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13 - Arthurian geography

from Part II - Themes

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2010

Elizabeth Archibald
Affiliation:
University of Bristol
Ad Putter
Affiliation:
University of Bristol
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Summary

The true shape of Arthurian Britain was and remains a contentious battleground: even in our 'enlightened' modern age the search for sites and objects associated with Arthur continues, producing periodic 'amazing' discoveries - such as that of the 'Artognou' stone found at Tintagel in 1998 - that are met with a seemingly inextinguishable degree of enthusiasm from the contemporary media. However, for medieval writers, the locating of Arthurian geography within the actual landscape of the British Isles was not merely of antiquarian interest: rather, it was often a serious matter of political, cultural and institutional importance. Authors writing in numerous languages and hailing from a variety of courts looked towards Britain for indelible signs of that ancient conqueror who could validate the regimes of their own day, interpreting Arthur's actions through their own contemporary lens: for this was Logres, the legendary Britain of the past over which Arthur had once reigned so gloriously. The Arthurian tales of medieval Europe imagined this landscape as a place of marvels and conflicts, marked with tragic tales of loss and recovery, of the quest for the Grail and of the love of the French knight Lancelot for the British Queen Guinevere. The countryside of medieval Britain was littered with reminders of the past presence of Arthur and his knights, relics of a time of perfect chivalry and overwhelming imperial power. Tom Shippey has argued that 'England has a kind of mythical geography, a network of associations and oppositions, now dwindled largely to humour and tourism, but once a vital part of the country's being: a geography which accords special roles to Oxford and Cambridge, to Stratford and Glastonbury, to Wigan and Jarrow'.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2009

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