The Lancelot-Grail, also known as the Prose Lancelot, the Vulgate Cycle, or the Pseudo-Map Cycle, is a major source of Arthurian legend written in French. It is a series of five prose volumes that tell the story of the quest for the Holy Grail and the romance of Lancelot and Guinevere. The major parts are early 13th century, but scholarship has few definitive answers as to the authorship. An attribution to Walter Map is discounted, since he died too early to be the author.
The Vulgate Cycle adds an intriguing dimension to the King Arthur tradition, perpetuating Christian themes by expanding on tales of the Holy Grail and recounting the quests of the Grail knights. During this period, material takes on even more historical and religious overtones with tales that include and deal both in the death of Arthur and Merlin (drawing all the way back to Nennius's Historia Brittonum).
The Vulgate Cycle combines elements of Old Testament with the birth of Merlin, whose magical origins are consistent with those told by Robert de Boron, as the son of a devil and a human mother who repents her sins and is baptized. Merlin is transformed into a prophet and given the ability of seeing future events by God.
The Vulgate Cycle was subject to a 13th-century revision in which much was left out and much added. The resulting text, referred to as the "Post-Vulgate Cycle", was an attempt to create greater unity in the material, and to de-emphasise the secular love affair between Lancelot and Guinevere. It omits almost all of the Vulgate's Lancelot Proper section, but includes characters and scenes from the Prose Tristan. This version of the cycle was one of the most important sources of Thomas Malory's Le Morte d’Arthur.
Name of the CycleEdit
This voluminous cycle of romances was well known in medieval times, but had no particular name. It was modern scholars who named it the “Vulgate Cycle”, for unknown reasons preferring the Latinate word vulgate (‘common’, ‘ordinary’). Names containing the word vulgate were supposed to indicate that this cycle was the most normal version of the Arthurian tales in prose.
Pseudo-Map indicated that some of the romances in this cycle claim to have been translated from Latin originals by Walter Map.
That the first full publication of this cycle was Oskar Sommer’s The Vulgate Version of the Arthurian Legend, published from 1908–1916 in 8 large volumes solidified the use of the term Vulgate.links
Contents of the CycleEditThe Vulgate Cycle integrates into salvation history the traditional life of King Arthur as told by Geoffrey of Monmouth, along with many shorter tales of the adventures of various knights, and the concept of the Grail as an important relic of the Passion (as conceived by Robert de Boron).
The Vulgate Cycle introduces the character of Galahad, Lancelot's son, as the Grail Knight. Galahad's lineages on both sides are traced back to the Holy Land at the time of Christ; his mother is the daughter of the Fisher King, descended from Joseph of Arimathea’s sister and her husband, while his father, Lancelot, is descended from Nascien, brother-in-law of the king of Sarras. Merlin, planned by the Devil as an Anti-Christ, instead becomes a force for good, guiding King Arthur in the institution of the Round Table and various quests. However, Merlin is enchanted by a Lady of the Lake and is unable to carry through the final adventures.
Lancelot’s enduring love for Guenevere is the backbone of the story from the time he enters it; despite a passionate desire to succeed, he fails at the Grail Quest, returns to her, and eventually has to abduct her when their love affair is revealed.
The cycle contains the following romances:
- Estoire del Saint Graal (History of the Holy Grail)
- Vulgate Merlin
- Prose Lancelot (Lancelot en prose)
- Vulgate Quest (Vulgate Queste del Saint Graal)
- Vulgate Mort Artu (Vulgate Death of Arthur)