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ARTHUR REX BRITANICUS

A STUDY BY THE PECONIC STREET LITERARY SOCIETY





INTRODUCTION TO THE ARTHURIAN LEGEND

The Peconic Street Literary Society started its focus on Arthurian Literature as part of its search for the great American epic because of the legend's unique impact on the formation of the country.

An epic is a struggle of the warrior, representing the cultural values of the society, in heroic conflict with its enemies. It differs from the standards of Western scientific history set by Herodotus and Thucydides in that the teaching point is moral rather than factual. A scientific measure of accuracy has never been imposed upon a legend. Important in the Western epic is the concept of victory in defeat and defeat in victory.

There are many American folk heroes capable of being ensconsed in an epic. King Philip, Hiawatha, Pontiac, Joseph Brandt, Cocheese and Geronomo...., the greatest American leaders never lived in the White House. The History Channel's lead to its series 'How America was Lost' tells us, that they never lived in any house at all.

Winners write the history; losers quietly fade away. Or is it just the opposite, as the magic of epic story telling posits. The conqueror is the captive of his conquest.

No British King claims the world recognition of Arthur; no monarch's passing has been mourned so long; no other monarch has captured the imagination even in these jaded times of authors, thinkers and actors. His words "We will return" were reechoed by MacArthur in a defiant retreat. Yet historians debate his very existance.

The fabric of the legend are well known. In a crisis a young warrior was selected to lead the remnants of Gaulo-Roman Latin. In nine great battles he stablized the realm. Restored peace masks uneasy division.

Christianity struggles to suppress paganism; the Queen cannot produce an heir. Arthur is guilty of fathering a son out of wedlock, perhaps in a pagan ritual with a Celtic High Priestess. Arthur is forced to banish his wife and slay his finest knight when indiscretion is revealed.

The last conflict fought against his illegitimate son Mordered finds Arthur without his Queen or sturdiest lance. In victory Arthur is mortally wounded, but darkness is temporarily restrained.

The legend's long standing appeal is its story of life that keeps repeating. There is something in it for all ages. To the middle ages Arthur was the warrior king who engaged in personal combat. To the church Arthur was a defender of the faith, a promoter of Christianity to hostile pagani. To the American Revolutionaries in the Age of Revolution, Arthur was a democratic leader who was after all only one vote on his council. New Age sees in Arthur's adherence to the 'Old Ones' the persistency of belief in the natural religion. Said Celtophile Joseph Campbel, "Arthur, Arturo, Joan D'Arc, Ursus the bear god, existence, reality, life and death, debt and repayment... Feminists should be cheered by Celtic duality in which society is both a patriarchate and a matriarchate at the same time...

Historians still debate Arthur and Celtic resistance to the Saxon onslought. But where would the world be if there were no Arthurs and only Mordreds?


Read The Report
of the Symposium held May 20, 1999 at 7:00 pm

Borders Books, Sunrise Highway in Bohemia, Long Island


Our Round Table posed the following questions of King Arthur & Arthurian Literature: