You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Eternal Chalice

Eternal Chalice: The Grail in Literature and Legend is a Modern Scholar course on the Holy Grail. Given my history as an English student, including a course on Arthurian literature, I was interested to learn more about the Grail. Professor Potkay discusses the treatments of the Grail from the Middle Ages through the Twentieth Century.

Professor Potkay starts with Chrétien de Troyes’s Perceval, written around 1180. The story is about the young knight who learns about knighthood and chivalry and Christianity. The grail makes a mysterious entrance with a spear, though it is not described in detail. The central secret of the grail that Perceval learns is the central message of Christianity (at least as the author sees it): love of God and love of one's fellow man. It seems an obvious message, but then the "secret" means more when the quester (or the reader) has spent time and energy questing for it.

Throughout the centuries, the grail acquires more detail, both in its physical appearance and its larger meaning. It becomes more involved in the rest of Arthurian legends and takes up a central purpose for the knights. The quest for the grail comes at the end of the stories and indicates the start of the fall of Arthur's Round Table, as they knights are all away on a quest that they cannot complete.

I was glad to learn about Jessie Weston’s From Ritual to Romance, an early Twentieth Century expanation of the grail in different sources. While the book has fallen out of favor and its scholarship discredited, it still provides some insights escpecially to Eliot's "The Waste Land". The professor describes the poem and its context in the grail legend. After discussing modern adaptations including Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon, the course finishes with a description of Umberto Eco's Foucault’s Pendulum. Eco's novel is itself a commetary on grail literature and all the theories surrounding it. It is a good discussion to close the course. The course is a great overview of the grail and its place in literature through the centuries, including how its meaning is adapted for different ages. A-

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