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Just a placeholder for random interesting factoids, rumors, remarks remotely related to Arthurian literature

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In 1842 – when Tennyson published his Morte D’Arthur, forerunner of the Idylls – editions of The Avowynge of King Arthur, Sir Perceval of Galles, and Sir Degrevant all appeared. Important non-Anglophone material published at this period has already been mentioned: the Historia Brittonum attributed to Nennius, Béroul’s Tristan, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae.

It is notable that in the romance publications listed here Scottish editors and Scottish book clubs (the Maitland, Abbotsford, and Bannatyne Clubs, for example) were influential. The Historia Brittonum, Béroul’s Tristan, and the Mabinogion also concern British, rather than English, literature. For many, Arthurian literature was still attractive because of the way it (supposedly) came from the margins of Britain. It is interesting that an old tradition maintained that Thomas Malory was a Welshman; this was adopted for some time in the nineteenth century until disproven. It is also intriguing that Frederic Madden, one of the best scholars of the period, insisted that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (in fact composed in the northwest of England) was a Scottish poem. He might have done this rather cynically, keen to make the poem appeal to Walter Scott and his Bannatyne Club. But he might genuinely have thought that even if the poem as we have it was English, its strange language suggested an earlier origin north of the border.

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...those who were alarmed at the spread of capitalism and the prospect of an increasingly mechanized Britain would frequently turn to a more romantic past. Thomas Carlyle valued medieval feudalism in which the aristocracy had a role of leadership, warning that “with the supreme triumph of Cash, a changed time has entered; there must a changed Aristocracy enter” (Carlyle 1971: 194). John Ruskin, advocating thirteenth-century architecture as the supreme English style, argued that there was as much “mechanical ingenuity required to build a cathedral as to cut a tunnel or contrive a locomotive” (1907: 217). With the Middle Ages revalued in this way, it was possible for readers to look past the killing and adultery in the Arthurian story to the code of chivalry that, however much it is broken, still serves as a guide for behavior. Robert Southey, introducing the 1817 edition of Malory, admitted that “the ferocious spirit of the times” often showed through in the Morte Darthur, but he noted that medieval Europe was “full of cruelties” and hence “it must be considered as a great merit in the romance writers, that they have not introduced them more frequently; that they have sometimes reprehended them, and that in their ideal heroes they held up for imitation fairer models of heroic virtue than were to be found in real life”.

The idea of imitation is important. In medieval romance as well as in medieval architecture or society, there were imitable lessons. The idea that one might imitate Arthurian heroes was a key theme in an important Victorian phenomenon: the notion that Arthurian chivalry should inform modern behavior (Girouard 1981).

In 1822, for example, a young man named Kenelm Henry Digby, steeped in medieval romance of all kinds, published The Broad Stone of Honour: Or, Rules for the Gentlemen of England. A second edition appeared a year later and further expanded editions, now subtitled “The True Sense and Practice of Chivalry,” appeared after Digby’s conversion to Catholicism in 1825.

Such works as these could be enormously influential. They depended on the actual medieval romances themselves, but far outstripped those romances in popularity...

[Source: David Matthews, Nineteenth Century Scholarship and Popular Culture]

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“The authentic actions of Arthur have been so disfigured by the gorgeous additions of the minstrels and of Jeffry,” wrote Sharon Turner in his History of the Anglo-Saxons, “that many writers have denied that he ever lived.”

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One summer day in 1839, a young woman in London went along with a friend to watch knights tilting – an entertainment she clearly did not regard as particularly unusual. “It was a ridiculous failure,” she recorded.
They almost invariably missed one another, and looked extremely clumsy in their heavy armour. For fear of accidents, which were not very likely to happen, they had their lances sawn across that they might break at a slight shock, and so absurdly particular had they been in this respect that some of the lances broke with their own weight and fell to pieces to the no small amusement of the bystanders. (Bessborough 1950: 93)

These words and the reaction recorded remind us that not everyone took passionately to medieval re-enactments in Victorian England.

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Arthurian studies in their development after 1870 were less concerned with patriotism than with the ethical character of Arthurian literature. Whether they were producing their work for children or adults, most editors of Malory at the end of the nineteenth century were concerned less with Arthur’s potential as nationalist icon than with the overall text’s attitude to sin. This had been, of course, the concern of the very first publisher. Caxton, perhaps already with one eye on the nascent book-buying public, instructed: “Do after the good and leave the evil” (Parins 1988: 49). As we have seen, in the sixteenth century Roger Ascham saw only the evil; latenineteenth-century publishers and editors were deeply concerned to find the good. The “moral atmosphere” of the work clearly troubled Edward R. Russell in his pamphlet The Book of King Arthur (1889):
To what extent the moral atmosphere of Morte D’Arthur was that of Sir Thomas Malory’s time – the time of Edward the Fourth; to what extent it was merely the moral atmosphere attributed to mythical times and scenes in earlier and cruder romances – to what extent it accurately represented the moral atmosphere of chivalry, when chivalry actually existed – each must decide for himself. (Parins 1988: 241)
Russell did not hesitate to give his own decision, which was that Malory did not come up to the moral level of the Greek or Roman classics. Medieval literature was a regrettable falling away: “Regarded seriously the Book of King Arthur is very much as if men had descended to become interesting dumb animals” (Parins 1988: 250). There was little to be gained from it by imitation: “If the Nineteenth Century has any perplexities which can be solved by the problems of Camelot, it must be in a very babyish condition” (Parins 1988: 250). This was not the majority view, however. Frederick Ryland, writing about Malory in the English Illustrated Magazine in 1888–9, dismissed both Ascham’s condemnation and the relevance of classical taste, arguing that “although not absolutely perfect, the ethical theory of the Arthurian epos is a distinctly high one; and the practice does not fall short of the theory in a greater degree than we see among ourselves.” There were “conspicuous virtues” in Malory, Ryland argued: “courage, love of justice and hatred of injustice, loyalty, fidelity to promises and to the unspoken obligations implied by friendship and brotherhood, self-control, and disregard of mere bodily ease” (Parins 1988: 265). There were, as Russell’s words suggest, many reservations about medieval literature at the time. But most critics were happy to say that standards of morality had to be relative and that not too much could be expected from a medieval work.

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… this pervasive Arthurian popular culture in the later twentieth century, particularly as it is found in novels, films, and games…. obviously depend on the medieval originals of the Arthur story. But they also, crucially, grow out of and are reactions to the nineteenth-century explosion of interest in Arthur. It is true that in recent modernity Arthurian popular culture evidently owes a great deal to medieval texts: such films as MGM’s Knights of the Round Table (1954) and John Boorman’s Excalibur (1981) are based on Malory, for example. At the same time, however, recent film, television, and other aspects of popular culture are deeply indebted to the nineteenth century. Ideas of the medieval in current popular culture are filtered through nineteenth-century understanding. The very idea of restaging medieval battles is commonplace today and regarded as a legitimate aspect of scholarship. At the same time, though, as scholars work hard for accuracy in detail in such displays, the actual idea of a staged tournament is a thoroughly Victorian one based on popular entertainment going back to Scott’s Ivanhoe.

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Source: Inga Bryden, Arthur in Victorian Poetry

As Simpson comments, “paradoxically, as belief in the historical Arthur waned, it became increasingly possible to predict metaphorically an Arthurian Second Coming” (1990: 52). The legendary king provided appropriate patterns of social behavior for men to follow in everyday life. In a sense the return of Arthur to Victorian Britain, as a modern gentleman, had already occurred – in epic literary tradition. This is the conundrum of Tennyson’s poem The Epic: Morte d’Arthur , in which the poet Everard Hall (who has destroyed nearly all of his epic King Arthur) questions the contemporary relevance of Arthur and epic poetry. Tennyson answers this question in the Dedication (1862) of Idylls of the King to Prince Albert and the Epilogue “To the Queen” (1873), drawing attention to his own meshing of the old and new in a reworked tale.

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Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments Lia wrote: "Frederic Madden, one of the best scholars of the period, insisted that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (in fact composed in the northwest of England) was a Scottish poem. He might have done this rather cynically, keen to make the poem appeal to Walter Scott and his Bannatyne Club. But he might genuinely have thought that even if the poem as we have it was English, its strange language suggested an earlier origin north of the border...."

The following is something of a "what I remember from graduate school" data dump.

Madden was not alone in assigning texts to the wrong region, for whatever reason. (And the language of SGGK and the other poems in that manuscript *is* strange-looking, and filled with words that don't appear anywhere else.)

In the early nineteenth century, when the rediscovery of medieval German literature was in its infancy, scholars working on the poetry (which includes a lot of Arthurian literature, mostly translated or adapted from Chretien) considered all the poets to have been Bavarians, or at least from near Bavaria. Some were, but not all of them, as eventually became clear.

The problem they had was that the Bavarian (very southern) dialect of New High German was conservative in some particular ways, and preserved some Middle High German forms and usages that had dropped out of use elsewhere. So these "odd" features were at first attributed to specifically Bavarian peculiarities, not the common past of the language.

It took the steady accumulation of text-derived information, including non-literary documents assignable to specific dates and places, to clarify matters.

Standard Modern German is a "prestige" language, based on South German, and imposed by the educational system over lots of regional dialects (including southern ones), and over Low German, which might have treated officially as a related language (alongside its neighbor, Dutch), but wasn't.

This meant lots of stress for North German students forced to learn in a language not their own.
I've been told there is a folk-ballad about the child Jesus confronting a cruel schoolmaster, in which Jesus and Mary speak Low German, and the teacher High German.

Middle English was even more confusing in some ways: for most of its history, there wasn't even a common literary standard (as in, say, Provencal or Old French). Chaucer might have come close to creating one -- he had a lot of imitators -- but Chaucer manuscripts copied in Scotland (where he was unusually popular for an Englishman) show distinctly Scots spellings, and presumably were pronounced accordingly.

At the end of the period, Caxton based his spelling and preferred grammar in part on "Chancery English," used by professional scribes in and around London, which perhaps didn't even have true "native speakers" (although it seems to have been close to the dialects in and around London).

And Caxton's practice influenced later printers, helping to develop a standard "dialect" for written Modern English, which now has prestige value (as representing a certain class, or level of education), although the spoken forms of it still have regional variations, sometimes very obvious.

With a huge amount of Middle English now transcribed, and localized and dated from explicit evidence (like letters, wills, litigation, and associated inventories of property), it became possible to do computer searches to try and identify quickly manuscript fragments by probable region and likely date, and even to suggest if one belongs to an already documented defective document in the data base.

Or so it was claimed: I'm not current on this, but I suspect some of the claims for precision being made a few decades ago, when I was in graduate school, were exaggerated. For one thing, a scribe trained in one dialect may have continued to write in it when he moved elsewhere, which is hard to trace with an algorithm. But the software has probably been greatly improved, and much more information put in digital form, so the project may still have value.

Making the final decision on such matters is still an art, not a mathematical science. For one thing, the handwriting has to be taken into account, and by trained paleographers, and I don't think recognition software can handle that -- yet.

Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 50 comments I don't have anything to add to this, other than to say I'm reading along. Just to let you know there is at least one person in the audience.

My knowledge of King Arthur does not go much beyond watching Excalibur and Monty Python's Holy Grail. Some of these stories were just part of the culture, though, when I grew up, and I seemed to absorb the high points by osmosis. So even when I saw films about it, I already knew the basics. But I've never really went beyond that.

Well--I did read Parzival by von Eschenbach a few years ago. That added quite a bit to my knowledge level.

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Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments Bryan wrote: "I did read Parzival by von Eschenbach a few years ago. That added quite a bit to my knowledge level...."

Congratulations -- that is one of my favorites, although not really representative of the mainstream French literary tradition which underlies Malory.

(Unlike his rival, Hartmann von Aue, who translated much of Chretien de Troyes fairly faithfully into Middle High German, starting a fashion, Wolfram von Eschenbach found his own direction.)

I'm bit relieved to see you seem to have used Hatto's prose translation, which is quite good, and not Jessie Weston's old verse translation.

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Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 50 comments "I'm bit relieved to see you seem to have used Hatto's prose translation, which is quite good, and not Jessie Weston's old verse translation. "

My mistake--I just used the first link that came up. I read the old Mustard and Passage translation. Parzival. I should be more specific--it makes a difference!

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*takes notes*

I see that Jessie Weston doesn't get much love around here!

message 14: by Ian (last edited Jun 25, 2018 09:01AM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments Bryan wrote: ""I'm bit relieved to see you seem to have used Hatto's prose translation, which is quite good, and not Jessie Weston's old verse translation. "

My mistake--I just used the first link that came up...."

Mustard and Passage was my first introduction to medieval German literature outside the Nibelungenlied, and I recently ordered a used copy. I've done reviews comparing it to Hatto's version, and to Cyril Edward's more recent "Parzival and Titurel," from the Oxford World's Classics. (I also discuss Hatto's expressed dislike for the Mustard and Passage translation, and whether or not he is being fair to the translators.)

All the reviews I did for these three prose translations are comparative, since when I started Amazon software did not differentiate between the titles.

This sort of confusion is still rampant. The Kindle tab for the Goodreads page on Hatto's translation links to another book, in German (I haven't taken time to figure out whether it is a text edition or a modern translation).

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But is Cyril "okay"? Because that's the only one in my library :-(

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Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments Lia wrote: "*takes notes*

I see that Jessie Weston doesn't get much love around here!"

Weston's prose translations from Old French (and in one case from Middle Dutch) are quite readable, and mostly available from Kindle (I haven't checked elsewhere), although I mainly use pdfs from IA. Some of them are from the Perceval "Continuations," and I keep meaning to compare them to Bryant's which may give me material for reviews.

However, she chose to do Parzival in rhyming couplets, which not everyone will enjoy (certainly not me). And her scholarship there, including her introduction, inevitably is extremely dated (mid-to-late nineteenth century), so trusting her implicitly is often enough a mistake.

She got into Wolfram as a Wagner fan, and her knowledge of "Parsival" may have influenced some of her translation, although it probably would take a dedicated Germanist (with lots of spare time), using the nineteenth-century editions she had available, to figure out if that is case.

message 17: by Ian (last edited Jun 26, 2018 11:30AM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments Lia wrote: "But is Cyril "okay"? Because that's the only one in my library :-("

The Cyril Edwards translation is very good. It also contains a related, fragmentary, work, which expands on some of the back-story in "Parzival," and the tangled kinship ties between characters, which aren't entirely clear in "Parzival." (Just what does "cousin" mean in any particular passage, and which side of the family is involved?)

It may be harder to get going in it than with Mustard and Passage, though. As I pointed out in my reviews, the language is less colloquial, and Edwards points out that he does not attempt to simplify or clarify Wolfram's sometimes odd expressions and figures of speech. It should be read slowly, whereas Mustard and Passage reads more like a novel, and has maps and diagrams to explain some of the more puzzling parts of the action.

I think Hatto falls somewhere between these two in terms of ready accessibility. He is very precise in using technical terms in heraldry and hunting, details which will go right past most readers, or be unintelligible to them.

The Edwards translation originally appeared in the "Arthurian Studies" series, with a set of Wolfram's lyric poems, and some technical material on, e.g., medieval German art in the Parzival manuscripts. So the much-less-expensive Oxford edition is abridged, although the poems it does include are complete. It also has a new, probably more inviting, introduction concerning its place in Arthurian literature, rather than German Studies. I assume your library has the short version.

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You're right it's the Oxford edition, so it's abridged ;__; In the University library, we have some (very dry, very boring, very academic) books from the Arthurian Studies series, but they don't have Parzival.

We talked about Jessie Weston's issues before, didn't we? It's a bummer, I got interested in Grail / Arthurian literature through Eliot, who used Weston as his source. It's annoying when something that seemed really captivating and impressive turns out to be very, very flawed -- which seems like the perfect descriptor for Wagnerian stuff too.

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Comments on Boorman's Excalibur:

”The King is The Land”

Arthur is ever-present, even in his physical absence from the screen. He is the chief object of desire, even for Guinevere, who, it is implied, only turns to Lancelot because she cannot fully possess Arthur. As he says to her, he must live for his legend, and cannot be a mere “man.” In the context of his Grail story, Boorman makes a very important point about the medieval perception of kingship, “the king is the land, and the land is the king.” This echoes medieval political theology, in which the king is christus, God’s anointed representative on earth.
Source: Lesley Coote, The Art of Arthurian Cinema

This remark caught my attention because this seems to be the main point of Eliot’s Fisher King Catechism:

Metonymy, as we have noted, is a crucial aspect of myth. In the grail legends assembled by Jessie Weston in From Ritual to Romance, a book referred to in Eliot's notes to The Waste Land, the hero and his land are one. The king's impotence and the land's sterility are inseparable phenomena. And his healing is the healing of the land. The healing comes about through a questing knight, Perceval, who has to survive a series of ordeals and come to the impotent king in his barren land and ask him a series of questions. The questions, which are extremely simple, present no problem for the king, and the answers reaffirm his unity with his land. In several versions of the myth, the questions and answers are these: "Who are you? I am the king. Who is the king? The king is the land. What is the land? The land is the king." The catechism reaffirms the king's competence, reaffirms the rule of metonymy as a fact, not a trope, and in the process reestablishes the unity of subject and object. After answering the questions, the king literally returns to his land by dying, a return which removes the curse from the land. It should be noted that before his wound the king and his land were one, but he was not conscious of it. After his wound, the king could no longer experience unity with his land but could not escape the conscious knowledge that he and his land were related. After his answers to the catechism, the king knows both the relation and a restoration of unity, and he knows both at the same time.

Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 50 comments I've got that Weston book. I thing I remember Ian saying something about it when I mentioned picking it up.

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That book as in From Ritual to Romance, Bryan?

Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 50 comments Lia wrote: "That book as in From Ritual to Romance, Bryan?"

That's the one. I bought it quite a while back, but I haven't cracked the cover. One of the hazards of haunting library sales is that anything that looks even slightly interesting is worth picking up on the off-chance you'll be interested in it later. At 50 cents a piece, it's easy to make a lot of 'why-not' purchases. The 'why-not' now is I don't have shelf space.

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I'd make room for this one if I found one for sale. Even though it's mostly discredited by now, it seems impactful in the literary scene, at least for a time. And this is coming from someone who's been giving away printed books, because I'm shifting towards ebooks. (Also, IIRC, FR2R is now free on Gutenberg.)

message 24: by Ian (last edited Jun 26, 2018 10:50AM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments Bryan wrote: "Lia wrote: "That book as in From Ritual to Romance, Bryan?"

That's the one. I bought it quite a while back, but I haven't cracked the cover. One of the hazards of haunting library s..."

I wouln't discourage anyone from reading "From Ritual to Romance," as it is short, well-written, and contains some real information.

Unfortunately, Weston didn't distinguish between parallels. which may shed some light on motifs (story elements) found in the Grail romances, and sources of an original form of the Grail story.

Since you've been reading Bryant's "Perceval," you should be well-equipped to understand and evaluate portions of the book that required those of us who don't read Old French to take on faith, or to trust Weston's summaries in her two-volume "Legend of Sir Perceval."

Although long, long, out of favor with serious Arthurian scholars, the little book initially attracted considerable interest from those dealing with the subject, especially, I suspect, they were familiar with Weston's other books, which showed a good command of the material. (Unlike some people, who seemed, and seem, to re-invent the Grail to serve their own purposes, without the slightest recourse to any of the medieval texts.)

Roger Sherman Loomis, one of the top three or four Arthurian scholars of the twentieth century, and editor of the great "Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages" collection of studies, began his career accepting Weston's basic thesis.

Loomis soon found himself concentrating on Celtic origins, rather than Weston's Mystery Religions and Gnostics, and eventually gave up on her thesis. He lived long enough, and was honest enough, to reject his own early theories on Celtic sources, so it wasn't just hostility toward someone from outside academia that drove the shift in his case.

I may have mentioned that Weston got into a dispute with A.E. Waite, an English mystic (and prolific writer) once affiliated with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (Aleister Crowley, W.B. Yeats, and at various times a lot of other people).

Weston discussed the notion that the objects accompanying the Grail in some romances were related to the suits and trumps of Tarot Cards, and Waite pointed out that he had published on the topic earlier, and had not been credited.

Weston replied that she had not read Waite, and in any case the idea was well-known in esoteric circles, and obviously quite old.

She hadn't grasped that the "esoteric circles" she had encountered were full of friends, and former friends, of Waite, and they had passed on his recent ideas as part of a long tradition, and common knowledge among the initiated.

The connection to the Tarot deck (which, despite claims to the contrary, is not particularly old) is a blind alley, and they were arguing over something hardly worth taking seriously.

It is also a bit hard to swallow that, given her interests, Weston had never opened, or at least heard of, Waite's 1909 book on "The Hidden Church of the Holy Grail: Its Legends and Symbolism Considered in Their Affinity with Certain Mysteries of Initiation and Other Traces of a Secret Tradition in Christian Times."

This is a fascinating collection of other blind alleys, and bold assurances about the historically unknowable, and Waite later repudiated much of it. If you are curious, it is available at

Many years later (1933), Waite published a much less speculative book, "The Holy Grail." It actually contains rather good synopses of the medieval Grail texts. (This is not available on-line)

Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 50 comments This subject got me to thinking about just what books I had that might deal with Arthur and/or the Grail. I don't know if this is all of them, but what I know I have of the top of my head:

Le Morte d'Arthur: King Arthur and the Legends of the Round Table: A Rendition in Modern Idiom

The Romance of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table

King Arthur and his Knights by Henry Frith

King Arthur: Hero and Legend by Richard Barber

Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach

Romancing the Grail: Genre, Science, and Quest in Wolfram's Parzival by Arthur

From Ritual to Romance by Jessie Laidlay Weston

Epic and Romance: Essays on Medieval Literature by W.P. Ker

The Grail Legend by Emma Jung

Middle Ages by Hélène A. Guerber (Myths and Legends)


Given that I pick most of this stuff up at discard sales, I never really have any way of telling if what I run across is out of date or not. I bought the Groos book not long after reading Parzival (which, it's king of embarrassing to add, is the only one of the above I've managed to read yet.) There may be a couple of other things I have around here that deal with the legends, but I can't think of them right now

Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 50 comments Of course, that doesn't include:

Prince Valiant in the Days of Kings Arthur, Volume 1 by Hal Foster

and Prince Valiant Companions in Adventure (Prince Valiant #2) by Hal Foster

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Lia | 522 comments Mod
I wish I knew this sooner Ian. I feel like I wasted so much time trying to puzzle out what Eliot was smoking (You no doubt know about the mention of Tarot Deck in the Waste Land). Turns out it's the same weird occult stuff Yeats was caught with!

I can't believe there used to be serious academic studies in these. I would have thought they would get laughed out of the Ivory Tower. (Good thing Yeats had his own tower.)

Thanks for the background comment regarding Perceval/ Weston. I might actually read the whole thing (as opposed to just the bits relevant to Eliot's footnotes.) A quick look at my library catalogue says we actually have a number of books by Arthur Edward Waite (but no the Grail book as far as I can tell). I'm just not sure if I'd prioritize those, so I probably shouldn't scorn Weston for not reading that either...

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Bryan wrote: "This subject got me to thinking about just what books I had that might deal with Arthur and/or the Grail. I don't know if this is all of them, but what I know I have of the top of my head:


I just "plunder" Ian's "Arthuriana" bookshelf and then search my library catalogue. I own very few books on the subject right now, I'm still skimming the surface. Once I know what I value and what is so good I want to reread, I will start building my personal Arthuriana library.

message 29: by Lia (last edited Jun 26, 2018 10:07AM) (new)

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Another Boar-Hunting Hero

The connection between Mongán and Arthur would be even stronger, then, if we accept the Dutch Celticist A. G. van Hamel’s unjustly overlooked thesis that Arthur the dux bellorum and Finn the leader of Ireland’s premier fian, “hunting and warring band,” are matching cognate manifestations of what he dubbed the Celtic “exemplary hero”. A socializing leader of fellow heroes, this figure protects society against hostile, often supernatural, invasion and goes on forays into the Otherworld, from which he emerges with treasures to share and stories to tell. The hero-leader as profiled by van Hamel is also devoted to hunting, particularly of boars, and takes an interest in the development of young heroes in the making. Source: Arthur and the Irish Joseph Falaky Nagy

Sounds like Odysseus's resume:
- leader of fellow heroes (Troy, making peace between Agamemnon and Achilles.)
- protects his crew (Circe etc)
- forays into the Otherworld (everything between Troy and Scheria)
- boar hunting (and he killed a stag to feed his hungry men.)
- arguably associated with Apollo's festival which is associated with initiation of young men into adult community. His song is also entangled with Hermes/Apollo -- the Adult/youth initiation pair.
Also, Boar-association:
- Odysseus' own maturation was marked by a boar hunt that "pained" him and also "pained" the boar. (Thus fulfilling his name.)
- His closest sidekick is a swine-herd
- the goat herd insulted "beggar" Odysseus by punning his baldness/ shabby appearance with pig
- his crew was transformed into pigs. Circe transform men into different animals, presumably he saw pigs as fitting for Odysseus' mates.

Maybe Odysseus and the Irish/ Arthurian tales are related?

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Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments Bryan wrote: "This subject got me to thinking about just what books I had that might deal with Arthur and/or the Grail. I don't know if this is all of them, but what I know I have of the top of my head:..."

I'm not familiar with several of the titles, but some of the others look good.

W.P. Ker's "Epic and Romance" is a very, very good (book), but not in this connection. It probably should have been titled something like "The Medieval Epic: with an Essay on Romance."

After four long chapters showing why he prefers epic stories (including the Icelandic sagas), and detailed examinations of some of them (including noting the presence of romance elements), he gets around to just one chapter (V) on Romance. Chretien de Troyes, the fountainhead of Arthurian romance (so far as we know), gets a few pages. So anyone are expecting Arthur and/or the Grail, and hasn't read the long analytical table of contents, will be unpleasantly surprised.

I did a long, mostly laudatory, review, of Kindle editions of the book, which appears with at least two of them, and later edited it to go with the Dover paperback edition, which seems to be available only used. See

I may add more comments on the list later.

message 31: by Ian (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments Lia wrote: "Another Boar-Hunting Hero

The connection between Mongán and Arthur would be even stronger, then, if we accept the Dutch Celticist A. G. van Hamel’s unjustly overlooked thesis that Arthur the dux bellorum and Finn the leader of Ireland’s premier fian, “hunting and warring band,” are matching cognate manifestations of what he dubbed the Celtic “exemplary hero” ..."

van Hamel's thesis was used, or perhaps independently rediscovered, by Tim Powers, in a novel which I won't identify, for fear of producing a giant spoiler. (Some names in the Amazon description are a dead giveaway of part of the story for those in the know.) Powers (fairly) planted enough evidence early on for me to guess at part of the mystery. Fortunately, at least for me, what is most interesting about the book is how Powers uses the idea, not the basic concept.

message 32: by Lia (new)

Lia | 522 comments Mod
Thanks for trying to prevent spoilers... but then you already know I'll go through your shelf and spoil it for myself...

I'm struggling to retain all these theories being thrown at me. Maybe it's time to turn to Tim Powers. This isn't slacking off guise, this is serious research~ ¯\_(˶′◡‵˶)_/¯

message 33: by Lia (new)

Lia | 522 comments Mod

Ha! First line is already giving it away, IN ALL CAPS.

“What sort of creatures live down here?' Duffy whispered in the dark tunnel. 'Snakes? Trolls?'
'I suppose there may be snakes,' the old enchanter replied impatiently. 'No trolls. Not really trolls.”

I'm pretty sure Tim Powers is trolling his readers here...

message 34: by Ian (last edited Jun 26, 2018 12:17PM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments Bryan wrote: "This subject got me to thinking about just what books I had that might deal with Arthur and/or the Grail. I don't know if this is all of them, but what I know I have of the top of my head..."

The first two books on your list are problematic.

As I've noted elsewhere (I no longer remember very clearly) the "Modern Rendition" is a sort of "Reader's Digest" condensed book, sacrificing Malory's prose, but containing all the incidents. It is based on the Winchester Manuscript of Malory, a subject I won't go into here. The Robert Graves introduction allows him to display his ignorance of medieval prose styles.

The second, "The Romance...." is a very nice edition, if it has all of the Arthur Rackham illustrations. Unfortunately, Pollard, who edited an edition based squarely on the Caxton printed texts (another part of the long story) without much meddling, abridged this one, and I strongly suspect he cleaned it up lest it corrupt the morals of a young readership the illustrations would attract.

Malory's language is pretty scary in an original-spelling edition, but modern (and regularized) spellings reveal it as pretty much Early Modern English, although Late Middle English is a valid description, too (as it takes into account how Malory would have pronounced it).

Think of it as somewhere between Chaucer and Shakespeare. A complete normalized-spelling edition with a good glossary or footnotes for the obsolete words and grammar, isn't all that difficult to read, once past the initial learning curve. There are a few passages which don't actually make grammatical sense, and editors tend to tidy up the punctuation so it isn't too obvious. It is clear what Malory is talking about, however. (Some of them are places where Malory -- contra Graves -- is ruthlessly abridging a very rhetorical French original, and lost track of the sentence structure.)

Pollard's other modernized edition has been reprinted many times (at least once as "unexpurgated"), and there are some rivals out there. One edition of Pollard is available for Kindle from Delphi (see below).

My personal favorite is the two-volume Penguin edition, by another editor, Janet Cowen, but I must confess that it is not markedly superior to several others.

I go into the two-texts situation with the Morte D'Arthur, and some related issues, in my Amazon review of the Kindle book from Delphi Classics, "Complete Works of Sir Thomas Malory," which includes Pollard's main edition *and* a transcript (uncredited) of the Winchester Manuscript, which at first glance is impossible, and made more so by lack of its own glossary. See

It is available for Nook and Kobo as well. It is incredibly cheap, even without considering how much is in it, and how expensive any other complete form of the Winchester Manuscript is.

message 35: by Lia (new)

Lia | 522 comments Mod
Ian's other post that mentioned the problem with the "Modern Rendition" is here:

See #12

message 36: by Ian (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments Lia wrote: "Ian's other post that mentioned the problem with the "Modern Rendition" is here:

See #12"


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