“The Death of King Arthur” translated by Simon Armitage (Norton, 2011)

Death of King Arthur

Simon Armitage’s translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was a delight to read and well-received by many readers (it remains one of the top read reviews on BookBanter), and now Armitage is back with his new translation of The Death of King Arthur, appearing in 1400, also known as The Alliterative Morte Arthure; it is imbued with the passion and panache of Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf.

The story opens at a Christmas day feast where King Arthur is entertaining his round table of knights and the people of his court.  It is rudely interrupted by an emissary of the emperor Lucius Iberius, who is demanding Arthur pay taxes and tributes owed to the emperor.  Thus begins Arthur’s journey across Europe, as the reader learns of the extent of the king’s lands, as well as his power and ability as a leader and knight in these descriptive and alliterative scenes of conquest.  The Knights of the Round Table will eventually reach their destination, where Arthur will confront the emperor, but also meet his inevitable end.

Armitage does a fantastic job of creating a translation of this tale that is both entertaining and addictive to read, but still maintains its alliterative originality.  Published in a bilingual edition, readers can enjoy glancing over at the original Middle English text and see the original lines and stanzas, and also see how Armitage has masterfully crafted this text to be alliterative as well as encompass the modern English language.  Both King Arthur fans and fans of Armitage’s work will not be disappointed.

Originally written on February 6, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

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