ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Women of Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach

Updated on November 10, 2011

Parzival, an Arthurian legend written in the early 13th century by Wolfram von Eschenbach, tells the tale of the knight Parzival, who rises from obscurity to become a valuable member of the Round Table and goes on to lead the quest for the Holy Grail. But despite the focus on the young knight, the Parzival story actually includes two great female characters, the first and second wives of Parzival's father.

Background and Plot Summary

The story begins a generation before Parzival's birth, with the tale of his father, Gahmuret. According to the custom of the day, all the wealth of a family was passed to the first-born son. This may sound harsh, but in these days it was a means of maintaining power, and making sure that wealth and land was not parceled out into increasingly smaller portions over the generations. Because Gahmuret is not the first born son, he is not eligible to inherit and must leave to seek his fortune.

Gahmuret becomes a fierce warrior, winning fame and a loyal company of men. He travels to far off lands, spending time in what would now be called Africa and the Middle East, eventually landing in Zazamanc, where he meets and marries Lady Belacane.

Later, after impregnating Belacane, Gahmuret leaves her, on the pretext that she is not Christian, but more likely to resume his nomadic, warring ways. The eternal bachelor winds up saddled to Lady Herzeloyde, who gives birth to Parzival. Gahurmet again leaves for adventure, and this time he gets himself killed.

While Gahurmet as a character helps to set up the work, establishing the tone and creating the legacy that Parzival will grow into, as a character he isn't nearly as interesting as his two wives, Herzeloyde and Belacane. Gahmuret is the quintessential ladies man, who can't seem to settle down and put down the sword. Herzeloyde and Belacane, on the other hand, are great examples of powerful women in medieval literature, who each have a large political impact, as well as posessing the wealth and power not held by the men, and are worth a second look.

Herzeloyde and Belacane's Many Similarities

In addition to marrying Gahmuret, Belacane and Herzeloyde have plenty of other similarities. Each is described with such words as “free of falsity” “chaste” “loyal” “honorable.” Both women are rulers of a kingdom, and are widely loved by their people.

Each marry Gahmuret out of love, but also out of a sense of necessity. While the women are extremely powerful and adept at ruling, they are still in need of a war leader. A marriage to a brave knight will provide a head for the military, one that is also tied to the queen through marriage, ensuring loyalty. This is where Gahmuret comes in, who sires a child in each case before abandoning the queen.

As a result of losing her husband, each women was depicted as losing the ability to ever be happy again. Despite this heartbreak and woe, both Belacane and Herzeloyde were each found a way of coping, in channeling their interests into their respective sons.

William Morris - Vision of the Holy Grail
William Morris - Vision of the Holy Grail

Differences in Childrearing

The main difference between the two lies in the direct treatment and upbringing of the son. Belacane raised hers as a proud, chivalric warrior, even though he is technically a “heathen.” Belacane’s son is kind, intelligent, noble, a mighty warrior, all the attributes that make up a respected knight.

Herzeloyde, on the other hand, goes the opposite direction, completely removing Parzival from the world of chivalry. This dynamic is similar to the Greek myth of Achilles, in which his mother raises him among women, in women's clothing, so that he cannot become a warrior and die young as has been prophesized. Yet for both the mother of Achilles as well as Herzeloyde, hiding the knowledge of weapons and battle from their son did not seem to make much of a difference. Despite knowledge and training, somehow the youths wound up naturally fulfilling the warriors role all the same.

Herzeloyde sent a foolish and incompetant boy into the world. Ultimately, Herzeloyde’s counsel to Parzival before he embarks on his journey is not useful. In order for Parzival to develop into the knight that it seems he is fated to be, he has to learn to abandon, revise, or selectively interpret much of what his mother taught him.

Parzival at the Court of Amfortas - A. Spiess
Parzival at the Court of Amfortas - A. Spiess

Implications and Speculations

Given that the two women are so similar in all other ways, why does Herzeloyde make such dramatically different choices when it comes to child-rearing? Is Herzeloyde simply fated to some measure of failure, as part of what might be considered a family curse? After all, when we finally find out her lineage, we learn that the past few generations have had their share of misfortune and sorrows.

Or is Herzeloyde deficient in her decision-making? Rather than deal bravely with the loss of her husband, she becomes reactive, and retreats from any perceived threat. In this aspect, Herzeloyde seems weaker than Belecane, who so stuck to her convictions that she didn’t convert to Christianity, a measure that might have kept her husband. Does Belacane have stronger force of will, while Herzeloyde is more easily affected by events and people surrounding her?

Or perhaps, Herzeloyde’s retreat from chivalry is simply a much-needed narrative device, after all, Parzival’s half-brother is not the main character. He is allowed to enter into the story fully-formed, while Parzival’s journey towards knowledge and awareness of the chivalric code is what makes up the tale. If Parzival had simply entered the world knowing all there was to know about knightly custom, he likely wouldn’t have failed the grail test in the first place, and then where would we be? With a good story, maybe, but certainly not the twisting and turning epic that Wolfram has pieced together.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Anaya M. Baker profile imageAUTHOR

      Anaya M. Baker 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Scarlet, I definitely agree, it seems to be quite popular to die in battle in these works, probably more often than not!

      And I did get my BA in English Lit:)

    • profile image

      Scarlet Scrivener 

      7 years ago

      I read Parzival many years ago. I wish I had the time to read it, again.

      Reading your article, the thing that strikes me is that all good people die as warriors fighting against some evil in the old Anglo-Saxon and root cultures. In the Germanic heart and mind is the desire to destroy the evil frost giants whatever form they take.

      Excellent article. Maybe you have an English Lit. degree?

      Accolades and a vote up!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)