THE DISCOVERY OF KING ARTHUR by Geoffrey Ashe

THE DISCOVERY OF KING ARTHUR

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

A step in an interesting direction. Ashe, author of several British-published books about the light shed on Arthurian legend by recent developments in pre-Saxon archaeology, provides a) a general popular survey of the major texts bearing or possibly bearing on Arthur (from Gildas, Nennius, and Geoffrey of Monmouth to chroniclers of the Frankish, Gothic, and Saxon migrations); b) a brief account of the survival of quasi-Roman values in the post-Roman West; and c) a claim to have identified a historical original of the legendary Arthur. The first two are fairly well-trodden ground, and Ashe tends to rather grand generalizations and summaries when not grappling with the specific details he needs to corroborate his identification. That identification, however, rests on some highly worthwhile thinking. Ashe decided to examine a part of the legend that has seldom been regarded as central: the story that Arthur took an army to Burgundy in a campaign involving a Roman emperor. Looking around for evidence of such an expedition, he came on a fifth-century King of the Britons identified in contemporary sources as Riothamus or Riotimus (probably a title, ""Highest King,"" rather than a proper name), who is indeed reported to have led an army into Gaul against the Visigoths and whose dates can perhaps be juggled to accommodate at least some of the anti-Saxon campaigns claimed for the legendary Arthur. Riothamus is last mentioned escaping into Burgundy--curiously, the site of the only legitimately identifiable ""Avallon."" Though this is a book rather meagerly padded out around its one real contribution, Ashe is almost surely correct in thinking that traces of Arthur's presence on the Continent represent the most promising line of current investigation.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1984
ISBN: 0750942118
Publisher: Anchor/Doubleday