After Arthur was born, he wasn’t raised by his father and mother. Instead, he was raised by Sir Ector, and his foster brother was Sir Kay. Those familiar with Disney’s The Sword in The Stone will recognize the names. In fact, Disney does a heck of a job when it comes to the whole pulling of the Sword in the Stone.
There was a tournament, Kay forgot his sword, Arthur went back for it, couldn’t get the real deal, and pulled the Sword in the Stone. They even went back to have Ector and kay try to pull it out again, but only Arthur could. Arthur will now be king.
This sword, however, is not Excalibur. In itself, this is weird because the name Excalibur literally means “out of the stone.” But Arthur doesn’t get that sword until later, when the Lady of the Lake gives it to him. Not much is really known about the Stone sword (which is how I’ll refer to it henceforth).
It appeared in the church yard literally on Christmas Day, in the middle of services. In fact, the archbishop commanded, “that ye keep you within your church and pray unto God still, that no man touch the sword till the high mass be all done.” Clearly this man knew that he wouldn’t be able to keep his
students parishioners if he didn’t
enforce a little discipline to keep people from going out at recess to play with
It’s buried in an anvil, penetrating all the way through onto a slab of stone. The sword is also engraved with “Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil, is rightwise king born of all England.” This is odd. Arthur is the son of King Uther. He is the rightful heir, but all of the Arthur stories feel the need to have Arthur pull the sword instead of just claim the throne.
This is clearly a divine mandate. It establishes, firmly, not just that Arthur is the legitimate king as the son of the old king, but that almighty God chose him. This proof is layered on when the Stone sword defies logic and physics that, once free, anyone should be able to pull it out. Instead, it only responds to the touch of Arthur to release it from its home of stone and iron.
Again, why the bother? Arthur will become the greatest king England has known, and he is being set up to be every bit a hero as those of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. We saw that Arthur has the same birth story as Hercules, arguably the greatest Greek hero, ever. The difference is that Uther is not Zeus. He is mortal instead of a god. Most of the Greek and Roman heroes were the sons of gods: Achilles, Perseus, Bellerophon, Theseus, and Aeneas, just to name a few.
Arthur can’t be the son of God. That was Jesus, and to put Arthur on the same level as Jesus would clearly be blasphemy. However, by giving Arthur the same birth story as Hercules (albeit with a mortal father and aided by Merlin) and the divine mandate to pull the Stone sword, Arthur becomes as close to a son of deity as Christianity will ever allow. A powerful wizard aided in his conception, he has royal blood, and he was chosen by God to be king of all England. This is as good as it gets.
As a final note, the sword also foreshadows what kind of king Arthur will be. The proof of his kingship is literally unsheathing a sword from a peaceful churchyard. There will be war, and lots of it.