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Myths & Legends
KING ARTHUR’S FRENCH ODYSSEY
After the Bible, the legend of King Arthur is one of the
most famous stories ever told.
A bronze Arthur early 15c
According to the earliest written texts Arthur, fabulous King of the Britons, spent a large proportion of his life in France. Where did he go? What did he do?
Geoffrey of Monmouth is the father of the Arthurian story. Geoffrey lived in Britain sometime between 1100 and 1155 AD. He wrote The History of the Kings of Britain (i) in 1136 AD. All subsequent Arthurian material, from medieval romance to 21st century film representation, pays homage to Geoffrey’s writings. He is the first and only medieval writer to give us a ‘life’ of Arthur – his ancestors and birth, his journeys and battles, his friends and foes, his beliefs, his pain and his ultimate destruction. Although he doesn’t mention the Round Table or the Holy Grail (these have been added by later writers), Geoffrey’s texts have enough history, mystery and magic to breathe enduring life into Arthur the legend, and to turn him into the most successful king ever.
Geoffrey’s material has prompted great writers and poets to elaborate on Arthur’s story. They have created new characters and whole new branches of narrative. It has inspired images and great works of art, drama and music. Through the ages Arthurian scholars have been writing papers, forming societies, digging up sites and debating passionately held views. Since the 1960s experts have been organising conferences and seminars and making television documentary programmes. Throughout the world students have worked their way through specialist courses, degrees and doctorates. Millions of dollars have been generated by the book and film markets. The raft of esoteric Arthuriana - the backbone of tourism in many locations - has provided a living for tour operators, landladies, restaurants, pubs, shops, markets, fairs and festivals, and an endorsement for New Age witches, wizards and druids everywhere ….. The search engine results for King Arthur outnumber those found for Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac, Osama Bin Laden, John Lennon and Bob Dylan added together (ii). Surely there is nothing more to find out about Arthur?
It is said that each generation creates its own Arthur. He is being constantly re-invented to meet the aspirations of changing society. In the past, Arthur has been seen as an insular and nationalistic warrior/hero. He was a saviour always going to come back in the hour of Britain’s greatest need in order to vanquish her enemies. In the 21st century there is a growing European community with philosophical tenets going beyond the original common market idea, and a continuing peaceful ‘invasion’ by Britons into France. The least-explored and researched aspect of Arthur’s life – his long period of time spent in Gaul - is now relevant territory for study. Ideas and elements of the story which have previously been ignored or taken for granted, acquire new meaning in the light of this research.
This account then explores Arthur’s French connections – the sheer length of time he spent there – the places he visited - his wartime alliances – his peacetime friendships – his love affairs – and – his ultimate resting place. It’s a tale from the Dark Ages, full of fear, incest and horrific bloodshed. It’s time for Arthur’s kinship with France to be acknowledged – and it’s all there – in Geoffrey’s original story. And so, it is to Geoffrey’s story that we return in search of the first clues to Arthur’s French odyssey.
© Marilyn Floyde
(i) In all research concerning Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “The History of the Kings of Britain” I have used the Introduction and Translation by Lewis Thorpe in the Penguin Classics version first published in 1966
2016: King Arthur's French Odyssey - Avallon in Burgundy by Marilyn Floyde, has now been republished with fresh findings. Your can order it from www.islandofavallon.co.uk. Now also translated into French.