Parzival – What’s in a name?

The Parzival component in our Parzival Press name is no accident. Though initially chosen for its symbolic importance in western mythology, the following account is apt to introduce something of the mystical into the mix.

The tale of Parzival is a later German variant of earlier Arthurian and Grail legends. In the earlier versions, he goes by the name of Perceval or Percival. This later German version emerged out of the mind of Wolfram von Eschenbach who lived in the span between the 12th and 13th Centuries. Though some aspects of the Parzival story was known to us when we chose the name for our company in 2014, we had no foreknowledge of the intriguing details that follow.

"Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival was the book which inspired [famed mythologist Joseph] Campbell beyond all the other stories of the Grail. For him it was not only the greatest book of the Middle Ages, beyond even Dante, but also ‘the first sheerly individualistic mythology of the human race’. (CM, 553) It is Wolfram’s achievement to have taken a Christian symbol - with all the customary associations of an historical and literal interpretation - and to have opened it out to its universal and psychological meaning, so becoming the first example in world literature of a consciously developed secular Christian myth. (CM, 476)...

The crowning moment is Parzival’s failure. He honours the code and he dishonours his heart, and thus a new ethic is disclosed. As Campbell tells the tale in his book Creative Mythology (the last of four volumes of his monumental work The Masks of God ), Parzival is the one figure through whom this crucial distinction between individual and collective can be worked out. Like the meaning of his name ‘right through the middle’, he is destined to get to the centre of things. For he has been brought up in the country by a mother, disillusioned of the court, who wanted her son to know nothing of its elaborate rules and codes of conduct. His life is lived in terms of the dynamic of his own natural impulses, and when he first sees three knights riding by on their prancing horses he falls to the ground on his knees imagining they are angels. Leaving his home, he comes across an old knight called Guernemanz, who is to be his first teacher. Guernemanz instructs him in the skills and virtues of knighthood and the civilities of court - never to lose the sense of shame, to be compassionate to the needy, not to ask too many questions, and so on - and when he has mastered these Guernemanz then offers him his daughter in marriage. But Parzival says, ‘No, I must earn a wife, not be given a wife,’ passing the first spiritual test of both Wolfram and Campbell." (Quoted material by British mythologist and author Jules Cashford.)

Parzival's own self-determining journey begins when he arrives at this point of the story, when he enters the world on his own terms to see what his adventure might bring in the way of learning. So it is with us all, is it not?

According to mythologist Joseph Campbell in the 2015 book - Romance of the Grail: The Magic and Mystery of Arthurian Myth, a recount of some of his much earlier writings and lectures, Parzival's actual name is a reference to Buddhism's middle way teaching, which according to Campbell, was something to which Wolfram von Eschenbach was likely exposed and wove into his narrative, along with other insights gleaned from both India and the Islamic world. As such, it represents one of the first attempts in the west to integrate both western and eastern wisdoms about the evolution of the human being in a mythological tale.

The fact our own research and writing exploration brought us in a direction that endeavoured to integrate science with other fields of inquiry and experience, very much echoed a similar integrating trajectory, is remarkable enough. But the fact we decided to choose this particular name for our company, before knowing what was explained above, is all the more remarkable.