Round Table but they certainly defined it. King Arthur and his knights of Camelot are known for stories of heroism, gallantry and romantic love, requited or not. They set the stage for the Age of Chivalry to come later.
Oh sure, we don't know how much of the stories are true
and how much legend or total invention, but through the generations we have made them real to us. Even King Arthur's existence has never been proven although he
is said to be a British king who fought against the Anglo Saxons in the 5th and 6th centuries.
Legend has it that he was married to the beautiful Queen
Guinevere and loyally followed by his knights, his closest friend being Sir Lancelot.
When Queen Guinevere was kidnapped by Meleagant, it was
Lancelot who rescued her and they fell in love. Until then Lancelot had been the purest and most noble of the Knights of the Round Table and the one most likely to succeed in the discovery of the Holy Grail. It is told that his weakness in
succumbing to his love for Guinevere contaminated his spirit and made him unable to complete his quest for the Grail.
Lancelot had also been loved by Elaine of Astalot who
committed suicide when he failed to return her love. She arranged for her body to be floated down the river to Camelot. This was the basis for Tennyson's poem The Lady of Shalot.
Eventually Mordred son of Arthur disclosed the affair
between Lancelot and Guinevere and Lancelot fled for his life. Arthur felt compelled to order Guinevere to be burned at the stake. Of course, when he heard this, Lancelot returned to rescue her. This resulted in several deaths, amongst them Gareth one of Lancelot's closest friends. Arthur and the remaining Knights pursued Lancelot but failed to capture
him., These events led eventually to the end of the Round Table. Who would ever question the power of love?
By the time Lancelot returned, Guinevere had retreated to
a monastery and refused to see him. He then retired to live the remainder of his life as a hermit.
The love affair of Sir Lancelot and Guinevere is ultimately a tragedy. This couple had everything but their adulterous love for each other was their downfall. Not only was it their undoing, but it led to the demise of the Round Table, ended the possibility of Lancelot recovering the Holy Grail, and both Lancelot and Guinevere spent the remainder of their lives living in solitude apart from each other. They risked all for their love and failed because of their all too human weaknesses.
It's strange how love stories of the past are more often
tragedies but today we seem to insist on happily ever after endings. We've either lost our taste for unhappiness or have become less judgmental of our heroes and heroines allowing them more scope to atone for their misdeeds.