Convivium: Shami Ghosh, Puzzling over Parzival, or How to be Good in a Bad, Bad World

When and Where

Friday, March 01, 2024 2:30 pm to 4:30 pm
3rd Floor
Lillian Massey Building
125 Queen's Park


Shami Ghosh (Centre for Medieval Studies)


The CMS Convivium continues Friday, March 1 with our own faculty, Shami Ghosh on Puzzling over Parzival, or How to be Good in a Bad, Bad World. Lunch will be served at 1 pm in the Great Hall for in-person guests.

Registration Required


Contrary to appearances, Wolfram von Eschenbach was not a strange-looking bunny. (I know; my toddler tells me every day 'I wove bunny', and she's not thinking of Wolfram.) Or maybe he was; we don't really know anything about him, and his work is so weird it's plausible a strange-looking bunny produced it. 'Parzival' is the first German Grail Romance--a story of a quest for the Holy Grail!--though it is also many, many more things than that. In fact it's too many things to talk about coherently, and since my revered colleage here, Markus Stock, once said 'No one understands Wolfram', I am comfortable with saying that I will a) not talk about most of it, and b) not be very coherent, and c) not claim to understand anything or help you understand anything. I'll focus on one oddity, frequently noted: it is not made very clear how or why Parzival--who seems to be an idiot--manages to get to be Grail King; and on another bug/feature of the text, that Arthurian knighthood, chivalry, courtly values and all that Ivanhoe / Camelot stuff which is so retro these days is presented as being, well, very retro in those days too, in the sense of unreal and people dressing up in a pretend world, with the real world of knighthood shown to be nasty, brutish, sometimes short, filled with the danger of violent death, often vulgar, misogynistic, full of killing, knights abusing ladies, and Parzival himself guilty of being Very Bad. What does it all mean? Come to my talk, and I won't tell you.


Dogs are people. If you're one of those who believes only humans are people, go away. If you believe humans are better people, but concede that dogs are also people, you may stay only if you provide a signed undertaking in triplicate that you closeup of a dog's nosewill change your mind and admit that dogs are better people than humans by the end of this Convivium. (NB: You may substitute cat for dog if you wish, or whale or penguin or bear or bunny or albatross or platypus; others are subject to negotiation but should normally not pose a problem.) There isn't much else you need to know about me, except that I began my academic life as a Germanist and because everyone said there are no jobs for medieval Germanists and my modern German stuff was rejected as not theoretically sophisticated enough, I am now in a position where people keep calling me a Latinist (I am NOT a Latinist!) and I pretend to be a historian while actually being a lapsed Germanist. By this fall I'd have spent, as graduate student and faculty, 13 years at CMS, which I am sure will be unlucky for someone, probably me.