Arthurian Legend is a group of stories of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. The legends originated as a collection of folk tales passed down by oral tradition. As the stories spread through Europe different scenes as well as different versions appear in different countries. Consequently some of the stories have minor contradictions with each other. However, even though the story has been modified on several occasions, the same basic stories of adventure, romance, combat, betrayal, and chivalry remain the same. Stories of the rise and the fall of heroes are still very much at their core.
One interesting part of the Arthur legend is that a real Arthur may have existed. A sixth century record of the Saxon invasion of Briton tells of a General Arthuriur who during the invasion led his troops to many victories over the invaders. During the reign of Henry II, excavators uncovered a tomb baring the inscription Here lies buried the renowned King Arthur in the Isle of Avalon (Malory, 576). It contained the skeletal remains of a tall man who apparently died of a head wound. The real Arthur, whoever he was, was eventually transformed into the epic hero and king of the Britons we know him as today. In these epics he is given almost superhuman powers and even immorality in some stories by saying that one day he will come back in a time when his people need him the most.
The tales eventually found their way into scholarly writings like Nenius History of the Britons (800, Latin) and Geoffrey of Monmouths History of the Kings of Briton (1136, Latin) in which it is believed the order of knighthood was introduced to the legend. During the War of the Roses in 1485, Malorys Le Morte dArthur became the first English version of the Arthur Legend printed in the English language. In this version of the story, Malory added to the knightly code and made Arthur more of a national hero. This was especially important during the time of civil war. Another later English version of the story was Idyllss of the Kings, written in 1888 by Alfred Lord Tennyson and focused on the founding of Camelot and the imperfect people who did not live up to its ideals. Throughout these newer versions in English and other common languages more people began to read them and make comparisons. Backgrounds, children, relationships, how well they did their jobs, and lived up to the code of chivalry are common areas of comparison.
In fact, two of the more famous characters, Arthur and Lancelot have many differences and similarities in these areas. In comparing the backgrounds of the two men, people find that they were both raised in fosterage. Arthur was the illegitimate son of Uther Pendragon and Lady Igraine of Cornwall. Shortly after his birth he was given to Merlin to give to Sir Ector (sometimes called Ectorius) to raise as his own child. After the Death of Uther, and no one but Merlin knowing who Arthur was, a good many competitors went after the throne. To settle the dispute a bishop asked them all to pray for a sign.
Then miraculously a sword appeared driven into a stone in the courtyard. The sword bore an inscription on it declaring that whoever could pull it out of the stone would be king. All the nobles present and several famous knights attempted to remove the sword but none were successful. The sword stayed in the stone for several months. It came time for the annual tournament for the Pentecost.
Young Arthur was serving as squire to his recently knighted foster brother Sir Kay. When he realized he forgot his sword, he sent Arthur back to the inn to get it. When he returned to the inn he found that it was locked up and everyone was at the tournament so he could not get in. Not wanting to disappoint his brother he remembered seeing a sword in the churchyard and gave it to his master who recognized it instantly. To prove that Arthur was the one who pulled the sword they took him back to the stone and replaced the sword. Kay tried to pull the sword from the stone first but could not do so.
Finally, Arthur pulled the sword again, proving his right to rule. Years later, Arthur saw Merlin being chased by three men and he chased the men away. As they were walking they met a mysterious knight who would not let them pass unless he beat them in a joust. After the first charge both spears are broken. They then dismounted and went at each other with their swords.
During the long battle the other knight split Arthurs sword and would have killed him had Merlin not put him to sleep with his magic. Arthur and Merlin then departed heading for a hermits cabin to rest. The two left the cabin the next day. Arthur, still in need of a sword, was led by Merlin to a lake where he said that he would get a new sword. When they arrived Arthur saw a sword in the middle of the lake held by a hand.
The Lady of the Lake offered the sword to Arthur in exchange for a future favor. He then got on a boat and claimed the sword Excalibur and is scabbard. Lancelot (also spelled Launcelot and sometimes called Lancelot of the Lake and Prince of Benoioc or Brittany) like Arthur was also raised in fosterage. King Ban was a strong supporter of Arthur and when his castle came under attack he tried to escape to Camelot with his wife and infant son Lancelot. However, the escaping monarch saw his castle burning in the night and died of grief. His wife laid her son down to be with her dying husband.
Upon her return she saw her son in the arms of a nymph who threw herself into the lake upon her approach. This nymph was later found out to be the Lady of the Lake who took young Lancelot and trained him in her court. When Lancelot was matured he was taken to Arthurs court and was knighted. As a result of his training he was one of the greatest knights Arthur had. It was also said that Lancelot could not be beaten except by magic or betrayal.
Another similarity is that both Arthur and Lancelot had illegitimate children but they turned out differently. Arthurs son Mordrid, was also his nephew because his mother was Arthurs sister Morgen la Fay (also called Morgasue or Morgana). Mordrid was one of Arthurs greatest enemies. He tried to break up the Round Table by exposing the affair between Guenevere (also spelled Guinevere or Guenever) and Lancelot. In some legends he is even said to have wanted Guenevere for himself and even plotted to kill the king. In the end at The Battle of Camlan, the high point of Mordrids revolt, the two killed each other.
Contrastingly, Lancelots illegitimate son by Elinne of Astolat was Galahad (sometimes called Galahed and the Grail Knight) who appeared out of nowhere at a time when his fathers character flaws were beginning to show. Compared to his father Galahad was the perfect model of Christianity and chivalry, the perfect example of what a knight should be. He disproves the rule where bastards were renown for their ignoble natures (Corless, deGanis, n.p.). The old hermit who accompanied him convinced the court that he was the only one who could claim the Siege Perilous. Galahad was no sooner knighted than he receives a vision of the Holy Grail and decided to search it out and in the end was the only knight who found it.
However, when he touched the grail it killed him. The relationship between the two men and Guenevere is also an interesting subject for comparison. When Arthur first met Guenevere he was 18, (Corless, Guenever, n.p.) five years older then she was. They met when he was helping her father with a war. Four years later his advisors suggested that he choose a wife. His first choice was Guenevere and said that she was the finest lady in the land. Merlin foreseeing her affair with Lancelot advised him to choose another.
Arthur ignored this advice and married her anyway. This turned what turned out to be little more than a marriage of state. Lancelot had a different relationship with Guenevere. He arrived at Arthurs court as a young squire of 16, 11 years younger then Guenevere (Corless, Guenever, n.p.) At first she doubted his claims of prowess but soon learned he was far from bragging and he quickly became her favorite champion and he went to great lengths to please her. By the time he was made a full knight he and the Queen were very much in love and rumors of their affair started to surface. On more then one occasion Lancelot saved Guenevere form various perils.
One such peril happened when Guenevere was riding through the woods with a few knights and some of her ladies in waiting. In the woods that day was a rogue knight named Melegans. He had been watching the queen for quite some time waiting for the right time to kidnap her. Now for the first time Lancelot was not with her . As her company moved through the woods Melegans attacked the sparsely armed party with a fully armored f …