Arthur


Arthur
   Arthurian literature is beyond the scope of the present work, as is the problem of Arthur's historical setting. One theme, however, the belief that Arthur is not dead and will return, remained rooted in the popular mind throughout the centuries. The earliest references come from *Celtic areas - a Welsh poem which remarks cryptically, 'A mystery until Doomsday is the grave of Arthur'; a mention of a fight which broke out at Bodmin (Cornwall) in 1113 because some Frenchmen laughed at a local man who assured them Arthur was alive; allusions to an obstinate belief among Bretons that he would return.
   By the time Malory wrote, in the 1460s, the tomb at *Glastonbury containing a coffin alleged to be Arthur's was famous, but he does not mention it. Instead, he first says that a ship full of fair ladies bore Arthur away to 'the vale of Avilion' to be healed, but then that they returned that night with a corpse, and asked a hermit to bury it; finally, he says there were many tales, both written and oral, and he cannot decide between them:
   No more of the very certainty of his death I never read, but thus was he led away in a ship wherein
   were three queens [These] ladies brought him to his burials . . . but yet the hermit knew not in certain that it was verily the body of King Arthur.... Yet some men say in many parts of England that Arthur is not dead, but had by the will of Our Lord Jesu into another place, and men say that he shall come again, and he shall win the Holy Cross. I will not say it shall be so, but rather I will say, here in this world he changed his life. But many men say that there is written upon his tomb this verse: Hic jacet Arthurus, Rex quondam Rexque futurus ['Here lies Arthur, former King and future King']. (Morte d'Arthur, book 21, chapter 7).
   Part of this derives from *Geoffrey of Mon-mouth, who says Arthur was taken by boat to * Avalon, an island paradise where nine queens would heal him. Folk tradition, however, claims he is sleeping in some secret cavern with his knights round him until his country needs him - a tale told of great kings and heroes throughout Europe. It is localized at several places in Britain, the main English ones being *Cadbury Castle (Somerset), Richmond Castle (Yorkshire), and Sewingshields Castle (Northumberland). It tells how a farmer, or a potter, happens upon a secret entrance in the hillside, leading to an underground chamber where Arthur and his knights lie sleeping, surrounded by weapons and treasures, including a sword and a horn. At this point, the man blunders; either he draws the sword but fails to blow the horn, or he runs away without doing either. He can never find the entrance again.
   Arthur's name is attached to a number of other sites, sometimes in such a way as to imply that he was imagined as a *giant. There is a huge crag called Arthur's Seat near Sew-ingshields, a megalith called Arthur's Quoit at Trethevy (Cornwall), and another called Arthur's Stone at Hereford, with dents said to be the marks of his knees. There are also places linked to events in the medieval romances, either in the old texts themselves, or by later speculation. For instance, it is said that Excalibur was thrown into either Looe Pool or Dozmary Pool (both in Cornwall).
   Other beliefs, more rarely recorded, are that Arthur leads the *Wild Hunt, and that he lives on as a *raven.
   See also *Alderley Edge, *Round Table.
   ■ Westwood, 1985: 5-8, 18-21, 29, 241-5, 313-15, 370-1.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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