Explorations in Arthurian Legends

A Literature Review

Part 3: The Vulgate Cycle

The Vulgate Cycle is a masterpiece of medieval literature. Eight vast volumes comprising five branches give us the whole Arthurian story as we know it for the first time ever. Scholars believe that the outline for the cycle was the work of one man but that several authors wrote the works.

Presented in prose, the Vulgate stories make the tragic love of Lancelot and Guinevere a crucial element of the downfall of Arthur's kingdom and his Round Table. Also here in great bas-relief is the idea of the conflict between personal and public loyalty.

The Vulgate Cycle makes Lancelot the main character, but Arthur it is who draws the whole of the works together. The Round Table, for the first time, is a means of righting wrongs and combating evil. The Knights of the Round Table are on a mission to do good. This mission gives the Table an overall purpose, until now an element not found in Arthurian stories. The story of the downfall of Arthur, a tragic figure of epic proportions, now has a focus: The Knights of the Round Table seeking the Holy Grail. Set against the backdrop of a quest for spiritualism, the sins of Arthur and Lancelot and Guinevere and Mordred stand in stark relief while the goodness of Galahad and Perceval shine supreme.

At the same time, these characters are vividly human. They have passions that they cannot control, they make mistakes, they share dreams, they have faults that are laid bare by their failures, they live and breathe the ideals of the times of the Vulgate authors.

Lest we think that the English and French have a monopoly on Arthurian storytelling, let us examine two highly importand and enjoyable German writers: Wolfram and Gottfried.

More on the Vulgate Cycle

The Full Vulgate

The entire cycle in one book

Excerpts from the Vulgate Cycle

The epic Lancelot saga

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