Fill it with fish

Helen Cooper

  • Parzival and the Stone from Heaven: A Grail Romance Retold for Our Time by Lindsay Clarke
    HarperCollins, 239 pp, £14.99, September 2001, ISBN 0 00 710813 3
  • Merlin and the Grail: ‘Joseph of Arimathea’, ‘Merlin’, ‘Perceval’ The Trilogy of Arthurian Romances Attributed to Robert de Boron translated by Nigel Bryant
    Boydell and Brewer, 172 pp, £30.00, May 2001, ISBN 0 85991 616 2
  • Le Livre du Graal. Tome I: ‘Joseph D’Arimathie’, ‘Merlin’, ‘Les Premiers Faits du Roi Arthur’ edited by Daniel Poirion and Philippe Walter
    Gallimard, 1993 pp, £50.95, April 2001, ISBN 2 07 011342 6

‘Yes, yes, Mr Burne-Jones,’ Benjamin Jowett is reputed to have said as he inspected the artist’s newly completed Arthurian murals in the Oxford Union, ‘but what does one do with the Grail once one has found it?’ This sounds almost as much the definitive question as the Grail was the definitive quest, but Jowett’s objection is more radically misconceived than any answer could be. The Grail is the ultimate object of desire: finding it would precisely be beside the point. Questing after it is an end in itself, as it is not for that other object of infinite search, the philosopher’s stone. Alchemists at least knew what they wanted, how to set about looking for it, and what it would do once it had been discovered. The writers of Grail romances often barely knew what their knights were to look for, or how they should reach it, let alone what they might do with it once they had found it.

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