Portal:King Arthur

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Arthur is a fabled British king who figures in many legends. He appears as the ideal of kingship both in war and peace; even in modern times he has been ranked as one of the 100 Greatest Britons of all times. Over time, the popularity of the stories of King Arthur have captured interest far beyond his being the legendary hero of one nation. Countless new legends, stories, revisions, books, and films have been produced in Europe and the United States of America that unabashedly enlarge on and expand the fictional stories of King Arthur.

The scarce historical background to Arthur is found in the works of Nennius and Gildas and in the Annales Cambriae. The legendary Arthur developed initially through the pseudo-history of Geoffrey of Monmouth and the Welsh collection of anonymous tales known as the Mabinogion. Chretien de Troyes began the literary tradition of Arthurian romance, which subsequently became, as the Matter of Britain, one of the principal themes of medieval literature. Medieval Arthurian writing reached its conclusion in Thomas Mallory's comprehensive Morte D'Arthur, published in 1485. Modern interest in Arthur was revived by Tennyson in Idylls of the King, and in the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites. Key modern reworkings of the Arthurian legends include Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, T.H. White's The Once and Future King and Richard Wagner's opera Parsifal.

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The historical basis of King Arthur is a source of considerable debate among historians. The King Arthur of Arthurian legend appears in many legends but it has not been decisively established whether his origin was entirely mythical or whether he was based on one or more historical figures.

A popular view holds that Arthur was a real person. By most theories, and in line with the traditional cycle of legends, he was a Romano-British leader fighting against the invading Anglo-Saxons some time between the late 5th century and early 6th century. Archaeological studies show that during Arthur's alleged lifetime, the Anglo-Saxon expansions do seem to have been halted for a whole generation. If he existed, his power base would probably have been in the Celtic areas of Wales, Cornwall and the West Country, the Brythonic 'Old North' (covering modern northern England and southern Scotland) or possibly Brittany. However, controversy over the centre of his supposed power and the extent and kind of power he would have wielded continues to this day.

There are only three early sources that mention Arthur. The earliest, by date of composition, is a British poem, "Gododdin", which was probably composed around the year 600. It refers to a warrior who "glutted black ravens [i.e. killed many men] on the rampart of the stronghold, though he was no Arthur". The earliest surviving manuscript of this poem dates from about the 11th century, however, so it is possible that this line is a later addition.

The next reference comes from the Historia Brittonum, usually attributed to Nennius, a Welsh ecclesiastic who was probably active in the early ninth century. Nennius lists a dozen battles fought by Arthur, and gives him the title of "dux bellorum", which can be translated as "war commander". Nennius also says that Arthur fought "alongside the King of the Britons", rather than saying that Arthur was himself king. One of the battles Nennius lists appears to be the same as a great British victory mentioned by Gildas in an earlier history, the battle of Mons Badonicus, though Gildas does not give the name Arthur. (read more . . . )

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Sir Tristan (Latin/Brythonic: Drustanus; Welsh: Drystan; also known as Tristran, Tristram, etc.) is one of the main characters of the Tristan and Iseult story, a Cornish hero and one of the Knights of the Round Table featuring in the Matter of Britain. He is the son of Blancheflor and Rivalen (in later versions Isabelle and Meliodas), and the nephew of King Mark of Cornwall, sent to fetch Iseult back from Ireland to wed the king. However, he and Iseult accidentally consume a love potion while en route and fall helplessly in love. The pair undergo numerous trials that test their secret affair.

Tristan makes his first medieval appearance in the early twelfth century in Celtic folklore circulating in the north of France. Although the oldest stories concerning Tristan are lost, some of the derivatives still exist. Most early versions fall into one of two branches, "courtly" branch represented in the retellings of the Anglo-Norman poet Thomas of Britain and his German successor Gottfried von Strassburg, and the "common" branch, including the works of the French poet Béroul and the German poet Eilhart von Oberge.

Arthurian romancier Chrétien de Troyes mentions in his poem Cligès that he composed his own account of the story; however, there are no surviving copies or records of any such text. In the thirteenth century, during the great period of prose romances, appeared the Tristan en prose or Prose Tristan, one of the most popular romances of its time. This long, sprawling, and often lyrical, work (the modern edition takes up thirteen volumes) follows Tristan from the traditional legend into the realm of King Arthur where Tristan participates in the Quest for the Holy Grail. In the fifteenth century, Sir Thomas Malory shortened this French version into his own take, The Book of Sir Tristram de Lyones, found in his Le Morte D'Arthur. (read more . . . )

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Arthurian legend - British traditional history Britons of the Southwest - Knights of the Round Table - Medieval legends - Mythological kings - People in Cornish history - Sub-Roman Britain - Sub-Roman monarchs - Welsh monarchs - Welsh mythology - Celtic people

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