July 10


We are brought up to have heroes who are Arthurian - but when eventually we learn that there was no human Arthur, only a mythological one, an analogy for the sun and the constellations of the heavens, that we have been cheated with a fairy-tale, our faith in all our heroes fails, even those who were genuinely flesh and blood.

As a child my greatest hero was King David, and it took me the writing of a trilogy to gain the non-Arthurian perspective without actually losing faith. Along with David - I am excluding the living heroes, the Dylans and the Bothams, but even more the Sakharovs and Wallenbergs and Bikos - there was El Cid, a character I first encountered in a Hollywood biopic that may or may not have been directed by Cecil B de Mille, but ought to have been; and which may or may not have been historically accurate, but likewise ought to have been.

Cid is the Spanish pronunciation of Sidi, "my lord", an Arabic variation on the Semitic Adonis, as I now know but didn't then; this was what his Moorish enemies called him, and it is a most complimentary name, for one who is your mortal enemy, vowed to your defeat, your overthrow, your expulsion.

His real name was Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, and though he was merely a Castillian nobleman by birth, he styled himself Ruy (King) Diaz before he became El Cid, and sometimes, even more vaingloriously, even more preposterously, El Campeador, something equivalent to the Bolívaran "El Liberador" (see my piece on July 5), but even more to the Arthurian "Champion" - and of course Arthur is really Ar-Thur, in Saxon: "the king", so maybe this is where the English mediaevalists who reduced the mythological tales of god-Arthur to the mere courtly romances of King Arthur found their model. Just look at the wings of that flying cape, look at that beard - is that not King Arthur, is that not his Breton equivalent, King Gradlon, is that not the model for Cervantes' Don Quixote, riding out to liberate España from the fairy-tale fantasies of knighthood?

A Spanish Arthur then - and a precursor of Simon Bolívar in every way. He came into the world of authentic fairy tales in Burgos in 1043, and left it, having spent his whole life fighting for the liberation of Spain from the Moors, having achieved only one victory - the capture of Valencia in 1094 - on this day in 1099. One of the heroes of the Immaculate Failure.

You can read the whole of his story, in English translation from the 12th century "Cantar del mio Cid", by clicking here.

Amber pages

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, American painter, born today in 
1834 - that's his "Arrangement in Grey and Black No 1" on the right, often mis-named "Whistler's Mother", which it is, but that wasn't his point. A counterfeit version of the painting by Tomas Dudando lies at the heart of my novel "A Singular Shade of Grey", due for publication very soon.

Marcel Proust, French novelist, entered lost time, or perhaps simply began to lose track of it, or merely waste it, today in 1871.

Saul Bellow, Canadian novelist - Canadian, not American, though even most North Americans seem to make that error - began to do what Albertus Magnus predicted for the young Aquinas, today in 1915 (save your puzzlement, click here.

Paul Verlaine, French poet, shot Arthur Rimbaud, French poet, today in 1873. The wounds in Rimbaud's flesh would prove to be rather less than those in Verlaine's pride.

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