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The Importance of King Arthur

There is much disagreement among scholars whether or not King Arthur actually existed. There is only the scantest source material suggesting that he had. Some say that the name had to refer to an actual person, because his memory is so engrained in the place names and culture of Britain. I agree with this opinion. Others say that he was not really a single man, but a legendary compilation for several, including Lucius Artorius Castus, Ambrosius Aureleanus, Riothamus and Magnus Maximus. Graham Phillips makes a convincing argument that Arthur was the title of a powerful British king named Owain Ddantgwyn. Still others say he was just a fictional character that somehow sprang from Celtic mythology.
    Even if we accept his historical existence, however, scholars agree that the man called Arthur had little or anything to do with the image carried down to us from the French romances. The fictional character reflected the ideal king of the High Middle Ages when these romances were written, not the sixth century warlord who managed to keep the Saxons at bay.
    It would be nice if this chivalric leader really lived, and actually performed the deeds that so inspired future generations. He gave us ideals to believe in.
    How should we face the possibility that he might not be the man we imagine? In fact, we know very little about him at all. Arthur may have been his title, and not even his name. That this inspiring leader might not have existed as we imagined could be very disappointing.
    There is another way to look at this however, and it is significant to think about.
    Arthur, whoever he might have been, was only one man. His achievements, while inspiring, belong to him and not to those who followed after. There is little we can derive from him except a good and perhaps inspiring tale.
    That future generations turned him into legend says more about the needs of the human psyche than anything else. That is the real significance of King Arthur. We invented him because we have an inherent need for what he represents. He symbolizes our ideals, which makes the most authentic part of us invested in his legacy. In this sense, King Arthur lives inside us all. We respond to what he represents because something inside us aspires to propagate the same.
    Culture is the vehicle designed to transmit this message from one generation to the next. To really fulfill this obligation, culture should also explain its meaning so that every generation can properly respond to it. When culture fails to do this, the stories might be remembered, but they are unable to function properly. They cannot perform as we need them to.
    How do we repair this? I think that the fictional King Arthur gave us a clue. At the end of the musical Camelot, he charges a young boy to remember the stories of the Round Table Knights and tell everyone who would listen about their adventures. The boy's name was Tom. King Arthur knighted the lad, the inference being that he grew up to be Sir Thomas Mallory, author of Le Morte d'Arthur, from which much of our cultural appreciation of the Round Table comes from.
    We have to become the new Sir Thomas Mallorys. We have to bring the legend to life in our own lives, propagate it into our surroundings, and protect it for future generations. We have to relay the message of our ideals, updated for modern times. Culture is a living phenomenon, and we are the ones who give it life.
In conclusion, the historical nature of the Arthurian legends remains unknown, and their plurality proves that they are certainly augmented by fiction. As far as Chivalry-Now is concerned, this does not matter so much as the cultural value of the stories to the development and stability of the male psyche. Here we find literary examples of Western chivalry and manhood, and the central foundation of Chivalry-Now.


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