Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Legend of King Arthur

King Arthur, painted in 1385

v     According to legend, King Arthur lived between the 5th and 6th centuries, and defended Britain against invading Anglo-Saxons, from mainland Europe. He may have been king of not just Britain, but Ireland, Iceland, Norway, and Gaul (France). No one knows if he really lived or not, or if he was king. It's debated by historians.

v     Arthur is mentioned in various medieval texts, including the poem Y Gododdin (6th century), Historia Brittonum (9th century), and Annales Cambriae (10th century).

v     In these tales, he wasn't called 'king', but was a Welsh hero, using magic and fighting monsters, similar to the hero Beowulf. He travelled to the Welsh 'otherworld', a place of magic called Annwyn.

v     Historia Brittonum tells of twelve battles in which Arthur fought. In the Battle of Mount Badon, Arthur single-handedly killed 960 men. Annales Cambriae tells of the Battle of Camlann where both Arthur and Mordred died.

v     But, Arthur isn't mentioned in any historical text from 400-800 AD, even ones that mention the battles of Mount Badon and Camlann.

v     In the legend, King Arthur is famous for his sword Excalibur, given to him by a mystical "Lady of the Lake".

v     He's also famous for his round table in his castle of Camelot, where his knights sat as equals, each allowed to vote.

v     King Arthur didn't become popular as a legend until the 12th century, when Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote his Historia Regum Britanniae.

v     Another 12th century writer, Chrétien de Troyes, from France, added in Sir Lancelot, and a quest for the holy grail (svätý grál).

v     Stories of King Arthur were popular until the renaissance, and then became popular again in the 19th century. Today, the King Arthur legend has been adapted for theatre, film, TV, and comics.

Important Characters:

Uther Pendragon, by Howard Pyle

Uther Pendragon: King Arthur's father. Uther was a strong, heroic king, yet the way in which he defeated his enemy Gurlois makes him seem evil, if you think about it. He invaded the castle of Gurlois, killing him and his men. That same night, he used some potion from Merlin to trick Gurlois's wife, Igraine, to fall in love and sleep with Uther. That's how Arthur was born, Igraine was his mother. Uther and Igraine then married, but I imagine it was a very awkward wedding and marriage.

Merlin, by Howard Pyle

Merlin: a wizard and advisor to King Arthur. This character was invented by Geoffrey of Monmouth. Merlin was the son of an incubus (demon) who seduced (zviedol) a woman.

The Lady of the Lake, by Howard Pyle

Lady of the Lake: Different writers give her different names, such as Vivien, Elaine, and Nimue. She was ruler of the fictional island of Avalon. Merlin fell in love with her and taught her everything he knew about magic, knowing she would one day betray him.

The Beguiling of Merlin, by Edward Burne-Jones

Eventually, she trapped Merlin in a tree.

Merlin & Vivien, by Lancelot Speed

She helped Arthur, giving Excalibur when his first sword broke.

Guinevere, by John Collier

Guinevere: Arthur's wife. Her father, Leodegrance, was a knight who served Uther, and so the young Arthur helped save him from some enemy, and then married his daughter. Unfortunately, Guinevere fell in love with Arthur's knight...

Guinevere & Sir Lancelot, by Herbert James Draper

Sir Lancelot: When Arthur learned she was cheating on him, he ordered her burned alive. Lancelot rescued her, killing many knights to do it, and then ran away to France.

The Rescue of Guinevere, by William Hatherell

Guinevere & Sir Lancelot, by N.C. Wyeth

Arthur took an army to find and kill Lancelot, while...
Mordred: King Arthur's illegitimate son, and archenemy, decided to capture Guinevere for himself. He wanted to marry her and take the throne of Britain for himself. This is why Arthur had to come back and fight Mordred at the Battle of Camlann, where they both died.

Final Battle of King Arthur & Mordred, by N.C. Wyeth

King Arthur was then buried on the island of Avalon.

The Death of King Arthur, by John Garrick

Mordred's mother was Morgause, Arthur's half-sister.

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