The kutYiunan Legend

The romantic myth of the Arthurian legend entrances still, yet Arthur was a historic figure from sub-Roman Britain. Although many elements of the Arthurian legend—Camelot, the knights of the Round Table, the Holy Grail—are medieval creations, the military elements have some historic virtue. Ironically, the Celtic chieftain who fought the Anglo-Saxons was later personified as a chivalric Knglish monarch.

Below: "Arthur's Tomb," a scene from Sir Thomas Mallory's Le Morte d'Arthur, painted by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1855.

he fragmentary evidence concerning Arthur has already been examined in Chapter nine. Most scholars now agree that he-was a real person; a sub-Roman British warlord who battled the Saxons during the late fifth and early sixth centuries. The first reference to him is found in a poem entitled Y CiotitMin written by Aneirin, late in the sixth century. While describing another Celtic warrior, it ran: "A wild boar's fury was Bleddig ab Eli... but he was not Arthur, and he fed black ravens on

Catraeth's [Catterick] walls." In the Annates Cambriae, written about 955, the death of Arthur at the Battle of Camlann (c.539) is mentioned.

The real chroniclers of the warlord's exploits were the Celtic bards, whose unwritten tales were passed on for generations, and no doubt the tale grew with the telling. The first real written basis for the Arthurian legend came from Geoffrey of Monmouth (1100-55), whose Historia Regnum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain) portrayed Arthur as a mighty warrior king.

Geoffrey was a cleric who was born on the Welsh border. His Breton ancestors had accompanied William of Normandy during his invasion of England in 1066. He claimed his account of Arthur was simply the translation into Latin of an earlier British (presumably-Welsh) book, but this original has never been found. One possible influence may have been

the precursor of the Prophesy of Merlin, a 15th-century Latin work translated from a tenth-century original written by John of Cornwall. Geoffrey even provided a family tree, making Arthur the son of Uther, a descendant of the Roman Emperor Constantine. Arthur's uncle was listed as Ambrosius, a prominent sub-Roman king. This established Arthur as a royal figure with a Romano-British lineage, not as a Celtic warlord. While this was a straightforward account of war, marriage, and alliances, The Ptvphesy of Merlin added the supernatural element that has come to form such an important part of the Arthurian story.

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