A not too unwieldy ready reference

Richard White
King Arthur in Legend and History
Routledge 1998

In the 1930s a scholar such as E K Chambers could bring out a study of Arthurian matters and, while inter alia translating or paraphrasing key passages in his discussion, would quote the original medieval texts in Latin on the supposition that his readers would be able to read and understand them. Nearly a century on a knowledge of Latin is not, if you pardon the irony, a sine qua non of the average reader, so we must all be grateful to Richard White for including not just a translation of most of Chambers’ extracts but of a large number of other key Arthurian texts, not all of them in Latin.

Thus we have selections from medieval Welsh, English, French and German literature, from the anonymous Culhwch ac Olwen to Chrétien de Troyes and from the alliterative Morte darthur to Malory’s compilation, alongside dubious Latin chronicles and Geoffrey of Monmouth’s pseudohistorical History of the Kings of Britain. According to the publisher, this was the first time many of these selections were presented in a published English translation.

Alongside the texts, which give a comprehensive overview of the development of the literature over half a millennium, King Arthur in Legend and History also gives a chronological table of the key texts, plus the usual sources, further reading, bibliography and the welcome addition of five maps.

Add to all that helpful and intelligent introductions not simply to the whole collection but to each extract and this becomes a ready reference for those interested in Arthurian folklore and literature as well as history and legend up to the late Middle Ages. And despite the magnitude of the available texts this volume of over 600 pages is no more unwieldy than the one-volume paperback editions of The Lord of the Rings, so really the Arthurian enthusiast has no excuse for not obtaining and enjoying it.

3 thoughts on “A not too unwieldy ready reference

  1. There are definitely full translations of ‘Culhwch ac Olwen’ and most of the other texts you mention (“Pa Gur?” even) but they are expensive and often difficult to find. This is far and away the most accessible and cheapest way to get a peek at the early Arthurian texts.


    1. I’ve found Coe and Young’s Celtic Sources for the Arthurian Legend most helpful for the Welsh material, and Padel’s Arthur in Medieval Welsh Literature good for an overview. And anything by Bromwich, of course. But for easy accessibility, yes, this is great — though whether it’s still available let alone in print is another matter.

      Thanks, Flint, for all your comments and for drawing attention to your blog and your books. I’ve avoided starting anything specifically Arthurian online because I know it could and would attract persistent (and,sadly, often illiterate and scattergun) commentators eager to parade their thoughts and theories on another platform. I wish you every luck!

      By the way, have you seen Tom Green’s Arthuriana site? A fine model of a well presented website on the subject I think.


  2. My pleasure, and thanks for the recommendation about Tom Green. I have been pleasantly surprised at the generally educated and open people who have found my site. It has been a fun experience.


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