Arthurian Myth

Satisfactory Essays
The mystical references to Arthur and his adventures are dated in literature in some form for over 1400 years, verifying the enduring appeal of this romantic character. Since the beginnings of the English language there have been legends of great heroes. The first settlements of Britain produced stories rooted in ancient Celtic and Germanic imagination; of the many, Arthur is undoubtedly preeminent. The earliest known description of Arthur's noble endeavors was written by Gildas, (ca. 490-540) the author of De excidio et conquestu Britanniae makes reference, albeit vague, to an Arthurian figure; however, the name Arthur is not mentioned in the story (Strayer 564). The full flourish of writings associated with his miraculous feats and victories do not reach a crescendo for several hundred years after Gildas (Strayer 564). During the Middle Ages, however, Arthurian myth was prominent and en vogue and attempts to discover the truth behind the myth have been pursued for generations. Arthur's history, as Geoffrey Ashe reminds us in The Discovery of King Arthur, is "more than just a medley of yarns, more than just a saga in the romanticism of myth. It puts him within a definite period. It names definite places and takes him to definite countries" (3). It is this fact and the fragmentary, often contradictory references of an Arthur (the Latin "Artur,""Arturius," or "Artorius") from ancient records, that lends enough validity to the story to set researchers on the trail of the legendary king. However, progress has been stymied for a number of reasons and even now we can say little of substance about the man behind the myth. A major difficulty facing researchers is that the role of the historian in the Dark Ages was rather flexible; a mixture of storyteller and propagandist whose regional traditions, personal prejudices, and loyalties were bound to greatly influence the nature of its material (Coglan 214). In Arthur, Richard Barber clarifies this fact and speaks of the early tendency to use history as "…an inspiration or as a warning to the men of the present, or as part of a vast divine scheme for man's spiritual salvation" (Coglan 7). Another problem facing historians is that the earliest sources we have are never originals, but copies, and considering their age we must allow for the propagation of errors. One possible such error is found in the Annals of Wales, written in the tenth century. Its entry concerning the Battle of Badon claims that Arthur carried Christ's cross on his shoulder for three days, but it's likely that "shoulder" should instead be "shield," due to confusion between the Welsh words "scuid" and "scuit" (Alcock 51-52).
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