All right, by request (thanks a lot Jay), we’re going to be delving into King Arthur. Before that I have to give some background (and rant a little). The farther in time we go, the more records survive. It’s just the nature of the game. Precious few sources from Ancient Greece survive. We do have differing versions of some stories, but these are the result of geography, cultural assimilation, and transcription of oral tradition.
By the time we reach the Middle Ages, that’s mostly gone. Methods of recording, while not in your neighborhood Walgreens, are easier to come by. Paper and ink can be had. Gutenberg’s printing press revolutionizes things further. Europe has made the transition to a literate record keeping. While the illiterate masses still trade oral tradition, more and more we don’t have mythology in a sustained form transmitted orally. It’s all written.
Consequently, we construct a timeline, begin to track editions, and assign authorship. For instance, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s. We’re looking for a definitive edition. We want to place value on the real as if it’s a thing that can be verified. And while medieval scribes still frequently add their own editorial touches freely, we want that attribution as a way to verify that this story is real. It’s something that doesn’t happen so much with older works of mythology. Yes, I can rattle off Homer, Aeschylus, Apollonius of Rhodes, Sophocles, and Euripides, but the timeline is weird, especially since many of these were contemporaries, and even they had their own source material, whose authors are lost to the grind of history.
Not so with Arthur. Yes, we have some anonymous sources, but just take a look at this bibliography to see the sheer number of authors we’ve attributed and delineated into historical eras.
Frankly, it’s a mess when we try to look for the version, and it’s not something I’m interested in, anyway. I care about the different versions, and those that have more popularity are more relevant to the culture, so generally what I gravitate towards.
What does all this mean to how I’m going to treat Arthur? Simple, I’m going to limit my scope (for my own sanity as well as yours) to those volumes that lend the most story weight to Arthur as a storied figure. My sources will be (in no particular order): Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, the Arthurian Romance poems of Chretien de Troyes, and Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. Together, these stories present the most complete story and picture of Arthur, his knights, and Camelot.
Now, like with my other mythological dalliances, I’m not seeking to be a completionist (I still haven’t reached 900 Korok seeds). There’s too much material. I’ll go through some important points of the story, obviously, but this is going to be very spotty.
But then again, I spent 3 months each on Persephone and Abraham, so who knows what’s going to happen.