Robert de Boron
|French literary history|
Robert de Boron (also spelled in the manuscripts "Bouron", "Beron") was a French poet of the late 12th and early 13th centuries who is most notable as the author of the poems Joseph d'Arimathe and Merlin.
Robert de Boron was the author of two surviving poems in octosyllabic verse, the Grail story Joseph d'Arimathe and Merlin. The latter work survives only in fragments and in later versions rendered in prose. The two poems are thought to have formed either a trilogy - with a verse Perceval forming the third part - or a tetralogy - with Perceval a Mort Artu (Death of Arthur). The "Didot Perceval", a retelling of the Percival story similar in style and content to Robert's other works, may be a prosification of the lost sections.
Robert de Boron is the first author to give the Holy Grail myth an explicitly Christian dimension. According to him, Joseph of Arimathea used the Grail (the Last Supper vessel) to catch the last drops of blood from Jesus's body as he hung on the cross. Joseph's family brought the Grail to the vaus d'Avaron, the valleys of Avaron in the west, which later poets changed to Avalon, identified with Glastonbury, where they guarded it until the rise of King Arthur and the coming of Perceval. Robert also introduced a "Rich Fisher" variation on the Fisher King.
Robert de Boron is also credited with introducing Merlin as the son of the Antichrist.
Robert originated from the village of Boron, now in the arrondissement of Montbéliard. What is known of his life come from brief mentions in his poems. At one point in Joseph d'Arimathe, he applies to himself the title of meisters (medieval French for "clerk"); later he uses the title messires (medieval French for "knight"). At the end of the same poem, he mentions being in the service of Gautier of "Mont Belyal", whom Pierre Le Gentil identifies with one Gautier de Montbéliard (the Lord of Montfaucon), who in 1202 left for the Fourth Crusade, and died in the Holy Land in 1212. Le Gentil also argues that the mention of Avalon shows that he wrote Joseph d'Arimathe after 1191, when the monks at Glastonbury claimed to have discovered the coffins of King Arthur and Guinevere. His family is unknown, though the second author of the Prose Tristan claimed to be Robert's nephew, calling himself "Helie de Boron". This is taken more as an attempt to drop a famous name than a genuine accreditation, however. Although Le Gentil describes him as a "poet endowed with boldness and piety but with mediocre talent", his version of the Grail myth was adopted by almost all of the later writers of the Matter of Britain.
- Pierre Le Gentil, "The Work of Robert de Boron and the Didot Perceval", chapter 19, in Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages, A Collaborative History, (ed. R.S. Loomis). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959.