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King Arthur's Death in Literature
From the very beginning of our literary heritage there have been legends of many heroes, kings and Gods. King Arthur is perhaps the best known and most enduring character of all of these legendary figures.
This essay aims to explore one aspect of the legend, namely the death of King Arthur.
There has been a lot of material written about the legendary King Arthur and although he has been a popular figure inliterature for over 800 years, not a lot is known about the real Arthur. It is believed that Arthur was a 5the-century British King named Riothamus (meaning "high king") who ruled from 454 - 470 A.D. and led an army into Gaul where he was defeated by the Goths of Burgundy. Two men by the names of Jordanes (6the century) and William (11the century) contributed to the legend of Arthur. Their input was perhaps the real basis of future adaptations of the story. Arthur appeared in literature as a national hero in a book written in Latin by Geoffrey of Monmouth called Historia Regum Britanniae (meaning History of the Kings of Britain). he book supposedly covered history from 1200 B.C. to 689 A.D. Geoffrey includes many sources of information with his work but most scholars believe it to be a fictional bibliography added only to give his book some credibility. Therefore his work is considered to be literature not factual history. Geoffrey is the one responsible for the portrayal of Arthur as a splendid King who conquered the British Isles and much of Europe Introduced by Geoffrey are Guenevere, Merlin, information about Arthur's strange birth and death and the concept of chivalry. Due to the tremendous popularity of Geoffrey's book, authors like Robert Wace and Chretien de Troyes continued on with the development of King Arthur and his life, adding yet more detail and depth to the story. Robert Wace concentrated on the Arthurian aspect of the story while Chretien concentrated on the romantic aspect of Arthur's life. Some of the new elements added include d the Round Table, courtly love and the love affair between Lancelot and Guenevere. In 1205 A.D. Layamon wrote the first English version of the King Arthur stories with a distinctly British perspective. Another nationalistic version of the story was Morte Arthure. This version was centered around fighting and action diminishing many of the character's parts, like Lancelot for instance. Perhaps the most widely accepted story of Arthur was written in 1485 by Sir Thomas Malory. Malory combines aspects of Wace, Chretien, Geoffrey and Layamon, expands on Arthur's court by adding short stories about some of Arthur's most important knights and writes of the collapse of the Round Table.
From the very beginnings of the English language there have been legends of great heroes. From the first settlements of Britain come stories rooted in ancient Celtic and Germanic imagination. Out of these stories, certain figures enjoy pre-eminence as the strongest, the bravest and the best. King Arthur is one such hero, known perhaps over all other mythical medieval figures as a chivalrous knight, a powerful warrior and a just and intelligent leader.
One of the earliest references to Arthurian legend dates back to the year A.D. 540 in Gildas' writing about the history and conquest of Britain. Gildas is a valuable source because he lived so close to the supposed real life of King Arthur. His records are the earliest sources thatdeals with Arthur is Gildas's De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (The Ruin and Conquest of Britain). This important work was written around A.D. 540, which puts it very close to the "actual" events. In fact, it is within living memory of the time Arthur supposedly lived.
Then there is the Venerable Bede, writing in A.D. 731. His Historia Ecclesiastica follows Gildas, but is clearer on some of the history. Finally, there is the Historia Brittonum of Nennius c. A.D. 800, which not only lists many battles of Arthur's, giving a fairly complete geographic picture of his exploits, but also is the first work to mention Arthur by name.
In the Historia Brittonum (History of the British) from around A.D. 800. Nennius himself admits that he is artless, and that he collected all of the old documents he could find and combined them into one story. This gives some, though not much, credence to what he says. However, much of his work contains errors and inconsistencies, and so he is not trusted very much for accuracy. Nennius' version has the first actual mention of Arthur by name on record,
At that time the Saxons grew powerful in great numbers and increased in Britain.... Then Arthur fought against [the Saxons] in those days together with the kings of Britain, but he was himself the leader of battles.
Nennius also gives a catalog of twelve famous battles attributed to Arthur, probably taken from an early Welsh poem about Arthur. The place names are obscure, which means that they may in fact not be fabricated, because if one were to make up battles for Arthur, one would probably choose well-known locations that people would recognise. According to Nennius, Arthur is not really a king but a dux bellorum, a leader of battles. This could mean that he lead an army for a higher authority or simply that the position of king was not as we think of it today. It is also possible that later writers took the idea of a leader of battles to an extreme and called Arthur a king instead.
The earliest mention of Arthur's death occurs in an entry in the Annales Cambriae, Welsh Annals, written around A.D. 950. The entry reads, "Year  The Battle of Camlann, in which Arthur and Medraut fell..." (Brengle 7). The late date in the Welsh Annals
While much of the information in the Annales is taken from Nennius, there is also evidence of early Celtic and Irish sources. It is a compilation of many earlier sources, and is thus inconsistent at certain points. However, the dating is important in tracing a possible history for Arthur, and the entries for Arthur are lent more credence because all of the other figures mentioned in the Annales (Encyclopedia 8).
In addition to the Latin sources, there are also many Celtic sources from which Arthurian legends spring, including The Mabinogion. One of these sources is the Annales Cambriae (A.D. 960), a year by year listing of historical events including two important entries about King Arthur.
The other early work is William of Malmesbury's Gesta Regum Anglorum (A.D. 1125) in which there is mention of Arthur's tomb and the beginnings of the myths about King Arthur's possible return. Also taken from the early ma
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