Histories of the Kings of Britain: King Arthur by Geoffrey of Monmouth

The Historia Regum Britanniae is a wonderfully rich work of literature that was passed off as history, unchallenged from its writing around 1136 for about 400 years or so.  It covers over 2000 years of history from the founding of Albion by the Trojans following the events of The Iliad, and continuing through to the Saxon dominance circa the 7th century.  Among the stories within are the earliest account of King Lear and his daughters, an account of Julius Caesar’s invasion, and an early version of the Arthurian legend.  It’s been in my to-read pile for a long time.  Having spent the past month working through Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, I decided I wanted to read the Arthurian bits from this older tome.  Wouldn’t you know it, Audible actually has it.  Pay no attention that I have the entire paperback in my personal library.  I’ll get there!

Histories of the Kings of Britain: King Arthur is, sadly, not the full Arthurian account.  There is a quick excerpt from Book 7: The Prophecies of Merlin, then it skips over Book 8, which deals with accounts of Aurelius Ambrosius and Uther Pendragon, culminating in the birth of Arthur.  Instead, the story picks up in media res with Book 9.  Uther is dead, Arthur has taken the throne, and he pushes back the Saxons to the point where they can’t regroup until well after his death.  Arthur’s knights and men-at-arms cut a swath of conquest across Europe and celebrate the peace that unfolds as a result.  The peace is broken when the Roman Emperor Lucius Hiberius (or Lucius Tiberius, a traditional or mythical figure who later appears in Malory’s epic) demands Arthur come to Rome to pay tribute on behalf of Britain.  Not one to take this lying down, Arthur and Lucius pit their armies against one another in Gaul.  The entire portion of this story covers Books 9 and 10.

And this is where more disappointment comes into play.  Books 11 and 12 of the Histories tells the account of Arthur returning from battle to learn his nephew Mordred has taken the throne for himself and married Guinevere just because he could.  Arthur revenges himself against Mordred at the Battle of Camlann.  As we know, this is the final battle, where Arthur is mortally wounded and taken to Avalon.  The version that appears here is abridged to the point where it comes across as an epilogue.  If you don’t know that, it feels complete, but I would have loved to have the more complete account.  Indeed, I’d have loved to have the entirety of Geoffrey’s epic in audio.  The good news is that the larger part of the story involving Lucius is lesser known to general audiences and no less fascinating, and it’s fun for me to compare this version with the one that appears in Malory’s version.

There’s no point in rating an excerpt based on what they left out.  Indeed, I’m rather pleased by what I got.  This version is translated for easy understanding and serves as an excellent tease to the greater work.  And let’s be honest, when it comes to this sort of thing, I’m biased and easy to please.

5 stars.

 

arthur

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