Wolfram von Eschenbach


The Chronology of Parzival

Based on Wolfram’s secular, liturgical, and astrological references in Parzival, this translation leans towards acceptance of the following assumed schema (unprovable, given the current lack of external corroboration). Please note that astrology is not credited here with any factual or scientific meaning, but was a belief system and psycho-drama of the medieval period and is therefore important in understanding artistic works of that age.

  1. Wolfram sets Parzival’s two visits to Munsalvaesche at the Michaelmas (September 29th) of AD1203 and AD 1208 respectively. In Book IX Trevrizent, on Good Friday, dates Parzival’s first visit at four and half years and three days past, while Guinevere in Book XIII, on Ascension Day, says that Parzival left the River Plimizoel four and a half years and six weeks (forty-two days) before, Ascension Day being the thirty-ninth day after Easter Sunday. Calculation would indicate the Good Friday concerned as likely to be that of 1208, falling on April 4th, and the Ascension Day as being that of the same year. The Good Friday of AD1203, also fell on April 4th, exactly five years earlier, thus again pinning the liturgical calendar to the secular, and strengthening Wolfram’s framework. Note, as regards dating the final edit of the work, the reference to the historical fight at Erfurt in the summer of 1203 (Book VII) and the looting of the treasury at Byzantium during the Fourth Crusade of 1204 (Book XI).
  2. Michaelmas, the Feast of Saint Michael and all Angels, links Saint Michael, the militant Biblical vanquisher of Satan, to the warrior knight Parzival.
  3. In Book IX Trevrizent tells Parzival that, on his first visit to Munsalvaesche, Saturn the farthest planet (of the then recognised Ptolemaic seven) caused the Grail King Anfortas his greatest pain because of its intense cold. Saturn, astrologically, is by tradition the planet of constraint, sorrow and coldness. At Michaelmas of AD1203 Saturn was in Aries, the sign of the Lamb, the sign of the Spring Equinox in Biblical times, and traditionally the sun sign at Christ’s birth, and the position of the Sun at the Creation (see Dante’s Divine Comedy). Saturn was in opposition to the Sun in Libra, and a constraining influence in Aries, whose ruling planet is Mars, indicating the debilitation of the Grail King, and of the martial Parzival, who fails to ask the vital question. Note the reference also to the malign effect of certain planets, regarding the use of the herb ‘trachonte’ in Chapter IX.
  4. In Book XVI, covering the second visit to Munsalvaesche, Wolfram says, emphasising Anfortas’ affliction, that it was at the time when Mars ‘and’ Jupiter (following the lesser known, but syntactically correct reading, rather than the better known, but weak and syntactically incorrect reading, of Mars ‘or’ Jupiter) ‘returned to where they had set out from’. At Michaelmas AD1208, the most notable feature of the astrological chart is that Mars and Jupiter were in conjunction (within eight degrees) of one another, in Leo. If the traditional date of the Crucifixion is accepted, namely April 3rd AD33, then computer calculation shows that a like conjunction of Mars and Jupiter occurred on that date, though not in the same astrological house (Gemini not Leo), indicating a correspondence between the Grail Castle, with its lance that drips blood, and the Crucifixion itself. The conjunction is that of the warrior (Mars/Parzival) and the Grail King (Jupiter, king of the heavens), and the subsequent alignment of Parzival the knight with the Grail kingship itself. Since the planets are relatively slow moving the conjunction appertains to the traditional date of the healing Resurrection also, two days later. Mars and Jupiter had therefore ‘returned’ to their state of conjunction, though not the exact same position in the heavens. Ptolemaic calculation was remarkably accurate in practice despite the falsity of the underlying theory, and might well have been accurate enough to highlight the conjunction to Wolfram and his Medieval contemporaries. (However, it should be noted that Mars/Jupiter conjunctions in dissimilar signs are not at all rare, and indeed occur every two or three years. For example, similar conjunctions, prior to 1208, occurred in May 1204 and July 1206).
  5. It is also worth noting the conjunction of Saturn with the Sun in Aries, on Good Friday AD1203, reinforcing the factors of constraint and coldness inflicted on Anfortas, with this astrological influence of Saturn in Aries following through to the Michaelmas of that same year.

    Readers are hereby invited to check the astrological charts for the dates given (this can be done via various Internet sites or local software); search out any other possible significance of Wolfram’s references; confirm the traditional date for the Crucifixion as the date commonly acknowledged in Wolfram’s day; confirm if possible the accuracy of the Ptolemaic system with regard to the configuration of planets at the traditional date of the Crucifixion, and consider whether the repetition of a Mars/Jupiter conjunction is sufficient to constitute ‘a return’ of those planets, in the absence of any other credible alternative. It should be noted that a return (a full circuit of the planetary orbit) of Jupiter occurs approximately every 11.9 years, and a return of Mars every 1.9 years, neither of which fits a five-year time frame, so the return does not it seems refer to Parzival’s previous visit to Munsalvaesche. Any ‘return’ (assuming the text was intended to be astrologically meaningful) must therefore be to an astrological configuration at a given date (known or traditionally assumed) in the past, preferably one associated with the Christian tradition (Creation, Birth of Christ, Crucifixion, Resurrection) The astrological configuration could involve planetary alignments, planets in specific signs, planets in exaltation or fall, or something more abstruse.

  6. Added here is a further note regarding the herb ‘trachonte’ and the Dragon constellation referred to in Book IX. It is unlikely that the constellation Draco near the Pole Star is intended, as that constellation has no particular relevance to any healing process. There is however another dragon constellation, that of Serpens. (In Latin serpens means a serpent, snake or dragon, the words for serpent and dragon being used fairly interchangeably in the past, especially in Norse, and related northern, literature). Of interest here is that the constellation Serpens is depicted as the head and tail of a serpent on either side of the constellation Ophiuchus, the serpent-bearer, which represents Asclepios (Aesculapius) the Healer, and the serpent is commonly depicted threading between his thighs, as he grasps the creature. In one mythological incident, Asclepius appeared to kill a snake, but the creature was subsequently ‘resurrected’ by means of a reviving herb placed on it before its death, by a second snake. Asclepius was said to revive ‘dead’ human beings using the same technique he had witnessed (Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2.14). These two constellations are in reasonably close proximity to the Zodiacal constellations of Libra and Scorpio (the wounding scorpion). The healing constellation of Aesculapius is therefore well-suited in principle to countering the effects of inimical planetary alignments (for example Saturn in the constellation opposite Libra, that of Aries, in 1203, see above), though it fails to help Anfortas, as do the other powerful remedies. The passage may also refer to the Dragon’s Head and Dragon’s Tail of astrology (the lunar nodes, where the moon’s orbit intersects the ecliptic) but there is no tradition of them possessing a healing nature. I would regard the connections here with a resurrecting healer (and the Resurrection itself); the snake passing between the thighs, where Anfortas was wounded; and the reviving herb, as at least worthy of consideration.

End of the Chronology of Parzival

Compiled by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2020 All Rights Reserved

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