Matter of Britain
The Matter of Britain is a name given collectively to the legends that concern the Celtic and legendary history of the British Isles, centering around King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table. The twelfth century French poet Jean Bodel created the name in a chanson de geste he wrote, the Chanson de Saisnes, in which appear the lines:
- Ne sont que iij matières à nul homme atandant,
- De France et de Bretaigne, et de Rome la grant.
- (There are but 3 literary cycles that no one should be without: the matter of France, of Britain, and of great Rome.)
The name distinguishes and relates the Matter of Britain from the mythological themes taken from classical antiquity, the "matter of Rome," and the tales of the paladins of Charlemagne and their wars with the Moors and Saracens, which constituted the "matter of France." While Arthur is the chief subject of the Matter of Britain, other lesser-known legendary history of the British Isles, including Brutus of Britain, Old King Cole, King Lear, and Gogmagog is also included in the subjects covered by the Matter of Britain: see King of the Britons.
Two larger stories intermesh in the Matter of Britain. One concerns Camelot, usually envisioned as a doomed utopia of chivalric virtue, undone by the fatal flaws of Arthur and Sir Lancelot. The other concerns the quests of the various knights to achieve the Holy Grail; some succeed (Galahad, Parsifal), and others fail (Lancelot). The mediaeval tale of Arthur and his knights is full of Christian themes; those themes involve the destruction of human plans for virtue by the moral failures of their authors, and the quest for an important Christian relic. Finally, the relationships between the characters invited treatment in the tradition of courtly love, such as Lancelot and Guinevere, or Tristan and Isolde. In more recent years, the trend has been to attempt to link the tales of King Arthur and his knights with Celtic mythology, usually in highly romanticized, early twentieth century reconstructed versions.
Characters and subjects
Arthur and his entourage
Knights of the Round Table
Other important figures
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