While everyone is stuck at home quarantining, our Stuff You Should Know hosts Chuck and Josh thought it would be a good time to offer a little digital distraction with a few fascinating episodes about everything from soda pop and sugar to ocean waves and pinball. In this episode, they’re taking a close look at the legend of King Arthur. This story has been around in some form or another since the 6th century, and its themes of chivalry, honor, and bravery have never gone out of fashion; multiple movies and books have been produced about it, keeping it relevant to pop culture. But is any of this legend true? Did King Arthur really exist? What about Merlin? The Knights of the Round Table? The mythical Excalibur? Chuck and Josh wade through history to find out.
The first mention of Arthur is from a medieval Welsh poem called Y Gododdin, possibly Britain’s oldest poem, but Josh points out that Celtic mythology was entirely oral until they started to become Christianized in the 6th century and began writing things down, so it’s possible the story dates back even further than we think. Over time, certain aspects of the story have changed or been added, and it depends on what version you’re reading how King Arthur gets the magical sword, Excalibur, the foes he has to face, and how he ultimately dies. What all versions agree on, however, is that there was a legend in Britain that a king would come along at the time of Britain’s greatest need; he would be descended from the first king, Arthur Pendragon, and would be able to pull a sword from a stone.
He builds his castle, Camelot, and creates The Knights of the Round Table, so called because they were on equal footing, with no one sitting at the head of the table. The French added the story of Guinevere, Arthur’s wife, and her doomed love affair with his favorite knight Lancelot. “They love a good romance,” Chuck says. In the 12th century, the search for the Holy Grail was added, and in the 13th century, the story gained new characters, Mordred and the lady in the lake.
All in all, it’s a great story full of action, adventure, romance, betrayal, and high stakes. And there’s some evidence that some of the aspects of the story are even true. The mystical Avalon might be real-life Glastonbury; there is a castle that could be Camelot; there’s even stories of people that match descriptions of the wizard Merlin. Join Chuck and Josh to learn more of what’s true about this enduring Celtic legend on this episode of Stuff You Should Know.
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