Term of Award

Summer 1986

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (restricted to Georgia Southern)

Committee Chair

Pat Ingle Gillis

Committee Member 1

Fred Richter

Committee Member 2

Patricia LaCerva

Abstract

For over fourteen centuries, the myth of King Arthur's return to reestablish his Round Table has survived in the writings of the English-speaking peoples; indeed, he has captured the imagination of the Western world. The rise in fame of an obscure military leader of a people in the process of being conquered to a personification of kingly virtue is almost inexplicable. Many scholars have tried to explain his enduring fame by studying one of the various elements that have blended together to form the Arthurian tradition as we now have it. All, I think, fall short. The myths surrounding Arthur are made up of four usually uncomplementary elements:pagan Celtic mythology, Christian mysticism, misty pseudo-history,and changing social norms. None of these alone, however, is able to explain Arthur's continuous popularity, nor even do all four together fully account for the extraordinary longevity of this literary cycle. To be sure, each element plays an important role in the return myth's literary survival, but to understand that survival completely, one must see those elements as parts of a whole. Even that does not go far enough, however, for one must also consider the catalyst which has allowed these generally unreactive elements to blend not only well but also symbiotically. The Christian church seems to have been that catalyst, for she created in Britain an environment that allowed the gentle assimilation of pagan and ecclesiastical traditions into a corpus of folklore that had from its very inception the ability to adapt quickly to change. To explain the process by which the various elements blended and the catalytic effect that the church had on that process, this paper will explore each of those four elements, and upon those four columns I hope to construct a unifying ceiling which corresponds to the church's sometimes unwitting protection of and assistance to the myth of Arthur's return.

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