Thursday, 18 July 2013

King Arthur and The Twelve Disciples of Sherwood Forest


1. I watched the series on BBC4 about The Dark Ages a while ago, and the presenter explained that as there is no description of what Jesus actually looked like, he was originally portrayed as a cheerful, curly haired blond lad with a wand and the image of Jesus as a long haired, bearded, masculine brooding character did not become standard until centuries later.

2. A foreigner asked me who the English national folk heroes were, so I gave him a crash course in King Arthur and Robin Hood, and it occurred to me that the three stories/legends are more or less identical.

3. Hopefully, most of you will be familiar with Jesus and his life story, who was a real person and is based on historical facts, but if you think about it, the King Arthur and Robin Hood legends just follow the same general template. In all three cases, the legend does not take shape until long after their death.

Birth, family background, leadership skills
JC: Son of God but grows up in a very humble family and re-achieves fame/greatness by force of personality.
KA: Son of a king, obviously, probably Roman-British rather than Celtic-British, defends an embattled kingdom which he rules justly and kindly.
RH: Son of an Anglo-Saxon landowner/minor aristocrat*, leads a motley band of followers and is very cunning.


JC: Traditionally depicted with long hair, moustache and beard (since the Middle Ages, at least), sometimes depicted with halo.
KA: Usually depicted with longish hair and as often as not, with a moustache and beard. Wears a crown or helmet (or both).
RH: Also usually has longish hair and traditionally, a twirly moustache and a goatee/beard. Wears a cheery green cap with a feather in it.

Are fighting an underdog battle against textbook "baddies"

JC: Campaigns against corrupted Jewish leaders/sects who are in cahoots with the Romans. Not too keen on money changers.
KA: Fights against Saxon invaders and dark magic. Quite who his enemies were is never really made clear.
RH: Fights a guerrilla war against local Norman officials/invaders, but is still somehow mates with the absentee Norman King and in some legends, he fights for the Saxons, on the basis that my enemy's enemy is my friend.

Live humbly, are nice to the little people, honourable towards women etc

JC: Gentle soul, itinerant preacher, speaks up for the oppressed masses, goes round feeding them loaves and fishes and curing leprosy.
KA: More of a king-type king in a castle, although by his standards, times are tough because of the Saxon invaders. Protects his subjects against vaguely defined oppressor-enemies.
RH: Robs from the rich (Normans) and gives to the poor. Lives a bare life in the forest (in a hut? a cave? what?). Tells his men not to harm The Prioress (even though she has brought about his death)

Has twelve loyal supporters

JC: Has the Twelve Disciples, who all appear to be much of a muchness. One of them was a fisherman and Judas betrays him later on. Is there anything interesting to say about the rest?
KA: Has his twelve Knights of The Round Table, these are slightly more rounded characters. Percival is a visionary, Lancelot is the boldest etc.
RH: Had the best gang of all, which are proper characters in their own right and with their own back stories (Littlejohn, Friar Tuck, Alan a Dale etc). These have been liberally invented as tastes changed. The token dark-skinned/Saracen character is a very new addition, but to prevent the story becoming too confusing, most stories only focus on half a dozen of them.

Supra- and supernatural elements

JC: Son of God, performs miracles etc.
KA: Lady in the Lake, Sword in the Stone, Merlin, Holy Grail (ties in with Jesus).
RH: Relatively down to earth, but can perform feats way beyond the abilities of a normal man, like splitting the arrow.

Unlucky in love

JC: Not clear whether Maria Magdalena is supposed to be his girlfriend or not, but they never marry or have children.
KA: Was married to Guinevere, but she cheats on him with Lancelot and they never have children.
RH: Had an on-off relationship with Maid Marian, also minor nobility/ward of King Richard etc, they never marry or have children.


JC: Betrayed by one of his disciples, Judas, even though Jesus knew his number was up anyway.
KA: Betrayed by Mordred, who is not actually a full knight but certainly a trainee, protégés or close relative. Also betrayed by Guinevere & Lancelot.
RH: Betrayed by his cousin the Prioress of Kirklees.

Died young of violent or unnatural death

JC: Crucified age 33. Comes back to life after three days and ascends to Heaven.
KA: Disappears off to the Isle of Avalon (where is that?) to recover from wounds inflicted by the traitor Mordred and is never seen again, he never officially dies, possibly turns into a raven.
RH: Is bled to death by his cousin the Prioress while she is pretending to help his illness, fires one last arrow and is buried in the forest where it falls (luckily the window was open at the time).

* This is a much later embellishment to make him more palatable to the Home-Owner-Ists and to prevent him becoming a proto-Georgist figurehead. The Sheriff of Nottingham collects land rents from the peasants for his own benefit, so when RH steals it back he is imposing quasi-Land Value Tax and when he dishes it out to the poor/peasants again, that's like a Citizen's Dividend.


Ian Hills said...

Chances are the medieval outlaws were really rural versions of the Kray gang. Yes, they looked after the poor - the twins' part of London was the safest in town, and they gave money to gangsters' widows too - and in return the locals looked after them, hiding their stash and doing little jobs for them. But like the Krays, medieval gangs kept most of the loot for themselves.

Mark Wadsworth said...

IH, yes, in real life Robin Hood is an amalgam of lots of real life robbers, many of whom will have behaved like the Krays,

I was referring to the idealised Robin Hood figure of legend.

ageing man said...

Next you'll be suggesting Santa Claus is not real..... please don't, I wouldn't be able to cope with the disappointment....

Thra...... who'd have thought it ..... Jesus masquerading as Robin Hood.

Mark Wadsworth said...

AM, Santa is real, as is Tooth Fairy.

And I never said Jesus masqueraded as Robin Hood, Jesus was the original and elements of the Robin Hood mythology are based on Jesus.

Lola said...

I do not think that RH 'robbed the rich'. To me it looks like he robbed the rent seeking classes and the illegitimate authority figure of the Sheriff of Nottingham. The 'rich' he robbed were often the Church - the mega-corporation of his day, and other landowners.

Two questions. Was RH an early Georgist? Was he a libertarian?

Mark Wadsworth said...

L, yes of course he was a proto-Gerogist and libertarian, but I relegated that to the footnote because that was not the point of the post.

Bayard said...

"Is there anything interesting to say about the rest?"

There's "Doubting Thomas", who always seemed to me to be a reasonable character and went off to India to found his own church.

"JC: Not clear whether Maria Magdalena is supposed to be his girlfriend or not, but they never marry or have children."

There's quite a large school of thought that holds that JC did marry MM and that the "wedding in Cana" where JC turns the water into wine, was their wedding, but she was downgraded by later clerics who wanted to justify a celibate clergy. (also that they had children and that the "Holy Grail" is not some cup or other, but the Sangreal or the royal blood, i.e. JC's bloodline, as memorably publicised by Dan Brown.

Lola said...

MW It therefore seems that libertarianims and Georgeism are in the English psyche. Good oh!

Lola said...

MW - also apologies for missing your footnote. I was reading and posting in the sunshine on my terrace.

I have fairly often had the argument that RH was an anti landlord libertarian, especially in connection with the ludicrous 'Robin Hood Tax' meme to justify a Tobin tax.

ageing man said...

Phew.... I knew the Tooth fairy is real because looking at my gob, you can see where I get my wealth from.

But it was I who said Jesus was masquerading as RH.

The thing is I grew up in RH land and I remember as a young child being taken by my school to RH's oak tree in Sherwood Forest and sitting inside it. [I don't think you can get near it these days].

But my school convinced me of the reality of RH. It was a CofE school and they also convinced me of the reality of JC.

Back then I was young, stupid and unquestioning. Now I am old, stupid and question everything.

So the reality [in my head at least] is that JC is no more RC than I am Brad Pitt or that I will score the winning goal in a FA cup final.

But when you look at the shit we are fed as kids, is it any different as adults ?....

so whether its JC, RH, Bogey Man in the wardrobe, Al-qaeda, BinLaden....identities can be very interchangeable.... just depends on what controlling perspective you want to create....

Alas even the great santa is now at risk...

Weekend Yachtsman said...

A more interesting case is Charlemagne, who whilst being a fully historical figure with loads of documentation and even an extant biography, has somehow become semi-detached and drifted off some way into the land of legend.

It's strange how these things go.

DBC Reed said...

In the study of literature there is a great deal of discussion of the hero and whether a character conforms to the pattern. Can't remember the criteria now ,but epic scope (ie his story affects the fate of nations)and being betrayed and killed unjustly figure a lot. Also after having been betrayed by a coward, he is somehow or another not really dead.
I tried to convince my students that Elvis was such a hero but they would n't buy it, as so often.

Mark Wadsworth said...

B, OK, there's Thomas, but he has no "back story".

As to the JC/MM marriage, I've seen those programmes as well, but I'm trying to stick to the most widely believed version of each of these myths, as suitably embroidered and edited to suit current political convenience.

L, yes of course, that is the whole reason for making him a minor artistocrat. So TPTB can "sell" the story as Robin trying to "reclaim" his own personal land, rather than him implementing a rough and ready LVT-CI system.

AM, who is "RC"?

That's a good post BTW, only Santa doesn't go into kids' bedrooms, he goes to the room downstairs where the tree is. It's St Nicholas who does the stockings.

WY, one of the miracles of "Charlemagne" (or Karl Der Grosse, as I know him) is that he was born in dozens of different places. Every third or fourth village or town in the south of Germany has a little plaque or shrine saying "KdG was born here".

DBC, yes, Elvis is a semi-divine figure, he did the "rose from humble background" and "fight against adversity" and "betrayal" (Tom Parker, enlisting) and "dying young" bits well enough, but he's missing the "miraculous circumstances of birth" bit, and he was quite happily married and had a daughter.

ageing man said...

Tks for comment about post....

RC should have been RH... my tiping is shete and i reely mist proff read pproperly before hitting sund bitton.

As for Santa and St Nick, there you, down to perspectives.... my kids always had Santa fill their stockings hanging at the foot of the bed.... St Nick always reminded me a a religious character [immaterial whether he is or not] but I elected to go for the king of the consumerist world and we had Santa.....

The joke being I love going to my local church on Christmas eve to rejoice the birth of JC... awaying in a manager whilst we watch our flocks at night.... reminds me of being a kid.

That's what happens going to a CoF primary school.... your formative years brain washed.

DBC Reed said...

@mw Would n't go so far as to claim Elvis is divine only that he conforms to a lot of the criteria for the Hero in literature. Its not common or possible for a hero to tick all the heroic boxes (and I am not sure miraculous birth is one of them) but Elvis over-fulfils the not really dead criterion. Type Elvis not dead into Google and it comes up with well over 17 million responses. Although, from the most cursory of glances, some of these appear of the "Oh yes he is, you idiots" variety, that still leaves
double digit millions thinking He Will Return! and that's only those who can be arsed to go sufficiently public with their beliefs to end up on Google. There is an Elvis sightings society.