Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Clive Owen, describing his role as King Arthur in a movie to be shown next summer:

"It's a new take on the whole King Arthur story -- unlike anything you've ever seen before," he says. "What I didn't realize is that King Arthur is actually a myth that developed over hundreds of years and has been slowly pieced together.

"There's this sort of romantic vision of Arthur. Our version is set earlier than it's usually set. We have it at 500 A.D. as opposed to medieval times. Basically, the Roman empire is crumbling."


Pardon me? Crumbling Roman empire? Pre-medieval? Earlier than the Arthurian legend is usually set? 500 AD?!?
Let's see what's wrong with this picture.

1. Rome was sacked in 410.

2. The Roman legions withdrew from Britain, completely unlinking it from the Roman Empire, at approximately the same time. By 500, Rome was well and truly crumbled.

3. 500 AD, early 6th century, is either the very beginning of the medieval period, or possibly the end of the late antique period. Certainly, it is much earlier than the "high" middle ages, the twelfth through fourteenth centuries, in which time
period some retellers of the Arthurian cycle place it, but

4. According to Geoffrey of Monmouth ("historian" writing c. 1134), the battle of Camlann, ending Arthur's reign, occurred in the year 542. This date is problematic, and cannot precisely be reconciled with the rest of Geoffrey's History of the Kings of Britain, but is about as close as we can get for a date of Arthur's reign.

5. Ergo, the producers of the new Arthur movie are actually correct to place the king in the year 500, just where it belongs... with the small caveat that Rome is dead. Dead. Dead.

6. Except that Geoffrey of Monmouth invents an Emperor of Rome, Lucius, for Arthur to conquer and thus prove himself greater than the Roman Empire. If this movie actually has Emperor Lucius in it, I will be less displeased by the continued (albeit sick) existence of the empire.

7. Actually, I can't make myself too displeased. As far as I can tell from the scanty details in this article, Disney might actually do Arthur in something vaguely approaching a historical mode. It's only the difference between this production and previous wrongheaded takes on the legend that confuse poor Clive Owen so much.

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