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The Quest for Arthur's Britain by Geoffrey…
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The Quest for Arthur's Britain (1968)

by Geoffrey Ashe (Editor)

Other authors: Leslie Alcock (Contributor), Jill Racy (Contributor), C. A Ralegh Radford (Contributor), Philip Rahtz (Contributor)

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411439,253 (3.45)11
  1. 10
    The World of King Arthur by Christopher Snyder (ed.pendragon)
    ed.pendragon: Overview of the archaeological, historical, mythological and literary backgrounds of the Arthurian legends.
  2. 00
    Concepts of Arthur by Thomas Green (Crypto-Willobie)
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Showing 4 of 4
I read this as a teenager after years of reading the myths in various editions. this was a welcome, deeper analysis of the history in as far as there is any, of the myth and the times. ( )
  Daniel_Nanavati | Jul 19, 2015 |
Who exactly was King Arthur? Did he exist? If so, where and when? Geoffrey Ashe and other Arthur scholars try to answer some of these questions in The quest for Arthur’s Britain. Ashe sets up the facts and as well as the mythology in the first few chapters. We need to give up our concept of medieval knights as set out in Mallory and reinforced in White’s as well as the Broadway hit . There is evidence that there was an exceptional leader in the Britain of 500 A.D. The writers of the times were a bit sketchy so it is impossible to be sure of names, dates, or places. Archaeologists C. A. Ralegh Radford, Philip Rahtz, and Leslie Alcock write sections depicting Cornwall, Wales and Cadbury. Were they Camelot, Tintagel or Avalon? No one knows for sure. Could we speak of Glastonbury as an island? Possibly. In the sections on life in the Dark Ages, we have to totally let go of our images of both the sacred and the secular. The typical clothing of the war lords was not the shining armor of the Knights of the Round Table but more like the Roman clothing of the occupation of Britain a few short centuries previously. The book ends with the legend updated through the centuries, or as Ashe states it, the “new matter of Britain,” from Tennyson to White. And the writings go on today, with Mary Stewart among others.

The book was written in 1968 with my edition containing an updated section written in 1982. The book, considering that it an edited work with several authors, is internally consistant, probably due to the work of editor Ashe. There are no footnotes. However there is an extensive bibliography of works written prior to 1968 with an update of additional works through 1982. The index is extremely usable. The editor also includes a chronology of known events both secular and religious from the late 300s to the mid 7th century.

There are many illustrations, facsimiles and maps (unfortunately all in black and white). However the system is decidedly odd. When the text refers to a map or other illustration, there is an illustration number in the margin. However there is no set order so you can have numbers 6, 108 and 79 on the same page. Then you need to find those illustrations. Some are spread out among the text, some are in the two sections of plates, with no consistent numbering. It can be challenging to find the correct illustration. And it is necessary to refer to the maps and other photos to augment the text. The captions to the illustrations are excellent and full of information that may or may not also be included in the text.

So did Arthur exist? It is possible that Mallory’s Arthur and the Arthur of British legend were patterned on a war lord of southeastern Britain or Wales. Some of the other knights and even Mordred can be traced to comments in various writings of the period. This is a must read for those who wish to learn more of the Arthurian legend. ( )
1 vote fdholt | Jul 9, 2013 |
The 60s saw a rapid rise in interest in all things Arthurian, spurred on by a New Age zeitgeist which embraced all forms of fantasy from Tolkien to comics and by other aspects of popular culture, including musicals like Camelot. In the middle of it all a more archaeological approach to the little-understood post-Roman period in Britain was emerging which sought to throw light on what was popularly known as the Dark Ages; and the epitome of this approach was the five-year investigation (from 1966 to 1970) of the Somerset hillfort of South Cadbury Castle by the provocatively-named Camelot Research Committee. Perhaps as a direct result of the publicity surrounding the excavations the 1967 film of Camelot actually featured a map which placed the court roughly where the hillfort was situated.

Most of the contributors to this 1968 volume were directly or tangentially associated with this Committee, and preparations for the book began as the results of the first year of excavation were being processed. The result was a compendium that was, for the time, an authoritative summary of the history, archaeology, literature and continuing cultural appeal of the Arthurian period and the Arthurian legends, plentifully illustrated with maps, line drawings and photos. After its appearance in hardback it was frequently re-issued as a paperback by Paladin, thus literally extending its shelf-life.

As a snapshot of what was known or could be surmised about the Arthurian ‘reality’ it was of its time, but in retrospect much of it still stands up to scrutiny four decades and more later, despite advances particularly in archaeological research. Its influence was immense, so much so that non-academic writers still ill-advisedly use it as their Arthurian bible, when Christopher Snyder’s more up-to-date 2000 study The World of King Arthur would provide a better overview (though even this is very dated).

The Quest for Arthur’s Britain is particularly nostalgic for me as I spent part of one season as a volunteer digger at South Cadbury helping to excavate the southwest gate and part of the summit, and also met or knew some of the contributors to this volume; sadly most of them have since passed away. Although the text only hints at this, the dig captured the public’s imagination and made archaeology very rock & roll (in much the same way as Time Team was to do in its way at the end of the century); it’s difficult now to fully appreciate what an impact it made in popular culture, though it certainly made a lasting impression on me.

http://wp.me/s2oNj1-questing ( )
4 vote ed.pendragon | Nov 2, 2010 |
A must-have for any Arthurian fan! ( )
  Scaryguy | Sep 5, 2007 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ashe, GeoffreyEditorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Alcock, LeslieContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Racy, JillContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Radford, C. A RaleghContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rahtz, PhilipContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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When a medieval story-writer was looking for themes and inspiration, there were only three major sources he could go to.
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The story of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table is the chief myth of Britain. But is it something more than myth? Solid facts have emerged through the recent work of archaeologists. This book examines the historical foundations of the Arthurian tradition, and then presents the results of excavations to date at Cadbury (reputed site of Camelot), Tintagel, Glastonbury and less-known places.
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The legend of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table dominates the mythology of Britain, but could this story prove more fact than fiction? Recent archaeological findings have lead Geoffrey Ashe to believe there is more truth to Arthurian legend than previously accepted. The Quest for Arthur's Britain examines the historical foundation of the Arthurian tradition, and presents the remarkable results of excavations to date at Cadbury (reputed site of Camelot), Tintagel, Glastonbury and many places known almost exclusively to Arthurian scholars.… (more)

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