O, Ambrosius, Ambrosius! Wherefore art thou Arthur?

O, Ambrosius, Ambrosius! Wherefore art thou Arthur?

Reno, Frank D.

The Heroic Age, Issue 11 (May 2008)


Littleton and Malcor trace the name Arthur to the second-century Roman Lucius Artorius Castus. There is no King Arthur in fifth-century Britain. This paper is a quest to discover a great fifth-century Briton who can be identified as an “Arthur.”

When John Steinbeck began writing The Acts of King Arthur, his goal was to translate Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur into Modern American English.1 Thinking that his quest would be a short-term project, he commented in his letters, “I have a feeling this will go very fast” (Steinbeck 1975, 297). Three years later his attitude had changed: The field and subject of King Arthur is so huge, so vague, so powerful and eternal, that I can’t seem to mount it and set spurs (Steinbeck 1975, 607). He finished only a segment, which was published twelve years after his death (Steinbeck 1975, 296). §2. The intimidating magnitude of legends that Steinbeck experienced, however, pales in contrast to the quest of Arthur’s enigmatic historicity. Anyone who rejects such a quest has no concept of history, legend, reality or truth. De La Rouchefoucauld reminds us that history never embraces more than a small part of reality and truth, and Jean Markale remarks that we can look for evidence either in history or in legend, for both will give us clues of reality. It is important, therefore, to heed admonitions from unbiased experts who counsel us to accept fault or oversight, and to refrain from rejecting the totality of a manuscript because of its sporadic impurities.

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