Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Arthur's Other Sword?



Arthur's Other Sword?

When many people hear the term "Legendary Weapon" they probably think of one of the most famous of all Legendary (ie, possibly real) weapons of all time: Excalibur, the sword of King Arthur. But was that the son of Uther Pendragon's only famous sword?

There are many, many different versions of the story of King Arthur. Each has the King wielding a magical sword, but other versions include a second, or rather, first sword: the sword in the stone.

In his story Merlin, Robert de Boron has Arthur taking the throne after pulling a sword from an anvil, sitting atop a stone, from a churchyard--on Christmas Eve. This version of events later becomes the more familiar tale of Arthur pulling the sword from a stone itself and securing the throne. In most tales, Arthur is later given his magical sword by the Lady of the Lake, a Fae entity interested in seeing Arthur continue his rule over the land. When Arthur is dying he then wishes to return the sword (in some tales) and enlists assistance in throwing it back into the lake from which it came--the Lady catching it and carrying it into the depths.

While mostly known by the name Excalibur today, Arthur's famous sword has also been called Caledfwlch in Welsh; Calesvol in Cornish (in Modern Cornish: Kalesvolgh), Kaledvoulc'h in Breton; and Caliburnus in Latin (which may mean cut through steel, in French). Generally speaking, the magical bade was unbreakable, a sword of unparalleled might. 

Chr├ętien de Troyes' late 12th-century Old French tale, Perceval, has Sir Gawain carrying Escalibor, a sword said to be able to "slice through iron as through wood". That may sound like a tall tale, but Damascus Steel blades, made in Syria from Indian wootz steel, from the 3rd to 18th centuries, were often said to be able to slice through rock and lesser steel. German scientists in 2006 reported finding "nanowires and carbon nanotubes" in a blade forged from Damascus steel--possibly accounting for the legendary properties of such blades. 

And speaking of a sword in stone,  at the Rotonda at Montesiepi, near the ruins of the Abbey of Saint Galgano, the handle of a sword said to have belonged to San Galgano, protrudes from stone. Testing of the metal confirms it is of the same type as a sword from Galgano's area. Formerly a ruthless man, Galgano repented and became a Holy man after having visions of the Archangel Michael. 

As the legend goes, Galgano was told in his vision that he was to renounce material possessions. The future-Saint countered that this would be as easy as splitting a rock and thrust his sword into the ground as if to prove a point. Instead, the sword pierced the the stone easily, then became fused in place. After his death, Galgano was cannonized in 1185 and a Monastery built over where his sword still stands. 

Was Excalibur really Arthur's sword? Was it his only magical weapon? 

A Middle English poem, Morte Arthure, dating from around 1400 A.D., retells the story of Arthur, and mentions Clarent, a sword meant for knighting and ceremonies rather than battle, but which Mordred (Arthur's infamous nephew) stole and used to kill Arthur.

In fact, tales of magical swords possessing supernatural abilities are very common in folklore and fiction. 

Whether inspired by Saint Galgano's tale, Welsh or even Nordic folklore, one thing remains certain: the legend of King Arthur and his mystical swords lives on, to the extent you can even purchase replicas on Amazon. NOTE: No one really knows what Excalibur looked like and most replicas are based on swords of the time.

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