Saturday, May 20, 2017

Wolfram's Parzival and The Grail in Arabia

I've talked about Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival in two prior posts on this Blog.  The Holy Grail and the Silmarils, and Biblical Influences on Arthurian Legend.  In both of those I mentioned Graham Hancock's theory that Wolfram's Grail was really The Ark and he was secretly supporting it being in Ethiopia.  I no longer agree with Hancock's take on it, even as much as I used to.  Fortunately his theories were irrelevant to my actual arguments there.

I do think The Ark's imagery was an influence on how Wolfram depicted the Grail.  But I think there is also another key influence to possibly consider.

Disclaimer, this is a fiction Blog not a History blog.  While I'd like to think some hints at forgotten History might be here, I am not claiming Wolfram was simply changing names of a true story.   I include this disclaimer because you'll be surprised how often this type of fiction inspires real conspiracy theories.

People like to criticize Wolfram for Medieval European ignorance in calling Arabs Pagans.  However this criticism seems to forget that the story is supposed to be contemporary with King Arthur (516-537 AD according to the Annals Cambrie, died in 542 according to Monmouth and the Brute Tysilo), a generation before Muhammad was born.  Arabia at this time had Pagans, Jews and Christians, it was diverse.  Mecca specifically was mainly Polytheistic, with 360 Idols in the Kaaba before Muhammad took it over.

But the key thing with my differing from Hancock is I can no longer agree with Zazamanc being based on Aksum.  Much of the geography in Wolfram seems intentionally confusing, and scholars have long disagreed on if Zazamanc is placed in Africa or Arabia.  It's safe to say many medieval Europeans often didn't know the difference.  And what was meant by India or Indes is also confused and contradictory as Hancock discuses.

Queen Belacane is not named after Makeda, but rather after a name for the Queen of Sheba from Arabian tradition, Bilqis.  (most theories on the Eytmolgoy of Bilqis I disagree with, it probably comes from combining Baal with Qos or Quzzah)  But more interestingly is how the name of Zazamanc possibly resembles the name Zamzam, the name of a well near Mecca that Islamic tradition says is the Well where God spoke to Hagar in Genesis 21.  And if the theory that Kadesh-Barnea is Mecca is true, then I think it very well could be.

Locating her so far from Yemen need not discredit the significance of her possibly being named after the Queen of Sheba.  The breaking of the Mar'ib Dam caused many migrations northwards in Arabia, and the area of Mecca is believed to be have controlled by people from Yemen for much of the history leading up to Muhammad.  According to Sarwar (Hafiz Ghulam Sarwar. Muhammad the Holy Prophet. pp. 18–19.)  400 years before the birth of Muhammad, a man named "Amr bin Lahyo bin Harath bin Amr ul-Qais bin Thalaba bin Azd bin Khalan bin Babalyun bin Saba", who was descended from Joktan and was the king of Hijaz placed a Hubal idol onto the roof of the Kaaba.

In addition to Zazamanc, I have a hunch Janfuse and Tribalibot with it's cities of Tharbronit and Thasme should be placed in Arabia as well.  Maybe even also specifically the Hijaz.  Tabala south of Mecca could be related to some of those names.  Also Thabir, a mountain near Mecca.

That's a total of three kingdoms ruled by Queens.  We are sadly lacking a lot of information about Pre-Islamic Arabia, but I have argued that there is some evidence it may have been surprisingly Feminist.

In Secundille's kingdom of Tribalibot lived a race of half-men boar like creatures which included Cundrie and her brother Malcreatiure.  The Koran says in Sura 5:60, 7:166 and 2:65 that Allah once turned a group of Jewish Fishermen living on the Red Sea into Apes and Swine for violating the Sabbath.  Muhammad refers to this as a story the Jews of the area already knew, so it was probably a now forgotten local tradition among some Arabain Jews of the Hijaz.  Could this story have inspired Wolfram?

Secundille gave land of hers to Feirfez to rule with his bride the Grail Maiden.   And that was Hancock's reasoning for thinking Wolfram was saying the Grail wound up in Feirfez's kingdom, wherever it was.

I'm considering identifying Secundille's tribe with the Quraysh and Belacane's with the Banu Khuza'a.

Wolfram's Grail indeed was not a Cup or linked to the Last Supper in any capacity.  It is described as a Stone from Heaven.  The Black Stone of the Kaaba is also supposed to be a Stone from Heaven.  Jason Covalito speculated at Wolfram's Arabic inspiration being the Emerald Tablet of Thoth, but I think the Black Stone of the Kaaba itself is a far more direct comparison.

What about the Grail Castle, Munsalvaeche?  That name means "Mount of Salvation", while my first instinct was to think Moriah or Zion or The Mount of Olives to be that mount.  There is one potential Biblical Mount of Salvation we shouldn't overlook.  Mount Sinai aka Mount Horeb.

I have argued Mount Sinai could be Jabal Shu'yab in Sana'a the Capital of Yemen.  That city wasn't there in antiquity of course.  The City was founded in the 530s (contemporary with King Arthur) by Abraha.  After the Jewish Himyarite King Dhu Nuwas was defeated by the Aksumite Kingdom in 525 AD, Abraha was appointed to be the Aksumite Governor of Yemen.  But he wound up declaring himself an independent King, and made Sana'a his Capital.
He aroused the wrath of Kaléb, however, by withholding tribute who then sent his general 'Ariat to take over the governorship of Yemen. 'Abraha rid himself of the latter by a subterfuge in a duel resulting in 'Ariat being killed and 'Abraha suffering the injury which earned him the sobriquet of al-Asräm, "scar-face." [ "Abraha." Dictionary of African Christian Biographies. 2007. (last accessed 11 April 2007)]
So he could also be described as a Wounded or Maimed King, and it was even specifically a Duel.  Could he be partly the basis for Anfortas? Along with material taken from the earlier grail romance.  And removing things that painted him more negatively.

He is also said to have built a great Church at Sana'a Al-Qalis and repaired the irrigation system at Ma'rib.  Islamic Tradition says he died in 570 AD, the same year Muhammad was born, when Allah thwarted his attempted invasion of Mecca.

Feirfez marrying the Grail Maiden, Repense de Schoi, daughter of Anfortas, could be read as implying the Grail moves to his Kingdom.  That theory of Hancock's I think is valid.  So is Wolfram trying to secretly say the Black Stone of the Kaaba at Mecca used to be in Yemen at Mount Sinai?  That's a stretch, but it may have interested him to construct such a narrative.

There also it seems used to be other Stones at other Kaabas.   A Red Stone in the city of Ghaiman and a White Stone at Tabala south of Mecca, which I mentioned above.  It's been argued that the concept of Kaabas and their stones came from Yemeni religious practices.

On the subject of Mount Sinai.  Second Maccabees, (a text that is included in Catholic Bibles) Chapter 2 verses 4-8, tells a story that Jeremiah took the Ark of the Covenant and The Tabernacle to Mount Sinai (doesn't name it but that's what it would be) where it was hidden away by God.  I doubt that is the Ark's real fate, but it's something Wolfram could have drawn on.

I don't know how old this tradition is, but I've seen Muslims claim The Black Stone was once in the Ark of the Covenant.  And that The Ark of the Covenant is hidden in The Kaaba.  (From this spun off a modern conspiracy theory about a Super Weapon called the Ark of Gabriel being in Mecca and now somehow was taken by Russia).  Specifically I've seen The Ark claimed to be in the Babut Taubah or Tabut Taubal, which is supposed to be just the stairwell to the roof of the Kaaba.  But it's claimed that "Tabut" means wooden box (I don't know Arabic), and they say The Ark is alluded to in the Koran in Sura 2:248.  Again, I also doubt those theories are true.

Well that's my speculation on Wolfram.  I may do posts about other Grail Lore in the future.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post, especially the idea that the Ark of the Covenant is in Mecca, which I'd never heard before.

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