“lapsit exillis”

Holy Grail and Phoenix Myth

(2018 revisions are in progress!)

          Chrétien de Troyes opens the Contes du Gral with the microcosmic "seed" from the Gospels (Mk. 4, 1-10, Mt. 13, 4-9), and later introduces the grail to take us up to the macrocosm: In a solemn procession, a white lance with a drop of blood is displayed and two squires follow with candelabras of 10 candles each, which could symbolize two Pythagorean triangles (1+2+3+4=10). They are followed by a virgin with the grail...

"and such brilliant light radiates from it that the light of the candles faded like the stars when the sun or moon are rising".

This symbolism continues with the description of the grail as a platter of pure gold with precious stones of such splendor and value that they surpass all those in the seas and in the earth (3224-39), which mirrors the sun and orbits of the planets on the rim. After the grail, a second maiden carries a silver platter past Perceval, which symbolizes the moon. The cosmic theme is picked up in the most enchanting scene of the poem where a falcon attacks a wild goose in the air, and although she feels no pain (!) three drops of her blood land in the snow. Perceval sits on his horse and stares at the red triangle as it melts in the snow and when it turns into the face of his beloved Blanchefleur he falls into a deep trance.

Eight hundred years later, we would be limited to these speculations about Chrétien's cosmic concept if we didn't have the second opinion of Wolfram von Eschenbach (ca. 1215) who included the winter scene with the drops of blood in his adaptation, but also added the positions of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars, and a numerological concept from the Phoenix Myth. It may not be a coincidence that each folio of the St. Gallen, one of the oldest manuscripts, is written in two columns of 54 lines, adding up to 108 per page. In the 1950s, the philologist Hans Eggers discovered a hidden "mathematical precision” in the structure of Wolfram's poem, which Otto Springer explains as follows: "If we discount the first 108 sections of 30 lines each which constitute the Gahmuret prelude, we are left with 324 sections (109-432) before and 324 sections (503-826) after the Ninth book (i.e. the introduction of the grail), which itself numbers exactly 70 sections" (1).  This means that the entire poem is divided into seven sections of 108 times 30 lines each, with the exception of the grail story and an epilogue (827) of 30 lines.

 The first 108 sections of 30 lines are about the life and death of Parzival's father, which is an addition of Wolfram and independent of Chrétien. Because the next section (P 109, 1-4) begins with the first signs of Parzival's life in his mother's body, these hidden divisions seem to have an important function. If we consider that Wolfram followed Chrétien's concept often scene by scene,  he apparently understood his cosmic concept. He reveals this in the grail story about Flegetanis (P 453-455), a Muslim astronomer and descendent of Solomon through his mother, who had read in the stars some "mysterious, hidden things about a grail he was too shy to talk about". This indicates that Flegetanis found an early draft of the famous "Tables of Toledo" which included the planetary positions, and that Wolfram calculated the dates when the phoenix was burned by the sun and rose from the ashes again. According to Plutarch (2) an ancient riddle about its lifespan requires that a generation of "vigorous men" is properly calculated because "some make in their vigor 30 years", according to Heraclitus. Others allegedly prefer "in their eld" and "assign 108 years to a generation; for they say that 54 marks the limit of the middle years of human life, a number which is made up of the first number, the first two plane surfaces, two squares and two cubes, numbers which Plato used for the Generation of the Soul." (1+(1x2)+(1x3) +4+9+8+27=54)

Contrary to Plutarch, who arrives at 972 years by favoring "one" for a generation to calculate the lifespan of the phoenix, Wolfram falls short with a total of 827 sections, which is derived from 7 x 108 = 756 + 70 + 1. He reminds of this numerology by entertaining his audience near the end of the poem with some entertaining word creations. In P.770-72, Parzival and Feirefiz list their victories and identify opponents and their origins in a strange code. Many names sound familiar, but appear to be changed in a pattern of reshuffled syllables. The 54 names and 54 places are divided in the middle of line 27 by "those of Azagouc and Zazamanc", a probable play with Z in "Aragon" and "Salamanca" in the north and south of Spain respectively. Of interest is that they add up to 108, and that the first half of 27 names and 27 places, including those of Azagouc, contain one decoded name: Zoroaster. This name is rather important and may be a challenge to review the only name in the second half "from Zazamanc" which may have remained in code: "Jovedast von Arl ein Provenzal" suggests a man from Arles in the Provence, but if we consider Zoroaster, who is not an Arabian king either, the name could refer to a calculation of the "proven number" (proven zal) of Jupiter's (Jove's) branch (d'ast) of the "Aar" (archaic and poetic German for large bird).

Only when this puzzle is solved can we try to figure out why Wolfram created "lapsit exillis" to describe the grail. Our interpretation of Wolfram’s hidden code requires that we first identify "Kyot", his mysterious informant who is also described as a “Provenzal”. Scholars have tried for centuries to solve this puzzle and always came up with the wrong man. The most common identification is the troubadour Guiot, author of the satire “La Bible”, but he was from Provins near Paris and not from the Provence in Southern France.  

We started with the numbers 30, 54, 108, and 10 from Plutarch's riddle and Plato's "Timaeus”, which helped us calculate the lifespan of the Phoenix. Wolfram worked from Chrétien's poem, which ends in the middle of a scene, probably because of his death. Although the French master could not fully develop his concept, Wolfram seems to have understood his intentions and interpreted his golden platter as the sun, which he states clearly with the phoenix myth (P.469, 1-12):

“These templers...live from a stone of the  purest kind. If you do not know it, it shall here be named to you.  It is called `lapsit exillis'.  By the power of that stone the phoenix burns to ashes, but the ashes give him life again. Thus does the phoenix molt and change its plumage, which afterwards is bright and shining and as lovely as before."

Scholars have come up with all kinds of variations to solve the riddle,  Mustard and Passage add in a footnote (3) that "lapis elixir" (as used in one text) "would correspond to the philosopher's stone". The legendary talisman of metallic transmutation is linked to the planets and often symbolized by a hexagram. Hence, if grail and sun are one, it could be a "stone from heaven" of the purest kind, and if the planetary triangles announced Parzival's succession, this symbolism should also appear in other parts of the poem. But we can't dismiss the option that Wolfram's many word inventions might include "lapses from heaven", a plural alternative that suggests a cyclical event.

Already the prologue mentions a faith that vanishes like fire in a well or morning dew in the Sun. The most dramatic fusion of the hexagram occurs after the death of Gahmuret's brother, when a knight expresses his sorrow by turning the point of his shield upward, thus converting a watery into a fiery triangle. This shield, the shield of David and Pythagoras, is probably what Wolfram meant when he said the service to the shield is my vocation. It led scholars to the assumption that he was a knight, even a poor knight, because he claimed that he was so poor not even the mice had enough to eat. They apparently overlooked that he praised Pythagoras as the most learned man since Adam. Something to think about!

However, according to the Universal Jewish Encyclopaedia (under Magen David), hexagrams were used on tavern signs in Southern Germany during the Middle Ages (4), reputedly because there was a tradition that Pythagorean beggar-monks used it as a secret mark to signal their comrades where they had found a hospitable reception. At left is one of the last remaining tavern signs from Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber. Wolfram claimed that he was a poor Bavarian from Southern Germany, which leads us to the conclusion that he was not an impoverished  knight, as widely held, but a poor Pythagorean monk who served under this protective "shield against hellfire". This adventurous conjecture is supported by Parzival's trance when the fiery and watery triangle is fused in the melting snow and by the poet Gottfried of Strassburg who praised every famous contemporary by name, except for Wolfram whom he criticized for using books of magic without mentioning his name.

The clearest reference to the macrocosmic hexagram next to the burning sun is offered by Wolfram when the sorceress Kundrie prophecies Parzival's call to the grail. The scene is well prepared in cosmological terms: Throughout the poem, the poet refers to the planetary positions and their powers (P 454, 17-23, P 518, 5, P 789, 5-7,), as well as to the suffering of the grail king because of Saturn (P 489, 24-28, P 492, 25-30, P 493, 1-8). Finally, with the approach of Mars and Jupiter, the sorceress appears at King Arthur's court and falls to her knees (3), prostrating like Balaam:

To Parzival then she said: `Show restraint in your joy!

Blessed are you in your high lot, O crown of man's salvation!

The inscription has been read: you shall be Lord of the Grail...

Seven stars then she named in the heathen language...

She said: Mark now, Parzival: The highest of the planets, Zval,

And the swiftly moving Almustri, Almaret, and the bright Samsi,

All show good fortune for you here. The fifth is named Alligafir.

Under these the sixth is Alkiter, the nearest to us is Alkamer.'

I do not speak this out of any dream. These are the bridle of the

firmament and they check its speed; their opposition has ever

contended its sweep. For you, Care is now an orphan.

Whatever the planets' orbits bound, upon whatever their light

is shed, that is destined as your goal to reach and to achieve...

In a note, Mustard and Passage (following Wilhelm Stapel) offer the translation of the Arabic names. Hence, the highest planet Saturn, the swifter Jupiter, Mars, and the bright sun all signal the "good fortune" of Parzival. Only then are Venus, Mercury, and the Moon added, which is a clear reference to Plato's "fullness of time" and St. Cyprian's "great conjunction". Earlier, when Kundrie had damned Parzival because of his grave failure at the grail castle (P 312, 20-30), Wolfram featured her knowledge of many languages, of Trivium and Quadrivium (Astronomy). In the following lines (P 313, 14-15) he connected to the Balaam prophecy by saying that her message is "a bridge which brings sorrow over the river of joy". 

Parzival as "crown of man's salvation" near the end of the poem and the allusions to the planetary hexagram might be a reference to 6 BCE which connects Parzival symbolically to Christ. But in view of the phoenix and the repetition of the hexagram in 849, Wolfram seems to disprove our hypothesis by falling short of our 854-year cycles. Or is it another riddle?

His "mathematical precision" ends the poem after 827. Could it be a key to 828 CE, suggesting a renewal or new beginning with the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, which was followed by a single, planetary triangle with Mars in Leo. Is this a hidden clue to the date when the story begins, the book of Gahmuret, when Parzival is still unborn? Twenty years later the conjunction in May 848 follows, and in February 849 a planetary hexagram appeared in the sky exactly nine months later. This indicates the date of Parzival's birth because Wolfram reveals (5) that Parzival was conceived in May:

April had now passed, and thereafter had come the short, small, green grass -  the field was green from end to end – this makes faint hearts bold and gives them high spirits. Many a tree stood in blossom from the sweet air of the May time...  Lady Herzeloyde the Queen there surrendered her maidenhood.

If we review another famous clue, Wolframs "eilfte span" (P.128, 29) and consider that he may have worked on this part of the poem in ca. 1215, we could ignore Plutarch's wrong number 30 and subtract "eleven generations" of 33.33 years to reach 848. From Christmas 1214, we actually reach May (1215 - 366.63 = 848.37). Hence, Parzival may have been born nine months after the first conjunction which takes us to early February in 849 when the planetary triangles stood in the sky.  

If we apply this calculation to the birth of Christ, 854 years earlier, it seems that he was conceived on May 27, 7 BCE and born as early as December 24/25, 7 BCE, as held by Epiphanius (312-402 CE) who was convinced that Jesus was only in the womb for seven months, or as late as March 21, 6 BC (vernal equinox), as held by Hippolytus according to St. Cyprian. These quotes are from the astronomer David Hughes (6) who follows Ferrari d'Occhieppo (7) by connecting the birth of Christ to the planetary “massings” between 7 and 6 BC. Their focus was the symbolism of Saturn (Jaweh) and Jupiter (Marduk) and the three conjunctions, but neither of them considered Mars and the planetary triangles. It is amazing that we have another two astronomers, who have either never bothered to study Kepler’s "de stella nova" or simply fallen for Burke-Gaffney S.J. It is unfortunate that Kepler seems to have featured in vain that it is only a "great conjunction" when Mars joins the two highest planets, because it is, according to Cyprian's law, a most perfect great conjunction (8).     

The parallels indicate that "Perceval" was born in early 849 and that grail romance connects somehow to the Elijah/John and Elisah/Jesus successions or reincarnations as early Christians like Origen suggested. This could mean that the long-awaited "Second Coming" was overlooked by Christianity in the Middle Ages and obliges us to spend more time with these riddles. Unfortunately, the only way to identify such a Messianic personage in the 9th century, if there was one, is to penetrate the complex allegorical maze of grail romance and solve its riddles. A matter of great controversy, because few scholars consider that grail romance could be based on real events and continue their "wild goose chase" to find King Arthur. They seem to believe that Arthur was real and grail romance the fiction, but we intend to show that the opposite is true!            



1.  Hans Eggers, ‘Strukturprobleme mittelalterlicher Epik, dargestellt am Parzival Wolframs von Eschenbach’, Euphorion 47 (Osnabrück 1953), pp. 260-270, repr. in Eggers, Kleine Schriften, ed. H. Backes, W. Haubrichs and R. Rath (Tübingen 1982), pp. 161-173 at pp. 264-265 of the original. See Otto Springer, Wolfram's Parzival, Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages, A collaborative history, ed. Roger Sherman Loomis, (Oxford, 1959), p.247.

2. Plutarch, de defectu oraculorum, Moralia, Vol. XI, (Harvard, 1927), pp. 381-87.

3. Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival, trans. Helen M. Mustard and Charles E. Passage, (New York 1961), pp. 406, 435.

4.  Herlitz/Kirschner, Jüdisches Lexikon, Vol. III, (Berlin 1929), p.1282.

5.  Mustard & Passage (see above 3.), pp. 54,57

6.  David Hughes, The Star of Bethlehem: An Astronomer's Confirmation, (New York 1979), pp. 86/7

7.  Konradin Ferrari d'Occhieppo, The Star of Bethlehem, Royal Astronomical Society, (Oxford, Dec. 1978), pp. 517-20

8. Johannes Kepler, Gesammelte Werke, Max Caspar, Bericht vom neuen Stern, (Munich 1938), Vol. 1, p.395