– Man Or Myth Essay, Research Paper
Arthur, Legendary King of the Britons, and the major figure in Arthurian Legend. He defeated foreigners from Britain, brought peace to the country and established a kingdom based on justice, law, and morality. He held court at his castle at Camelot and instituted an order known as the knights of the Round Table. Eventually his realm crumbled, and his illegitimate son Mordred grievously wounded him in battle. Many versions of Arthurian legend say that Arthur will someday return, when he is again needed by Britain.
Arthur was the son of King Uther Pendragon and the lady Ygraine . After Arthur is born, the magician Merlin gives him to a man named Hector, to be raised with Hector s son, Kay. Arthur grows up as a commoner, but then he alone succeeds at a test devised to choose Uther’s successor: Arthur draws a sword from a stone (other versions of the story that have been passed down have used an anvil).
Because of his humble origins, Arthur must overcome strong opposition from the British nobles to his royal right, but eventually he is crowned King. To help him in leading Britain, he receives the great sword Excalibur, offered by a hand that rises mysteriously from a lake.
To defeat Britain’s enemies, Arthur undertakes a series of wars and invasions. After Arthur completes these, Britain has a long period of peace. Arthur sets up the Round Table as a meeting place for his knights. The shape of the table lets all who sit around it know they are all equal in status.
Arthur meets and marries the lady Guinevere, but she and Lancelot, one of Arthur’s knights, eventually fall in love, and their relationship splits Camelot. The ruin of the kingdom is accelerated by the quest for the Holy Grail, the sacred cup used by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper. However worthy the quest might be, it takes Arthur’s best knights away from court and leads many of them to their deaths. Once Arthur discovers Lancelot and Guinevere’s affair, his own system of justice requires that he condemn his wife to death. Lancelot rescues her, however, starting a war between his forces and those of Arthur and the knight Gawain.
During the war with Lancelot, Arthur learns that the Romans plan to attack him. He defeats them, but at the same time his illegitimate son (in other versions of the story, his nephew), Mordred, tries to take over the throne. Arthur then fights Mordred on Salisbury Plain that leaves many of Arthur s knights dead. Arthur kills Mordred, but before dying, the he seriously wounds the king.
Facing death, Arthur orders one of his knights (Bedivere or Girflet, once again, depending on the story) to throw Excalibur into a lake, so that the sword won t fall into the wrong hands. Versions of the legend differ about Arthur’s fate after this point. Some say that he dies and is buried, other stories tell that a boat (usually containing a number of women, including Arthur’s half sister Morgan le Fay) takes him away to the island of Avalon. Many of the stories promise that Arthur will return when Britain again needs him to subdue the nation s enemies and to bring peace and security to the land.
Through out history, historians have been looking for actual factual evidence that the real King Arthur existed. Mentions of him in Historical documents are few and far between, but, documents that do exist today with references to the man, Arthur, are of extreme value to modern day historians.
I will list what Letters and Journals that have been discovered with reference to Arthur below (in Chronological order):
Letter to Riothamus, c.470 — Fifth century letter from Sidonius Apollinaris, Bishop of Clermont-Ferrand, to Riothamus, thought by some to be the original of King Arthur. (http://www.britannia.com/history/docs/sidonius.html)
De Excidio Britanniae, c.540 — Sixth century diatribe written by the monk Gildas, giving some insight into darkage Britain and the situation that gave rise to the legend of Arthur. (http://www.britannia.com/history/docs/gildas.html)
The Gothic History, 469 AD — Excerpts from Jordanes’ sixth century “Gothic History” tell of a vain attempt on the part of Riothamus, “king of the Brittones,” and 12,000 men to help the Roman Emperor, Anthemius, in his struggle with the Visigoths. (http://www.britannia.com/history/docs/jordanes.html)
The Battle of Llongborth, c.480 — An English translation of a sixth century Welsh poem, called “Elegy for Geraint,” which mentions Arthur. (http://www.britannia.com/history/docs/llngbrth.html)
Historia Brittonum, c.830 — Nennius’ ninth century entertaining (to say the least), but questionable, collection of the facts, myths and fables covering the early history of Britain. Special emphasis on Arthur. (http://www.britannia.com/history/docs/nennius.html)
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 9th Century — Fascinating (and freaking huge) 52-part account of history covering the years 1 through 1154 AD from the point of view of the Anglo-Saxons. (http://www.britannia.com/history/docs/asintro2.html)
Annales Cambriae, c. 970 — The tenth century Annals of Wales containing two interesting references to King Arthur, which have been taken by some to be proof of his historicity. (http://www.britannia.com/history/docs/annales.html)
Legend of St. Goeznovius, c. 1019 — An eleventh century Breton work in which Arthur is called “King of the Britons.” But, could it really written as early as its date implies? (http://www.britannia.com/history/docs/goeznovi.html)
The Exhumation of Arthur’s Body, c.1193 — Gerald of Wales’ two eye-witness accounts, separated by twenty years in time, describing the digging up of King Arthur’s grave at Glastonbury Abbey. (http://www.britannia.com/history/docs/debarri.html)
Ralph of Coggeshall, c.1220 — The “Chronicon Anglicanum” (meaning English Chronicle) has an entry for the year 1191 on the opening of Arthur’s grave. (http://www.britannia.com/history/docs/coggeshl.html)
Margam Abbey Chronicle, c.1300 — The chronicle of a Welsh monastery with a unique account of the discovery of Arthur’s body. (http://www.britannia.com/history/docs/margam.html)
The Dream of Rhonabwy, c.1200 — Excerpts from a tale of the Welsh Mabinogion, refer to Arthur as “Emperor,” and mention the Battle of Camlann. (http://www.britannia.com/history/docs/rhonabwy.html)
Early Welsh Verse, 7th Century to 14th Century — The mentions of Arthur in Welsh poems and verse are many. Sometimes he is a warrior, sometimes a leader, sometimes a ruffian, but he is almost never a king. Most of these verses are twelfth to fourteenth century copies, but are believed to have been originally composed much earlier. (http://www.britannia.com/history/docs/stanzas.html)
John Leland’s “Itinerary,” 1530-40 — The Tudor scholar’s account of his visit to South Cadbury, Somerset, and its association with the legend of King Arthur. (http://www.britannia.com/history/docs/leland.html)
So, they say that writing is our only first hand account to the past, and they re probably right. But even after reading all the letters, journals, and stories above, I m still left to wonder if Arthur was.
Anonymous author, Arthur Encarta 2000 Encyclopedia, Microsoft s
Britannia.com, LLC, http://www.britannia.com/
Handy, Jack, ec. Al., Midevil Tales, New York, New York, Harcourt Brace