she who keeps this diary

21 June 2004 - 9:56 AM

Calling it a quest doesn't make it noble

The Viking and I watched the History Channel show on Arthur last night. That's two hours of my life I won't get back.

Before I start, let's review some key points from Dr Munro's Lecture on Myth and Literature:

Myth does not necessarily equal untruth. Quite the contrary. Myth is the means by which cultures express their truths.

Truth does not necessarily equal fact. Remember the beginning of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? 'Archaeology is the search for fact. Not truth. If it's truth you're interested in, Doctor Tyree's Philosophy class is right down the hall'? Spot on. Myth is philosophy class for a culture.

In the end, it doesn't matter if there was an historical Arthur or not, because the power of the myth to convey truths (not facts) is what's important. The significance of Arthurian myth lies in its flexibility, its ability to convey different cultural truths -- from the desire for order and good government expressed by Gildas, to the chivalric values of the High Middle Ages, to the archetype of the Victorian Christian and now, a sort of New Age mystic -- across the centuries.

The critic Northrop Frye once wrote: 'All literature is myth'. Think about it.

Now, for the programme. Did they dredge the bottom of the barrel for talking heads or what? It would have been nice to know what function these people had at their various universities, associations and journals. Otherwise, what am I to think they do? Sweep the floors?

The woman from Arthuriana represents everything I hate about feminist academics. Ick.

What was up with the constant use of the Roman mosaic of Christ (had to be Christ, the head had a Chi-Ro nimbus) for, I think, Roman leadership in general? OK, yes, the Romans brought Christianity and a lot of other important things to Britannia, but let's not get needlessly (and literally) messianic.

Loved those beautiful Thoroughbred horses with the 'British' warriors. No shaggy ponies for them!

Wasn't it funny how they mentioned Sarmatian auxiliaries in the Roman army but failed to mention the many Saxon auxiliaries who not only served in the Roman army but were settled in Britannia long before 449? That's what the Romans did -- they rewarded good soldiers with citizenship and land in the provinces when they retired. But oh, that would interfere with the invasion theme. Never mind, then.

'Aurelianus' does not rhyme with 'Coriolanus,' no matter how some of the alleged experts pronounced it.

I'm still wondering how they got from 'Nennius and Gildas don't mention an Arthur' to Geoffrey of Monmouth shaping the Arthurian material without actually mentioning any pre-Geoffrey references to Arthur. There are some, but you wouldn't know it from the show.

Can anyone here say 'Y Gododdin'? Didn't think so.

Speaking of things you wouldn't know from the show, Lancelot was not part of the tradition from the get-go; in fact he doesn't arrive on the Arthurian scene until the twelfth century, and he's introduced by a French writer.

The writing. Gods and little fishes, the writing. 'If you look into the darkness of that time, there is a shadow.'

And that was what? The terror that flaps in the night?

Some time back, A&E did a 'Biography' of Arthur which covers the same material as last night's debacle, but much better. I don't know that it'll be rebroadcast during the hoopla before the movie is released, but if it is, check it out. OK, it doesn't have Ioan Gruffudd slinking around between segments, but it also doesn't have the logical and narrative disconnects. It does have higher-quality talking heads, and it's shorter, too.

verso - recto

The WeatherPixie

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