Different Portrayals of King Arthur in Myth and History

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

Some myths describe actual historical events, but have been embellished and refashioned by various storytellers over time so that it is impossible to tell what really happened. This is most apparent in the Arthurian stories, they mix myth and history so well and it makes you wonder if Arthur was even real or if he was a great king in someone’s imagination. While Geoffrey Of Monmouth was writing History of the Kings of Britain he did not have solid proof that what he was writing about was real or not. In the dedication for History of the Kings of Britain, Geoffrey says “I have not been able to discover anything at all on the kings who lived here before the Incarnation of Christ, or indeed about Arthur and all the others who followed on after the Incarnation. Yet the deeds of these men were such that they deserve to be praised for all time.’ [History of the Kings of Britain 4] Everything he writes about Geoffrey had to take someone else’s word for. Geoffrey states that he was given a source for this period by Archdeacon Walter of Oxford who was “a man skilled in the art of public speaking and well informed about the history of foreign countries”(History of the Kings of Britain 12) Walter presented Geoffrey with a ‘certain very ancient book written in the British language'(History of the Kings of Britain 13) from which Geoffreyused to write History of the Kings of Britain.

There is a big difference between history and myth. Myth is described as a ”traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon” by the Merriam Webster dictionary while history is described as “a chronological record of significant events (such as those affecting a nation or institution) often including an explanation of their causes” by the Merriam Webster dictionary as well. All of the Arthurian stories were written after the fact and thus means that they could be misinterpreted or just flat out wrong. Sir Thomas Malory “infused his version of these stories with a darkening perspective very much his own.”(Malory 278) In other words, he added some thoughts or ideas that were not originally a part of the stories that he wrote later on.

The Arthurian stories in their entirety were written by someone who did not live through the experiences described in said stories. They wrote the stories based off of someone else’s perspective. This could prove fatal in proving if King Arthur was real or just a myth. If something interesting or exciting happens to someone, they tend to over exaggerate when communicating with someone else what they had just been through. This could be the case with most if not all of the stories based off of King Arthur. As mentioned before, in Geoffrey of Monmouth writing of History of the Kings of Britain he did not write using his own memories, in fact he did not even know whos memories they were because of the fact that he used a “very ancient book written in the British language'(History of the Kings of Britain 13)

King Arthur is described as different people through different works of writing. In the works of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” Thomas Malory’s Morte Darthur and “The Day of Destiny”. King Arthur is described as a flawed hero in “The Day of Destiny”, a leader and not a fighter in Le Morte D’arthur and hot tempered or egotistical in “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”. Gawain Poet proposes that while Arthur may be gentle and noble he may also be too immature in his thirst for engaging or charming adventures. This is apparent because of the fact that Arthur accepts the Green Knight’s challenge only to protect the name of Camelot when no one else volunteered.
While a lot of people may say that with everything that has been written about King Arthur and his kingdom it would be silly to think that he did not exist, it is important to remember that, like previously stated, everything that has been written about him has been orally. This means that the things that have been written down could be over exaggerations someone made or they could even be fabrications made by someone.

King Arthur is perhaps the most legendary icon of medieval Britain and his popularity has lasted multiple centuries. The tale of King Arthur has continued to grab the attention of audiences still to this very day with the incredible tales of the sword in the stone, the knights of the round table, Merlin, and even Lancelot. These are just some of the many things that keep people coming back to the various legends of King Arthur. In the last couple years, there have been multiple movies and games with King Arhtur at the middle. There is no doubt both the that the impact of King Arthur and the Arthurian stories legends on modern culture are continuing to flourish. The appeal that King Arthur’s history has comes from the unknown, uncertain, or exaggerated information surrounding his life. The history behind Arthur has been embellished nevertheless and thus is certainly unclear. When information about people gets passed down from one generation to the next generation or even through subsequent years, it changes each time and in return makes people question if it is true or not and about the certainty of the original information.


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