Monday, August 9, 2021

The Cross of King Arthur | Reel Art

 Archeology is the search for facts, not truth, So,


When looking at the historical King Arthur, we, unfortunately, must put aside all the romantic characters and imagery that we have been exposed to throughout our lives. We forget the tales of knights in shining armor and start from scratch with the story of Arthur.

I am not even sure if there was a King Arthur. However, many Arthurian scholars do believe that there was someone who historically could fit the description.  

A beginning is a time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct. We must first place Arthur in his time, born in the late 5th or early 6th century CE. And take the most special care that you locate Arthur in his place. The Isle of Brittania is forever his place.

Knowing this --- we must forget the following details:

That Camelot was not a majestic stone castle but perhaps a defensive wooden fortress on a hill.

Merlin, The story of this character comes much later. There is a Welsh bard named Myrrdren. If you know French, you may be shocked by this name.  Perhaps it was Latinized to Merlinus.

The round table is not even mentioned until the second millennium CE

Sir Lancelot, Nope a 12th-century French addition to the stories

Guenevere - again, a 12th-century addition. However, we still use this name to some degree in its modern form --- Jennifer.

the Holy Grail - definitely a French addition which was not formerly sacred or even holy 

The chivalric code is once again, a later addition to set an example for a time that needed it.

Mordred - a later addition who could be either a villain or a hero depending on a particular point of view.

And the Isle of Avalon not mentioned until the 12th century either, but this where we have some possibilities.

The late 5th century was a tumultuous time in the Roman Empire.

In 410, the Goths sacked Rome, and the legions were recalled home to defend the Eternal city.

Thus gives rise to oral tales of a  hero that turned back to the Irish's tide from the west and the Angles and Saxons from the east. At least for another 300 years.

Romano-Britons defended themselves against the invaders.

These are the times of tales of Ambrosius Aurelianus and others but not one named Authur.

However, in the 600s CE, the name Arthur started showing up in the birth records of noble families in the post roman Britain.

So let's begin.

Somewhere between 500 to 550 CE, the Britons appear to have held back the invading Angle-Saxon advance. However, in the following years, they were pushed back into Cornwall and Wales. The territory held by the Saxons eventually became known as England, and the people in Wales were called 'Welsh' from the Saxon word 'weala,'  meaning 'foreigners' or worse slaves. The Welsh call themselves 'Cymry' indicating 'fellow countrymen' and their country 'Cymru.') 

The first reliable reference to Arthur is in the 'Historia Brittonum' written by the Welsh monk Nennius around the year 830 AD. He refers to Arthur as a warrior - not a king. He lists twelve battles fought by Arthur, including Mount Badon and the City Of The Legion. Most likely, his title was Dux Bellorum rather than Rex or King.

It was the Welsh cleric Geoffrey of Monmouth, wrote down in Books Five and Six of the Histories, he establishes the basis of the Arthurian legends that we know today.  His work, 'Historia Regum Britaniae' or in English known as The History of the Kings of Britain, also known initially as De gestis Britonum (On the Deeds of the Britons), was written in the year 1133 AD. He claimed to have based the work on an ancient Celtic document in his possession. It became a 'best-seller' of its time, and two hundred manuscripts still survive. It was later foreign writers have expanded his themes and added new strands to the story. By the way, Geoffrey's History is the first to mention King Lear's story that Shakespear would later retell and expand on this story.

The Norman chronicler Wace was the first to mention the Round Table, in his Roman de Brut of 1155. He simply says that Arthur devised the idea of a round table to prevent quarrels between his barons over the question of precedence. Now, Wace's version is more of a loose and expanded translation of almost 15,000 lines of Norman-French verse of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Latin History of the Kings of Britain.

Around 1177, Chr├ętien de Troyes adds Lancelot du Lac (meaning Lancelot of the Lake, also know as the knight of the cart. It Chr├ętien's that is one of the first stories of the Arthurian legend to feature Lancelot as a prominent character.

Robert de Boron from Burgundy was a French poet of the late 12th and early 13th centuries who wrote several poems within the Arthurian cycle. Joseph d'Arimathie [fr] and Merlin.   The Poem Joseph of Arimathea gives the grail its Holiness and sacredness. Remember, it is at this point in 1187 that the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem was surrendered to Saladin in the Holy Land. Robert wrote Joseph after 1191, which lines up with when the monks at Glastonbury claimed to have discovered the coffins of King Arthur and Guinevere. 

The first English version was written by a priest known as Layamon in around 1200 CE. He pretty much follows Wace's 1155 release of the Histories. However, in Layamon's version, Arthur did not die from his wounds, he remained on the Isle of Avalon - to return in the future.

Almost 300 years later, in 1485 and around 40 years after Gutenburg invented the printing press, William Caxton published 'Le Morte d'Azur' - one of the first printed books. Written by Sir Thomas Malory, this was a collection of eight stories that brilliantly drew together the whole saga and gave us the account we know today.

The legendary King Arthur and History Britain are tightly intertwined. There is too much information to include here, so this is where I am going to mention the Great Courses Plus, where you can take a course with a University Professor who teaches the Arthurian Legends.  Professor Dorsey Armstrong explains in 24 Lectures the history of Britain, and the Celtic, Latin, French, and English legends from the Low to High Middle Ages. She with take you on tour through the historical sites attached to the title of King Arthur.  I highly recommend the Great Courses Plus for this and many other subjects available. Oh, I am not sponsored by the great course, but because I enjoy the classes so much, I am sharing my affiliate link so you can also take part in this learning opportunity.


Rex quondam, Rexque Futurus

This Latin phrase was supposedly carved upon Arthur's tomb at Glastonbury, according to Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur 21:7:

Yet some men say in many parts of England that King Arthur is not dead, but had by the will of our Lord Jesu into another place... many men say that there is written upon his tomb this verse: Hic jacet Arthurus, Rex quondam, Rexque futurus.

Translated in full, the phrase is "Here lies Arthur, King Once, and King in the Future"--or as T.H. White so succinctly translates it, "The Once and Future King."

Of course, the Glastonbury Cross has a different inscription, usually given as: "HIC IACET SEPULTUS INCLITUS REX ARTURIUS IN INSULA AVALONIA": Here Lies the Tomb of the famous King Arthur on the Isle of Avalon.

As for King Arthur's return, the messianic element of the Arthurian mythos is not to be overlooked. While a common theme in medieval literature--Charlemagne is also said to sleep under a mountain--the reason for its attachment to King Arthur should be examined.

It is not uncommon for an oppressed people--in this case, the Britons, soon to be Welsh--to have a type of messianic figure in King Arthur, the last great British king, who waits on Avalon and will return in the time of greatest peril. Jesus will have a second coming, and this element of Christianity is most emphasized during times of crisis. Elijah is said to return; a son of Zoroaster will come; Baldr will be resurrected at Ragnarok; Charlemagne is under Chateau Montsegur2, Francis Drake and Drake's Drum; Holger Danske will rise from his repose (either below Kronborg Castle at Elsinore, or Nonnebakken at Odense) and fight to preserve Denmark in her hour of need1; and so on. The idea that a hero/savior will appear one day and drive out the oppressors is a popular one, and understandably so.

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