Celtic Mythology

King Arthur

Who was King Arthur?

King Arthur is a legendary figure. No one knows for sure who or what he really was. Tradition has it that he was a Celtic British warrior, and perhaps king, who in the early sixth century fought heroically against the Saxons, who eventually drove the Celtic peoples away from England and into Wales and Cornwall. In about 820 C.E. the Welsh monk Nennius, in his Historia Brittonum, mentions several important battles led by Arthur. Another cleric, Geoffrey of Monmouth, who may or may not have been Welsh, developed the Arthurian legend in his Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain), written in the 1130s C.E., claiming that his information was based on much earlier Celtic manuscripts. It was not until later in the twelfth century that French writers Maistre Wace and, especially, Chrétien de Troyes added the elements of chivalry and courtly love that we now associate with Arthur’s court, the legendary Camelot. Sir Thomas Malory gave us much of the Arthurian legend in the eight stories of his Le Morte d’Arthur, written in 1470 and published in 1485. The Arthurian legend as we commonly know it is a compounding of these many sources. The story includes, as it does for many archetypal heroes, an unusual conception, a demonstration of power early in his life, an important quest, a tragic betrayal and death, and a promise of return.


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