Romance of the Grail: Joseph Campbell and the Arthurian Romances

After completing his M.A. Thesis under the direction of Roger Sherman Loomis, Joseph Campbell went to Paris to study the Old French romances of Chrétien de Troyes, bringing with him his mentor’s thesis that the Grail Romances originated in the Celtic mythologies of Brittany, Wales, and Ireland. He then went on to Munich, where a completely new view emerged, focusing on Near Eastern and Oriental sources. This radically shifted his work to a lifelong engagement with Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival. This presentation explores that shift through imagery and storytelling.


Professor Evans Lancing Smith edited the first collection of Joseph Campbell s writings and lectures on the Arthurian romances of the Middle Ages, a central focus of his celebrated scholarship. Throughout his life, Joseph Campbell was deeply engaged in the study of the Grail Quests and Arthurian legends of the European Middle Ages. In this new volume of the Collected Works of Joseph Campbell, editor Evans Lansing Smith collects Campbell s writings and lectures on Arthurian legends, including his never-before-published master s thesis on Arthurian myth, A Study of the Dolorous Stroke. Campbell s writing captures the incredible stories of such figures as Merlin, Gawain, and Guinevere as well as the larger patterns and meanings revealed in these myths. Merlin s death and Arthur receiving Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake, for example, are not just vibrant stories but also central to the mythologist s thinking. The Arthurian myths opened the world of comparative mythology to Campbell, turning his attention to the Near and Far Eastern roots of myth. Calling the Arthurian romances the world s first secular mythology, Campbell found metaphors in them for human stages of growth, development, and psychology. The myths exemplify the kind of love Campbell called amor, in which individuals become more fully themselves through connection. Campbell s infectious delight in his discoveries makes this volume essential for anyone intrigued by the stories we tell and the stories behind them.

Evans has degrees from Williams College, Antioch International, and The Claremont Graduate School. He is the author of ten books and numerous articles on comparative literature and mythology, and has taught at colleges in Switzerland, Maryland, Texas, and California, and at the C.G. Jung Institute in Kusnacht. In the late 1970s, he traveled with Joseph Campbell on study tours of Northern France, Egypt, and Kenya, with a focus on the Arthurian Romances of the Middle Ages and the Mythologies of the Ancient World. His books include:

  • The Descent to the Underworld in Literature, Painting, and Film: 1850-1950: The Modernist Nekyia
  • Figuring Poesis: A Mythical Geometry of Postmodernism
  • Haiku for Aphrodite
  • The Hero Journey in Literature
  • The Myth of the Descent to the Underworld in Postmodern Literature
  • Postmodern Magus: Myth and Poetics in the Works of James Merrill
  • Rape and Revelation
  • Ricorso and Revelation: An Archetypal Poetics of Modernism
  • Sacred Mysteries: Myths About Couples in Quest
  • Thomas Pynchon and the Postmodern Mythology of the Underworld

His areas of emphasis include: Myth in Literature from Antiquity to Postmodernism; Arthurian Romances, and The Hermetic Tradition. He currently teaches: Myth and the Underworld; Alchemy and Hermeticism; Arthurian Romances and the Grail; Folklore and Fairytales; Theoretical Approaches to Mythological Studies; Cultural Mythologies; and Native Mythologies of the Americas.

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Jan 28th 2024 8:00 pm - 09:30 pm

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