2 Historical Context of the Arthurian Legend Historical Context of the Arthurian LegendDid King Arthur exist?“The only honest answer is, ‘We do not know, but he may well have existed.’” Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson
3 Historical Context of the Arthurian Legend Historical Context of the Arthurian LegendOn the basis of several historical documents we can conclude that an Arthur probably did exist:Welsh elegy GododdinNennius’ Historia BrittonumAnnales CambriaeRight: Page from the Annales Cambriae, including entries for the battles of Badon and Camlann.Left: Arthur and Mordred clash at the battle of Camlann(Snyder 72-73)
4 Historical Context of the Arthurian Legend Historical Context of the Arthurian LegendThe “Arthur Story” has existed in the form of local legends since at least as early as the 9th century.Appears in late 11th and early 12th century Latin Lives of Welsh Saints as a king or chief, “usually troublesome to the saint at first but afterwards overcome by a miracle.” (Jackson)The Arthurian stories are folkloric because they were transmitted orally for many years before the legends were put to paper in any organized fashion. Often these early oral legends took on a local geographic phenomenon or historic site in order to bring the story closer to home. Records of local legends featuring Arthur date back to as early as the 9th century.He more commonly appears in Saints Lives’ stories in the 11th and 12th centuries as a local king or chieftain who actually opposes the saint at first but who is later converted or surmounted by a miracle
5 The Legend of ArthurWe see Arthur as a central figure in British and Irish mythology by the 11th centuryBy the 12th century, Arthur has become a popular literary and legendary figure in Western Europe.“Why this exaltation of an alien king and court by the most sophisticated men of letters of Western Europe, men who, so far as one can tell, had not the slightest incentive to popularize a figure of so remote a time and people?” (Loomis)
6 Why? (But first, why not?)Could not have been due to visits to the British mainland by European writers.Lack of intimacy with British settingsCould not have been due to export of Celtic manuscripts.They would have been unreadable outside of Brittany.Could not have been due to foreign-language books by Welsh natives.Even the most influential works (Geoffrey of Monmouth) made little impression on verse romances.
7 Diffusion of The Matter of Britain Diffusion of The Matter of BritainThe Matter of Britain is the name given to the body of literature associated with Britain and Brittany. It includes, but is not limited to, the Arthurian legends.The twelfth century French poet Jean Bodel created the name in a poem entitled Chanson de Saisnes:Ne sont que iij matières à nul homme atandant,De France et de Bretaigne, et de Rome la grant.
8 Crossing the ChannelWales was not the only Celtic territory which possessed an Arthurian tradition.Cornwall also retained strong ties to the Arthur legend.As the Anglo-Saxon presence in Britain grew more extreme, some Celtic peoples migrated from Cornwall across the English Channel to Brittany.
9 Source: Atlas of Medieval Europe, Angus Konstam Here we have a map of England and the regions of France.As you can see the area of Cornwall is quite close to the French peninsula of Brittany and Normandy.Source: Atlas of Medieval Europe, Angus Konstam
10 Bretonese References to Arthur Early Bretonese Arthur references:The Life of GoeznoviousMentions the victories of Arthur.The Life of St. EfflamRepresented by a sculpture in Perros which depicts a figure with a crozier (Efflam) and a figure with a shield (Arthur) lying exhausted next to a dying dragon.Map of Brittany (Synder 99)
11 Other Early References: Other Early References:William of Malmesbury refers to Arthur in his Historia Regum Anglorum; “He is that Arthur about whom the trifles of the Bretons (nugae Britonum).”Reference to the Round Table in Wace’s Brut; “…Of which Britons tell many stories.”1216 – Welshman Giraldus Cambrensis “attributes to the ‘fabulosi Britones’ the story of Arthur’s transportation by a certain imaginary goddess, named Morganis, to the island of of Avalon for the healing of his wounds.” (Loomis)Crucial in these passages is the recurring reference to Arthur as Britones. By this point in history Arthur has become a Breton, distinct from Cambrenses (Welsh) and Cornubienses (Cornish).
12 Arthur Legends in France Arthur Legends in FranceWaceMarie de FranceThe Romance of TristanThomas versionBeroul versionChretien de TroyesIllustration from a 15th century manuscript of Lancelot. (Synder 6-7).
13 A 14th century manuscript of the Roman de Brut. (Snyder 88) WaceRoman de BrutTranslation of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae.More than just a straight translationOmitted some elements and abridged others.Wove fictional elements into his narrative, including oral tales.First to mention the Round Table.“For the noble barons he had, of whom each felt that he was superior--each one believed himself to be the best, and no-one could tell the worst--King Arthur, of whom the Britons tell many stories, established the Round Table. There sat the vassals, all of them at the table-head, and all equal. They were placed at the table as equals. None of them could boast that he was seated higher than his peer.”First to refer to Arthur’s sword as Excalibur.Adapted from Geoffrey’s name for it, “Caliburn.”A 14th century manuscript of the Roman de Brut. (Snyder 88)
14 Chretien de TroyesResponsible for creating several Arthurian mythic elementsThe Holy GrailIn Perceval (Le Conte du Graal)CamelotLancelotFirst appears in his poem Erec,Appears more fully in Le Chevalier de la Charrette‘Lancelot slays a dragon’, by Arthur Rackham. The Romance of King Arthur. (Snyder, 105)
15 Marie de FranceA French poetess of the twelfth century. Probably lived in England in the court of Henry II.LaisTwelve verse narratives in French, including two directly referencing Arthurian legend.LanvalChevrefoil
16 Tristan and Isolde, from a 14th century manuscript. (Snyder 99) The Romance of TristanTwo versions writtenThomas version written in 1165Considered the “courtly” version due to refined language and tamer actionBeroul version, written between 1160 and 1190Bloodier and more visceral than the Thomas version, but sole existing manuscript is much more fragmented.Tristan and Isolde, from a 14th century manuscript. (Snyder 99)