The Legend of the Fisher King and Elements of the Divine Fishermen in Ancient Mythology
The Fisher King is an immortal king in Arthurian legend. He is the last in a long line charged with keeping the Holy Grail. However, he was wounded in the groin, and incapable of performing his tasks himself. He was also unable to father a next generation to carry on after his death. His impotence affected the fertility of his land, reducing it to a barren wasteland. All he could do is fish in the river near his castle and wait for the “chosen one” who would be able to heal him.
The figure of the Fisher King in Arthurian legend is arguably one of the most well-known figures of a guardian in a heroic legend. However, the Fisher King, or at least the concept of the Fisher King, was already an ancient figure even in that time; with qualities which can be traced all the way back to Greek and Babylonian mythology.
The Hero and the Guardian of the Holy Grail
The story of the Fisher King is an example of what American writer and mythologist Joseph Campbell calls the “Monomyth”, the story of man's search for himself, or the Hero’s Journey. The common element to this motive is the presence of a youth in quest of adventures, a supernatural being cursed into a magic sleep, or other handicaps, in an isolated place such as a cave or an enchanted castle.
In the Arthurian legend, this supernatural being is the Fisher King who appears to the youth, Parsival, first in the form of a fisherman in a boat, then of a mortally wounded king who cannot find redemption for his sufferings. The fisherman is called the “rich fisher” or the “Fisher King”.
A long time ago, the Fisher King was a prince of a great kingdom. When he was riding around the castle one night, he came upon a campfire and saw a salmon spitted, which sizzled as it cooked above the fire. As there was no one there, the prince waited for the camper to return. After waiting for a bit longer, the prince removed the fish from the fire. He then took a bite of the salmon. Suddenly, the prince spat the fish out of his mouth, because it was still much too hot to eat. Then, he lost his balance and fell into the fire, screaming in agony as a sharp, hot brand impaled his testicles. The prince fell unconscious to the ground.
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