Sunday, December 10, 2006

Knights of the Round Table

The Round Table was devised by Merlin " to embody a very subtle meaning. For in its name it mirrors the roundness of the earth, the concentric spheres of the planets and of the elements in the firmament: and in these heavenly spheres we see the stars and many things besides; whence it follows that the Round Table is a true epitome of the universe....When Merlin had established the Round Table he announced that the secrets of the Holy Grail, which in his time was covert and withdrawn, would be revealed by knights of that same fellowship ".
Far from every land, the legend goes on as told now to Perceval, be it Christian or heathen where chivalry resides, kinghts are seen flocking to the Round Table.
With merit and luck they are made companions, and for the love and dedication to their cause they forsake father, mother, wife and children. Their cause is equal to a priesthood one, and therefore quite difficult to be always faithful to. Some will achieve their purpose, some others will have to return to the service of the Round Table instead of reaching the holy realm of the Grail.
Perceval will be the chosen one, something he does not know yet.
Asked about this mistery Merlin answered:
" There will be three shall triumph in this undertaking: two will be virgins, and the other chaste. And one of the three shall surpass his father as the lion surpasses the leopard in strength and hardihood. He shall be held as master and sheperd over all his fellows; and the companions of the Round Table will consume their days in bootless pursuit of the Holy Grail until such time as Our Lord shall send him among them so suddenly as to confound them all".
Merlin than made a magic seat that passed in size and splendour every other.
Then the knights asked if those who sat there unduly would be in danger of their life; Merlin answered indeed, "and on account of the dangers that shall follow on it, it shall be known as the Seat of Danger".

We all know the legend, Perceval will end as King of the Grail, and Lohengrin, his son, will later take his place.
The others will keep on searching for perfection in a world full of dangers and miracles, telling their own stories over and over again, so that the "chain" is never broken, through the centuries.
That is why in some legends about the foundation of masonry we are told it goes back to the Round Table, when in fact the official Anderson's Constitution is dated 1723.
In modern times, I cannot think of anyone else but Wagner to give us a deeper insight into those magical times.
Read and listen to Lohengrin and Parsifal.
We could say that the legends of the Quest are all tales of transformation ( as some of Goethe's, see the Maerchen), and in that sense they belong to our universal, archetypal mundus imaginalis.
East and West have kept in their oral or written traditions such beautiful legendary memories.
No wonder a blogger, in IDIOCENTRISM, has asked for a translation of Bernardim Ribeiro's Menina e Moça, a portuguese "novela cavalheiresca", printed in Ferrara, 1554.
The knights are many, few the chosen, and Bernardim, having written in ancient Portuguese, has had some difficulty to reach the fame of those who wrote in ancient French or English.
Although Eschenbach, in his Parzival, mentions the Portuguese knights as "les plus téméraires" on account of the bravery of their many deeds.

Image taken from a tapisserie after a sketch of Burne-Jones (1833-1898), Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

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