Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Every man a once and future King

Finally made it through King Arthur the truth behind the legend  by Rodney Castlon. I have had an interest in the real King Arthur since writing my high school research paper on it, using a different book by Geoffry Ashe for most of the facts. Chock full of interesting facts and tid-bits. Chapter one boils the hard evidence down to two mentions in the Easter Annals.  Chapter Two is a very thorough going over of the literature we do have, including stone markers, genealogies of Welsh and Irish Kings, and poetry,  as well as books. An 1120 manuscript is the source  for both The Easter Annals and Nennius's Historica Brittonum. Although Nennius wrote his part in 830 A.D it is proposed  that the Easter Annals were added later, about 960-970 A.D.  Nennius draws from several earlier documents and has been somewhat discredited in that he already including some of the more mythological elements in his descriptions of Arthurs life. Gildas's Book of Complaints written about 540 AD does mention the battle of Badon, Arthur's victory over the Saxons, but fails to mention Arthur. Even more troubling is that Arthur  may actually be a nickname (Welsh for bear = arth). Gildas does mention one of his contemporary kings as "the driver of the chariot of the bears stronghold". The Anglo-Saxon chronicle written by the other side is most notable for a lack of  much expansion during the 50 years of the supposed time of the battle of Badon. It of course fails to mention Arthur or even the battle of Badon itself. All of this may seem like skimpy evidence, but given my experiences with histories of this time period I am inclinded to give Arthur the benefit of the doubt (After reading an interesting book on the battle of Caane, you know the famous battle battle where Hannibal whipped the Romans, which points out the main record we have of it is a history written 80 years after fact by the grandson of one of the generals, I am inclined to examine ancient history with a lax view to the documentation). The rest of the book dispenses with trying to further verify the existence of Arthur and launches into a description of what we do know about Sixth century Briton. She-who-must-be-obeyed has promised a battle map of one of the hill forts proposed as a location for Camelot complete with hall (know from the post hole pattern). Unfortunately since Camel is Briton for windy, there are a lot of river Camels in Cornwall and Wales. There are also a great many kingdoms, apparently the Britons didn't have mayors, sheriffs, or village elders, just kings. Gildas points out that if the Briton kings had spent less time fighting each other, they might have done a better job of beating the Angles and Saxons. One of my favorite parts of the book is its description of Tintagel, part Castle, part Christian Church, and part pagan ritual site. I especially like the carved foot print in the rock, that book speculates was used by ancient Kings to swear allegiance to the land. There is also the tunnel carved in the rock leading nowhere, a grave that is purported to change size periodically, and numerous other oddities. All in all an interesting dive into the historic Arthur. The back has a bibliography of numerous other books on the historical Arthur,  apparently British scholars have been at this subject a while.

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