Primary Sources: Le Morte D’Arthur, Book XIII Chapter 7 continued
The big final one-last-party jousting tournament complete (because I guess Galahad and Percivale and Launcelot decline to fight one another and just declare a three-way tie) all the knights go home to Camelot. At supper that night yet another crazy thing happens!
First up, thunderclaps, horribly loud, such that Gawaine and the others all fear that Camelot is collapsing on them. Then, a sunbeam seven times brighter than ever they saw day lights up the room, stunning the knights. And then all the knights start to glow! They look at one another, and marvel at how attractive they all seem, lit up by the holy radiance of the Grail. No one says anything, because it would spoil the mood.
And then, in comes the Grail! It’s under a silk coverlet, which apparently also covers the person carrying it, if it’s not just levitating under its own magical power. As the Grail appears, a miracle occurs and the hall is full of meat and drink, the best stuff, every knight’s personal favorite dish even.
Just like that, it’s gone! All the knights are left there, in the hall, with a big pile of food. And then they all start talking at once, again. I have to say, I would find this scene more impressive if it wasn’t coming on the heels of Galahad’s big entrance earlier this chapter.
Gawaine, once he’s properly drunk, starts shouting about how awesome the Grail is, and how sad he is that he didn’t get to actually see it, because it was under that coverlet. “Tomorrow morning,” he declares, “I will get up and I will ride out and I will go look at the Grail! I don’t care if it takes me all day, or a year, or a year and a day, or even longer than that! I’m going to go, and I won’t come back until I’ve beheld the Grail, and if I never show up again you’ll know it’s because Jesus doesn’t love me enough to show me the Grail.”
All the knights cheer at this, maybe because they’re all also kind of drunk. Most of them follow Gawaine’s lead and swear the same oath, even. All the knights shall ride off and Grail-hunt and never come back!
Arthur thinks this is a terrible idea. He takes Gawaine aside. “Gawaine, nephew, please. You’re breaking my heart. You and I both know that you aren’t Grail material. Launcelot, sure. Galahad, definitely. Pellas the Good, who has been conspicuously absent this Book, maybe because his wife talked him into giving this feast a miss, absolutely. But Sir Gawaine? The same man who fathered like twelve illegitimate children, who gets drunk and throws things, who got frustrated and quit his strange adventure halfway through? Who murdered or conspired to murder several guys I was fond of? You’re not going to make it. And neither are a bunch of those knights out there, the guys you got all fired up. You’ve basically ended the Round Table as a thing, you know that?” Arthur starts to tear up, he’s so upset by this.
Launcelot tries to cheer him up. “Sire, sire, listen. Are we pretty much all going to die, alone in distant lands? Yes. Will basically none of us ever come back? Again, yes. But we’re Knights of the Round Table! This is what we do! It’s our thing. We ride off to die, and we love it!”
“You’re a good man, Launcelot,” says Arthur. “I’m going to miss you, you know?”
“I know.” And they manfully embrace.
But who gets locked out of that manful embrace? Guenever! She just got Launcelot back, and now apparently he’s going off again. “You’re the king!” she snaps at Arthur. “Can’t you order him to stay?” But of course Arthur won’t.
I’d imagine the Grail can do pretty much whatever it wants.
Of course, that does screw up the entire point of looking for it.
I must admit, though, that I would not have put catering on the list of its accomplishments. But I suppose that’s a bit foolish of me. I suppose God wanted to send a Sign of His Puissance, and thought it might be nice to make it fun for everyone involved instead of the usual three-headed calf or whatever.
It’s kind of cool, actually.
In the first few books of Le Morte D’Arthur, up until his marriage to Guenever, Malory describes Arthur throwing a lot of nice parties, and of the few characters he mentions by name and remembers to give the mostly correct name each time, Sir Kay, Sir Griftlet, and Sir Lucas, Arthur’s caterers. In Book VI, after a bunch of knights are released from a dungeon, Sir Kay cooks like twenty pounds of sausage per person, to feed them. Malory thought more about catering than he did about most non-jousting topics, is what I’m saying.
Well, it’s kind of neat to see what passed for an “awesome feast” back in the day.