Home » Arthurian Junk » Artus, King of Camelot

Artus, King of Camelot

I’ve decided that it’s been too long since I’ve written anything dealing with Arthur and seeing that I’ve seemed to have been in a rather Hebraic mode I’ve decided to reflect upon Hebrew work of “The Book of Destruction of King Artus’ Round Table.” Or as it appears in the Hebrew[1]:

“ספר השמד הטבלה העבלה העגלה המלך ארטוש”

So evidently this fragmented tale of Artus [2]אָרטוּשׁ tells of the king’s rather dismay birth story of how Uther (Uter) Pendragon found a way into the Lady Igraine’s (Izerna) bedroom (thanks of course to Merlin), which in classically leads to Igraine being with child (Yay Artus).  Then as Drukker records: “and [Uther] tells her that since she does not know who the father of her child is, once the baby is born he will be given to Merlin who will bring him up. This child is the future King Arthur.”  For the most part (at least from how the Drukker’s article relates this tale) it seems that Arthur’s birth is the norm (see Le Morte D’Arthur).  The interesting thing I have seen though is the fact that Uther doesn’t tell his wife that he’s the father in this version, different from that of Malory’s tale which records

“That is truth, said the king, as ye said; for it was I myself that came in the likeness, and therefore dismay you not, I am the father of the child”

After this story the Hebrew version jumps suddenly the Arthur’s knights returning from their famous Holy Grail quest.  Many of the Knights (as usual) seemed to have died in the quest, so Arthur holds a tournament to refill the table so speak.  Here as often is the case Lancelot לַנצֶולוֹט[3] and the Queen (Zinevra) are lovers, and Agravan tells this to Arthur.  As the normal Arthur doesn’t want to believe him… but we come to find out that Lancelot goes into disguise in the tournament and he does well… however the text breaks off at this point[4].

Of fun is the way that there are certain allusions to the Bible such as Lancelot being said from the “House of David,” or the phrase of “is it not written[5].”  I mean why not?  I think the tales of Arthur and his knights would sometimes fit into the Biblical pages all too well.  Arthur is for the most part presented as a wise and noble king, often the definite “Christian” king but with some severe problems (Modred comes to mind… as well as somehow not knowing what Lancelot and Guinevere were doing), he’s in many ways quite similar to David who has his own sins and problems, but who is after all “A man after God’s own heart.”  Moreover he does in a sense come out of nowhere, a mere squire and pulls out a sword becoming King which does start war.  David starts off as a mere shepherd, gets anointed, and has to solidify his kingship.

There is also Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table and David’s mighty men.  Of these Gawain comes to mind who when compared to Joab are quite similar.  Gawain is Arthur’s nephew, so too  is Joab David’s nephew (yay Zeruiah and Morgause), both by sisters by the way), both for the most part of men who are honorable but do several deeds which betray them of their honors and both in reality bring about their own downfall[6].  Moreover the role of Women at times over flow from common structure, I’m reminded here, of Nimue, who like Deborah pushes past her role as prescribed by the time.  As Deborah aids the men in her story Nimue (especially in Malory’s work) constantly aids the knights in her story.  (We’ll just forget about her sealing up Merlin for now).

“And at the next stroke Sir Accolon struck him such a stroke that by the damosel’s enchantment the sword Excalibur fell out of Accolon’s hand to the earth.”

Finally I think there’s a certain similarity with Excalibur and the Ark of Covenant, both are thought to be the reasons in many cases that the battle are won, but the key point of them is misunderstood.  For example it is God which matters not the Ark and it is Excalibur’s sheath which is important not the sword itself.

“Ye are more unwise, said Merlin, for the scabbard is worth ten of the swords, for whiles ye have the scabbard upon you, ye shall never lose no blood, be ye never so sore wounded; therefore keep well the scabbard always with you.”

While Arthur of course a Christian legend one does have to wonder how much of Arthurian legend was influenced by the stories of the Bible, specific the Jewish Old Tesatment[7].  Which I would assume only help a Jewish translator take stories for his purposes.

– Le Bel Inconnu


[1] As an aside the majority of the information pertaining to this Hebrew version of Arthur comes from Tamar S. Drukker’s articles Thirteenth-Century Arthurian Tale in Hebrew: A Unique Literary Exchange, at some venture I would love to have Curt Leviant’s: King Artus: a Hebrew Arthurian Romance of 1279.  I’ve also come to recently find a new article I need to find: Hebraizing Arthurian Romance: The Originality of Melech Artus by Paul R. Rovang Also I would be interested in if anyone knew if Gaster’s translation could be found online (1909).

[2] reaching out on limb, but I’m assuming it would be pointed something like this, but that’s neither here nor there ארטוש

[3] Again this is just me having fun trying to point something.  Of course I really have no idea what I’m doing… but ah whatever… לנצולוט

[4] At this point again Drukker should be noted: “The text seems to be a close, though abridged, rendition of the narrative of Arthur’s birth as found in the early thirteenth-century Old French romance Merlin, followed by Lancelot’s tale from the prose Morte Artu. Though the immediate source is unknown, given the translator’s recourse”

[5] It shoulded noted that some these allusions are merely because its written in Hebrew also Drukker again: “the translator transforms the romance from a popular tale in the vernacular to one written in the language of Scripture and liturgy, one which would be understood mainly by an educated elite.”

[6] Drukker notes this similarity: “One obvious echo is the love triangle between King David, Bathsheba and Uriah which seems to be behind the love story between Uther and Izerna, Arthur’s parents.”

[7] For an interesting comparison of Camelot and Zion note Yael Klangwisan’s article “Camelot” : The Paradox of Zion in Isaiah

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