How did the Holy Grail transform from the object of a purifying spiritual quest to a Faustian symbol of the corruptions of power? We consider the evolution of the Grail myth from the later medieval romances through Le Morte D’Arthur, the works of Tennyson, Wagner, and T.S. Eliot, and the portrayals of the Grail by Monty Python, Dan Brown, and Jay-z, and finally we consider the modern quests to uncover the hidden truth of the Grail — whether as a pagan fertility symbol, a Christian spiritual allegory, or a code identifying the secret bloodline of Jesus Christ.
Image: Mural of Galahad’s attainment of the Grail, Edward Austin Abbey, Boston Public Library, early 1890s.
Suggested further reading: Richard Barber, “The Holy Grail: Imagination and Belief”; Arthur Edward Waite, “The Holy Grail.”
Also see Myth of the Month 19: The Holy Grail – pt. 1
Here are the most popular ways to listen:
Myth of the Month 19: The Holy Grail – pt. 2 – Listen on Patreon
Explore more in the Myths of the Month Playlist
Things You Don’t Know
Did Columbus really think that he was going to reach Asia?
What little do we actually know about Shakespeare, the person?
Why is it misleading to apply the word “religion” to Judaism and Hinduism?
Are people really becoming less religious than they used to be?
How did Tisquantum (popularly known as Squanto) already know how to speak English before the Pilgrims had ever arrived?
What did Netflix’s “The Dig” miss about the most dramatic part of the whole Sutton Hoo discovery?
What does the English Civil War of the 1640s tell us about the American Civil War, and about the present?
What can we know about enslaved Africans who were held in a specific New England house, even without written records?
Who were the Freemasons of the 1700s? How did they grow from a local Scottish fraternity to a global network?
Could all of British history have turned out differently if the winds on the English channel had shifted direction on just one day in 1066?
What did followers of the ancient and secretive branch of Christianity, Gnosticism, actually believe?
Why can no one agree on what “capitalism” actually is? And why does a lack of clear definition call into question so many other myths of the modern world?
How – and why – did universities begin in the Middle Ages, long before the scientific revolution and the “Enlightenment”?
Was there really an Exodus from Egypt like the one described in the Bible?
How did changes in the climate in the 1600s lead people to think they were living in the Apocalypse? How did this help spur the creation of institutions and forces that still shape the world today?
How did accusing people of witchcraft further several political agendas of the time?
Why did every Renaissance-era ruler in Europe have a court astrologer?
Does a single coin prove that Vikings came all the way to what’s now the United States?
Why is the dramatic 2019 fire at Paris’ Notre Dame actually a common occurrence for cathedrals around Europe?
Why don’t US citizens directly elect their President? Or have a more proportional Senate?