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A Kinder Sir Kay?

Lately I’ve been intrigued as I’ve seen a different outlook of the well known Sir Kay.  As most people know in most of the most of Arthurian literature Kay is nothing by a boor.

Recently I’ve heard of a poem by Girard of Amiens titled Le Roman d’Escanor[1].  The poem involves two stories one basically of Gawain being accused by Escanor le Beau unjustly and those adventures involved thereafter and the other is with Sir Kay who quite surprisingly is the “romantic lead for once,” with the Lady Andrivete[2].  While the bit with Gawain I’m sure is fun, the fact that for once Kay turns more back to his roots (in a sense) is all the more fascinating.

The basic side to Sir Kay’s story starts out as any story ought to start, that is knights jousting one another in a tournament and one in which Kay is participating.  Upon seeing the fair Andrivete Kay decides that he must win, he has after all fallen in love at first sight.  This love evidently gets Kay to do so well that he evidently even get’s Andrivete (future Queen of Northumberland) to look at him in a different light.  Kay who has remained somewhat mysterious (due in part to changing his weapons and their color), even gets everyone else intrigued in who he is.  Well… Kay luck soon runs out and he’s thrown from his horse and badly wounded.  Interesting enough Kay ponders if he’s to die for his new love, something his friend Brian tells him he’s doesn’t have to worry about.[3]

At Andrivete’s first face to face meeting with Kay, the knight known for his ill use of his tongue suddenly finds himself too shy to say anything.   As Kay seems too timid to say anything Andrivete doesn’t want to risk to declare her love either… (Fun drama stuff).  Well Kay get’s called back to Arthur’s side before anything could be done, and much to Kay’s, Andrivete’s, and her father’s (Canor) disappointment.  Time passes by and suddenly Andrivete finds herself in trouble because of her uncle.  Riding away from her home she eventually comes to Gawain (who as always is courteous).  In time this leads to Kay and her meeting up once more and in short order it also brings about their marriage[4].

Girard’s Kay becomes one who is human and while one can certainly see the other “traditions” of Kay’s personality in this tale it all helps to shape him as something more[5].

Moving back a little though one can find while Kay has little treatment of the sort that Girard gave him, in the older welsh tales Sir Kay or rather Cai was presented much more preferably.  For example in the tale of Culhwch and Olwen Cai is a hero who some extraordinary powers and who has rather remarkable battle skills, again Cai isn’t perfect and has features which would link to later tradition such as “being inhospitable to strangers and stubborn and quick to take offence[6].”

Sir Cai begins as one of the most important of Arthur’s knights, being able to do feats no normal knight could, but time Sir Cai fades away with most of his good traits and Sir Kay comes onto the scene.  Yes, Kay who for the most part is never portrayed in the best of lights.  (Although one can argue that he is still one the most loyal knights of Arthur’s).  Moreover while Kay almost always is not a knight to be respected in most of the later Arthurian literature, one must still remember his earlier role in the court.  Malory does write that in the early wars Kay fought valiantly in the various early wars of his king and proves himself well in combat[7].  A distant echo of Kay used to be.

Even still while Kay may not be the most pleasant of characters, I still ponder if he is still one of the most enjoyable in the latter stories.  After all with Kay there isn’t a lack of poetic justice with him, like when Gareth who he mocks since his coming to the court, ends up unhorsing him and taking his gear.  Or when Percival breaks his arms for Kay’s ill treatment of the prophesying maiden.  While the Kay most of us know might not have the powers of his welsh self, and may not be redeemable as the version (who for once gets the girl), there is just something attractive to Kay.  Someone whom we love to hate and root against.

Or a character that we could easily wonder how much we have in ourselves.

– Updated, 12/12/14  to have fuller Bibliographical data.


[1] If anyone knows of a full English translation of this text please pass on the info. (Or if one is in the works) Linda Gowans translated a few paragraphs in her work Cei and the Arthurian Legend. 

[2] Linda M. Gowans, Cei and the Arthurian legend (Arthurian Studies, 18). Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1988, 119

119

[3] Ibid., 119-120.

[4] Ibid., 120-21.

[5] Ibid., 121.

[6] Lupack, Alan. The Oxford Guide to Arthurian Literature and Legend. Oxford Paperback Reference. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007, 453.

[7] Ibid., 454.

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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

Love and Camelot

I’ve been looking at the stories of Camelot from a different perspective as of late. And I think I’ve come to a conclusion that the way in which love is broken in the Arthurian Mythos. Moreover that the Kingdom which was based on high ideals basically falls apart because of love and I have to wonder, should Arthur had ever loved at all? After all what good was the love between Guinevere and Lancelot? Or for that matter what was the good between the love that Gawain shared for his brothers and his fellow knights?

I suppose if I’m to talk about love I need to look firstly at the story of Merlin and Nimue (or whatever name you prefer for her). Nimue’s big claim to fame comes down to the fact that it is she who seals the grand wizard Merlin. Of course you have to wonder then if Nimue is an evil wretch or just perplexing girl? “The Fickle Nimue” as T.H. White puts it in the Ill made knight. In all the legends Merlin falls for the girl, some of them it’s a genuine love others it’s a magical enchantment which causes him to fall in love. Of course the same has to be wondered about Nimue does she love the old wizard or just another one of those evil temptresses? In the French vulgate Estoire de Merlin her love is genuine and wanting the wizard all for herself is the whole reason for the trapping. In Tennyson works she’s a rather evil character, Le Morte it seems more out of annoyance than any sort of evil act.

But even in the best of situations where both of the characters love one another, Arthur is still deprived of his best advisor because of love. Which is just the first step into the eventual downfall of Arthur’s kingdom and one wonders why Merlin and Nimue had to love at all? Of course losing an advisor however powerful one may be is just one step. Besides Arthur has been taught from boyhood (in some of the tales) by Merlin so even without Merlin Arthur should be able to rule a kingdom. Merlin is taken away from Arthur due to the effects of love what good was it?

The best knights of the kingdom are also affected by love, Lancelot has his whole fling with Guinevere (which will be dealt with below), but we also have Sir Tristan and Isolde. Tristan’s story is in many ways a mirror of Lancelot’s. Both are said to be among the greatest knights in the realm. In Marlory’s work these knights are claimed as both the best Knight and Lovers in the realm. Lancelot usually coming out on top, but Tristan is never far behind. Yet Tristan like Lancelot loves one who meant for another. Isolde is meant for King Mark, Tristan’s uncle. The one thing this knight does have going for him that Lancelot doesn’t is that their whole love affair is produce from drinking a love potion that wasn’t meant for Isolde and him but Isolde and Mark.

In some of legends it could also be noted that Mark is from kindly King Arthur and may even been seen as quite the sadistic man in his vengeance against Tristan. It is by the King’s hands that Tristan is killed in a rather unheroic way. Love with Tristan is nothing but a bloody mess. It robs Arthur of one of his greatest knights, wreaks havoc in the Cornish kingdom, and leaves Tristan to die in quite the unhonorable way. What use then would Tristan’s love for Isolde? Love potions aside this love did little good for the grand Arthurian Kingdom, except perhaps as a warning to Lancelot and the good queen. Though it would seem the two took little heed to their fellow knight’s sad adventure.

Which I suppose brings us into the tragedy which makes the legend of Arthur. That is the love between Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot which ultimately brings down the kingdom. Arthur sees the lovely girl and finds that he has fallen for her, he decides that it is she whom he wishes to wed. Merlin warns against this, but hey love’s overflowing the mind of Arthur. In the earliest of legends good ol’ Gwen is a decent girl, but in the later and the vast majority she and Lancelot are meant for each other. Merlin warning that she meant for another man Arthur doesn’t heed. One has to ponder how Camelot would have gone if Arthur had married another or if Lancelot had never stepped into the kingdom. But he does and like Guinevere his first meeting fills his heart with love for the girl. Wonderful, just absolutely wonderful, The Queen and Arthur’s best knight love each other.

Good grief the sadness that this love causes. After by the time everyone finds out and everyone does find out the kingdom goes down the tubes. Arthur who is nothing like the vile King Mark is torn between what to do and what the law states and besides the knights are calling something to be done. Arthur’s reputation has been tarnished and something must be done. In T.H. White’s account it is something he does with a heavy heart. Their love splits the kingdom and what’s all the more sad is why it should even be upheld as some great love. It was adultery and besides the warning Merlin gives to Arthur which he ignores what causes did the Good Queen have to do it?

Of course they’re found out, these sorts of things are always found out and Art hur must burn her or whatever the law says. Lancelot loving the queen goes to save, but kills two knights of importance while doing so, one of whom Lancelot purports to love as his favorite; Sir Gareth brother of Sir Gawain. This is where Gawain’s love gets into the mix of things and they just screw up. He loves his brothers, but then again who doesn’t love Sir Gareth? He’s one of the most gentlest of knights, actually upholds the codes of knighthood, won his own fair maiden in some sort of manner, does the wish of the king, refuses to harm the man who he’s adored since well for ever. But Gareth is killed for the love he holds for Lancelot, refusing to wear armor or bear sword against his fellow knight.

His death along with Sir Gaheris (who is sometimes fused into Sir Gareth anyhow) breaks whatever love Gawain has for Lancelot and he persuades Arthur to war. It is this war which cripples the kingdom and doesn’t do any good; save give Mordred a try for the throne, which ends in Arthur’s death and the death of Camelot. In the end one once more has to ponder what in the world did love do for the good of Camelot? The well proclaimed love of Lancelot and Guinevere splits the kingdom apart, good knights die because of it, Lancelot could have had the lovely Elaine had his love for Guinevere not been, and so she dies as well. There love does nothing but cause strife.

The love which Gawain has for his brother, a love which is very much one of the few which ought to not have repercussion does. After all he does mix in vengeance with his love as he time and time again forces Arthur to keep the battle up. His love does nothing but make an already bad situation worse. He ends up and then at last repents, but still the damage of his love has been done. Guinevere and Lancelot both survive the war only to find that the love they have has been tarnished. They die as monk and a nun, funny how the love they had when it was wrong was so strong, but when at last it not as bad the bad taste of what has happen lasts in their mouth.

Love ruined Camelot. Ironically since it was a kingdom that didn’t want to rule with might but ideals and love. Love killed the kingdom which would have let it flourish, causes the downfall of the greatest knights in the land, it causes the departure of Arthur’s wise wizard, it splits the kingdom and causes Camelot to die. Arthur in the end dies without any of his favorite knights, without his advisor, or the woman who should have been his lover. The tragedy of love I suppose is the sad truth of how so often instead of building up it can tear things apart. The tragedy of Arthur is that love ruined him where it ought to have saved him.

– Le Bel Inconnu

I, Gawain

I feel the warmth of my blood running down from the top of my head and I now know that I shall never again see the light of day. I Gawain have made many terrible and tragic mistakes, yet I still hope that there is a place for me within the realm of my Lord Jesus. Would that my sins be forgiven despite the pain that I have caused those around me, yea, I have caused Camelot to die. This wound I have received is one that I more than well deserve. The pain that I feel is much too little in retribution for the sin that I have caused. O Camelot what have I done to you?When did I become a man bent on destruction? Long ago… so very long ago seems the days when I stood before the great Green Knight. When I stood before my uncle’s table and wielded an axe much too heavy for my hands. I can still feel the cool handle in my hands and I can remember that giant’s dark eyes. I remember striking the blow that cleaved his head off his shoulders. And the amazed looks that we all had when he picked his own head up. He was an awesome wizard through and through. Oh how I miss those days, the days of my youth, of my naivety. The days that Gareth was still enjoying, that he could have enjoyed all his life, had it not been for me.

I refused what he accepted to do. I am no knight, no, I am knave. I should have been in the escort despite my unwillingness of the situation. But Gareth couldn’t refuse Arthur, not the king he loved above all. Gareth was killed by Lancelot and I swore by my blood he would pay. But my vow has brought low our great kingdom of Britain. My blood has been spilled and yet Lancelot goes on. Oh Gareth, my sweet silver hair brother… I… I still hear the cries of Lyonesse, why did I not take your place? Now what should have been one’s couple happiness has been broken. Can God forgive me for this sin?

Memories flicker back to me now, and now I recall my own sweet love. My Lady Ragnelle… oh how he beauty was matchless in all the land. Meeting her was the favorite of my quests, if I were to go back to a time it when she still lived. Funny, I had thought that I would stop mourning over her. But I guess I never shall. I Gawain saved Arthur once long ago back when I still young and I quested for the answer to what women wanted the most. Ragnelle told me sovereynté, to make one’s own decisions. I remember lifting the curse from her and how she went from hag to the most beautiful women… Oh my Lady Ragnelle please be with those who receive my soul.

I have forced a war with Lancelot and I have lost, my liege Arthur has lost, and even now he is to fight Modred. I have damned Arthur, and that damnation will surely follow me into purgatory. I am losing hope for anything else, but that place of fire. What the grail didn’t take of Arthur’s Knights, have been lost with this war against Lancelot. Oh the war that could have been avoided. Arthur would have let go of Guinevere after Lancelot had rescued her. Had not Gareth been killed, I would not have forced Arthur’s hand. But Alas I cannot take back my actions and what is done is done.

How will Bards sing of me? What are to be my legends, and had I have left any sort of name for myself? I Gawain have lost all my honor and will surely disappear into the annals of history. Surely they will prefer tales of Lancelot and Tristan. After all why not, they are called the greatest of the kingdom. Certainly Galahad will have a bigger place then me, that Holy Saint verses I the world’s greatest sinner. All too often I have let anger rule me, I have no excuse for that and I only hope that I can be forgiven for those sins as well. Oh how minor they seem to me when compared to what I have caused.
My sight is failing and I fear that my time has come. I have hopes that the letter I sent to Lancelot might come to him in time to save Arthur. If not then I have doubly failed my king and Camelot is certainly doom. Darkness is starting to surround me, at least I have gone out as all knights wish, from the wounds of battle. Aye, I have my many wounds and yet I could not save Arthur. Whatever honor I had sought is gone. God forgive me, I shiver, why is death this cold? Is not Hell hot? Oh how I have let loose my hopes for home hereafter.

I can barely see, but even I know that I see not my wife, nor my dear brother. I can only see the faces of those who I killed whether justly or unjustly. I shiver again; my warm blood has gone cold. Certainly Hell is what waits. Even Purgatory is too good a place for my soul. Forgive me Camelot, forgive me Lancelot, forgive me my king, and blood, dear Arthur. And forgive me precious Gareth, when Jesus does his judging I ask that you entreat him for me…

Everything is so very… very… dark…

– Le Bel Inconnu

Sir Gareth of Orkney

At some point in my life I want to take a legend and rework for my self and I guess make it something more in my style of prose. I have a feeling that if I do this, it will be Arthur and his knights, and more specially Sir Gareth. After all one of most beloved stories are those of Le Morte d’Arthur, it might be sad, but I think Arthur has had a nice little effect on my life. I grew up with him, took adventures of sorts with him. When I first read the Tale of Sir Gareth I really grew to love the character. I rallied for him as he fought against the various colored knights. Even with the sharp tongue of Lady Lynette against him. I kind of sympathized with him, and had wishes that something would teach the (prude?) Lady a lesson

I smiled when Knights removed themselves to a table desperate from Lynette and dined with Gareth. When Puce and Indigo Knights swore allegiance to him and promise to go before Arthur stating who had sent them. I smiled when Lyonesse saw Gareth out her window and swooned. I was angry with him when his dwarf Melot was taken. I felt the sparks in the air when he joined in the tournament as the knight of many colors. Where he would fight all but Lancelot, he who had knighted him. I saw him struggle (as all men do) when Lyonesse came to him late at night, and had not Lynette saved him from that. I read his stories as a child fascinated by knights and dragons, and damsels (who most often were in distress). I didn’t read it a critic, and someday I fear that they will ruin the story for me.

Which is why I think there are times as I was stating that I truly want to someday rewrite a legend, that I feel fits today’s culture. I do think that we hope for knights like Gareth. Who go on a quest no questions asked to their saving their Lyonesses (who perhaps don’t need saving). Not all ladies are damsels in distress, and I think Lynette proves that clearly. So I hope to someday tell a story of swords crossing paths and a quiet young lady looking out her tower’s window in hopes of seeing a deliverer. And of a young man who though a noble works in a kitchen for a year and jump at the chance to save another, just for the adventure.

Tales of Knights who served God and King inspire I think. Tales that all too often are not told any more. I’ve seen way too many Anti-Heroes, and heard too many stories of men who serve themselves. I want more tales (even if they seems cliche) of typical heroes (and heroines) who save the day, just to save it. Soon, hopefully, I can tell a tale of a Hero. If not, maybe I can just find ones of heroes I have yet to meet.

Everyone should read Le Morte d’Arthur once. They should read the good and the bad knights, of those who deserve their honor and of those who do not. But read them like a kid, not as a critic of everything.

– Le Bel Inconnu