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Durham University

St Cuthbert's Society

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Publication details

Archibald, Elizabeth (2014). Variations on romance themes in the 'Historia Meriadoci'. Journal of the International Arthurian Society 2(1): 3-19.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

The little known Latin Arthurian narrative Historia Meriadoci presents many challenges. Was it written in the twelfth century, in which case it is an early example of Arthurian romance, or is it later, in which case it reflects already developed motifs? It uses numerous romance themes – separated family, dispossessed heir, young knight arriving at Arthur’s court – but the protagonist leaves the Arthurian milieu quite early on, and pursues a military career more characteristic of epic on the continent. Arthur is presented in a rather disparaging light, as an unjust ruler (there is considerable emphasis on legal issues). This may reflect Welsh traditions in which he is not always an idealized king. But the story is written in Latin: who was the author, and what was the target audience? Does the fact that it was written in Latin, presumably for a largely clerical audience, explain the lack of interest in love, and in detailed accounts of courtly life, which one might expect to find in a vernacular romance? The author seems to draw on historical accounts of European wars as well as more legendary material. The mixture of romance and epic in this text may be compared with the Latin verse narrative Ruodlieb, produced in Germany in the late eleventh century. The Ruodlieb is much more elaborate in style and in plot, but also draws on a wide range of sources to produce a hybrid narrative which might be aimed at a similar audience, well-educated but ready to enjoy a range of heroic adventures, aware of Arthur but not averse to criticism of him.