Peronnik The Idiot
Source: Breton Legends
You cannot surely have failed, some time or other, to meet by chance
some of those poor idiots, or innocents, whose utmost wisdom scarcely
serves to lead them as beggars from door to door in quest of daily
bread. One might almost fancy they were straying calves who have lost
their way home. They stare all round with open eyes and mouth, as if in
search of somewhat; but, alas, that they seek is not plentiful enough
in these parts to be found upon the highways--for it is common sense.
Peronnik was one of these poor idiots, to whom the charity of strangers
had been in place of father or of mother. He wandered ever onwards
unconscious whither; when he was thirsty, he drank from wayside
springs; when hungry, he begged stale crusts from the women he saw
standing at their doors; and when in need of sleep, he looked out for
a heap of straw, and hollowed himself out a nest in it like a lizard.
As to any knowledge of a trade, Peronnik had, indeed, never learnt one;
but for all that he was skilful enough in many matters: he could go
on eating as long as you desired him to do so; he could outsleep any
one for any length of time; and he could imitate with his tongue the
song of larks. There is many a one now in these parts who cannot do
so much as this.
At the time of which I am telling you (that is, many a hundred years
ago and more), the land of White-Wheat was not altogether what you see
it nowadays. Since then many a gentleman has devoured his inheritance,
and cut up his forests into wooden shoes. Thus the forest of Paimpont
extended over more than twenty parishes; some say it even crossed the
river, and went as far as Elven. However that may be, Peronnik came one
day to a farm built upon the border of the wood; and as the Benedicite
bell had long since rung in his stomach, he drew near to ask for food.
The farmer's wife happened at that moment to be kneeling down on
the door-sill to scrape the soup-bowl with her flint-stone; but
when she heard the idiot's voice asking for food in the name of God,
she stopped and held the kettle towards him.
"Here," she cried, "poor fellow, eat these scrapings, and say an
'Our Father' for our pigs, that nothing on earth will fatten."
Peronnik seated himself on the ground, put the kettle between his
knees, and began to scrape it with his nails; but it was little
enough he could succeed in finding, for all the spoons in the house
had already done their duty upon it. However, he licked his fingers,
and made an audible grunt of satisfaction, as if he had never tasted
any thing better.
"It is millet-flour," said he, in a low voice,--"millet-flour moistened
with the black cow's milk, and by the best cook in the whole
The farmer's wife, who was going by, turned round delighted.
"Poor innocent," said she, "there is little enough of it left; but
I will add a scrap of rye-bread."
And she brought the lad the first cutting of a round loaf just out
of the oven. Peronnik bit into it like a wolf into a lamb's leg, and
declared that it must have been kneaded by the baker to his lordship
the Bishop of Vannes.
The flattered peasant replied, that was nothing to the taste of
it when spread with fresh-churned butter; and to prove her words,
she brought him some in a little covered saucer. After taking this,
the idiot declared that this was living butter, not to be excelled by
butter of the White Week itself; and to give greater force to his
words, he poured over his crust all that the saucer contained. But the
satisfaction of the farmer's wife prevented her from noticing this;
and she added to what she had already given him a lump of dripping
left from the Sunday soup.
Peronnik praised every mouthful more and more, and swallowed every
thing as if it had been water from a spring; for it was very long
since he had made so good a meal.
The farmer's wife went and came, watching him as he ate, and adding
from time to time sundry scraps, which he took, making each time the
sign of the cross.
Whilst thus employed in recruiting himself, behold a knight appeared
at the house-door, and addressing himself to the woman, asked her
which was the road to Kerglas castle.
"Heavens! good gentleman," exclaimed the farmer's wife, "are you
"Yes," replied the warrior; "and I have come from a land so distant
for this purpose, that I have been travelling night and day these
three months to get so far on my way."
"And what are you come to seek at Kerglas?" asked the Breton woman.
"I am come in quest of the golden basin and the diamond lance."
"These two are, then, very valuable things?" asked Peronnik.
"They are of more value than all the crowns on earth," replied the
stranger; "for not only will the golden basin produce instantaneously
all the dainties and the wealth one can desire, but it suffices to
drink therefrom to be healed of every malady; and the dead themselves
are raised to life by touching it with their lips. As to the diamond
lance, it kills and overthrows all that it touches."
"And to whom do this diamond lance and golden basin belong?" asked
"To a magician called Rogear, who lives in the castle of Kerglas,"
answered the farmer's wife. "He is to be seen any day near the forest
pathway, riding along upon his black mare followed by a colt of three
months' old; but no one dares to attack him, for he holds the fearful
lance in his hand."
"Yes," replied the stranger; "but the command of God forbids him to
make use of it within the castle of Kerglas. So soon as he arrives
there, the lance and the basin are deposited at the bottom of a dark
cave, which no key will open; therefore, it is in that place I propose
to attack the magician."
"Alas, you will never succeed, my good sir," replied the peasant
woman. "More than a hundred gentlemen have already attempted it;
but not one amongst them has returned."
"I know that, my good woman," answered the knight; "but they had not
been instructed as I have by the Hermit of Blavet."
"And what did the Hermit tell you?" asked Peronnik.
"He warned me of all that I shall have to do," replied the
stranger. "First of all, I shall have to cross an enchanted wood,
wherein every kind of magic will be put in force to terrify and
bewilder me from my way. The greater number of my predecessors have
lost themselves, and there died of cold, hunger, or fatigue."
"And if you succeed in crossing it?" said the idiot.
"If I get safely through it," continued the gentleman, "I shall
meet a Korigan armed with a fiery sword, which lays all it touches
in ashes. This Korigan keeps watch beside an apple-tree, from which
it is necessary that I should gather one apple."
"And then?" said Peronnik.
"Then I shall discover the laughing flower, and this is guarded by
a lion whose mane is made of vipers. This flower I must also gather;
after which I must cross the lake of dragons to fight the black man,
who flings an iron bowl that ever hits its mark and returns to its
master of its own accord. Then I shall enter on the valley of delights,
where every thing that can tempt and stay the feet of a Christian
will be arrayed before me, and shall reach a river with one single
ford. There I shall meet a lady clad in sable whom I shall take upon
my horse's crupper, and she will tell me all that remains to be done."
The farmer's wife did her best to persuade the stranger that it
would be impossible for him to go through so many trials; but he
replied that women were incapable of judging in so weighty a matter;
and after ascertaining correctly the forest entrance, he set off at
full gallop, and was soon lost among the trees.
The farmer's wife heaved a deep sigh, declaring that here was another
soul going before our Lord for judgment; then giving some more crusts
to Peronnik, she bade him go on his way.
He was about to follow her advice, when the farmer came in from the
fields. He had just been turning off the lad who looked after his
cows at the wood-side, and was revolving in his mind how his place
should be supplied.
The sight of the idiot was to him as a ray of light; he thought he
had happened on the very thing he sought, and after putting a few
questions to Peronnik, he asked him bluntly if he would stay at the
farm to look after the cattle. Peronnik would have preferred having
no one but himself to look after, for no one had a greater aptitude
than he for doing nothing; but the taste of the lard, the fresh butter,
the rye-bread, and the millet-flour hung still sweet upon his lips; so
he suffered himself to be tempted, and accepted the farmer's proposal.
The good man forthwith conducted him to the edge of the forest, counted
aloud all the cows, not forgetting the heifers, cut him a hazel-switch
to drive them with, and bade him bring them safely home at set of sun.
Behold Peronnik now established as a keeper of cattle, watching over
them to see they did no mischief, and running from the black to the
red, and from the red to the white, to keep them from straying out
of the appointed boundary.
Now whilst he was thus running from side to side, he heard suddenly the
sound of horse's hoofs, and saw in one of the forest-paths the giant
Rogear seated on his mare, followed by her three-months' colt. He
carried from his neck the golden basin, and in his hand the diamond
lance, which glittered like flame. Peronnik, terrified, hid himself
behind a bush; the giant passed close by him and went on his way. As
soon as he was gone by, the idiot came out of his hiding-place, and
looked down in the direction he had taken, but without being able to
see which path he had followed.
Well, armed knights came on unceasingly in quest of the castle of
Kerglas, and not one was ever seen to return. The giant, on the
contrary, took his airing every day as usual. The idiot, who had at
length grown bolder, no longer thought of concealing himself when he
passed, but looked after him as long as he was in sight with envious
eyes; for the desire of possessing the golden basin and the diamond
lance grew stronger every day within his heart. But these things,
alas, were more easily desired than obtained.
One day, when Peronnik was all alone in the pasture-land as usual,
he saw a man with a white beard pausing at the entrance of the
forest-path. The idiot took him for some fresh adventurer, and inquired
if he did not seek the road to Kerglas.
"I seek it not, since I already know it," replied the stranger.
"You have been there, and the magician has not killed you?" exclaimed
"Because he has nothing to fear from me," replied the white-bearded
old man. "I am called the sorcerer Bryak, and am Rogear's elder
brother. When I wish to pay him a visit I come here, and as, in spite
of all my power, I cannot cross the enchanted wood without losing my
way, I call the black colt to carry me."
With these words, he traced three circles with his finger in the
dust, repeated in a low tone such words as demons teach to sorcerers,
and then cried,
"Colt, wild, unbroken, and with footstep free,--
Colt, I am here; come quick, I wait for thee."
The little horse speedily made his appearance. Bryak put him on a
halter, shackled his feet, and then mounting on his back, allowed
him to return into the forest.
Peronnik said nothing of this adventure to any one; but he now
understood that the first step towards visiting Kerglas was to secure
the colt that knew the way. Unfortunately he knew neither how to trace
the three circles, nor to pronounce the magic words necessary for the
colt to hear the summons. Some other method, therefore, must be hit
upon for making himself master of it, and, when once it was captured,
of gathering the apple, plucking the laughing flower, escaping the
black man's bowl, and of crossing the valley of delights.
Peronnik thought it all over for a long time, and at last he fancied
himself able to succeed. Those who are strong go forth clad in their
strength to meet danger, and too often perish in it; but the weak
compass their ends sideways. Having no hope of braving the giant,
the idiot resolved to try craft and cunning. As to difficulties,
he suffered them not to scare him: he knew that medlars are hard as
flint-stones when first gathered, and that a little straw and much
patience softens them at length.
So he made all his preparations against the time when the giant usually
appeared in the forest-path. First he made a halter and a horse-shackle
of black hemp; a springe for taking woodcocks, moistening the hairs of
it in holy water; a cloth-bag full of birdlime and lark's feathers;
a rosary, an elder-whistle, and a bit of crust rubbed with rancid
lard. This done, he crumbled the bread given him for breakfast along
the pathway in which Rogear, his mare, and three months' colt would
They all three appeared at the usual hour, and crossed the pasture
as on other days; but the colt, which was walking with hanging head,
snuffing the ground, smelt out the crumbs of bread, and stopped to eat
them, so that it was soon left alone out of the giant's sight. Then
Peronnik drew gently near, threw his halter over it, fastened the
shackle on two of its feet, jumped upon its back, and left it free
to follow its own course, certain that the colt, which knew its way,
would carry him to the castle of Kerglas.
And so it came to pass; for the young horse took unhesitatingly one of
the wildest paths, and went on as rapidly as the shackle would permit.
Peronnik trembled like a leaf; for all the witchery of the forest
was at work to scare him. One moment it seemed as if a bottomless pit
yawned suddenly before his steed; the next all the trees appeared on
fire, and he found himself surrounded by flames; often whilst in the
act of crossing a brook, it became as a torrent, and threatened to
carry him away; at other times, whilst following a little footway
beneath a gentle slope, he saw huge rocks on the point of rolling
down and crushing him to pieces.
In vain he assured himself these were but magical delusions, he felt
his very marrow grow cold with dread. At last he resolutely pulled
his hat down over his eyes, and let the colt carry him blindly onwards.
Thus they both came safely to a plain where all enchantment ceased,
and Peronnik pushed up his cap and looked about him.
It was a barren spot, and gloomier than a cemetery. Here and there
might be seen the skeletons of gentlemen who had come in quest of
Kerglas Castle. There they lay, stretched beside their horses, and
the gray wolves still gnawing at their bones.
At length the idiot entered a meadow entirely overshadowed by one
single apple-tree; and this was so heavily laden with fruit, that the
branches hung to the ground. Before this tree the Korigan kept watch,
grasping in his hand the fiery sword which would lay all it touched
At sight of Peronnik, he uttered a cry like that of a wild bird,
and raised his weapon; but, without betraying any emotion, the lad
simply touched his hat politely, and said,
"Don't disturb yourself, my little prince; I am only passing by on
my way to Kerglas, according to an appointment the Lord Rogear has
made with me."
"With you?" replied the dwarf; "and who, then, may you be?"
"I am our master's new servant," said the idiot; "you know, the one
he is expecting."
"I know nothing of it," replied the dwarf; "and you look to me
uncommonly like a cheat."
"Excuse me," returned Peronnik, "such is by no means my profession;
I am only a catcher and trainer of birds. But, for God's sake, don't
keep me now; for his lordship, the magician, is expecting me this
very moment; and has even lent me his own colt, as you see, that I
may the sooner reach the castle."
The Korigan saw, in fact, that Peronnik rode the magician's young
horse, and began to consider whether he might not really be speaking
truth. Besides, the idiot had so simple an air, that it was not
possible to suspect him of inventing such a story. However, he still
felt mistrust; and asked what need the magician had of a bird-catcher?
"The greatest need, it seems," said Peronnik; "for, according to his
account, all that ripens, whether seed or fruit, in the garden at
Kerglas, is just now eaten up by birds."
"And what can you do to hinder them?" asked the dwarf.
Peronnik showed the little snare which he had manufactured, and
declared that no bird would be able to escape it.
"That is just what I will make sure of," said the Korigan. "My
apple-tree is ravaged just as much by the blackbirds and thrushes. Set
your snare; and if you can catch them, I will let you pass."
To this Peronnik agreed; he fastened his colt to a bush, and going up
to the apple-tree, fixed therein one end of the snare, calling to the
Korigan to hold the other whilst he got the skewers ready. He did as
the idiot requested; and Peronnik hastily drawing the running noose,
the dwarf found himself caught like a bird.
He uttered a cry of rage, and struggled to get free; but the springe,
having been well steeped in holy water, bade defiance to all his
The idiot had time enough to run to the tree, pluck an apple from it,
and remount his colt, which continued its onward course.
And so they came out of the plain; and behold, there lay a thicket
before them, formed of the very loveliest plants. There were to be seen
roses of every hue, Spanish brooms, rose-coloured honeysuckles, and,
towering above all, the mysterious laughing flower; but round about
the thicket stalked a lion, with a mane of vipers, rolling his eyes,
and with his teeth grinding like a couple of new mill-stones.
Peronnik stopped, and bowed over and over again; for he knew that in
the presence of the powerful a hat is more serviceable in the hand
than on the head. He wished all sorts of prosperities to the lion and
his family; and requested to know if he was without mistake upon the
road to Kerglas.
"And what are you going to do at Kerglas?" cried the ferocious beast
with a terrible air.
"May it please your worship," replied the idiot timidly, "I am in
the service of a lady who is a great friend of Lord Rogear, and she
has sent him something as a present to make a lark-pasty of."
"Larks!" repeated the lion, licking his moustache; "it is an age
since I have tasted them. How many have you got?"
"This bagful, your lordship," replied Peronnik, showing the cloth-bag
which he had stuffed with feathers and birdlime.
And in order to verify his words, he began to counterfeit the warbling
This song aggravated the lion's appetite.
"Let me see," said he, drawing near; "show me your birds; I should
like to know if they are large enough to be served up at our master's
"I desire nothing so much," replied the idiot; "but if I open the bag,
I am afraid they will fly away."
"Half open it, just to let me peep in," said the greedy monster.
This desire fulfilled Peronnik's highest hopes; he offered the bag to
the lion, who poked in his head to seize the larks, and found himself
smothered in feathers and birdlime. The idiot hastily drew the strings
of the bag tight round his neck, making the sign of the cross over
the knot, to keep it inviolable; then, rushing to the laughing flower,
he gathered it, and set off as fast as the colt could go.
But it was not long before he came to the dragons' lake, which he
must needs cross by swimming; and scarcely had he plunged in, when
they came towards him from every side to devour him.
This time Peronnik troubled not himself to pull off his hat, but
he began to throw out to them the beads of his rosary, as one would
scatter black wheat to ducks; and at every bead swallowed one of the
dragons turned over on its back and expired; so that he at length
reached the opposite shore unharmed.
The valley guarded by the black man had now to be crossed. Peronnik
soon perceived him, chained by one foot to the rock, and holding
in his hand an iron bowl, which ever returned, of its own accord,
so soon as it had struck the appointed mark. He had six eyes, ranged
round his head, which generally took turns in keeping watch; but at
this moment it so chanced that they were every one open. Peronnik,
knowing that if seen he should be struck by the iron bowl before he
had the opportunity of speaking a word, resolved to creep along the
brushwood. And by this means, hiding himself carefully behind the
bushes, he soon found himself within a few steps of the black man,
who had just sat down, and closed two of his eyes in repose. Peronnik,
guessing that he was sleepy, began to chant in a drowsy voice the
beginning of the High Mass. The black man at first, taken by surprise,
started, and raised his head; but, as the murmur took effect upon him,
a third eye closed. Peronnik then went on to intone the Kyrie eleison,
in the tone of one possessed by the sleepy demon. The black man
closed a fourth eye, and half the fifth. Peronnik then began Vespers;
but before he had reached the Magnificat, the black man slept soundly.
Then the youth, taking the colt by the bridle, led it softly over
mossy places; and so, passing close by the slumbering guardian,
he came into the valley of delights.
This was the most-to-be-dreaded place of all; for it was no
longer a question of avoiding positive danger, but of fleeing from
temptation. Peronnik called all the saints of Brittany to his aid.
The valley through which he was now passing bore every appearance of
a garden richly filled with fruits, with flowers, and with fountains;
but the fountains were of wines and delicious drinks, the flowers
sang with voices as sweet as those of cherubim in Paradise, and
the fruits came of their own accord and offered themselves to the
hand. Then at every turning of the path Peronnik beheld huge tables,
spread as for a king, could scent the tempting odour of pastry drawn
fresh from the oven, and see the valets apparently expecting him;
whilst further off were beautiful maidens coming to dance upon the
turf, who called him by his name to come and lead the ball.
In vain the idiot made the sign of the cross, insensibly he slackened
the pace of his colt, involuntarily he raised his face to snuff up
the delicious odour of the smoking dishes, and to gaze more fixedly
upon the lovely maidens; he would possibly have stopped altogether,
and there would have been an end of him, if the recollection of the
golden basin and the diamond lance had not all at once crossed his
mind. Then he instantly began to blow his elder-whistle, that he
might hear no more those soft appeals; to eat his bread well rubbed
with rancid dripping, to deaden the odour of the dainty meats; and
to stare fixedly on his horse's ears, that the lovely dancers might
no more attract his eyes.
And so he came to the end of the garden quite safely, and caught sight
at last of Kerglas Castle. But the river of which he had been told
still lay between it and him, and he knew that this river could only
be forded in one place. Happily the colt was familiar with this ford,
and prepared to enter at the right spot.
Then Peronnik looked around him in quest of the lady who was to be
his guide to the castle; and soon perceived her seated on a rock,
clad in black satin, and her countenance as yellow as a Moor's.
The idiot pulled off his hat, and asked if it was her pleasure to
cross the river.
"I expected thee for that very purpose," replied the lady; "draw near,
that I may seat myself behind thee."
Peronnik approached, took her on his horse's crupper, and began to
cross the ford. He had almost reached the middle of it, when the lady
said to him,
"Knowest thou who I am, poor innocent?"
"I beg your pardon," replied Peronnik, "but from your dress I clearly
see that you are a noble and powerful lady."
"As to noble, I ought to be," replied the lady, "for I can trace
back my origin to the first sin; and powerful I certainly am, for
all nations give way before me."
"Then what is your name, may it please you, madam?" asked Peronnik.
"I am called the Plague," replied the yellow woman.
The idiot made a spring as if he would have thrown himself from his
horse into the water; but the Plague said to him,
"Rest easy, poor innocent, thou hast nothing to fear from me; on the
contrary, I can be of service to thee."
"Is it possible that you will be so benevolent, Madam Plague?" said
Peronnik, taking his hat off, this time for good; "by the by, I now
remember that it is you who are to teach me how to rid myself of the
"The magician must die," said the yellow lady.
"I should like nothing better," replied Peronnik; "but he is immortal."
"Listen, and try to understand," said the Plague. "The apple-tree
guarded by the Korigan is a slip from the tree of good and evil, set
in the earthly Paradise by God Himself. Its fruit, like that which was
eaten by Adam and Eve, renders immortals susceptible of death. Try,
then, to induce the magician to taste the apple, and from that moment
he need only be touched by me to sink in death."
"I will try," said Peronnik; "but even if I succeed, how can I obtain
the golden basin and the diamond lance, since they lie hidden in a
gloomy cave, which cannot be opened by any key yet forged?"
"The laughing flower will open every door," replied the Plague,
"and can illuminate the darkest night."
As she spoke these words they reached the further bank of the river,
and the idiot went onwards to the castle.
Now there was before the entrance-hall a huge canopy, like that which
is carried over his lordship the Bishop of Vannes at the processions
of the Fete Dieu. Beneath this sat the giant, sheltered from the heat
of the sun, his legs crossed, like a proprietor who has gathered in
his harvest, and smoking a tobacco-pipe of virgin gold. On perceiving
the colt, on which sat Peronnik and the lady clad in black satin,
he lifted up his head, and cried in a voice which roared like thunder,
"Why this idiot is mounted on my three-months' colt!"
"The very same, O greatest of all magicians," replied Peronnik.
"And how did you get possession of him?" asked Rogear.
"I repeated what your brother Bryak taught me," replied the idiot. "On
reaching the forest border I said,
'Colt, wild, unbroken, and with footstep free,--
Colt, I am here; come quick, I wait for thee.'
and the little horse came at once."
"Then you know my brother?" said the giant.
"As one knows his master," replied the youth.
"And what has he sent you here for?"
"To bring you a present of two curiosities he has just received from
the country of the Moors,--this apple of delight, and the female
slave whom you see there. If you eat the first, you will always have a
heart as much at rest as that of a poor man who has found a purse of
a hundred crowns in his wooden shoe; and if you take the second into
your service, you will have nothing left you to desire in the world."
"Give me then the apple, and make the Moorish woman dismount,"
The idiot obeyed; but the instant the giant had set his teeth into
the fruit, the yellow lady laid her hand upon him, and he fell to
the ground like a bullock in the slaughter-house.
Then Peronnik entered the palace, holding the laughing flower in his
hand. He traversed more than fifty halls, one after the other, and
came at length before the cavern with the silver door. This opened of
its own accord before the flower, which also gave the idiot sufficient
light to find the golden basin and the diamond lance.
But scarcely had he seized them when the earth shook under his feet;
a terrible clap of thunder was heard; the palace disappeared; and
Peronnik found himself once more in the midst of the forest, holding
his two talismans, with which he set forward instantly to the court
of the King of Brittany.
He only delayed long enough at Vannes to buy the richest costume
he could find there, and the finest horse that was for sale in the
diocese of White-Wheat.
Now when he came to Nantes, this town was besieged by the Franks, who
had so mercilessly ravaged the surrounding country, that there were
scarcely more trees left than would serve a single goat for forage;
and more than that, famine was in the city; and those soldiers died
of hunger whose wounds had spared their lives. And on the very day
of Peronnik's arrival, a trumpeter proclaimed aloud in every street
that the King of Brittany would adopt that man as his heir who could
deliver the city, and drive the enemy out of the country.
Hearing this promise, Peronnik said to the trumpeter,
"Proclaim no more, but lead me to the king; for I am able to do all
"Thou!" said the herald, seeing him so young and small; "go on thy
way, fine goldfinch; the king has now no time for taking little
birds from cottage-roofs."
By way of reply, Peronnik touched the soldier with his lance; and
that very instant he fell dead, to the infinite terror of the crowd
who looked on, and would have fled away; but the idiot cried,
"You have just seen what I can do against my enemies; know now what
is in my power for my friends."
And having touched with his golden basin the dead man's lips, he rose
up instantly, restored to life.
The king being informed of this wonder, gave Peronnik command of all
the soldiers he had left; and as with his diamond lance the idiot
killed thousands of the Franks, and with his golden basin restored
to life the Bretons who were slain, a very few days sufficed him
for putting an end to the enemy's army, and taking possession of all
their camp contained.
He then proposed to conquer all the neighbouring countries, such as
Anjou, Poitou, and Normandy, which cost him but very little trouble;
and finally, when all were in obedience to the king, he declared his
intention of setting out to deliver the Holy Land, and embarked from
Nantes in a magnificent fleet, with the first nobility of the land.
On reaching Palestine, he performed great deeds of valour, compelled
many Saracens to be baptised, and married a fair maiden, by whom
he had many sons and daughters, to each of whom he gave wealth and
lands. Some even say that, thanks to the golden basin, he and his
sons are living still, and reign in this land; but others maintain
that Rogear's brother, the magician Bryak, has succeeded in regaining
possession of the two talismans, and that those who wish for them
have only--to seek them out.
NOTE ON THE TALE OF "PERONNIK THE IDIOT."
It seems almost impossible not to recognise in the story of Peronnik
the Idiot traces of that tradition which has given birth to one of
the epic romances of the Round Table. Disfigured and overlaid with
modern details as is the Breton version, the primitive idea of the
Quest of the Holy Graal may still be found there pure and entire.
Some explanation must be given of this. So early as the sixth century,
the Gallic bards speak of a magic vase which bestows a knowledge of
the future, and universal science, on its owner; in later times a
popular fable tells of a golden vase possessed by Bran the Blessed,
which healed all wounds, and even restored the dead to life. Other
tales are told of a basin in which every desired delicacy instantly
appeared. In time all these fictions become fused, and the several
properties of these different vases are found united in one; the
possession of which is of course naturally sought after by all great
There is still extant a Gallic poem, composed in the beginning of the
twelfth century, of which the whole burden is this quest. The hero,
named Peredur, goes to war with giants, lions, serpents, sea-monsters,
sorcerers, and finally becomes conqueror of the basin and the lance,
which is here added to the primitive tradition.
Now there can be no doubt that this Gallic legend, which found its
way throughout Europe, as is proved by the attempts at imitation
which have been made in every language, must have been known in
Brittany above all, united as it is to Gaul by a common origin and
language. It must have become popular in the very form it wore when
taught by the bards to the Armoricans.
But besides the successive alterations which are the speedy result
of oral transmission, French imitations by degrees incorporated
themselves with all the primitive versions. M. de la Villemarque
has in fact observed, in his learned work on the Popular Tales of
the Ancient Bretons, that when the Gallic legends were developed by
the French poets, they appeared so beautified in their new costume,
that the Gauls themselves abandoned the originals in favour of the
imitations. Now that which is true of them is equally so of the
Armoricans; and it seems to us beyond a doubt that the tradition of
Peredur, which they had originally received, must have been seriously
modified by the later poem of Christian of Troyes.
In order to elucidate our idea, we will give a hasty analysis of this
poem, which is little known, being only extant in manuscript.
Perceval, the last remaining son of a poor widow, whom the miseries
of war had left destitute, is simple, ignorant, and boorish. His
mother carefully conceals from his sight every thing that might
turn his attention to the idea of war; but one day the lad meets
King Arthur's knights, learns the secret so long hidden from him,
and, his mind filled with nothing now but tournaments and battles,
abandons his maternal roof and sets off for Arthur's court. On the
way he sees a pavilion, which, taking in his simplicity for a church,
he enters. There he eats two roebuck pasties, and drinks a large
flagon of wine; after which he goes once more upon his way, and soon
arrives at Cardeuil, ill-clad, ill-armed, and ill-mounted. He finds
Arthur buried in profound meditation, a treacherous knight having just
carried off his golden cup, defying any warrior to take it from him
again. Perceval accepts the challenge, pursues the thief, kills him,
recovers the cup, and seizes on the slain knight's armour. He is at
length admitted into the order of chivalry.
But the recollection of his mother haunts him every where. What is he
in quest of? He himself knows not; he wanders at random and without
a purpose wherever his wild courser carries him. Thus one day he
reaches a castle, and enters. A sick old man reposes there upon a bed;
a servant appears with a lance from which flows one drop of blood, and
then a damsel bearing a graal, or basin, of pure gold. Perceval longs
to know the meaning of what he sees, but dares not ask. The following
day, on leaving the castle, he is informed that the sick old man is
called the fisher-king, and that he has been wounded in the thigh;
Perceval is at the same time reproached for not having questioned him.
He continues onwards, meeting by chance Arthur, whom he follows to
court; but the day after his arrival a lady clad in black appears to
him, and warmly blames him for being the cause of the fisher-king's
"His wound," said she, "has become incurable, because thou didst not
The knight, wishing to repair his fault, seeks in vain to find once
more the king's palace; he is repulsed as by an invisible hand,
until the moment when he resolves to go and find a saintly hermit,
to whom he makes his confession. The priest shows him that all his
errors are owing to his ingratitude towards his mother, and that
sin held his tongue in bondage when he ought to have inquired the
meaning of the graal; he imposes a penance on him, gives him advice,
reveals to him a mysterious prayer containing certain terrible words,
which he forbids him from making known; and then Perceval, absolved
from his sins, fasts, adores the Cross, hears Mass, receives Holy
Communion, and returns to a new life.
He now sets forth in quest of the graal, and meets with a thousand
obstacles. A woman, whom he has loved, White-Flower, appears, and
endeavours to detain him; but he escapes from her. He fastens his
horse to the golden ring of a pillar rising on a mountain called the
Mount of Misery, arrives at length at the castle for which he sought,
and this time fails not to inquire into the history of the lance
and the graal. He is told that the lance is that with which Longus
pierced the side of Christ, and that the graal is the basin in which
Joseph of Arimathea received His divine blood. This has come down
by inheritance to the fisher-king, who is descended from Joseph, and
is Perceval's uncle. It procures all good things, both spiritual and
temporal, heals all wounds, and even restores life to the dead, besides
becoming filled with the most delicious dainties at its owner's desire.
After the lance and the graal, they bring out a broken sword;
the fisher-king presents it to his nephew, begging him to reunite
the fragments; in which he succeeds. The king then tells him that,
according to prophecies, the bravest and most pious knight in the
whole world was to perform this act; that he himself had attempted
to weld the pieces together, but had been chastised for his rashness
by receiving a wound in the thigh. "I shall be healed," he added, "on
the same day that sees the knight Pertiniax perish,--that treacherous
knight who broke this wonderful sword in slaying my brother."
Perceval kills Pertiniax, thanks to the aid of the holy graal, cuts
off his head, and brings it to the fisher-king, who gets well, and
abdicates in favour of his nephew.
The points of accordance between this poem and the Breton story are
not very difficult to trace. In the two recitals we hear of the
conquest of a basin and a lance, the possession of which ensures
corresponding advantages; the heroes both of the French and Armorican
version are subjected to dangers and temptations, and success assures
to them alike--a crown. Some points of resemblance may even perhaps
be discovered between the idiot Peronnik, going ever onwards he knows
not whither, and extracting from the farmer's wife his rye-bread,
his fresh-churned butter, and his Sunday dripping; and this Perceval,
simple, ignorant, boorish, who begins by eating two roebuck pasties,
and drinking a great flagon of wine.
Certainly the different details, and the trials imposed on Peronnik,
are not in general much like the probation to which Perceval was
subjected; but, on the other hand, they closely resemble those to which
Peredur, the hero of the Gallic tradition, was exposed. It would seem,
therefore, that this Armorican story has drunk successively from the
two fountains of French and Breton legendary lore. Born of the Gallic
tradition, modified by the French version, and finally accommodated
to the popular genius of our province, it has become such as we have
it at this day.
Peronnik the idiot seems, moreover, to us worthy of being studied
by those who seek, above all else in tradition, for traces of the
popular genius. Idiotism, amongst all tribes of Celtic race, was never
looked on as a degradation, but rather as a peculiar condition wherein
individuals could attain to certain perceptions unknown to the vulgar;
and the Celts were led to imagine that they had an acquaintance with
the invisible world not permitted to other men. Thus the words of the
idiot were looked on as prophetic; a hidden meaning was sought for in
his acts; he was, in fact, considered, in the energetic language of an
old poet, as having his feet in this world, and his eyes in the other.
Brittany has preserved in part this ancient reverence for persons of
weak mind. It is by no means unusual in the farms of Leon to see some
of these unfortunates, clad, whatever may be their age, in a long dress
with bone buttons, and holding a white wand in their hands. They are
tenderly cared for, and only spoken of under the endearing title of
dear innocents, unless in their absence, when they are called diskyant,
that is to say, without knowledge. They stay at home with the women
and little children; they are never called upon to perform any labour;
and when they die, they are wept over by their relations.
I remember meeting with one of these idiots one day, in the
neighbourhood of Morlaix; he was seated before a farm-house door,
and his sister, a young girl, was feeding him. Her caressing kindness
"Then you are very fond of this poor innocent?" I asked, in Breton.
"It is God who gave him to us," she replied.
Words full of meaning, which hold the key to all this pious tenderness
for creatures useless in themselves, but precious for His sake by
whom they were confided to our care.
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