Portal:King Arthur

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Introduction

Tapestry showing Arthur as one of the Nine Worthies, wearing a coat of arms often attributed to him (c. 1385)

King Arthur is a legendary British leader who, according to medieval histories and romances, led the defence of Britain against Saxon invaders in the late 5th and early 6th centuries. The details of Arthur's story are mainly composed of folklore and literary invention, and his historical existence is debated and disputed by modern historians. The sparse historical background of Arthur is gleaned from various sources, including the Annales Cambriae, the Historia Brittonum, and the writings of Gildas. Arthur's name also occurs in early poetic sources such as Y Gododdin.

Arthur is a central figure in the legends making up the Matter of Britain. The legendary Arthur developed as a figure of international interest largely through the popularity of Geoffrey of Monmouth's fanciful and imaginative 12th-century Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain). In some Welsh and Breton tales and poems that date from before this work, Arthur appears either as a great warrior defending Britain from human and supernatural enemies or as a magical figure of folklore, sometimes associated with the Welsh Otherworld, Annwn. How much of Geoffrey's Historia (completed in 1138) was adapted from such earlier sources, rather than invented by Geoffrey himself, is unknown.

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Illustration by Arthur Rackham

According to Christian mythology, the Holy Grail was the dish, plate, or cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper, said to possess miraculous powers. The connection of Joseph of Arimathea with the Grail legend dates from Robert de Boron's Joseph d'Arimathie (late 12th century) in which Joseph receives the Grail from an apparition of Jesus and sends it with his followers to Great Britain; building upon this theme, later writers recounted how Joseph used the Grail to catch Christ's blood while interring him and that in Britain he founded a line of guardians to keep it safe. The quest for the Holy Grail makes up an important segment of the Arthurian cycle, appearing first in works by Chrétien de Troyes. The legend may combine Christian lore with a Celtic myth of a cauldron endowed with special powers.

The development of the Grail legend has been traced in detail by cultural historians: It is a legend which first came together in the form of written romances, deriving perhaps from some pre-Christian folklore hints, in the later 12th and early 13th centuries. The early Grail romances centered on Percival and were woven into the more general Arthurian fabric.

Some of the Grail legend is interwoven with legends of the Holy Chalice. The Grail plays a different role everywhere it appears, but in most versions of the legend the hero must prove himself worthy to be in its presence. In the early tales, Percival's immaturity prevents him from fulfilling his destiny when he first encounters the Grail, and he must grow spiritually and mentally before he can locate it again. In later tellings the Grail is a symbol of God's grace, available to all but only fully realized by those who prepare themselves spiritually, like the saintly Galahad.

There are two veins of thought concerning the Grail's origin. The first, championed by Roger Sherman Loomis, Alfred Nutt, and Jessie Weston, holds that it derived from early Celtic myth and folklore. Loomis traced a number of parallels between Medieval Welsh literature and Irish material and the Grail romances, including similarities between the Mabinogion's Bran the Blessed and the Arthurian Fisher King, and between Bran's life-restoring cauldron and the Grail. Other legends featured magical platters or dishes that symbolize otherworldly power or test the hero's worth. Sometimes the items generate a never-ending supply of food, sometimes they can raise the dead. Sometimes they decide who the next king should be, as only the true sovereign could hold them. (read more . . . )

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Mordred or Modred (Welsh: Medrawd, Latin: Medraut) is a character in the Arthurian legend, known as a notorious traitor who fought King Arthur at the Battle of Camlann, where he was killed and Arthur fatally wounded. Tradition varies on his relationship to Arthur, but he is best known today as Arthur's illegitimate son by his half-sister Morgause. In earlier literature, he was considered Morgause (Anna)'s legitimate son with her husband King Lot of Orkney. His brothers or half-brothers are Gawain, Agravain, Gaheris, and Gareth.

The illegitimacy angle was introduced in the Lancelot-Grail (Vulgate) Cycle, and has been taken up in most subsequent versions. In those versions, the incest is usually accidental; the participants are ignorant of their kinship. In one version Morgause mistakes Arthur for her husband visiting her in the night. In another Arthur rapes his sister, dominated by lust for her. In any case the discovery of the incest is usually disastrous; after hearing a prophecy that a child born on May Day (as Mordred was) will destroy him and his kingdom, Arthur rounds up all the noble babies born during May and sends them away on a rickety ship. The ship sinks, and the only child to survive is Mordred, who is rescued and eventually returned to his parents. (read more . . . )

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