Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The Eagle

The Eagle will be release 25 March 2011 (UK)

Plot Summary

The Eagle is a 2011 historical epic film directed by Kevin Macdonald, starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, and Donald Sutherland. Adapted by Jeremy Brock from Rosemary Sutcliff's historical adventure novel The Eagle of the Ninth (1954), the film tells the story of a young Roman officer searching to recover the lost Roman eagle standard of his father's legion in the northern part of Great Britain. The story is based on the Ninth Spanish Legion's supposed disappearance in Britain.

Set in the year 140, twenty years after the Ninth Legion disappeared in the north of Britain, Marcus Flavius Aquila, a young Roman centurion, arrives in Britain to serve at his first post as a garrison commander. Aquila's father was the last to hold the eagle standard of the ill-fated legion, and Aquila hopes to redeem his family's honor by bravely serving in Britain. Shortly afterwards, only Aquila's bravery saves the garrison from being overrun by Celtic tribesman. He is decorated for his bravery but honorably discharged due to a severe leg injury.

Living at his uncle's estate near Calleva in southern Britain, Aquila has to cope with his military career having been cut short and his father's name still being held in disrepute. Heeding rumors that the eagle standard has been seen in the north of Britain, Aquila decides to recover it. Despite the warnings of his uncle and his fellow Romans, who believe that no Roman can survive north of Hadrian's Wall, Aquila travels north into the territory of the Picts, accompanied only by his British slave Esca. Esca, the son of a Brigantes chieftain, detests Rome and what it stands for, but also considers himself bound to his master, who saved his life during an amphitheater show.

After several weeks of traveling through the northern wilderness, Esca and Aquila encounter Guern, one of the survivors of the Ninth Legion, who attributes his survival on the hospitality of the Selgovae tribe. Guern recalls that all but a small number of deserters were killed in an ambush by the northern tribes, including Esca's Brigantes and that the eagle standard was taken away by the Seal People, the most vicious of the tribes. The two travel further north until they are found by the Seal People. Identifying as a chieftain's son fleeing Roman rule and claiming Aquila as his slave, Esca is welcomed by the tribe. After allowing the Seal People to mistreat Aquila, Esca eventually reveals that his actions were a ploy and helps his master to find the eagle. As they retrieve it, they are ambushed by several warriors, including the Seal Prince's father, but Marcus and Esca manage to kill them and escape with the eagle standard. With the aid of the Seal Prince's young son, Esca and Marcus manage to escape the Seal People's village.

The two flee south to reach Hadrian's Wall, with the Seal People in hot pursuit. Aquila, slowed by his old battle wound, orders Esca to take the eagle back to Roman territory and even grants the reluctant slave his freedom. Freed, Esca still refuses to abandon his friend and instead heads out to look for help. He returns with the survivors of the Ninth legion just as the Seal People catch up with them. The legionaries, wishing to redeem themselves, accept Aquila as their commander and prepare to defend the eagle standard. As an example to those who would betray their people, the Seal Prince kills his son in front of Esca, Marcus, and the legionaries, then orders his warriors to attack. A battle ensues, in which the Seal Prince and all his warriors are killed, but most of the Ninth Legion soldiers are also killed. After burying the fallen legionaries including Guern, Aquila, Esca, and the few survivors of the Ninth return to Roman territory, where Aquila delivers the eagle to the astonished governor in Londinium. There is talk of the Ninth legion being reformed with Aquila as its commander. Aquila and Esca then wonder what they will do next, and Aquila leaves the decision to his former slave.


- Channing Tatum as Marcus Aquila

- Jamie Bell as Esca

- Donald Sutherland as Aquila's uncle

- Mark Strong as Guern

- Tahar Rahim as Prince of the Seal People

- Denis O'Hare as Lutorius

- Douglas Henshall as Cradoc

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Sagas Artúricas: Versiones Nórdicas Medievales

Prologo de Luis Alberto de Cuenca
Traducción de Mariano Gónzalez Campo
ISBN: 978-84-206-5095-1
Alianza Editorial

La llamada materia de Bretaña, inspirada por las gestas del rey Arturo y otros personajes de su corte, constituyó durante la Edad Media un espejo en cuyas virtudes de honor, respeto al rey y cumplimiento del deber los miembros de las cortes europeas debían mirarse. Las del norte de Europa, especialmente la de Noruega y la de Islandia, no fueron ajenas a esta corriente y, a su manera, también hicieron suyas muchas de estas leyendas, adaptándolas a su tradición y su mentalidad. El presente volumen, ofrece por primera vez en castellano una selección de las más destacadas de las versiones nórdicas de estas Sagas artúricas, impregnadas del inconfundible sabor de las literaturas que tanto atrajeron a autores como Jorge Luis Borges o J. R. R. Tolkien.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Annales Cambriae (Annals of Wales)

The Arthurian References

The Annales Cambriae (Annals of Wales) is a Latin language chronicle, dating from around AD 970, covering 533 years in time. The chronicle's starting point, the entry marked "Year 1", is believed by scholars, to be the year AD 447. It is a curious collection of obscure Welsh material, but it does contain two entries that are of interest to students of Arthurian history, given below in the original Latin, and then in their English translations.

These entries have been advanced as proof of the historicity of Arthur and of his rival, Mordred (Medraut, in Welsh), as they were believed to have been derived from contemporary records. That view is no longer widely held, but it is interesting to note that all the other people mentioned in the chronicle are real. The assumption could be made, by extension that Arthur and Medraut are, also.

LXXII Annus. Bellum Badonis, in quo Arthur portavit crucem Domini nostri Jesu Christi tribus diebus et tribus noctibus in humeros suos et Britones victores fuerunt.

Year 72 (c. 519 AD) The Battle of Badon, in which Arthur carried the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ on his shoulders for three days and three nights and the Britons were victors.

XCIII Annus. Gueith Camlann, in qua Arthur et Medraut corruere; et mortalitas in Brittania et in Hibernia fuit.

Year 93 (c. 540 AD) The strife of Camlann in which Arthur and Medraut fell, and there was death in Britain and in Ireland.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

King Arthur's Round Table Revealed

The mystical tale of King Arthur is one of the great themes of British literature. But is there any truth behind the myth and why has it become so influential throughout the centuries?

The King Arthur that we know today is a collection of different legends, written by different authors, at different times. They are all united by the common theme that King Arthur was a fifth century British general who fought against Anglo-Saxon tribes and ensured that Britain remained a paradise of the West. The first mention of King Arthur is in the History of the Britons, penned in 830, and attributed to an author called Nennius. He writes:

Then in those days Arthur fought against them with the kings of the Britons, but he was commander in those battles.

A more elaborate tale of King Arthur came about in the 11th century, when Geoffrey of Monmouth published his book The History of the Kings of Britain. Arthur’s entire life is outlined for the first time in this work, right from his birth at Tintagel, to his death, and the legendary figures of Guinevere and Merlin are introduced. This book had a tremendous impact at the time. To this day, approximately 200 manuscripts remain in existence.

Then, with the marriage of Henry II of England to Eleanor of Aquitaine, the stories of Arthur began to bloom in the courts of France and the legend took on romantic and spiritual tones. It was within this context that the mysterious Holy Grail first appears in the work of French court writer Chretien de Troyes. In his poem, Perceval, or the Story of the Grail (1181-90), it says:

A girl came in, fair and comely and beautifully adorned, and between her hands she held a grail. And when she carried the grail in, the hall was suffused by a light so brilliant that the candles lost their brightness as do the moon or the stars when the sun rises.

The tales of King Arthur became so embedded in the minds of the British people that by the time Henry VIII came to the throne in 1509, he commissioned the Winchester Round Table of Edward III to be repainted, with himself depicted at the top as a latter-day Arthur, a Christian emperor and head of the British Empire.

Another example of Arthur’s influence came in 1834 when the Houses of Parliament were rebuilt after a disastrous fire. Arthurian themes from Thomas Malory’s book the Death of Arthur (1486) were selected for the decoration of the queen’s robing room in the House of Lords.

Today the myth has lost none of its appeal and is still the subject of many books and films. However, despite the entrenchment of Arthur within Celtic folklore, evidence of his actual existence is slim. In the histories of the time, there is no mention of an Arthur. The one contemporary source, The Ruin and Conquest of Britain, written by the British monk and historian Gildas, gives somebody else’s name altogether as the leader of the Britons. Nor does Arthur appear in any of the Kings list at the time. But Gildas does mention an unnamed leader and King of the Britons– could this be Arthur?

The consensus amongst most historians is that Arthur probably did exist, either as an individual or a composite of several individuals. Since many of the Dark Age heroes were real men upon whom mythical talent and position were often thrust by storytellers, there is a strong possibility that Arthur was a Dark Age warrior of the Celts from which the rest of the mythological superstructure was formed.

Why, in light of no concrete evidence, has Arthur featured so heavily in British mythology? One explanation offered is that the figure of Arthur has come to represent British history in its entirety, the stories acting as a way of explaining how Britain has come to be, especially in reference to the relationship between the Saxons and the Celts. Certainly, the story has proven particularly popular during times of social unrest due to its unfaltering moral stability. If the past hundreds of years are anything to go by, the story of King Arthur shows no signs of loosing any of its magnetism.



One of earliest books on King Arthur up for sale

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by Stefano Ambrogi

(Reuters Life!) - A unique 14th century book that combines all the tales of King Arthur's legendary court in one manuscript, illustrated throughout with dazzling hand-painted pictures, is expected to fetch 2 million pounds ($3.23 million) at auction next month.

The illuminated work, known as the Rochefoucauld Grail, written on vellum (animal hide) in Flanders or Artois -- known as the low countries -- between 1315-1323 is one of the world's earliest surviving accounts of the fabled king's life.

Timothy Bolton, an expert in Medieval manuscripts who is in charge of the sale at Sotheby's in London, told Reuters that only snippets of text in poor condition about King Arthur's court and dated before this time period exist elsewhere.

"This (book) puts King Arthur on the map. Somebody (at the time) says I want all of it in one book. And that's exactly what this is," he said.

"It's a conscious effort to bring together everything to do with Arthur, the Holy Grail and its quest, Sir Lancelot, Queen Guinevere and the wizard Merlin, all those associated legends and weave them together in one big book."

Bolton said the only other accounts in existence, apart from the oral tradition passed down since the Dark Ages, "tend to be short and restricted to just enough reading for one night."

The rich three-volume book, thought to have taken 200 cows to produce is accompanied by more than one hundred brightly colored pictures.

One, perhaps the most spectacular, shows King Arthur fighting the Saxon army -- the fear he engenders is said to have been so great his enemies are shown to be jumping from the page.

"The battle scene is about as close as you will ever get to the actual man himself," Bolton said of Arthur, who some believe lived in the late fifth or early sixth century but whose basis in fact has long been disputed by historians.

The book was produced for Guy VII, Baron de Rochefoucauld, head of one of the leading aristocratic families of Medieval France.

It appeared on the market in the early 18th century and later passed to 19th century collector Sir Thomas Phillipps. It has only changed hands twice since then.

Bolton said the Arthurian legends were enormously popular in Medieval Europe and were a model for Christian chivalric life.

"It offered the elite so many episodes for how to deal with love, lust, treachery and deceit, friendship and honor," he said.

It will be offered at Sotheby's sale of western manuscripts and miniatures on December 7.

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Alban Eiler - "Light of the Earth"

Alban Eiler ("Light of the Earth") is the first fire festival of the year, celebrating the return of the Sun and the vibrant rousing of life after Winter. Ancient Celts believed that on the Vernal Equinox, the light and the dark, the day and the night, both sides of everything, are on equal footing; thus is it a magical day of powerful possibilities, transformations, and discoveries. Push beyond the limitations of your darkness, your doubt, your private winter, and come out into the light. Plant the seeds of your future in the fertile matrix within. It is Alban Eiler.

The Goddess Eostre and Spring Hares -
Symbols of the Vernal Equinox

Myrddin Wilt, Myrddin Emrys, Merlinus Silvestri, Merlinus Celidonus, Merlinus Ambrosius

Myrddin Wilt, if he does yet breathe, can be found in the Forest of Celyddon. Although some say he is merely a figure of legend, it may be less than prudent to concur with the doubters. After all, they were the men who dismissed the story of Myrddin’s magicking of Stonehenge from across the seas and we know now that the monument’s stone came from a quarry that is indeed across a sea, across the Cardigan Bay, on the southern coast of Wales. Such disbelief, however, is not uncommon in the treatment of this man of the woods. His life, to this point, has not been one of ease, but has been marked, yes, by madness but also by a never-ending struggle against those who would sleight his essential nature, even going so far as to attempt to kill him for it.

The Bard
by Thomas Jones

His nature is as his name indicates, Wild, or Of the Woods. Once a prince in the world of men, he rules over the forest as king. He speaks the tongues of animals and they listen to him as they listened to Adam, Noah, and the early men of this earth. The society of his animal companions, sometimes the pig, sometimes the wolf, is the only society that Myrddin can withstand for the world of men has driven him to despair and madness. Much has been made of his madness, which unmoored his mind’s eye so that rather than experience the world in the present, as the mass of men do, he sees the future relentlessly unfolding before him. To hear him speak of the future is to put oneself in peril, for, as it is commonly known, foreknowledge is a grave danger to all sane men who encounter it.

Myrddin was, before prophecy struck him, a great lord of the Welsh people, the bearer of a golden torque. He was terrible to meet in battle and his prowess inspired awe from his enemies and friends alike. He had a wife whom he loved dearly and who was deeply enamored of him and his powerful figure. He was, from all accounts, well spoken and well spoken of at court, though he harbored great hostility toward the Christian missionaries who had taken to trumpeting their new faith throughout the land. It might have been because of this animosity that he went mad, though the accounts all differ as to how it happened. What is certain is that he was never the same after the Battle of Arfderydd.

by Aubrey Vincent Beardsley

The Battle of Arfderydd was fought on the plains of Scotland before Scotland was known by such a name, between the rivers of Liddel and Esk. Assembled on the field that day were the hosts of the Welsh’s two most mighty warlords, Rhydderch Hael, a Christian ruler, and Gwenddolau, a devotee to the old Gods and Myrddin’s liege lord. It is during this clash of titans that the Gods touched Myrddin. According to some records, he was cursed by one of Rhydderch’s Christian clerics. Others say that it was his discovery that he had slain his sister’s children in the fight that plunged him into turmoil. Some warriors bearing scars from the battle tell of celestial figures that howled Myrddin’s name and chased him from the field of combat, while an equal contingent claim that the champion simply laid down his weapons and walked away from the bloodshed.

Oh blissful dam
if you saw
the sheer violence
that I saw,
you wouldn’t sleep in the morning,
you wouldn’t dig the hillside
you wouldn’t make for the wild
by a desolate lake.
~~ “The Ohs of Myrddin,” The Black Book of Carmarthen

by Rick Wakeman

Away from the moans of the dying and injured, away from the grunts of the soldiers exhausting themselves in the attempt to kill their enemy, in the attempt to stay alive themselves, away from the horrible accusatory silence of the corpses, of the cloven heads that bobbed in estuaries of blood, away from that silence, that silence! and into the woods went Myrddin. Off into the wild he flew “like any bird of the air,” if the Gaelic record The Frenzy of Suibhne is to be believed. He landed in an apple-tree in the Forest of Celyddon and was to stay there for many years. In that forest, the forest where the madmen searched for their sanity, he lived with the animals. He slept in the boughs of the oak trees and lived on a diet of nuts and vegetables. It was among the animals that he hid as he sought protection from King Rhydderch who he was certain was trying to kill him. It was to the animals that he foretold the coming of Cadwaladyr, the great King who would unite the Britons and bring peace. It was to the animals that he spoke as he attempted to find peace with the violence of his kind.

Perhaps it is this preference of the world of animals to the world of men, the possibility that Myrddin harbors deep reservations about humankind, that spurs some chroniclers to deny him his madness, to deny him his time in the forest. Believe it if you wish, but there certainly seems to be a coterie dedicated to extirpating him, or at least Myrddin as he truly is, from the records. Geoffrey of Monmouth not only Latinized the Welsh, changing Myrddin to Merlinus (lore has it that he chose this name because Merdinus—the logical Latinization—would have been too closely associated with the Anglo-Norman word for shit, merde) but he also expunged Myrddin’s madness and his sylvan life completely in his Historia Regum Britanniae. In fact, this “Merlin” was prescient from his earliest days, always able to divine the future’s truth, and is brought to the court of King Vortigern when yet a child. Geoffrey did try to amend his factual errors with his later work, Vita Merlini, in which he does recognize Myrddin’s time in the forest and the horrific genesis of his foresight, but the process of recasting Myrddin as Merlin, of siphoning away the man’s spirit to feed a fantasy was begun.

Merlin's study

In one account of his madness from the Gaelic tradition, Myrddin brings his madness upon himself by trying to spear a cleric after the cleric sprinkles him with holy water. It seems that the Welshman had found the ritual to be insulting. Close to six hundred years after this event, Robert de Boron, a deeply Christian French poet of the late 12th century, completed the cleric’s work—or at least did so in writing. Through his Merlin, he began to convince Europe that the man was a Christian. The unknown father in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s account becomes a demon and Myrddin’s otherwise troublesome paganistic aspects could be neatly explained away as the result of his devilish heritage. But his demonic blood, manifested in his full head of hair—a sign of his bestial associations—and his perfect knowledge of the past, which could be no other than a full acquaintance with pagan lore, is counteracted by his acceptance of the Christian faith. His mother has him baptized, neutralizing the threat of ungodliness and transforming the troubled antichrist into a leader of the Christian world. Gifted by God with knowledge of the future (for Christianity’s God is the future as Boron takes pains to make evident), Merlin spends his life as the courtly adviser to King Arthur and his knights. By Boron’s book, Merlin’s prophecies and magical powers are useful tools in creating the most perfect Christian world possible. Discounting a brief time masquerading as a shepherd so that he can usher Arthur into the world, the woods, the wilderness, the outdoors, seem to have been successfully exorcised from his person. De Boron’s account presents as self-evident the obviously false idea that Merlin was a man of the courts rather than of the woods.

In fact, when Myrddin is removed from his arboreal kingdom, it is known that he becomes terribly depressed and is prone to retaliate against his captors with awful pronouncements. Geoffrey of Monmouth, referencing earlier records, tells of Myrddin being captured by his sister, Queen Ganieda, and being brought back to court. There, he refuses to speak a word about his experiences and suffers civilization in silence. That is, until one day, when he sees the King Rodarcus, his sister’s husband, remove a leaf from his sister’s hair. He laughs and there is a quality to the laugh that like the fury of a waterfall about to crash against the rocks, excites and frightens the King so that he must know why the madman is laughing. The King will give him anything to know, to know, from whence this secret mirth bubbles, finally promising to allow Myrddin to return to the woods. The response though, could not have brought joy to Rodarcus for Myrddin tells him that the leaf became entangled in her locks when she lay in the woods with her lover. Myrddin tells the King that his great love for his wife is unrequited. She loves the man with whom she lay that morning under the trees of Myrddin’s forest. And then Myrddin laughs because he shall be free.

The records of other men exposed to Myrddin’s prophetical voice are equally joyless. In one account, Myrddin orders his wife to remarry—his love for nature leaves no room for any other—on one condition: that he never lay eyes on her husband. On the day of her marriage, he comes riding to her, astride a great stag, shepherding herds of animals that he desires to give to her. However, as she comes out to meet him, her husband catches sight of Myrddin and laughs at the man riding a deer. Like thunder is to lightning so is laughter the warning that Myrddin is about to strike. If you hear the sound in his presence, it is best to leave as quickly as possible. Myrddin, hearing the laughter, knows exactly who makes such noise and, turning to look at the man, flies into a rage in which he tears the horns from his stag and assaults the bridegroom with them. And then he disappears back into the shadows of the forest.

The Myrddin that rides off in a burst of speed, astride his bloody steed, slicked with sweat from the exertion of ripping the antlers from his mount, lost in the exhilaration of dramatic action, is a far cry from contemporary depictions. The man who crushes his wife’s betrothed with a blow of the antlers is a virile, albeit chaste, being. He is strong and powerful, a warrior who simply chooses not to fight, a noble savage, not the doddering octogenarian in which his spirit—whatever is left of it at least—has been incarnated. Sir Thomas de Malory introduces this misconception in his romance, La Morte D’Arthur, as he writes that Merlin, after being ignored by Arthur when appearing as “a child of fourteen year of age,” “came again in the likeness of an old man of four-score years of age, whereof the king was right glad, for he seemed to be right wise.” After Malory, the choice that Merlin makes to assume “the likeness” of an old man is forgotten. The association between age and wisdom becomes primary. He becomes an old man because he is the wise councilor. Age, rather than the touch of madness, becomes the font of wisdom and Myrddin Wilt finds himself further effaced.

Becoming thirsty, Merlin leaned down to the stream and drank freely and bathed his temples in its waves, so that the water passed through the passages of bowels and stomach, settling the vapours within him, and at once he regained his reason and knew himself, and all his madness departed and the sense which had long remained torpid in him revived, and he remained what he had once been—sane and intact with his reason restored. (Vita Merlini, Geoffrey of Monmouth)

It is recorded by Geoffrey of Monmouth, even if the surviving Welsh poems do not acknowledge it, that Myrddin does eventually recover his sanity by drinking from a newly born stream. Restored to his senses, though still empowered with the vision that his madness had wakened, it is said that his first action was to praise nature. For Myrddin, there is nothing that can compare with the world of the forest. The forest is Myrddin’s home. There he lives and there he one day shall die.

Thomas Malory’s La Morte D’Arthur tells of how the lady of the lake refuses Merlin’s love because she was “aferde of [Myrddin] for cause he was a devyls son.” This sentiment seems to characterize Merlin’s later “chroniclers” as well. They are afraid of Myrddin’s true nature. They age him, remove him from his natural habitat, and create a force to tame him—Vivien’s seductive charms. However, even in such stories as that of Malory and Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Merlin and Vivien” they cannot deny his sylvan roots. Even if they remove him from his life’s rightful realm, they allow him to return there for his eternal sleep. Even if they cloud his reason with lust for the lady of the lake, they are unable to do away with all of his aboriginal tendencies. Malory tells of how Merlin returns to the earth, how he goes “under the stone to let [the lady of the lake] wit of the marvels there, but she wrought it so that for him he never came out.” Alfred Lord Tennyson, while reducing dignified Myrddin to lecherous Merlin, an old man allowing the needs of his “dying flesh” to lead him into doom, depicts the final moments of Merlin’s life as occurring among “the ravaged woodland” and ends the poem with Merlin sleeping forever not simply within the forest, but within a tree: “in the hollow oak he lay as dead, / And lost to life and use and name and fame.”

So Merlin, Myrddin, is sentenced to sleep. The fantasists—Monmouth, de Boron, Malory, Tennyson—are unable to destroy his presence. His animal magnetism is too robust, too vibrant, too wild, to be fully washed away by the waters of baptism nor predictable enough to be channeled properly in the world of the court. And so they invent the myth of his lust to draw him out of the court, back into his wild world of the forest and there sentence him to sleep, not death—they do not have that power of the pen—and they proceed with the stories that they are interested in telling. They chained him to their purposes, forced him to usher Arthur into the world and to his throne, all the while denying Myrddin his own true history. And then they cast him off, back into the forest from whence he came. But, Myrddin, even in his sleep, even as they have imagined him, laid to rest in a tomb encased by earth or oak, remains their nightmare, the specter of the natural world, not yet bent over by Christ or civilization. He haunts them like wolves circling just beyond the light of a campfire; they cannot distinguish the forms but they can feel the presences. In response, they crowd closer around the fire. On the outskirts of their minds, hidden in the caves that they have long since run from, they know he, Myrddin, is waiting with the knowledge that primeval nature is not something to be afraid of—simply to respect—and that terrifies them even more.

When I remain under the green leaves the riches of Calidon delight me more than the gems that India produces, or the gold that Tagus is aid to have on its shore, more than the crops of Sicily or the grapes of pleasant Methis, more than lofty turrets or cities girded with high walls or robes fragrant with Tyrian perfumes. Nothing pleases me enough to tear me away from my Calidon which in my opinion is always pleasant. Here shall I remain while I live, content with apples and grasses, and I shall purify my body with pious fastings that I may be worthy to partake of the life everlasting. (Vita Merlini, Geoffrey of Monmouth)

Myrddin Wilt, if he does yet breathe, can be found in the Forest of Celyddon. Perhaps he is singing, for he is, they say, as gifted in voice as the famed Taliesin of the golden brow. But, if he has died in the centuries since he was last beheld by mortal mind, if the word-sorcerers de Boron and Malory have succeeded in stealing his soul to animate their fantastical courtier-counselor, Merlin the magician, and Myrddin Wilt has sunk into slumber, then, it is said, wait for the time of the great King Cadwaladyr’s return, when the steel cages shall crash to the ground, the black tar shall be uprooted, the endless fires shall be extinguished, the silver dragons that belch smoke into the sky slain, and Myrddin Wilt shall once again walk with the lonely wolf, ride the crownless stag, and speak prophecy to the pig.

Merlin and Nimue
by Sir Edward Burne-Jones


Monday, 7 March 2011

Did famine destroy 'Camelot'?

by Sue Carter
from ArchNews

South Cadbury Castle is well known for its suspected association with King Arthur as the site of his infamous castle, Camelot. Excavations have shown that the site was indeed strengthened in the period formally known as the Dark Ages, at the time of the legendary Arthur. However, there is one question that remains an enigma – why was the site abandoned?

There is no archaeological evidence that shows there was destruction or an invasion at the site of South Cadbury at the beginning of the sixth century – it simply went out of use. Its abandonment is perplexing for it was strengthened and inhabited in the fifth century as evidenced by the pottery sherds, but by the early sixth century it was uninhabited. South Cadbury has undergone some extensive excavations, especially by Alcock (1965-1970), who tells us ‘On the basis of archaeological evidence – and there is no other – the Cadbury II occupation had come to an end before 600AD’ (Alcock 1005, 152).

The archaeological evidence he is referring to is the absence of the imported E-Ware pottery, but the presence of A and B-Ware. A-Ware dates to between 400-500AD and included bowls ‘with a cross or other motif’ (Fox 1964, 162); B-Ware dates to between 500-600AD and comprised of amphorae which held both oil (for cooking and lighting), and wine. A and B-Ware consists of both native and imported pottery, with the imports originating in the eastern Mediterranean.

E-Ware dates between 600-700AD and included native grass-marked ware and imported grey-ware with its origins in the Rhineland (Fox 1964, 162). The question then arises as to the dating of the pottery sherds and the overlap between the two types and other sites where the pottery may be found in south-western England, including any patterns that can be observed in their distribution and availability. Two other well known sites show the same pattern as South Cadbury and these are Tintagel and Congresbury.

Tintagel also has the Arthurian connection that has been attributed to South Cadbury, so can the two sites be tied together through their dating and abandonment? Both sites have A and B-Ware but ‘lack imports of E-Ware’ (Alcock 1995, 152) suggesting that they were occupied and then abandoned around the same period.

Tintagel, at that time, was a monastic site, and imported their goods via the Mediterranean, then heading into the sixth century, Tintagel lost its economic supremacy in south-west Britain and consequently disappeared from the archaeological record until the twelfth century. Cadbury Castle, Congresbury, Glastonbury Tor and High Peak vanished at the same time’ (Alcock 1995, 152). The trade pattern seems to have changed and this may have been a result of the changing politics of the Mediterranean area at the time.

If there were no more imports the people would have needed to find a local alternative to the goods, and bearing in mind that Purchase was not the ‘natural’ way in which a household in the Dark Ages strove to satisfy its needs. Its ambition was to become as self-sufficient as possible (Grierson 1959, 128). Imports increased along the south eastern coast, and merchants may have found these areas provided better trade than the western peoples, whose main exchange seems to have shifted to the Bristol region. Now we know that four main sites ceased to be occupied at around the same time the question arises as to why? One hypothesis would be warfare.

The Dark Ages were considered to be a part of English history where little is known except for constant raids from the continent by Germanic and other peoples trying to claim land following the withdrawal of the Romans, but the evidence for this area is lacking. Wessex was pushing its borders further west and this is one possibility, however, the Westward extension of Wessex into Somerset was part of a general wave of aggressive and expansionist activity by the English kingdom from the mid sixth century onwards’ (Burrow 1981, 14). With dating placed during the mid sixth century it does not explain the abandonment of the other sites by the sixth century. We need to look elsewhere. With no evidence of fighting and the Wessex advance placed at a later date, it would appear that there is no other logical explanation as to the abandonment of these major sites.

There is one tiny clue that may be able to answer the question, and I emphasise the may in this statement. It is extremely small and could offer some answers but would need to be further examined. According to the Catholic Encyclopaedia just after the time of the abandonment there was a possible famine in England. The entry is given under the information relating to St. John the Almsgiver 550-616 and states, He assisted people of every class who were in need. A shipwrecked merchant was thus helped three times, on the first two occasions apparently without doing him much good; the third time, however, John fitted him out with a ship and a cargo of wheat, and by favourable winds he was taken as far as Britain where, as there was a shortage of wheat, he obtained his own price.... (Knight 2009, np).

Could the above quote give some clue as to the economic status of Britain at a time which is recorded as being one of upheaval and raids? Looking at the topographical layout, The southern and eastern parts of the area are of a lowland character consisting of calcareous Oolithic hills fronted by complex and varied Lias and alluvial deposits which provide a range of soil types (Burrow 1981, 12). In the area around Queen Camel there are well developed limestone beds where turnips were grown in the brashy clay; wheat and beans can be cultivated in the other clay areas as well as pasture for animals. This indicates that the production of crops was possible; however, what also needs to be considered is that some geological changes have taken place since the Roman times (Victoria County History 1906, 1-36). Could this have contributed to poor harvests during the Dark Ages? Famine was not just bought about through lack of food, you also needed the manpower to cultivate a crop. ‘The fifth century was a century of woes – raiding, wars, plagues, peasant revolts’ (Mattingly 2006, 538), all of which contributed to a fall in population, especially of males. Add to this the possibility of slight shifts in the seasons, due to climate change, and the result would be disastrous for a population of people with no centralised structure or authority in which to assist those in need. Research into the Somerset Levels area has shown that ‘a growth of raised deposits ceased after a change in the climate and a reduction in the annual rainfall in about 400AD’ (English Nature 1997, 10).

Climate change would have had an effect on agriculture and also in the changing landscape. We know that South Cadbury had, ‘one unusual advantage; a ready supply of water was available at the north-east entrance, actually within the lines of defence’ (Alcock 1995, 171), this would have proved very useful in the day to day occupation of the fort, but not much use if there was no food to feed the inhabitants. In summing up the evidence, we see that four major sites, South Cadbury, Tintagel, Congresbury and High Peak, all appear to have been abandoned around the same time period; imports dropped dramatically; a change in climate occurred; raiding, warring, plagues and peasant revolts have been noted; there were possible geological changes around the time the Romans left; and there was a shortage of wheat in Britain.

Famine may be plausible and would certainly explain the abandonment of a site, or several, where no military action or raiding is visible in the archaeological record. It certainly would explain why people just moved away from an area and left no trace.


Alcock. L. (1995). Cadbury Castle Somerset. The Early Medieval Archaeology. Cardiff; University of Wales Press. Burrow. I. (1981). Hillfort and Hill Top Settlement in Somerset in the First to Eighth Centuries AD. Oxford; BAR Series 91. Fox. A. (1964). South West England. London: Thames and Hudson. Grierson. P. (1959). Commerce in the Dark Ages: A Critique of the Evidence. Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Fifth Series, Vol. 9. (1959), pp. 123-140. Knight. K. (2009). St. John the Caregiver. The Catholic Encyclopaedia.
Available at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08486a.htm [Accessed 28th December 2010]. Mattingly. D. (2006). An Imperial Possession: Britain in The Roman Empire 54 BC – AD 409. London: Penguin Books. Somerset Levels and Moors Natural Area: A Nature Conservation Profile. English Nature. Somerset Team. 1997. Available at http://www.english-nature.org.uk/science/natural/profiles/naprofile85.pdf. [Accessed 3rd January, 2011] Victoria County History. (1906). A History of the County Of Somerset: Volume 1. Available at 'Geology', A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 1 (1906), pp. 1-33. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=117301 [04 January 2011].

Chivalry: A brief historical and literary perspective

by Edileide Brito

Chivalry is the generic term for the knightly system since the Middle Ages and for virtues and qualities, it inspired in its followers. The word evolved from terms such as chevalier (French), caballero (Spanish), and cavaliere (Italian), all meaning a warrior who fought on horseback. The term came to mean so much more during medieval times.

Chivalric orders first appeared with military activities against non-Christian states. During the Middle Ages, Western Europe aggressively sought to expand its area of control. The first orders of chivalry were very similar to the monastic orders of the era. Both sought the sanctification of their members through combat against "unfaithful" and protection of religious pilgrims, and both had committed that involved the taking of vows and submitting to a regulation of activities.

However, in the thirteenth century conventions of chivalry directed that men should honor, serve, and do nothing to displease ladies and maidens. Knights were members of the noble class socially as bearers of crests, economically as owners of horse and armour, and officially through religious-oriented ceremony. While some were knighted on the battlefield, most spent long years as a squire, practicing the art of war while serving his master. People during the Middle Ages heard of the exploits of knights both mythical and real in epics like La Chanson de Roland and Le Morte D'Arthur.

“In thirteenth century, the Chivalry constituted a Western entirety, a sort of delimited body, and really established and centralized in a social conjecture. The Chilvary did use of superiority and excellence allied to nobleness sense, involved through the dominant values in a determined culture. How have forged the models, the images, the mental representations which have granted this body in significative shape and that installed to eminent position? How have reached coherently and have found their limits? How finally the idea of nobleness have coincided with the Knighthood ideals?” (Duby, 1989, p. 209)

According to questions suggested by Duby in his article “The origins of Chivalry”, published in 1968, attempts to analyze the Chivalry class. Shall we settle the chivalry around twelfth century and analyze the importance of this fusion of images and mental represetantions.

In another hand, the society around twelfth century was a Christendom society, and one of the purpose to be inserted in this society as citizen, it’s necessary be a Christian. (Pastoureau, 1989, p. 33).

This concept of citizen we shall discuss about the knight inserted in this society. Theorically, all baptized men have access to the chivalry: each knight may become a knight, who judge theign to be a knight, do not mind what origin or social condition. (Pastoureau, 1989, p. 42)

However, this practice has not happened. In half twelfth century, the knighthood tends to suffer some specifically changes.

Be a knight has transformed in act exclusively to the children of knights, whether the possibility of someone from plebe arises to the title of knight, it was basically a mercy coming from goodness of noble lord. The Knighthood tends to become a hereditary institution. We can suggest the accolade of simple serves becoming knights we might use the “chansons de geste”.

The knight’s life, according to Georges Duby in his book Chanson de Guillaume le Maréchal was pleasant life and full of adventurous, being a knight could mean, ostent another standard of life, a life of tournaments. Supportting this model, it was necessary good steeds, which is called ‘destrier.

A Destrier was a war horse which were used by Knights in the Middle Ages. It was brought to England by William the Conqueror following his victory at the battle of Hastings in 1066. A horse played an extremely part in the life of knight. These knights horses ranged in various sizes starting with a palfrey, or an ambler for general travelling purposes. Bigger and stronger horses were required as warhorses. The Courser was the most sought after and expensive warhorse, owned by the most wealthy knights. The more common warhorses were like modern hunters, including good stuffs for weapons, meaning got some amount of worth, or rather, become a knight and attend jousts and tournaments should be someone who belongs to nobleness.

The “chansons de geste” are very important to demonstrate what is really a knighthood culture, however it was not utterly christianized through members of chivalry whom, indeed, they were faith to ideals preached by Catholic Church. Despite, there was a military and heroicic profiles from some models of Christain Will regarded particulary been able to conquest and serve as propaganda instruments. (Cardini, 1989, p. 61)

For shall be popular, the ‘chansons’ had major facility in penetrate in the Chivalrous conscience; in this, they are more acceptable and correct defend as the liturgical formules and the hagiographic literature, whether is adapt to them , about to we shall have only introduce more solid into that we call collective imaginary from Chivalrous society. Being clearer , the “chansons” have been a sort of instruments used by Church (same as unconcious ,aslike might be affirmed). Anyway, the ‘chansons of geste’ were the reflection from the winds what they blew out in that period

Indeed the Chivalry was not just a nobleness and gentle quest, but this Chivalrous behaviour has arisen in Rome which the ideal was ally politic interests, inserting the “Eternal Faith” as concepts, and unconsciously rescued questions of values and models to rule the society.

The 13 Principles of Chivalry

1. A True Knight must be a gentleman yet fails not in duty.

2. A True Knight must uphold the Dignity of Man and Woman, remembering that all are born free and equal in Dignity and Rights.

3. A True Knight’s manner of living is an example to the young.

4. A True Knight shall at no time act outrageously nor do murder or be cruel in any way to man or beast.

5. A True Knight respects and defends the rights of all men and women to hold and practice religious beliefs other than his own.

6. A True Knight takes no part in wrongful quarrel but at all times supports the Lawful rights of all men and women.

7. A True Knight’s word is his bond.

8. A True Knight must be honorable in all things and know good from evil.

9. A True Knight must be of modest demeanor and not seek worship unto himself.

10. A True Knight must seek out such Quests as lead to the protection of the oppressed and never fail in Charity, Fidelity and the Truth.

11. A True Knight speaks evil of no man. A slanderous tongue brings shame and disgrace to an Honorable Knight.

12. A True Knight never betrays a trust or confidence given to him by a brother Knight.

13. A True Knight must so order his life that by his contributions the people of the world may hope to live together in greater peace and tolerance.

Chivalric Codes

There were several lists written down during the Middle Ages. One example code can be found in the book Chivalry by 19th century French historian Leon Gautier

* Thou shalt believe all that the Church teaches, and shalt observe all its directions.

* Thou shalt defend the Church.

* Thou shalt respect all weaknesses, and shalt constitute thyself the defender of them.

* Thou shalt love the country in which thou wast born.

* Thou shalt not recoil before thine enemy.

* Thou shalt make war against the Infidel without cessation, and without mercy.

* Thou shalt perform scrupulously thy feudal duties, if they be not contrary to the laws of God.

* Thou shalt never lie, and shall remain faithful to thy pledged word.

* Thou shalt be generous, and give largess to everyone.

* Thou shalt be everywhere and always the champion of the Right and the Good against Injustice and Evil.


CARDINI, Franco. O Guerreiro e o Cavaleiro. In: LE GOFF, Jacques (sob direção de). O HomemMedieval. Lisboa: Editorial Presença, 1989.

DUBY, Georges. A História Continua. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar Editor / Editora UFRJ, 1993.

PASTOUREAU, Michel. No Tempo dos Cavaleiros da Távola Redonda (França e Inglaterra, séculos XII e XIII). São Paulo: Companhia das Letras / Círculo do Livro, 1989.

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