MEDVL_101_King_Arthur_Final_Paper - Final Paper Who Was...

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12/11/07 Final Paper Who Was Arthur’s Second Greatest Knight?—A Comparison of Sir Lancelot and Sir Gawain There has been much debate over the years on the rankings of King Arthur’s knights, in terms of their chivalric ideals, importance, and overall ability. Where there is no debate is in position number one; that spot belongs to Galahad, the son of Lancelot. Galahad was the “chevalier exemplaire”, or perfect knight (Joe, 1999). He was not bothered at all by earthly temptations and he honored the code of chivalry so perfectly that he was carried off to heaven by angels. Now that this has been classified as a race for second, who fills the spot? Bors, Percivale, Tristram, Lionel, Bedevere, and Key were all quintessential knights to Britain, but they paled in comparison to Sir Lancelot, the hero of medieval French literature, and Sir Gawain, the idol of medieval English and Scottish literature (Busby, 1991). Sir Lancelot is generally viewed today as Arthur’s best knight, surpassed in earthly chivalry by none and in celestial chivalry only by his son Galahad. Sir Gawain, however, is viewed as a distant second to Lancelot. The ideas in this paper will demonstrate that despite today’s common perception, Gawain was a greater knight that any of Arthur’s other knights, including Lancelot; this can be justified by his great loyalty to the king throughout his lifetime and because he only exhibited one minor flaw. Sir Galahad, son of Lancelot, was considered to be the purest and noblest of all of Arthur's knights, including his father, Lancelot. When Galahad appeared at Arthur's court, he was the only one who could sit at the Siege Perilous at the Round Table. This place had been kept vacant for the sole person who would accomplish the quest of the Holy Grail; for anyone else sitting there, it would prove to be immediately fatal. The king then asked the young knight to perform a test which involved pulling a sword from a stone. This he accomplished with ease, and King Arthur swiftly proclaimed Sir Galahad to be the greatest knight in the world. With the help of Percival, Galahad achieved the Holy Grail, became the Keeper of the Grail, and was taken to the Grail resting place to guard it for the future. Galahad was a virgin who had committed no sins in his lifetime. Therefore, he was not only Arthur’s greatest knight, but
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the greatest and purest knight the world had ever seen (Joe, 1999). Since all of Arthur’s other knights were flawed in some way, the discussion shifts to Arthur’s second greatest knight. Based on readings of most medieval literature up until the time on Chretien de Troyes, Lancelot could be characterized as a good and faithful knight of the Round Table. In writings such as “Historia Regum Britanniae” by Geoffrey of Monmouth, Lancelot was portrayed as a good knight, but nothing extraordinary; he was certainly not the poster-boy of chivalry as he is known today (Lacy, 1996). So what happened to change the common perception of Lancelot? It was Chretien de Troyes who took Lancelot’s status to that of a legend in his series of five poems which centered on Arthur and his knights.
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