Lowell, Percival, 1855-1916, American astronomer, b. Boston, grad. Harvard, 1876; brother of Abbott Lawrence Lowell and Amy Lowell. He visited Korea and Japan, where he acted as counselor and foreign secretary to the Korean Special Mission to the United States and wrote several books about East Asia. Becoming interested in astronomy, he established (1894) the Lowell Observatory at Flagstaff, Ariz., and devoted himself to making personal observations. It was his belief that Mars was inhabited and that the striations on the Martian surface were artificial waterways. He also contended that there was a planet beyond Neptune (seemingly confirmed in 1930 by the discovery of Pluto, but Pluto is now regarded as a dwarf planet). From 1902 he was nonresident professor of astronomy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Among his many writings on astronomy are Mars and Its Canals (1906) and The Genesis of Planets (1916).

See biography by A. L. Lowell (1935).

Percival or Perceval is one of King Arthur's legendary Knights of the Round Table. In Welsh literature his name is Peredur (see the Peredur article for that legendary figure). He is most famous for his involvement in the quest for the Holy Grail.

Fictional background

There are many versions of Percival's birth. In most accounts he is of noble birth; his father is either King Pellinore or another worthy knight. His mother is usually unnamed but plays a significant role in the stories. His sister is the bearer of the Holy Grail, she is sometimes named Dindrane. In tales where he is Pellinore's son his brothers are Sir Tor, Sir Aglovale, Sir Lamorak, and Sir Dornar.

After the death of his father, Percival's mother takes him to the Welsh forests where she raises him ignorant to the ways of men until the age of 15. Eventually, however, a group of knights passes through his wood, and Percival is struck by their heroic bearing. Wanting to be a knight himself, the boy travels to King Arthur's court, and after proving his worthiness as a warrior he is knighted and invited to join the Knights of the Round Table.

Even in the earliest stories he is connected to the Grail Quest. In Chrétien de Troyes' Perceval, le Conte du Graal, he meets the crippled Fisher King and sees the Holy Grail, but he fails to ask the question that would heal the injured king. Upon learning of his mistake he vows to find the Grail castle again and fulfill his quest, as detailed in his part in the Grail legend.

In later accounts, the true Grail hero is Galahad, Lancelot's son. But though his role in the romances had been diminished, Percival remained a major character and was one of only two knights (the other was Sir Bors) who accompanied Galahad to the Grail castle and completed the quest with him.

In early versions, Percival's sweetheart was Blanchefleur and he became the King of Carbonek after healing the Fisher King, but in later versions he was a virgin who died after achieving the Grail. In Wolfram's version, Percival's son is Lohengrin, the Knight of the Swan.

Chrétien wrote the first story of Percival; Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival, Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, and the nonextant Perceval of Robert de Boron are other famous accounts of his adventures.

Modern interpretations

In modern times his story has been used in such varied retellings as T. S. Eliot's modernist poem The Waste Land, Richard Wagner's opera Parsifal, John Boorman's Excalibur and the novel and film The Natural. The movie The Fisher King is a modern retelling with Robin Williams as Parry, and Jeff Bridges as the Fisher King-like Jack Lucas. Éric Rohmer's 1978 film Perceval le Gallois is an eccentrically staged interpretation of Chrétien de Troyes's original poem. As well, Richard Monaco's series of four novels based on the Arthurian Grail Quest of Percival, beginning with Parsival or a Knight's Tale, is a re-telling of the Percival legend.



  • Chrétien de Troyes, Nigel Bryant (translator) (1996) Perceval, the Story of the Grail, D. S. Brewer. ISBN 0-85991-224-8.
  • Chrétien de Troyes, D. D. R. Owen (translator) (1988) Arthurian Romances, Tuttle Publishing, reprinted by Everyman. ISBN 0-460-87389-X.
  • Lacy, Norris J. (Ed.) (1991). The New Arthurian Encyclopedia. New York: Garland. ISBN 0-8240-4377-4.

External links

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