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Parzival (Penguin Classics) Paperback – November 20, 1980


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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; Reprint edition (November 20, 1980)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140443614
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140443615
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #38,599 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)

From the Inside Flap

Parzival, an Arthurian romance completed by Wolfram von Eschenbach in the first years of the thirteenth century, is one of the foremost works of German literature and a classic that can stand with the great masterpieces of the world. The most important aspects of human existence, worldly and spiritual, are presented in strikingly modern terms against the panorama of battles and tournaments and Parzival's long search for the Grail. The world of knighthood, of love and loyalty and human endeavor despite the cruelty and suffering of life, is constantly mingling with the world of the Grail, affirming the inherent unity between man's temporal condition and his quest for something beyond human existence. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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The Grail of this story is a stone.
Peter Reeve
Parzival is a glorious text, and Hatto's prose translation is still one of the best.
Alison Baker
One of the greatest books ever written.
Henry Taylor

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

54 of 55 people found the following review helpful By "denise815" on April 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
Wolfram's story of Parzival is the best of all of the "quest for the Grail" legends because it is the most complete and incorporates all of the older elements of a highly derived tale into one wonderfully written work. The Grail scenes are fantastic, mysterious, and captivating. The development of the characters is by far the best of all of the many versions of the tale. The adventures of Parzival are filled with fantastic creatures and outrageous events. When Parzival completes his quest, the reader is left exhausted but satisfied by Wolfram's engaging story. Highly recommended for the student of Arthurian literature or for anyone who wants to know the complete story of the Fisher King and the knight who saves him.
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96 of 105 people found the following review helpful By Ian M. Slater TOP 1000 REVIEWER on January 16, 2005
Format: Paperback
There seem to be currently available three complete English translations of Wolfram von Eschenbach's Middle High German "Parzival," an early, and slightly eccentric, version of the Grail Quest. Wolfram, both a knight and a (slightly eccentric) poet from thirteenth-century southern Germany, is the author of this long Arthurian romance, of a long Carolingian epic, "Willehalm," and some shorter works. His complaints about rival poets, and their replies to him, have turned out to be clues to relative dating of their works. On this and external evidence, Wolfram's poetic career has been dated between about 1195 and 1225; with the almost 25,000 lines of "Parzival" being composed between about 1200 and 1210.

The most recent translation, Cyril Edwards' "Parzival: With Titurel and the Love Lyrics," I have not yet seen. It includes a fragmentary related work, and Wolfram's contributions to the "Minnesaenger" (love poetry) tradition, which makes it attractive. The price of the hardcover is against starting with it! A more reasonably-priced paperback, aimed at the student market, would be a winner, if the translation is good.

Of the other two, both rendered in prose, the older is "Parzival: A Romance of the Middle Ages" (usually cited without the subtitle, in my experience), translated by Helen M. Mustard and Charles E. Passage, and published by Vintage Books (Random House), in 1961. With an Introduction, Additional Notes, an Index of Persons, and a Genealogical Table, I found it an attractive entrance to Wolfram-studies, and Middle High German literature beyond the "Nibelungenlied." The language of the translation is relatively colloquial, and has been criticized as both inexact in its use of hunting and heraldic terms, and perhaps too American.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 7, 1999
Format: Paperback
Well, that's how Joe Campbell describes it, anyway. And, for those who find the language and style one finds in literature like this tolerable, Parzival is rich in symbolism, peppered by it's author's private concerns, and has a convincing account of battle here and there (Von Eschenbach was himself a tried knight at the open of the 13th century-- in fact he not-very-credibly claims to be illiterate.) If you managed Mallory, you owe it to yourself to read something with a little more depth.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Peter Reeve VINE VOICE on September 3, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Hatto gives his usual accurate, precise and elegant English prose rendering of this classic German epic poem of the early 13th century.

Wolfram's Parzival is a more coherent and well-structured narrative than the Niebelungenlied, and is more courtly and refined than the Icelandic sagas of the same era. It is a lively, colorful insight into 13th century European culture. This, along with its place in the evolution of the Arthurian and Grail legends, is its main source of interest to modern readers.

Wolfram is particularly knowledgeable about military affairs and you can learn a lot from this story about what it was like (or supposed to be like) to be a knight at the time.

The Grail of this story is a stone. In Chretien's earlier story, on which Wolfram's is based, the Grail was a bowl. In other stories, it doubles as the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper and the vessel used to catch the dripping blood at the crucifixion. In our own time it has served as a boon to conspiracy theorists and an excuse to cast Sean Connery in an Indiana Jones movie. Next...well, who knows what's next?

Parzival combines folk traditions - the Grail's power of providing unlimited food and drink is a favorite folk motif, most famously with the magic porridge pot - with knightly adventure, and adds a dash of mysticism. It is no more than a dash, and I think subsequent commentators have read too much into this aspect. Certainly it is a coming-of-age story and a tale of redemption, but the spiritual edifice that has since been built around it seems to me a bit of a stretch. At the time of writing this review, youth counselors in Britain are using Parzival as an allegory to teach the true meaning of manhood. Good luck to them.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Bryan Byrd on January 25, 2011
Format: Paperback
Note: This review is from the 1961 Vintage paperback with a translation by Helen Mustard and Charles Passage

Wolfram von Eschenbach's early 13th century poem (rendered here from the Middle High German into modern English prose) chronicles the events of the title character's life from childhood to knighthood, and of his quest for and attainment of the Grail. Along with two chapters devoted to Parzival's father Gahmuret, and several throughout the middle of the story concerning Gawan, the book is a celebration of knighthood, most likely written from the point of view of one of its practitioners. More abstractly, it also approaches Jungian archetype territory and Joseph Campbell's ideas about Hero mythology; wrongs committed in ignorance block Parzival from obtaining the Grail when it is first revealed to him, and only after the quest's hardships have purged him of ignorance and sin is he rewarded with the earthly and spiritual sublimity of achieving his goal.

The Grail of this version is interesting in and of itself: Wolfram writes before the object had become wholly associated with either the last supper or Christ's crucifixion, and long before Mallory and Tennyson (or Terry Gilliam) stamped it into the culture's consciousness as a holy cup. Instead, here it is a stone, one that has both life-sustaining properties and the power to dispense enough food to supply the entire contingent of knights and ladies stationed at Munsalvaesche (the castle of the Grail's keeping). The king of this castle, Anfortas, (also known as the Fisher King), is gravely wounded - it is only the Grail that keeps him alive, albeit in excruciating pain. In Munsalvaesche, both king and subjects wait for someone to come who will ask the king the 'healing question' ('What is it that troubles you?').
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