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Legends of Arthur

Legends of Arthur

selected and presented by Richard Barber
Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 488
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  • Book Info
    Legends of Arthur
    Book Description:

    The image of Arthur has haunted the poets and writers of western Europe for nearly nine centuries, and there is no sign of an end to the reign of the 'once and future king' in the world of literature. The Arthurian epic is as popular a subject now as it was when it was first fashioned, and the stories about Arthur and the heroes associated with him come in a bewildering number of guises. The sheer variety of the legends, both in style and content, is extraordinary; and this collection attempts to present, in a small space, something of this diversity. Sir Thomas Malory, half a millennium ago, plundered a whole range of sources to create his masterpiece, Le Morte Darthur; but he did so to weld them together within the framework of Arthur's own career. Legends of King Arthur draws on different sources, but emphasises the way in which writers have created new stories around the great heroes, or have told the stories in different ways. So there are two versions of each hero's exploits. Arthur is shown as emperor and warlord, and as the triumphant and tragic king of the romances, betrayed by Lancelot and Guinevere. Gawain is the central figure of the wonderful adventures of a Dutch romance, and the courtly and subtle hero of the English masterpiece Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Tristan appears as the single-minded lover of Iseult in the original version of his story, and then as a knight of the Round Table whose devotion to chivalry is almost as great as his passion for his beloved. In these differing versions, we can see how the Arthurian romances held the medieval world spellbound for so long, in all their colour and variety. RICHARD BARBER's books on Arthur include Arthurian Legends: An Illustrated Anthology, King Arthur: Hero and Legend and Myths and Legends of the British Isles.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-360-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
    (pp. 1-4)

    THE IMAGE OF ARTHUR has haunted the poets and writers of western Europe for nearly nine centuries, and there is no sign of an end to the reign of the ‘once and future king’ in the world of literature. The Arthurian epic is as popular a subject now as it was when it was first fashioned, and the stories about Arthur and the heroes associated with him come in a bewildering number of guises. There has never been just one authentic version of his deeds, and new Arthurs are still being created apace. All this springs from a figure so...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 5-12)

      WE KNOW VERY LITTLE about the real Arthur. The scraps of history about him date from centuries after his death; it is as if all that we knew about the historical Elizabeth I was two sentences written down at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and the rest was either hearsay or the work of today’s novelists. The image we now have of Arthur as a great medieval king, leader of a splendid company of chivalrous knights in shining armour, is pure fantasy, imagined by poets of the Middle Ages who wanted to create a kind of ideal court. The...

      (pp. 13-52)

      AFTER THE DEATH OF UTHER PENDRAGON, the leaders of the Britons gathered in the town of Silchester and there suggested to Dubricius, the archbishop of Caerleon, that he should crown Arthur, the son of Uther, as their king. Necessity urged them on, for as soon as the Saxons heard of the death of King Uther, they invited their own countrymen over from Germany, appointed Colgrin as their leader and began to do their utmost to exterminate the Britons. They had already overrun all the country which stretches from the river Humber to the sea named Caithness.

      Dubricius lamented the sad...

      (pp. 53-152)

      WHEN UTHER PENDRAGON WAS king of all England, there was a mighty duke in Cornwall who waged war against him for a long time. And King Uther sent for this duke, ordering him to bring his wife with him, for she was said to be a wise and beautiful lady, and her name was Igraine. The duke and his wife came to the king, and the great lords of the land made peace between the king and the duke. The king loved this lady well, and he entertained them royally; and he tried to seduce her. But she was a...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 153-158)

      ‘Then [in the time of William the Conqueror] in the country of the Welsh which is called Ros [Pembrokeshire] the tomb of Walwen was found, who was nephew to Arthur, his sister’s son, and by no means unworthy of him. He ruled in the part of Britain now called Walweitha [Galloway]; he was a soldier of outstanding bravery, but he was driven out of his kingdom by the brother and nephew of Hengest [the Saxon leader], though he killed many of them before he went into exile….’ This is Gawain’s first appearance in literature, in theDeeds of the Kings...

      (pp. 159-224)
      (pp. 225-314)

      There are many adventures about King Arthur which have never yet been written down. I am beginning a marvellous tale of this sort; if I could find it in French, I would translate it for you into Dutch: it is a fine tale indeed! All the angels in heaven must lend me courage and sense and wisdom for the task, and reinforce my creative powers so that all those who hear the tale may find noble virtues in it. May the Lord grant me as much wisdom as this book demands so that I may carry out my task from...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 315-322)

      THE STORY OF TRISTAN AND ISEULT seems to have been told for the first time in a single poem which no longer survives, written around the middle of the twelfth century. We know a little about it from the surviving fragments of other poems about Tristan, all of which relate the main episodes of the story in the same way, although individual details vary. In effect, modern scholars argue that there was once something likeThe History of the Kings of Britainfor the Tristan legend, one key text from which all other reworkings were largely derived. What has come...

      (pp. 323-394)

      MYLORDS, IF YOU WOULD HEAR a high tale of love and of death, here is that of Tristan and Queen Iseult; how to their full joy, but to their sorrow also, they loved each other, and how at last they died of that love together in the space of one day, she by him and he by her.

      Long ago, when Mark was king over Cornwall, Rivalen, king of Lyonesse, heard that Mark’s enemies waged war on him; so he crossed the sea to bring him aid; and so faithfully did he serve him with counsel and sword that Mark...

      (pp. 395-460)

      LORDS, YOU HAVE HEARD the tale of Tristan as they tell it in Brittany, where men say that was a knight of Cornwall and Brittany only, and never journeyed to Arthur’s court. But other men, the men of Logres, have tales of the great exploits of Tristan in their country and of his encounters and friendships with the foremost knight of the Round Table, of which he was a member; and they say that the tale of the men of Brittany is not proven and certain. They say that Tristan was indeed born in sorrow, as the Breton tale says;...

    (pp. 461-461)
    (pp. 462-462)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 463-463)