My Blog List

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Arthurian Legends

King Arthur has been on my mind since I've taken a class on this subject this semester. The course has made me aware of the popularity of these stories that continues to this day. This popularity of the tales of King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, Sir Lancelot, and rest of the members of the Round Table goes beyond the English-speaking world as they have been told in French, German, Italian, and other languages.

The question that I continually ask is: Why? What explains this popularity?

One of the first books among the extensive reading list for the course was The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth that goes back to 1136 which is about 600 years after Arthur is thought to have lived. Geoffrey devotes much of the book to Arthur and portrays him as a great warrior. Britain in the fifth and six centuries was chaotic following the withdrawal of Roman troops and invasions by other Celtic people and German tribes from the continent, and the little documentation of those years was performed by monks, often much later. Some of those monks mention a great warrior who rallied the native Brits to some important victories against the German Saxons, but he was not a king since the society was too fractured for a single monarch. Although the book is more Welsh folklore than actual history, it is a start to the study of the Arthurian legends.

The oral Arthurian legends were also written down in France during the twelfth century, most importantly by Chretien de Troyes and a poet named Beroul. These authors expanded the roles of Lancelot and Tristan as opposed to concentrating on Arthur. Tristan's romance with Queen Isolde became a tale retold in many variations including an opera by German Richard Wagner in the nineteenth century.

Published in 1469, Le Morte D'Arthur by Thomas Malory has become the main source for subsequent accounts of the Arthurian stories. Although an Englishman, Malory follows the French authors by concentrating as much on stories of the Knights of the Round table as on Arthur. Maybe that's why he gave his book a French title. The great battles between armies that were so prevalent in Geoffrey of Monmouth's book have been crowded out by individual conflicts often depicted as tests for the knights. The many scenes of jousting tournaments would not have taken place during the years the historical Arthur is presumed to have lived but were more indicative of the age that Malory wrote.

King Arthur's character faded so much into the background in Alfred Lord Tennyson's Idylls of the King, written the nineteenth century, that he seems wooden and colorless in comparison's with his subordinate knights. In his memoirs, Tennyson explains that his Arthur was intended to represent the human soul while Lancelot, Tristan, Gawain and the rest added the human element.

The popularity of these stories did not diminish in the twentieth century as the success of the musical Camelot on the stage and screen demonstrate. The Arthurian legends remained common settings for other modern movies including, of course, Monty Python and the Holy Grail whose authors must have been very familiar with the written versions that were lampooned hilariously in the film.

Okay, I believe I've demonstrated the popularity over nearly a millennia, but the question remains as to what is the explanation for the continuing appeal of the King Arthur stories?

I think that part of the reason, especially during the Medieval years, was religion. The historical Arthur probably was a Christian, and the theme of a Christian hero prevailing against the pagan Saxons would have a receptive audience. The tales increasingly included Christian elements such as the search for the Holy Grail, the cup that Jesus drank from during the Last Supper, and King Arthur took on Christ-like attributes including prophesies of his eventual return from the dead.

However, there were other heroic defenders of the Christian faith, so I decided there must be additional explanations and found some ideas in the introduction to Geoffrey of Monmouth's The History of the Kings of Britain. The author of the introduction Lewis Thorpe dismisses the criticism that the book fails as political history as irrelevant because Geoffrey of Monmouth should be read as romanticized history that has more in common with epic poetry such as Virgil's Aeneid which is mentioned more than once by Geoffrey. The History of the Kings of Britain was printed many times for a medieval text, and even though our modern view of the Arthurian tales owes more to Malory's Morte D'Arthur Geoffrey should be considered, in Thorpe's words, "as a source book for the imaginative writings of others, as an inspiration for poetry, drama, and romantic fiction down through the centuries that has few equals in the whole history of European literature."

By the time of Geoffrey's writings, the Britons that Arthur had commanded lived on in what we now call Europe's Celtic fringe- Wales, Cornwall, and Brittany in France where the oral tales of King Arthur flourished and combined with existing Celtic myths. Merlin's magic in setting the scene for Arthur's conception and Arthur's transportation to the mystical island of Avalon following his mortal wound in his final battle establishes, again in Thorpe's words, "the air of other-worldliness and mystery."

Moreover, Geoffrey's identification of Arthur with the new ideal of chivalry in Western Europe and the attractiveness of Queen Guinevere and Arthur's favorite knights all contributed to subsequent authors using Arthur and his court as models for expanded stories.

Despite all my emphasis on the importance of Geoffrey of Monmouth for the popularity of the Arthurian stories, I wouldn't ignore Thomas Malory because the picture he presents of Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable reflects, I think, a universal yearning for wise and just leaders ruling over a stable and peaceful land.

I don't know if my ideas are correct or not, but I've certainly had fun thinking about them.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Faculty Recital at Clarice Smith Center for the Performing Arts.

Only made it for the last 15 minutes, but what I heard I enjoyed. The photo shows a string quartet with a piano accompaniment. The piece was by Brahms.

Maryland Basketball

I went to an early game against Oakland College of Michigan which we won.

 
We've won every game since, and as of today we're 7-0

Monday, November 11, 2019

Some nice November days

Photo came from this past weekend, and we've had a number of recent days like this. Tomorrow, however, is going to be cold, windy, and probably rainy with snow a possibility according to the forecasts.

Monday, November 4, 2019

World Series Parade

Saturday I went down to the Mall in D.C. for the parade celebrating the first Washington baseball team to win a World Series in almost a century.

I've lived in this area my whole life, for all practical purposes and have been a baseball fan since I was about six years old. That adds up to a lot of disappointments. The team in the 1950's was terrible, and when it started to improve moved to Minnesota. The major leagues give us an expansion team immediately, but they weren't very good either. After that team moved to Texas, we were without a team for over thirty years. I didn't pay much attention to baseball for a while and eventually began rooting for the Baltimore Orioles. Although I still follow the O's, my heart when back to Washington when the Montreal team moved here. The new team, the Nationals, have had some very good seasons but never quite good enough to make the Series until this year when they came into the play-offs as the underdogs but managed to prevail each step along the way.

Some years ago, I think it was during the time Washington was without a team, I somehow obtained a baseball jacket with the name "Senators", the name of the old team. When I wore the jacket to the parade it attracted some attention. In fact, a young women who said she was a reporter for the Washington Times newspaper interviewed me and took my picture. I guess she thought an old guy who's apparently seen a lot of baseball might be worth a feature story, but I looked a couple of times on their website and didn't see any article on me.


Buses like the one above carried the players. I'm glad I went but didn't stay for the whole thing

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Monday, October 21, 2019

Afternoon Bach Cantata at the University

Last Thursday's was the second performance for the semester. The first took place in one of the theaters, and although the seats were more comfortable I like the informality of this one's lobby setting which is what I'm used to.


Sunday, October 13, 2019

The pond this week

Nice lighting on my Wednesday morning walk:


A Great Blue Heron visited. Their visits to the pond are rare which surprises me because when I was fishing a lot in the Potomac River and other waters in the area I would usually see at least one of these impressive birds.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Beach pictures from last week

Early Friday morning was cloudy:




Things cleared up in the afternoon:

October days at the Addy Sea

For years I wondered about the name of this Bethany Beach bed and breakfast. When Pam and I first stayed there, I learned that the house was originally a family beach house owned by the Addy family, but the name still seemed odd. For a variety of circumstances it dawned on me when we were there last week that the name could be a pun on the Odyssey, but I don't know if that's correct. Whatever the origin of the name, we always enjoy our visits.

 
In addition to a big spread for breakfast, the Addy Sea offers an afternoon tea. Pam took this picture of Friday's dessert to go with the tea:
 


Monday, September 30, 2019

Paint Branch Creek in early autumn

Water level is low because it hadn't rained in a month before week got a brief drizzle today. I thought the scene displays the verdancy of the surrounding woods.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Maryland Football

For some time, the University of Maryland has been better known for its basketball teams rather than football. This year the football team got off to a good start, but hopes that the new coach had been able to quickly make significant improvements were dashed Friday night when Penn State came in and routed us 59-0 showing that the program still has a long way to go.

Penn State in Maryland territory early:


Once again we see the visitors about to score:


The crowd was big, probably the largest in recent years:

The pond in late September

 

Downtown Brunch

Last Sunday we took the subway downtown to meet daughter Rebecca and Son-in-law Sean for brunch. Sean's parents, who we had visited the day before, also joined us. The restaurant was in the Conrad Hotel, and the skylight in the lobby attracted me:

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Pam's tomatoes

We've had a steady supply of small tomatoes because of the plants she put in the garden. She photographed this collection:

Pam's bug pictures

In going through her photos, I took note of these three, all taken in the yard:



Monday, September 16, 2019

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Exhibition on human migration and refugees at the Phillips Collection

Friday night Pam and I met my art history class to see an exhibition titled "The Warmth of Other Suns: Stories of Global Displacement. "The class is on art and war, so the exhibition was an appropriate assignment since many people have been uprooted from their homes by warfare although economic and environmental factors have also been important in creating refugees.

The exhibit consists of paintings, photographs, sculptures, films, and videos and was too much to fully take in during the time we were there. Even so, what we saw has given me plenty to think about since. Apparently the other students felt much the same because we spent an hour in class yesterday discussing the exhibit. I shared with the class my thoughts on the part that made the biggest impression on me--the inclusion of Dorothea Lange's photos taken during the Great Depression.


"Migrant Mother" by Dorothea Lange

I've felt that the antipathy towards immigration was largely a result of xenophobia, racism, and perceived economic threat. What was so striking about Lange's photos is that the people who fled the Great Plains for California during the 1930's were largely native-born Protestants whose families had been in the country for generations. I know from John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath, which is considered an accurate portrayal, that they encountered hostility from Californians, generally people from the same ethnic stock, when they arrived. "An Okie used to mean you were from Oklahoma," one of Steinbeck's characters said, "Now it means you're scum." Obviously, racism and xenophobia can be ruled out as causes for this antagonism, and it's hard to lay the blame purely on competition for jobs since the migrants took the lowest paying jobs as agricultural workers, jobs that most Anglo-Californians spurned.

From the class discussion that followed, I conclude that it seems to be a common human reaction to object to the arrival of newcomers, whatever their ethnic composition. The professor pointed out that when Germany was reunited at the end of the Cold War, West Germans complained about East Germans. I later recalled being part of a merger between two large American corporations where the employees of one of the legacy companies complained about the employees of the other legacy company. We were all American businessmen, but those from the other company became "the others," just as foreign as if they had arrived from another world.



 

Labor Day baseball

The Nats lost to the Mets, but Pam and I had a good time anyway. Great seats provided by our neighbor, Jim Cooke.




 



The same egret?

Probably the same that I spotted on August 18 was still around on August 31.

The pond in late August


Thursday, August 22, 2019

Sunset series seven from last night



 
 
 
 

 

Sunset number six


I realize I've taken many sunset pictures recently, but on these hot days it's a pleasant time to walk around the pond.

I believe that serious photographers look down on these type photos as clich├ęs. I don't care because the sky always looks different to me, and I like the beauty of sunrise and sunset. Once in a while at the beach I'll manage to get out early for the sunrise, but other than that it's going to be sunsets. Besides, it's my blog so I don't care what anyone else thinks.

This one was taken last Friday.