Contemplating our need for heroes

June 08, 2011|By Joe Puglia

The morning is perfect. I’m sitting at Penelope’s, inhaling the perfume of a chai latte while reading Sir Thomas Malory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur.” I’m captivated by the mystic hero, whose exploits are so vast and absorbing that poets created mythologies defining their essence.

Heroes never die but sleep in the recesses of our mind waiting patiently for our call. We need them; they show us the way.

I have resurrected my fascination for King Arthur. He has survived 1,000 years, and his fable has proliferated the seven seas. Arthur remains a legend because he was hero.


Heroes show us what we can become. Where is Arthur when we need him most? Do we live in a world devoid of heroes? I don’t think so; I’ve known many. We just don’t know where to look.

There are many translations of “Le Morte d’Arthur.” I’ve chosen a very heady version. Much of the verse is written in Middle English, so I read each line with purposeful intent, weaving through Arthur’s heroic deeds and often pausing for a moment’s reflection and a sip of tea.

When we tell stories we transform reality. When things are too extraordinary to grasp we turn them into fairy tales, leaving them mysterious and beguiling. My favorite knight from the Arthurian Tales is Percival. I am enthralled by his story; it exemplifies how heroics beget heroics.

Percival was a prince of noble birth; his father was the warrior King Pellinore and his mother an eloquent queen. Pellinore was continuously warring throughout the Welsh countryside and was eventually killed in battle.

In the story, Percival’s mother, fearing her son would emulate his father, forsakes their royal linage and escapes into the forest to live secluded lives ignorant of war and the ways of men.

According to the tale, 15-year-old Percival is tending to his chores one morning when he sees blinding bright reflections approaching. He is mesmerized and wonders what he is seeing. The reflection comes closer and he begins to tremble. Suddenly he sees four men on huge white steeds, dressed in polished silver armor and carrying lances. Men adorned in colorful tunics carrying flags and banners lead the procession. As they approach, Percival kneels.

“Why dust thou kneel?,” they ask.

“Because you are gods,” Percival shouts.

One of the men says, “Rise boy…we are not gods…we are knights.”

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