Recent discoveries have made it practically certain that there existed, prior to the extant romances, a collection of short episodic poems, devoted to the glorification of Arthur's famous nephew and his immediate kin (his brother Ghaeris, or Gareth, and his son Guinglain), the authorship of which was attributed to a Welshman, Bleheris; fragments of this collection have been preserved to us alike in the first continuation of Chretien de Troyes Perceval, due to Wauchier de Denain, and in our vernacular Gawain poems. Among these "Bleheris" poems was one dealing with Gawain's adventures at the Grail castle,where the Grail is represented as non-Christian, and present s features strongly reminiscent of the ancient Nature mysteries.
As authority Thomas cites a certain Breri, who has now been identified with the Bleheris quoted as authority for the Grail and Gawain stories, and the Bledhericus referred to by Giraldus Cambrensis as famosus ille fabulator.
These are not the words of a man who is following a complete and authoritative poem; judging from the context of the other references to Bleheris he was rather a collector and versifier of short episodic tales, and it seems far more natural to understand Thomas as having wrought into one complete and consecutive form the various poems with which the name of Breri was associated, than to hold that that, or a similar, work had already been achieved by another.
Gawain, included in the continuation to Chretien's Perceval by Wauchier de Denain, and attributed to Bleheris the Welshman, who is probably identical with the Bledhericus of Giraldus Cambrensis, and considerably earlier than Chretien de Troyes.
It will be seen that with the exception of the Grand Saint Graal, which has now been practically converted into an introduction to the Quete, no two versions agree with each other; indeed, with the exception of the oldest Gawain-Grail visit, that due to Bleheris, they do not agree with themselves, but all show, more or less, the influence of different and discordant versions.
The earliest form of the Grail story, the Gawain- Bleheris version, exhibits a marked affinity with the characteristic features of the Adonis or Tammuz worship; we have a castle on the sea-shore, a dead body on a bier, the identity of which is never revealed, mourned over with solemn rites; a wasted country, whose desolation is mysteriously connected with the dead man, and which is restored to fruitfulness when the quester asks the meaning of the marvels he beholds (the two features of the weeping women and the wasted land being retained in versions where they have no significance); finally the mysterious food-providing, self-acting talisman of a common feast - one and all of these features may be explained as survivals of the Adonis ritual.
Professor Martin long since suggested that a key to the problems of the Arthurian cycle was to be found in a nature myth: Professor Rhys regards Arthur as an agricultural hero; Dr Lewis Mott has pointed out the correspondence between the so-called Round Table sites and the ritual of nature worship; but it is only with the discovery of the existence of Bleheris as reputed authority for Arthurian tradition, and the consequent recognition that the Grail story connected with his name is the earliest form of the legend, that we have secured a solid basis for such theories.
- For the Gawain Grail visits see the Potvin edition of the Perceval, which, however, only gives the Bleheris version; the second visit is found in the best and most complete MSS., such as 12,576 and 12,577 (Fonds francais) of the Paris library.
Of Arthurian Romances (Nutt), gives a translation of the Bleheris, Diu Crone and Prose Lancelot visits.
36614, we find the first continuator of the Perceval, Wauchier de Denain, quoting as authority for stories of Gawain a certain Bleheris, whom he states to have been "born and bred in Wales."
The identity of this Bleheris with the Bledhericus mentioned by Giraldus Cambrensis as Famosus ille fabulator, living at a bygone and unspecified date, and with the Breri quoted by Thomas as authority for the Tristan story, has been fully accepted by leading French scholars.