Today I can’t find the name Schiunatulander anywhere, not even on Wikipedia, but I’m sure he is a minor character in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzifal, written in the first quarter of the 13th Century. It is because of Schiunatulander (who could forget that name?) that eight centuries later I still ask people, both friends and acquaintances, who have been injured how they came by their injuries. It is a somewhat complicated story, so please stay with me.
While in college, like all good English majors, I was introduced to Thomas Stearns Eliot’s The Wasteland. Before I knew it I was suddenly sucked up in the story of the Fisher King, his impotence, how it affected his land, and the Greater Arcana of the Tarot deck, the regular playing cards being the so-called Lesser Arcana. It followed quite logically that I then should become interested in King Arthur and his knights, particularly in the quest for the Holy Grail, as in most versions of that quest you get to meet the injured Fisher King, and the four symbols which always show up in the Castle of the Holy Grail, the four symbols bearing an amazing resemblance to the pips of the regular playing cards. Sufficiently complicated yet? If you don’t get the various connections, don’t worry too much about it, and just accept my word for their being there.
The story of Parzifal (or Parsifal) is the story of the knight who achieves the quest by finding the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail itself is somewhat of a problem, but the Indiana Jones’ version of it will do for our purposes. There is also the version involving the cup in which Joseph of Arimathea collected the blood of the crucified Christ before his burial. Take your pick.
Schiunatulander is the knight who precedes Parsifal on the quest. The knight had to be young, pure, innocent, and without fear even to be allowed to go on this quest. Schiunatulander goes on this quest, and wanders the face of the earth in his search. One day he emerges from a dark wood, and finds an old man sitting at the base of a tree. The old man is obviously sick. Schiunatulander asks the old man whether he knows the whereabouts of the Castle of the Holy Grail, and the old man, in a weak voice, tells him that he does, and gives him directions on how to reach it.
Schiunatulander follows the directions he has been given, but when he reaches the Castle, he is denied entry. Naturally, he wants to know why he is not to be admitted to even view the Holy Grail, and he in turn is asked if he remembered the old man he had met just outside the forest? Schiunatulander admits that he does remember the old man, and that he was grateful to him for giving him the directions that got him here. Yes, he is told, but you meet an old man who is obviously ailing, and you just ask him for directions and move on? What should you have asked him? Where was your compassion? Go home, young man, you are not quite ready to achieve the Holy Grail.
So, all these years later, I am still very careful, and always ask the ailing what is the matter with them, and if necessary, how can I help? One never knows. . . And so I ask George about his leg in the cast, and on this hot Friday afternoon, in the shade of my porch, he begins to tell me his story.