The Historical King Arthur

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The Historical King Arthur

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Feb 29, 2008, 4:15pm

Did he ever even exist?

I'm C&Ping my quotes from the other thread, but I'd really love to hear what you people think about this.

From Wikipedia:

Either he did:
Thomas Charles-Edwards commented that "at this stage of the enquiry, one can only say that there may well have been an historical Arthur {but}… the historian can as yet say nothing of value about him"

Or he didn't:
David Dumville has written, in perhaps the most famous scholarly quotation on the "historical Arthur", "I think we can dispose of him {Arthur} quite briefly. He owes his place in our history books to a ‘no smoke without fire’ school of thought... The fact of the matter is that there is no historical evidence about Arthur; we must reject him from our histories and, above all, from the titles of our books."{10} Indeed, some academics argue that Arthur was originally a fictional hero of folklore – or even a half-forgotten Celtic deity – who became credited with real deeds in the distant past,

Edited: Feb 29, 2008, 4:20pm

I don't have a lot of time now, so I will quickly say I agree more with Dumville than Edwards. I don't think there was one Arthur. The idea of him is such a mish mash of Celtic/British lore, Christian mythos and French Romanticism.

Feb 29, 2008, 4:20pm

Was he based partly on Charlemagne do you think? (is that what/who you mean by French Romanticism?)

Feb 29, 2008, 4:22pm

HA! The name of this thread is close to the name of the Arthur book I have ordered: King Arthur in Legend and History. I'll tell you more when I get it and read it.

But, until then, I would say my working hypothesis is: Arthur was real, and admired, but had attributes added to him, that came from very many sources, not all reliable.

Kinda like....... *stops here*

Feb 29, 2008, 4:26pm

#4 - Yeah, I was afraid to go there! :o)

Feb 29, 2008, 4:26pm

Hmmm....I think the beginnings of the Arthur (not necessarily called by that name) myth predate Charlemagne, but he could have certainly been an influence later on.

I pretty much agree with what JPD said.

Feb 29, 2008, 4:28pm

#4, yeah, that could apply to a few historical personages couldn't it? :-)

Feb 29, 2008, 4:29pm

Go where? Go where?

Edited: Feb 29, 2008, 4:30pm

OH, I'm slow.....sheesh.

Feb 29, 2008, 4:32pm

Speaking of which, I am listening to Don't Know Much About History on my iPod and one of the first great myth-busters is a tale about George Washington crossing the Delaware, and he reportedly told General Knox to move his "fat ass" over in the boat. Now that's the kind of history I love to hear! It makes my idols human!

Feb 29, 2008, 4:39pm

I love books like that clam, I have one on my shelf waiting to be read - Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong.

Feb 29, 2008, 5:06pm

The beginnings of the Arthurian myths do predate Charlemagne, earliest in Wales, but much of what we associate as traditional was added by the French, such as Lancelot, and the "Arthurian" ideal of chivalry was basically invented by Edward III. Arthur, if he did exist, was probably a soldier or leader who fought against the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes who were invading England in the 5th century. Like mostly everything that happened in the very early middle ages, we have no reliable sources and little ability to separate truth from historical elaboration.

So basically, Arthur is totally literary and has virtually no grounding in history. =)

Feb 29, 2008, 5:11pm

How much existence does Arthur need to "really" exist? At the low threshold, there was a guy named Arthur in 5th-century Britain.

Was he a king? Well, in the Battle of Mount Badon (Mynydd Baeden) a Roman/British force defeated the Saxon invaders some time between 490 and 516 AD. Ancient historian Nennius credits Arthur for this victory. Gildas attributes it to Ambrosius Aurelianus -- but "Arthur" is close enough for government work.

That's about as close as any historical person gets to reality.

Feb 29, 2008, 5:27pm

The other little piece of historic trivia that I picked up was that at a certain time in Britian (or Wales) there was a proliferation of boys born and named Arthur. More than average. One would think, perhaps, named after some sort of local hero.

I think this tid-bit is at the end of The Winter King. I believe Cornwell liked doing his research.

Feb 29, 2008, 6:19pm

>#11 flee, that's a really good book. I used to have it, but a teacher at the high school where I used to work borrowed it on a permanent basis. If you like that, also check out the People's History books by Howard Zinn. A good starting point is A People's History of the United States.

Back to the topic: It's completely feasible that Arthur ended up being an amalgamation of legend, myth, and some reality. What starts out as urban legend can become much bigger than local, after all.

But, just like Biblical scholars, there are ancient places that have ruins and "proof" of existence. However, it is totally possible for myth to have grown up around a mysterious place that stands in ruins and the past is a story made to fit that existence. After all, how many haunted houses at the end of the block are there?

Mar 1, 2008, 12:56pm

Does anyone know if Joseph Campbell ever addressed the Arthurian myths in any of his books? Campbell is one of those authors/scholars that I fully intend to read more. Sigh.

Mar 1, 2008, 1:54pm

#16 - Is he the 'follow your bliss' guy?

Mar 1, 2008, 2:05pm

#17 Well... he did this "Pathways to Bliss" thing later in life. :S

But earlier on, he did some fantastic work in comparative religions and mythology. The Hero With a Thousand Faces is rightfully a classic, and I remember a very happy month many many years ago reading all four volumes of The Masks of God.

Mar 1, 2008, 2:07pm

I read a fascinating book that I can't remember the details of (must have been a few years BLT -- which isn't Bacon, Lettuce or Tomato!) -- think I found it in Kloof public library. Anyway it put forward an at least plausible case that Arthur was a Celtic, certainly pre-Roman and possibly even pre-Druid deity. And the core of the stories are the only truly Stonehenge-era folklore we have. I found that fascinating.

Mar 2, 2008, 8:58pm

*waits for more posts in this thread*

Mar 2, 2008, 9:32pm

I'm sorry, clam. I had some medical issues today so I didn't get any research done. Right now I'm in a painkiller haze, but hopefully tomorrow I can get some work done. ;)

Mar 2, 2008, 9:33pm

Oh no!
*big hugs*
PLEASE, take good care of yourself, flee. And enjoy that haze! ;o) When it wears off, you might be wishing it hadn't!

Mar 2, 2008, 9:44pm

Whether ol' Art was grounded in historical reality or not, he made somewhat of a spiritual comeback (" Kinda like.......") during Britain's darkest moments of WWII -- there were those that believed the time had come for his return to serve and save England. I'm sure as an element of national pride, it would have helped some make it through the crisis...

Mar 2, 2008, 9:52pm

King Arthur is perhaps the greatest personage of the Matter of Britain. Wiki article:
The Matter of France deals with Charlemagne and the fight agains the Sarcens and other Muslims. (El Cid, the Song of Roland)
The "matter of Rome" (and I would add Greece/Athens) deals with Roman Gods and their Greek correlates.
I think you can also posit a Matter of Jerusalem, which would deal with the Bible and its stories and personages.
One can see these as three great strands of legendary history that inform Medieval literature, plus the Bible which I'm not going to characterize.
So, King Arthur, would represent mythological truth, if you can't get a historical personage in good view.

Mar 2, 2008, 11:57pm

Having viewed several programs about the search for Historical Arthur on various cable channels (Hist. Int., BBC Am.,etc.) on which they find scant evidence & reading several versions of the Arthurian legends & surfing the web for Arthurian websites of which there are many I find myself getting more confused. However, hope springs eternal & this read we are doing just might help make things clearer-maybe-it just might happen! maybe 8^)

Mar 7, 2008, 8:20pm

Truth is we'll most likely never have any definitive proof either way... will we? Maybe it's better that way.

Mar 7, 2008, 8:22pm

I think the literary Arthur is far more significant than any truths we'll discover about the "real" Arthur will ever be. It probably is better that way.

Mar 7, 2008, 8:29pm

so I am getting to the exciting part of Black horses for the King. It is a great little YA book and sets forth rather nicely the reasons a "round table" of knights might have been invented. McCaffrey has done a good job with realistic descriptions of the country side, castles in all their roughness, and the possibilities of small warfare all over the land.

The central motif is a young man who learns to shoe horses with iron shoes so they would not go lame. I have no clue if this is historically accurate for the beginning of this technology, but it makes for a good story. I recommend it to any Dragoneers who'd like a quick read for the Arthur discussions.

Mar 8, 2008, 4:40pm

In search of myths & heroes : exploring four epic legends of the world by Michael Wood is a companion book to a PBS series that I picked up a few years ago. One of the sections is on the historicity of King Arthur.

Also, I just came across a website referenced by my public library's web catalog on the subject. It appears to be an interesting discussion, but I haven't read through it all the way yet.

Hmmm. Looks like the touchstones aren't working right now...