Saturday, 4 December 2010

The Druids and King Arthur

A New View of Early Britain
Robin Melrose

Paperback, 220 pages
McFarland & Co Inc., October 2010
ISBN 0786458909
Retailing at around £30 this is expensive for a paperback of 220 pages.

This book examines the role the Druids may have played in the story of King Arthur and the founding of Britain. In exploring the beliefs and origins of the Druids, the author sets out to explain how the Druids originated in eastern Europe around 850 B.C., bringing to early Britain a cult of an underworld deity, a belief in reincarnation, and a keen interest in astronomy. Concluding that Arthur was originally a cult figure of the Druids whose descendants may have founded the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex. The author's research draws upon a number of sources, including the medieval Welsh tales known collectively as the Mabinogion and ancient Welsh poetry such as the The Spoils of Annwn.

In exploring the archaeology of Stonehenge's Salisbury Plain, Melrose came across a work by Barry Cunliffe, which claimed that the All Cannings Cross pottery, which appeared in Wiltshire around 800 BC, may have come from eastern France, possibly the Jura region, and possibly from limited foreign infiltrations from further afield.

From here he learnt from Graham Anderson’s book ‘King Arthur in Antiquity’, that the name Arthur is based on Arcturus, the name for the brightest star in the constellation Bootes, and found in early Greek poetry around 700 BC. Anderson goes on to show that many elements of the Arthur story have parallels in Greek mythology relating to Arcas, the mythical founder of Arcadia.

Melrose traces the transmission of this story across Europe and finally to Britain, putting forward the proposal that the Arcturus story originated in the early Greek Mycenean civilisation and spread westward via the Thracians and Cimmerians to Switzerland, and then on to the Jura in eastern France, the source of Cunliffe's Wiltshire poetry.

Table of Contents:

1. The Dragon Star
2. The Severed Head and the Bone Cave: Religion in Roman Britain
3. Arthur’s Voyage: The Spoils of Annwn
4. Magic Mounds, Sea People and Shape-Shifters: The Wonderful World of the Mabinogion
5. Mounds, Mounds, Mounds: Rubbish Heaps, Hillforts and the Prehistory of Southern England
6. Visitors from the East
7. Brutus of Troy Town
8. Arthur, King of Wessex?

Robin Melrose is a retired senior lecturer in English and linguistics at the University of Portsmouth in England.

* * *