Arthur Pendragon: Man or Myth?

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  • Topic: King Arthur, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia Regum Britanniae
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  • Published : December 20, 2012
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Arthur Pendragon: Man or Myth?
Was Arthur Pendragon a King or did he exist at all?
Avalon Keft

“Most of what you think you know about Camelot, Guinevere and Lancelot and the evil sorceress known as Morgan le Fay is nothing but lies.”1 For centuries, men and women across the globe have been enveloped in a tale, which, regrettably, is not true. King Arthur, or rather, Arthur Pendragon, was for many years accepted to be the mythical ruler of 5th and 6th century Britain. The tale of a boy who, at the young of age of fifteen, became the king of the Britons began in the 12th century and has since been altered to suit contemporary audiences’ expectations and desires. There have been occasions in history when the extent to which people have come to believe the tale has been overwhelming. How can we believe in a world and a man which were arguably created simply from pure imagination? There are no grounds for the creation of the myth as we know it today, with the evidence to prove, or disprove, the existence of this man, is inconsistent in both the written sources and the archaeological evidence. Was Arthur Pendragon, King of the Britons? Was he simply a man of high stature? Did he even exist at all?

The myth of King Arthur has been built up ever since its conception in the mid-12th century. The tale known today consists of a man, braver than any other man, who led the British people to war against the Saxons who, since the Romans had left Britain in the late 4th to early 5th centuries, were gradually but unquestionably taking over the country. After numerous grand battles and an overwhelming victory at Mount Badon, the Saxons' advance on Britain was brought to a standstill. King Arthur had a strong castle, called Camelot, which housed a round table with twelve Knights who carried out acts of chivalry and rescued damsels in distress. There was a quest for an artefact which could cure all illnesses, the Holy Grail, and a magical sword Excalibur, given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake, which was much like Arthur (greater than any other sword). A love interest, the lovely Guinevere was made Arthur’s Queen, and brought romance to the tale. This contrasted with Arthur’s half sister, Morgan le Fay who brought it a darker, villainous side. This “magical” tale which has been added to over time to increase the suspense, mystery and romance, is unfortunately false. The original story differs greatly from what is today perceived in popular culture, to the history of Arthur.

Much of what we base our knowledge of the myth of King Arthur on, comes from the writings in the 12th century from the Welsh cleric, Geoffrey of Monmouth. It is from his work that the romanticised, fairy-tale myth which is explored in popular culture today was developed. This depiction of Arthur has been played on for centuries, and expanded upon by numerous men writing well after Geoffrey of Monmouth’s era and changed and adapted into the culture of the 20th and 21st century through the use of modern technology such as film.

In his History of the Kings of Britain, Monmouth writes in great detail on the time period before and during the life of a figure by the name of Arthur, who became king of the Britain’s at the age of fifteen. In his history, Arthur is dedicated two volumes, as well as being mentioned continuously throughout the rest of the work, Monmouth speaks of his succession of Uther Pendragon, his father; his efforts in war against the Saxons; his generosity; heroism and being a “youth of unparalleled courage”2 Monmouth’s father supposedly had the name “Arthur”, and was perhaps told by his father stories of the name’s royal heritage. It is quite possible Monmouth’s fascination with the tale of King Arthur came from his father. However, during the 12th century the tale of a king named Arthur was popular amongst the masses, placing doubt in this fact. Monmouth also gives Arthur and his men traits of men from the 12th century, rather than those which...
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