Arthur

   Now I want to turn to something from (the Roman) period that was found in the Pyranees and is a big surprise.  Just to the west of Lourdes is a little place called St. Pé, where we have this monument from the first century A.D.  And what it says is “Lexiia, the daughter of Odan, had gained merit through her vows to Artehe.”  This shows us that already in the period of Roman Europe, Arthur, Artehe, was revered as a god.  He’s originally a Celtic god, and the place where we find him revered is in the Pyrenees.  The name Artus, Arthur, is related to Artemis, Arctururs, and all of these are related to the deity, the bear.  The bear is the oldest worshiped deity in the world.  And in this part of the world, we have bear shrines going back to Neanderthal times, perhaps 100,000 B.C.  TMTT 223

Rome collapses.  The invasions take place.  And now comes the invasion we’re interested in.  The Romans had to pull out of England around A.D. 450 to shorten their lines.  They couldn’t maintain themselves.  That left England naked, like an oyster with the shell removed.  There was no defense.  And it was then that the Anglo-Saxons – the Danes, the Frisians, the people from Denmark and Germany – came pouring in. 

   This is the period of the warrior Arthur.  The earlier god was down in the Pyranees.  Now we come to the fourth and fifth centuries A.D. in Britain, and there is a man named Arthur who fights for the Britains – that is to say, the Celtic people – against the invading English.  This particular Arthur was not a king.  The chroniclers of the time, Gildas (d.570) and Nennius (fl. ca.800), speak of him as a dux bellorum, a leader in war.  He was a military man, a native fighter trained by the Romans, and he assisted the native British kings in their battles.  To him are assigned two or three centuries after his death, great victories in twelve battles.  Twelve?  You’ve got the zodiac.  You’ve got the Sun King.  He’s already being identified with the gods.  So this Artus Dux Bellorum becomes synthesized with the god image in the popular talk. 

   The British lost.  The English won, but they won only in the area that the Romans had held.  They did not go into Cornwall.  They did not conquer Wales.  They did not go into Scotland.  So the old Celtic tradition survives in Ireland and in Wales and in Scotland.  I would call this the Celtic matrix.  All kinds of Celtic stories survive there. 

   The people from the south of England, the Bretons, immigrated to Brittany, and a legend grew up among them.  Arthur was the great defender.  He will return.  He will restore us to our mother land.  This is known as the Hope of the Bretons, and it’s out of Brittany that much of this Arthurian legendry comes – refreshed, in the oral tradition, by material from Ireland and Wales – so there’s a lot of old Celtic stuff associated with the stories. 

Just to the west of Lourdes, in the French Pyrenees, is a little place called Saint-Pé-d’Ardet, where we have a monument engraved (picture on RG 126 – first century A.D.).  The date is the Gallo-Roman period, and it reads, “Lexeia Odanni filia.  Artehe vslm” (“Lexeia the daughter of Odan, thus acquires merit through her dedicated vows to Artehe.”)  This shows that already in the period of Roman Europe, Arthur was revered by the Celts as a god.  And the name Artehe (Artus, Arthur) is related to Artemis and Arcturus; all these are related to the bear, the oldest worshipped deity in the world.  We have bear shrines going back to Neanderthal times in just this part of the world from perhaps 10,000 B.C.  So this is a bear god; the valley, and the river here, running by Lourdes, is called the River of the Bear (the Ourse).  This is the God Arthur.  I think I can make the point here that Lake Geneva is therefore the source of the whole idea of King Arthur’s departure on a boat after his death to the Isle of the Golden Apples, the Isle of Avalon.  The philosopher Charles Musès, who discovered the inscription above, also makes a very good point: these traditions, which in our literature we associate with Britain, are in the preliterate period associated with the Celtic sense of the La Tène culture in the middle of France.  RG 127

Arthur appears in the old chronicles of Gildas and Nennius in the sixth and eighth centuries as a dux bellorum (“leader in war”; this is the origin of the English word duke).  And what the scholoars now picture with regards to Arthur is a sort of Roman trained military man who helped the kings of southern Britain in their battle against the invading Germans – that is to say, against the Anglo-Saxons and Jutes from what is now Denmark.  The southern part of Britain was the field of the collisions.  The chronicles tell of twelve great battles in which Arthur, dux bellorum, this Roman-trained military man (like, say, some Senegalese officer trained by the French), assisted the kings of the south; at the last battle Arthur is killed, and the German triumph is confirmed. 

   During this invasion there were, of course, refuges, particularly from southwest England, who went to what is now called Brittany in France.  The whole Breton peninsula is populated by people who were refugees from Britain, and there grows up what is called the Hope of the Britons – the hope that Arthur, the once and future king, will return and restore to them their homeland in the south of England.

   So we have the period of these invasions in the late fifth and early sixth centuries as the historical moment underlying the legend of Arthur – that is to say, about 450-550 A.D.  Then we have a period of oral legendry, of reciting the deeds of this great man, building up the legend of the Hope of the Britons, namely, of Arthur as the one who will return to restore their lost world to them.  It’s a bit like the hope that inspired the ghost dance religion at the end of the last century in America: the hope that the ghost dancers would dance and dance and that another land would come over the land that the white people had taken, and that only the Indians would be able to jump up onto that land, and the buffalo would be there, and the old world would be there again.  This is a common motif in the traditions of defeated peoples.   RG 129  

Merlin’s next work was to produce the king who would now govern the happy new world, and this is going to be Arthur.  Now we get the famous tale of the begetting of Arthur: He was to be from the house of a certain queen Igerne, and his father was to be Uther Pendragon, who was not Igerne’s husband.  Merlin arranged that Uther Pendragon should assume the form of Igerne’s husband, and while the husband was away, have intercourse with her, with Igerne thinking it was her husband.  Thus Arthur was begotten in extramarital magic.  RG

   Guinevere becomes Arthur’s wife.  The emperor of Rome sends a challenge to Arthur to submit to him.  Arthur arranges an expedition to campaign against Rome, but while Arthur is away, his nephew Mordred seduces Guinevere and attempts to take over the throne.  Before he’s had a chance to conquer Rome, therefore, Arthur is called back.  He gives battle to Mordred, whom Arthur slays, but who wounds Arthur mortally.  Arthur is carried off to Avalon.  RG

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain  is our first account of Arthur as a king.  We now know from the Chronicles that he was not a king but a dux bellorum, a war leader, who assisted the British kings in defending the land against the incoming Anglo-Saxons and Jutes.  He died, and the land was conquered – at least what we now call England was conquered.  The Celtic lands and the earlier Celtic people were not – the Scots, the Welsh, the Cornish, the Irish, and the people of the Isle of Man.  Well, that’s a treasure trove, you might say, of the old Celtic traditions.  It’s out of there and Brittany that this material comes.  TMTT 229