The origins of the round table

It is in Wace’s story that the Round Table is first mentioned. The origin, as is well known, is Arthur’s desire to avoid any dispute over precedence.

But Layamon at the beginning of the 13th century tells of a fight at a big feast that had led to a violent confrontation: a Cornish carpenter had then created a huge Round Table capable of receiving one thousand six hundred men.

the Round Table

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The origin of this story seems to be an old Celtic custom of warriors sitting in a circle around their king.


A later tradition, reported in 13th century prose stories, assigns the origin of the Tablet to Merlin. Percival, in a passage from “The Search for the Holy Grail,” learns from the recluse, who is in fact his own aunt, that there have been three Tablets since the arrival of Jesus Christ.

The first was that in which Christ had taken his place with his apostles, a table instituted by the spotless Lamb sacrificed for the redemption of men.

Another table was made in memory of the first one, the table of the Holy Grail, by Joseph of Arimathea at the time of the evangelization of Great Britain.

At that time Jose’s companions, who were very numerous, arrived on the island in search of food. They found an old woman carrying twelve loaves of bread.

But sharing is not done without a fight. Joseph “divided the loaves, spread the pieces on the table and placed the Holy Grail in the place of honor, whose presence made the twelve loaves multiply so much that the whole town – the four thousand inhabitants – were miraculously nourished and satiated.

One of the seats at the table was reserved for Joseph’s son, Josephe, who will be the lord of all who sit at the Grail table.

The Brothers

Out of jealousy, two brothers, Joseph’s parents, opposed this decision. One of the two brothers takes his place: his transgression is severely punished, the earth opens up and swallows him up.

Therefore, the siege will be called the Feared or Dangerous Siege. “After this table, there was the Round Table, instituted according to Merlin’s advice, and not without great importance.

In fact, it is called the Round Table because it means the roundness of the world and the course of the planets and elements of the Firmament in which the stars and other stars can be seen.

It can therefore be rightly said that the Round Table represents the world.

Also, as you know, wherever chivalry exists, whether in pagan or Christian lands, its members come to the Round Table and, if God grants them the grace of taking their place there, they consider themselves more satisfied than if they had the whole world in their power, and forget about parents, wives and children.

“Thus, Merlin presides over the institution of the third Tablet, that of our narratives, which has a role, often less spiritual, constant as a center of gathering and as a spatial point, both real and symbolic.

Merlin links this way the searches of the Knights and the secrets of the Holy Grail: he announces that one day Our Lord will send among them a knight for whom a seat is made “of very great dimensions” waiting for the True Knight.


When Percival asks to occupy the place, an earthquake occurs and the “charms of Brittany” are unleashed, which will not end until one of the Knights of the Round Table surpasses all others in chivalry and asks the rich Fisher King the long-awaited question.

At the beginning of the search for the Holy Grail, Gilead will finally occupy the dangerous seat.

Designated by God, while born of the devil to be the Antichrist, Merlin by this establishment of the Table and the advice he gives to Arthur proves that he is the master of time in the Arthurian legend.

He has all the knowledge about the past, the present and the future:

“You know that you must discern the good from the bad and honor each one according to what he is,” Merlin told Arthur.

And this is my advice: as soon as a gentleman undertakes a search for weapons, you should ask him to swear, before he leaves, to tell the truth on his return, about what he has found during his search, whether for his honor or his shame.

In this way you will know everyone’s actions, because I know that no perjury will be committed. – In the name of God, said the king, here is a precious teaching, and I promise you that this custom will be observed in my house as long as I live!


So, by its origins, by its objectives, by the itineraries that the Knights of Arthur will follow and speak, the Round Table is part of a journey of realization; a true ethic will be linked to it for a long time, to which the Table provides a spatial and symbolic anchorage.

It is, as Jean Frappier said excellently, the expression of the chivalric ideal, the geometric and poetic center of all adventures.

The Knight of the Round Table is expected to restore the earth to its prosperity or to end the enchantments. “It is absolutely necessary that the knight-errant comes from a distant country,” says Les Merveilles de Rigomer.

Wounds can remain open until the redeeming hero arrives.

But coming from a distant country means leaving, and that departure is the search for adventure.

“Wander”: Go your own way, don’t stay, start a search… The “knight errant”, whose romantic contours were really invented by Chrétien de Troyes, is a knight available, moreover, of a literary type.

Fiction and reality – the feudal Middle Ages knew the knight without fortune and without fiefdom who went from tournament to tournament, whose availability was a way to survive.

This reality, which certainly does not explain the Arthurian legend, is behind the ideal image of the Knight of the Table, always “wandering”.

So much so that Erech, who has abandoned himself to the delights of love, is accused of “recreating”. He has forgotten the adventure.

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