/ Michigan quarterly review: Vol. 25, No. 4
KATHLEEN RAINE 685 King Arthur, his chivalry, his court at Camelot, his round table, and the mysterious sanctity, neither wholly Christian nor wholly pagan, of the Holy Grail and its Quest. Doubtless there was a historical personage, a leader of cavalry as introduced and used by the Romans, at a time when the Saxon invaders fought on foot. Perhaps there was a Battle of Badon Hill in which the Saxons on foot were routed by a smaller number of mounted cavalry. There may even have been a Round Table, whether at Glastonbury or elsewhere, long turned to dust. But Arthur, the "once and future king" of Britain, is far greater than any historical personage who may once have borne that name. Indeed the disentangling of historical fact from the whole tradition and literature of Arthur, his knights and his round table, would be an exercise in reductionism which could serve only to make him less "real" as a presence, as an archetype of kingship within the national imagination of the British people. Rather than what remains when legend has been stripped away, King Arthur is the sum of all that has been recorded and imagined, written, told, sung and believed. He is a creation of, and a presence in, the national imagination which has from century to centuryeven to the present day-continued to adorn Arthur and his court with all those attributes we would most wish to find in the person and circumstances of the perfect king. Arthur embodies the virtues of justice, fortitude, prudence and magnanimity as the British have conceived them; he commands the loyalty of knights of prowess, and establishes peace in his regions. Arthur's court, moving from place to place, confers its half-rustic splendor on these places where its joyous contests in arms and festivals shed a kind of beauty still somehow recognizably and specifically English, where good manners go hand in hand with good cheer. The Arthurian cycle, for all the confusion and treachery of the king's overthrow by his nephew or son Mordred, is a joyous one, not tragic like the story of Roland, nor bloodthirsty like the barbaric heroic Irish epic of Cuchulain and Queen Maeve. There is something of Shakespeare's Forest of Arden about Arthur's court. As for the round table there are scholars who associate it with Near-Eastern legends of the King of the World whose Round Table is the zodiac and signifies spiritual worldrulership.* Arthur's association with the constellation Arcturus, the *The theme has been studied by Michael Barry in a paper published (in French) by the University of Caen, in the volume La Legende Arthurienne et la Normandie.
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