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The Once And Future King : Mythology and Motivation from the Arthurian Legends


Most people when asked about the Arthurian legends will bring to mind well known tropes from idealised British fantasy. Indeed, the Arthurian legends, in combining medieval history and ancient mythology, created those tropes. There are maidens in flowing dresses in extraordinary castles, brave knights in shining armour, old wizards with long beards, seductive witches, changelings, ghosts, giants, dwarves, elves, goblins, unicorns, dragons, magical swords, and otherworldly lands. There are wise rulers, antagonistic offspring, sibling rivalry, obsessions and madness, dangerous quests, romances both pure and destructive, and competitive love triangles. There is the theme of the end of the old ways and the rise of the new. The only thing missing from what we consider staple fare for contemporary fantasy is hobbits; and we all know where they came from.

For those who are a little more familiar with the story, they might mention a youngster who draws a magic sword from a stone during a time of chaos, which determined the King of all the Britons, receives Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake, who rose and united the land against invaders, formed a semi-democratic and multicultural council of knights, the Round Table. They may also mention the establishment of chivalry as a knightly code of conduct as the foundations of 'noblesse oblige', a tradition sorely lacking in contemporary times. They may even mention the illicit romance between Lancelot and Queen Guinevere, and the tragic parallel between Tristram and Isolde, the rise of the Waste Land, and the search of the Holy Grail to cure the ills of the world. They will also certainly mention Mordred, Arthur's nephew and son (think about that for a moment and let it sink in), who eventually fights Arthur at the Battle of Camlann and wounds him, leading Arthur to be sent to the isle of Avalon, where he rests, until he will return again, in accord with the 'King in the Mountain' motif, to save the green and pleasant land of the Britons in the time of greatest need.

But what really is this story? Why has it survived for hundreds of years, with its many and various representations? There are literally thousands of published poems, hundreds of books of prose and plays, scores of films, computer games, studies, and so forth. Is there, stripped of even all the supernatural embellishments, even a kernel of truth to the legend? Why is it still popular to this very day, and doubtless will be in the future? What can we learn from it? To answer these questions one must explore the actual history of Britain when the stories were set and compare them to the medieval stories of the Arthurian legend. One must also look at some of the modern reconstructions and interpretations of the legend. One must also engage in literary analysis, to discover the motivating factors that have ensured the tale's continued popularity.

Of Evil and Cows With Guns

Last Sunday (11/01/2015) was the Poetry and Music Service at the Melbourne Peace Memorial Church. My reading was the Dana Lyons classic Cows With Guns, a comical story of a cow that leads a revolution. But a special dedication also had to given on the day to those assembled, and to visitors to this site to Darren Irvine.

The Philosophy of Music

Introduction from Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain (Oliver Sacks, 2007)

A World Without Evil?

1.0 What is "evil"? Is there a common language or philosophical definition that is secular, or must it rely on religious and metaphysical attachments?
1.1 A religious-metaphysical notion of evil is that it is associated as a supernatural moral position, commonly associated with extreme forms of blasphemy, heresy etc. In a secular context, where moral norms are not derived from supernatural assertions, moral evil can be described in the context of extreme actions contrary to normative positions.

The Metaphysics of Physicalism and Idealism

"The great basic question of all philosophy, especially of more recent philosophy, is that concerning the relation of thinking and being.... the question of the relation of thinking to being, the relation of the spirit to nature - the paramount question of the whole of philosophy ... The answers which the philosophers gave to this question split them into two great camps. Those who asserted the primacy of spirit to nature... comprised the camp of idealism.

Ontology of Space and Time

1.0 Traditional religious views

1.1 The Hindu Vedas describe a cyclical cosmology of time, in which the universe goes through repeated cycles of creation, destruction, and rebirth, with each cycle lasting 4,320,000 years. Hindu comsology also argues "There are innumerable universes besides this one ... they are unlimitedly large (Bhagavata Purana c750 CE).

Small Gods on the Pale Blue Dot

This address brings together some of the ideas of two great thinkers of our time; Terry Pratchett and Carl Sagan. It is from Terry Pratchett's satirical fantasy novel "Small Gods" that themes of religious oppression, false belief, and sincerity is addressed. It is from Carl Sagan's scientific humanism, espoused in "Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space" that a better sense of perspective, our relative importance, and a hope for our future, can be derived. On an abstract level, combining the two could initially be seen as a difficult or even foolish project. One is fantasy fiction, the other is hard science with a humanist angle. But of course, it is not abstract genres that are being discussed here, but rather the thematic content.

Terry Pratchett is an English author of fantasy fiction, most well known for the Discworld series which now spans over forty novels in its own right. In the 1990s he was the UK's best-selling author, and has sold over 85 million books in 37 languages. In 1998 he was awarded an OBE and in 2009 in he was knighted for his services to literature, which I am sure he took with comic humour to the pomp and ceremony. Perhaps more to his liking, he received the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement in 2010. In late 2007 he announced that he was suffering from early onset Alzheimer's disease, and just a few days ago he had to pull out from his planned attendance as guest to the International Discworld Convention, stating "the Embuggerance is finally catching up with me".

Carl Sagan was an American astrophysicist and science communicator, a professor of astronomy at Cornell University, and the the author of over six hundred scientific papers and author, co-author, or editor of over twenty books. Whilst his scientific research contributed enormously to the discovering the surface temperatures of Venus, he is most famous as the co-author and presented of the television series Cosmos in the 1980s, broadcast to over 60 countries and seen by over 500 million people. Sagan was also an advocate of the Search for Extra-Terristerial Intelligence (SETI), a view expressed in his best-selling science fiction novel, Contact, published in 1985, and made into a film in 1997. Sagan died of pneumonia at the age of 62 on December 20, 1996.

Philosophy of Language Roundtable Discussion

1.0 Definition and Interests

1.1 Language is the structured means of communication. Communication is the activity where expressions (ideas, feelings, etc) are expressed symbolically (through speech, writing, gestures) through a medium between two or more participants. In order for communication to be successful it is necessary for the language utilised to be meaningful and mutually understood.

'Star Wars' and The Universe as an Energy Force: An Ontological Claim

1.0 'Star Wars' and The Force

1.1 In the sci-fi movie series "Star Wars", a metaphysical power called "The Force" is introduced. The Force is described by the Jedi knight Obi-Wan Kenobi in the following terms: "It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together". As a product of living things, when there is large scale destruction of life sensitive individuals refer to "a disturbance in the Force". In later releases of the series (earlier in the sequence) it is established that the Force is biological, the result of midi-chlorians, described by George Lucas as being "a loose depiction of mitochondria, which are necessary components for cells to divide".
1.2 Some of the exotic powers that those who have control over the Force include unnatural strength, levitation, telekinesis, telepathy, suggestive hypnosis ("Jedi mind control"), enhanced reflexes and speed, long-distance empathy, precognition, directional lightning, and ghostly projection. Force sensitivity represents a potential from birth and is trainable to that potential. It is expressed entirely through ego projection (Yoda: "Do. Or do not. There is no try.")
1.3 The physicalist of midi-chlorians explanation has been largely rejected by the Star Wars fan-base, and especially by followers of Jediism, a nontheistic religious or religious parody movement which claims adherence to the ideas behind the force and the associated ethic which recognises the existence of a "dark side" to The Force. Yoda says "Anger, fear, aggression! The dark side of The Force are they. ... A Jedi uses The Force for knowledge and defense. Never for attack." One of the activities of the adherents of Jediism is to proclaim and advocate such recognition in census forms. This has been particularly notable in Australia (65,000 in 2011), New Zealand (20,000 in 2011), England and Wales (176,632 in 2011).

Magical Thinking : An Anthropological Excursus

1. The relationship between philosophy and anthropology
1.1 If philosophy, narrowly defined, is the study of ontology, epistemology, and logic, then these have a relationship with anthropology, broadly defined, as the study of humankind. For particular aspects of human behaviour must have a relationship with the higher level philosophical issues - thus this represents a tangential excursus from our usually studies in philosophy.


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