelot-project.pitt.edu. Retrieved 9 June 2019.
- "Lancelot-Grail Cycle - Medieval Studies - Oxford Bibliographies - obo". www.oxfordbibliographies.com. Retrieved 9 June 2019.
- Chase & Norris, p. 6.
- Sunderland, p. 63.
- Bruce, James Douglas (1974). The Evolution of Arthurian Romance from the Beginnings Down to the Year 1300. Slatkine Reprints.
- Chase & Norris, p. 8.
- "What is the Lancelot-Grail?". www.lancelot-project.pitt.edu. Retrieved 9 June 2019.
- Lie, p. 14.
- Brandsma, p. 11.
- Lacy, Norris J.; Kelly, Douglas; Busby, Keith (1987). The Legacy of Chrétien de Troyes: Chrétien et ses contemporains. Rodopi. ISBN 9789062037384.
- Chase & Norris, p. 26-27.
- Archibald, Elizabeth; Johnson, David F. (2008). Arthurian Literature XXV. Boydell & Brewer Ltd. ISBN 9781843841715.
- Brandsma, p. 15.
- Sunderland, p. 98.
- Brandsma, p. 4.
- Dover, p. 219 (a chapter by Roger Middleton).
- "Lancelot-Grail Manuscripts- Chronology and Geographical Distribution". www.lancelot-project.pitt.edu. Retrieved 9 June 2019.
- "BnF - La légende du roi Arthur: Manuscrits numérisées". expositions.bnf.fr (in French). Retrieved 12 June 2019.
- "Initiale". initiale.irht.cnrs.fr. Retrieved 12 June 2019.
- "Digitised Manuscripts". www.bl.uk.
- Wight, C. "Details of an item from the British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts". www.bl.uk.
- Sunderland, p. 99.
- Chase & Norris, p. 14.
- Sunderland, p. 6.
- "Lancelot of the Laik: Introduction | Robbins Library Digital Projects". d.lib.rochester.edu.
- Gaggero, Massimiliano (2013). "Verse and Prose in the Continuations of Chrétien de Troyes' "Conte du Graal"". Arthuriana. 23 (3): 3–25. doi:10.1353/art.2013.0027. JSTOR 43855455. S2CID 161312740.
- Burns, E. Jane (1995), "Vulgate Cycle", in Kibler, William W. (ed.), Medieval France: An Encyclopedia, Garland, pp. 1829–1831, ISBN 9780824044442
- Poirion, Daniel (2001). Le Livre du Graal. Paris: Gallimard. ISBN 978-2-07-011342-2.
- "The Quest of the Holy Grail by Anonymous | PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books". PenguinRandomhouse.com. Retrieved 9 June 2019.
- "The Death of King Arthur". www.penguin.co.uk. Retrieved 9 June 2019.
- McCullough, Ann (12 August 2019). "The Quest of the Holy Grail ed. by Judith Shoaf (review)". Arthuriana. 29 (4): 85–86. doi:10.1353/art.2019.0048 – via Project MUSE.
- Brandsma, Frank (2010). The Interlace Structure of the Third Part of the Prose Lancelot. Boydell & Brewer. ISBN 9781843842576.
- Chase, Carol J.; Lace, Norris J. (2010). The History of the Holy Grail: The Old French Arthurian Vulgate and Post-Vulgate in Translation. Boydell & Brewer Ltd. ISBN 9781843842248.
- Dover, Carol (2003). A Companion to the Lancelot-Grail Cycle. DS Brewer. ISBN 9780859917834.
- Lie, Orlanda S. H. (1987). The Middle Dutch Prose Lancelot: A Study of the Rotterdam Fragments and Their Place in the French, German, and Dutch Lancelot en Prose Tradition. Uitgeverij Verloren. ISBN 9780444856470.
- Sunderland, Luke (2010). Old French Narrative Cycles: Heroism Between Ethics and Morality. Boydell & Brewer. ISBN 9781843842200.
- The Lancelot-Grail Project by the University of Pittsburgh
- British Library Virtual Exhibition of Arthurian Manuscripts: The Prose Lancelot-Grail
- (in French) The legend of King Arthur on the Bibliothèque Nationale de France website ("flip-book" exhibitions: Lancelot-Graal, Histoire de Saint Graal, Histoire de Merlin, Le Roman de Lancelot, La Quête du Graal, La mort du roi Arthur)
- (in French) Bibliography on the Archives de Littérature Médiévale