Primary Sources: Herodotus, CLIO part 6

And then the gods punished Croesus for his arrogance, says Herodotus, in a rare bit of editorializing.  The gods sent him a prophetic dream, in which his son and heir, Atys, was slain with an iron spear-point.  Croesus awoke confined of the reality of this prophecy.

“Step one, we get you a wife and you get her pregnant,” he told Atys.  “Step two, no more of this fighting on the front lines for you.  From now on you go to war from the safety of the palace!”  Croesus looked around the palace.  “Crap, no, this place is a death trap!  Why do we even have swords hanging by a thread from the ceiling, ready to come slicing down at any moment?  I’ve got to redecorate!”

And while Croesus was occupied getting all the javelins and lances and all such things which men use for fighting together and taken out of the men’s apartments and piled up in the inner bedchambers, for fear lest something hanging up might fall down upon his son, along came Adrastos son of Gordias son of Midas.  Adrastos was your standard doomed Greek hero, laboring under a massive curse and seeking Croesus’s kingly curse-stymieing powers (Herodotus is nonspecific as to how that works).  Adrastos finds Croesus and explains that he accidentally murdered his brother and his father exiled him and can he crash on Croesus’s sofa for a while?

“You’re my cousin or possibly cousin of someone else,” replied Croesus.  “So welcome!”

Meanwhile a giant boar rampaged the countryside.  Herodotus is going somewhere with this, never fear.  The folk whose lands were getting ravaged had been conquered by Croesus, and so they sent him a polite request for him to send knights or heroes or hunters or something, since he was their liege.  “Send us thy son and also a chosen band of young men with dogs,” was their best idea for dealing with this dire boar, but they were open to alternatives.

Croesus of course was utterly unwilling to let Atys go boar-hunting; it was far too dangerous.  He ordered the envoys to under no circumstances tell Atys about any of this, and Croesus would send hunters (not his son!) to deal with the boar.

The envoys were wholly willing to accept these terms, but unluckily, Atys was standing directly behind Croesus when he gave that order!  “My father, in times past the fairest and most noble part was allotted to us, to go out continually to wars and to the chase and so have good repute; but now thou hast debarred me from both of these, although thou hast not observed in me any cowardly or faint-hearted spirit. And now with what face must I appear when I go to and from the market-place of the city? What kind of a man shall I be esteemed by the citizens, and what kind of a man shall I be esteemed by my newly-married wife? With what kind of a husband will she think that she is mated? Therefore either let me go to the hunt, or persuade me by reason that these things are better for me done as now they are.”

“Wow, that’s quite a speech.”  But Croesus was unmoved!  “Nevertheless, I have this evil prophecy I’m working against and I’d rather have a live son whose wife doesn’t respect him than a dead son whose widow he never got pregnant!  Shouldn’t you be having sex right now?”

“What about my unnamed deaf-mute brother?”

“He doesn’t count!”

Harsh, Croesus, harsh.

Atys wouldn’t take no for an answer; he insisted on accompanying the hunters.  So at last Croesus did what anyone would do under the circumstances: he found his cursed houseguest Adrastos, and sent him along as Arys’s personal bodyguard.

“After all,” reasoned Croesus, “if you can’t rely on a cursed royal fratricide to protect your son, who can you count on?”

NEXT: GUESS WHERE THIS IS GOING!!

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Primary Sources: Herodotus, CLIO part 5

Once in office, Croesus invaded his neighbors, straight away.  Specifically he attacked the Ephesians, because they handy, on some pretext Herodotus doesn’t bother to report.  He attacked other city-states one after another, each time finding some excuse that put him in the right.  Some of these pretexts were pretty flimsy, but the various city-states declined to unite and repel his invasion, instead just letting him take them down one by one.

During Croesus’s naval buildup (so he could conquer all the islands) either Bias of Priene or Pittacos of Mytilene visited his capital Sardis and warned him about an army of ten thousand cavalry, out on the islands, ready to repel his invasion and then counter-invade Lydia and occupy Sardis to boot.

“Crap,” said Croesus, and made peace with the islanders.  Whether the islanders actually had an army of ten thousand cavalry Herodotus doesn’t say.  But in this way his campaign of conquest ended, and he launched a campaign of nation-building and retrenchment in his occupied territories.

Solon of Athens, aka Solon the Lawgiver, came to visit one day.  Solon had drafted Athens’s first code of laws and then left the city before anyone could talk him into editing them.  Croesus was excited to host this statesman, and gave him all kinds of VIP tours of Sardis.  At the close of one such tour, Croesus observed that Solon was a wise man.

“Reasonably wise, sure,” Solon responded cautiously.

“And you’ve seen a lot, all this traveling you’ve been doing.”

“Some amount of travel, yes.”

“So tell me: who’s the happiest man?”  Croesus cleared his throat and pointed to himself, supposing that he himself was the happiest of men.

Solon didn’t take that bait, however.  “The happiest man was my late friend Tellos of Athens, who was medium-rich, enjoyed life in a prosperous city-state, heroically defended his city against invaders, and buried with honors after he fell in battle.”

“Huh.” Croesus didn’t much care for this answer.  “Who’s second-happiest, then?  It’s me, right?”

“Nah.  Second-happiest would be the brothers Cleobis and Biton of Argos.  They were athletes, who died hauling a cart for a religious parade.  Everyone saw them die very heroically, right there on the parade route!  They made some statues to honor them.”

Croesus scowled.  “Listen, buddy, I don’t know if you picked up on it but I was fishing for you to call me happy.  What’s up with you not calling me happy?”

Call no man happy until he is dead,” replies Solon, after listing off some dodgy statistics about lifespan that I think Herodotus cribbed from an ancient Greek actuarial table.  “All kinds of dreadful things might happen in a man’s lifetime; you can’t judge whether his life is a pleasant one until it’s over.  For many very wealthy men are not happy, while many who have but a moderate living are fortunate. In truth the very rich man who is not happy has two advantages only as compared with the poor man who is fortunate, whereas this latter has many as compared with the rich man who is not happy. Advantage one: the rich man can buy nicer things.  Whoop de doo.  We live in the Hellenic period; there is not much to buy.  No amount of money that can buy an air conditioner, a bottle of vodka, a DVD player, or a car.  Advantage two, the rich man has a better shot at recovering from some kind of catastrophe, like a fire or something.  That’s a legit advantage, but we’ve established that we’re comparing him to a poor man who is happy, and the happy poor man has a big pile of advantages over the unhappy rich man.”

“That’s it!  Out of my kingdom!”  And Croseus kicked Solon out of Lydia, for making such a cogent argument that Croesus felt dumb.

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Primary Sources: Herodotus, CLIO part 4

According to Herodotus, Gyges’s son and grandson did not lead terribly interesting lives.  War, invasion, yadda yadda.  But his great-grandson (Croesus’s father) Atyattes was a little better; he performed other deeds very worthy of mention. He inherited a war with a neighboring country on the Black Sea, Miletos, which he waged for eleven years by marching an army into Miletos every harvest-time, looting or burning most of the Milesian grain, and then marching the army back out.  This worked great for eleven years, but the twelfth time he tried it, while he was burning a wheat field a wind came up and blew the fire onto a nearby temple of Athena.  When the temple burned down (killing all inside), Athena hit Atyattes with a delayed-action death curse.

A few weeks later, sick unto death and pretty frantic about it, Atyattes sent couriers with more gold to the Oracle at Delphi, asking advice, and got back the answer that he needed to rebuild the temple he’d burned. Meanwhile, this Milesian named Periander the son of Kypselos, guest of Thrasybulos the king of Miletos, intercepted this answer at some point in its journey.  Periander passed on the message to Thrasybulos, who deduced that Atyattes would likely come to him looking to make peace and rebuild that temple.

So Thrasybulos emptied out his granary and got all the food stores in his capital city together, and threw a gigantic feast just as soon as Atyattes’s envoy arrived.  The envoy was shocked, inasmuch as all the Lydians had assumed that the Milesians were starving to death (what with eleven years of burned wheat).  He sent word back to Atyattes, who was likewise surprised, and long story short Thrasybulos negotiated some solid concessions in his peace treaty with Lydia.  Atyattes built two new temples to Athena, recovered from his illness, and everyone lived happily ever after.  As his last act before his death forty-odd years later, Atyattes donated another offering to the Oracle, namely a great mixing-bowl of silver with a stand for it of iron welded together, which sounds kind of lame but Herodotus assures us it was a very special treasure because it was the work of Glaucos the Chian, whom Herodotus asserts invented ironworking.

Side note: Periander had a sidekick named Arion of Methymn, a minstrel who had a crazy adventure.  This one time he was on a ship sailing from Taras to Corinth, and the sailors aboard decided to murder him and take his money.  That’s not the crazy part.  They were going to just slit his throat and throw him overboard, but somehow Arion talked them into letting him put on one last musical revue before he went, right there on the deck of the ship.  So there he was, all festooned with costumery and playing his harp, and as he finished his last song he took a running jump off the deck and landed on the back of a dolphin, which his incredible musicality had summoned!  The dolphin carried him back home, where everyone thought he was crazy until the sailors showed up with a sob story about how he’d died but before that he’d said that they, the sailors, should get all his money?  And then there he was, alive, and the sailors freaked out and corroborated his story. This is the tale told by the Corinthians and Lesbians alike, Herodotus says, and there is at Tainaron a votive offering of Arion of no great size, namely a bronze figure of a man upon a dolphin’s back.

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Primary Sources: Herodotus, CLIO part 3

The next morning Candi warned all the household servants that she thought were loyal to her about how something was up.  She summoned Gyges, who came in whistling nonchalantly, hands in his pockets, like he had no reason to be nervous about interacting with Candi…

Candi did not mince words.  “I know what happened.  I know what you saw, and why you saw it.  There are now two ways open to thee, Gyges, and I give thee the choice which of the two thou wilt prefer to take. Either thou must slay Candaules and possess both me and the kingdom of Lydia, or thou must thyself here on the spot be slain, so that thou mayest not in future, by obeying Candaules in all things, see that which thou shouldest not. Either he must die who formed this design, or thou who hast looked upon me naked and done that which is not accounted lawful.

“Whoa.”  Gyges found this passing heavy.  “Isn’t there a third, compromise option?  Where me and Candaules both live?”

“Nope.”  Candi picked up her guard-summoning bell and weighed it in her hand.  “What’s it going to be?  Coup, or death?”

Gyges tried to be a good person, but when push came to shove he didn’t want to die. “Since thou dost compel me to take my master’s life against my own will, let me hear from thee also what is the manner in which we shall lay hands upon him. This whole coup thing is your idea, not mine.”

“Simple,” says Candi.  “We wait until he’s asleep, and then you stab him.  It’s poetic justice, inasmuch as our bedroom is where you saw me naked.”

So that happened!  Herodotus is sure that this story is accurate because he can cite a secondary source, the poetry of Archilochos the Parian, who wrote the whole thing up in iambic trimeter.

Gyges declared himself king, married Candi, and proceeded to brutally put down the rebellion that started as soon as the Lydians found out he was a regicide who’d just usurped the throne.  It was a nasty fight, and ultimately Gyges and the leading pro-Candaules fighters agreed to a cease-fire.  They sent a courier to the Oracle at Delphi, asking who should be king of Lydia.  The Oracle, perhaps influenced by the massive bribe Gyges sent her, asserted that Gyges should be king if that’s what he wanted, but that if he did, then his great-great-grandson would suffer for it.

“Screw that unborn guy,” said Gyges, and ruled for thirty-eight years.

Fun note: Herodotus somehow has a catalog of the massive bribe Gyges sent to Delphi.  Of all the silver offerings at Delphi his are more in number than those of any other man; and besides the silver he offered

a vast quantity of gold, and especially one offering which is more worthy of mention than the rest, namely six golden mixing-bowls, which are dedicated there as his gift: of these the weight is thirty talents.  Also

his gold and silver which Gyges dedicated is called Gygian by the people of Delphi, after the name of him who offered it.

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Primary Sources: Herodotus, CLIO part 2

Croesus, the king of Lydia (modern-day western Turkey, more or less) was the first foreign king to conquer part of Greece.  Prior to him raiders only took plunder and stole women, says Herodotus.  Croesus wasn’t the rightful king of Lydia, Herodotus tells us; he came from a line of usurpers, and man is it ever an interesting story that Herodotus wants to spend some time on!

Croesus’s great-great-grandfather, Gyges, was the close confidante of Candaules of the Heraclidae, the king at the time.  Candaules was supposedly Hercules’s great-[twenty-four more greats]-grandson, hence the family name.  Anyway, this guy was something of a character, inasmuch as he loved his wife.

Pretty crazy!  He was nuts about her.  He loved kissing her, he loved petting her, most of all he loved staring at her naked body.  I mean, he didn’t talk to her or anything; he was crazy, but at least he understood that women are objects.  Constantly he bragged to Gyges about how impossibly hot she was, and how lucky he was to be married to her, and how any man would gnaw his own arms off for a chance to see her naked.  “She’s so hot, dude, you have no idea.  You may think you do, but you don’t.”

“I get it! Quit being creepy!” was Gyges’s usual response to this, and generally that’s where it ended.  But one day Candaules just wouldn’t take that for an answer.

“If you got it, you would be going out of your mind with lust, so I don’t think you get it.”

Gyges tried to assure him that yes, he did get it.  “Honest, boss, I believe you when you say Candi is incredibly hot.”  Herodotus doesn’t name Candaules’s wife, so let’s call her Candi.

Candaules had a flash of crazy inspiration.  “There’s only one way to prove it to you!  You’ve got to see her naked.”

“What? No!” Gyges wanted none of this.  “That is crazy talk!  It’s morally repugnant to look at a naked woman who isn’t your wife!”

“Be of good courage, Gyges, and have no fear.  It’s not a crime if the king tells you to do it, and it’s especially not a crime if Candi never finds out about it.  What we’ll do is, I’ll hide you in the closet of our bedroom, and then when Candi comes into slowly and sensuously strip off her clothes, you’ll be able to peek out and see her in all her nude glory.  Then while she’s getting into bed, you can sneak out the door.”

Gyges thought this was a terrible idea, but Candaules wouldn’t take no for an answer.  So that happened, and next thing he knew, Gyges was hiding in Candaules’s closet waiting for Candi to come in.  He was about to give up and sneak away when she came in!  So he had no choice but to voyeuristically peek in on her as she slowly and sensuously removed her clothing.

“Huh,” thought Gyges to himself.  “She really is pretty amazingly hot.”  He kept quiet, just hoping to get through it without getting caught.

Unfortunately for him, Candaules seriously underestimated Candi’s peripheral vision when he came up with this plan.  For while her back was turned and she was climbing into bed, Gyges tried to sneak out, as instructed, but Candi saw him out of the corner of her eye!  She whirled around, and saw Gyges’s back as he crept out.  In an instant she deduced what had happened, that Gyges had been peeking on her and that Candaules had put him up to it.

At that time she then kept silence.

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Primary Sources: Herodotus, CLIO part 1

Herodotus opens with an explanation that his goal, in setting down his Histories, is twofold.  First, he preserves the deeds of men that might otherwise be forgotten, and should not be forgotten because they were cool and impressive.  But second and more importantly, he wants to ensure that the cause of the war, the massive destructive horrible thing that he lives through, will never be lost.  Learn from the Second Persian War, Herodotus is saying.  Otherwise this will only happen again.

Fortunately, as a result of Herodotus’s effort, there have been zero wars since 470 BCE.  Thanks, Herodotus!

Originally conflict began with the Phoenicians, who in addition to inventing fighting (bunch of jerks) traveled from their original homeland on the western coast of Africa.  They went up the Gulf of Suez to found a trading network that ran all through the Mediterranean, centered on their cities in Lebanon.  Once upon a time, more or less, a Phoenician trading ship landed at the city of Argos, at that time in all points the first of the States within that land which is now called Hellas.  Hellas, just as a reminder, was Herodotus’s au courant term for what we now call Greece.  Argos still exists, with about 30 000 people living there, but it isn’t the cultural capital of Greece the way it was back in the day.  The king of Argos, Inachos, had a daughter named Io whom the Phoenican traders abducted.  They set up their wares on the deck of their ship, and invited the women of Argos to come up and shop, and then boom, they took off with the women aboard.  Most of the women escaped, probably by jumping overboard, but Io and a nontrivial number of others were grabbed by the sailors and restrained and carted off to Egypt.

At this point Herodotus drops this particular narrative thread, so let’s all hope that Io escaped her captors and married a handsome Egyptian prince (or lovely Egyptian princess, or one of each, hey, whatever floats Io’s boat).  But she never returned to Argos; the damage was done, and a group of Greeks were spurred to revenge.  Herodotus cannot confirm that these Greeks were Inachos and his friends; they may have been an unrelated but sympathetic group from Crete.  This team sailed to Tyre, in Lebanon, which at the time was a major Phoenician city.  There they abducted Europa, the princess of Tyre, through a scheme Herodotus can’t identify.  This should have been the end of it, but then the Greeks took it too far: they abducted and apparently raped another Phoneician princess, Medea of Colchis.  Colchis was located in modern-day Georgia, which is to say, quite a ways from Lebanon, so there was really no excuse for this heinous act.

The king of Colchis sent a stern letter to Greece, which was answered with a big raspberry.  And thus Phoenician-Greek relations soured, though things wouldn’t get really bad for another generation.  Some number of years later, Alexander, son of Priam and the young prince of the Phoenician city of Troy, came of marrying/abducting age.  He set his sights on a Greek princess, Helen of Lacedemon.  That she was married to someone else: not a concern of his!

Alexander carried off Helen, as Herodotus puts it, and the Greeks refused to let this lie.  They invented a wholly new thing: massive armed invasion!  Up to this point warfare consisted solely of stealing women, but the Greeks took it to a new level.  They assembled a fleet of ships, sailed to Troy, and tore that sucker down!  No more Troy!  Troy was a thing of the past; they destroyed the dominion of Priam.  The Persians point to this as the point when the Greeks and the Persians became permanent, implacable enemies, because the Persians considered the Phoencians to be a subset of Persians.

The Phoenicians themselves claimed that Io, the supposedly abducted Argive princess who set all this off, actually went willingly because the captain of the Phoenician trading ship knocked her up, and the two of them went off to Egypt and lived happily ever after with a passel of half-Greek, half-Phoenician children.  Ianchos was  terrible father and Io was afraid to tell him she’d gotten Teen Pregnant, is why they had to arrange the fake kidnaping and all.

Herodotus has no dog in this particular fight.  People have been treating one another badly for basically ever, he says, and the Greeks did things just as bad as the non-Greeks.  But he has to start his story somewhere, and with all this Trojan War stuff as prelude, he wants to open with the first non-Greek who started the ball rolling, and move forward from there.

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It’s a new thing! Herodotus!

Way back in 2012 when I began my Dionysian imitatio (look it up, nerds) of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, I promised that afterwards I would cover the Three Kingdoms, by Luo Guanzhong.  However, upon reflection and examination I’ve decided to go another way.  Few different reasons for this.  Firstly, unlike Le Morte D’Arthur, the Three Kingdoms is not a horrible miasma of continuity errors and aimless plots.  Secondly, while Le Morte D’Arthur has been seen as something of an embarrassment for centuries now, the Three Kingdoms is justly revered as one of the Four Great Masterpieces of Chinese literature.  One of the main characters, Lord Guan Yu, is literally worshipped as a god in parts of the world.  There’s simply no way I can approach it, as a subject, in the same vein as Malory’s terrible, terrible epic.

Fortunately, there’s a decent alternative present within Western literary tradition:  the Histories, by the Father of History himself, Herodotus of Halicarnassus!  It’s not nearly as bad as Malory but c’mon, what is?

Herodotus didn’t invent history per se; other people were writing more-or-less accurate accounts of selected events before he came along.  However none of his predecessors’ works have survived to the present day. His sweeping (and extremely lengthy) text includes a survey of the world as he knew it and all the people within it, just to provide background for his main topic, the Second Persian War.  This may sound dry, but that’s only because you aren’t aware that the world as he knew it included giant ants that collected gold, flying serpents, crystal mummy-tombs, and a temple with a plutonium altar!  Plutonium may be too strong a word, but what else do you call a big cylinder that glows green in the dark and is considered more precious than gold?

Herodotus’s editors divided his work into nine books, each named for one of the Nine Muses.  This is twelve fewer than Malory needed, though the Histories and Le Morte D’Arthur are approximately the same length.  Granted, they could have merged Terpsichore with Erato and Urania with Calliope, and thus have seven books all very roughly equal length instead of nine books with wildly divergent word counts, but this organization has some rhyme and reason to it, unlike Sir Thomas “I’ll just paste the conclusion of Books VIII, IX, and X in here at the end of Book XII, no one will notice” Malory’s.

My Dionysian imitatio of the Histories will, I warn you, differ in structure and tone somewhat.  I’m looking at this not as a final product, but as the first-draft rough-cut version of something I’ll eventually assemble into handsome ebook volumes and recoup literally tens of dollars with.  Also, while Le Morte D’Arthur had dialog and a relatively limited number of characters, the Histories is wall-to-wall stultifying description and character-free narratives that meander wildly before drifting back to the Second Persian War.  It’s Abraham Simpson stories, all the way down.  In the future when I’m editing this behemoth, I’ll do my best to carve out the most interesting bits and contextualize events.  I’ll have sections titled “Croesus, What a Guy,” or “In which the Oracle at Delphi peddles some entertaining balderdash.”  But that’s not until 2017 or whenever I finish this first pass.  Right now, we’re going to be working our way through the book in the approximate order it was written in.  You’ve been warned.

(Also, for serious, the ebook version of Arthur Dies at the End is a substantial improvement on the rough-cut stuff I’ve had posted here.  It’s reasonably priced and comes with attractive ebook covers!  What more could you want?  Buy it!  Tell your friends!  Tell your coworkers!  Send out mass emails!  I need those literally tens of dollars, people! I’m not going to beg but okay, I’m begging!  This is me begging!)

Herodotus!

We start with Book I, Clio, named for the Muse of History.  Clio the Proclaimer! Clio, Daughter of the Lord of Cloud-Capped Heaven!  Golden Clio, the Giver of Sweetness!  Clio, Queen of Song!  Clio who granted us the art of remembering things that have already been; she taught us to write and to sing.  She knows the hearts of the gods and the way by which things come to be.  It is right to begin the sacred work with Clio, for unforgetting Clio keeps all ages, and all the storied annals of the past.

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Primary Sources: Le Morte D’Arthur, Book XXI Conclusions

So, that was a thing that happened, huh?  After lots of meandering, the story of the Death of Arthur really got started in Book XX, and in Book XXI we have the deaths not only of Arthur, but also Gawaine, Launcelot, and Guenever.  Plus we finally get to see a little bit of Sir Mordred, and while we spend only a single chapter with the man, I think we do get a sense of just how much of a dick he is.

The first of the four big deaths in this book is Sir Gawaine, who dies in the midst of Arthur’s army capturing Dover.  After Gawaine spent the back half of Book XX taking massive amounts of punishment and defeating dozens of knights, it’s a little surprising that his final battle occurs off-screen and with anonymous foes; by the time Arthur finds him he’s already dying.  But even so, he gets to pull one last classic Sir Gawaine screw-up: writing a letter exhorting Launcelot to come fight Mordred with Arthur.  By the time Launcelot gets the letter, Mordred and Arthur may both be dead already, and certainly Launcelot disregards the letter as a cheap ploy.

Then from beyond the grave Gawaine brittas it again*, and tells Arthur to delay because surely Launcelot is on his way, and what happens?  Arthur’s doom comes whether Arthur’s ready or not, big battle, and Arthur dies.  Or travels to the magical island of Avalon; Malory seems to want to have that one both ways, what with the magical boat bearing him off together with Morgan and Nimue, and also with Bedivere and the Archbishop of Canterbury founding a monastery at the site of Arthur’s tomb.  This Book is the only one wherein Malory admits he doesn’t have a solid grip on the French romances he’s translating, because they all disagree with one another about Arthur’s death and final fate, and the final fates of Bors and the handful surviving brethren of the Round Table.

He’s sure about one thing though: Guenever is a great nun.  She changes the way people think about nunning!  And I can believe it, mainly because Malory has had so few good things to say about Guenever since her introduction back in Book III.  So if he’s willing to call her a great nun, then she’s a great nun, end of story.  She’s so great that, even though her star-crossed love for Launcelot drives her to faint three times when they meet again, she declines his offer to run off to be the Queen of France with him.  Instead she stays in the convent and runs out the clock, which so upsets Launcelot that he goes off and becomes a monk, too, out of spite as much as anything.

So that’s the great love story of medieval romance: her husband dies, she declines to remarry her longtime lover; they both become religious ascetics and eventually die.  And Sir Gawaine is just the worst.

* Gawaine gets no respect.  “Knock knock!  Who’s there?  Cancer!  Oh, good, come in, I thought it was Sir Gawaine!”

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Primary Sources: Le Morte D’Arthur, Book XXI, Chapter 13, the end

So the Archbishop and the hermit-knights break out their funeral wagon, last used to transport Guenever’s body.  They load Launcelot onto it, and take the Knight of the Cart on one last cart-ride, across the land to his old home, Joyous Gard, now a cold and empty place.  They hold a large funeral for him, in the courtyard outside Joyous Gard, with bonfires and lots of peasants come to gawk at the dead body.

In the middle of the funeral, up rides Sir Ector the Lesser!  He doesn’t recognize any of his old friends, because he hasn’t seen them for seven years and they’re all in robes with beards.  They recognize him, though, and are extremely sheepish that they completely forgot about him.

“Seven years I’ve been looking for you guys!  You all went off to be monks together and you didn’t tell me?!”

The hermit-knights are pretty abashed about it.  They invite Ector to join their order, since with Launcelot dead there’s an empty bunk at the hermitage.  At this point, says Malory, the story is pretty much over.  Launcelot’s dead, Guenever’s dead, oh and of course Arthur’s dead.  The hermit-knights go back to the hermitage, or whatever, and they dwell there. After a time Sir Constantine (who becomes the King of England after Arthur, mainly by keeping his head down until everyone else who wanted it is dead; that’s how you win the game of thrones) recalls the Archbishop of Canterbury to quit being a hermit and get back to the important work of Archbishoping.  Maybe the hermit-knights go their separate ways at that point, with only Sir Bedivere remaining at the hermitage.  Maybe Bors, Ector, and the rest get involved in the Crusades or something.  Malory doesn’t know, and he doesn’t particularly care.

The book ends with a polite request from Sir Thomas Malory for you, the reader, to do him a solid and pray for him.  If he’s alive, pray for him, and if he’s been dead for centuries and you’re reading a retelling of his novel on an electronic device of some kind, pray for his soul in Purgatory.

Thus endeth this noble and joyous book entitled the Death of Arthur. Notwithstanding it treateth of the birth, life, and acts of the said King Arthur, of his noble knights of the Round Table, their marvellous enquests and adventures, the achieving of the Grail, and in the end the dolorous death and departing out of this world of them all. 

Mic drop, Malory out!

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Primary Sources: Le Morte D’Arthur, Book XXI Chapters 11 and 12

Malory flashes forward seven years.  Everything is the same, except Launcelot has become a priest.  The hermits have become a regular little monastery of quiet introspection and contemplative meditation.  One morning, at breakfast, Launcelot tells his fellow-hermits that he had a marvelous advision the night before: Guenever, dead.

“Was this a dream, or a holy vision?” asks the Archbishop of Canterbury.

“Holy vision, I’m pretty sure,” says Launcelot.  “My Guenever-related dreams are extremely different.”

“We’d better go to Almsbury, then, and check it out,” says the Archbishop.

So after breakfast, Launcelot together with seven or eight of his nine close friends, sets out for Almsbury.  It’s not terribly far, thirty miles, but the hermits lack horses and are not in fighting shape, so it takes them two days to hike it.  Frankly I think that thirty miles in two days is pretty good, but what do I know?  I’m a coddled American who rarely walks more than three miles in a stretch.

When they arrive in Almsbury, they go immediately to the convent, where Guenever lies in state.  She’s dead, sure enough.  Oddly enough, though, she’s only a half-hour dead.  When she died, a mere thirty minutes prior to Launcelot’s arrival, she predicted that he would come for her, and told the nuns to ask Launcelot to bury her with her husband.

In a wash Launcelot realizes that it’s finally all over, well and truly.

They bear Guenever’s body back to the hermitage, where they hold a nice funeral for her and inter her with Arthur.  Launcelot, so stoic before, breaks down during the funeral.

“Suck it up, man,” says the Archbishop.  “It’s unseemly!”

“No.  No, it’s not unseemly.  For our love was a special thing, and it’s only right that I mourn her.  She and I had a real thing going for a while there.  It can’t be wrong of me to mourn her.”

Then Launcelot stops eating and dies.  He dies very slowly, over weeks.  The odd bit here is that, according to Malory, he shrinks before he goes, and dies a foot shorter than when he lived.  Sir Bors and the Archbishop try to talk him into eating, but they can’t bring him around.  Instead he asks for a funeral, and is told he’ll get a good one.

“Don’t bury me here, with Arthur and Guenever; I don’t deserve it.  Bear my body back to Joyous Gard.”

Afterwards the Archbishop falls asleep.  He dreams a holy vision of his own: Launcelot happy in heaven.  Sir Bors rushes in and wakes him.

“You were laughing in your sleep!  But I have sad news…”

“Launcelot is dead,” says the Archbishop.  “Yes, I had a vision.”

And it’s true!  He’s dead.

Knights of the Round Table who have died: a list I surely won’t have to update as we go on from here!

Sir Balin, slain by Sir Balan in Book II.*

Sir Balan, slain by Sir Balin in Book II.*

Sir Accolon, slain by King Arthur as a result of Morgan’s plan failing in Book IV.*

King Pellinore, slain offscreen by Sir Gawaine sometime after the start of Book IV.

Sir Chestaline, Sir Gawaine’s youthful ward, slain by Roman soldiers during Book V.*

Sir Marhaus, slain by Sir Tristram early in Book VIII.

Sir Lamorak, slain offscreen by Sir Gawaine and his brothers around the time of Book X.

Sir Uwaine, slain by Sir Gawaine in Book XVI.

Sir Colgrevance, slain by Sir Lionel in Book XVI.

King Bagdemagus, slain by Sir Gawaine sometime prior to Book XVII.

Sir Galahad, ascended into heaven with the Grail in Book XVII.

Sir Percivale, died of grief after coming in second on the Grail-Quest, in Book XVII.

Sir Patrice, ate a poisoned apple intended for Sir Gawaine, in Book XVIII.

Sir Meliagrance, decapitated by Launcelot with one hand tied behind his back, in Book XIX.

Sir Tristram, murdered by King Mark sometime before Book XX.

Sir Colgrevance, again, slain trying to arrest Launcelot, in Book XX.

Sir Agravaine, slain trying to arrest Launcelot, in Book XX.

Sir Mador de la Porte, slain trying to arrest Launcelot, in Book XX.

Sir Meliot de Logris, slain trying to arrest Launcelot, in Book XX.

Sir Petipase of Winchelsea, slain trying to arrest Launcelot, in Book XX.

Sir Galleron of Galway, slain trying to arrest Launcelot, in Book XX.

Sir Melion of the Mountain, slain trying to arrest Launcelot, in Book XX.

Sir Astamore, slain trying to arrest Launcelot, in Book XX.

Sir Grummore Grummursun, slain trying to arrest Launcelot, in Book XX.

Sir Curselaine, slain trying to arrest Launcelot, in Book XX.

Sir Florence, slain trying to arrest Launcelot, in Book XX.

Sir Lovel, slain trying to arrest Launcelot, in Book XX.

Sir Gingalin, slain trying to arrest Launcelot, in Book XX.

Sir Gaheris, slain by Launcelot during his rescue of Guenever, in Book XX.

Sir Gareth, slain by Launcelot during his rescue of Guenever, in Book XX.

Sir Belliance, slain by Launcelot during his rescue of Guenever, in Book XX.

Sir Segwarides, slain by Launcelot during his rescue of Guenever, in Book XX.

Sir Griftlet the Caterer, slain by Launcelot during his rescue of Guenever, in Book XX.

Sir Brandiles, slain by Launcelot during his rescue of Guenever, in Book XX.

Sir Aglovale, slain by Launcelot during his rescue of Guenever, in Book XX.

Sir Tor, slain by Launcelot during his rescue of Guenever, in Book XX.

Sir Gauter, slain by Launcelot during his rescue of Guenever, in Book XX.

Sir Gillimer, slain by Launcelot during his rescue of Guenever, in Book XX.

Sir Reynolds, slain by Launcelot during his rescue of Guenever, in Book XX.

Sir Damas, slain by Launcelot during his rescue of Guenever, in Book XX.

Sir Priamus, slain by Launcelot during his rescue of Guenever, in Book XX.

Sir “the Other Kay” Kay, slain by Launcelot during his rescue of Guenever, in Book XX.

Sir Driant, slain by Launcelot during his rescue of Guenever, in Book XX.

Sir Lambegus, slain by Launcelot during his rescue of Guenever, in Book XX.

Sir Herminde, slain by Launcelot during his rescue of Guenever, in Book XX.

The Green Knight, slain by Launcelot during his rescue of Guenever, in Book XX.

The Red Knight, slain by Launcelot during his rescue of Guenever, in Book XX.

Sir Gawaine, died of injuries after retaking Dover from Mordred, in Book XXI.

Sir Mordred, slain by King Arthur in the final battle, in Book XXI.

King Arthur, traveled to Avalon, in Book XXI.

Sir Lucan, died of injuries sustained in the final battle, in Book XXI.

Sir Lionel, slain in battle in London for some reason, in Book XXI.

Sir Launcelot du Lake, of old age, in Book XXI.

Starred entries are knights who were not, technically, members of the Round Table, but who were more or less solid Camelot-allies.  Total knights officially dead: fifty-three.

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