Sunday 28 April 2019

Arthur in the Celtic Languages

There are many books that focus on the Arthurian legend in literature, but three books featuring collections of essays by leading authorities in the field show the development of scholarship over the last seventy years should be held in every enthusiast's collection.

Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages: A Collaborative History (Clarendon Press, 1959)
edited by Roger Sherman Loomis. Includes important essays such as The Arthury of History (KH Jackson), Arthur in Early Welsh Verse (KH Jackson), The Legend of Arthur's Survival (RS Loomis), other chapters,  as the title suggests, concentrated on the development of Arthurian Medieval Literature.

Then in 1991 came The Arthur of the Welsh: The Arthurian Legend in Medieval Welsh Literature, edited by Rachel Bromwich, A. O. H. Jarman and Brynley F. Roberts published by Wales University Press (UWP) as part of the Series: Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages which includes The Arthur of Medieval Latin Literature, The Arthur of the Italians, The Arthur of the English, The Arthur of the French and so on.

The Arthur of the Welsh presents a collection of essays focusing on the Arthurian literature produced in Wales, in both Welsh and Latin, during the Middle Ages, with chapters on the ‘historical’ Arthur (Thomas Charles-Edwards), Arthur in early Welsh verse (Patrick Sims-Williams), the Merlin legend (A. O. H. Jarman), the tales of Culhwch ac Olwen (Brynley F. Roberts). Other chapters investigate the evidence for the growth of the Arthurian theme in the Triads and in the Historia Regum Britanniae of Geoffrey of Monmouth, and discuss the Breton connection and the gradual transmission of the legend to the non-Celtic world.

In January 2019 UWP published the latest book in Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages series;

Arthur in the Celtic Languages: The Arthurian Legend in Celtic Literatures and Traditions edited by Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan and Erich Poppe.

This is the first comprehensive authoritative survey of Arthurian literature and traditions in the Celtic languages of Welsh, Cornish, Breton, Irish and Scottish Gaelic. With contributions by leading and emerging specialists in the field, the volume traces the development of the legends that grew up around Arthur and have been constantly reworked and adapted from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century.

It shows how the figure of Arthur evolved from the leader of a warband in early medieval north Britain to a king whose court becomes the starting-point for knightly adventures, and how characters and tales are reimagined, reshaped and reinterpreted according to local circumstances, traditions and preoccupations at different periods.

From the celebrated early Welsh poetry and prose tales to less familiar modern Breton and Cornish fiction, from medieval Irish adaptations of the legend to the Gaelic ballads of Scotland, Arthur in the Celtic Languages provides an indispensable, up-to-date guide of a vast and complex body of Arthurian material, and to recent research and criticism.

Part One: Wales
The Beginnings of Welsh Arthurian Tradition
Native Welsh Arthurian Tales
Medieval Translations and Adaptations into Welsh
Influences and Re-Compositions
Popular and Later Traditions
Part Two: Cornish & Breton Traditions
Part Three: The Gaelic World

‘This long-awaited successor to The Arthur of the Welsh is the first-ever survey of Arthurian material across all the Celtic languages from the Middle Ages to modern times. A significant contribution to the field of Arthurian studies in general, it will prove an indispensable resource for those working with material in the Celtic languages.’ - Professor Sioned Davies, Chair of Welsh, Cardiff University

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Monday 15 April 2019

Glastonbury and the Myths of Avalon

Glastonbury and the Myths of Avalon
Yuri Leitch
(Self published 2019)

For those expecting yet another book on the Arthurian mysteries of Glastonbury, the back cover of Yuri Leitch’s latest publication makes it quite clear; this is not a book about the historical Arthur; this is a book about the history of Arthurian Romance and its significance to Glastonbury during medieval times. Leitch asserts that “the Arthur of Glastonbury is a myth created by the Benedictine Order of Glastonbury Abbey; motivated by the fascinating intrigues of their day; this is their story”.

This may come as a shock to many who have visited the little Somerset town and, on witnessing the site of Arthur and Guinevere’s grave, been caught up in the Glastonbury legend. Anyone who has fallen into this trap can be forgiven as Glastonbury is unique for its collection of tales; Joseph of Arimathea; Patrick; Brigid; King Arthur; Richard Whiting; the Tor; Chalice Well; the Michael Line; to list just a few. Coupled with the spiritual atmosphere of the place it is very easy to be drawn in and blinded to the facts; but that said, there is something here, although perhaps we can’t quite put our finger on it; Geoffrey Ashe referred to it as “someting else”.

I think it was at Andrew Collin’s Questing Conference at Glastonbury Assembly Rooms in 2007 that I first heard Yuri Leitch argue that Glastonbury was not Avalon. He had just published his first book ‘GWYN: Ancient God of Glastonbury and Key to the Glastonbury Zodiac’ (The Temple Publications, 2007) and delivered his presentation accordingly. At lunch we noted his Arthurian murals on the walls of the George and Pilgrims Inn across the road, embellishing the traditions of the town. Now, 12 years on, he expands the argument against an Arthurian Glastonbury in his latest book ‘Glastonbury and the Myths of Avalon’ (Self published 2019)

But this is not a negative book and Leitch cannot be categorised as an “Arthur assassin” as author’s Thomas Green and Nicholas Higham have been termed. Leitch clearly defines Glastonbury’s place in Arthurian Romance, perhaps the most popular part of the legend, that emerged in the 12th century.

Glastonbury’s part in the creation of the image of Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table and the quest for the Grail cannot be underestimated.

This a short work, the main content of the book is four chapters across 114 pages. The first chapter deals with the mysteries of St David who Leitch argues has a stronger claim to the foundation of Glastonbury than Joseph of Arimathea. The second chapter begins with discussion on Arthur’s grave at Glastonbury and critical analysis of the leaden burial cross. Leitch then reconstructs what he thinks really happened and the motive. The next chapter explores the arrival of the Grail and Joseph of Arimathea at Glastonbury; an event that occurred shortly after Robert de Boron wrote his account of the Grail, completing Chretien de Troyes unfinished Story of the Grail. Around this time saw the emergence of the Perlesvaus, author unknown but suspected of having been written at Glastonbury. Shortly after this, William of Malmesbury’s early 12th century text of the history of Glastonbury Abbey was altered with additions supporting the Joseph of Arimathea legend by an unknown hand, probably a monk from the Abbey.

The fourth and final chapter focuses on the Mysteries of Avallon with Leitch arguing that the real location is in the Avallonnais region of Burgundy, France. This claim has been made by Geoffrey Ashe (and developed by Marilyn Floyde) who identified the historical Arthur as the Romano-British military leader named Riothamus who was active in Gaul around 470 AD. Riothamus was betrayed by Arvandus, the Prefect of Gaul and then routed by the Goths. According to Ashe, Riothamus was last seen heading for Avallon in Burgundy and the healing sanctuary at Les Fontaines Salées.

The book is completed by seven appendices including Glastonbury’s Arthurian Timeline, The Historical Arthur, concluding with Arthur the Deity taking the overall page count to 170.

In a short End Note, Leitch calls for Glastonbury to move forward and stop repeating the same, tired old claims of its Arthurian and Arimathean traditions and explore its medieval history and its very real connections with the Angevin Empire and the stories of the Grail.

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