Dining With Authors: A Bit Of A Mystery

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I am currently teaching a course Medieval Literature at The Wescoe School of Muhlenberg College, and I am having a great time exploring these texts. Among the texts we are studying are Beowulf, Sir Gawain And The Green Knight, and Le Morte D’Arthur. Many themes and historical circumstances connect these works, but for the purposes of this post, I am concerned with the mysterious nature of their authors.

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Unknown Author Beowulf, British Library Cotton Vitellius A.XV

Beowulf is an old English poem, probably written during the 800s or 900s A.D. and is arguably the oldest piece of English literature.  That is a scholarly debate and interesting, but it is not my main point here. The works deals with a warrior hero and is set in ancient Scandinavia.  The poet is usually called “the Beowulf poet.”  We have neither a clear idea nor evidence to indicate who he might have been.  That he was educated is clear, but was he a member of the clergy or nobility or someone else? We don’t know.

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 Howard Pyle from The Story of King Arthur and His Knights (1903)

We also do not know the identity or background of the person who was the poet of Sir Gawain And The Green Knight. An argument can be made about the approximate area of Britain from which he originated, but even that is scholarly supposition.  We simply do not know who this writer was.

King_Arthur_and_the_Knights_of_the_Round_Table

https://en.wikipedia.org

On first glance, a different situation might seem to be the case with Le Morte D’Arthur, since an author’s name is attached to the work: Sir Thomas Malory. There is, however, a problem because there were at least seven people who claimed that name at that time, and we cannot be certain which one, if any, wrote the work.  Ah the interest of the literary mystery!

Given that uncertainty surrounding the identities of these three writers, I thought I would issue an invitation to these three unknown authors to dine at a pub with me and see who arrives.  Who do you think might be there? Who might choose to sit and dine with me and discuss their writings?

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Dining With Characters: Part 3

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It has been a while since I have made an entry to this series, so I thought it was definitely a good time to do so. As before, I am imagining what it would be like to invite a few fictional characters to a dinner and have conversation with them.

Beowulf_Cotton_MS_Vitellius_A_XV_f._132r

https://en.wikipedia.org

(This is the first page of the extant original copy of Beowulf, written in Old English.)

 

Today’s guests are Beowulf, King Arthur, and Aragorn, all kings from British epics: Beowulf, Le Morte d’Arthur, and The Lord of the Rings. These books range from the Dark Ages, circa the mid 800s to the Middle Ages, circa 1485 to the contemporary world in the mid 1900s. These texts are all important to me, both as a reader and as a teacher, because I have used all of these books in different college classes. While covering a very long historical range, they all deal with the difficulties faced by leaders especially when the fate of their kingdoms rests in their decisions and actions.

King_Arthur_and_the_Knights_of_the_Round_Table

https://commons.wikimedia.org

(King Arthur and his knights)

For this entry, we would dine again at a traditional British pub, and we would be seated around a fairly large, wooden, round table.  This seems appropriate, given the attendees.

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“Aragorn300ppx” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Aragorn300ppx.png#/media/File:Aragorn300ppx.png

I would like to ask these three kings what it was like to lead soldiers actively into combat. Unlike the leaders of contemporary armies, they faced death directly with their fellow fighters. I would also ask them what they see the main responsibilities of leaders to be. I would also like to ask them if they consider fate to be real, or are they in control of their own destinies?  Given the variation in optimism and pessimism that ranges in their attitudes, their approaches to facing the difficulties of life and death would be fascinating to explore.

I would certainly be curious to see how these three warrior kings spoke with each other. I think a checking of the swords at the door might be a very good idea.

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What questions would you ask these leaders?