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Medieval Academy of America

Perceval et l'initiation: essais sur le dernier roman de Chrtien de Troyes, ses correspondances
"orientales" et sa signification anthropologique by Pierre Gallais
Review by: Daniel Poirion
Speculum, Vol. 50, No. 2 (Apr., 1975), pp. 307-309
Published by: Medieval Academy of America
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307

Reviews

always ironic. Equally clearly,Chaucer continues to revertto this theme in


some of his latest works, for a varietyof complex literarypurposes.
Much the same can be said about the importance of brevityas against
amplification.No matterwhat the rhetoricianssay, the crucial criticalterm
for Chaucer's characteristicmode is neither amplificationnor its contrary,
but ironic digression. This Chaucer uses with sufficientmasteryas early as
TheBookoftheDuchess,and he continues to use it,withincreasingmastery,in
his more mature work. Brevitywas never an ideal of stylefor Chaucer in any
of his major poetry,early or late, though he never tired of makingjokes
about boring his audience withlengthynarration(so much for Frank's claim
thatChaucer never repeats himself!).In thisrespect,Chaucer is quite unlike
Robert Henryson, who, as A. C. Spearing argued in this journal over a
decade ago, does strivefor and achieve a "high concise style,"especially in
the famous Testamentof Cresseid.' When, in a tale such as the Reeve's,
Chaucer proceeds withrelativelylittleamplification,the brevityof the typical
Frenchfabliau is surely a more plausible and relevant influence than the
Legend.The reductivebrevitywithwhich the Wife of Bath begins her mock
Arthurian romance is a major source of its hilarity.
Quite contraryto Mr. Frank, I find a surprisingcontinuityof thematic
concerns, notions of literary(including narrative) structure,and habits of
stylein Chaucer's major poetry considered as a whole. To what extent the
failures which even Mr. Frank admits in some of the legends are owing to
Chaucer's departure fromhis characteristichabitsis a question that deserves
more serious considerationthan Frank gives it. Instead of seeking to understand what lies behind the bizarre, at times grotesque, incongruitieswhich
appear so often in the Legend, Frank prefers to play the role of kindly
editor- praising here, correcting there. Of "The Legend of Philomela"
Frank writes: "A few additional fully developed scenes, one or two more
dramatized passages like the splendid rape scene, would have given the
poem body" (p. 144). That kind of help Chaucer doesn't need.
CHARLES R. BLYTH

Cambridge, Massachusetts
essaissur le dernierromande Chretiende
PIERRE GALLAIS,Percevalet l'initiation:

"orientales"et sa signification
(Asanthropologique.
Troyes,ses correspondances
sociation l'Agrafe d'Or.) Paris: Sirac, 1972. Pp. 313; frontispiece.
LET me warn the reader thatthisis an enthusiasticbook, one thatapparently
addresses those who would seek a spiritualitydifferentfromthatofferedby
officialreligions.With this work the studyof the Middle Ages and its myths
enters into that broad movement of intent nostalgia which has created a
A. C. Spearing, "The Testamentof Cresseidand the 'High Concise Style,'" SPECULUM37
(1962), 208-225.

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308

Reviews

receptivewesternaudience for various formsof mysticism,especiallyamong


the young. Pierre Gallais goes rather far in this direction, faithfulin this
respect to the stated goals of the Agrafe d'Or, under whose auspices the
book is published. Besides occasional anticlericaloutbursts,one findsa tirade
against the scientificendeavor which took man to the moon in order to
collect a littledust. In short, the author seeks to explain Perceval without
recourse to traditionalscience and "official"theology,and his workclaims as
its foundation". . l'anthropologie la plus vaste,la plus totale,la plus difficile
aussi a conduire, puisqu'il s'agit de l'imaginaire"(p. 66). Wherein one recognizes the program of the Centre d'Etudes de l'Imaginaire at Chambery,
directed by GilbertDurand, withwhom Gallais collaborates,thus insuringa
liaison with the Centre d'Etudes de CivilisationMedievale at Poitiers.
A possible explanation or excuse for this bias can be found in the ideals,
indeed the mania, of the audience Pierre Gallais wishes to enchant and rally
to medieval studies. The twenty-eight
chapters outline a seductive program
of exploration in the domain of esoterism:the book keeps the promise of its
title.But how should one introduce thisstudyto more positivereaders, or to
readers who, like the author of this review, are prisoners of other critical
habits? To those readers I would say that Gallais offersa comparison with
Iranian Islam, a Bachelardian decoding of the symbolismof Perceval,and an
attempt to interpretthe novel in a theosophic sense.
The comparisons with Iranian legends were inspired by the numerous
and importantworksof Professor Henry Corbin.Thus we find the old king
of the Grail compared to the Imam, mediator between God and man. Of
greater interestare the analyses of tales of voyages to the countryof the
Imam, since theyconcern the plot. The uninitiatedwill have some trouble,
however,in recognizingthe structuresof Chretien's novel, even when such
confrontationshelp to clarify,for instance,the emergence of the castle as an
imaginary place. While refusing to adopt a historical point of view or to
investigatethe sources, Gallais wishesto present the novel simplyin the light
whichdoes permit,to be sure, a betterdecipheringof
of Oriental spirituality,
certain symbolicthemes.
It is this symbolic decoding which will prove most valuable. The book
seeks out the signs of a spiritualitylarger or more mysteriousthan the
traditionalChristiantypology.The enumerationof the possible meanings of
the scene of the cortege, undertaken in the chapter entitled "Du signifiant
" is elaborated in two other
au signifies
chapters which study "Technique et
Nature" and "Le mysterede la totality."It is in this scene that one findsthe
contrast between two registers,masculine and feminine,which once gave
Jessie Weston cause for reflection,and which structuralanthropology explains in terms of the laws of the imaginary. But Gallais leads us away
- the
towardshis philosophicalexegesis by takingthe coincidentia
oppositorum
for a privileged manifestationof God.
recipient and the lance
Impatient to define the spiritof the novel, the author hopes to do so with
referenceto the gnostictradition.Here he is on uncertainground. For while
it seems obvious that various forms of degraded gnosis can be detected in

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Reviews

309

the Middle Ages (one thinksof astrology,magic, illuminism,alchemy), our


knowledge of medieval historyis not detailed enough at the present time to
determine the relationships of any such movement of thought with any
particularmasterpiece of our literature.And Gallais, as we have said, does
not pretend to provide historicalcriticism.His evocation of Iranian spirituality with respect to Chretien's Perceval does permit the restatementof the
problem of these relationships,but does not yet furnisha reasonable solution.
I should add that the reader lacking in enthusiasm for theosophy will
nevertheless find in this work some perceptive analyses of the text of
Chretien, beyond the references to Shiism and other Oriental doctrines.
Thus the roles of Perceval and Gauvain are finelydrawn, as are the character of Blancheflorand the interventionof the Laide Demoiselle. The discussion of sovereignty,as concerns women and marriage, moves towards the
mythicalinterpretation,not to be confused with the various symbolicmeanings. Between these two levels of interpretation,unequally representedin his
work, Gallais would introduce a philosophical or theosophical level. I am
unwillingto follow hin that far, but his preliminarystudies are interesting
and one can follow with pleasure, though not withconviction,the itinerary
of his initiation.
DANIEL POIRION

Sorbonne, Paris
CECIL GRAYSON, CinqueSaggi Su Dante, (Le Miscellanee, 5.) Bologna: Patron,

1972. Paper, Pp. 153. L 2800.


THE Serena Professorof Italian Studies at Oxford, well known for his texts
of early Italian and his editions and translationsof L. B. Alberti, has collected five of his essays on Dante. All began as lectures between 1959 and
1969, and four have been published elsewhere, three in English.1 He has
made the translationsand has brought the notes and bibliographicalreferences up to date.
All the essays display Grayson'scustomaryclarityand precision.They also
return in differentways to the same fundamental questions: the concern
withorigins,the relationshipof the Latin traditionand the Italian language,
and the links between poetry and prose. The strengthof Grayson's work,
here as elsewhere, lies in the patience and flexibilitywith which he approaches a given text. He is the masterof philologicalevidence but he never
analysis.He knowswhat is
ignores the methods and resultsof literary-critical
needed, and when it is appropriate. Rarely does one feel anythingis forced;
Grayson's conclusions always emerge from the discussion they are never
imposed on it.

Previous publication in English: I. "'Nobilior est vulgaris:' Latino e volgare nel pensiero di
Dante," in Centenary
Essayson Dante (Oxford, 1965); IV. "Dante nel Rinascimento,"in Italian
StudiesPresentedto E. R. Vincent(Cambridge, 1962); V. "Machiavelli e Dante," in Renaissance
Studiesin Honor of Hans Baron (Dekalb, 1971).

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