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In Search Of The ‘Original’ King Arthur – Post Script

I am Arthur, king of the Britons … or is that Artheer … or Arthoor?

First of all, let me say I am neither a Welsh or Irish speaker or an expert of the development of either language, so I would be very grateful for any corrections on what I say below.

This blog is a Post Script to a earlier post, which, if you’d like to read first, click HERE. In this post I went on a journey to see if I could discover the ‘original’ – or close to – pronunciation of Arthur. We are so used to the name now it’s hard to image it sounding like anything else other than ‘Arthur’ (In some parts of England, more like ‘ARthuh’, ‘AHtha’, ‘ARRthurr’ or ‘AHffa’). But to the Welsh speaking Welsh or Gaelic Irish or Scots (who don’t pronounce it the English way) it is pronounced very differently. This said, we should probably keep in mind the regional variation in Britain in the Late 5th/Early 6th centuries, and, indeed, later. Whilst the dialects/accents may not have been as diverse as they are now, they must still have been present.

Many people will also be unaware of the great difference (as well as similarities) between Brittonic and Modern Welsh, or even Old or Middle Welsh. Here are some examples taken form the paper ‘Old and Middle Welsh’ by David Willis (although Dr Graham Isaac has a slightly different take on this development – see below).

“Brythonic *esjās tegos > ModW. /i θɨ/ ei thŷ ‘her house’ (‘house’) via the change /-s t/ > /θ/;

Brythonic *sweks tabarnās > MW. /xwe θavarn/ chwe thafarn ‘six taverns’ (tafarn ‘tavern’) via the change /-s t/ > /θ/;

Brythonic *ak tortā > ModW. /a θorθ/ a thorth ‘and a loaf’ (torth ‘loaf’) via the change /-k t/ > /θ/.”

θ= a voiceless dental fricative … or a th to you and me!

For what’s about to be written you need to know the following:

  • Long a (ā) sound as in apesnailacheexplain, and reindeer
  • Long e (ē) sound as in eatagonyneedlepianist, and electricity
  • Long i (ī) sound as in eyecrytightropetile, and violin
  • Long o (ō) sound as in ohdominoghostpillow, and stethoscope
  • Long u (ū) sound as in yousalutetoothbrushgooseboot, and costume

Modern Welsh should pronounce Arthur as ‘Arthērrr’ (the ‘u’ being an ‘ē’ sound as in Cymru=Kumrē) with rolling rrrs. This made me wonder how this could be if the ancient Gaels got the name from the British, as some argue they did? Artúr in Irish is pronounced ‘Artūr ‘ (genitive Artúir= ‘Artūir’ , with the ‘i’ either hardly pronounce or not at all). If this came from British, it should come from Arthgwr/Arthwr (or the Brittonic equivalent such as *Artos(Artu)-wiros=>Arthouros … I think … or Arthouros if I’ve got Dr Graham Isaac’s theory right). The ‘w’ in Welsh giving a long vowel ū.

However, I discovered that the Welsh vowel ‘u’ is the only one to have significantly changed from Middle to Modern Welsh (Middle Welsh=approx 12th to 14th centuries – dates vary). This vowel, which now has an ‘ē’ sound (or something close to it) then was an ‘ū’ sound. So, whilst Arthur might be pronounced Arthēr today, it could, indeed, have been ‘Arthūr’ in the past. But, this only applies with a written name, not an orally transmitted one. If Arthur was ‘Arthūr’, one would think when the vowel changed, they’d spell it Arthwr. Not necessarily, apparently. The spelling can be ‘frozen’.

There is the spelling of Arthur in the ‘Brut Tysilio’ (c. 15th century), which is rendered as Arthyr. I thought this could be an older version of the name making ‘Arthēr’ again. However, the vowel ‘y’ had replaced ‘i’ by the 15th century, which has an short vowel ‘u’ (‘uh’) sound if used in a single syllabic word or final syllable of a multi syllabic word; so Arthur being written Arthyr would, in Modern Welsh/Early Modern Welsh (scholars differ on dates), almost render the English version of the name ‘Arthur’ (but with a rolling rrrs of course). So this may not be an ‘Arthēr’ but a sound close to what the name had become to the English (Anglo-Normans) through these later legends.

Arthur (‘Arthēr’) should be Erthir/Arthir in Old Welsh. But this would render Goidelic (Irish) Artír and not Artúr or Artur.

Should the Irish version of the name tell us how this name was transmitted? It might, if it came via the Britons as some argue. If it was from a British ‘Arthūr’ it then shows an early transmission when the ‘u’ was still an ‘ū’. It also allows for a transmission in the opposite direction. However, I discovered that the spelling in Irish also changes from document to document. Some are Artur (Artuir) not Artúr (Artúir). This would mean it sounded like ‘Artuhr’ (and Artuhir). I thought I’d better check the documents again.

Adamnan simply gives Áedáin’s (possible) son the name Arturius, with no Gael equivalent, though it would most likely be Artur. However, the ‘Annals of Tigernach’ (AT) tells us.

“Iugulacio filiorum Aedan .i. Bran & Domungort & Eochaid Fínd & Artur, i cath Chirchind in quo uictus est Aedhan, & cath Coraind.”

… and for Conaing:

“Hii sunt filii Conaing meic Áedáin .i. Rígallán Ferchar. Artán. Artúr. Dondc[h]ad. Domungart. Nec[h]tan. Ném. Crumíne”

Here we have one as Artur and one as Artúr. Was this just bad copying, could each sound as a long vowel ‘ū’, or were they, in fact, two different names?

Arthur ap Pedr in the ‘Expulsion of the Desi’ is ‘Artuir maic Retheoir’ .

Again in the AT Arthur son of Bicoir is …

Artuir filio Bicoir Britone

Annals of the Four Masters‘ has …

h-Artur, mac Bicair, do Bretnaibh

Subsequent Gaelic Arthurs are given a mixture of both spellings.

So, actually, only one document uses the spelling Artúr (‘Artūr’), the rest use Artur (‘Artuhr’) it seemed to me. To come from British, the latter would have to come from Old Welsh Arthir/Erthir (Arthur/Erthur). The latter name is attested to in the poem about the sons of Llywarch Hen.

However, I then found a phonetic pronunciation of a line from an Old Irish poem:

ina churchán tar muir nglan

ih-na KHOOR-khawn tahr MOOR NGLAHN

This gave the short vowel ‘u’ a long vowel sound ú. I was confused! I needed an expert and so went to the Listserv discussion group site, OLD-IRISH-L. I had a reply from Dennis King telling me that the scribes weren’t always careful about adding the long marks that would denote a long vowel, but it would most likely be pronounced with the long vowel. I had a similar reply from Dr. Mícheál O Mainnín, Director of Research, Irish & Celtic Studies at Belfast University adding that sometimes the long vowel marks were hard to discern on some manuscripts but the meter of the text also gives it away as a long vowel. So, even Artur, would be ‘Artūr’. (I hope you’re following this!).

Nennius in the 9th century uses the spelling Arthur, which, in his time, would have produced ‘Arthūr’ and not ‘Arthēr’. But what would someone purely reading this in Latin make of it?  In Vulgar Latin ‘u’ was an ‘o’, so it should read as ‘Arthor’. BUT, it could also have been read as a a short vowel ‘u’ or long vowel ‘ū’, as far as I can see because at the time they didn’t attach accentuation marks to them. (Help!) Either way, it wouldn’t be ‘Arthēr’. (They would try and denote long vowels on grave inscriptions, using ‘VV‘. So Arthur should be rendered as ‘ARTVVRIVS‘. Hence why the Welsh use the long vowel ū for a ‘w’).

So, it looks like the pronunciation of Arthur would be Arthūr (Arthoor) (with rolling rrrrs), regional variations not withstanding. What it was in Brittonic/Brythonic (before 550 – although dates differ) or Primitive Welsh is still debatable. It may have had over 200 years of oral transmission with the language changing before it was written down and a lot could have happened in that time. If there was an Arthur around in 500 AD he almost certainly got his name via Vulgar Latin Artūrius or Latin Artūrus; but one thing’s for certain, it wouldn’t have sounded anything like the English ‘Arthur’.

I look forward to corrections and comments.

Thanks for reading,

Mak

Sources:

I have to thank the power of Twitter for getting me in touch with  Dr. Mícheál O Mainnín, Director of Research, Irish & Celtic Studies at Belfast University via Ciaran Bradley and SLDP member Dominic Bradley MLA.

OLD-IRISH-L LISTSERV GROUP

https://listserv.heanet.ie/cgi-bin/wa?A0=OLD-IRISH-L&X

Old-Irish Spelling and Pronunciation by Dennis King

http://www.smo.uhi.ac.uk/sengoidelc/donncha/labhairt.html

Reading Old Irish, The Values of the Letters

http://www.smo.uhi.ac.uk/gaeilge/donncha/focal/features/rdgoldirish.html

Index of Names in Irish Annals: Artúr by Kathleen M. O’Brien

http://medievalscotland.org/kmo/AnnalsIndex/Masculine/Artur.shtml

The Chronology of the Development of Brittonic Stops and the Spirant Mutation by G. R. Isaac.

http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/uwp/jcl/2004/00000008/00000001/art00003

‘Old and Middle Welsh’ by David Willis

http://people.pwf.cam.ac.uk/dwew2/old_and_middle_welsh.pdf

Middle Welsh Vowels and Diphthongs by Elizabeth J. Pyatt

http://www.personal.psu.edu/staff/e/j/ejp10/cymcanol/alphabyw/vowel-alone.html

The Wales-Catalonia Website

http://kimkat.org/amryw/1_vortaroy/geiriadur_cymraeg_saesneg_BAEDD_u_1025e.htm

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2011 in King Arthur

 

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In Search of the ‘Original’ King Arthur – Part Five

The Pennines in northern England

UPDATED 1.6.12

Arthur Penuchel c. 570s (?)

Said to be one of the sons of the northern British ruler Eliffer (of the Pennines/York), along with Gwrgi and Peredur. He, perhaps, shouldn’t be included here because of his mention in the Jesus College MS 20 genealogies is thought by most to be a scribal error for their sister Arddun, who appears in the incomplete Peniarth MS 47. The scribal error is understandable, but the epithet penuchel (‘arrogant’/‘high head’/‘overlord’) is a little harder to understand, unless Arddun herself had it. There was one other ‘penuchel’: Sawyl penuchel (ben uchel), the son of Pabo Post Prydein and a descendent of Coel Hen. To confuse matters even further, this ruler was also called Samuil Penisel (‘low-head’/ ‘humble’).

In yet another MS (Peniarth MS 50) it gives Gwrgi and Peredur a brother called Ceindrech pen asgell (‘Wing-head’) and it can be argued that there may have been a confusion between Ceindrech and Arddun and a corruption of pen asgell. The main problem is it’s hard to trust these genealogies.

August Hunt makes a case for this Arthur in his (little read) ebook ‘The Arthur of History – A Reinterpretation Of The Evidence’ (2011). August also gives a another possible interpretation of the epithet as deriving from VXELLODVNVM, the Roman fort of Stanwix on Hadrian’s Wall. The name of the fort means uxello=‘high + dunum=fort’. (Hunt, 2011, pp.77-78). So, he argues, the epithet penuchel could have meant ‘chief of the high (fort)’. This is not how most interpret it.

The thing against this Arthur existing is he is not mentioned with Gwrgi and Peredur as being involved at the Battle of Armterid in 574. But, if he wasn’t born until 570 he would only have been a child at the time. But that date is a guess anyway and he makes no appearance anywhere else.

If this Arthur did exist, he may not have been an Hiberno-Britannian (as far as we know), but he was northern, and he appeared at the same time as the others … that is, unless, this was just another name for one of the other Arthurs.

Feradach hoa Artúr (c. 697)

This mean ‘Feradach grandson of Artúr’. Of course, it isn’t Feradach who has the name, but his grandfather, and we need to ask who this might be.

Jaski’s paper again:

“At this stage we have to take Adomnán’s law to protect clerics, women and children from warfare into account. Cáin Adomnáin, which was promulgated in Ireland in 697, includes a Feradach hoa Artúr, among the clerical guarantors. That he was from Scotland seems likely, especially since other Scottish clerics, as well as Bruide, king of the Picts, are included in the guarantor list. As his name indicates, he was a grandson or descendant of Artúr, possibly (one of the) the Artúr(s) we have considered above. If so, we may be certain that he was on familiar terms with Adomnán, who thus would have been aware of Artúr’s true descent. But since there are a number of uncertainties, the name of Artúr’s father remains a matter of debate.” (p. 93)

I’ll return to this character later when discussing the Campbell’s and MacArthur’s (spurious to say the least) genealogies as he appears in them and may give a clue as to which Artúr he was the grandson of.

Artharus rig Cruthni (date uncertain)

This is one I only recently discovered through Jaski’s paper, although I should have seen it earlier as he appears in The Expulsion of the Dési.

“It is found in a list of the forshluinte ‘subject peoples’ of Dál Fiachach Suidge, the ruling dynasty of the Dési of Munster, which is appended to the text in Rawlinson B 502. It includes the Bruirige o Bruru mac Artharu rig Cruthni ‘Bruirige from Bruru son of Artharu, king of the Picts’. The independent version in Dublin, Trinity College, MS 1298 (olim H. 2.7) of the fourteenth century has Brurige nó Briunu mac Partharo regis Pictorum. If Artharu refers to the name Arthur, its spelling is distinctively odd. Irish texts normally have Artúir as the genitive. The form Partharo may be related to Partholón (from Latin Bartholomaeus), who appears as the ancestor of the Picts in Lebor Bretnach, the Gaelic translation and redaction of the ‘Nennian’ recension of Historia Brittonum [He also appears in the Book of Invasions]. This is a highly uncertain example, but there is a possibility that the form Artharu was inspired by the northern British name Artúr Irish scholars were familiar with.” (p.102)

Vanora’s Stone. Meigle

T’would indeed be interesting if the Hiberno-Picts (Gwydyl-Fichti) or Picts were using the name also … or a variation of it. Scottish tradition does have Arthur’s supposed wife, Gwenhwyfar (cognate with Irish Findabair), as a Pict (though I doubt she’d be dressed like Keira Knightly was in the last Arthurian movie). She (supposedly) appears in a Pictish stone sculpture in Meigle, North Ayrshire being torn apart by animals on the orders of Arthur because of being accused of infidelity after she’d been abducted by Mordred. Here she’s called Vanora. The stone is thought to actually show Daniel and the Lions from the Bible.

The pre-Galfridian, Early-12th century French Benedictine monk Lambert of St. Omer did write that Arthur’s palace was in Pictland in his Liber Floridus … after having crossed out ‘Britain’ first.  (Liber Floridus, Early-12th century. See http://www.liberfloridus.be/wie_eng.html) His work may have been based on a version of the H.B. that no longer exists. (Dumville, “The Liber Floridus of Lambert of Saint-Omer and the Historia Brittonum,” Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies 26.2 (May 1975): pp.103-122). Why he changed his ethnicity, if he did, we do not know, unless his information said Arthur was from the North and he assumed this to mean Pictland? (Lambert also only calls Arthur a “dux”, “miles,”, “leader” and “soldier”, but not a king).

As I have put forward, those names reused tended to be the names of great men – Caroticus and Constantine to name but two – and these names were obviously passed down through centuries in some cases. It is possible that this is how the name Arthur came to be used, via Vulgate Latin Artūrius, and epigraphic evidence shows that it was a name used throughout the Roman empire, although not in Britain. If this was the reason the Hiberno-British were giving their sons the name, then one of these Artorii before them had greatness, and logic dictates that he was the first one.

Other Arts & Arths

I’m not going to further discuss the other ‘Art‘ and ‘Arth’ based names that are put forward as the historical Arthur because, as far as I can see, Arthur’s name was ‘Arthur’.

For those interested to know what these other British and Irish Arth or Erth based names are, here’s some of them:

Art, Artchorp, Arthrwys, Arthmael/Arthfael, Arthgen, Erthir, Arthfoddw, Arthgal (may derive from Ardgal), Arthlwys, Arthen, Arthnou (from ‘Artognov‘ of the stone from Tintagel)


Thanks for reading,

Mak

 

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