Adapting the tale

The Arthur legend came into its own when the Norman poet Wace wrote his Rowan de Brut during the late 12th century. This romantic poem firmly establishes Arthur as a medieval king, and first mentions his entourage of knights and their round table. This was further adapted by the French writer Chretien de Troyes, whose Arthurian romance written around 1180 converted the story to include the courtly romance between Arthur and his queen, and added the story of the Holy Grail.

The romantic writer Layamon writing in the first decade of the 13th century added the Celtic element, which included the druid-cum-wizard Merlin, while later German writers such as Wolfram von Eschenbach emphasized the romantic and chivalrous elements of the story. The Arthurian legend appealed to medieval writers at a time when chivalric virtue was the leading subject for contemporary literature.

The Alliterative Morte d\Arthur (c. 1360) and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (c. 1370) completed the transition from Celt to English warrior king, creating a world of chivalry that became inextricably linked to the Arthurian tale. The ultimate version of the tale was Sir William Mallory's l.e Morte d\Arthur (c.1485) From that point on, the definitive version of the Arthurian legend was Mallory's. The Celtic warlord Arthur became the epitome of English chivalric virtue—a real irony considering that the real historical figure made his name fighting the Anglo-Saxons, the founders of England.

Above left: King Arthur under the protection of the Virgin Mary, fighting a giant. Woodcut from Chroniques de Bretagne. Paris, 1514.

Arthur s Seat (Edinburgh)

Afa. Round Table

Camulodunum (Camelot?)

Arthur's Stone


Camulodunum (Camelot?) W


. Cadbury ^Winchester

Places associated with the legend of Arthur In folklore and romance.

Arthur's Stone alace Stan's Stone


The modern Celtic Fringe: the Shetland Isles; Orkney Isles; Scottish islands, highlands, and lowlands; Isle of Man; Ulster and the Republic of Ireland: Wales: the "English" county of Cornwall; and the Brittany peninsula of France.

The CeLtic Legacy

Ithough the last true vestiges of Celtic culture died out in the medieval period, elements of Celtic ways survived into the early modern era. By this stage a revival of interest in antiquarianism and in the ancient cultural roots of Europe led to a reappraisal of the Celts. Although the antiquarian interest was encouraged across the continent by a string of startling archaeological discoveries, other disciplines encouraged the revival of interest in Celtic culture.

The notion of the "noble savage" encouraged a study of Europe's own pagan past, and a renewal of interest in its pre-Christian religious practices. As antiquarians marveled at the remains of a supposedly druidic society, theologians examined the nature of Celtic religion. Ironically, stone circles such as Stonehenge, which helped spark this curiosity, predated the Celts by at least 2,000 years.

Tied to this antiquarian, theological, and historical interest was a popular interest in the artifacts, artwork, and mythology of a Celtic past, brought to light by academic research. As the awareness in Celtic heritage grew, it became entwined in a growing political consciousness among the regions comprising the Celtic fringe. Although never a political movement, Celtic consciousness formed a part in the rise of national self-determination in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Despite this, the Celtic legacy is not about politics or regional identity. Instead, it reflects a pride shared by many northern Europeans in the achievements of their forebears. No longer considered a race of barbarians, the Celts have taken their due place among the great civilizations of the world.


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