[Cross-posted from Quod Sumus. Happy Cinqo de Mayo!]
What was it? Scholars have long lost themselves in debates over the precise nature of Parzival’s sin at the Grail Castle. He is visiting the castle; life is going well. He is learning about knighthood, he is beloved and respected. He has life figured out, and he is about to achieve the greatest, most coveted spiritual prize of all. He is at dinner with the gravely ill Fisher King, and the Grail procession commences–overwhelming the senses, it is so entrancing. So entrancing that Parzival ignores everything and everyone, as he is fixated on the Grail and the Grail Maidens. And at that moment, though he didn’t realize it, he had committed a great sin, which in due course would be exposed in the most public setting possible, King Arthur’s court. His sin was that he failed to speak, to ask a question of his host. It is only at the very end of the story that we learn what the question was–”what ails you?” It was the crowning achievement to his insidious self-indulgence and moral laxness, because it betrayed his utter and complete disregard for others’ well-being. Rather, he was only focused on his own gain, his own material interests–a state of mind first revealed in his abandonment of his mother, and then in his brutal killing of his kinsman Ither. Horrified, Parzival demands to know what he can do to remedy the situation. And he is told that there is nothing he can do. His mother and Ither are both dead, and he will not find the Grail Castle because he had proved unworthy. And at that moment, Parzival snaps. He flees the court, and loses his faith, his joy, his love, and everything that had made him what he was.
Except, that is, his physical prowess; tales began to spread of a mysterious knight who would show up at battles and tournaments, crushing all in his path, only to fade into shadow when the clash of arms had subsided. And that was how he lived, for some years, until called to repentance on a chance encounter. (more…)