Portal:King Arthur

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Introduction

Tapestry showing Arthur as one of the Nine Worthies, wearing a coat of arms often attributed to him (c. 1385)

King Arthur was a legendary British leader who, according to medieval histories and romances, led the defence of Britain against Saxon invaders in the late 5th and early 6th centuries. The details of Arthur's story are mainly composed of folklore and literary invention, and his historical existence is debated and disputed by modern historians. The sparse historical background of Arthur is gleaned from various sources, including the Annales Cambriae, the Historia Brittonum, and the writings of Gildas. Arthur's name also occurs in early poetic sources such as Y Gododdin.

Arthur is a central figure in the legends making up the Matter of Britain. The legendary Arthur developed as a figure of international interest largely through the popularity of Geoffrey of Monmouth's fanciful and imaginative 12th-century Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain). In some Welsh and Breton tales and poems that date from before this work, Arthur appears either as a great warrior defending Britain from human and supernatural enemies or as a magical figure of folklore, sometimes associated with the Welsh Otherworld, Annwn. How much of Geoffrey's Historia (completed in 1138) was adapted from such earlier sources, rather than invented by Geoffrey himself, is unknown.

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Illustration by H. J. Lang

The Questing Beast, or the Beast Glatisant (Barking Beast), is a monster from Arthurian legend, the subject of quests by famous knights like King Pellinore, Sir Palamedes, and Sir Percival. The strange creature has the head and neck of a serpent, the body of a leopard, the haunches of a lion and the feet of a hart. Its name comes from the great noise it emits from its belly, a barking like "thirty couple hounds questing".

The first accounts of the beast are in the Perlesvaus and the Post-Vulgate Suite du Merlin. The Post-Vulgate's account, which is taken up in Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, has the Questing Beast appear to King Arthur after he has had an affair with his sister Morgause and begotten Mordred (they did not know they were related). Arthur sees the beast drinking from a pool just after he wakes from a disturbing dream that foretells Mordred's destruction of the realm; he is then approached by King Pellinore who reveals it is his family quest to hunt the beast. Merlin reveals the Questing Beast had been borne of a human woman, a princess who lusted after her own brother. She slept with a devil who had promised to make the boy love her, but the devil manipulated her into accusing her brother of rape. Their father had him torn apart by dogs, but before he died he prophesied his sister would give birth to an abomination that would make the same sounds as the pack of dogs that killed him. The beast has been taken as a symbol of the incest, violence, and chaos that eventually destroys Arthur's kingdom. (read more . . . )

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Sir Tristan (Latin/Brythonic: Drustanus; Welsh: Drystan; also known as Tristran, Tristram, etc.) is one of the main characters of the Tristan and Iseult story, a Cornish hero and one of the Knights of the Round Table featuring in the Matter of Britain. He is the son of Blancheflor and Rivalen (in later versions Isabelle and Meliodas), and the nephew of King Mark of Cornwall, sent to fetch Iseult back from Ireland to wed the king. However, he and Iseult accidentally consume a love potion while en route and fall helplessly in love. The pair undergo numerous trials that test their secret affair.

Tristan makes his first medieval appearance in the early twelfth century in Celtic folklore circulating in the north of France. Although the oldest stories concerning Tristan are lost, some of the derivatives still exist. Most early versions fall into one of two branches, "courtly" branch represented in the retellings of the Anglo-Norman poet Thomas of Britain and his German successor Gottfried von Strassburg, and the "common" branch, including the works of the French poet Béroul and the German poet Eilhart von Oberge.

Arthurian romancier Chrétien de Troyes mentions in his poem Cligès that he composed his own account of the story; however, there are no surviving copies or records of any such text. In the thirteenth century, during the great period of prose romances, appeared the Tristan en prose or Prose Tristan, one of the most popular romances of its time. This long, sprawling, and often lyrical, work (the modern edition takes up thirteen volumes) follows Tristan from the traditional legend into the realm of King Arthur where Tristan participates in the Quest for the Holy Grail. In the fifteenth century, Sir Thomas Malory shortened this French version into his own take, The Book of Sir Tristram de Lyones, found in his Le Morte D'Arthur. (read more . . . )

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