Excalibur n : the legendary sword of King Arthur
Excalibur or Caliburn is the legendary sword of King Arthur sometimes attributed with magical powers or associated with the rightful sovereignty of Great Britain. Sometimes Excalibur and the Sword in the Stone (the proof of Arthur's lineage) are said to be the same weapon, but in most versions they are considered separate. The sword was associated with the Arthurian legend very early. In Welsh, the sword is called Caledfwlch.
Forms and etymologiesThe name Excalibur came from Old French Excalibor, which came from Caliburn used in Geoffrey of Monmouth (Latin Caliburnus). There are also variant spellings such as nEscalibor and Excaliber (the latter used in Howard Pyle's books for younger readers). One theory holds that Caliburn[us] comes from Caledfwlch, the original Welsh name for the sword, which is first mentioned in the Mabinogion. In Culhwch and Olwen and the Welsh Bruts, Arthur's sword is also called Caledfwlch (derived from caled, "battle, hard" + bwlch, "breach, gap, notch"). It is often considered to be related to the phonetically similar Caladbolg, a sword borne by several figures from Irish mythology, although a borrowing of Caledfwlch from Irish Caladbolg has been considered unlikely by Bromwich and Evans. They suggest instead that both names "may have similarly arisen at a very early date as generic names for a sword"; this sword then became exclusively the property of Arthur in the British tradition.
Another theory states that "Caliburnus" is ultimately derived from Latin chalybs "steel", which is in turn derived from Chalybes, the name of an Anatolian ironworking tribe. According to Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable by Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, Excalibur was originally derived from the Latin phrase Ex calce liberatus, "liberated from the stone". In Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, Excalibur is said to mean "cut-steel". Geoffrey of Monmouth calls Arthur's sword Caliburnus, a name which most Celticists consider to be derivative of a lost Old Welsh text in which bwlch had not yet been lenited to fwlch. In early French sources this then became Escalibor, and finally the familiar Excalibur.
In her book The Ancient Secret, Lady Flavia Anderson postulates that "Excalibur" has a Greek origin, Ex-Kylie-Pyr or "out of a cup—fire". This corresponds to her thesis that the Holy Grail refers to those items used to draw down the Sun in order to make fire. Excalibur, she believed, was a "brand of light" and associated with Aaron's Rod. Just as only Aaron or Moses could make their rod "flower" (into flame), so only Arthur could pull Excalibur from the stone.
Excalibur and the Sword in the Stone
In Arthurian romance a number of explanations are given for Arthur's possession of Excalibur. In Robert de Boron's Merlin, Arthur obtained the throne by pulling a sword from a stone. In this account, the act could not be performed except by "the true king," meaning the divinely appointed king or true heir of Uther Pendragon. This sword is thought by many to be the famous Excalibur and the identity is made explicit in the later so-called Vulgate Merlin Continuation, part of the Lancelot-Grail cycle. However, in what is sometimes called the Post-Vulgate Merlin, Excalibur was given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake sometime after he began to reign. She calls the sword "Excalibur, that is as to say as Cut-steel." In the Vulgate Mort Artu, Arthur orders Girflet to throw the sword into the enchanted lake. After two failed attempts he finally complies with the wounded king's request and a hand emerges from the lake to catch it, a tale which becomes attached to Bedivere instead in Malory and the English tradition.
Malory records both versions of the legend in his Le Morte d'Arthur, and confusingly calls both swords Excalibur. The film Excalibur attempts to rectify this by having only one sword, which Arthur draws from the stone and later breaks; the Lady of the Lake then repairs it.
CaledfwlchIn Welsh legend, Arthur's sword is known as Caledfwlch. In Culhwch and Olwen, it is one of Arthur's most valuable possessions and is used by Arthur's warrior Llenlleawg the Irishman to kill the Irish king Diwrnach while stealing his magical cauldron. Caledfwlch is thought to derive from the legendary Irish weapon Caladbolg, the lightning sword of Fergus mac Roich. Caladbolg was also known for its incredible power and was carried by some of Ireland's greatest heroes.
Though not named as Caledfwlch, Arthur's sword is described vividly in The Dream of Rhonabwy one of the tales associated with the Mabinogion: Then they heard Cadwr Earl of Cornwall">CadorCadwr Earl of Cornwall being summoned, and saw him rise with Arthur's sword in his hand, with a design of two serpents on the golden hilt; when the sword was unsheathed what was seen from the mouths of the two serpents was like two flames of fire, so dreadful that it was not easy for anyone to look. At that the host settled and the commotion subsided, and the earl returned to his tent.|From The Mabinogion, translated by Jeffrey Gantz.
Caliburn to ExcaliburGeoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain is the first non-Welsh source to speak of the sword. Geoffrey says the sword was forged in Avalon and Latinizes the name "Caledfwlch" to Caliburn or Caliburnus. When his influential pseudo-history made it to Continental Europe, writers altered the name further until it became Excalibur. The legend was expanded upon in the Vulgate Cycle, also known as the Lancelot-Grail Cycle, and in the Post-Vulgate Cycle which emerged in its wake. Both included the work known as the Prose Merlin, but the Post-Vulgate authors left out the Merlin Continuation from the earlier cycle, choosing to add an original account of Arthur's early days including a new origin for Excalibur.
Other informationThe story of the Sword in the Stone has an analogue in some versions of the story of Sigurd (the Norse proto-Siegfried), who draws his father Sigmund's sword out of a tree where it is embedded.
In several early French works such as Chrétien de Troyes' Perceval, the Story of the Grail and the Vulgate Lancelot Proper section, Excalibur is used by Gawain, Arthur's nephew and one of his best knights. This is in contrast to later versions, where Excalibur belongs solely to the king. In the Alliterative Morte Arthure, Arthur is said to have two legendary swords, the second one being Clarent, stolen by the evil Mordred. Arthur receives his fatal blow from Clarent.
AttributesIn many versions, Excalibur's blade was engraved with words on opposite sides. On one side were the words "take me up", and on the other side "cast me away" (or similar words). This prefigures its return into the water. In addition, when Excalibur was first drawn, Arthur's enemies were blinded by its blade, which was as bright as thirty torches. Excalibur's scabbard was said to have powers of its own. Injuries from losses of blood, for example, would not kill the bearer. In some tellings, wounds received by one wearing the scabbard did not bleed at all. The scabbard is stolen by Morgan le Fay and thrown into a lake, never to be found again.
Nineteenth century poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, described the sword in full Romantic detail in his poem "Morte d'Arthur", later rewritten as "The Passing of Arthur", one of the Idylls of the King:
:There drew he forth the brand Excalibur,
Excalibur is by no means the only weapon associated with Arthur, nor the only sword. Welsh tradition also knew of a dagger named Carnwennan and a spear named Rhongomyniad that belonged to him. Carnwennan ("Little White-Hilt") first appears in Culhwch and Olwen, where it was used by Arthur to slice the Very Black Witch in half. Rhongomyniad ("spear" + "striker, slayer") is also first mentioned in Culhwch, although only in passing; it appears as simply Ron ("spear") in Geoffrey's Historia. In the Alliterative Morte Arthure, a Middle English poem, there is mention of Clarent, a sword of peace meant for knighting and ceremonies as opposed to battle, which is stolen and then used to kill Arthur.
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Excalibur in Breton: Kaledvoulc'h
Excalibur in Bulgarian: Екскалибур
Excalibur in Catalan: Excàlibur
Excalibur in Welsh: Caledfwlch
Excalibur in Danish: Excalibur
Excalibur in German: Excalibur
Excalibur in Modern Greek (1453-): Εξκάλιμπερ
Excalibur in Spanish: Excalibur
Excalibur in French: Excalibur
Excalibur in Galician: Excalibur
Excalibur in Korean: 엑스칼리버
Excalibur in Indonesian: Excalibur
Excalibur in Italian: Excalibur
Excalibur in Hebrew: אקסקליבר
Excalibur in Latin: Caliburnus
Excalibur in Hungarian: Excalibur
Excalibur in Malay (macrolanguage): Excalibur
Excalibur in Dutch: Excalibur
Excalibur in Japanese: エクスカリバー
Excalibur in Polish: Excalibur
Excalibur in Portuguese: Excalibur
Excalibur in Russian: Экскалибур
Excalibur in Simple English: Excalibur
Excalibur in Slovak: Excalibur (meč)
Excalibur in Slovenian: Excalibur
Excalibur in Finnish: Excalibur
Excalibur in Swedish: Excalibur
Excalibur in Vietnamese: Excalibur
Excalibur in Turkish: Excalibur
Excalibur in Chinese: 王者之劍