Arthurian Legend


Arthurian Legend Essay, Research Paper

Arthurian Legend is a group of stories of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. The legends originated as a collection of folk tales passed down by oral tradition. As the stories spread through Europe different scenes as well as different versions appear in different countries. Consequently some of the stories have minor contradictions with each other. However, even though the story has been modified on several occasions, the same basic stories of adventure, romance, combat, betrayal, and chivalry remain the same. Stories of the rise and the fall of heroes are still very much at their core.One interesting part of the Arthur legend is that a real Arthur may have existed. A sixth century record of the Saxon invasion of Briton tells of a General Arthuriur who during the invasion led his troops to many victories over the invaders. During the reign of Henry II, excavators uncovered a tomb baring the inscription ?Here lies buried the renowned King Arthur in the Isle of Avalon? (Malory, 576). It contained the skeletal remains of a tall man who apparently died of a head wound.The real Arthur, whoever he was, was eventually transformed into the epic hero and king of the Britons we know him as today. In these epics he is given almost superhuman powers and even immorality in some stories by saying that one day he will come back in a time when his people need him the most. The tales eventually found their way into scholarly writings like Neniu?s History of the Britons (800, Latin) and Geoffrey of Monmouth?s History of the Kings of Briton (1136, Latin) in which it is believed the order of knighthood was introduced to the legend.During the War of the Roses in 1485, Malory?s Le Morte d?Arthur became the first English version of the Arthur Legend printed in the English language. In this version of the story, Malory added to the knightly code and made Arthur more of a national hero. This was especially important during the time of civil war. Another later English version of the story was Idyllss of the Kings, written in 1888 by Alfred Lord Tennyson and focused on the founding of Camelot and the imperfect people who did not live up to its ideals. Throughout these newer versions in English and other common languages more people began to read them and make comparisons. Backgrounds, children, relationships, how well they did their jobs, and lived up to the code of chivalry are common areas of comparison. In fact, two of the more famous characters, Arthur and Lancelot have many differences and similarities in these areas.In comparing the backgrounds of the two men, people find that they were both raised in fosterage. Arthur was the illegitimate son of Uther Pendragon and Lady Igraine of Cornwall. Shortly after his birth he was given to Merlin to give to Sir Ector (sometimes called Ectorius) to raise as his own child. After the Death of Uther, and no one but Merlin knowing who Arthur was, a good many competitors went after the throne. To settle the dispute a bishop asked them all to pray for a sign. Then miraculously a sword appeared driven into a stone in the courtyard. The sword bore an inscription on it declaring that whoever could pull it out of the stone would be king. All the nobles present and several famous knights attempted to remove the sword but none were successful. The sword stayed in the stone for several months.It came time for the annual tournament for the Pentecost. Young Arthur was serving as squire to his recently knighted foster brother Sir Kay. When he realized he forgot his sword, he sent Arthur back to the inn to get it. When he returned to the inn he found that it was locked up and everyone was at the tournament so he could not get in. Not wanting to disappoint his brother he remembered seeing a sword in the churchyard and gave it to his master who recognized it instantly. To prove that Arthur was the one who pulled the sword they took him back to the stone and replaced the sword. Kay tried to pull the sword from the stone first but could not do so. Finally, Arthur pulled the sword again, proving his right to rule.Years later, Arthur saw Merlin being chased by three men and he chased the men away. As they were walking they met a mysterious knight who would not let them pass unless he beat them in a joust. After the first charge both spears are broken. They then dismounted and went at each other with their swords. During the long battle the other knight split Arthur?s sword and would have killed him had Merlin not put him to sleep with his magic. Arthur and Merlin then departed heading for a hermit?s cabin to rest.The two left the cabin the next day. Arthur, still in need of a sword, was led by Merlin to a lake where he said that he would get a new sword. When they arrived Arthur saw a sword in the middle of the lake held by a hand. The Lady of the Lake offered the sword to Arthur in exchange for a future favor. He then got on a boat and claimed the sword Excalibur and is scabbard. Lancelot (also spelled Launcelot and sometimes called Lancelot of the Lake and Prince of Benoioc or Brittany) like Arthur was also raised in fosterage. King Ban was a strong supporter of Arthur and when his castle came under attack he tried to escape to Camelot with his wife and infant son Lancelot. However, the escaping monarch saw his castle burning in the night and died of grief. His wife laid her son down to be with her dying husband. Upon her return she saw her son in the arms of a nymph who threw herself into the lake upon her approach. This nymph was later found out to be the Lady of the Lake who took young Lancelot and trained him in her court. When Lancelot was matured he was taken to Arthur?s court and was knighted. As a result of his training he was one of the greatest knights Arthur had. It was also said that Lancelot could not be beaten except by magic or betrayal.Another similarity is that both Arthur and Lancelot had illegitimate children but they turned out differently. Arthur?s son Mordrid, was also his nephew because his mother was Arthur?s sister Morgen la Fay (also called Morgasue or Morgana). Mordrid was one of Arthur?s greatest enemies. He tried to break up the Round Table by exposing the affair between Guenevere (also spelled Guinevere or Guenever) and Lancelot. In some legends he is even said to have wanted Guenevere for himself and even plotted to kill the king. In the end at The Battle of Camlan, the high point of Mordrid?s revolt, the two killed each other.Contrastingly, Lancelot?s illegitimate son by Elinne of Astolat was Galahad (sometimes called Galahed and the Grail Knight) who appeared out of nowhere at a time when his fathers character flaws were beginning to show. Compared to his father Galahad was the perfect model of Christianity and chivalry, the perfect example of what a knight should be. He ??disproves the rule where bastards were renown for their ignoble natures? (Corless, deGanis, n.p.). The old hermit who accompanied him convinced the court that he was the only one who could claim the Siege Perilous. Galahad was no sooner knighted than he receives a vision of the Holy Grail and decided to search it out and in the end was the only knight who found it. However, when he touched the grail it killed him.The relationship between the two men and Guenevere is also an interesting subject for comparison. When Arthur first met Guenevere he was 18, (Corless, Guenever, n.p.) five years older then she was. They met when he was helping her father with a war. Four years later his advisors suggested that he choose a wife. His first choice was Guenevere and said that she was the finest lady in the land. Merlin foreseeing her affair with Lancelot advised him to choose another. Arthur ignored this advice and married her anyway. This turned what turned out to be little more than a marriage of state.Lancelot had a different relationship with Guenevere. He arrived at Arthur?s court as a young squire of 16, 11 years younger then Guenevere (Corless, Guenever, n.p.) At first she doubted his claims of prowess but soon learned he was far from bragging and he quickly became her favorite champion and he went to great lengths to please her. By the time he was made a full knight he and the Queen were very much in love and rumors of their affair started to surface.On more then one occasion Lancelot saved Guenevere form various perils. One such peril happened when Guenevere was riding through the woods with a few knights and some of her ladies in waiting. In the woods that day was a rogue knight named Melegans. He had been watching the queen for quite some time waiting for the right time to kidnap her. Now for the first time Lancelot was not with her . As her company moved through the woods Melegans attacked the sparsely armed party with a fully armored force with greater numbers. After a long battle almost all of her knights were defeated and she agreed to go with him if he?d let them live. The battle ended and Melegans took the survivors captive so none of them could tell Lancelot, because he feared him greatly.After hearing that a message was secretly sent to Lancelot he prepared a trap for him. When Lancelot approached the site of the battle he had his horse shot out from under him. As he walked on to Melegans? castle a cart came along on which he hitched a ride, which it was shameful for a knight to ride in the back of a cart (Bullfinch, n,p.). Once Lancelot finally got to her she was ashamed he rode in a cart but after telling her he only did it so he could save her quicker the whole group returned to Camelot.After a long affair the two were finally discovered in the queen?s chambers by a group of knights led by Sir Mordrid. Lancelot killed them all but the fleeing leader. Then Lancelot tried to talk Guenevere into escaping to his castle but, she stayed and accepted her punishment. However, she asked him to return only if she is sentenced to death. Just before she is burnt at the stake as an adulteress Lancelot comes in killing several knights then escapes to his castle. For this act, Arthur was forced to declare war on Lancelot. Guenevere was handed over like a trophy in exchange for peace. However, upon the advisement of Sir Gawanie the fighting continued and Guenevere was given to Mordrid to escort back to Camelot. While returning he told her of his plan to takeover the throne. After hearing this she locked herself in the tower with only a bodyguard. Mordrid tried to force her out but was called away by Arthur?s returning army. During this final battle most of the knights were killed and Arthur and Mordrid killed each other. After hearing of this Guinevere became a nun because she blamed herself for the fall of Camelot. One day Lancelot arrived at the convent proposing marriage. She refused and asked him never to return. Lancelot then he became a hermit. However, years later he did return only to find that she had died hours before his arrival. He and his kinsmen carried her body to be buried next to Arthur?s. Lancelot died shortly after that.Another thing which can be compared is how they are both considered the greatest in there positions. Arthur is considered the greatest king of his time. This is evident from the fact that he is the most thought of character of legend. Also within the legends his greatness is apparent through the receiving of his swords. This indicates that a higher power also sees this greatness and helped him.Lancelot is widely considered one of the greatest knights on legend. The tales of his many adventures shows just how well that title is earned.On one adventure Lancelot fell asleep under a tree. While he is sleeping four queens walk past, the queens recognized him and started fighting over him. In resolution one of them put him under a spell to make sure he did not awaken. They then took him back to there castle and forced him to choose one of them as a lover. The knight refused them all and would have been killed the next day had a lady with no sworn loyalty to the queens set him free in exchange for his helping her father, King Bageagas, in a tournament. When he arrived at the tournament he saw the king outnumbered and losing the first charge. He rushed in to the battle and gave the opposing king a nonfatal wound forcing his knights to forfeit the competition.On another adventure he hears of a knight who as taken several knights captive, including several knights of the Round Table. Lancelot challenged the knight, who was called Sir Turquine, during the battle we find out that Lancelot had killed the other knights brother so they must fight to the death. After the long battle Lancelot emerged victorious.After he freed the knights held by Sir Turquine he rode till late at night when a kind woman let him stay at her house which was comfortable for both him and his horse. Shortly after he went to sleep a noise from outside woke him up. Looking out his window he saw a knight being chased by three other knights with swords drawn. Leaping out the window he rushed to help the solo knight who turned out to be Sir Kay. After beating the knights he made them yield to Sir Kay. After that the two switched armor so Kay could ride back to Camelot unchallenged.While Lancelot was wearing Kay?s armor back to Camelot he met with four of his fellow knights. Thinking it was Kay they each challenged him and all the knights lost the challenge. Later they figured out what had happened and retold the story when they were all back in Camelot.Still another area where they can be compared is in how they lived up to the code of chivalry. Under the code of chivalry there were ten rules. Under these rules knights were to follow the teachings of the church. They were also honor bound to defend the church and the weak. Furthermore, they were sworn to love their native country and to never run from an enemy. The code also states that they were to make war against heathens without mercy while preforming their duties within the laws of God. Knights were not supposed to lie but be generous and fight injustice wherever they went. Those were the rules for the code of knightly conduct (Rules, n.p.).Arthur lived up to the code of chivalry in many ways, but not all ways. He deeply loved his country and fought for it as its king. Also during his final battle Arthur killed his own son who had rebelled against the throne. A way in which he did not uphold the code is he left the battle with the rouge Lancelot. This could be covered by the fact that Mordrid was making his attack making him the greater enemy at the time.Lancelot did not always follow the code of chivalry in all things either. This is another thing that makes him and Arthur similar. Lancelot?s illicit romance with Guenevere is against the laws of God and the teachings of the church. Furthermore he did not always seem to love his country of birth as evidenced from his helping King Bageagas. On many occasions he defended the weak. One such time was when Guenevere was abducted. He charged to her rescue and even lowered himself to riding in a cart. On another occasion he fought the heathen Sir Turquine, who had been holding several knights captive, to the death to free the knights. There are many similarities and differences between the characters of Arthur and Lancelot in Arthurian Legend. These are most well shown in the areas of there backgrounds, through there children, there relationship with Guenevere, how they are both regarded as greatest, and sometimes chivalrous Things such as the fact that they were raised in fosterage, and they both had illegitimate children are strong examples of how their life was similar. Also their mutual love for Guenevere and how both felt she was the love of their life is another big similarity between the two. Another similarity between Arthur and Lancelot and one of the things that drive Arthurian Legend is that they were both renowned throughout time for being the best king and knight respectively. There desire for chivalry in some portion of life and the backbone they placed on it are another example of their noted similarities. Even with all of these similarities they were still individuals and did have differences.In addition to there similarities Arthur and Lancelot also have many diffrences. As far as their backgrounds go Arthur?s fosterage was with a man who did not know what he was to become while Lancelot?s helped him reach his full potential. Their children turned out to be almost exact opposites. Lancelot?s relationship with Guenevere is truer than her marriage of state to Arthur. As for how Arthur and Lancelot lived up to the code of chivalry Lancelot?s adulterous relationship with Guenevere was a major violation of the knight?s code.There are many other areas that could be compared between the two. However, some of the information can be confusing because of all the deferring versions of the legends. However the similarities and differences between King Arthur and Sir Lancelot is one aspect that keeps Arthurian legend fascinating many centuries later.Works Cited

Bullfinch, Thomas ?The Age of Chivalry or Legends of King Arthur? Gopher:// (8 February 1998)

Corless Peter ?Queen Guenever, Prencess of Cameliard, Queen of Brition? (8 Febuary 1998)

Corless, Peter ?The de Ganis Clan? (8 Febuary 1998)

Malory, Thomas Appreciating Literature Columbus: McGraw-Hill, 1991. 575-604

? The Ten Rules of Chivalry? (10 Febuary 1998)


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