The Death of King Arthur. Poet Simon Armitage translates/adapts a Middle English 1400s poem usually called "Alliterative Morte Arthure" which predates Malory's version.
I had a look at the original but it's frustratingly on the edge of readability: some lines are perfectly intelligible, others use too many unfamiliar words. Just a couple of centuries later and you're in familiar Shakespearian English, but this I think falls over the line.
The poem is quite bloodthirsty with lots of gruesome Homer-esque wound close-ups. There are few supernatural elements apart from prophetic dreams. It deals mostly with a Continental war fought by Arthur against the Roman Emperor "Sir Lucius Iberius" (apparently a historical person who was a Roman official but not an emperor), who foolishly demands tribute from Arthur. Arthur wins the war but trouble has been stirring at home.
The poetry is effective but feels a bit clumsy at times: not sure how much is the translation and how much the original. It's easy to read with a strong Anglo-Saxon-style rhthym.
The poem doesn't feel like a classic: it gets a little repetitive and the characters are sketchily drawn. Overall though it's an intriguing and entertaining read, though rough round the edges.
What I'm Reading 2
Richard III and the Princes in the Tower by A.J. Pollard. Short history of the king that acknowledges uncertainty but basically upholds the standard view. It was written before the body was exhumed, and as was usual points out the lack of contemporary evidence of any deformity, speculating that the hunchback was just a metaphor.
Pollard looks at the likely murder of the two princes and affirms that it was all but certain that Richard had them killed, and that the killing was well outside the norms of the age. It's true that adults who had declared hostility were sometimes killed according to the "laws of battle". Richard was willing to simply have nobles murdered without trial, and in killing actual children under his care was doing something shocking even then.
Other than that he was a capable ruler, and took lots of steps to enforce a fairly neutral justice. It's impossible to say whether this was pure pragmatism or genuine concern, but he remained popular in the North where his power base was, and among the lower classes.
His short and troubled reign didn't give him time to achieve very much: while he seems to have been capable at what he did, he didn't leave behind more than a minor legacy.
Overall a decent history: short, lucidly written and seems to have solid scholarship as far as I can tell. Pollard is an expert on the period not a generalist: it's rare for a specialist to write so well for a mass audience.
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