(b) Chrétien's Perceval (in the modern French translation by Potvin) and (c) the anonymous Peredur (first in the French translation by de Villemarqué and later in a German translation by San-Marte).
Die heil'ge Quelle selbst... The Forest Well in Marienbad, drawn in 1840. Wagner came to this spa to drink the mineral waters in 1845.
Wolfram's work is based on a poem by Chrétien di Troyes, together with at least two other sources that have not survived. There is some evidence, although only at third hand, that Wagner had read Chrétien's "Perceval: The Story of the Grailand". He had also read its so-called continuations, in a modern French version, in 1872. This is mentioned in Du Moulin Eckhart's biography of Cosim Wagner, in which he records that Wagner had studied the Grail legend inWolfram von Eschenbach and Chrétien de Troyes, and now again the remarkable and unique book by Goerres -- the translator of Wolfram von Eschenbach -- , which is more invention than fact, has stimulated his creative process.
Chrétien's Perceval (or "Li Contes del Graal or Perceval le Gallois") roughly follows the story of Peredur (or the reverse) up to and including the meeting with the hermit on Good Friday. Wagner's Bayreuth library also contains a volume by San-Marte of tales from the Mabinogion (Die Arthur-Sage und die Märchen des rothen Buchs von Hergest).
The same Celtic stories inspired other writings in which the Holy Grail became a Christian symbol. This variation was also adopted by some of the authors who attempted to complete Chrétien's unfinished poem. Wagner may have found this interpretation, which he claimed for his own, there or possibly in a summary of another work: Robert de Boron's Joseph d'Arimathie. This poem tells the story of Joseph and his family, guardians of the Christian Grail. Its first part is based on the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus. There are two sequels, the poems Merlin and Perceval. The second of these either not written by de Boron or completed by another hand. There is no evidence that Wagner had any direct knowledge of Robert de Boron. Boron's writings were rediscovered in the early 19th century and first published in modern French in 1841. Indirect knowledge of de Boron's work cannot be ruled out.
Grail romances were by no means the only sources drawn upon by Wagner as he developed his libretto. There are other works of literature (in various genres including poems, novels and scriptures) that beyond all reasonable doubt provided ideas for Wagner's libretto. Three of them are: -- the medieval romance Roman d'Alexandre. -- the religious poem Barlaam und Josaphat and -- the 19th century novel, Le juif errant. In a separate article the current author discusses the influence of the Buddhist literature of northern India on the text of Parsifal, with particular reference to two incidents in the opera that derive from these sources.
Wagner was reticent about his sources, even dismissive of the influence of Wolfram. He told Cosima that Wolfram's text had nothing to do with Parsifal. When he read the epic, he first said to himself that nothing could be done with it, but a few things stuck in my mind - the Good Friday, the wild appearance of Condrie. That is all it was. In particular, he found the Question an unsatisfactory element of the plot. But Wolfram was without doubt important as a stimulus for his thinking and further reading.
Wagner's Bayreuth library as preserved at Haus Wahnfried contains only one text of Chrétien's Perceval. If it is the edition that Wagner studied in 1872, then several interesting points can be noted. The book is Ch. Potvin's Perceval le Gallois and consists of 7 volumes, published between 1866 and 1871. They contain the following: Vol. i: Le roman en prose. According to Sebastian Evans, in his Introduction, his translation of the anonymous Perlesvaus was made from the first volume of Potvin, published in 1866. Vol. ii-iii: Perceval, believed to be entirely by Chrétien de Troyes. 1866. Vol. iv: The First Continuation. This is an anonymous story about Gawain. There are several versions of this continuation. It is not present in the manuscript translated by Potvin, Two of the manuscripts contain an interpolation that tells the same story as de Boron'sJoseph d'Arimathie, although in much less detail. 1866. Vol. v: The Second Continuation. This is by one Gautier or Wauchier de Denain. According to Jessie L. Weston, the First and Second Continuations are not so much a completion of Chrétien. They are a retelling of a Grail story in which Gawain, not Perceval, is the hero.
Westonbelieves the original of this story to have been composed by a Welsh poet, Bleheris, Blihis or Bréri. The original ending was not included in the manuscript translated by Potvin, but it has survived in a single manuscript. 1868. Vol. vi: Gerbert de Montreuil's Continuation. This continuation is incomplete. The ending of this Continuation may have been discarded and lost. It now forms a bridge between the extant Second and Third Continuations. 1870. The original version was probably written in parallel with and independently of: Vol. vii: The Third Continuation, by Manessier. This is apparently derived in part from Perlesvaus and from the Quest of the Holy Grail. 1870.
The first point to note is that Lucy Beckett was wrong in her assertion that the Continuations were not differentiated in the text Wagner would have read. They were published in separate volumes. The change in style from volume iii to volume iv (since the First Continuation has the character of an oral recitation) would have been fairly obvious. But Beckett is correct when she writes that the First Continuation identifies the bleeding spear with that of Longinus. The Second says that the holy Grail contains the blood of Christ. This is important because neither of these features appear in Perceval . This interpretation of the Grail is also found in other versions of the story. However, even in the early romances there is considerable variation in the concept of the Grail. According to Wolfram it is a stone that fell from heaven.
Much more importantly, Wagner's bookshelf contains volume i, Perlesvaus. This account of the Grail legend has many parallels with Wolfram's poem. For example, in the emphasis on healing the Grail king -- the theme of the Waste Land is missing). It differs from the latter (and from Chrétien) in two important respects. First, the Grail king is not physically wounded, but has fallen into languishment, i.e. he is spiritually disabled. Second, there is a unique emphasis on the failure of the Quester. Both elements may be detected in Wagner's poem.
It is tempting to conclude that Wagner's version of the story was influenced by his reading of the first volume of Potvin. Unfortunately, however, none of Potvin was published before 1866. But we have Wagner's Prose Draft of 1865 which contains all of the elements mentioned above. If Wagner was familiar with Perlesvaus in 1865, it must have been as a result of reading secondary sources such as San-Marte's Parzival-study (1861). Wagner's Bayreuth library contains several books by San-Marte (the pseudonym of Albert Schulz). One of them contains extracts from Der jüngere Titurel, once thought to have been written by Wolfram von Eschenbach. It was later attributed to Albrecht von Scharfenberg. It is a continuation of Wolfram's unfinished poem Titurel and it relates the love story of Sigûne (Parzival's cousin) and Schionatulander.
It might be useful to list the most significant sources of Parsifal. A "definitive" list would be difficult to produce and is unlikely to be beyond criticism. There is much that is relevant in the reading matter mentioned in the copious biographical documentation. Much of it is recorded by Cosima or by Richard Wagner himself. It is likely that he read many other things that have not been recorded: books, articles in periodicals, journals or newspapers. Nor do we always know what ideas he received second-hand, in conversation with Cosima. Like Wagner, Cosima was well-read, especially in the French classics. Or with one of his friends and acquaintances, or in correspondence. So any list of sources must be to some extent speculative, concerning what Wagner read and when. And selective, since the relative importance of source material is subjective. It depends upon what the commentator considers Wagner's drama to be about. For what it is worth, then, here is the checklist:
Wagner reads Wolfram von Eschenbach's poem Parzival whilst on vacation. At this stage it is no more than one among many possible subjects for dramatic treatment. Wagner does not seem to have thought any more about Parzival. Then he considered introducing him into the last act of "Tristano"
Wagner reads Rudolf von Ems' translation of Barlaam und Josaphat. This appears as item no. 8 in von Westernhagen's catalogue of Wagner's Dresden library.
Wagner reads Arthur Schopenhauer's essay. The essay is entitled: On the Basis of Morality. Wagner learns that the only viable basis of morality is compassion. The section of this essay concerning hunting is of direct relevance to the swan incident in Parsifal.
Following up a reference in Schopenhauer's On the Will in Nature, Wagner reads Eugène Burnouf'. Burnouf is the author of an Introduction to the History of Indian Buddhism. Burnouf finds the idea of becoming wise through compassion. He provides and a story that becomes the scenario for a Buddhist drama, Die Sieger.
In search of background for the further development of Die Sieger Wagner reads various accounts. This includes an account of the life of the Buddha Shakyamuni. He notes the parallels between the early life of the Buddha and the sheltered youth of Wolfram's hero Parzival.
Wagner returns to Wolfram's Parzival. He writes to Mathilde saying that he can to nothing with this "thoroughly immature phenomenon".
Wagner reads at least part of Robert Spence Hardy's Manual of Buddhism. This title first came to his attention when he read Schopenhauer's On the Will in Nature in 1855. Iin the chapter headed Sinology there is a reading list about Buddhism. This book is item no. 24 on that list. His interest in the book would have been stimulated on reading about it in Schopenhauer. Iin the third edition of Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation.
Further reading about Buddhism, at first in secondary sources. Lter the Sutras in the edition of Coomara Swamy.
Not earlier than 1866
Wagner reads Potvin's editions of the Perlesvaus and (in 1872 if not also before) of Chrétien's Perceval.
Not earlier than 1868
Wagner reads Potvin's edition of the Continuations to Perceval.
Wagner reads the preface to Joseph Görres' edition of Lohengrin. Here he finds the hypothesis that the name "PERCIVALLE" derives from the Arabic, "fal parsi", supposedly meaning, "pure fool".
Wagner reads diverse literature about the origins of Christianity, together with Church history.
Wagner is in search of details (such as names for minor characters) for the poem of Parsifal, Wagner reads San-Marte's Parzival-study but finds it of little help.
Wagner completes the libretto of Parsifal.
In his autobiography Mein Leben (My Life) Wagner wrote: ... I suddenly said to myself that this was Good Friday and recalled how meaningful this had seemed to me in Wolfram's Parzival. Ever since that stay in Marienbad, where I had conceived Die Meistersinger and Lohengrin, I had not taken another look at that poem;. Now its ideality came to me in overwhelming form, and from the idea of Good Friday I quickly sketched out an entire drama in three acts.. So Wagner had not looked at Parzival since 1845, nor is there any evidence that he had read any other Grail romances during the intervening twelve years. Wagner sketched out in the inspiration of a spring morning in 1857. Wagner only returned to Parzival two years later, after Mathilde Wesendonk had sent him a new edition of Wolfram's poem.