Background to The Arthurian Legend
Celts arrived on the British Isles from Northern
Europe. Their religious leaders were Druids:
priests, prophets, poets, magicians, scientists, and
doctors. They were both expert in human
knowledge and they could also deal with the gods
and goddesses. Druidsworshipped the sun and the
four holidays were the two solstices, summer and
winter, when the sun is closest to the earth and the
two equinoxes, when it is the farthest, vernal and
autumnal. The Celts were into sacrifice, to help
them get enough food and to ward off illness.
Britain was later conquered by the Romans, who
brought Christianity, but the Celts lived pretty
comfortably with the old gods and goddesses and
the Christian God for many years.
Arthurian Background continued
The enemies of the Britons were the Picts, from the north, the
Gauls, (from what is now know as France) the The Saxons
and, The Goths, and the Visigoths.
The first chronicler of Arthur is Geoffrey of Monmouth, who
lived in the 12th Century.
His History of the Kings of England is a largely fictional
work, that traces Arthur and the current Britain back to the
Trojan War. Geoffrey of Monmouth's work was regarded as
fiction until Geoffrey Ashe wrote a historical detective story
that showed that Arthur was almost certainly Riothamus
(name means (High king in Celt Rigo (King) + amos(most)).
Arthur is his Roman name (remember the Romans had
conquered and were benevolent invaders); it is Artorius
(which means bear). Many people had both British and
Roman names such as St. Patrick, who was also called Maun.
Riothamus actually did fight the Gauls and was known for
peace-making and his court. He also, like Arthur, was away
in battle when his throne was seized and he died, discredited
and alone in what is now France, near Avallon, an actual
French town still.
Prior to Arthur’s Birth
1. One of the princes of Troy, Aeneas, fled to an island, killed off
giants and named the island Britain after the leader, Brutus.
Brutus's descendant is Constantine, father of Aurelius
Ambrosius and Uther Pendragon (name means heart of the
dragon). Uther is the father of Arthur.
2. Aurelius and Uther are told by Merlin to go to Ireland and
bring back the Giants' Ring. Uther does so and Aurelius dies
while he is there.
3. Uther has a dream that he sees a huge star with a beam in the
shape of a dragon. Two rays of light from his mouth, one
pointing toward Gaul and the other into seven smaller rays.
It comes 3 times. Merlin tells him that he is the dragon
because his brother is dead and that his son will live near
Gaul and rule over all and that the 7 rays will be Morgawse's
sons, who will rule after him.
(Gawain, Gareth, Mordred, Agravain, Gaheris)
Did Lancelot and Guinevere
have an actual affair?
Two views on the relationship between
Lancelot and Guinevere: Sir Thomas
Malory (Le Morted’Arthur) and
Chretien de Troyes (Lancelot: The
Knight of the Cart)
The relationship between Lancelot and
Guinevere in Le Morte, drawn strongly
from sources that had drawn on
Chretien himself, shares with its
predecessor an abundance of the
traditions of courtly love. Lancelot
performs many deeds of chivalry in
Guinevere’s name, and time and
again, throughout Le Morte, Lancelot
weaves in and out of favor with his lady.
He and Guinevere certainly consummate
the relationship. Chretien focuses a
great deal on “courtly love.”
In contrast with Chretien’s Lancelot, however,
Malory’s Lancelot is not primarily a lover; he is a
fighter, as befits a knight being written about in
the wake of the Hundred Years War and the War
of the Roses. To one of the ladies at court,
Lancelot says, "I love not to be constrained to
love"; this is certainly a different Lancelot than
the one put forth in "The Knight of the Cart"
(Malory 416). In Malory, the love between
Lancelot and Guinevere seems to exist for one
purpose only: to inspire Lancelot to perform
chivalrous deeds in the name of his lady and of
the court of Camelot. In fact, with the exception
of the downfall of Arthur’s kingdom at the end
of Le Morte, the love affair exists mostly as a
background fact, rather than as a key point.
Group work: Get into groups of 7.
Each group will fill out an overhead
and present it to the class.
Rank’s Hero: Arthur
Rank’s hero: Mordred
Arthur’s Campbell’s hero’s Departure
Arthur’s Campbell’s hero’s Initiation
Arthur’s Campbell’s hero’s Return
How Merlin represents tricksters
Bierlin’s Meanings in Arthur
For Class 9 (Oct. 21)
Rosenberg: pp. 296-321