I hope this isn't too late for this subject, but a few people were asking
about the Arthur book by Goodrich. Unfortunately I bought this book A few
years ago under the apprehension that it might actually be useful, within
a few pages I soon found out otherwise. It's appalling!! First of all she
claims that Chretien de Troyes had access to the equivalent of the
Arthurian public record office in writing his texts in the late twelfth
century, something altogether extraordinary and unlikely, not even
Chretien himself claims this. She also states that Arthur fought against
the Vikings - oh well only a few hundred years out, not too bad. She goes
on to claim that she found the actual island of Avalon, not just where it
once was, but that she's in fact been there herself. Yes she does have
several degrees, but as stated these are not in Celtic studies, or
history, but in French literature and Romance philology - not the best of
bases for Arthur stuff. That she knows bugger-all about Celtic
linguistics is proved by her equation of Lancelot with Angus. This just
simply is not the case, and anyway Lancelot only gets mentioned for the
first time about seven hundred years after Arthur is supposed to have
lived, making it unlikely that he ever had any existance in reality at all.
If you want evidence for Arthur, don't look for it the High
Medieval French Romances, or any work based upon them. Even the Historia
Brittonum and the Annales Cambriae have to be discounted for the purposes
of history as simply being composed too late to be reliable. On this see
David Dumville, 'Sub-Roman Britain: History and Legend', History, 1977,
or his, 'The Historical Value of the Historia Brittonum', Arthurian
Literature, 1984/5/6 (sorry can't remember exactly). These texts were
composed in specifically ninth or tenth century circumstances and are too
infused with the fabulous to be seen as 'good hard evidence'.
The archaic B-text of the poem Y Gododdin contains the line,
after eulogizing a fallen British warrior, 'But he was no Arthur'. This
line, it has recently been argued, was probably written down sometime in
the second half of the seventh century in northern Britain. This is our
best evidence for the existance of someone of the name Arthur. It does
however tell us nothing about his activities, companions, enemies,
religion, or nationality, just that he was regarded as a great warrior.
I would love for Arthur to be an historically proveable person,
but he probably isn't. Connections with Badon, and Merlin and the Lady of
the Lake and Lancelot and Medraut and Avalon belong within the realms of
literature, rather than history.
I guess Winston Churchill got it right when he said - 'If Arthur
didn't live, he should have.'
We have enough fictional characters from the Middle Ages, why not
just add one more. The Arthur of the Mabinogion is really not that
diffeent from the Arthur of the Historia Brittonum, or the Annals. The
Annals have him killing 500 in one charge, on his own, whilst the
Historia Britonnum has a collection of fabulous tales that are later to
be found in Culwch and Olwen. The Saints Lives and later Welsh tales
don;t really have him as a character, but rather as 'the big king' who's
court and times stories could be placed in.
If I don't stop rambling now I never will.
Mark Handley, Trinity Hall, Cambridge.