The Project

Everyone knows about the Sword in the Stone and the Knights of the Round Table. But what about Merlin’s madness and his escape to the forest to become a wild man of the woods, King Arthur challenging a king who turns out to be a werewolf, Gawain fighting in single combat for days to help capture Jerusalem…? These and tales like them are told in a group of Latin texts that are the focus of our project.Although the Arthurian legends are most commonly associated with famous works in the vernacular languages, the first person to tell the story of King Arthur extensively wrote in Latin, namely Geoffrey of Monmouth and his Historia regum Britanniae (‘History of the Kings of Britain’), finished in 1136. There are other twelfth-century Latin texts recording stories of Arthur and his circle too. We will focus on five of them: their titles, translated into English, are The Life of Merlin, The Norman Dragon-Banner, The Story of Meriadoc, The Rise of Gawain and The Story of King Arthur and King Gorlagon the Werewolf. These texts tend to be overlooked in favour of the much-loved Arthurian texts in French and English, and scholars have often dismissed them as too fantastical to be any use as historical sources. We are suggesting a new way to think about them, as basically a bold experiment in fantasy-fiction, trading off the success of Geoffrey’s Historia. But whereas the Historia was in genre everyone understood, that is, historical narrative, these more blatantly fictional texts were trying to be entertaining while using types of literature people at the time may have seen as stuffy and old-fashioned: the same people, that is, who could not get enough of thrilling new tales of romance and adventure in their native languages. How could our Latin fantasy-fiction compete? Luckily, despite that set-back, these texts have survived to show us that Latin literature could be more inventive than we thought.As well as reading our texts against the backdrop of twelfth-century fiction, our project’s goal is to provide new editions of them, with English translations and explanatory notes that will introduce them to a wider audience.