You have to feel sorry for King Arthur. He starts off in the earliest matter of Britain, the now sadly fragmented Celtic sources, as a true legendary hero in his own right, leading a band of extraordinary warriors on quests to hunt monstrous boars, as in ‘Culhwch and Olwen’, or to steal magical cauldrons from the Otherworld, as in the poem ‘Preiddeu Annwfn’ that can still give one a shiver of the mysterious: ‘’Three times the fullness of Prydwen we went in…None but seven ever came back from Caer Rigor’. Then along comes Lancelot and not only cuckolds him but nicks all the best lines. Disapproving Dante might have been, but it was still Lancelot and Guinevere, not Arthur, who inspired one of the most beautiful passages in the ‘Inferno’, and despite the title of his work, ‘Le Morte d’Arthur’, it’s Lancelot who gets the great send-off from Sir Thomas Malory….
The Death of Lancelot
AND when Sir Ector heard such noise and light in the quire of Joyous Gard, he alighted and put his horse from him, and came into the quire, and there he saw men sing and weep. And all they knew Sir Ector, but he knew not them. Then went Sir Bors unto Sir Ector, and told him how there lay his brother, Sir Launcelot, dead; and then Sir Ector threw his shield, sword, and helm from him. And when he beheld Sir Launcelot’s visage, he fell down in a swoon. And when he waked it were hard any tongue to tell the doleful complaints that he made for his brother. Ah Launcelot, he said, thou were head of all Christian knights, and now I dare say, said Sir Ector, thou Sir Launcelot, there thou liest, that thou were never matched of earthly knight’s hand. And thou were the courteoust knight that ever bare shield. And thou were the truest friend to thy lover that ever bestrad horse. And thou were the truest lover of a sinful man that ever loved woman. And thou were the kindest man that ever struck with sword. And thou were the goodliest person that ever came among press of knights. And thou was the meekest man and the gentlest that ever ate in hall among ladies. And thou were the sternest knight to thy mortal foe that ever put spear in the rest. Then there was weeping and dolour out of measure.
Sir Thomas Malory