The Arthur of Medieval Latin Literature

The Arthur of Medieval Latin Literature: The Development and Dissemination of the Arthurian Legend in Medieval Latin

edited by Siân Echard
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
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  • Book Info
    The Arthur of Medieval Latin Literature
    Book Description:

    King Arthur's stories survive in many genres, but while scholars and enthusiasts alike know something of his roots in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Latin History of the Kings of Britain, most are unaware that there was a Latin Arthurian tradition which extended beyond Geoffrey. This collection of essays highlights different aspects of that tradition.

    eISBN: 978-0-7083-2386-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    Ad Putter
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. 1-6)
    Siân Echard

    In the preface to hisHistoria regum Britannie(c.1138), Geoffrey of Monmouth claims to be translating into Latin an ancient book in the British tongue, given to him by Walter, archdeacon of Oxford. The status of this book has been a subject of controversy ever since, and more than one of the essays in this collection will touch on Geoffrey’s sources and possible motives. I open this introduction with the single line above, however, because it contains two crucial words –codicemandLatinum. Codex is an unequivocal word, an assertion of textual materiality, and Latin is the language of textuality...

  6. Section One The Seeds of History and Legend
    • [Section One Introduction]
      (pp. 7-8)

      In this excerpt from the Welsh-LatinVita Cadoci, King Arthur, seated on a hill and playing dice with Cei and Bedwyr, reacts to a drama taking place below him. Gwynllyw, ruler of Gwynlliog, is fleeing Brychan, king of Brecon. Gwynllyw had wished to marry Brychan’s daughter Gwladus, and when Brychan refused, Gwynllyw kidnapped her. Brychan’s army is about to overtake the pair when they pass in front of Arthur. Arthur’s first emotion on spying Gwladus is lust (libidine), and his first impulse is wickedness (scelus). He asks his companions to seize Gwladus for him, and is only reluctantly dissuaded from...

      (pp. 9-25)
      Nick Higham

      As a figure of Latin literature, Arthur derives from the central Middle Ages and most particularly the fertile mind of the British cleric responsible for theHistoria Brittonum(HB). This work was arguably written in 829–30 in Gwynedd and under the patronage of King Merfyn, who was then in his fourth regnal year.¹HBappears, however, to have been composed by an author with greater personal experience of the southern March and south-east Wales than of north-west Wales.² This is particularly clear as regards his collection of marvels (chs 67–75): several comparatively detailed narratives relate to the south...

      (pp. 26-42)
      Andrew Breeze

      Unexpected evidence for Arthurian tradition occurs in early hagiography. Here nine texts are relevant, all in Latin. Two deal with the Breton saints Efflam and Goeznovius, and six with the Welsh saints Cadog (who has twoLives, one by Lifris and another by Caradog of Llancarfan), Carannog, Gildas (another Life by Caradog of Llancarfan), Illtud and Padarn. Separate from these isDe miraculis S. Mariae Laudunensisby Herman of Tournai, sometimes called Herman of Laon, who described a journey by canons of Laon from Exeter to Bodmin in 1113 and the evidence for Arthur they saw on the way, including...

  7. Section Two Geoffrey of Monmouth
    • [Section Two Introduction]
      (pp. 43-44)

      In the Latin Arthurian texts discussed in Section One, King Arthur was a sometimes peripheral, even ignoble figure. While those texts, and the early vernacular traditions to which they doubtless bore some relationship, demonstrate the existence of a pre-Galfridian body of Arthurian material, it was Geoffrey of Monmouth, and more particularly hisHistoria regum Britannie, that gave rise to the great Arthurian traditions in both Latin and the vernacular. The significance of Geoffrey’sHistoria, and of Arthur in thatHistoria, cannot be overstated. At the same time, as the essays in this section will show, neither Arthur nor theHistoria...

      (pp. 45-66)
      Siân Echard

      In the Dedication to hisHistoria regum Britannie(HRB), Geoffrey of Monmouth famously asserts that his work is a translation of an ancient British book which preserves the whole sequence of Britain’s history, from the time of its founding to the reign of the last British (as opposed to Saxon) king.² Geoffrey’s claim, and the work it introduced, attracted immediate attention, both positive and negative. Other contemporary historians had been engaged in the writing of Britain’s early history and were thus familiar with the available sources.³ They knew that there were enormous holes in the written record for early British...

      (pp. 67-82)
      Julia Crick

      At the close of hisHistoria regum BritannieGeoffrey of Monmouth dropped into the narrative an apparently simple story whose meanings continued to unfold long after his death. Cadwallader, the exiled king of Britain, contemplating defeat, had consulted Alan, king of Brittany: should he abandon his kingdom to the Saxons, as an angelic voice had advised him, or could contrary advice be found in written revelation? Alan decided the issue. Consulting and scrutinizing various prophetic books his research produced nothing to contradict the angelic message; Cadwallader consequently renounced his throne, travelling to Rome to die in 689.¹ This story served...

  8. Section Three Chronicles and Romances
    • [Section Three Introduction]
      (pp. 83-84)

      As noted in the essays in the last section, Geoffrey of Monmouth tells us much about Arthur’s life, but shockingly little about his death. The Breton hope – the notion that Arthur was not dead, but would one day return to aid his people – finds little traction in Geoffrey’sHistoria. Geoffrey’s Arthur goes to Avalon, but it is never suggested that he might come back, and Geoffrey simply moves on to the exploits of other British rulers. The lines quoted as the epigraph to this section might speak to readerly dissatisfaction with Geoffrey’s summary dismissal of his most arresting king. They...

      (pp. 85-108)
      Ad Putter

      The vigorous tradition of Arthurian historiography in Latin following Geoffrey’sHistoria regum Britannie(HRB) is one of the most neglected areas of modern scholarship. Robert Huntington Fletcher’sThe Arthurian Material in the Chronicles(Boston, 1906) and Laura Keeler’sGeoffrey of Monmouth and the Late Latin Chronicles: 1300–1500(Berkeley, 1946) offer indispensable overviews of the vast amount of extant material, but their surveys also reveal how deplorably inaccessible much of the relevant material was (and still is): some of the most interesting Arthurian chronicles can only be read in manuscripts or early printed editions.

      It is impossible to cover the...

      (pp. 109-131)
      Edward Donald Kennedy

      In the Middle Ages Glastonbury was surrounded by marshes that made it seem like an island, and Welsh tradition may have long associated it with Avalon, the Celtic otherworld to which King Arthur was taken for the healing of his wounds. Arthur had been associated with Glastonbury at least as early asc.1150 when the monks at the abbey commissioned Caradoc of Llancarfan to write aVitaof St Gildas in which Arthur rescued Guenevere when she was held captive there by the king of Somerset.¹ The Arthurian associations became better known when in 1191 monks at the abbey discovered...

      (pp. 132-146)
      Elizabeth Archibald

      It is often assumed that Latin was the language choice for serious writing in the Middle Ages, that medieval romance was regarded as frivolous entertainment suited to the vernacular, and thus that the inevitable language choice for romance writers in France was French, and in post-Conquest Britain Anglo-Norman or English. It is also assumed that most churchmen, who formed the majority of those literate in Latin, were hostile to the Arthurian legend, or at least to frivolous Arthurian fables as opposed to serious ‘history’. William of Malmesbury, dismissing the legend of Arthur’s eventual return, wrote that Arthur deserved better than...

  9. Section Four After the Middle Ages
      (pp. 149-178)
      James P. Carley

      In 1485 William Caxton’s ‘edited’ version of Thomas Malory’s rambling Arthuriad was printed under the title ofLe Morte Darthurand the following year Henry VII, first of the so-called Tudor dynasty, named his son after this ancient British king and hero. By the mid sixteenth century, however, enthusiasm for Arthur seems to have waned considerably and Roger Ascham, tutor and Latin secretary to Elizabeth, would dismissLe Morte Darthur– and by extension the Arthurian cycle as a whole – as papistical nonsense.² Notwithstanding William Caxton’s prefatory affirmation of Arthur’s historical reality, vouchsafed by tangible evidence dotted...

    (pp. 179-184)
    (pp. 185-186)
    (pp. 187-200)